ABC Brisbane Drive 22/03/21

22 March 2021

SUBJECTS: Support for a Royal Commission into veterans’ suicide; Delays in rolling out vaccines; Cutting JobKeeper to more than one million Australians; Government wasting JobKeeper on companies who don’t need it; Two million Australians unemployed or underemployed.



SUBJECTS: Support for a Royal Commission into veterans’ suicide; Delays in rolling out vaccines; Cutting JobKeeper to more than one million Australians; Government wasting JobKeeper on companies who don’t need it; Two million Australians unemployed or underemployed.

STEVE AUSTIN, HOST: Let's go to Canberra, the Nation's Capital, where federal Labor says the Prime Minister should fully support a Royal Commission into veteran suicide. You may or may not have heard today that Prime Minister Scott Morrison indicated that the government wouldn't oppose a motion calling for a Royal Commission. Last I checked this morning, the House of Representatives was debating the idea. They had to break for Question Time, which everyone agreed to it. Then it was to resume. A number of family members of veterans who've taken their own lives were sitting in the gallery in Parliament House, and I'll be speaking with one of those a little bit later on this afternoon. Labor's Jim Chalmers is a Queensland federal Labor MP. Jim is my regular guest on Monday. He's the Federal Member for Rankin, and the opposition Treasury Spokesperson. Jim Chalmers, have you spoken on this? It's still happening as we go to air this afternoon, on this bill, sorry, on this vote, I'm sorry, motion, sorry.
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: G'day, Steve. I can give you a bit of an update on that. I'm looking at my monitor now. I think we're up to almost the last speaker. I haven't had the opportunity to speak on it, but I'm a big supporter of a Royal Commission into veteran suicides. And I'm really pleased that you've got Julie-Ann Finney on the program soon, because I think it is a tribute to her persistence, and a tribute to her love for her late son David, who took his life in 2019, that we're at the point now where the government, after some time of resisting a Royal Commission, now looks like they're prepared to support one, which is a really good outcome. I also heard you play my friend and colleague Shayne Neumann before, talking about this important issue. And he's been fighting tirelessly for this outcome too, so it's potentially a really important day today. If you think about it, something like forty-one Australians have died in Afghanistan, but ten times that amount have taken their own life after they got home. So this is a really big, really big challenge, that we as a nation need to front up to. And that's what the Royal Commission is all about.

AUSTIN: Forgive me, I'm not quite sure the process here, so the vote happens in the House of Reps very soon, by the sounds of it then? I assume then it goes to the Senate, would that be right?

CHALMERS: Well, it's come from the Senate.

AUSTIN: Sorry, OK.

CHALMERS: There's a few other complexities to it, which I won't bore your listeners with, but at the end of the day, a Royal Commission is called by the government rather than by the parliament. So what this motion will do - and the government is now saying they won't oppose it - which, hopefully means that they will support it enthusiastically, means that the government will then take steps to put in place a Royal Commission. I should say that there has been a handful of coalition members and senators who've been on our side in this as well, and some of them have spoken quite movingly today. So, ideally, it hasn't been good that it's taken the government this long, it hasn't been good that they've resisted, but if we get the right outcome today because of the work of people like Julie-Ann Finney, and Shayne Neumann, and a lot of returned servicemen, and organisations, and veterans groups, then that would be a good thing.

AUSTIN: The federal government did announce a Veterans Commissioner to look at this sort of thing. Why wasn't that enough for the Labor opposition?

CHALMERS: It didn't have sufficient powers and it didn't have a concrete enough process of resolution for us. A standing commission is different to something which is a Royal Commission, which comes down with a series of recommendations. That number that I mentioned before about the number of veterans taking their lives, I think the other relevant number here, is that it's more than twice as likely that a veteran will take their life than a member of the broader community.

AUSTIN: That's how I understood it, yes.

CHALMERS: So, for all of these reasons we need to actually have a Royal Commission, with really strong powers, which actually tries to get some answers for Julie-Ann Finney, and all of the loved ones, of all of these soldiers who've taken their own lives. But also to make sure that we can prevent this happening in the future. We need to value our service women and service men, and the best thing we can do for them is to try and get some answers here and make things better.

AUSTIN: Twenty to five, news at five. Jim Chalmers, federal Labor Member for Rankin, is my guest. The vaccine rollout, it sort of was day one for the 1B people today. There are designated vaccination centres, here in Queensland. It seems to be going reasonably well, how does the opposition see it?

CHALMERS: Well, first of all, we want it to go well. I mean, we want it to go really well. We want people to have confidence. We want to see it deployed efficiently, and safely, and broadly. And so we encourage people to take the right steps to get it. There's a couple of issues at the national level, which are quite troubling. You'll recall, I think we've spoken about it before, that the Prime Minister said that there'd be something like four million vaccinations in March. I think they've done a couple of hundred thousand of those, so almost four million short of that target. That's because there's been, in my view, a bit of a failure of planning to get these vaccines away. They had a website that you could register your interest on, which basically fell over on the first day. And a range of other, kind of logistical and organisational problems. We want to see them ironed out, so that we can get the vaccine away, but it's hard to imagine that the Prime Minister will keep his promise of four million by this time next week.

AUSTIN: I guess. I mean, websites fall over a lot. Websites that are way too popular, or are more popular than governments expect, this seems to happen a lot, doesn't it, they underestimate the initial response? This is this sort of thing has happened before, not just with the vaccine website?

CHALMERS: It has happened more recently lately. It happened with the Census. It's happened in other areas. But we could have seen this issue coming, you know, we've been talking about a vaccine now for the best part of a year. You know, the fact that they couldn't test it, and finalise it, and make it work some weeks ago is baffling, really. We all knew that there was going to be demand there, the government was out there telling people to get on there as soon as possible and register. And it fell over. And what we can't afford, is to have these kinds of incidents detract from the confidence that we need in the vaccination process and in the vaccine itself. And every time the government falls short of an objective that they've promised, or every time that they get something wrong in implementing it and rolling it out, then that comes at a cost.

AUSTIN: This is ABC Radio Brisbane, it's seventeen to five. Let's move on to the issue of JobKeeper, which ends in six days. Jim Chalmers, how would you rate it out of 100? Would you give it 60%? 70%? 99%? In effectiveness?

CHALMERS: Well, for where it's gone where it's supposed to go, it's 100. You know, where it's gone to someone who would have otherwise lost their job, in an otherwise good business, then it's been terrific. But when it goes to businesses that haven't needed it, there's been a heap of businesses who've been given hundreds of millions of dollars in total, if not billions, who didn't need it. Then that's where it's fallen over.

And so, all these revelations that we've been getting lately about all the wastage of JobKeeper, what it means is, if the government hadn't been giving money to all those businesses that didn't need it, they could afford to extend it for those businesses which still do for a little bit longer. So, I think that's where it's fallen down. I think the idea is very good. We played a part in that. I think that the implementation hasn't been great. It's been very helpful in a lot of areas, but there's been a lot of wastage too. And that's prevented us from being able to have the room to support businesses and workers, which are still struggling, for a little bit longer. Whether it's because of the international border closer, or other restrictions. That money would have been better spent on struggling businesses, rather than on businesses which didn't need it and made out like bandits.

AUSTIN: The unemployment rate was announced last week as 5.8%, which came in way better than anyone expected. Do you credit that with JobKeeper, or you think that's incidental to the JobKeeper program?

CHALMERS: Well, a couple of things about that. I mean, first of all, we obviously welcome jobs being created in the economy. I mean, the nation's focus has to be, how do we create jobs in this recovery? And not just any jobs, but secure, well-paid jobs with fair pay and conditions. And so when jobs are created, we don't mind welcoming that. That's a good outcome. But we need to also recognise that, for a lot of people, first of all, 5.8% is still too high, and secondly, for a lot of people, this recovery is not what the government pretends it to be.

There's a lot of uncertainty, a lot of insecurity. There's a million people on JobKeeper, who are going to have that cut at the end of the month. There's two million people who are either unemployed or underemployed, can't find the hours that they need to support their loved ones. So, we need a bit of perspective here. The government wants to do the whole 'mission accomplished' thing, when a lot of people are still struggling. And what we say is, let's acknowledge that some people are still doing it tough. There is a case for some ongoing support. And, you know, the government could afford to do that, if they hadn't sprayed around so much of this other money, in a budget which has become riddled with rorts.

AUSTIN: I'll leave it there, Jim Chalmers. Thank you very much for your time.

CHALMERS: Thanks for your time, Steve.

AUSTIN: Jim Chalmers is the federal Labor Member for Rankin and the Shadow Treasury spokesperson.