ABC Brisbane Drive 27/07/20

27 July 2020

SUBJECTS: Facemasks; Regional Queensland listening tour; State borders.

MONDAY, 27 JULY 2020
SUBJECTS: Facemasks; Regional Queensland listening tour; State borders.

KELLY HIGGINS-DEVINE, HOST: Jim Chalmers is the ALP Shadow Treasury spokesperson, good afternoon.
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: G'day Kelly, how are you doing?
HIGGINS-DEVINE: Really well. I think all of us have been watching over the weekend the video with various people, mostly from Melbourne at the moment, refusing to wear masks and having constitutional debates with people at Bunnings which is a strange place to have them but there you go. What's your reaction to people who are refusing to wear masks?
CHALMERS: It's really disappointing. In a crisis of this magnitude with all of the threats posed by this virus I think the very least we can do is follow the health advice and in Victoria that means wearing a mask and so people should be doing that. The other thing I noticed from that video and I have watched it a couple of times is the remarkable patience of the Bunnings workers. I think right around Australia people are accustomed to being helped out by Bunnings workers on the weekend in stores but just to see the professionalism of those staff was really heartening and they don't deserve to get a serve like that.
HIGGINS-DEVINE: Yeah and we saw them sort of on the frontline of those videos but you just know that that kind of, I don't know what you call it, I'm going to say idiocy is happening in a whole lot of other places as well. We don't have to worry about that in Queensland at the moment but I mean things turn on a dime as we've seen in in Melbourne. Do you think it'd be any different here in Queensland?
CHALMERS: When you're talking about so many people being asked to do the right thing overwhelmingly people do that but they're always will be a couple of as you described them idiots who will do the wrong thing. That's disappointing but we should also recognise that our Victorian friends who are going through an incredibly difficult time, are in the vast and overwhelming majority, doing the right thing and that's absolutely crucial to get on top of this outbreak.
HIGGINS-DEVINE: Absolutely. Now, Jim Chalmers I do believe that you'll be traveling around Queensland in the next few days. Where are you going?
CHALMERS: I'm talking to you from cattle country around Roma, we just toured the sale yards here to speak with people in the beef game about the outlook for their industry, but we'll also be speaking to some trainees in the mining industry around Emerald and Biloela, and then the tourism industry around Bundy and Hervey Bay. The reason we're doing this, we're driving something like 1800 kilometres, Senator Chisholm and I, is because we recognise that the economy during this recession will recover at different speeds in different parts of the country and we need to recognise that the economy isn't just what happens in the boardrooms of Sydney and Melbourne it's what happens in regional Australia, including regional Queensland so we're going to talk to as many people as we can from those industries to get a sense of the outlook for them and whether there's anything that government can do to help.
HIGGINS-DEVINE: What have you learned so far?
CHALMERS: The thing we've learned from the cattle territory, the beef farmers, is a lot of them are still recovering from the drought. Even though this year is expected to be a bit better than last year there's a lot of restocking of herds. So that means that sales still won't be way up there where people want them to be. But there's something about people in regional Queensland  they are incredibly resilient people, very forward looking, they’re not down in the dumps, they want to see their industry grow and that's common right across the country. People recognise that times are tough but some of our industries really are the hope of our side when it comes to growing out of this recession.
HIGGINS-DEVINE: ABC Radio Brisbane, Kelly Higgins-Devine sitting in for Steve Austin for the rest of this week, Jim Chalmers is the ALP Shadow Treasury spokesperson, and a regular guest on Drive. Jim Chalmers I have been reading today an article about the difficulty in finding workers in regional areas. Of course these jobs were normally done by backpackers who just aren't here at the moment, what are your ideas on this?
CHALMERS: It's very different in different parts of the country but in aggregate we've still got something like 13 people on unemployment benefits for every job vacancy in Australia so overall job opportunities aren't exactly thick on the ground, but there are opportunities out there concentrated in some areas. Some people will be able to move to access those opportunities but many won't and so what we need to make sure is that we've got the arrangements in place that people can move for work, that's a bit harder with the borders closed and all the difficulties that we talked about at the start of this interview but not impossible. We want to see those opportunities filled, because the borders are closed internationally so the opportunity to bring in workers from overseas is limited. We want Australians to be able to fill job vacancies that means they need to be trained for them. They need to know where the opportunities are and the need to be able to go an access them.
HIGGINS-DEVINE: That's requiring government at many levels to be very flexible and to be very quick, which is something that governments can find tricky at times are they going to be able to move quickly enough to be able to do those things you just mentioned?
CHALMERS: Well it depends how far they're coming from, we've got issues with some state borders, we've got the Victorian challenges at the moment and to a lesser extent, but still concerning, in New South Wales as well, so mobility is not as easy as it is in normal times. We just need to be sure that within states that people know where the opportunities are so they can grab those opportunities when they present themselves because as I said jobs aren’t exactly thick on the ground at the moment. We need to do what we can to hook people up.
HIGGINS-DEVINE: Jim Chalmers is ALP Shadow Treasury spokesperson, this is ABC Radio Brisbane. Jim let's talk about household debt as opposed to government debt, how do you see this rising as an issue, household debt was already pretty big in Australia, but given what we've talked about, jobs being a bit of a problem at the moment as well people trying to pay off mortgages during the COVID lockdowns and now having to pay it all back. Have we got some big problems coming up in the future?
CHALMERS: Unfortunately I think we do. One thing that's not well recognised is that household debt was actually at record highs, even before the Coronavirus and government debt was also at record highs, even before the Coronavirus so the economic challenges associated with the outbreak has made those challenges with debt at the household level and at the government level worse. In both cases what we need to be able to do is make sure that we can service them. For households for families and workers that means making sure that they've got a job. That's our highest priority at all levels is to do what we can to make sure there's a national jobs plan so that people have got the opportunities. Banks have delayed some repayments and been accommodative in some areas which is a very good thing but it means that at some point that all needs to be repaid and caught up with. That's going to be a massive challenge and I think one of the things that Reserve Bank's worried about is that when people have to service all this debt, after the crisis, it means that they won't have as much to spend in our shops and small businesses and that might mean that the recovery is a bit slower than we'd like.
HIGGINS-DEVINE: In your area of Logan we've been talking about aged care facilities and just what the preparations are like in Queensland, in case there is an outbreak, as we keep saying we're all right at the moment but you never know. Are you confident, they'll be ready if the virus does have a Queensland outbreak?
CHALMERS: I know that they're doing the work to try and be ready to try and be prepared. My colleague Julie Collins who is our aged care spokesperson has made some points today and a lack of preparedness on a national level when it comes to things like protective equipment. So we need to make sure that we're doing absolutely everything that is necessary to prepare for that eventuality, hope for the best but prepare for the worst. It's easy to imagine outbreaks in different pockets of the country like, aged care homes which are particularly susceptible given the workforce and given the age of the tenants, so we need maximum care there and that means maximum preparation.
HIGGINS-DEVINE: Jim Chalmers good to talk with you and enjoy the rest of your trip around Queensland.
CHALMERS: Thanks so much Kelly, all the best.