ABC Brisbane Drive 29/06/20

29 June 2020

SUBJECTS: JobKeeper; HomeBuilder; Eden-Monaro by-election; Grattan Institute report; ABC cuts; Drew Pavlou.

MONDAY, 29 JUNE 2020

SUBJECTS: JobKeeper; HomeBuilder; Eden-Monaro by-election; Grattan Institute report; ABC cuts; Drew Pavlou.

STEVE AUSTIN, ABC BRISBANE DRIVE: Talking Federal politics this afternoon with Jim Chalmers. Jim's the Labor Shadow Treasury spokesperson but also the Member for Rankin which takes in Logan City. Jim Chalmers, as the local Member do you get many locals tell you stories about the issue of drugs and subsequent concerns in your electorate?

JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: From time-to-time Steve. We don't pretend away the challenges that our community, like a lot of communities, has got with drugs. At the same time, we shouldn't pretend that it's unique to our area. This is a challenge right around Australia. Even that case just mentioned in the news and in your intro, that's a fair way outside of my electorate. Logan's a big place. I think it's about the sixth biggest council area in Australia or something like that. That's a fair way from here, but yes like a lot of communities we've got an issue there. Unfortunately the price of methamphetamine came down a bit and that made it more attractive to people. It sounds like in this case the police have done their job well. I think our job in government is to try and provide the opportunities in communities like mine so that that kind of life isn’t as attractive.

AUSTIN: Is it more of a problem in Logan compared to any other suburb in Brisbane? What's your knowledge, if at all?

CHALMERS: I'm not sure about the numbers, Steve, but I don't want to pretend that there's not an issue here and I also don't want to pretend it's not an issue elsewhere. I don't love it when we get singled out from time-to-time as if all the challenges in the southeast corner of Queensland are in Logan. That's clearly not the case. We've got some challenges, but a lot of communities do and we need to get on top of it.

AUSTIN: No one likes being singled out. My guest is Jim Chalmers, Labor's Member for Rankin. He's also the Shadow Treasury spokesperson. On matters of money, Jim Chalmers; ABC funding, you would have heard the announcement last week and the implications of what it means for this organisation. If you were Prime Minister, what would you do differently from the current Government strategy, re: funding for this organisation? Anything?

CHALMERS: Our Leader Anthony Albanese and our Shadow Minister Michelle Rowland have said for some time that we'd reverse these cuts if we were in Government. 

AUSTIN: The Federal Government says they're not cuts, they're simply a freeze. 

CHALMERS: That's laughable. I mean, that's laughable. Your Managing Director announced 250 job losses as a consequence of these cuts and when Scott Morrison stood up and said it wasn't a cut, I think most people laughed at him. The thing that people can't understand -

AUSTIN: In fairness to the Prime Minister, there is a very, very small increase. Something like a 0.3 per cent real increase, apparently.

CHALMERS: The ABC is receiving less money than they were going to as a consequence of the decision that this Government took. If people don't want to quibble about millions of dollars, then just think about 250 ABC workers losing their jobs as a consequence of that.This is something that people do raise with me on the street, Steve.

AUSTIN: And what do they say?

CHALMERS: There're two things that they can't quite understand. First of all, we're in the first recession in almost three decades. They can't understand why the Government's in the business of cutting jobs. That's the first thing. The second thing they can't understand is that people relied on the ABC so heavily during the bushfire season. For some people, the ABC was literally a matter of life and death. Being able to access the radio when the phones and other forms of communication went down, the ABC was a saviour. People just say to me, that's a pretty unusual way to thank the ABC for the contribution they made during that period. People can't understand it, they can't understand, with all the challenges in media at the moment and all the job losses elsewhere in the economy, why there's a cutback in local jobs and also local content.

AUSTIN: So what would Labor do? You'd simply reverse the freeze on the funding? You'd give the ABC back its expected increase of $84 million, or whatever the round figure is? 

CHALMERS: The point we've made for some time now is that the cuts should be reversed and we took that position to the last election. I've been asked about it probably half a dozen times since that deal was struck for those cuts. We've been really clear that we believe in the ABC. I'm not just saying that because I'm on an ABC program now. We say that everywhere. The ABC is something that provides a lot of good to the Australian community and it beggars belief really that the Government wants to cut it back.

AUSTIN: Jim Chalmers is Labor's Shadow Treasury spokesperson. He's also the Member for Rankin, the Federal electorate here in Brisbane. Let me move on to other matters of finance, but still coming from the implications of the Coronavirus lockdown. You would have heard today that the Grattan Institute has released a report where the think tank has warned the Federal Government against bailing out non-vital businesses as companies comes out of the Coronavirus shutdown. These are zombie companies, zombie businesses that are surviving because of the taxpayer support through JobKeeper or JobSeeker at the moment, but they're non vital and they wouldn't survive under normal circumstances. What's Labor's reaction to the Grattan Institute's position?

CHALMERS: That wasn't the main conclusion of the report. It's a long report -

AUSTIN: Yes, it’s a weighty report.

CHALMERS: That wasn't really the main emphasis. The main emphasis that they had was to say don't just suddenly turn off the tap on all of this support in September because that will cruel the recovery, which is something that we've been saying for a long time, as has the Reserve Bank and others. That was really the key conclusion. They need to find a way to keep JobKeeper going in some form or another going forward. One of the reasons why that's so important is the Government actually has a review of JobKeeper which they received last week but they said they won't release it until after the Eden-Monaro by-election. I think people are very suspicious about that. If they've got a plan for JobKeeper they should release it because there's a lot of uncertainty and a lot of anxiety in the community. People are losing their jobs on an almost daily basis through one announcement or another. They want the Government to clarify what the future of JobKeeper is, and that's one of the points that the Grattan Institute was making.

AUSTIN: They've only had the report for a week, haven't they? The Federal Government's only had the report for a week. Normally it would take a little while to consider something like that?

CHALMERS: They said that they'd release it in June. They said that they'd release the JobKeeper review in June and that they would release a budget update in June. Then it dawned on them that the Eden-Monaro by-election was the first weekend of July and so now they’ve pushed it back. A lot of businesses which were hanging out for some clarity and some certainty have got to wait longer because of the politics of a by-election date. We don't think that's good enough.

AUSTIN: You're heading to the electorate of Eden-Monaro in southern New South Wales to tomorrow. Why? It's not even in the State? Why are you heading there?

CHALMERS: I think it's important that people get the opportunity to send a message to the Prime Minister about the way that he's bungled these JobKeeper payments. That's one of the points I'll be making when I'm down there. We've got a terrific candidate in Kristy McBain. All of us are campaigning in one way or other, and my job is to make our views known on the economy. This is the first recession in 29 years, as I said before. A lot of people are losing their jobs; there's a lot of anxiety; there’s a lot of uncertainty, and we want the Government to do a better job of managing the economy in the recovery than they did going into this crisis. That's one of the issues at stake in this by-election.

AUSTIN: The Prime Minister was asked a question, I think it was Friday or on the weekend - please forgive me. He was asked if his funding announcement that he made there was as a result of the by-election. He said, that's an offensive question. Do you think that's an offensive question to ask someone if they're making a funding announcement in a by-election?

CHALMERS: Look at their record. After the sports rorts affair, and the fact that the community were more or less forgotten during the bushfires, all of a sudden they're a high priority for the Government? I think people are very sceptical about him.

AUSTIN: What would Labor do for them? Let me rephrase my question. Eden-Monaro is usually regarded as one of those bellwether seats. I hate to use political wonk phrases, but it’s one of the seats that reads the political winds, as it were. Does Labor see it that way? It's one of those seats that takes the pulse of the political position of the people of Australia.

CHALMERS: It has done that historically, we managed to buck the trend in the last couple of elections. We had a guy Mike Kelly, who was the Member there and he had a pretty high personal vote so he was able to buck that trend. We think Eden-Monaro will be really close on the weekend. We probably won't even know on the night who's won it. There's a lot of factors at play but it is an opportunity for people send a message to the Government. We do have a good candidate there. One of the best we've put forward in my view, and I've had a bit to do with her over the last month or two.

AUSTIN: Big shoes to fill, Mr. Kelly was appreciated by both sides of Parliament as I understand it. 

CHALMERS: He was a terrific Member of Parliament, a friend of mine, and the Parliament will miss him. But the good news is the people there have got an opportunity to put in someone just as good in Kristy, who is one of the best candidates we could have hoped to find. People have got an opportunity to express a view on that as well.

AUSTIN: This is ABC Radio Brisbane. I'm speaking with Labor's Jim Chalmers. Jim Chalmers is the Shadow Treasury spokesperson, the Opposition Treasury spokesperson. He's also the Member for Rankin here in Brisbane. It's a quarter to five, news at five. The Federal Government launched the HomeBuilder scheme on June 4. A number of weeks on - three, four weeks on nearly - it's still not operational. Apparently there's no start date in sight. This has got to be nutted out. It's got to be administered by the States but the money comes from the Feds. You've been critical of the way the Federal Government has rolled out some of their packages. Give me your take on the HomeBuilder announcement which is still not running.

CHALMERS: It's a bit like the others in that what we typically get is a big announcement, lots of fanfare, lots of media attention and lots of patting themselves on the back. Then in the implementation or the execution after that there are all kinds of problems. We saw that with JobKeeper, we've seen that with infrastructure projects, bushfire relief, and a whole bunch of stuff. Unfortunately that's what we're seeing here. There is actually a big opportunity to do something meaningful in the housing market. We think it should be an opportunity to build some more public housing. It's labour intensive, so there's lots of jobs. It has a local impact. It has a lasting benefit for some of the most vulnerable people in our community. But the Government hasn't gone down that path, they've gone down this other path instead and they're running into all kinds of trouble implementing it. That is very disappointing from our point of view because there is going to be problems in the construction sector and in the home building industry in particular.

AUSTIN: Master Builders are apparently worried that if it's not sorted out soon that the construction industry will reach a cliff without the HomeBuilder scheme actually in place and being administered by the State Government.

CHALMERS: Of course there'll be massive consequences for tradies in particular in the building industry if this program doesn't get up and running, but also if the Government isn’t a bit smarter in how they deliver this support. The smartest way would have been to invest in some public housing. That's what Australia did under Labor during the Global Financial Crisis very successfully and it's unfortunate that we're not going down that path. 

AUSTIN: Before I let you go, I don't recall ever asking you about the University of Queensland's actions over Drew Pavlou. This young philosophy student has been suspended by the University of Queensland. He's got an appeal against the suspension today. But what's Labor's position on the way the University of Queensland has handled their relationship with the Confucius Institutes and the subsequent suspension of one of their students that held a pro-Hong Kong rally on campus. Do you have one?

CHALMERS: A couple of things about that. I mean, obviously, we won't get in the middle of the various legal processes and appeals that are going on. We wouldn't ever do that. We won't be doing that in this case. But there are some broader issues at play and I can understand why people are interested in this case. Universities are well known if not notorious places where people should be able to disagree, but we need to disagree better. One of the things that does concern me, whether it's the debate about our relationship with China or indeed in a whole range of areas, is how polarising and polarised the conversation has become. People want to pretend that foreign policy issues like these ones are black and white, but like a lot of things in life, there are shades of grey and I think we'd be better off if we could conduct this conversation or even this argument in a better way.

AUSTIN: Thanks for your time.

CHALMERS: Thank you.