ABC Radio National Breakfast 27/10/20

27 October 2020

SUBJECTS: The Government’s inflated hiring credit figures; Victorian and national economies; ASIC expenses and ministerial rorts; National Integrity Commission. 

SUBJECTS: The Government’s inflated hiring credit figures; Victorian and national economies; ASIC expenses and ministerial rorts; National Integrity Commission. 
FRAN KELLY, HOST: Jim Chalmers is the Shadow Treasurer. Jim Chalmers, welcome back to Breakfast.
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: Thanks for having me back, Fran.
KELLY: Treasury has said to Estimates the real number of genuinely new jobs could be 45,000. The rest of the 450,000 jobs we heard about on budget day would have been created anyway. Is that news to you?
CHALMERS: It's not news to me that the Government's been sprung over-promising and under-delivering again. In lots of ways that's the defining feature of this Government. They make big claims in press releases, which fall over.
KELLY: Really what I'm asking is, when you read that on budget night, did you understand this would be 450,000 new jobs created or something considerably less?
CHALMERS: We knew that was the Government's claim but we were sceptical about it. Now we’ve found out, as you rightly said in the introduction, that something like 90 per cent of those jobs that the Government claimed aren’t actually going to be created by this program. They've given false hope to 400,000 younger workers in this country, which is pretty shameful of itself. But there's a broader story here, Fran, when it comes to this Government always chasing headlines and not spending enough time chasing jobs, and we're seeing that again.
KELLY: Is it a zero sum equation? I mean, even if a business is subsidised for a job that would have been created anyway, does that extra support encourage it take on even more workers or invest the money in some other productive way? I mean, we are in the worst recession in memory. Does business need all the help it can get?
CHALMERS: We've said all along Fran, we've been incredibly constructive, probably the most constructive Opposition in memory in terms of supporting some of the Government's measures when it comes to getting behind business so that they can keep their workers on. That's been true of JobKeeper. It's been true of other initiatives as well. But this is about the Prime Minister and the Treasurer saying there'd be 450,000 additional jobs. We now know more like 45,000 additional jobs are expected. We want to see more jobs created. We want to do the right thing. We want to invest government money to support businesses and workers at a really difficult time. What would assist that process would be if the Government stopped this habitual over-promising and under-delivering.
KELLY: Meanwhile, what about the $4 billion that the job hiring subsidy would cost? If it's 45,000 new jobs at a cost of $4 billion, is that a waste of money? Or is it valid industry support?
CHALMERS: We need to support industry. As you rightly point out, we're in a horrible recession at the moment. This is the deepest, most damaging recession for almost 100 years; we've got a million unemployed and 160,000 are expected to join the unemployment queues by the end of the year. We need to do what we can. This is about $90,000 per job in this program, which is a substantial amount of money. It's all borrowed money. It all needs to be paid back. We need the maximum bang for buck when it comes to jobs, not this overclaiming which falls over at the first hurdle.
KELLY: All right. So what happens now then that we know these statistics, the JobMaker hiring credits, as the last major part of the recession budget to be legislated? Will Labor pass the bill given what you now know when it hits the Senate next month?
CHALMERS: We've got a Senate inquiry in place to get to the bottom of some of these issues. I think the Estimates process which came up with this discovery about the 45,000 jobs rather than 450,000 was an important part of our considerations. We've got a Senate committee to do that as well. There are some other issues. We want to make sure it's not rorted. We want to make sure that it incentivises new jobs rather than just a churn of jobs. We're concerned about the 928,000 Australians excluded from the program. We've said for some time we'll go through all of the detail of that. We would like to be constructive, we'd like to be supportive, but that doesn't mean a blank cheque for the Government.
KELLY: So in the meantime, you've let it go through the Lower House up to the Senate?
KELLY: Can we switch to Victoria? The Prime Minister has praised Victorians for their efforts crushing the virus, but he gives little credit to Dan Andrews and his government. There's a report today in the Financial Review that the business community has given up on the Andrews State Government and is liaising directly with federal Labor MPs to try and communicate, get changes and get their views through that way. Can you confirm that? Is that your experience?
CHALMERS: That's not my experience. Certainly, we're engaged with the Victorian business community as you'd expect, and I am as the Shadow Treasurer, but they're engaged with the state government too. I think it's really important that we don't just gloss over what Victorians have achieved here. I hope all of your Victorian listeners understand Fran just how much we admire and appreciate what they've been able to achieve together. At the core of it has been this remarkable selflessness that says if they make sacrifices it will keep other people safe. Before we get to the argy-bargy that the Prime Minister wants and the Treasurer wants, and all the talk about politicians and all of that, there'll be a time for that, but I think really right now is a time to acknowledge what Victorians have been able to achieve. I saw Magda Szubanski was channelling Jeff Fenech overnight on social media saying we love youse all, and I think that's the most important message for Victorians today.
KELLY: Given the cost of it, you're the Shadow Treasurer, it's been costing according to Treasury numbers, taxpayers $200 million a day and 1,200 jobs being lost each day. Do you urge Premier Dan Andrews to fix things with business?
CHALMERS: We want a close relationship between state governments of either persuasion, and I'd like a close working relationship with businesses around Australia, including in Victoria; that can only be a good thing. We do want to see that but we also need to acknowledge very importantly and briefly that the economy is not just weak in Victoria, there's weakness right around Australia. The last jobs numbers that we got show the jobs were lost in every single state and territory. What Josh Frydenberg wants to do is to pretend that all the weakness in the economy is Dan Andrews’ fault but the reality is that we're concerned about jobs right around Australia. That does come with a hefty price tag. That's why we need to make sure we're getting maximum value for money and for all of these borrowed dollars, which are supposed to be supporting jobs right around Australia.
KELLY: You're listening to RN Breakfast. Our guest is the Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers. Yesterday, the Opposition was on the Government's tail over a national integrity commission. Could I ask you about ASIC because the Deputy Chair of ASIC, Daniel Crennan, has quit now over the expenses scandal. The chairman James Shipton has stood aside. Is your view the chairman should go as well?
CHALMERS: There's an inquiry into that right now, which is really important. What has gone down here has been extremely disappointing. For the chair of ASIC to overclaim expenses, taxpayer money of more than $100,000, is obviously a very serious thing. In my view, the big issue here is that the Treasurer tried to pretend last Friday that he only just heard of this; he put out a press release on the eve of grand final weekend saying it was just brought to his attention the day before. We now know that he's sat on this information for five weeks and did nothing about it.
KELLY: Do we know what information he had? He had a letter from the Audit Office which told him to expect a formal letter from the Auditor General that didn't come until the day the Treasurer nominated, did it?
CHALMERS: No, he was notified by email of this issue on the 15th of September. He tried to pretend he only heard on the 22nd of October. I think the Australian people are entitled to know why he sat on that information for five weeks, and why he tried to pretend he'd only just heard of it last week when he heard of it -
KELLY: But there are processes to be followed.
CHALMERS: But the process should have kicked in immediately having been notified of this issue, Fran. I don't think there's any reasonable test which says that it's okay for the Treasurer to find out that more than $100,000 of taxpayers’ money was wrongly claimed by the chair of ASIC, to do nothing about that for five weeks, and then to try and pretend just before the grand final weekend that he just heard of it. It is of a piece with some of these other scandals. This Government is a dumpster fire of ministerial scandal. We’re seeing it right across the board. That's why we need a national integrity commission and it's probably why the Government's dragging its feet on it.
KELLY: Jim Chalmers, thanks very much for joining us.
CHALMERS: Thank you Fran.