JIM CHALMERS MP
MEMBER FOR RANKIN
WEDNESDAY, 21 JULY 2021
SUBJECTS: Scott Morrison hiding while Australians are hurting; Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg's decision to end JobKeeper looking dumber by the day.
STEVE PRICE, HOST: Sobering stats out of Victoria, twenty new cases today. Now that's the biggest spike since 28 infections were detected on the 22nd of September last year. The new cases are all linked to current outbreaks, which is the good news. The bad news, is that if we get through to the middle of next week Melburnians will have marked six months in lockdown. Now I've been pretty tough on the Prime Minister Scott Morrison today. You've been even tougher. The feedback on his lack of leadership has been overwhelming. I don't think we've had one positive response about the PM. Interestingly, news journo James Massola said that the Prime Minister did two interviews today - one on ABC Radio in Adelaide, one on 5AA in Adelaide - after lockdown started there. He's done several Sydney media outlets over the last month, but as far as I can tell, this is James Massola, his last interview with a Melbourne outlet was on 3AA on the 20th of May. He's relocated to Canberra. And I think the lack of leadership's been absolutely despicable, really. I think it's disappointing. I don't want to give Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers too many free kicks - and he knows I won't - but I've got to say Jim, I'm just staggered that the Prime Minister relocates out of Sydney, goes to Canberra, does a Liberal Party fundraiser on Zoom, and two interviews in Adelaide when he's got 13.7 million people locked up.
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: You and me both, Steve. This is a bloke who goes into hiding when people are hurting.I think not just you and I but I think Australians increasingly are pretty dark at a guy who when there's good news to be had he's everywhere, but when things get tough and more than half the population of the country that he's supposed to be leading are in lockdown, he's almost nowhere to be found. So I think that is very disappointing.
PRICE: And when pulled up today by David Penberthy in Adelaide on the vaccination rollout he continues to roll out this excuse that you know we never thought we'd be at a certain percentage point at this time in the COVID pandemic, and then he uses stats from other countries overseas including, you know, stating death fatalities out of London in the UK. We don't want that defensiveness. I mean, you can't have a glass jaw in politics if you're the PM and you want to lead the country.
CHALMERS: Yeah, that's right. He spends a lot of his time trying to avoid responsibilities for vaccines, but he had these two main jobs to do this year - vaccines and quarantine - and both of them are going very badly. We're actually stone cold, motherless last in the developed world when it comes to the vaccine rollout and we're seeing the costs and consequences of that. In my area of interest, my portfolio, the economy, even before South Australia went into lockdown there were estimates that the Sydney and Victoria lockdowns were costing around $150 million a day to the national economy. So there's actually a price tag on this incompetence, this failure to take responsibility. There's some parts of the economy are going okay. I'm in Central Queensland at the moment visiting cattle properties, and cotton and wheat properties, and there's parts of Australia doing quite well. But there's a lot of Australia locked-down and struggling. And the parts of Australia which are locked-down and struggling are doing so because this bloke has failed to lead, failed to deliver on vaccines in particular but also quarantine, and because of the decision to end JobKeeper, which is looking dumber and dumber by the day. All these small businesses right around Australia are screaming out for JobKeeper - or something like it - have been let down repeatedly by this guy who's in hiding.
PRICE: We're in a different situation as you point out there to last year. JobKeeper existed and so when you shut down a state, whether it be Victoria or New South Wales or Queensland or wherever, people had that crutch to lean on. It worked and it worked very well for people to keep connected to the businesses that employed them. It's gone. And from what I'm hearing the various state systems, while beneficial are hard to access, and it makes it more difficult for people to keep their employees on their payrolls. Do we not now need to reintroduce a federal system that kicks in when a state goes into some sort of lockdown? There seems to me to be a number of confusing state help systems and then you've got the feds are coming in over the top but no one really knows how they can access those payments properly?
CHALMERS: I think the states are kind of scrambling to do their best they can, states of both political persuasions. The feds have had three cracks at it now, trying to replace JobKeeper, and each time they've come up with something which isn't as good as JobKeeper at keeping people in work and providing an appropriate level of support. My fear here Steve, just to be pretty brutal about it, is the Government doesn't want to admit that they are wrong to end JobKeeper. We told them just leave it there in case we need to dial it up, in case there are more lockdowns. The Government didn't want to go down that path. And now they don't want to admit that they were wrong. They always put the politics of the day ahead of taking responsibility and doing the right thing. If they wanted to do the right thing they'd reinstate JobKeeper. If they've got a better idea, or they want to call it something else, fine Steve. We don't really care about that. As long as people are getting that support that they need and maintaining the link with their employer. We're going to have these lockdowns for as long as these debacle on vaccines and quarantines continue. The least the Government can do, having created this problem, is to support people properly to try and get them to the other side.
PRICE: We've got lag effects that will loosen now within construction shut down in New South Wales, or in Greater Sydney. You've got the big construction companies not paying the subcontractors and that drips down right through the community to you know the plasters, and the sparkies, and the electricians , and the tilers, who are doing all that work. That's suddenly ground to a halt. They're told to stay home. They've got no money coming into their bank accounts at all. We're going to cause massive social disruption if we don't at least help those people over that hump. I mean, New South Wales Jim, could go on for at least another month and a half?
CHALMERS: What people are realising now, when they think about construction in particular, but even some of the businesses in other parts of Australia that aren't locked-down that rely on those big Sydney, and Victorian, and South Australian markets for their goods and services, is this this pain is actually a further bit distributed. And it goes beyond the easier to understand businesses that closed down, some of the hospitality businesses and the like, which are crucially important to the economy. It's a bigger problem now, and as I said before, until we get vaccines sorted, we're last in the developed world, until we get that purpose-built quarantine, because quarantine in hotels has been a big part of the problem here, until we get the JobKeeper support right and back in place to look after people properly, then we're going to continue to have this kind of economic dislocation. As I said before, about $150 million a day even before South Australia. It's racking up billions and billions and billions of dollars of economic carnage. And we need to get those things right, otherwise we're going to see whether it's construction as you rightly point out, the subbies that work in the area, all those families that they feed, there's going to be a lot of pain for a lot of people until this Prime Minister and this Government gets its act together.
PRICE: Just finally, you were in the middle of the GFC response, and we can argue or not argue about how that response worked, but in that cabinet group that got through the GFC with Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, was there consensus in that cabinet about what to do? Because I get a sense here that somehow the Morrison / Frydenberg cabinet is split on something like JobKeeper?
CHALMERS: I think that's probably the case, but I think more of a problem than that, I think the Prime Minister and the Treasurer, they would be humiliated I think if I had to put JobKeeper back in place. We told them not to end it, they ended it anyway, that's a dumb decision. I think that's the consensus now among the kind of independent commentators. And so I think the big problem is those two. They shouldn't be so stubborn about it. They should do the right thing. Back in the GFC there was a sense of common purpose. Obviously, people held different ideas up to light and made sure that they worked before they took some of those decisions. What we want to see is those two big players, Morrison and Frydenberg, do the right thing here. One of the big differences between the GFC response and the response now, is the Labor Government was very careful not to withdraw support too early. That's the mistake that's been made this time and it would have been avoidable.
PRICE: Good luck out in Central Queensland, thanks Jim.
CHALMERS: Thanks so much, Steve. All the best.
PRICE: Jim Chalmers there, the Shadow Treasurer.