Brisbane Doorstop 07/08/20

07 August 2020

SUBJECTS: JobKeeper 3.0; Reserve Bank Statement on Monetary Policy; ALP National Conference.

SUBJECTS: JobKeeper 3.0; Reserve Bank Statement on Monetary Policy; ALP National Conference.

JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER:  People in this country are doing it incredibly tough as we work our way through the first recession in almost three decades. People are very anxious about their jobs. They're worried about how they'll provide for their families. They're worried about how this plays out, as we continue to go through some really difficult times for our country and for our economy. The responsibility on all of us is to do what's necessary, to do what we responsibly can to make sure that unemployment isn't higher for longer, that the unemployment queues don't lengthen unnecessarily for too long. The key test for the Morrison Government is whether they can prevent those unemployment queues being too long for too long, or whether all of these hundreds of billions of dollars that they're spending can make a meaningful difference to people's jobs and people's livelihoods in this recession and its aftermath.
The Reserve Bank has released some really important new forecasts today in their Statement on Monetary Policy and they made three key points. The Reserve Bank now expects almost 400,000 Australians to lose their job between now and Christmas, in addition to the hundreds of thousands who have already lost their jobs to now. The second point they've made is that the industries which have been hardest hit are those industries which have been deliberately excluded by the Government from the JobKeeper program, industries where casuals are dominant like accommodation, entertainment and other industries which have a lot of casuals are the ones who have been hit hardest by the Government's decision to exclude them from JobKeeper. The third important point that they made is that without sufficient investment from the Government in the months ahead then we will have a serious long term problem with unemployment, they call it labour market scarring. This is the thing that we need to avoid at all costs, this idea that long term unemployment will cascade through the generations and concentrate in particular communities. So those three points by the Reserve Bank today are three very important points. It should be a wake up call to a Government without a plan for jobs.
We've seen today that the Government has announced some changes to the JobKeeper program. There have now been three versions of JobKeeper in three weeks, and still too many people have been left out and left behind. The Government has been playing catch up with JobKeeper instead of thinking ahead when it comes to jobs in our economy. What they announced today is a welcome tweak to JobKeeper but not a comprehensive plan for jobs.
A tweak is not a plan and it's a plan that is desperately needed here. As we go through this recession, we can't have a Government continue to just play catch up. When the issues are of such magnitude, the consequences are so dire, the stakes are so high the Government can't afford to continue without a plan, not just to save jobs during this recession, but to create jobs in the recovery as well.
We don't want to see more Australians left out and left behind in the recession. We want people to be able to get ahead in the recovery. But that requires the Government to come to the table with a plan for jobs. This Morrison Government owes it to the almost 400,000 Australians who are expected to lose their jobs between now and Christmas to come up with a plan. A tweak to JobKeeper is not a plan for jobs. It's a comprehensive plan that's desperately needed.
I just wanted to touch on one other issue before I invite your questions. I see that the Treasurer was this morning pointing the finger at the Victorian Government for what we've seen in recent weeks. The Victorian Government, the Premier Dan Andrews, has taken responsibility and initiated an inquiry into what's going on in Victoria. It's time for Josh Frydenberg and Scott Morrison to take responsibility for their failures as well. What we saw from Josh Frydenberg was a desperate and transparent attempt to distract from the Morrison Government's failures on aged care, on JobKeeper exclusions, on the COVIDSafe app, on the Ruby Princess, on superannuation early access which is being rorted because the Treasurer is not checking applications, on the failure to get business loans out the doors as they said that they would, the failure to get the bushfire relief money out the door. All of these failures at the federal level, the Australian people need the Federal Government focused on fixing those issues, not so focused on pointing the finger and trying to escape the blame for what's going on here. What we need from Josh Frydenberg and Scott Morrison is not finger pointing. We need a plan for jobs. It's the least they could do for those 400,000 Australians who are expected to lose their jobs between now and the end of the year.
CHALMERS: We've said for some time that it's been obvious that the changes that the Government has been making to JobKeeper have the capacity to hit some businesses and some workers really hard at a very difficult time. We called on the Government to reconsider changes to the rate but also changes to the eligibility tests. Today, they've announced changes to the eligibility tests. That's a welcome tweak, but it's not a plan for jobs. The Government needs to be considering what else can be done here to try and prevent those businesses and workers particularly in Victoria, but elsewhere around Australia as well, from being hard hit by these changes at a very difficult time.
CHALMERS: The Government found another $15 billion today for this tweak to the JobKeeper program. Our priority is to make sure that every dollar which is borrowed during this recession is spent in the most effective way and we measure that effectiveness by what it means for jobs. So some of this spending is necessary. We don't want to see it wasted. We don't want to see it poorly targeted. We want to make sure it finds its mark. The Reserve Bank has made the point in recent days that the danger here is doing too little not too much. We need to make sure the Government is stepping in supporting people's jobs, but also coming up with a plan to create new jobs into the future and that's what's missing.
JOURNALIST: Could Labor have done a better job?
CHALMERS: Absolutely. The reason that we would do a better job in these circumstances is we wouldn't have left so many workers out of JobKeeper and we wouldn't have left so many people behind during this recession. We've made a really responsible and constructive contribution throughout. We've said that we will be supportive in the parliament when we can, we haven't stood in the way of this support getting out the door but we've also pointed out where the Government could do a better job, where there are holes in programs, where there are issues with superannuation, for example. Right across the board, we've tried to be as constructive as possible. The Government hasn't got everything right in this crisis, that's self evident. It's important that they fix up some of the issues some of the mistakes that they've made, spend less time pointing the finger at others and take some responsibility in areas like aged care and paid pandemic leave, there are a range of things that they should be focused on.
JOURNALIST: [Inaudible]
CHALMERS: Absolutely, we need a national scheme for paid pandemic leave. It's not enough for the Government to come to the table a bit late and only in Victoria with quite a limited scheme. What we've said is there's a role for the Commonwealth to step in. What we need to do is prevent transmission in workplaces, not just come in after there's been substantial workplace transmission as there has been in Victoria. There's a big problem with people going to work when they should be staying at home. We don't want people to have to choose between doing the right thing by their family and doing the right thing by their co-workers. If people are sick, they need to stay home. We need to make sure that they have the means to do that. The scheme that the Prime Minister announced was a welcome step of sorts but not comprehensive enough to prevent some of this workplace transmission which is very troubling, not just in Victoria but right around Australia.
JOURNALIST: The Australian Labor Party Conference has been postponed do you think that's appropriate?
CHALMERS: I haven't seen an announcement out of the National Executive, but my understanding is that it won't be possible to proceed in December as planned, for obvious reasons. Getting a group together of that size is difficult in the near term. So if that's the decision that's been taken I think that's a welcome and sensible decision. It is, at the end of the day, a matter for the party organisation. But that would be a good development. I think it will just recognise the circumstances that we're in.
CHALMERS: I'm not sure about that. I'm not sure what kind of other alternatives the National Executive has been contemplating. I've been focused today on the Reserve Bank Statement on Monetary Policy and on the changes to JobKeeper. I'm sure that the National Executive will make a sensible decision about how we get together and how we debate our platform. For me, the most important thing in the near term is our response to this recession, the constructive role that we can play and making policies for the longer term. Thanks very much.