JIM CHALMERS MP
MEMBER FOR RANKIN
FRIDAY, 12 MARCH 2021
SUBJECTS: Morrison Government rolling out vaccines too slowly and removing economic support too quickly; Dressing up as a pilot is no plan for jobs; Malcolm Turnbull’s comments about the superannuation guarantee; Labor’s calls for a mandatory code for car dealers finally acknowledged by the government; Half a plan for half price airfares leaving communities in the lurch; Quad meeting; Questions for Michael Sukkar and the Liberal Party.
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: This government's getting the vaccine away too slowly and pulling JobKeeper support from the economy too quickly and both of those things will have consequences for jobs and the economy. The government says this isn't a race to get the vaccine out. This is a race - to protect jobs, and protect lives, and to secure our local communities. When it comes to economic support, when it comes to getting the vaccine away, getting either of these things wrong would be bad, but getting both things wrong simultaneously is even worse.
The government made an announcement yesterday, a tourism support package. The government's announcement has gone down like a lead balloon. One of the reasons for that, is because the more people look at this package of support, the more disappointed they are in it. People understand that what the Prime Minister announced yesterday seems like more of an excuse to dress up like a pilot and get his photo taken, then to genuinely support a million Australians who are on the JobKeeper payment. Just waving around a fake plane ticket is no plan for jobs. Dressing up as a pilot is no plan for jobs. One photo opportunity after another, and yet, still one million Australians who are on JobKeeper will not get the support that they need and deserve after the government cuts JobKeeper at the end of the month. Cuts to JobKeeper equals cuts to jobs, it's that simple. We don't want the government's cuts to JobKeeper to be a ticket to unemployment for too many Australians who are relying on that payment.
I've spent the bulk of this week in Cairns, in Launceston, and Hobart, and elsewhere, speaking to local businesses, and local workers, and business representatives, and tourism operators. They know that any support is welcome for their industry but what was announced by the Prime Minister is nowhere near enough, and it's no substitute for the JobKeeper payment. We need the government to recognise there are a million people on JobKeeper, two million Australians who can't get a job or the hours they need to support their loved ones. The economy is recovering, and that's a good thing, but some parts of the economy are still struggling and we need the government to recognise that. A picture opportunity, dressed up as a pilot, waving around a fake airline ticket, is no plan for jobs. Cutting JobKeeper too soon is a ticket to unemployment for too many Australians.
Now, there are a couple of other issues around today, which I might touch on before I take your questions. Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has made a welcome contribution to the debate about superannuation. This government shouldn't be using the pandemic as an excuse to come after people's super and wages simultaneously. This government pretends they want to see a lift in wages, having presided over the weakest wages growth in the history of this country. The government wants to pretend that they want to choose higher wages over higher super, when the truth is they want neither, and they've got form on both. The last time the government froze the superannuation guarantee, it wasn't followed by strong wages growth, it was followed by the most stagnant wages in our history. So be very wary about this government. This government is coming after your super and your wages, simultaneously and they want to use this pandemic as an excuse to do that. They can't simultaneously argue that the economy is going so well that they can pull this economic support from the economy prematurely, at the same time as they pretend it's so difficult that business can't pay a modest increase, which is legislated in the superannuation guarantee. So we welcome the comments by Malcolm Turnbull. We agree that it would be mad, as the government intends to do, to come after wages and super, simultaneously. Superannuation has an important role to play in this recovery and the government should stop undermining it.
Just finally, on the mandatory code for car dealers that the Prime Minister was talking about. Labor has been calling for a mandatory code for car dealers for some time now. We pay tribute to Senator Deb O'Neill for her tireless work, and advocacy, and the motion that she got through the Senate recently. We want to see a mandatory code for car dealers. We've been saying that for some time. The government has created needless uncertainty, and needless delays, by pretending there can be a voluntary code. We've said all along that that won't wash. They've conceded that today. They've come to Labor's view. We'll go through the details of what they're proposing, but well done, Senator Deb O'Neill. What we have been saying for some time has been vindicated by the announcement today. We need to see a fair go for people when they're dealing with car dealerships. We're on the side of people in the car market, the government has not been. We hope that their announcement today is a recognition, and an admission, of those failures. Over to you.
JOURNALIST: On the tourism rescue package, we saw Darwin added late yesterday. Are there other destinations you think should be added or removed?
CHALMERS: Well, the government's made a mess of this from the beginning. I mean, the government's announcement on this tourism package didn't even last the day. And our concern is not just with the destinations that the government has picked, but the thousands of small businesses, and hundreds of thousands of workers, that they've left out. And for too many Australian workers who were hoping for an extension of JobKeeper, or some other kind of substantial support, they've been left in the lurch and left behind by the Prime Minister's announcement. So, the Prime Minister has had a lot of trouble convincing the tourism sector, and small business, and business more broadly, that this package is sufficient to deal with the substantial challenges that are still in the economy. Our issue isn't just with the destinations they've selected, but all of those workers and small businesses they've left in a lurch and left behind.
JOURNALIST: But are there destinations you think should be cut?
CHALMERS: Well, clearly, it's strange that some destinations have been left off. Darwin was left off originally. There are important centres of Queensland which have been left off. Others have made the point about Sydney and Melbourne. It's strange in Tasmania that Hobart's out but Launceston is in. And I've been to both of those places in recent days. So, what we say about the government's proposal is really this: what the government has done is raised people's expectation that there'll be a replacement for JobKeeper. Instead, they've come up with half a plan, for half price fares, to some destinations. That's clearly not going to be sufficient to deal with the substantial challenges the we have. One million on JobKeeper. Two million unemployed or underemployed. This isn't going to cut it.
JOURNALIST: And of course Queenslanders can't travel to destinations in the same state, is that fair?
CHALMERS: That's yet another example of a policy which hasn't been thought through. You think after all the delays, and all the overpromising and now underdelivering, that the government had the time to put together a substantial package. The issue that you raise is an important one - the destinations in and out - those are important issues too. It hasn't been thought through. It's not sufficient. It's more of an excuse for the Prime Minister to get his photo taken dressed up as a pilot, waving around a fake ticket, than it is a genuine plan to deal with the weakness that's still in the labour market.
JOURNALIST: But you think intrastate travel should be part of this plan?
CHALMERS: Well, I think, clearly, there are big holes in the package. There are substantial gaps in what the government has proposed. Destinations, origins, all of the issues that you rightly raised. But the broader issue is the government's come up with half a plan for half priced fares, which won't even go halfway to dealing with the issues that we've got in the economy, particularly as they relate to jobs.
JOURNALIST: Some tourism sectors are booming at the moment, places like Byron Bay, for example. Does that hint at a more-targeted approach?
CHALMERS: We've been calling for some time for a more targeted approach to an extension of JobKeeper. Every dollar is borrowed. The government's run up a trillion dollars in debt, and we need to get bang for buck. And what we've said all along, is that JobKeeper shouldn't go on forever. But there is a case for the hardest hit areas, the hardest hit small businesses and workers in parts of Australia impacted by the closure of the international border, there's a case for a temporary extension of JobKeeper. Instead of that, the government's come up with half a plan, which won't go near doing enough, for people who are doing it tough.
CHALMERS: Of course it matters that Australia is well behind what the Prime Minister said we'd be doing, when it comes to the vaccines. You know, it beggars belief that the Prime Minister's getting all stroppy now with journalists asking questions about promises that he's made, and now intends to break. It was the Prime Minister that said four million people would be vaccinated this month. He's almost 4 million short. It was the Prime Minister that said everyone would be vaccinated by October. And now he's trying to walk away from that.
This is a Prime Minister that doesn't like to take responsibility and he doesn't like it pointed out where he's fallen short of his own commitments. There's been too much overpromising and underdelivering when it comes to the vaccine. This government wants to pull support from the economy too quickly, and deliver the vaccine too slowly, and both of those are dangerous outcomes for our economy and our society more broadly.
JOURNALIST: How do you think China will react to the Quad meeting?
CHALMERS: Well, the Quad is an important opportunity for Australia to have its voice heard amongst some really important partners. The issues that the quad will discuss go beyond any one country in our region. There are a range of important issues - recovery from the pandemic, jobs and opportunities which flow from economic engagement, defence cooperation. So, the issues that the Quad will discuss - and we want those discussions to be fruitful - they will be broader than any one country, or any one issue. We want the Prime Minister to the make our voice heard. It's a really important opportunity, and we shouldn't miss it.
CHALMERS: It's for the government to answer that. I mean, there are substantial unanswered questions around today about the relationship between a figure which has been identified by our security agencies, and their relationship with Michael Sukkar, and the government more broadly. The Prime Minister dodged questions about that this morning. I think the government needs to come clean on the relationship between them and this figure, and what consequences there are, if any, for our national security. These issues shouldn't be swept under the carpet. They should be answered for completely. Issues around foreign investment are for the government to explain. We don't have a briefing or visibility on that particular issue. Foreign investment plays an important role in our economy, but it needs to be robustly screened. Thanks very much.