JIM CHALMERS MP
MEMBER FOR RANKIN
WEDNESDAY, 1 SEPTEMBER 2021
SUBJECTS: National Accounts; Economy was slowing before Sydney lockdown; Australia’s growth now slower than US, UK, and the OECD average; Scott Morrison’s refusal to take responsibility; Vaccinations.
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: This morning the National Accounts for the June quarter were released and they showed that the economy was slowing in the June quarter, and economists expect the economy is now shrinking in the September quarter.
These numbers show that the economy was already slowing before the Sydney lockdowns and there's worse to come.
But the digits and the decimals don't mean much to Australian families who already feel like their economy is in recession. It didn't need to be this way.
The slowing and now shrinking economy is a direct consequence of the Government's failures on vaccines, and quarantine, and economic support.
Australians are paying the price for Scott Morrison's mistakes.
Josh Frydenberg said at the time of the Budget that the economy was "roaring back" but now we know that it was slowing in June and it's now contracting in September. He said that our growth was outperforming the world but now we know that our growth in the June quarter is already amongst the worst in the OECD. Today's growth is weaker than the US, and the UK, and the OECD average.
As a slogan, "ahead of the pack" was about as accurate as "back in the black". We're not "ahead of the pack", we're not "back in black", we're not "roaring back". We're at the back of the pack in growth and vaccines, and those two failures are related.
We desperately want the economy to recover strongly. We want that recovery to be broad, and inclusive, and sustainable. We want to be able to create more opportunities for more Australians in more parts of the country. But all of the credible economists expect this economy to get worse before it gets better. The June quarter saw the economy slow, the September supporter will see the economy shrink. This is the price that Australians are paying for Scott Morrison's mistakes.
JOURNALIST: On recovery, do today's growth figures give you any confidence the economy will rebound quickly once lockdowns end?
CHALMERS: No economist expects the quarter that we're in now to be any better than the June quarter that we heard about today. The economy slowed in June and it's contracting in September. All of the credible economists expect things to get worse before they get better. That is the price that Australians are paying for Scott Morrison's failures on vaccines, and quarantine, and economic support. We desperately want the economy to get better. We desperately want there to be a light at the end of the tunnel. But until or unless the Government gets its act together on those failures on vaccines, and quarantine, and economics support, most economists expect things to get worse before they get better.
JOURNALIST: A big part of Queensland's economic growth was driven by tourism - spending at hotels, restaurants, and cafes - can this be repeated next quarter or perhaps the quarter after that - with hard-boarder closures in place?
CHALMERS: The economic recovery in Australia, whether it's in Queensland or elsewhere, is hostage to some extent to the Federal Government's failures on vaccines and quarantine. I'll be spending the next couple of days in regional Queensland speaking with local industries, including tourism, but other industries as well - agriculture, smelting, and other important parts of the Queensland economy. And what you hear right around Australia is that some parts of the economy are performing better than others, some industries better than others, some states and territories better than others. But overall, our economy is hostage to the Federal Government getting vaccines and quarantine right.
It's no coincidence that we are simultaneously as a country at the back of the pack when it comes to economic growth and vaccinations at the same time. The US and the UK outperformed our economy in the June quarter, partly because they're so far ahead of us on vaccines. Those two failures - on growth and on vaccines - are related. Until the Federal Government gets its act together on those fronts, then the recovery will be weaker than it could be and weaker than it needs to be.
JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister has acknowledged the issues on vaccines and getting the vaccine delivery in. He's acknowledged that that's been not as great as it should be. We've got the deal with Poland, we've got the deal with Singapore, we're getting doses faster than we ever have. Do you agree that it's now become about rhetoric of certain State Premiers refusing to reveal what their plans are, or kind of crab walking away from what the national plan has been agreed?
CHALMERS: There's a couple of parts to that question, Madura. There's a defining feature of this Prime Minister, and that is that he refuses to take responsibility until it's too late. Whether it's bushfires, whether it's vaccinations, whether it's getting people out of Afghanistan, the defining feature of Scott Morrison is his refusal to take responsibility, in the hope that somebody else can be blamed for his failures. We're seeing that again right now when it comes to the national plan.
We support the national plan. The question mark is not over whether or not we support it; the question mark is over whether or not the Prime Minister is competent enough to deliver it. That is the question that people have, given his form on vaccines, and quarantine, and economic support in the past. That is the issue here. The other issue is this Prime Minister is always more interested in picking a fight over the national plan than actually implementing the national plan. And one of the many reasons why we need a change of federal government in this country is because we need an Albanese Government that can actually bring people together to try and solve the nation's challenges. This Prime Minister has shown again, and again, and again, that he's more interested in a fight over these important issues then actually getting to a resolution. He's more interested in shifting blame for his own failures than actually addressing them. We're seeing that time and time again.
JOURNALIST: The Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk today brought in the subject of what's going to happen to the kids who are under 12 when you open up because they can't get vaccinated. It's kind of a way to obfuscate from this national plan and her, you know, not wanting to stake proper claim on where she is in terms of opening up when we get to 70% or 80%. How is rhetoric like this helpful for things like business confidence and the economy rebounding?
CHALMERS: I don't think the vaccination of our kids is a peripheral issue. I don't think the vaccination of our kids is a side issue or a secondary consideration. I think it should be absolutely central to the national plan. Those are the points, not just that Annastacia Palaszczuk has been making, but Anthony Albanese and Mark Butler, and our team at the federal level. One of the big gaps in the national plan is that it doesn't tell the parents of this country when their kids are going to be vaccinated. I know as a parent, I know knocking around with a lot of parents, that there is a lot of anxiety in the Australian community. One of the big differences about this delta strain has been its capacity to move through school aged kids. And so that's something that needs to be addressed. So I don't accept that raising important issues around the vaccination of our kids is somehow secondary or somehow some kind of political ploy to distract from the main game. I think it's part of the main game.
JOURNALIST: There's no country in the world that has currently vaccinated children under 12?
CHALMERS: First of all, what we've said, we speak for ourselves and Annastacia Palaszczuk can speak for herself. The first priority is to hear about the 12 to 15 year olds. We’ve said that throughout. But at some point the Prime Minister is going to have to explain to parents with younger kids what the plan is when it comes to their vaccination. It's crucial to try and address this anxiety in the Australian community about the health and safety of our kids in very difficult times, for the Australian Prime Minister the say to them this is what the plan is. First of all, 12 to 15s. But at some point we'll have to consider the younger kids too.
JOURNALIST: Major Australian businesses have published an open letter asking states and the Commonwealth to hold to the national reopening plan to live with the virus and provide a light at the end of the tunnel. Is that helpful and do you think states like WA, Queensland and Tasmania are still on board?
CHALMERS: I think every Australian wants to ensure that we can open up as soon as it's safe to do so. We don't want these lockdowns to go on for even one day longer than is necessary. We've seen the social dislocation, we've seen the economic carnage, which is wrought by these lockdowns made necessary by the Federal Government's failures on vaccines and quarantine. All of these issues are related in one way or another to the fact that the Prime Minister didn't think that vaccines were a race, didn't get around in more than 18 months to building purpose-built quarantine.
So we say to the business community of this country - and I spent a lot of time with the business community of Australia - we say to them, that we want business to rebound strongly. We want the country to open up safely. We want the national plan to be implemented effectively. In order for that to happen we need the Prime Minister to take responsibility for his failures, which are doing such damage to the Australian economy, such that it's slowed in the June quarter and it's contracting in the September quarter.
JOURNALIST: And should those states - Queensland, WA, Tasmania - commit to reopening their borders once vaccination rates hit 80%?
CHALMERS: They'll all speak for themselves, all those State Governments. Some of those you mentioned have done an extraordinary job managing COVID-19. And I think the nation should be grateful for some of the difficult decisions that have been taken by Premiers to help limit the spread of this virus. It is a diabolical virus. It has required governments of all persuasions, at all levels, to make difficult decisions and some have made those decisions more effectively than others. We want to see the national plan implemented. In order for it to be implemented effectively the Prime Minister needs to do his job. As always, he's more interested in picking fights with Annastacia Palaszczuk, or Mark McGowan, or calling Queenslanders cave dwellers and all the rest of it. He's more interested in that than actually fronting up, taking responsibility for his values, and doing what he can to fix them before it's too late.
JOURNALIST: And what do you make of Michaelia Cash's comments that states who refuse to reopen once we get 70 - 80% could expose themselves to High Court challenges?.
CHALMERS: I haven't seen what Michaelia Cash has said about that in particular. I think that true to form, each member of the Morrison Cabinet looks for opportunities to pick fights with the States rather than to try and work with the States. The Government is desperate to try and distract from their own failures, and I would consider that in that context.
JOURNALIST: One last one, just for my curiosity. Singapore, for example, they have now vaccinated about 80% of their population - and not 15+, but like 80% of every single human being aged zero to infinity. And the premise of that is that even if you have 80% vaccinated and 20% that are unvaccinated. That's where the disease, that's where the virus is spread. Do you think that that is the measure that Australia should be using as well? Instead of 15+ plus should we use zero+ to show that there will be always a portion that will be unvaccinated.
CHALMERS: Happy to leave the answer to that specific question to our spokespeople, but I think in the main, in principle, we should be thinking about the vaccination rates of our kids and not just our adults. One of the many ways that the Government has tried to fudge the figures in recent months is to talk about one dose rather than two, to talk about certain age groups and excluding that really important 12 to 15 age group. I'll leave it up to others to define what's the best way to measure those vaccination rates, but however you measure it, however you carve it up, Australia is badly lagging the countries with which we compare ourselves. And that's one of the reasons why we've got an economy which is growing more slowly than others. We are at the back of the pack when it comes to economic growth and vaccinations and those two failures are related. Thanks very much.