WEDNESDAY, 8 JULY 2020
SUBJECTS: Victorian restrictions; Banks’ announcement on loan deferrals; Future of JobKeeper review; Tax cuts; Childcare.
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: The Victorians are in our thoughts today. Right around Australia our hearts go out to them as they deal with these new restrictions made necessary by this spike in infections. Our hearts go out to those in the towers, to everybody who's been locked down and locked in; to the businesses which have been shuttered or who are struggling; to the police, the health workers, emergency services workers; to everyone lined up at the borders; everyone impacted by these necessary new restrictions. This is not just a Victorian problem, this is a global problem. It calls on us to draw on the very best Australian values if we are to get through this together. I think those Queensland nurses who went to Victoria earlier this week are a proud and inspiring example of those values and that spirit. We will need to look out for each other and look after each other as this crisis intensifies once again.
These are uncertain times. This is a deep and painful recession, the first one in almost three decades. The Reserve Bank has made the point as recently as this week that the recovery from this recession is deeply uncertain, that unemployment will be higher for longer, and that that means that the economy will require Government support for longer as well. People are worried and people are anxious about how they'll keep their jobs, how they'll put food on the table, how they'll put school shoes on their kids, how they'll pay rent or how they'll pay off the mortgage.
In that light we do welcome the steps announced by the banks today. We welcome the fact that the banks have mapped out the future of those arrangements which they struck with their customers in recent months. We acknowledge the steps that they've taken so far; we welcome the additional steps announced today; we're also grateful for the engagement with Labor from the peak banking groups, the chairs and CEOs over recent months, as everybody tries to work out the best way to get through this crisis. The priority now, and the banks know this, is to make sure that people are treated fairly in this process, that the changes are explained to them and communicated fairly to them, and that people aren't left out and left behind unnecessarily.
If the banks can provide some certainty with this announcement, the Morison Government can too – by releasing their secret report into the JobKeeper payments. The level of support in the economy and for how long it will be provided is really one of the key determinants of whether people will be able to keep their jobs and pay off their mortgages. This new outbreak and these new restrictions are creating new levels of uncertainty for workers and for businesses, and the Morison Government is only adding to that uncertainty by refusing to release the JobKeeper review. They need to stop leaving businesses and workers in the dark and in the lurch. They need to stop leaving businesses and workers behind during this first recession in three decades. We need the Government to come clean. If they have a plan for JobKeeper, let's hear it. If they have a plan to bring forward tax cuts, let's hear that too. They need a plan for jobs in the recovery and that has been absent, a point that the Reserve Bank was making this week as well.
If they want to bring those tax cuts forward then put a plan on the table and Labor will engage with that constructively and responsibly. If they want to bring tax cuts forward, let's see what they intend to do. Labor has been calling for that to be considered for some time. The working families of middle Australia need help now, not later. The working families of Australia need assistance via JobKeeper, tax cuts, or some other way that doesn't rely on them having to raid their retirement incomes, with consequences for their quality and standard of living when they finish work.
The end of JobKeeper is fast approaching and for childcare workers it’s already ending. The Government should consider better targeting JobKeeper; they should consider tapering it but they shouldn't turn off the tap for every business and every worker who are worried about these new outbreaks and the new necessary restrictions. The ongoing mismanagement of the economic response to this recession will make the unemployment queues even longer, the recovery even harder, and will make it a jobless recovery. No Australian wants to see that outcome.
JOURNALIST: Josh Frydenberg this morning on Sky was remaining tight-lipped about the future of JobKeeper. Do you think that is playing politics, but that that really shouldn't be happening given what's happening in Victoria right now?
CHALMERS: Businesses and workers are crying out for certainty and Josh Frydenberg is only adding to the uncertainty that they are feeling right now by refusing to release the JobKeeper review that he received more than a week ago now. Clearly, he delayed the release of the JobKeeper review until after the Eden-Monaro by-election. That by-election has now been run and won by the Labor Party. It's time for him to come clean on what he plans to do with JobKeeper. Businesses and workers are facing enough uncertainty as it is without Frydenberg and Morrison adding to that uncertainty by playing political games, and by sending the occasional smoke signal up in morning TV interviews. What we need to see is a plan; a plan to respond to this crisis more effectively than they have been, a plan for the future of JobKeeper; a plan for the tax system; a plan for jobs in the recovery; and a plan for new sources of growth once the hospital wards empty. This is the job of the Government and they have been absent. They have not provided the necessary economic leadership. They have rolled out and implemented these programs in an incompetent fashion which has lengthened the unemployment queues. We desperately need them to do a better job managing this recession and the recovery than they did managing the economy in the lead up to this first recession in almost three decades.
JOURNALIST: He did say July 23 would be the date when he'll reveal more. Why isn't it acceptable to wait until then rather than reveal it earlier?
CHALMERS: Remember that Josh Frydenberg and Scott Morrison originally said that the JobKeeper review would be released in June, as would the budget update. They then realised there was a by-election on the first weekend of July so they pushed it back to the end of July. That's meant that the uncertainty for businesses and workers, not just in Victoria but right around Australia, has been turbocharged by the uncertainty created by the actions of the Morrison Government.
JOURNALIST: Does the Government loan deferral support actually go far enough? Will an extra four months be enough for businesses and homeowners?
CHALMERS: That remains to be seen. I think it is good that the banks have given their customers some clarity about the future of the arrangements that have been struck for some of those concessional arrangements around loan repayments and the like. It’s important that the banks did that. We welcome the announcement that they made today. Clearly we need to see it communicated and implemented fairly and effectively. If the banks can provide that sort of clarity to their customers, it's long past time for the Morrison Government to provide clarity to the Australian people, to the workers and businesses of this country, about the future of JobKeeper and any other plans they may have. There is so much uncertainty and so much anxiety in the Australian community at the moment. The Government shouldn't be adding to that by unnecessarily delaying the release of the JobKeeper report, by forcing Australians to raid their own retirement incomes and nest eggs, by sitting on these plans for longer than necessary.
JOURNALIST: You said Labor has been calling to bring forward the personal income tax cuts. Firstly, are you happy with the decision that been flagged? Also, would you like that fast tracking to include the stage three tax cuts for wealthier individuals?
CHALMERS: First of all, these steps have now been flagged by the Treasurer on morning TV today, but they haven't been announced. As far as we're aware there are no concrete proposals. Let's see those concrete proposals so that we can engage with them in the same responsible and constructive way that we've engaged with other proposals put forward by the Government during this recession. If there's a plan for tax cuts, let's see it, and we will engage with it the right way. We have been saying for some time that there have been problems in the economy with disposable income and with consumption in sectors like retail. Not just during this recession but in the years leading up to this recession, there were problems with these things. There has been a case to bring forward or to consider bringing forward some of those tax cuts. In the first instance, that should be focused on the second stage of the tax cuts which were planned for two years down the track. We've made constructive contributions and suggestions on that in recent months, and we're prepared to play a constructive role in considering that once again.
JOURNALIST: Should free childcare be brought in again for Victorian families?
CHALMERS: There have been some announcements from the Minister for childcare in the last day or so. Amanda Rishworth, my colleague, has welcomed those limited steps to give some Victorian families some relief. But we remain deeply concerned that in something like 12 days' time, JobKeeper support will be removed from the childcare sector. The Government promised that childcare workers, that all JobKeeper recipients, would have access to that program until September, and then they ripped it away for childcare workers months in advance. That is deeply troubling, not just for us as the Opposition, but more importantly for so many workers, mainly women, who work in that sector.
JOURNALIST: The Morison Government handed over the reins to states for border control. Do you think JobKeeper and JobSeeker stimulus packages could be managed on a state-by-state basis?
CHALMERS: These are federal programs. They need to take into account national conditions. If there are alternative ways to manage those programs, then the Government should put those on the table by releasing the JobKeeper review. Clearly, the epicentre of this health crisis is now in Victoria but there are businesses and workers right around Australia who are struggling. They're struggling with the uncertainty of this new spike in infections. They're struggling with the consequences of these necessary new restrictions. They need certainty. They need clarity. The banks have taken some steps today and the Government needs to follow suit.