Cairns Doorstop 29/03/21

29 March 2021

SUBJECTS: JobKeeper; Andrew Laming; Culture of the Parliament; Cyber-attacks.




SUBJECTS: JobKeeper; Andrew Laming; Culture of the Parliament; Cyber-attacks.

SENATOR NITA GREEN, SENATOR FOR QUEENSLAND: Well thank you everyone for joining us this morning. It's good to be here with Jim, he's back in Cairns today on an incredibly important day for the local community. We know that JobKeeper is ending today and that means that 8,000 workers here in Cairns will lose access to JobKeeper. We also know that the pandemic isn't over. What we've seen in Brisbane in the last couple of hours confirms that there is still a need for JobKeeper. There is still a need for JobKeeper to support tourism companies to support tourism workers, until we know that businesses and workers will be supported through this pandemic.

It is incredibly concerning to me that the Federal Government has turned its back on the local community here when they decided to end JobKeeper. We have asked for the Federal Government to consider a targeted response to extending JobKeeper, and it should not be beyond the Federal Government, beyond the Treasurer or Mr Entsch to sit down and work out a program, which means that there's extended support for key industries like tourism that desperately need it. Instead, they've been out there today, again, saying that this program needs to end. But that doesn't fit with what we're seeing here today in Cairns. We know that domestic tourism is coming back and we know that people are planning their Easter holidays here in Cairns. But we also know that international tourism is a long way off recovery. International tourism is not due to come back until sometime next year. And we know that tourism is supported by the international tourists that come here, they spend money at a higher rate than of domestic tourists.

So what tourism operators and tourism workers have been left with by the Federal Government is a bit of hope and see. Let's hope and see if those domestic tourists support jobs here. Last week in (Senate) Estimates, I asked the Minister, representing the Tourism Minister, to guarantee that the programs that they have put in place will support jobs here on the ground. He was not able to make that guarantee and until he's able to make that guarantee they should not be cutting JobKeeper and turning their back on the local economy here in Cairns.

JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: Thanks very much. It's great to be back with Nita for the sixth time since the election, who as you know is a real champion for Far North Queensland, particularly for the industries here. This is a beautiful part of Australia, but it's also a very anxious part of Australia today because Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg are cutting JobKeeper.

For too many Australians the end of JobKeeper means the end of their jobs. Under Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg, the pandemic support ends before the pandemic does.

There's a lot of uncertainty here, a lot of difficulty here, not just because of the outbreak in Southeast Queensland, but because of the closure of the international border and because of the inability of the Morrison Government to get those 4 million vaccinations that they promised in March away on schedule.

So, it's a very anxious time, it's a very difficult time for this community, and for many communities around Australia. Thousands of workers and their employers have just been trying to cling on, to survive through a difficult period and they've been abandoned today by Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg. The Morrison Government has left thousands of workers and their employers in the lurch and at risk of leaving them behind. Too many Australians are facing a very difficult period ahead because of a deliberate decision taken by the Morrison Government to cut JobKeeper from today. The future of JobKeeper is in Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg’s hands, so any job losses that occur as a consequence of this decision will be on their heads.

Now the Government says that JobKeeper can't go on forever and nobody is calling for JobKeeper to go on forever for everyone, but what we are calling for is to recognise the difficulty of places like Cairns, for workers to small businesses and industries here. We need a temporary, targeted and responsible extension of JobKeeper which recognises the international borders are not open, the vaccines are not getting away as quickly as promised, and now we've got some issues around the necessary temporary lockdown in Brisbane and the surrounding areas. So, it's a difficult day here in Cairns and around Australia, the end of JobKeeper will mean the end of jobs.

Every single job loss that flows as a consequence of this decision will have Josh Frydenberg and Scott Morrison's names on it. They need to explain to the people of Cairns and around Australia who've lost their jobs as a consequence of this, why instead of supporting workers and small businesses here, they sprayed around hundreds of millions of dollars in wasted money on businesses that didn't need it elsewhere, which prevented them from being able to help out businesses and workers who still needed here in places like Cairns. So, it's a difficult day, we're here to speak with local industry about the consequences of this decision taken by Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg. We don't want to see the pandemic support end before the pandemic has, but that's what we're seeing.

JOURNALIST: Right now, what we are seeing is businesses are starting to come back there is now a skills shortage up here. Some tourism operators are now learning how to drive bus’s because they can't get bus drivers. What do you say to that sort of reaction?

CHALMERS: One of the consequences of the Morrison Government failing to support local industry is that risk that local industry gets hollowed out and we lose the skills and we lose the experience that we desperately need in local economies like this one. And what we've seen over the last very difficult year with the international border closure, and other necessary restrictions, is that people are leaving the industry and that means there is a risk of a shortage of skills, what we want to see is communities and local economies like this supported, so we don't lose those skills we don’t lose that experience, so we can bounce back when the international border reopens.

JOURNALIST: Should Andrew Laming leave Parliament before the next election?

CHALMERS: Well clearly someone like Andrew Laming, who has a long history of bullying, and belittling, abusing and trolling his own constituents, should no longer be in the Parliament. This is a Government which is already in a very precarious position in the Parliament, it has been there for eight years now and it's unravelling before our eyes. It's a matter for the Prime Minister to determine the future of Andrew Laming’s vote in the Parliament but we've made it very clear now for the last couple of days that he shouldn't be in the Parliament with that record of bullying, abuse and trolling the people that he's sent to Canberra to represent.

JOURNALIST: Just on that note Mr Chalmers, Andrew Laming was elected by his electorate and no complaint has actually been made to police. Why do you believe he has to go now, and he can't stay until at least the next Federal Election?

CHALMERS: By his own admission, he's been caught, bullying and belittling, abusing and trolling his own constituents, he may have been involved in a criminal act, all of these issues which have come to light in the last couple of days, in our view when it comes to Andrew Laming, are disqualifying. He has no place in the Parliament and the Prime Minister, when he stands up today, needs to explain whether or not, Andrew Laming will be coming back to the Parliament, if so, why.

JOURNALIST: Josh Frydenberg said the continued operation of JobKeeper would hamper labour mobility and stop people from continuing to productive roles in the labour market, do you accept that reasoning?

CHALMERS: Josh Frydenberg is always looking for excuses for the tens of thousands, if not more, jobs that will be lost as a consequence of his decision to cut JobKeeper. The Treasury has said that something like one hundred to 150,000 Australians are at risk of losing their jobs because of Josh Frydenberg and Scott Morrison's decision, we hope it doesn't come to that. We want to see people hang on to their jobs, we want to see people find new work. But the reality is when you consider that the pandemic is not over the international borders are still closed and there are other issues around the rollout of the vaccination, it's too early for Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg to be abandoning communities like this one. There are communities like this right around Australia, who are on JobKeeper life support, and Josh Frydenberg needs to explain why he's pulling the plug today.

JOURNALIST: Do you think operators you're meeting with today would be insulted by the fact that it seems to imply that tourism jobs are no longer productive?

CHALMERS: Of course not, and nobody's making that the argument. The argument we're making is that through no fault of their own, there are good businesses here, they were doing it incredibly tough because of international border closures, vaccine delays and other necessary restrictions that we're seeing in the economy - that's not the fault of local businesses, they've been doing their absolute best to keep their workers on, to cling on, try and get through a difficult period. It's not too much for them to ask for some support from the Federal Government for a bit longer, it beggars’ belief really that under Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg, the pandemic support ends before the pandemic.

GREEN: Can I just add to that Sophie. What's insulting about the Treasurer’s comments is that he has been here in Cairns on the ground. So he has spoken directly to the same tourism operators that I have spoken to over the past couple of months, and what they have said to me, is not only are they concerned about losing their staff because they will have to make a decision about making them redundant. They are concerned that their staff may actually harm themselves through mental health, that is where they’re at. They are concerned about the mental health aspects of the uncertainty that the industry is under. So for Josh Frydenberg to go out there and make comparisons that are so general, that don't appreciate the comments that he would have heard firsthand, it shows that he's looking for an excuse and not looking to fix this problem.

JOURNALIST: How soon would you be hoping for an added injection or an extension of JobKeeper in this way?

CHALMERS: Well I think the fear here is that the Morrison Government's being really pigheaded about this and that they won't be extending JobKeeper, they pretend that some subsidised airfares will fill the gap, but we all know that it won’t. They pretend that their hiring credit scheme will fill the gap. They promised 450,000 jobs there, instead there's been 609 around the whole country supported by that scheme. So, I think to pick up what Nita said, Josh Frydenberg always sees joblessness as a political problem to kind of spin and grin his way through, when we know that it's a human cost that should be avoided.

We don't want to see people lose their jobs, unnecessarily, we don't want to see small businesses hit the fence, when they would be otherwise profitable in more normal times, and what the Government's lost sight of here, as they unravel before our eyes, is that this is supposed to be about people's lives, and they seem to have forgotten that here. With all of this spin and all of this self-congratulation and self-justification. I mean I heard Josh Frydenberg try to lecture people about the light at the end of the tunnel yesterday. For too many people in communities like this, the light at the end of the tunnel is a locomotive, because they've been seeing what's about to happen with the end of JobKeeper, they know that it's too soon to see it end.

JOURNALIST: What was your reaction to reports when Anne Webster was harassed on the floor of the House of Reps last week?

CHALMERS: I’ve read about that in the paper and obviously that's incredibly concerning. She said that she made a complaint and it’s been resolved, which is important, but clearly there are issues in our Parliament, that's what the conversation has been about for much of recent months. And what we've said repeatedly throughout this, is that we need to address the structural and cultural impediments to women making a contribution in politics.

GREEN: All I can say to that is it’s so distressing to hear that women aren’t safe in Parliament House- not even on the floor of Parliament. I mean that really speaks volumes about the culture that we're talking about, and how important it is to change that culture.

In 2015 at the National Conference, the ALP changed the way that we dealt with affirmative action and quotas, and that's why I'm a Member of Parliament. That is why Labor has lifted the amount of women that are in Parliament, and that is something that we need to focus on. I'm incredibly proud to be a part of the Labor Party that has a strong female contingent in the House of Representatives and the Senate, but the Liberal National Government needs to do the heavy lifting as well. On Ms Webster's comments, she seems satisfied with the apology that she's received, but I don't think it should have happened in the first place.

JOURNALIST: Do you believe the man in question should also apologise publicly?

GREEN: I think we need to be conscious in these situations about what the person who has been harassed or assaulted wants, Ms Webster has said that she's satisfied with the apology. If she wants to name that person and if she thinks that a public apology is necessary, then absolutely, that should happen, but I'm very conscious that this is behaviour that's happened to Anne Webster and she should be in control of what happens with that information publicly.

CHALMERS: I might just say something briefly about the Cabinet Reshuffle before we finish up. We're expecting a reshuffle from the Prime Minister, I think later today. No amount of rearranging the chairs in the Cabinet Room will make up for the fact that this is an eight-year-old Government unravelling before our eyes. No amount of reshuffling the name tags in the Cabinet Room will make up for the fact that people are going to be hurt by the JobKeeper cuts. People are going to be hurt by the Government coming after their wages and their super, it's not going to change the fact that the budget is riddled with rorts. When we see this reshuffle later today or whenever it is, Australians I think will recognise that no amount of reshuffling this cabinet will make up for eight years of failure, or make up for the fact that after eight years the Government is unravelling before our eyes.

JOURNALIST: A couple more questions. The Australian is reporting that a Labor figure has self-referred an anonymous letter to the AFP. Do you know anything about this report?

CHALMERS: No, I don't. I just read that report in the paper today as well. I don't know any more about it than you do so I'm reluctant to go into it.

JOURNALIST: And then just finally, what have you been told about the cyber-attack on the parliamentary email system?

CHALMERS: We’ll be seeking a briefing on any issues around the parliamentary email system. The Government has made some comments about the nature of that. I know that my colleagues Kristina Keneally and Tim Watts are seeking a briefing and will expect to be receiving a briefing from the Government. We know also at the same time that there have been issues around Nine Fairfax and issues around their cyber security. We won't go into the details of the Nine Fairfax issue or the parliamentary issue without being fully briefed but we will say this, when it comes to cyber security, more broadly, this is a Government which makes big announcements about cyber security and doesn't follow through. It's a Government that has been asleep at the keyboard when it comes to cyber security. I spend a lot of time with the businesses of this country, and they are doing the necessary work to protect themselves from cyber-attacks and they need the Government to do that work as well, not just make announcements but to actually follow through.

JOURNALIST: And sorry, just one more on the sexual harassment. Would you support breath testing and drug testing for Politicians and staffers at Parliament House?

CHALMERS: Well clearly we're open to any suggestions which would improve the culture of the Parliament. We've seen suggestions like that made in good faith, no doubt these are some of the sorts of issues that Kate Jenkins will engage with her review. If it improves the culture of the Parliament then we've got an open mind to it. Thank you.