PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
THURSDAY, 3 SEPTEMBER 2020
SUBJECTS: Recession; Tax cuts; The Morrison Government’s lack of a jobs plan; State borders.
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: The Treasurer is at it again today, pointing the finger and shifting the blame, trying to pretend that he has no role whatsoever in what is a deeper, more damaging the recession than it needs to be. The unemployment queues are longer than they need to be and they're going to get longer still because the Treasurer is in a rush to pull support out of the economy and he doesn't have a jobs plan to replace it.
It makes no sense whatsoever when we're in the deepest, most damaging recession of our lifetime, with a million unemployed and rising for the Treasurer's only plan to be to cut JobKeeper, cut JobSeeker, cut wages, freeze pensions, cut superannuation, shift the blame and point the finger.
Yesterday was a missed opportunity for the Treasurer to come forward with a plan for jobs. Australians already knew that the economy is incredibly weak and that the labour market is incredibly weak. They desperately needed to hear from the Treasurer what he intends to do about it.
Once again, he spent his day pointing the finger and shifting the blame to others. If only we had a Treasurer who spent more time on a jobs plan, less time pointing the finger at the states or talking about the Labor Party, every Australian would be much better off.
We have massive challenges in this economy with a million unemployed and 400,000 to join the unemployment queues between now and Christmas. We desperately need a Morrison Government to come forward with a plan for jobs and not to pull support out of the economy in such a rush. The way they are going about this is making a difficult situation worse. The way that they are pulling support out of the economy makes the Morrison Government part of the problem not part of the solution when it comes to this deepest recession in almost a century.
JOURNALIST: You are saying you want to keep the JobKeeper rate unchanged. At what point would you taper it off? Would unemployment have to reach a certain level?
CHALMERS: JobKeeper needs to be tailored to the economic conditions. That's the point that we've been making for some time now. The jobs market has deteriorated substantially since the Government announced its changes to JobKeeper. We think the Government needs to be sensible about this. Remember that the Treasurer alone sets the rate and the eligibility for JobKeeper. The ball's in his court. We've always said that at some future point the JobKeeper payment will transition. That time is not now when we've got rising unemployment and when we're in the depths of the worst recession in almost a century. The Treasurer is in too big a rush to pull support out of the economy, and he has absolutely no idea what a jobs plan would look like to replace it.
JOURNALIST: What do you think those economic conditions should actually be? Can you put a measurement on it?
CHALMERS: We need to respond to all of the conditions in the economy. There's lots of factors there. The most important, obviously, is what's happening in the jobs market. We need to be conscious, not just of unemployment as important as that is, but underemployment. We need to make sure that we carefully calibrate government support in the economy to what's actually happening in the economy. Right now, government support for the economy is falling while unemployment is rising. The Treasurer was talking about the Reserve Bank this morning. The Reserve Bank is injecting more assistance into the economy as recently as two days ago, at the same time as the Government is pulling support out of the economy. That's going to mean a longer and deeper downturn. It's going to mean that more people are unemployed for longer.
JOURNALIST: At what point do you turn the tap off, because it can't go on forever, can it?
CHALMERS: Obviously. We've made that point repeatedly. The Treasurer stood up in Parliament and quoted us, saying that JobKeeper can't continue forever. I would have thought that that's uncontested in any part of Australia. That point is a very simple one.
CHALMERS: That's the same question I've just answered. We've got to be conscious of conditions, particularly in the labour market. When the Government announced its changes to JobKeeper a month or so ago, they came around to our view that the Prime Minister's hard September snapback was going to be damaging so they extended the program. We said that was a good outcome, that JobKeeper would be paid for six more months. That's a good example of tailoring support to conditions in the economy, particularly in the labour market. If you're going to take that approach there, why would you be pulling support out of the economy when the economy is as weak as it is and unemployment still rising?
JOURNALIST: Would Labor vote to extend JobKeeper at the current rate and bring forward stage two of the tax cuts?
CHALMERS: We're calling on the Treasurer to reconsider the cuts to JobKeeper. When it comes to income tax cuts, we've heard the thought bubbles and we've seen the smoke signals as all of you have. They've been saying for some time that they might reconsider the timing of the tax cuts but they haven't announced anything. If they come forward with something concrete, a proper announcement, and proper proposal then we will obviously engage with that responsibly and constructively. We'll discuss it at our end and we'll come to a considered view. We have said for some time that there's a case for more assistance for middle Australia. I would have thought that's an obvious point. But just bringing forward income tax cuts is no substitute for a comprehensive jobs plan. It's a comprehensive jobs plan that the Government doesn't have, and which Australia desperately needs.
JOURNALIST: Mr Chalmers, one of the key aspects of trying to get the economy turning around again will be reopening state borders. Isn't it rank hypocrisy of the Palaszczuk Government to have 400 people from the AFL come in for a Grand Final while we've got a mother who's recovering from brain surgery stuck in a hotel room, and a border mayor who can't get people into a supermarket or a butcher because they've burned down on the border?
CHALMERS: I wouldn't describe it that way. The Premier and her ministers will be asked about this during the course of today. My assumption is that the AFL officials were part of the AFL protocols which have been governing the competition so far. But that's a matter for Premier Palaszczuk and her ministers to explain.
JOURNALIST: You're a Queenslander. How does this look to the rest of Australia, when sick people are stuck in hotel rooms, towns can't get access to food, but 400 people from a sporting code can get in to sit by a pool and a golf course while they wait for a Grand Final?
CHALMERS: My understanding is that that's part of the existing AFL protocols. Obviously, I understand that there is a lot of anxiety in the community -
JOURNALIST: But the Queensland Government's agreed to these protocols.
CHALMERS: If you let me finish my answer - I understand that there's a lot of anxiety and I understand that there are existing exemptions on medical grounds and they need to be applied with compassion. These are all issues that the Premier will be asked about today, no doubt, and she will explain to people about that. There's a broader issue here. There is a broader issue. The whole reason Josh Frydenberg has spent most of this morning talking about this is because he is hoping that he can distract from the Government's failures on aged care which are costing lives and his failures on the economy which are costing jobs. This is the national parliament. The state Premiers will explain their decisions. They'll be accountable for their decisions. Our job here is to do what we can to support good health outcomes and good economic outcomes. The most important priority for this parliament is to make sure that economic support isn't withdrawn too soon in a way that will cruel the recovery.
JOURNALISTS: It’s border communities talking about this, though. It's not the Treasurer, it's border communities. It's sick people needing to get into hospital. They're the ones driving this. Has Annastacia Palaszczuk got this wrong?
CHALMERS: I think Annastacia Palaszczuk throughout this crisis has made decisions based on medical advice. She's done the right and responsible thing for some months now to protect Queenslanders from the spread of the virus. Clearly there will always be cases where the public will expect more compassion to be applied. That is a matter for her. She has been extraordinarily successful to date. I think even her biggest critics would concede that Annastacia Palaszczuk has done a good job. If there are examples where that's not the case, then they will be put to her and she will explain them. There are medical exemptions. There are AFL protocols. The management of those is the responsibility of the states. My focus is what we can do out of this national parliament to make sure that the worst recession in almost 100 years isn't deeper and longer. My fear is that the way this Government is mishandling JobKeeper and other aspects of the recession will make the unemployment queues longer.
Thanks very much.