PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
THURSDAY, 23 JULY 2020
SUBJECTS: Budget Update; JobKeeper; Labor National Conference.
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: Today's budget update needs to be comprehensive, it needs to be four years of figures, it can't just be another marketing exercise. Australians are feeling very anxious. There's a lot of uncertainty, including in the business community. We can't have the Government just provide them with something that isn't even half a budget update. Australians don't need reminding how grim the outlook is for jobs in the economy. What they need is a plan from the Government about what the Morrison Government is going to actually do to create jobs in the future. Australians don't need another reminder that things are grim. They need a plan for jobs, the recovery, and the future. What we need to hear today is a comprehensive plan for jobs.
The test of all of these hundreds of billions of dollars that the Government is borrowing is how effectively that money is being spent, and how good it is at creating jobs and saving jobs during the first recession in almost three decades. The Government will try and pull swifty today. They'll try and pretend that all of these hundreds of billions of dollars of debt are purely a consequence of the COVID-19 crisis. Two-thirds of the debt in the budget was racked up before anyone had even heard of Coronavirus. These are not the first and second budget deficits from this Government, they are the seventh and eighth budget deficits. This is a Government which said their entire reason for being was surplus budgets and paying down debt, but even before Coronavirus hit our community and hit our economy, the Government had more than doubled debt. Australians shouldn't be conned today by the marketing spin of the Morrison Government. What they need to hear is not more spin, not more marketing. They need to hear a comprehensive plan for jobs. They need to hear the Government acknowledge that most of the debt, two-thirds of the debt, was racked up even before this year.
JOURNALIST: They are saying they will unveil that plan in October. Isn't it better not to rush things, make sure that they get it right?
CHALMERS: No, there's a lot of uncertainty in the Australian economy, and we need to see a plan for jobs. The Government has already delayed this budget update twice now. That has created more uncertainty, more anxiety. It's made it harder for businesses to plan. Having delayed this budget update twice already, it's not good enough for the Government to say that now people have to wait until October to hear from the Government about what they want to do about jobs. Every day that this Government has delayed this update, and every day that Australians have to wait for a plan for jobs is bad for jobs and it’s bad for employment. The unemployment queues are long enough as they are.
JOURNALIST: So, what's your exact plan for jobs that you would hypothetically be announcing now?
CHALMERS: It needs to be a comprehensive plan for jobs. We've made constructive contributions to that. We've made suggestions. A couple of examples; the Government should be looking at building more public housing. That's labour intensive, good for jobs, but also has a lasting benefit. That's one example of the sorts of things that the Government should be announcing today. In the medium-term, they need to settle an energy policy. We've got big problems in this economy with business investment. One of the reasons we've had that for so long, and not just during this crisis, is because of all of this energy policy uncertainty. If they're serious about growing the economy again as we emerge from this recession, then they need to do something about energy. Those are just some of the things that we should be hearing about today.
JOURNALIST: Is the Government doing enough in terms of wage subsidies? We heard about the so-called extension of JobKeeper and JobSeeker this week but still $27 billion below what they pledged for six months of JobKeeper originally, which was $120 billion. We know that two million Australians will be kicked off JobKeeper in between now and March. Should those wage subsidies continue at the rate that they were and be tapered off at a lower rate?
CHALMERS: It remains to be seen whether the Government's expectations for the amount of people who will leave JobKeeper in the next six months will eventuate. The Government has had some pretty serious difficulties in predicting and costing the JobKeeper policy. There's another blunder in the paper today where they told sole traders they'd be kicked off, only then to tell them that they wouldn't be. That creates uncertainty and that's bad for jobs and for the recovery. On the issue of how long the support should be in the economy, it would have been absolutely disastrous if Scott Morrison's instincts had prevailed and they had turned off the tap at the end of September. To the extent that they recognised that, that's a good thing to see those programs extended. But extending JobKeeper and JobSeeker for another six months is not a comprehensive plan for jobs. It's a comprehensive plan for jobs that we need to hear about today.
JOURNALIST: Is it a missed opportunity just to have today a big list of figures rather than announcements of some policy changes?
CHALMERS: It's incredibly disappointing to see that the Government looks like they intend to just release a number for last year and for this year. That's not even half a budget update. During the Global Financial Crisis, the Labor Government updated the budget in a comprehensive way regularly, as you would recall Paul, and that's what we need to see today. It's not good enough, having delayed the budget update twice, for the Government to now hand in less than half a budget update. Australian families, workers and businesses need to know what the Government thinks about how this recession will play out. But more than that, they need to hear what the Government will do about it.
JOURNALIST: You wanted more casuals to be included in JobKeeper, do you believe that we should have gone even further into deficit currently than what we'll see today, even if it means we have less ammunition down the track?
CHALMERS: The point that we've made is that every dollar is precious and needs to be invested effectively in jobs. We saw earlier in the week the Government admitting to overpaying some workers something like $6 billion. That money would have been better spent including more casuals and other workers who were left out and left behind from JobKeeper. It's important to remember that even with the extension of JobKeeper, the exact same people who were left out and left behind in the original version of that policy are still left out and left behind now, and that's a problem. That means the unemployment queues are longer than they need to be because of the way that the Government has rolled out this otherwise welcome support in the economy.
JOURNALIST: Just to another issue. I hear Labor is reassessing whether to hold the National Conference in December. Will that put you a little bit behind in terms of preparing for the next election, particularly if the Prime Minister brings on the next election late next year?
CHALMERS: No is the short answer to that. Whether our Conference is at the end of the year or after that will not compromise our ability to put together a comprehensive plan for jobs and the recovery for us to contest the next election with. Whether the Conference is in December or at some other point, I'll show up when I'm told and I'll make the case for an economic policy which is responsible, and which is about growing the economy in a more sustainable, more inclusive and stronger way because that's how we get jobs growing again. The number one thing that matters in the budget update, and really every day of this recession and into the recovery, is jobs. Everything the Government does should be judged against whether that can prevent unemployment and underemployment rising.
JOURNALIST: Was it mean to exclude temporary visa holders, many of them performing frontline jobs in the middle of the pandemic in essential services like dentistry and healthcare and other areas where we need skilled workers?
CHALMERS: Certainly, there's a big problem with the people who were left out and left behind when it comes to JobKeeper. That's created all kinds of problems. We said at the time and we've said subsequently that excluding so many people who are working here, or trying to work here, creates problems for them, but also for the economy more broadly.
Thanks very much.