PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
MONDAY, 30 NOVEMBER 2020
SUBJECTS: JobKeeper; National Accounts; Unemployment and underemployment; China Tariff Dispute.
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: I see overnight that the Treasurer has released a new set of numbers about JobKeeper. These JobKeeper numbers are welcome but they're entirely unsurprising given the easing of restrictions and the tighter eligibility criteria for the payment. There are still 1.5 million Australian workers and their employers relying on JobKeeper payments and for all of those workers the Morrison Government’s cuts to the payment will hurt. It's good to see the numbers down but it’s not surprising given in the last few months we have seen some substantial easing of restrictions around Australia and there's also tighter eligibility criteria for the payment. For the 1.5 million Australians who are still on the JobKeeper payment the Morrison Government's cuts will sting at the worst possible time.
Now, later this week, we'll also be getting the National Accounts figures for the September quarter. Most economists expect there to be a substantial rebound in the quarterly GDP figures. Again, that's a good thing, but not especially surprising given the easing of those restrictions around Australia at the time and from such an extraordinarily low base, of course, we would expect there will be a substantial correction. So that rebound in quarterly GDP, which we'll see in a couple of days time, will be welcome, but it will be unsurprising.
What looks like a recovery on paper will still feel like a recession for many Australians. The Morrison Government and Josh Frydenberg shouldn't be congratulating themselves while unemployment queues are still lengthening, and people are still hurting and we still have a substantial problem with underemployment. What really matters in the economy is not one quarterly GDP figure or another but how actual Australians are really faring in real communities around Australia.
We would welcome a substantial improvement in the figures that most economists expect to see on Wednesday but it won't be enough to undo the lasting damage done to the economy or to recover all of the lost ground from this recession. We want to see the economy recover strongly. We want to see people back into work, that's a real measure of how the economy is faring. It's not just a quarterly GDP figure but how real Australians in real communities are actually faring, whether they can provide for their loved ones. Again, Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg shouldn't be falling all over themselves to congratulate themselves while people are still hurting, while unemployment is getting worse and we expect to have longer term challenges with underemployment as well.
JOURNALIST: Doesn't this whole episode with JobKeeper show the Government's policies were correct, it had the right level of stimulus, now the economy is on the rebound and businesses are coming off that payment intact?
CHALMERS: The Government will fall all over themselves trying to claim credit for a recovery in the economy but every serious economist knows when we've had a recession as deep and as damaging as Australia has, that of course, the economy will recover. Josh Frydenberg will pretend that it is his genius that has seen that happen but most economists know that from such an extraordinarily low base, of course there's going to be a substantial recovery in quarterly GDP. I don't think any objective observer of the way that the Government has implemented this stimulus would say that they got everything right. They haven't got everything wrong, but they haven't got everything right either. We called for wage subsidies and we were pleased when the Government had a change of heart and brought them in but that doesn't mean that they've been perfectly implemented. Too many people were excluded. Too many people in the unemployment queues were deliberately excluded from JobKeeper by the Government. What that has meant is that unemployment queues were longer than they need to be and we'll have a problem with unemployment and underemployment longer than we would like to.
JOURNALIST: The JobKeeper numbers are being painted as I guess, a success [INAUDBLE] is it a win to have fewer people on Jobkeeper?
CHALMERS: Clearly, we want as many Australians as possible in work. That requires government help but it also requires new jobs to be created and they need to be decent, well-paid, secure jobs and not just insecure, casual jobs like we've seen even before COVID-19. So ideally, fewer Australians would need government support. But I don't think what we're seeing today is some kind of policy triumph from the Government when you consider when the easing of the restrictions happened around Australia and when the Government tightens the eligibility for the payment itself, inevitably we're going to have fewer people on the payment. What really matters is not just one set of numbers or another, especially not quarterly GDP numbers, what really matters is how Australians are actually faring and whether they can provide for their loved ones. I think most people are expecting that what looks like a recovery on paper will still feel a recession for too many Australians.
JOURNALIST: China has whacked tariffs on Australia, we're now looking at a WTO case. This could take years to get a decision in our favour. Has the Government mismanaged that relationship?
CHALMERS: Clearly, the relationship is not in good condition. The Government needs to take some responsibility for that. Not all of the responsibility for that, but some responsibility for the fact that the mismanagement of this relationship has meant that there's a lot of anxiety amongst our exporters and our employers who rely on these markets. What troubles us is that these issues have been around for some time now, they've been getting worse, and the Government doesn't seem to have a genuine plan to deal with it. There are a lot of businesses around Australia, a lot of exporters, a lot of employers who are relying on this market, looking to the Government to come forward with a comprehensive plan to get us out of this mess and we can't see that the Government has one.
JOURNALIST: What would Labor do differently?
CHALMERS: We don't have the same kind of access to all of the expert departmental and diplomatic advice. But clearly, some of the language around the relationship has not been helpful over recent years. More needs to be done via the usual diplomatic channels to repair this relationship because the relationship as it stands now, is costly to a lot of exporters and a lot of employers and that means that ship needs to be righted.
JOURNALIST: Would you support taking this to WTO? Is that the right avenue to appeal?
CHALMERS: Clearly we need to be exploring those kinds of avenues. Let’s see what the Government proposes whether it's more than just a response to a question on the Insiders program and whether there's something genuine substantial behind that. I would expect that our spokespeople Madeleine King, and others will get some visibility of what the Government plans to do here and we'll come up with a considered view once we know what that is.
JOURNALIST: The Government's leading Labor 51-49 in the polls, the Government has now been ahead for eight months. Is that disappointing?
CHALMERS: Look at a time where we've got a million unemployed, at a time when we expect more people join the unemployment queues between now and Christmas, I don't think that Newspoll numbers are the most important numbers that we should be focused on. We should be focused on unemployment and underemployment and all of the ways that we need to make sure that we can kick-start this recovery and get people back to work. Polls are interesting but they are not the most important thing so I won't be focusing on them.
JOURNALIST: Is Labor going to back the Government's foreign relations bill in the parliament this week around the Belt and Road Initiative, I understand Labor has some reservations around the language?
CHALMERS: We've expressed those views in the past and we'll have more discussions and we'll make our position known. Thanks very much.