JIM CHALMERS MP
MEMBER FOR RANKIN
LUKE GOSLING MP
CHAIR, INDO-PACIFIC TRADE TASKFORCE
MEMBER FOR SOLOMON
WEDNESDAY, 29 SEPTEMBER 2021
SUBJECTS: Police Remembrance Day; Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide; Delamere defence project; Morrison Government slow to roll out vaccines and quarantine but fast to pull support; Scott Morrison picking fights with the states and punishing Australians for his own mistakes; Federal election; Tax policies; Mandatory vaccinations.
LUKE GOSLING, MEMBER FOR SOLOMON: Thanks for coming down to The Esplanade on this beautiful, steamy, almost built up time a year. It's wonderful to be here at the harbour as always and I just want to thank you all for coming down, we've got a bit to say about a variety of issues.
Can I just first start by paying tribute all our police officers, both those that are serving and those that have served, and of course those that have been lost in the line of duty. We owe a great debt to our police forces right around the country. Here in the Territory there's a great gathering at St. Mary's to remember those that have been lost and those who continue to serve and protect our community. We owe a great debt of gratitude to our serving men and women, as we do to our veterans. And I'm sad to say today that there's been a report announced by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare about the shocking rates of suicide of our veterans. It showed what we all have known for a long time - there are some institutional failings in our nation when it comes to the care of our serving men and women in armed forces. It is shocking the extent to which this continues and it is an absolute disgrace that this current federal coalition government had to be dragged to agree to a Royal Commission to fix those institutional issues. We have finally got them there to agree to a Royal Commission, but you cannot trust the Morrison Government to run a Royal Commission into veteran suicide properly, their hearts have never been in it. We've heard again today what advocates in the veteran’s community have known for years, indeed decades, is that there is a silence across our nation when it comes to not only those serving and former serving men and women who have taken their lives, but also those that have attempted it, and those that are currently just not feeling well and not feeling supported.
So I call on the federal government, I call on the seventh Veterans' Affairs Minister that this coalition government have had, and the Department of Veterans Affairs, to work with the ex-service community and to get this Royal Commission moving. The quicker we do that and get the testimony from the parents, get the testimony from the ex-service organisations, and get the solutions that they know in their communities are going to work to drive down the rate of suicide in our serving men and women and in our veterans, the better. Because we'll get those recommendations and then we'll implement them. But you've got to ask yourself, when they fought so hard against a Royal Commission, who are the Australian people going to trust to implement a Royal Commission and those recommendations to fix these institutional failings. We, federal Labor, obviously pushed hard with the veteran’s community, with the parents of those serving men and women, and former serving men and women that took their own lives, patriots of this country who served our nation overseas, who served us here and have done such a sterling job with all the threats that we've faced and continue to face into the future. If young Australians, men and women, are going to sign-up to serve in our Australian Defence Force, we need to be true to their commitment to us, that we are going to have the best possible veteran support system to support them during their service and at the completion of their service.
Prior to coming to this press conference, I spoke with Karen Bird. It was the suicide death of her son Jesse Bird and her just refusal to accept the stonewalling and the whitewashing that was happening in relation to her son's suicide that really shifted the dial when it comes to Australia waking up to this issue with our veterans’ communities. I pay tribute to Karen and John and all of the parents who have not given up on this issue. This report today tells us that veterans are much more likely to die by suicide than the average Australians, in particularly those that are medically discharged are much more likely to die by suicide, and women serving in the Defence Force on separation are much more likely to die by suicide than a member of the community. So it is our duty to make sure that we get the solutions to fix these systemic issues. It's an issue that's very important to me and hank you for helping us to relay the seriousness of the situation, the need that this Royal Commission isn't whitewash, it's done properly, and that will be done best by a federal Labor Government.
On another note, I just want to welcome the news today that there is $100 million project going to local companies in defence industries here in the NT. The project that has been announced will see $100 million into local companies to do serious infrastructure work at the Delamere RAAF weapons range. I really welcome this investment in local companies to increase our ability to do the world's best training for our defence forces, for our allies, for our partners, right here in the Top End. Over the last couple of days, I've had Jim Chalmers with us visiting some of these local companies that are doing maintenance, that are on the on the very front edge of technology that is being used by our defence forces to make us a more capable and a better maintained and supplied Defence Force into the future. We are not only the capital of the North, but in the Indo Pacific where there's going to be so much activity in the coming years, we are gearing up, local industry is gearing up. So I welcome the federal government's announcement today of that funding for local companies to do that work and the Delamere weapons range.
It's great to have Jim here, we've been talking to industry this morning at the Chamber, we've been visiting Territory companies who are doing amazing work on the ground. It's great to have the Shadow Treasurer here. The federal Labor cabinet is full of very experienced people who are ready to govern. Jim, as the incoming Treasurer should we be successful in the next federal election, knows our issues well here. It's great to have him and thanks for coming, mate.
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: Thanks very much, Luke. Can I just add to what Luke said on Police Remembrance Day and acknowledge and applaud the sacrifices made by our police men and women and their families, and thank them for all that they do to keep us safe in communities right around this country.
It's been a pleasure to be here for the last couple of days with Luke Gosling. Luke is a champion for this local community and this local economy, he understands better than most that if we need to make this national economic recovery count for the Top End, then we need to be looking for ways to support local industry and support local employers. We have spent much of the last two days meeting with employers in defence maintenance, technology companies, the Chamber of Commerce, hospitality and accommodation, a whole range of industries, to make sure that we are across the pressures that they feel but also the opportunities on the horizon if they get a federal government which is on their side, which will be a federal Labor Government under Anthony Albanese with Luke Gosling as a key part of that. So I wanted to thank him and I want to thank local employers and local industry for the time that they've given us the last couple of days.
This national economy is recovering at different speeds. Different parts of Australia are faring differently depending on lockdowns, depending on the industrial base, depending on the capacity of local communities to limit the spread of this virus over the last couple of years. And what we've said all along, is that we want to make sure that the economic support provided by the federal government actually matches the economic conditions that people feel in real communities around Australia. We want to make sure that economic support is tailored to the economic conditions. And we don't think that Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg understand that. They don't understand that for a lot of workers and a lot of small businesses around Australia, including in locked down communities, but elsewhere as well, they're still doing it incredibly tough.
If only Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg had been as quick to roll out vaccines and build quarantine facilities as they've been to withdraw economic support we wouldn't be in this mess. The national economy is bleeding billions of dollars a week as a consequence of Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg's failures on vaccines and quarantine. These are their lockdowns around Australia. Most of the country has been locked down because Morrison and Frydenberg didn't do their job and now they're in a rush to withdraw that economic support that so many Australians are relying on to get them through a difficult period. There's a lot of urgency from this Government when it comes to pulling support, but not a lot of urgency over the last 12 or 18 months when it comes to vaccines and quarantine.
What we're also seeing here is a federal government which would rather fight with the states then work with them. This has been obvious for some time. These cuts to support announced today are part of picking a fight with state Premiers when Australians want to see the federal government work with the states. We all want the national economy to open up safely and responsibly, when it's appropriate to do that. In order to do that, we need to get the economic support right, the hospitals need to be able to cope, we need tracking and tracing, we need to plan for the kids, we need to be able to manufacture vaccines and build quarantine, all of these things are crucial. The problem here is we have a government quick to withdraw support, slow to roll out vaccines and quarantine, and too keen to pick a fight with the states.
Now I'm happy to take any easy questions you have and Luke will take any of the curly ones. Over to you.
JOURNALIST: Isn't it the states that have picked a fight with the federal government? I mean there was a National Plan that was agreed to at National Cabinet and it seems the states are going away from that and it's the federal government who's now had to bring the stick out to sort of get them back in line?
CHALMERS: I don't share that view, I know that's the federal government's view - that's the spin and the marketing that they put on today's announcement. Let's be clear about what they're announcing today - this is a cut to support for Australians who are still doing it tough. And what they're trying to do is to pick a fight with the states. This Government is always running from responsibilities. These lockdowns that we've seen the last few months are the consequence of Morrison and Frydenberg's failures on vaccines and quarantine. To try and distract from those failures, to try and distract from the fact that they've caused these billions of dollars in lost activity to the economy every week, they try and pick these fights with the states. The states are taking the best decisions they can based on the health advice. Everybody wants to see our country open up safely and confidently when it's responsible that we do that, but some things need to be in place for the federal government in order for that to happen. And we need to recognise that many people are still doing a tough and will be doing it tough for a little while longer. The federal government likes to pretend that somebody is arguing that these supports go on forever. Nobody's arguing that they go on forever. What we are arguing, is that they are tailored to the economic conditions. Nobody who looks at what's going on in New South Wales or Victoria right now could objectively argue that people aren't still doing it tough. The support needs to reflect that. What we need from the Government is urgency when it comes to their responsibilities, empathy when it comes to the support that we need to be providing people, and we need them to bring people together rather than pick these unnecessary fights.
JOURNALIST: What the Treasurer is talking about though is bringing those measures in once the states hit that 80% vaccination rate. Does Labor think the states should be able to keep their borders closed and those restrictions in place once we have 80% of residents fully-vaccinated.
CHALMERS: Our point is, even when you get to those levels of vaccination, if people are still doing it tough then they need to be supported. We're not saying that support should go on forever, we're arguing that it should be tailored to the economic conditions. And I think any objective observer of the economy - particularly in locked-down communities, but not just there - would conclude that people are going to be doing it tough for a little while longer as a consequence of the federal government's failures on vaccines and quarantine. If the federal government is responsible for this economic carnage, the least they can do is support people through it and help them get to the other side.
JOURNALIST: At not at 80% though, when?
CHALMERS: We've said throughout that we support the National Plan but in order to open up safely, and confidently, and responsibly, we need to get all of those things right - economic support, we need to get quarantine built, we need to make sure the hospitals can cope, all of the other issues that I've dealt with. And so the federal government needs to take responsibility for once for the bits that they are responsible for. That's all we're asking for here. Economic support is important to get people through a very difficult time because of these lockdowns caused by federal government failures, the least they can do is make sure that that support is tailored to the conditions.
JOURNALIST: Isn't the best thing for businesses to get back to business?
CHALMERS: We've said repeatedly that big employers, small employers, small businesses, workers, we all want to see Australia open up safely and confidently when it's responsible for that to happen. In order for that to happen, we need the hospitals to be right, we need quarantine to be right, tracking and tracing needs to be right, we need to have a plan to vaccinate younger Australians in particular, we need to have a plan to manufacture these vaccines as we will need boosters, and for the next pandemic as well. So all we're saying is the federal government needs to do their job for once - instead of picking these unnecessary fights, instead of being in a rush to pull support while people are still doing it tough - how about they do their job and provide that support for as long as is necessary, not forever, but for as long as is necessary to make sure that we can open up confidently and safely when it's appropriate that that happens.
JOURNALIST: Should the tax rate on family trusts be increased?
CHALMERS: We've said repeatedly since the last election that we will run the ruler over a number of the commitments we took to previous elections. We've said that no political party takes an identical agenda to one election that they took to the election before, and we've already had a lot to say about tax policy. I know that there are reports in the paper about other issues today, those issues have not been concluded or decided, but we have made it clear for some time now that our agenda in '21 or '22 will be different to the agenda in 2019.
JOURNALIST: Is there not a lesson from 2019 though that negative gearing and some of those other issues, franking credits, that most Australians want those issues left alone? They don't want a Labor Government to come in and tinker with that part of the tax system?
CHALMERS: Obviously we took very seriously the message we got in the 2019 election. We've already announced substantially different policies when it comes to negative gearing, when it comes to income tax, when it comes to franking credits. We've said all along that we will do the right and responsible thing when it comes to the budget. Never forget that this Government had already multiplied Commonwealth debt before the pandemic and now it's a trillion dollars and rising. We've got forty years of debt on the horizon, we've got forty years of deficits. They've already delivered eight deficits to now. And so what we need to do is make sure that our economic agenda is the right and responsible one, that fits the budget and the economy that we will inherit. Some of the issues speculated in the paper today have not been determined, but we have had a lot to say about tax policy leading up to now.
JOURNALIST: Would you take that idea though to Labor MPs, to increase tax on family trusts?
CHALMERS: Obviously I'm not going to talk about internal discussions that we have, we talk about a range of policies across every portfolio. We've been doing that for two years, that is entirely unremarkable that there are those kinds of discussions, but I'm not going to get into the detail of those. People will know our tax policies well before the election, so that they can factor that into their choice.
JOURNALIST: Luke, Labor Senator Malarndirri McCarthy expressed some concerns about mandating the vaccination for certain workers. That earned her been labelled an anti-vaxxer by the Chief Minister. What's your stance on mandatory vaccinations?
GOSLING: Obviously, these are issues for the NT Government to work through. I've just come from the Police Remembrance Day ceremony at the cathedral and had a chat with some of the representatives from the Police Association and I think what the NT Government have given as the policy in this area is broadly being received well by their members who understand that in the duty, in the case of the police for example as first responders, there is a need to not only serve but protect, to serve and protect. So I think that those issues are being handled appropriately by the Police Commissioner in consultation with the Association. What I would say more broadly, is that I encourage people to get vaccinated because that'll be the best protection that you can provide to your families, for those that you work with, obviously our kids as well. So I encourage people to get vaccinated, and I hope that they do so. What will happen, as Jim has said, is that when our settings are right and we can open up, that's going to be great for everyone. But until then we need to make sure that those supports are there for our businesses and for our workers so they can get through this difficult period. Many of you will remember me saying in March this year that it was way too early to stop targeted support to, for example, the tourism industry. It was much too early because the vaccine hadn't rolled out. They hadn't set up, outside of Howard Springs, dedicated quarantine around the country. So we were going to continue to see a situation where our big tourism markets were going to be locked-down. Unfortunately, that's what we're seeing come to pass and many small businesses here in the Territory, particularly those tourism businesses and hospitality businesses, have been affected. So we need to continue to provide that support to our industry in a targeted way until the settings are right so we can move forward and open up.
JOURNALIST: Malarndirri McCarthy said though that Australians weren't ready for mandatory vaccination and that's what the Gunner Government's policy is mandatory vaccination for people in contact with vulnerable people?. So are you Malarndirri McCarthy's side here or Michael Gunner's side here? Do you support the NT Government's policy for mandatory vaccination for people in contact with vulnerable people?
GOSLING: The NT Government are best placed to be making the decisions about who needs, from their employees perspective, who needs to be vaccinated because of the work that they do. They're in the best position to answer those questions. Now, when it comes to mandatory vaccinations, it behoves everyone to think very deeply about their responsibility to keep the community safe and to keep their families safe. Unfortunately, because the federal government did such a shocking job of publicly informing people, they created a vacuum that was then filled by others on the internet. Of course, no one is going to be forced to take a vaccine, but as Malarndirri McCarthy has said, the Senator for the NT, for those that choose not to get vaccinated there will be, depending on their employment, some effects that will come into place, some consequences from that decision not to take that protection for people's families, for their workmates, and for the general public.
JOURNALIST: Do you think that's fair enough, that someone can lose their job if they refuse to get vaccinated?
GOSLING: The NT Government, I think, is taking a very sensible approach to this, where there is going to be a real effort to make sure that people's work circumstances and personal choices are accommodated as much as possible, but this is serious business. We do not want to see COVID running rife through the Northern Territory. The Prime Minister seems very eager to allow people from New South Wales to be rushing into the NT. We know what will happen if that is not handled properly. We know what will happen if we haven't got our Northern Territory community vaccinated as much as possible before that occurs. These are really serious issues, not things that should be politicised. And I just encourage everyone involved in this debate, just to trust the science and the health professionals, that these settings need to be right and that vaccination is so important for our community to move forward, and so important for our business community so they can open up, keep Territorians employed, and we can move on.
CHALMERS: Thanks very much guys.