MONDAY, 11 JANUARY 2021
SUBJECTS: Income Tax Cuts; JobKeeper; Brisbane Lockdown; Anthony Albanese; Comments by George Christensen and Craig Kelly.
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER:Thanks very much for coming out today. It's really pleasing to see the numbers that Premier Palaszczuk announced this morning. Queenslanders, particularly in the southeast corner, have been really successful so far in limiting the spread of this virus, doing the right thing to protect each other and to protect our local community. I wanted to pay tribute to all of those Queenslanders and indeed all of those Australians over the last weeks and months, who've done the right thing, who followed the health advice and followed instructions, so that we can get on top of the spread of this virus when it pops up like it has here in our own local community.
The Premier has done the right thing throughout here. She's taken the right decisions based on the right medical advice for the right reasons and we're seeing the fruits of that, but we can't be complacent about the spread of this virus. There is a lot of uncertainty still until we can get those vaccinations done broadly throughout the Australian community. But I think it is worth paying tribute to what Queenslanders and Australians have been able to do, particularly here in this community in the last three days or so to limit the spread of this virus, so that these restrictions can lift from 6pm tonight, here in the southeast corner of Queensland.
Now true to form, when the Treasurer of this country should be out there patting Australians on the back, congratulating Australians for what they've been able to achieve, instead he's out there patting himself on the back for these tax cuts. We see stories about these tax cuts today, working their way through the economy.
For some time, Labor has called for tax relief for working families and we're pleased to see that tax relief get into people's pockets, get into the small businesses and circulate throughout the economy. This is exactly why Labor has been such a loud and prominent voice for some time now for tax relief for those on low and middle incomes, so that they can get spending in an economy which desperately needs that spending power, so that we can support our small businesses and support our economies more broadly throughout this country. So it's pleasing but not surprising to see those tax cuts circulating in the economy. It's entirely the reason why we called for those tax cuts for working families in the first place.
It's also pleasing but not surprising to see the retail figures which have been released in the last couple of hours. It's pleasing but not surprising to see that there's been a pickup in retail activity, when you consider that this was the first full month that the Victorian economy had reopened. If you look at the state by state figures in these encouraging retail numbers today you see that something like 22 per cent growth in retail spending in Victoria alone. That's been the main driver of what we're seeing in these encouraging but not surprising retail figures. If you take Victoria out of the equation its more like two and a half per cent which is more like more normal levels of retail spending growth in this country. So we welcome the retail trade figures. But we need some perspective here. It's driven largely by the reopening of the Victorian economy. That's not something that the Treasurer should be taking credit for.
There are a few other issues around at the moment that are very important. What we're seeing is a failure of leadership from Scott Morrison when it comes to Craig Kelly and George Christensen and others. These are dangerous characters expressing dangerous views, and the Prime Minister needs to shut them up. This is a failure of leadership from the Prime Minister every day that these characters are allowed to push around these conspiracy theories, this dangerous medical advice, legitimising what we saw with the storming of the US Capitol, all of these sorts of dangerous views pressed by dangerous characters, and the Prime Minister and the Treasurer and others are content to just sit by and let these dangerous views be espoused. I think every day that the Prime Minister lets this go on, is further proof that the crackpots are in charge in Scott Morrison's LNP. We need to see some leadership from the Prime Minister. He needs to shut these characters up. They are expressing dangerous views and it needs to stop as soon as possible.
In that vein it has been very disappointing to hear the acting Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, trying to draw some sort of similarity between the Black Lives Matter protests and the insurrection that we saw in recent days with the storming of the US Capitol. The Morrison Government needs to be really careful here. If Australians are to accept that the crackpots aren't running the show in Scott Morrison's LNP then we need action from the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Treasurer and others, to make sure that these dangerous views aren't continuing to be pushed around.
Just finally, before I take a couple of questions, I spoke to Anthony Albanese a short time ago. He's in incredibly good spirits. He's healing and mending at home. As he said publicly, it has been a very difficult couple of days for him, as you can imagine, but he's in very good spirits. He's being taken care of by excellent medical professionals. I spoke to him a short time ago, and he was in really good spirits. He was more worried about a couple of dropped catches at the SCG and whether or not we would grab those last seven wickets in the test match at the SCG than he was about his own circumstances. But he's doing what he's supposed to be doing, which is taking it easy, making sure that he can heal and he can mend. But he's in really good spirits and doing really well and he wanted me to convey to people just how grateful he is for all of the expressions of support, all of the good wishes, all the people who've taken the time to check in on him in recent days. Over to you.
JOURNALIST: Thanks very much. The acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack said that everybody he'd been speaking to is saying that the Government should be cutting back JobKeeper and ending it March saying that everyone from accountants to zoos is telling him that. What do you make of those remarks?
CHALMERS: They're absurd. The acting Prime Minister is so spectacularly out of touch that he's trying to pretend the businesses in Cairns and other parts of Australia which are still desperately relying on JobKeeper payments in a very difficult period, somehow want that support to be cut from the economy. I think it says everything about how out of touch they are and how willing this government is to leave people out and leave them behind in the aftermath of this recession. If only the acting Prime Minister and the Morrison Government more broadly understood that there is almost a million people unemployed in this country and 1.5 million can't get the hours they need to support their families. So for them all of this self congratulation and all of this rhetoric from the Government that wants to pretend that everybody's fine, and everybody's out of the woods I just think that shows that he's spectacularly out of touch.
JOURNALIST: You picked up on some of the comments from Mr McCormack about George Christensen. Obviously there is a big debate happening globally at the moment about social media companies and whether or not they should have the right to censor some of the comments that are made by people like Donald Trump, and all that on their platforms. Do you think that Twitter, Facebook and that made the right choice when they decided to suspend Donald Trump from their platforms and does that amount to curtailing of the freedom of speech?
CHALMERS: Social media platforms have got a responsibility to make sure that their organisations aren't being used to incite violence, peddle hateful theories or peddle the kinds of wrong information which led to what we saw in the United States. I was really disappointed to read that the Treasurer, for example, thinks that these social media organisations don't seem to have that responsibility. I think they do. Just as social media platforms have a responsibility to prevent the inciting of violence and all of these other things. I think equally Prime Ministers and leaders have a responsibility to make sure that their own colleagues in their own team aren't circulating this; legitimising of what we saw in the US, or the dangerous medical advice, or all of these sorts of things that we've seen circulate. Social media platforms need to be responsible about it. They need to adhere to basic community standards in democracies like ours. They have a responsibility to make sure that their platforms aren't being used for the wrong reasons, just as Prime Ministers have a responsibility to ensure that the members of their own team aren't making the situation even worse.
JOURNALIST: Do you think given what you said about social media companies having that responsibility, do you think that there's any role for an external organisation who has that power to effectively police what they put on their platform or does all the responsibility rest with the platforms?
CHALMERS: I'm not proposing some new body to police those standards. There are obviously a range of organisations, including our own law enforcement organisations, which have a role to play in this situation in the normal course of events. The point that I'm making is really this: in a democracy like ours, people have a right to expect that companies like this and platforms like this are doing what they can to ensure that their platform is not being used to incite violence or put people at risk. Where that responsibility is exercised I think there's broad support for it.
JOURNALIST: The Government isn't committed to extending JobKeeper flatly across all businesses. Do you think that they should be extending it to businesses such as those in the tourism industry that are still facing hardship. March 31, doesn't mean that the pandemic is over.
CHALMERS: Precisely. The acting Prime Minister doesn't seem to understand that there are still people doing it tough in this economy and in our communities and that's very disappointing. Clearly, there are parts of our economy still doing it tough, still at risk of being left behind by this government whether it's in the tourism sector or other parts of our economy. We can't be complacent about this recovery. Some parts of the economy are recovering strongly, that's a good thing. Others are at risk of being left behind. We need to be attentive to those parts of the economy and to all of those Australians who work in those parts of the economy. What we've said all along, is that JobKeeper should be responsive to what's going on in the economy. The Government has said as recently today, that the economy doesn't need JobKeeper anymore, and they're replacing it with other measures. Well, the main other measure that they point to is a hiring credit scheme that leaves almost a million workers over the age of 35 behind. So we can't have a situation where the Government declares victory too early over this virus. We need to recognise that there are still almost a million unemployed, 1.5 million who can't get the hours they need to support their loved ones and we've got a government that spends a billion dollars on advertising, but says that they can't afford to support some of those workers. What we desperately need here is a government governing in the interests of people and their jobs, not governing in their own interest, not spraying money around on rorts, advertising and flying ex-ministers around Europe on private planes. There is still a very serious situation in the economy. The Government seems to want to ignore that. We saw that in what the Treasurer said today and what the Acting Prime Minister said as well. Thanks very much.