THURSDAY, 15 OCTOBER 2020
SUBJECTS: Labour force; Quarantine.
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: 30,000 Australians lost their job last month and 18,000 Australians gave up looking. The Government still expects 160,000 Australians will join the unemployment queue between now and the end of the year. We now have almost a million Australians unemployed and it's expected to get worse before it gets better.
Unemployment will be too high for too long in this country because the Government is failing on jobs. We can't have a situation where the Government has a trillion dollars of debt and a hundred billion dollars in new commitments but is still not doing enough to protect and create jobs in this country. The Government's failure on jobs during this Morrison Recession means fewer people are able to put food on the table, fewer people are able to put shoes on their kids and provide for their loved ones.
It beggars belief that the Government is cutting JobKeeper while unemployment is still rising. It beggars belief that the Government can rack up a trillion dollars in debt and still not have a comprehensive plan for jobs. The Government still expects 160,000 Australians to become unemployed between now and the end of the year, they still expect unemployment to get worse before it gets better, they still expect unemployment to be higher at the end of four years than it was last year, and yet still we have no comprehensive plan for all of these Australians who are losing their jobs.
JOURNALIST: You've criticised them for a lack of ambition with their 6 per cent target. What should they be aiming to do?
CHALMERS: The Government thinks that they can put the cue in the rack once unemployment gets to 6 per cent which is higher even than it was during the Global Financial Crisis. What the Reserve Bank Governor has said today is that we should be more ambitious on jobs. Labor has said continuously that we need to chart the course back to full employment because unless we do that we won't get anything better than the stagnant wages that we've seen for too long in this country. Labor thinks there should be support in the economy so that we can get closer to full employment so that we can boost wages. There was nothing in the Government's budget and nothing in what they have said since which gives Australians the confidence that we will make enough inroads into unemployment which is still rising at the same time that they're cutting JobKeeper, racking up a trillion dollars in debt and not doing enough to keep unemployment at acceptable levels.
Today the Government leaked their talking points. Jobs are not even in the top six priorities in the Government's talking points. When we look at those talking points which were released today, Australians and their jobs barely get a look in. If jobs aren't in the top six priorities for the Government, no wonder we've got high and rising unemployment which will get worse before it gets better. We need to see better from the Morrison Government.
JOURNALIST: Mr Morrison's colleagues in Queensland have set a 5 per cent target. Is that something you would encourage? Do you think we should be aiming that high, or that low?
CHALMERS: There are judgements about full employment which are closer to 5 per cent than 6 per cent. The Government seems to think that if they got to 6 per cent then they can put their feet up while tens of thousands of extra Australians are unemployed compared to pre-COVID. We need to be more ambitious in this country about how we can make the economy better after COVID-19 than it was before. The Government doesn't have any vision for the future, they don't have a proper plan for jobs, and that's why we've got high and rising unemployment.
JOURNALIST: They were attacked for that 5 per cent as being irresponsible for setting that target. Do you agree with that?
CHALMERS: I'll leave the state election fight to the people involved in the state election. We think at a national level that the Morrison Government should be more ambitious than they are. They need a plan to tackle unemployment. Unemployment is high and rising in this Morrison Recession because the Prime Minister doesn't have a plan. Despite a trillion dollars of debt and one hundred billion dollars in new commitments, they still expect it to get worse before it gets better and that means a lot of hardship for a lot of Australians.
JOURNALIST: The drag on the nation's employment is Victoria, isn't it? If not for them, the country would be faring okay?
CHALMERS: Obviously there's a lot of concern with the Victorian economy, but we shouldn't pretend that there's not weakness elsewhere in the country. I was in Cairns the week before last, one of the areas probably hardest-hit by COVID-19, the shutdown of the international border, and the cuts to JobKeeper. We shouldn't pretend as the Treasurer wants to do, that all of our challenges in the economy are limited to Victoria. He is desperate to play politics. He is desperate to pick fights with Premier Andrews. If only we had a Treasurer who understood that weakness in the economy and weakness in the jobs market is not just a problem in Victoria.
JOURNALIST: Howard Springs will be taking more Aussies returning home. Cairns was given the chance to take Aussies, but they said no. Your thoughts on that?
CHALMERS: Obviously we need to be looking for ways to process Australians returning from overseas more effectively. We need a plan for that, but we haven't seen it. Clearly we need to be thinking innovatively about how we ensure that people can continue to come to Australia. There is a system which already exists for communities and particularly for specific hotels in communities to opt-in to taking people in quarantine. That is largely a matter for businesses and for the local communities. We need to ensure the when that opportunity is presented that the community actually supports it. I also think there's a role for the National Cabinet here. Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg are desperate to pick fights with Labor premiers. It would be much better if they spent that time trying to find ways to ensure that returning Australians and others can quarantine more effectively so that we can get that plan in place, get people quarantining and keep our people safe. Unfortunately, National Cabinet has become something the Prime Minister trumpets when things are going well, but where there are problems that are left unsolved like this one, he seems to want to pretend that it's all state Labor premiers' faults. That's not good enough.
JOURNALIST: Annastacia said no to Cairns?
CHALMERS: There's a place for state-based decision making here as I said, and a place for community decision-making and individual hotels and facilities as well. The point I'm making is that Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg shouldn't spend all of their time bagging state Labor premiers about these arrangements. If the so-called National Cabinet is any good and if there's an opportunity to do things more effectively, then he needs to show leadership and have that discussion at National Cabinet. We don't have a role in it as the Federal Opposition but if he thinks things can be done better then he should negotiate that in the usual way through National Cabinet.
Thanks very much.