MONDAY, 18 JANUARY 2021
SUBJECTS: Paul Keating; Tropical Cyclone Kimi; Deloitte Business Outlook; Wages forecasts; Australian Open and Quarantine Arrangements; Repatriation Flights; Next Census.
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: First things first, it's a really important birthday today for a really important Australian. Happy Birthday to Paul Keating, the architect of the modern Australian economy and one of the key influences on a broader Australian society during my lifetime, that's for sure. Paul is a friend to, influence on, and a mentor to many people in the Labor team and in the Labor family. So from all of us to Paul, Happy Birthday. 77 today, I hope he has a great day today.
It's going to be a difficult day though for Queenslanders living in North Queensland and Far North Queensland as we wait for tropical cyclone Kimi to cross land, sometime between now and tomorrow morning. A lot of people will be very anxious. I encourage people in that warning zone from Port Douglas to Ayr, inland to Mareeba and Atherton, including those big population centres around Cairns and Townsville, to make sure that they are listening to the advice, following instructions, taking the necessary precautions and securing their property. We know that it will be a really difficult time for them but I also know, having spent time in the last couple of days with Queensland Fire and Emergency Services people, I know that there's a lot of professionalism, a lot of preparation that goes into what is expected to be a longer and more difficult disaster season. So we are grateful for the work of emergency services as they prepare for the crossing of this tropical cyclone in the next day or so and what that means for people in North Queensland and in Far North Queensland. We are expecting it to be a longer, more difficult disaster season. There is a lot of anxiety and uncertainty in regional Queensland in particular. We need to make sure we're doing what we can to support people. We need to make sure that people living and working in that warning zone are doing what's necessary to prepare for this cyclone and the season more broadly.
It's really important that the federal government shows some leadership and makes investment in regional Queensland, and around Australia, in disaster mitigation. It is incredibly disappointing that the Government, true to form, has made all kinds of announcements about disaster mitigation but haven't followed through; not a single cent invested from the last two funds that the Government announced when it comes to disaster mitigation. That's left the people of North Queensland and Far North Queensland more vulnerable when they're already vulnerable enough. We need the Government to step up to the plate, not just make announcements about the disaster season but actually follow through and actually make the kind of investments that we need up there in North and Far North Queensland to help people prepare for the disaster season and its aftermath as well.
These are uncertain times. Whether it's natural disasters, whether it's in the economy, whether it's on the health front. These are difficult and uncertain times for Australians more broadly, as well. The Morrison Government shouldn't be leaving people stranded: stranded overseas; stranded on aged care waiting lists; stranded in joblessness; stranded without the hours they need to provide for their loved ones; and stranded on historically low wages as well.
The Deloitte report that came out today was really important in this regard. It pointed to a patchy and uneven recovery defined by even weaker wages for some years to come. We want the economy to recover strongly; we welcome any encouraging signs in the economy. But for it to be a good recovery, the right kind of recovery, we need to make sure that there's job security and wages growth for ordinary working families. This is not a good enough recovery if it leaves people stranded in joblessness or underemployment or on weak wages, which mean they can't provide for the people that they love. That's why we're focused on the wages forecasts in what has been released today.
There's no decent recovery without a recovery in wages. It's as simple as that. Now, what the report says today, is that wages which were already historically weak before COVID-19, will be much weaker for longer. That is, if it eventuates, devastating news for Australians already doing it tough enough. It beggars belief that this government, having delivered historically low wages, wants to cut wages further with their industrial relations changes.
No wonder the Government is patting themselves on the back today: they've admitted before that low wages are actually a deliberate design feature of their economic policies. The Government sees weak wages growth and thinks mission accomplished. Labor sees weak wages growth and sees this as the wrong kind of recovery for people who desperately want to work hard and get ahead and provide for their families.
So let's have a bit of perspective on this Deloitte report today. Any encouraging signs are welcome, but it won't be the right kind of recovery without a recovery in job security, and a recovery in wages as well.
This is a government which has racked up a trillion dollars in debt and doesn't have enough to show for it in terms of jobs and opportunities for Australians. That's because too much has been wasted on rorts and advertising. Too much has been wasted on favours for mates and all the rest of it. That's why we're not getting the right kind of recovery. That's what we're seeing in the Deloitte report today.
JOURNALIST: Should the Government have allowed international tennis players and coaches to quarantine in Melbourne when there is still tens of thousands of Australians stranded overseas?
CHALMERS: What we've tried to do throughout is not second-guess state governments of either political persuasion when they try and make good decisions based on the medical advice. The priority here has to be to keep Australians safe. We need to make sure that those quarantine arrangements are strictly enforced. We need to make sure that all the testing is happening so that state governments can do the best job that they can, in terms of keeping Australians safe. Now there's a broader issue here at play as well when it comes to quarantine. There's a pattern of behaviour from the Morrison Government: if there's a photo to be taken, or something's going well, Morrison and Frydenberg and all of them, they're all there. But when something's difficult, like quarantine arrangements or other arrangements, then Morrison is nowhere to be seen. That's what we're seeing now. We call for national leadership when it comes to the quarantine arrangements. Scott Morrison made a big deal out of commissioning a report from Jane Halton which made recommendations which he has more or less ignored. It's long past time for the federal government to support the state governments with some national leadership over quarantine. It's a national responsibility. The states are doing the best they can in difficult circumstances when the feds have more or less vacated the field.
JOURNALIST: The federal government is organising another 20 repatriation flights to bring stranded Australians. Is that enough?
CHALMERS: Well it's months too late for so many Australians. I mean, the idea that this government wants a pat on the back for this announcement when Australians have been stuck overseas for months and months and desperate to get home - I think that says everything about a government which is long on self-congratulation, and short on delivery. For so many Australians, this announcement is much too little and much too late. That's very disappointing. We want to make sure that this just isn't another one of those Morrison Government announcements, announced with great fanfare, where there's not enough delivery and follow through. Never forget Scott Morrison said that he would get Australians home by Christmas. We're now in the middle of January and 40,000 Australians are stranded overseas. So this is too little too late. It's months overdue and we need to make sure that it's not just an announcement, but it's something that's actually delivered because a lot of our countrymen and countrywomen, a lot of Australian families, are stuck overseas for longer than they should have been.
CHALMERS: One of the reasons why we've got so many Australians overseas, is because the Morrison Government hasn't shown that leadership that we need on the quarantine arrangements. They commissioned the report; they said they'd have everyone home by Christmas; they made the big announcements but then they didn't follow through and that's why tens of thousands of Australians are stuck in very uncertain circumstances. So what we've said to the Government throughout is don't just make announcements about getting people home; actually take steps to get people home. That means getting quarantining right, it means more flights, it means not making these kinds of announcements which are too little too late.
JOURNALIST: The next Australian census is coming up are you expecting to see changes?
CHALMERS: The census is a crucially important snapshot of the nation. When it's done right, it's really an important way to feed into the kinds of decisions that governments at all levels make about the best way to govern our people. We want this government to govern in the interests of Australians and that means understanding the makeup of the country. Now, last time the census was run under the now acting Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, it was a shambles from beginning to end. So we need to see this census undertaken far more professionally and competently than it was last time under Michael McCormick, who made an absolute mess of it. That's not a massive surprise when you think about his record, but there is a lot riding on this census, so we need to make sure we get it right. We want Australians to participate in it. We want the Government to deliver it effectively, because that's the best way that we feed into the decisions that we make and the way that we understand our country more broadly.
JOURNALIST: What do you expect it to show?
CHALMERS: That remains to be seen. Obviously, our country is changing quickly. It's a multicultural nation. Clearly, the population until the last year or so has been growing strongly. That population is distributed differently, and we need to be cognisant of all of those changes. But it's a really good opportunity to understand how the nation's changed the last few years. It needs to be competently delivered. It wasn't last time; they need to do better this time. The Government needs to do a much better job. Thanks very much.