MONDAY, 20 APRIL 2020
SUBJECTS: Mandatory code of conduct for digital platforms and media organisations; Impact of Coronavirus on the economy; Unemployment; JobKeeper eligibility; Virgin airlines; Temporary visa workers; Malcolm Turnbull’s book.
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: Labor welcomes the announcement that the ACCC will enforce a mandatory code of conduct to govern the commercial dealings between digital platforms and news organisations. This is an overdue but very welcome step. Labor has been calling for some time for this process to be fast-tracked so we welcome the progress that has been made today. It's absolutely crucial that news organisations get a fair return for the investments that they make in public interest journalism. As my colleague Michelle Rowland and others have pointed out, a strong, free and diverse media is an absolutely central, key pillar of any decent democracy. This announcement is about getting a fair return for news organisations for the investments that they make in keeping Australians informed. It won't fix every challenge facing the news media at the moment. It certainly won't be a quick fix given we're talking about a process that continues until July with more consultation after that but it's a welcome step. It will address some of the issues with digital disruption in the news media and we welcome it, having called for it for some time.
There are difficulties in the Australian news media and there are big challenges, obviously, in the broader economy faced by Australian workers, employers, pensioners, and communities. We are entering an incredibly difficult period for the economy. Even with the very welcome steps taken by the Government and supported by Labor, the Government is still expecting hundreds of thousands of Australians to lose their jobs in the next little while.
The Treasurer said today that he's doing everything he can to prevent those job losses but that's not the case. If the Treasurer was doing everything he can, he wouldn't be denying JobKeeper payments to more than a million casuals and other workers. If the Treasurer was doing everything he can to prevent job losses he wouldn't be ignoring the plight of something like 15,000 workers at Virgin Airlines. We don't yet know how deep this economic downturn will be, or the precise number of Australians who will lose their jobs or who are at risk of losing their jobs. We do know that the unemployment queues will be longer than necessary because the Treasurer refuses to step in and expand eligibility for the JobKeeper program. They'll be longer than necessary because the Government refuses to step up and support 15,000 workers at Virgin Airlines who are going through a very uncertain period while the Government leaves them hanging. The Government has the capacity to expand JobKeeper and to support workers at Virgin Airlines. They have refused to exercise those powers. For that reason, the Treasurer is not doing everything he can to prevent mass unemployment in this country. More can be done and should be done. Any Government who takes its responsibility to protect the economy during this extraordinary health crisis seriously would be doing more to prevent unemployment queues getting longer than is absolutely necessary.
JOURNALIST: With the JobKeeper payment, you're saying that people are falling through the cracks and Virgin workers are calling for help. What would you do differently there?
CHALMERS: We're calling on Josh Frydenberg to exercise the powers given to him by the JobKeeper legislation to determine the rules for who is included and who is excluded from the scheme. Josh Frydenberg is deliberately excluding more than a million casual workers and other workers as well from the scheme. When he says he's doing everything he can to prevent more Australians joining the unemployment queues, it's just not right. We're calling for the JobKeeper payment to be expanded, and for the Government to step in and step up on behalf of 15,000 Virgin Airline workers, including 5,000 here in Queensland, who need a Government on their side and who are going through a very uncertain period.
JOURNALIST: There's been a lot of stories come to light recently about international students and people on working holiday visas struggling. What would you do in that area there to help them out?
CHALMERS: There's a big challenge here. The Government is to some extent warranted in saying that those temporary workers in the economy who have the means and the capacity to go home, that that should be an option that they explore. But so many workers who are stuck here are unable to return home and don't have access to any of the otherwise very welcome relief which has been provided to other workers. We've been identifying that as an issue for some time. They are some of the workers who have been excluded from the JobKeeper payment. The Government should be considering including them and, while they're at it, they should be including more of the more than a million casual workers who have been left out of JobKeeper.
The Government rightly says that the objective here is to try and maintain the link between more workers and more employers so that when the crisis is over that link has been maintained throughout. That is a worthy objective, but if it's a worthy objective for some workers, it should be a worthy objective for more workers. That's why when the Treasurer says he's doing everything you can, it's not true. If he was doing everything he can, he'd be including more workers in the JobKeeper payment, and he'd be supporting the workers at Virgin Airlines as well.
JOURNALIST: Is it time the Federal Government actually put forward a plan to support Virgin?
CHALMERS: For 15,000 workers at Virgin Airlines right around Australia, including something like a third of them here in Southeast Queensland, it is absolutely imperative that the Government end the uncertainty and come forward with a plan to support that business so that we can support those workers. Here in Queensland Virgin is such a key part of the economies of regional Queensland and regional Australia. There are communities up and down the coast and further inland which survive on their reliance on tourism in particular. We want to see two major airlines in this country; we want the competition that that brings, we want the jobs that that brings. We want to make sure that two airlines can service and support regional communities and communities which rely on tourism. The Government should stop leaving 15,000 Virgin workers hanging. They need to step in and step up on behalf of those workers. For it to be true that they are doing everything they can to support more workers in the economy, they need to do that as well.
JOURNALIST: So while Virgin isn't as such an Australian company, do you think the importance of keeping multiple carriers in Australia is worth a bail-out consideration?
CHALMERS: It's absolutely crucial that we have two major airlines in our skies. We need the competition in our skies. We need the jobs in our communities. We need the industries in regional and tourism communities in particular. For all of those reasons, the Government should step in and step up and support the workers of Virgin Airlines.
JOURNALIST: States are now putting in offers for financial help only if jobs go to their home state. Should this be a battle between states?
CHALMERS: Clearly the headquarters of Virgin is a crucial part of the economy of Southeast Queensland and the state economy more broadly. My state colleagues Annastacia Palaszczuk and Cameron Dick have made the point today that at a time of maximum uncertainty what we need to see is the Government step in, the National Government as well as the State Government, to support the workers here in Southeast Queensland, to support the workers at Virgin headquarters here in Brisbane. It's not the time for additional uncertainty. It's time for the Government to address the uncertainty rather than heighten it.
JOURNALIST: Why do you think there's a lack of support from the Government [inaudible]?
CHALMERS: For whatever reason the Government has been very reluctant to step in and step up on behalf of those 15,000 Virgin workers. Why they haven't been prepared to do that so far is a question for them. There have been some steps taken in the aviation industry which we've welcomed, but they've been piecemeal, ad hoc and clearly insufficient to get Virgin and some of the other airlines out of what is an incredibly difficult spot imposed on them by the measures taken to respond to this Coronavirus. If the Government is fair dinkum about supporting jobs, saving jobs, and trying not to make the unemployment queues even longer than is necessary, then they'll do the right thing here by these Virgin Airline workers.
JOURNALIST: Malcolm Turnbull's book is coming out. Have you had a peruse, had a look?
CHALMERS: I've had a very quick skim of my version on iBooks this morning. It shines a light on a long period of really serious disunity and duplicity at the very top of the Morison Government. It's no wonder that we came into this health crisis with the economy in such a weak position now that we know that these characters have spent much of the last seven years just undermining each other. It's very clear that at the same time that Scott Morrison was saying that he had Malcolm Turnbull's back, he was actually plunging a knife into that back. This book uncovers a long period of dishonesty, duplicity, and disunity. For all of these reasons, the Australian people for much of the last seven years just haven't got a look-in. That's why we've entered this serious health crisis from a position of relative economic weakness rather than strength. Thanks very much.