JIM CHALMERS MP
MEMBER FOR RANKIN
PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
TUESDAY, 16 MARCH 2021
SUBJECTS: JobKeeper cuts will cut jobs; Treasurer’s failure to deliver a jobs plan for the recovery; Listening to business, workers and unions; Morrison Government’s overpromising and underdelivering on vaccines.
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: The future of JobKeeper is in Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg's hands, so any job losses associated with JobKeeper cuts will be on their heads. If you cut JobKeeper, you cut jobs. It's that simple. Hundreds of thousands of Australian workers and small businesses face a very uncertain time when JobKeeper is cut in the next two weeks.
Josh Frydenberg is saying that there is light at the end of the tunnel in the economy. For hundreds of thousands of Australian workers who are facing JobKeeper cuts this month, that light at the end of the tunnel is a locomotive. Josh Frydenberg needs to explain to the hundreds of thousands of Australian workers and small businesses, why he wants to cut their JobKeeper at the end of the month when things are still so uncertain.
For some time now, the Treasurer has said that he can cut JobKeeper in March because the vaccine rollout will be well underway by then. This government is almost four million vaccines short of their four million vaccination goal this month. What we've seen here is a government which is too quick to withdraw support from the economy and too slow to get the vaccines out the door and into people's arms. Both of those things have dire economic consequences. For so long now, the Treasurer has said that our economic recovery requires, and relies on, those vaccinations. The vaccinations are getting out too slowly. The government has overpromised and underdelivered here. Now, in terms of that light at the end of the tunnel, that light at the end of the tunnel will be a locomotive for hundreds of thousands of Australians, relying on JobKeeper. The job losses that will come from the cuts to JobKeeper will be on the heads of the Prime Minister and the Treasurer.
There have been some pleasing developments in the economy, and we've welcomed those, but there's also been some troubling indications as well. We still have two million Australians unemployed, or unable to find the hours that they need at work. We've still got around a million Australians on JobKeeper. We've still got millions more struggling to get ahead, and get by, on wages which have been historically stagnant for much of the last eight years. What we need is a comprehensive jobs plan from this government, and they don't have one. Josh Frydenberg has an opportunity in his speech tonight to outline a comprehensive plan for jobs. The Prime Minister waving around a fake plane ticket and dressing up as a pilot is no substitute for the jobs plan that Australians need and deserve. As it stands, the sum total of the government's plans in the economy are to cut JobKeeper, cut wages, cut super, and they've got a budget which is riddled with rorts. All of those things will compromise the recovery from the deepest, most damaging recession we've had in almost a hundred years.
JOURNALIST: The consensus among economists is that the removal of JobKeeper is going to maybe slow the recovery down a little bit, but ultimately keep us going, largely on the trajectory we've been going. At what stage would Labor actually, you know, agree to a cut to JobKeeper. It's got to be cut at some time, doesn't it?
CHALMERS: At every point we've said that JobKeeper will end at some stage. Nobody is arguing for JobKeeper to continue forever. Our argument throughout has been that JobKeeper needs to be tailored to the economic conditions on the ground. The government based their JobKeeper cuts on having four million vaccinations away by the end of this month. They're almost four million short of that target. So what we've said is, be responsive, be flexible. There are hundreds of thousands of Australians relying on JobKeeper still, and when the Treasurer and the Prime Minister cut JobKeeper at the end of the month, there will be job losses. We don't know how many, the Treasury expects something like 100,000 jobs will be lost, Commonwealth Bank says 110,000, one of Australia's most respected economists says anywhere between 100,000 and 250,000. All of that remains to be seen. Those predictions, we hope, don't come to fruition. But it is beyond doubt that too many Australians will lose their jobs when JobKeeper is cut by this government. And that's why we say the future of JobKeeper is in the hands of Josh Frydenberg and Scott Morrison. Job losses associated with their cuts, will be on their heads.
JOURNALIST: Do you think that the government's too close to the Business Council? I mean, the Busines Council's been involved in some of the IR policy formulations, they seem to be in lockstep together. Is the government too close to them?
CHALMERS: My issue is not the closeness between the government and the business community, my issue is the government's complete inability to listen to other important parts of the economy. I mean, if they listened to Australian workers and their unions and representatives, then they wouldn't be going after people's wages and super simultaneously. We would like the government to listen more broadly. Any government, of any persuasion, including an Albanese Labor Government, would work really closely with the business community, but we would also work closely with workers, and unions, and their representatives. We'd work with the community sector. What we need to see here, is not just a strong recovery from this recession, but a broad, and inclusive, and sustainable recovery from this recession. And that means listening to all parts of the economy, all parts of our society, and not just one or another.
JOURNALIST: Industrial relations could also be key for any recovery. What do you think of the changes on casuals that One Nation is seeking to get their support for the bill?
CHALMERS: Look, our Senate colleagues will go through the various amendments that are being proposed ,and they'll work closely with Tony Burke , our spokesman. But I think, overall, the big issue that we have with that bill, is this bill is about pay cuts; it's about less job security; and it's about less fair entitlements. In Labor, we're on the side of Australian workers who need and deserve better pay, and fairer conditions, and more secure work. The government's bill actively undermines those three important objectives.
JOURNALIST: Just quickly on vaccines. You mentioned the four million target. More European countries have now suspended the AstraZeneca vaccine. Hasn't it been to Australia's advantage that we haven't been under pressure to, you know, roll out the vaccine as quickly as other countries, in case something goes wrong?
CHALMERS: First of all, we want Australians to have confidence in the vaccine. And what we've seen with developments from overseas, overnight, no doubt, our Therapeutic Goods Administration will take all of those developments into account. We need to take the expert advice of the TGA seriously. We have a very strong set of arrangements here, the TGA, and other avenues to make sure that the vaccinations that are being deployed in Australia are safe. Now, on the government. We have said, from the very beginning, that one of the issues here is the government was too slow off the mark. They didn't strike enough deals. Other parts of the world are galloping ahead getting people vaccinated, and the fact that the government hasn't been able to get its act together, is detrimental to Australia and to Australians. This government doesn't like to be reminded that they said that there'd be four million vaccinations by the end of this month. They're almost four million short of that. They said that everybody would be vaccinated by October, and now they're trying to walk away from that. Our economic recovery relies heavily on a range of factors, but one of those is being able to deploy vaccinations. The government has dropped the ball on the vaccinations. They're now trying to pretend that they haven't made the promises and the commitments. This is a government which makes big announcements and doesn't follow through. We've seen lots of overpromising and underdelivering when it comes to vaccinations. We've seen a government which said that they could pull JobKeeper out in March because the vaccine would be deployed widely from March, and that's not happening. Getting either of those things wrong - economic support or the vaccination - is damaging, getting both of them wrong simultaneously is very damaging. Thanks very much.