Sky News 13/01/21

13 January 2021

SUBJECTS: JobKeeper, State borders; Foreign investment; Superannuation and wages.


SUBJECTS: JobKeeper, State borders; Foreign investment; Superannuation and wages.

DANICA DE GIORGIO, HOST: Joining me now live is Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers. Shadow Treasurer, border closures are of course having a big impact on a number of sectors, but particularly tourism and hospitality. Should JobKeeper rules be relaxed for those industries ahead of March?

JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: Good morning Danica.  What we've said all along remains the case, that JobKeeper and other types of economic support need to be tailored and responsive to what's actually going on in the economy. That's the point that we've been making for some time but also the point that many economists and many representatives of the business community and industry peak groups have been making as recently as in today's press. So what we've said is that some parts of the economy are recovering, and that's a good thing, but other parts of the economy including hospitality and tourism are still struggling and we want to make sure that the workers in those industries aren't left behind. That means the Government should be considering targeted support for those workers, small businesses, industries and areas of Australia who are doing it especially tough. That's just common sense. The Treasurer actually has it within his powers under the existing legislation to tweak the rules and eligibility for JobKeeper in particular and he should be looking at ways to do that.
DE GIORGIO: The Treasurer in the past, though, has said that the federal government simply can't save every business or every individual.
CHALMERS: He has said that, and of course that's the case. Of course JobKeeper won't be a feature of the budget forever and nobody's pretending that it should be. That's a straw man that he's constructed there. What we've said, what industry is saying, what economists are saying, is don't be too stubborn about it; don't declare victory over the economic consequences of this virus too early because a lot of people are at risk of being left behind. More than 2 million people are still without work or without enough work to support their loved ones and we don't want them left behind. We want people to be able to work hard and get ahead. That means being smart about this targeted assistance. It means keeping it under constant review so that it can be tailored and responsive to what's going on in the economy. These outbreaks that we've been seeing around Australia in the last little while will be a feature of our community and our economies until there is a vaccine that's broadly deployed. So we need to be smart about it. That's all we’re saying, that's all industry and the economists are saying, and the Treasurer should listen.
DE GIORGIO: How much of a role does ongoing and rolling border closures play in terms of Australia's economic recovery? The acting Prime Minister Michael McCormick said that many of the businesses he's been speaking to don't necessarily want subsidies or assistance, they looking to go back to pre COVID normal conditions and a big part of that is border consistency. How big of a role is that in Australia's economic recovery?
CHALMERS: First of all, it was worse than that. What the acting Prime Minister said was no businesses that he speaks to thinks that JobKeeper should be available and that's just obviously a joke. He hasn't spent enough time with businesses, small businesses in particular in communities like Cairns and around Australia who are doing it especially tough. So, let's just dismiss that out of hand. There are still some businesses, towns and workers who need government support, that's self-evident. When it comes to the normalisation of the arrangements, of course we want to get beyond what's happening here. Nobody wants to see borders or businesses closed down for even a day longer than is necessary. But what is far more dangerous than the difficulty of border closures and other restrictions would be if we let this virus get out of hand. We've seen around the world the devastation that it can inflict on communities, on small businesses and on national economies if this thing gets out of hand. So state governments of both political persuasions, to be fair, have tried to do their best to make the right decisions to limit the spread of the virus and limit the damage done to local economies. That's the sensible way to do it, if it relies on medical advice. The alternative is worse, which is the kind of devastation that we're seeing overseas.
DE GIORGIO: It certainly has had an impact on our tourism economy here, that's for sure. On another matter, the Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, has knocked back a $300 million-dollar Chinese takeover of a major building contractor in Australia on national security grounds. Was that the right move?
CHALMERS: We're not briefed on all of the ins and outs, Danica, of that specific case. We don't know all the details. We don't have visibility on the advice that the Treasurer has received in this matter. So, it's a matter for him to explain, where that's appropriate, why he's reached this decision. I think more broadly, in principle, foreign investment is welcome in our economy, it's necessary in our economy, it's frequently approved in the vast majority of cases, but it does need to be consistent with our national interest, including our national security interests. So, we need to balance all of those considerations. We need a robust screening process through the Foreign Investment Review Board. As I said, in the Opposition we don't have visibility about that advice or that process. So, we need to have the Treasurer explain these kinds of decisions. But equally we shouldn't pretend that the issues that we are going through at the moment with China are limited to the rejection of this one foreign investment bid. They go much broader than that. Similarly, we shouldn't pretend that the issues with business investment here in Australia are just about foreign investment. There are broader issues, long standing issues, around energy policy, uncertainty, all kinds of issues around training, and other kinds of investment which have meant that we've got business investment historically weak not just for the last year or so but for the duration of this Coalition government.
DE GIORGIO: Just finally, Jim Chalmers, the federal government is considering giving workers the choice of putting more money into their superannuation or having more take home pay. We know that there's been a deadlock due to the looming rise in the super guarantee, but would Labor support an opt-in model?
CHALMERS: No we wouldn't, Danica. This government is using the pandemic as an excuse to cut superannuation and cut wages at the same time. This is not about giving people a choice between more super or more wages. They're coming after workers on both fronts at the same time, via their proposed industrial relations changes and via what they intend to do with superannuation, and Australian workers will cop it on both fronts if they're not stopped. They should stop pretending that they want higher wages or that they want higher super – this Government wants neither. That's what this is all about. It has been about this for some time now. What we need to do is to oppose and fight tooth and nail yet another attempt from another Coalition government to come after wages and super simultaneously.
DE GIORGIO: Jim Chalmers, we have to leave it there. Thank you for joining me.
CHALMERS: Thank you, Danica.