SKY News Afternoon Agenda 01/09/21

01 September 2021

SUBJECTS: National Accounts; Australia’s economy slowing last quarter and shrinking this quarter because of Scott Morrison’s incompetence; Australia’s growth now slower than US, UK, and the OECD average.




SUBJECTS: National Accounts; Australia’s economy slowing last quarter and shrinking this quarter because of Scott Morrison’s incompetence; Australia’s growth now slower than US, UK, and the OECD average.


KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: Jim Chalmers, thanks very much for your time. Do you accept that today's GDP number does show that the economy remains resilient as the Treasurer argues and that the fundamentals remain strong?

JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: No Kieran, these numbers show that the economy was slowing even before these most recent lockdowns in Sydney and Melbourne. They also show that our growth in the June quarter was slower than what you're seeing in the UK, slower than the US, slower than the OECD average. And the other really important point I think to make is that these numbers were for the June quarter. All the respected, credible economists tell us that the September quarter will be much, much worse. So I think a Treasurer who wants to pretend that an economy which was slowing in June and is now shrinking in September is somehow strong, I think that will reinforce people's fears that this Treasurer is horrendously out of touch with so many Australians who feel like the economy is in recession.

GILBERT: So much of where the economy and the nation goes now depends on one thing, and that is vaccinations, doesn't it? In that context do you support the notion of mandatory vaccination to not just protect the health of the nation, but it's the economic story as well, that vaccinations underpins that?

CHALMERS: I think it's true that the economic recovery here in Australia has always been hostage to Scott Morrison's failures on the vaccine rollout in particular, but also purpose-built quarantine and the premature withdrawal of economic support. I think that's been the case throughout the year. The Australian people did such a remarkable job to limit the spread of the virus during 2020 and there were the beginnings of an economic recovery, but we now know that recovery was slowing and that in the September quarter the economy will actually go backwards.

We desperately need to fix the mess that Scott Morrison has made of vaccines. We've put some constructive proposals on the table. We think if you want to get those numbers up you need some kind of incentive, that's before you start to consider some of these other measures that are floating around. I think it's inevitable that the conversation will shift to vaccine passports and all the rest of it. And we're seeing some of that already, but let's see what we can do to get the vaccine rates up as it is. We are dramatically behind the rest of the world, not just in vaccines, but also many of the economies which we compare ourselves. And those two failures on economic growth and vaccines are related.

GILBERT: That vaccine question is key. If you look around the world, the higher you get up the percentage, the harder it is to get the last cohort to get the jabs in arms. But for this economic story that we're talking about today, the National Accounts for where our broader growth is at, it all comes down to whether or not we can get people to vaccinate and live as normally as possible. So in that context, do you support the likes of Alan Joyce, companies like Qantas, mandating vaccines?

CHALMERS: I think in the absence of national leadership, leaders in the corporate world will take some of their own decisions. Not just Qantas, but other companies have made announcements about how they ensure that people on their sites are vaccinated as well. We would like to see more guidance from the Federal Government. The reason we're not getting that is because they're hopelessly divided on these issues. And also because whenever we're talking about vaccines we are shining a light on the Prime Minister's failure to do his job to get more people vaccinated. We are horrendously behind.

GILBERT: Should states honour those vaccination thresholds for the reopening? Today Daniel Andrews and his health advisors conceding that they won't be able to eradicate this delta strain of COVID. So they've basically converged with where New South Wales is at. Should the nation reopen as one?

CHALMERS: Nobody wants to see these lockdowns for even a day longer than is necessary, Kieran. All of the mental health aspects that the Treasurer and others have been raising, the economic carnage which is brought by these lockdowns. Nobody wants to see these lockdowns go on longer than they need to. And what we've said throughout is that we support the national plan, as do the Premiers. The question mark is not over people's support for the national plan, the question mark is over the Prime Minister's capacity to actually deliver on it. And unfortunately, from day to day, it just looks like the Prime Minister is more interested in having a fight with the Premiers over the national plan then he is in actually implementing it.

GILBERT: The Queensland Premier said this today, you open up this state and let the virus in here and every child under 12 is vulnerable. That's not the medical advice that the Doherty Institute and others have provided. Should she qualify some of these remarks, in terms of saying under-twelves are vulnerable. The experts, and certainly one I spoke to just in recent days from the Royal Children's in Melbourne, says children are not faring worse son of the delta strain than the previous alpha strain of COVID-19.

CHALMERS: I haven't seen the full context of what Annastacia said about that, I was asked it a few moments ago but haven’t been able to see all of her comments. I think she's reflecting a very real concern and anxiety in the Australian community. I hear it from my contemporaries, I've got little kids, you've got little kids as well. And there's a lot of anxiety in the community about delta spreading amongst children. We think as a first priority, let's hear from the Prime Minister about how he intends to get those kids who are 12 to 15 vaccinated. That's a big gap in the national plan. And I think Australian parents are hanging out for some clarification there. If there are issues around the under twelves, let's hear what Annastacia Palaszczuk was saying, let's see what the experts were saying. But I think it is true that no matter how old your kids are there's a lot of anxiety, particularly in this delta strain, that we want to see clarified and cleared up. We want to see the Prime Minister explain to people what the plan is for Australian kids.

GILBERT: Let's conclude where we began, on the GDP numbers. I'm interested in your view, as a relates to how we emerge out of this latest downturn. Now, you've criticised the Treasurer for being too positive about this 0.7% growth figure. I guess his view is, the message from him comes in the context of market expectations, which were much worse than that. And the other view and prediction from many that we will come out of this very strongly through summer and into next year. Is that your assessment?

CHALMERS: First of all, I mean working families of Australia couldn't give a stuff, frankly, about the market expectations. What matters to them is what's happening in real communities and local economies right around Australia. And so I think that's an important point to recognise. For many people it already feels like they're going backwards and that's because these lockdowns are doing such damage to small businesses and to employers around Australia. So I think we need to make that point.

My criticism of the Treasurer is that he said that the economy was roaring back, instead it's slowing, and now shrinking in the September quarter. He said that we were at the head of the pack when it came to global comparisons, it turns out that growth is weaker than the US, the UK, and the OECD average. "Ahead of the pack" and "roaring back" are about as accurate as when he said "back in the black". And that's my criticism of the Treasurer.

I desperately want the Australian economy to recover strongly. Because if it does, and when it does, it means more opportunities, for more people, in more parts of Australia. And that's what we should all want. But in order to get there we've got to recognise, and we need the Prime Minister to take responsibility, that his failures on vaccines and quarantine are what have got us in this difficult position of lockdowns causing all of this economic carnage in the Australian economy. And the Treasurer should take responsibility for that too. I'm not much interested in the spin that he applies to the quarterly growth numbers, I care about what's actually happening on the ground in real communities. I care about what's happening to the national economy. And every single credible commentator, Saul Eslake and others have said, that so much of this economic carnage would have been avoided if the Prime Minister had got his act together on vaccines, and quarantine, and economic support. His failure to do so means that Australians are paying the price for that.

GILBERT: Jim Chalmers, I appreciate your time. Thanks.

CHALMERS: Thank you, Kieran.