Sky News Business Weekend 14/03/21

14 March 2021

SUBJECTS: Disappointment at the government’s tourism announcement; Dressing up as a pilot no substitute for a jobs plan; Government rolling out vaccines too slowly and withdrawing economic support too quickly; Treasury estimates 100,000 jobs could be lost when JobKeeper is cut; Securing Australia’s AAA credit ratings; Budget riddled with rorts.



SUBJECTS: Disappointment at the government’s tourism announcement; Dressing up as a pilot no substitute for a jobs plan; Government rolling out vaccines too slowly and withdrawing economic support too quickly; Treasury estimates 100,000 jobs could be lost when JobKeeper is cut; Securing Australia’s AAA credit ratings; Budget riddled with rorts.

ROSS GREENWOOD, HOST: Shadow Treasurer, Jim Chalmers, joins me now. Thanks for your time, Jim. Just one issue, right now, with the government, and the package that has been released this week, $1.2 billion. Do you think, right now, that that's sufficient to save the jobs in those tourism and hospitality areas that are clearly vulnerable once JobKeeper goes?

JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: No, I don't, Ross. I think that one of the reasons why this announcement has gone down like a lead balloon is because the more people look at it, the more disappointed they are with it. We needed a comprehensive jobs plan for those million Australians who are still on JobKeeper and instead we got some subsidised airfares. I think most people have concluded that waving around a mocked up plane ticket, and dressing up as a pilot, is no substitute for a proper jobs plan, which recognises that we've got two million Australians in this country unemployed or unable to find the hours that they need, we've got stagnant wages, we've got pockets of struggling businesses and workers around Australia, and this just doesn't go near far enough in dealing with all of those challenges.

GREENWOOD: Okay, so what was the alternative? What could have, or should have, the government done. If you were the Treasurer, you’re the Shadow Treasurer, what would have you done as an alternative?

CHALMERS: Well, I've spent most of the past week, Ross, in communities like Cairns, Launceston, Hobart and elsewhere, speaking with small businesses, tourism operators, local community groups and workers, and business representatives. And really, the common conclusion is that there's no substitute for a responsible, temporary, and targeted extension of JobKeeper. When the government cuts JobKeeper at the end of this month, it will cut jobs. It's as simple as that. Cutting JobKeeper is a ticket to unemployment for too many Australians. So, when you speak to as many businesses, and tourism operators, and others in the local economies around Australia, as I have been trying to do, I think it's pretty clear that other forms of support are welcome. It might help a little bit, but not enough, and it's no substitute for doing something responsible on JobKeeper. Not forever, but for a little while longer.

GREENWOOD: Okay, but the government already has spent some $327 billion in response to Coronavirus. There have been warnings this week from Standard and Poor's that at some stage the spending has to be addressed, has to be reduced, in order for Australia to keep its AAA credit rating. What choice has the government got to, at some stage, try and taper the support, so that it can maintain the AAA credit rating, which, clearly, is important to the nation?

CHALMERS: There's a few things in that, Ross. I mean, nobody's quibbling with the idea of tapering at some point, but you've got to get the timing right. Our fear is that the government is in too big a rush to cut JobKeeper, particularly at the same time as they're going slow on the vaccine. That's obviously a concern to us. If you look at the assessments from Treasury, who say 100,000 jobs will be lost when JobKeeper is cut, Commbank is a little bit more than that, Jeff Borland, a respected academic, says something like double that. Whatever it is, it remains to be seen, but what we're worried about is the government's in too big a rush.

And you rightly raise the cost of these programs. And the Treasurer has said, I think perhaps even on your program, that every dollar is borrowed and that's true. Our fear is that the government doesn't have enough jobs and opportunities to show for this more than a trillion dollars in debt that they've racked up. That's partly because the budget is riddled with rorts - whether it's sports rorts, dodgy land deals, taxpayer funded executive bonuses, a billion dollars on advertising, market research, and all the rest of it. Our view is, you can be more responsible with the budget, if there are fewer rorts and less waste, and more of an opportunity to guide that investment where it really matters, which is to support jobs in local communities around Australia. If there weren't so many rorts in the budget, and so much wastage, the government would have more room to support jobs, support employment, support local economies, in a way that doesn't jeopardise that AAA rating that Standard and Poor's was talking about during the week.

GREENWOOD: And would you agree that the AAA credit rating is worth protecting, that it's actually worth taking action on, to make certain that it is maintained in Australia?

CHALMERS: It does make a difference, Ross. As you know, probably as well as anyone, it impacts on things like borrowing costs. It's an assessment of a country. That AAA credit rating from the three major agencies was actually first achieved by Labor, the last time Labor was in office. Not under Peter Costello, but by Labor. We won the AAA from all three ratings agencies and we should do what we can to protect that. The highest priority, though, is investing in jobs. I think everybody recognises, including the ratings agencies, that it's responsible during a recession, to invest in jobs and opportunities. As I said, our fear is, the government doesn't have enough to show for the trillion dollars in debt that they've racked up. And that's because of all those rorts that I just ran through.

GREENWOOD: Okay, you also mentioned the rollout of the vaccine and the fact that there could be delays. Do you think this also, potentially, stalls economic recovery, to the extent to which the government might have expected?

CHALMERS: Absolutely, I mean, what we're talking about here, is something which is a really big determinant of what the next six, twelve, eighteen months looks like in our economy, but also in our society more broadly. Unfortunately, we've got a government which is too quick to pull support out of the economy and too slow to get the vaccine deployed, and both of those things have consequences. Getting either of those things wrong would be bad, but getting both of those things wrong, at the same time, is even worse. And so that is our fear.

It wasn't the Labor Party that promised that 4 million would be vaccinated by the end of this month. It wasn't us that said everyone would be vaccinated by October. Both of those announcements and promises from the Prime Minister are looking very dicey right now, and he's trying to pretend that he hasn't made those commitments. But a lot of the decisions that people take, in our economy and in our communities, will rest on the government's capacity to get that vaccine deployed quickly, and effectively, and safely. The signs, so far, are not good. We want to see people take it up. We want to see people vaccinated, and safe, and healthy. And we want to move on from this horrible pandemic. Unfortunately, there's been a lot of overpromising and under-delivering when it comes to actually getting the jab into people's arms.

GREENWOOD: Shadow Treasurer, always good to have a chat to you, we appreciate your time today.

CHALMERS: Thanks so much, Ross.