ABC RADIO BRISBANE
MONDAY, 8 JUNE 2020
SUBJECTS: Childcare; JobKeeper; Black Lives Matter rallies; Recession; HomeBuilder; Social housing; Government debt; Queens Birthday Honours List.
STEVE AUSTIN, HOST: Jim Chalmers is the Federal Labor Member for Rankin here in Queensland. He’s also the Treasury Opposition spokesperson. Before I come to the rally and the like on the weekend, the Federal Government today has just announced the ending of the JobKeeper program for childcare centres and announced a transition package of over $700 million to help with the transition. Does the Opposition support this?
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: There are two things about this Steve. First of all, a lot of families won't be able to afford fees so soon. When the scheme was put in place, it was to try and help families through a difficult time and I think a lot of families are still going through that difficult period. It will be hard for families to pay those fees when they might be out of work, or earning substantially less than they were. That's the first, most important problem -
AUSTIN: There is a $700 million transition package?
CHALMERS: Yes but there's no guarantees there, Steve. We'll work our way through the detail of that but we don't have a heap of confidence that families who are doing it tough before will be sufficiently supported after this announcement. There's a second thing which is really important too, and you probably followed this. Last Friday Prime Minister Morrison was asked twice whether there was any chance that the JobKeeper payments would end early and twice he gave a guarantee that they wouldn't end early. Now we know that they are effectively ended for childcare workers by this announcement. That's troubling as well.
AUSTIN: They point out that the aim of the program in the first place was to protect the childcare centres. That's been done and all that will mean is that workers in those childcare centres will go from the JobKeeper program to the childcare subsidy, or that it will be funded by the transition package.
CHALMERS: There's a transition package for centres. It's not clear to us that there's any guarantee that these workers who were on JobKeeper, who the Prime Minister told on Friday it wouldn't be ending early, there's no guarantees that they will be looked after. There's some language in there about staffing levels, there is a funding package. When you take those two issues together, the fact that families will be paying fees quite soon, and secondly that workers who were on JobKeeper and told that they'd be sweet until September are now not, I think that there's reason to be concerned. We'll keep working our way through the detail. My colleague, Amanda Rishworth, is doing that this afternoon. If there are elements worth supporting, we'll support them but on the face of it, it looks like there are at least two concerning elements of it.
AUSTIN: Dan Tehan, the Minister, says families whose employment has been impacted by the economic downturn will be able to access up to 100 hours per fortnight in subsidised care. What about that angle of 100 hours per fortnight? Is that enough to cover the fortnight period?
CHALMERS: We'll have a look at that as well. I saw that in the Minister's announcement and we'll work through that.
AUSTIN: Okay. Jim Chalmers is my guest. Jim Chalmers is Labor's Treasury spokesperson. He's also the Labor Member for Rankin, which is a federal electorate here in Queensland. This is ABC Radio Brisbane. Jim Chalmers, here in Brisbane there was a very large rally on the weekend, despite pleas from Federal and State health authorities not too bunch together, but a very large rally for black lives. Give me your take on what should be the Federal and State Government's response to that Black Lives Matter rally matter?
CHALMERS: The policy response you mean Steve, or to the rally itself?
AUSTIN: Yes. Yes. Well both for that matter, both. There was a plea to not march. The police ended up handing out face masks, which was probably a smart public health strategy. But quite clearly people in South East Queensland feel very strongly about this. 30,000 people's a big march. I haven't seen one that big for quite a while. So what should the State and Federal Government's policy response be, if anything?
CHALMERS: I think clearly there's a lot of steps which need to be taken when it comes to dealing with the main issue that people are protesting about, and that is the remarkably high levels of incarceration of Indigenous people in this country. It's not a problem that's just sprung up in recent times. It's been an enduring challenge that we've had, and we haven't found a way to sufficiently meet it. Clearly, there needs to be more thought about justice programs; clearly we need to rethink the way we approach very minor offenses like unpaid fines; on communities, we need to make sure that we're doing the best we can when it comes to self-determination, things like community services being delivered by communities, so that we can address some of the issues around vulnerability and safety and all of the other associated issues. There's a lot that can be done in a specific sense like that but also, obviously, sitting over the top of all of this is we need to progress the Uluru Statement from the Heart. We need to get a voice to the Parliament from our First Nations people and all the associated parts of that Uluru Statement which is so important. I think ideally you wouldn't have 30,000 people marching in Brisbane at a time like this with all of the health concerns that people have raised. But it wasn't recreational. They were there for a reason. They were reflecting the frustration that so little progress has been made.
AUSTIN: It seems to me that Australia is really a different scenario from the United States. Australia has had a Royal Commission into black deaths in custody, the United States has not. The nation formally said sorry - these both happened under Federal Labor Governments, by the way - but we had the national Sorry Statement, when Kevin Rudd was Prime Minister, the United States has not. We have the legislative requirements from the Closing the Gap report and the Statement from the Heart. The United States has had none of these national events. Does that indicate that Australians and Australian Governments of both sides do take the issue seriously and are trying to work on the problem?
CHALMERS: I think so, Steve. I think there is a recognition here of at least two things. Firstly, the challenges that we have here aren't some subset of what the Americans are dealing with. There's obviously a number of common elements and racial injustice lies at the core of all of it. But we are not a subset of what's going on in the US. Injustice isn't something that we just see on our TV screens. We see our own version of it unfortunately in our neighbourhoods. That's an important thing to recognise. Secondly, there have been attempts to get to the bottom of what's going on here. There are many Australians of goodwill, including many who might not have marched on the weekend, who recognise as we do, that we won't actually make progress as a country until we put things right with the first of us. I think it is a widely held view, of course not a universally held view, but a widely held view that if we are to be the best version of ourselves, then we have to address the issues that people marched about on the weekend.
AUSTIN: Jim Chalmers is the Shadow Treasury spokesperson. This is ABC Radio Brisbane. Well let's move on from the Black Lives Matter march and ask about the R-word. Last week a couple of days after I interviewed you, Jim Chalmers, the Federal Treasurer, your opposite number, said that the data shows Australia is in a recession. What now, Jim Chalmers?
CHALMERS: We are in a recession for the first time in almost three decades. We had the longest run of continuous economic growth in the developed world and that's now come to an end. The important thing about that is that we can get lost in the kind of economic jargon and numbers on a spreadsheet, but really what it means is, that we're going through a very tough time when it comes to the jobs that people rely on to feed their loved ones. It's a very difficult time. Now we have three steps; we need to make sure that the response to the crisis itself is as robust as it can be and that's you and I have spoken, but more broadly as well, about the costs of some of these bundled programs like JobKeeper which has meant that more people have become unemployed than is necessary.
AUSTIN: You see JobKeeper as a bungled program?
CHALMERS: Absolutely. Yes, absolutely. Too many people left behind. Too many people excluded accidentally or deliberately. Too long a delay between the announcement and the payments flowing so a lot of businesses gave up on it. The accounting of it was bungled. They told millions of workers the program was full when it was three million short. I could go on Steve, but there's no question in my mind that it's a good idea being badly implemented. The second phase, obviously, is that we need to bolster the recovery. The Government made some announcements on the construction industry last week after you and I spoke -
AUSTIN: Do you support the housing construction package that the Federal Government announced?
CHALMERS: No it’s not comprehensive enough, Steve. It's pretty hard to find $700 million and not a cent for public housing. I thought that was a real missed opportunity. No, it's not the best version of -
AUSTIN: Public housing is a state responsibility though, isn't it?
CHALMERS: There's a lot of federal funds from time-to-time which flow into public housing -
AUSTIN: They usually do a 10-year housing agreement, they sign off on a deal normally every 10 years?
CHALMERS: One of the most important elements of what Labor did during the Global Financial Crisis was built a heap of public housing. That was good because it ticked a heap of boxes at the same time. It's good for jobs, it's good for tradies in the building industry and it builds something that lasts for the most vulnerable people in our society. It ticks a lot of boxes. We wanted to see that in the package but it wasn't in there. That's part of that second stage, which is bolstering the recovery. Then thirdly we need to try and set the economy up for the future and work out where the new jobs will come from. That means getting things like energy policy, skills and training, turning our ideas into jobs right, and the like.
AUSTIN: How much of a dead weight in of all that, is the revelation by the Parliamentary Budget Office last week that the national debt could blow out by $620 billion by the end of the decade due to the Coronavirus? I'm not sure if that was announced last week. I'm pretty you would have heard that.
CHALMERS: They were confronting numbers Steve. Hopefully we come out of this sooner rather than later. We want people to go back to work. But one of the legacies of this pandemic will be a stupendous amount of debt. Debt had already more than doubled before the crisis and now obviously it will go north of that.
CHALMERS: We will be constrained in what we can do in the budget, and that means we've got to do things which get us maximum bang for buck, maximum effectiveness. When it comes time to pay back some of this debt, we want to make sure that the most vulnerable people aren't carrying a disproportionate load when it comes to that.
AUSTIN: What do we do about it? You often get the feeling that federally Labor wants us to spend more money all the time, some also of the state level, while the Government or the Liberal Party sound like a bunch of cold-hearted accountants. Both of them are stereotypes, obviously, but you have these two opposing views. One person says, we need to watch every cent, whereas Labor seems to say, well no we should be spending more on programs and the like. Doesn't seem like much of a choice?
CHALMERS: It's not that simple. These characters in Government at the moment are no strangers to wasting money. You know, sports rorts and a range of other ways that they've wasted money. To be to be fair to both parties it comes down to priorities. We want money invested more effectively. We've even proposed during this crisis ways that perhaps they could find money to include more people in JobKeeper by not paying the person who's making $100 a week, all of a sudden making $750 a week. We've been constructive on that front too. We think that public money should be really responsibly invested and that means understanding your priorities. Our priorities will always be a more inclusive type of economic growth which creates good jobs for people. Whatever the Liberal model is, you can ask them about that, but for seven years now it's been a recipe for pretty weak growth, lots of underemployment, insecure work, stagnant wages, flatlining productivity, and hardly any business investment. We hope they don't go back to the model which is failed us to here.
AUSTIN: My guest is Jim Chalmers. Any revelations or surprises in the Queen's Birthday Honours announcements?
CHALMERS: I don't know about surprises. It's good to see people recognised but it's especially good to see those people recognised who might not otherwise be so well known. I'm sure it's the same in your neighbourhood where you're from. It's lovely to see the people who are operating at a grassroots level. They're not necessarily famous people but maybe they've volunteered for 50 years or something like that. I always look out for those kinds of stories. I think those stories are uplifting.
AUSTIN: Thanks for your time.
CHALMERS: Thank you, Steve.