ABC Melbourne Mornings

March 25, 2020

SUBJECTS: Impact of Coronavirus on the economy; Support payment delays; Support for small and medium sized business; Concerns about workers; Concerns about renters; Virtual Parliament.


VIRGINIA TRIOLI, ABC MELBOURNE: Jim Chalmers, good morning and thanks for joining us. 

JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: Good morning, Virginia. 

TRIOLI: First of all, there has been much discussion about whether a kind of social wage should be paid generally. We've got supplementary payments coming down the line and we can get to a discussion of that in a moment. But can you see a compelling argument - looking as disinterestedly as you can at the reality of Australia's financial position - for the need and the justification for a so-called social wage?

CHALMERS: The Government's taken some steps towards that with the additional payments for people who are on the JobSeeker payments. We welcome that and we supported that very quickly through the Parliament. Most people in Australia are concluding that more could be done and that the steps that have been taken so far haven't been sufficient to see people through a very difficult period. If there are suggestions for how more support can get out the door more quickly, then obviously we'd be in the cart for that.

TRIOLI: What are your suggestions?

CHALMERS: First of all, in terms of what was proposed our suggestion was to inject a sense of urgency. It's a bit troubling to us that some of these payments won't reach people for another five weeks when it comes to business. Some of the payments don't happen until July -

TRIOLI: Supplementary payments, yes.

CHALMERS: Yes, some of those. That's a concern to us. We've put forward those concerns in a constructive way. We need to inject more of a sense of urgency. There are still gaps in what's being proposed. For example, for New Zealanders living in Australia there's still an issue. There's still an issue for people who might not be eligible because of how much their spouse earns. There are still gaps like that in the system so we're concerned about that as well. Most of all, one of the things that people are really noticing in the last couple of days is that Centrelink hasn't been geared up to deal with the massive demand that we've seen.

TRIOLI: We know we're all working from home so who have we got there in the background?

CHALMERS: That's little Annabel making her Victorian ABC debut.

TRIOLI: I hope she's demanding to watch ABC kids, is she?

CHALMERS: She typically is, yes. 

TRIOLI: Okay. Alright. We can put up with any background noise of that kind. That's just the reality we live in. When it comes to the real challenge of tenancies and evictions, and we've heard just from the Premier that in the next National Cabinet which is expected to take place on Friday, that's going to be under serious consideration. What does the Opposition believe should happen there?

CHALMERS: Please just repeat the start of your question, sorry Virginia?

TRIOLI: Of course. On the pressing issue right now of tenancies and the threat of evictions because people can't make their payments but also on the other end of it, landlords are required to keep making their payments to the banks for mortgages they hold. How should all of that in that long daisy chain of events, how should that be managed?

CHALMERS: I think one of the biggest issues, Virginia, that we've got to manage at the moment is the issue of rents and tenancies. The Government flagged that they would be working with the states on these issues. We understood that this was going to be one of the outcomes of last night's meeting of the National Cabinet. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be the case. What we need here is to make sure that people aren't evicted because they lost their job because of the virus. We want to make sure that people can hang onto their tenancy, so that people aren't kicked out onto the street. As my colleagues Jason Clare, Linda Burney and others have pointed out this is something which is still substantially not addressed. We're ready, willing and able to play a constructive role in trying to fix it.

TRIOLI: And do you feel it's working constructively? I mean, for weeks now, sitting in this chair, I've been acutely aware that I do not want to be the person sitting here carping for the sake of it, finding fault for the sake of it. At the same time, you need to speak truth to power and call those in power to account. That is my job. But one also needs to walk a careful line here of understanding that it's a growing problem. Do you get a sense that all the resources, all the intellectual resources that are available to the Government and those in charge are being deployed at the moment usefully?

CHALMERS: Just on your first point, we're all walking that fine line in trying to find the right balance between being supportive, but also being constructive and recognising that being constructive doesn't mean being silent when there are issues that need to be addressed. Everyone's trying to do that and I want to acknowledge the work of you and your colleagues at the national broadcaster trying to provide this kind of information. From our point of view, what we really need here is clarity, urgency and coordination. It's very clear from the reaction to the Prime Minister's press conference last night that people don't feel like they're getting enough of any of those things. We need to quickly make sure that we can get the information out there so that people can act upon it. Every family is making decisions about how they respond here. The onus is on the nation's leaders to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. My fear is that after last night people have more questions than answers, that there wasn't enough clarity. If you listen to Carla who called in to you a moment ago who is a hairdresser, people have different views. What we really need is that leadership, that urgency and that clarity. I think we're getting it from Premier Andrews. We need to get it from all of our leaders.

TRIOLI: Very quickly before I let you go, what's the possibility of a virtual Parliament being called?

CHALMERS: There's the capacity to make some of those arrangements. I thought it was a bit disappointing that the Government just cancelled Parliament until August. You've got to be sensible, there needs to be contingencies in place. We recognise that maybe not every sitting week can go ahead but we didn't support just cancelling everything until August. We think that there will need to be additional steps taken. The first couple of waves of stimulus from the Government won't be enough to prevent job losses and business closures. We need to give ourselves the capacity to come together, to agree on what additional steps need to be taken, and we also need to scrutinise the steps that have been taken so far. What's been announced so far is not perfect, but it's urgent. There are issues with superannuation, with the assistance for small business not guaranteeing that it will flow to workers or keep workers on, and with the payments which I ran through before. We need the Parliament to do its job. Ideally it wouldn't have been cancelled until August.

TRIOLI: Well, let's see if you can convene virtually - that's been floated. I'm hoping to get some clarity also from the Speaker of the House about that. Jim Chalmers, thanks so much. 

CHALMERS: Thank you, Virginia.