Canberra Doorstop 12/05/20

May 12, 2020


TUESDAY, 12 MAY 2020

SUBJECTS: Budget Day; Josh Frydenberg’s Ministerial Statement; The economic impact of Coronavirus; JobKeeper; Early access to superannuation; New outbreaks of the virus.

JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: It's Budget Day without a budget, but we can't have a Government without a plan. We need the Government to have a plan for jobs for when the economy doesn't just miraculously snap back to normal on the Prime Minister's six-month timeframe. When Australians desperately need a plan for jobs and a plan for the recovery, instead all we'll get today is another speech from the Treasurer.

It is, though, an opportunity for the Treasurer to answer some fundamental questions. What is his plan for the economy and for jobs when the economy doesn't just miraculously snap back to normal on the Prime Minister's six-month timeframe? What is his plan to fix up his bungled JobKeeper program which is leaving too many Australians out and leaving too many Australians behind? And if Deloitte Access Economics, the Reserve Bank, and International Monetary Fund can all prepare detailed forecasts about the economy, why can't the Treasurer of Australia do the same thing today? We call on the Treasurer to come up today with a plan for the economy for when it doesn't snap back, and to release detailed forecasts and figures about his expectations for the economy over the coming months and years in the same way the Reserve Bank, the IMF, and Deloitte Access Economics have been able to do.

We're talking here about enormous amounts of money. We want to make sure that we are getting maximum bang for buck from those stupendous amounts of money when it comes to support for, and jobs in, the economy. For all of that money to be effective in saving jobs and boosting the recovery, we need to make sure that it is not too hastily or too harshly withdrawn from the economy in a way that doesn't cruel the recovery. This recovery is going to be long, it's going to be patchy. A lot of Australians risk being left behind. We need to make sure that the Treasurer doesn't fumble the recovery in the same way that he's been fumbling the JobKeeper program. Now the Prime Minister and the Treasurer say that we're all in this together, but not if you're one of those 1.1 million casuals left out of JobKeeper, not if you work at dnata, not if you work in the arts and entertainment sector, or are a casual builder, a casual teacher, or so many others who've been left behind like businesses who haven't been able to afford to bridge the gap between the announcement of JobKeeper and the flow of the payments themselves. We want the Government's efforts to succeed here but so far the Treasurer’s bungling of JobKeeper and the Government's refusal to take the Australian people in their confidence about how this plays out for their jobs and their personal finances, and in the broader economy has not given them the confidence that they need that the Government knows what they're doing when it comes to the economy.

Today's a big chance for Josh Frydenberg. It's Budget Day without a budget. They've already printed the mugs. They've already cut the ads with all the slaps on the back. But what they haven't done is come up with a convincing plan for the future of the economy if and when it doesn't snap back like the Prime Minister promised.

We'll just hear from Stephen Jones and then we'll take the questions together.

STEPHEN JONES, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Thanks all. As Jim said, we know that Australians are doing it tough. Over the last three weeks over a million Australians have accessed $6.3 billion of their own superannuation savings to help them get through these tough times. We know that there's been a lot of problems with this scheme. On Friday, the Minister made a decision to suspend assessments in the scheme. On Monday, he reopened assessments in the scheme. We need to know what information the Minister received on Thursday and Friday which caused him to suspend the scheme and what steps he's put in place to ensure the fraud and security concerns that Labor has been raising, and that the AFP has confirmed they're investigating, have been dealt with.

We're very pleased that over 95 per cent of claims under the early access scheme are being processed within five days. That's great news for the Australians who are doing it tough. But we are concerned that up to five per cent of those claims have been flagged as risky by the superannuation funds themselves. We want to know what action the tax office is taking. We want to know what action the Minister is taking to ensure that those five per cent of claims have been adequately investigated. We want to know if any money has been paid out fraudulently, that is if any money has been paid out based on a fraudulent claim. It might not sound like a lot but five per cent of a million claims is a lot of claims and that's a lot of money which has been stolen from workers' savings as a result of a decision, a determination, a direction by the Australian Tax Office. Today is an opportunity for the Minister to come clean. What did he learn on Thursday night? What caused him to close the scheme down and what actions has he taken to ensure that the scheme which was reopened again yesterday is going to be safe? What is happening with those five per cent of risky claims? And what is the Minister going to do to ensure that Australians hard-earned retirement savings aren't being stolen from them?

JOURNALIST: Mr Chalmers, what do you expect from Josh Frydenberg's update today?

CHALMERS: We expect him to release some detailed figures and forecasts for the economy going forward. We expect him to come out with a plan for the economy when it doesn't snap back on the Prime Minister's timeframe. When the Government said that they wouldn't be putting out a budget on Budget Day, we said that we understood that it might not be possible to do the full show, the full symphony, of a normal Budget Day. But we did say that they should put out detailed numbers so the Australian community, including the business community, know what the Government thinks about how this plays out from here. A speech from the Treasurer or the occasional number dropped into a newspaper is no substitute for a plan for jobs during this long and patchy recovery. What we don't want to see today is another speech just long on rhetoric, but short on a plan, short on detail, and short on facts and figures that the Australian people need in order to make decisions about the coming months and years, whether it's in their personal finances, in their small businesses, or otherwise. We need the Treasurer to take the Australian people into his confidence and explain to them that this recovery will be long and patchy, that the Prime Minister's idea of snap back has damaging consequences if it means that the welcome support that's been put into the economy is withdrawn in a way that cruels the recovery. We want to make sure that this money is effectively spent. We want to make sure that it's not rorted. We want to make sure that every cent of these billions of dollars which have been committed by the Government goes towards saving jobs in the economy. We need to hear from the Treasurer today as well about what steps he is taking to fix up the bungled implementation of the JobKeeper program. JobKeeper is a very good idea being very badly implemented. Too many people are left out and left behind. Too many businesses have not been able to access the scheme. We've got workers like those at dnata who have been excluded for no good reason. That means when the unemployment rate spikes it will be higher than it needs to be because of the way that the Treasurer has gone about implementing what is otherwise a good idea with these wage subsidies.

JOURNALIST: Have you seen figures out today, which show how much the restrictions and lockdowns are costing each state [INAUDIBLE]. Can we as a country afford a second wave [INAUDIBLE]?

CHALMERS: This diabolical health crisis is having devastating economic impacts right around Australia and those impacts are clear. What concerns us most is the impact in particular on jobs. We will hear more about that on Thursday when the unemployment data comes out. We need to make sure that as the economy reopens that we do that in a very careful, cautious and considered way which relies very heavily on expert advice. We want to see the economy reopened, we want to see people go back to work, but we need to do that in a way that doesn't invite unnecessary risk. One of the reasons we've been supportive of the tracking app, for example, is because we do understand that in the coming weeks and months there is every chance that there will be flare ups in very specific local areas. We've seen that in North West Tassie, we've seen that in Penrith, we've seen that in the meatworks in Victoria. We need to have the capacity to deal with those flare ups when they occur and we need to make sure that as we reopen the economy, that we're still being as careful as we can be about distancing, being careful about hygiene, and all of those other things which have worked so well for us to date. Thanks very much.