Canberra Press Conference 22/02/20

March 22, 2020


SUBJECTS: Impact of Coronavirus on the economy; Additional economic stimulus measures; Support for small and medium sized business; Concerns about workers; Timing for stimulus legislation.

JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: Thanks for being here at short notice. We are about to meet with the Prime Minister to talk about some of the issues before us this week in the Parliament. It's likely you'll get an opportunity to speak with Anthony Albanese after that meeting this afternoon.

Australians are anxious about their job security, their health, their personal finances, and their superannuation. We take our responsibility in the Labor Party to be constructive and responsible very, very seriously. This is not business as usual in our economy, it's not business as usual in our society and nor should it be business as usual in our politics. We will be responsible, constructive and supportive where we can be and as we have been for some time now. We won't be standing in the way of the measures that the Government has proposed today to get support into the economy which desperately needs that assistance right now. Being a constructive Opposition also means injecting a sense of urgency when that is lacking or absent. It means pointing out where there are groups of Australians who need assistance who haven't been receiving it. It means pointing out where the Government can do a better job getting this stimulus into the hands of more Australians and more businesses sooner.

What the Government is proposing today includes some welcome steps. We believe that it's important to get that assistance out into the economy and out into the community. Our concern is that there is insufficient sense of urgency here. Some of these payments will not be received by pensioners until July. The business assistance won't be received by businesses until the end of April. There is a serious lack of urgency here and the Government needs to work out ways to get this assistance into the hands of workers and businesses sooner.

When it comes to the business assistance measures in this package, there are absolutely no guarantees that the money that the Government is providing to small and medium sized businesses will find their way into the pockets of Australian workers. It concerns us that there is no mechanism and no guarantee that this assistance for business will be dedicated towards keeping workers in their jobs so that we can protect the livelihoods of millions of Australian workers. There is insufficient urgency and there has been insufficient thought put into how we ensure that workers benefit from these billions of dollars in payments for Australian businesses. Obviously we welcome support for Australian business. We have for some time now. We continue to welcome the support that is being proposed in this package but we need to find ways to ensure that it benefits the workers in those businesses as well. There are no guarantees in this package that it will do so. So, urgency and the design of the business assistance.

The Government is already saying that this package won't be enough to meet the tests that they set for themselves to prevent job losses and to prevent business closures. If the Government thinks that there will already be the need for a third stage of stimulus, then what's the delay for? This is not the time for half measures. It's not the time for more dithering and delay. The Government was already too slow out of the blocks here. They are playing catch-up and part of our role as the Opposition is to inject that sense of urgency which has been largely lacking or absent. Unfortunately we're seeing that again today.

We will take the time to go through the detail in the legislation and we will make sure that we come to a considered view. We will not be standing in the way of this important support going out into the community and we'll be pointing out where the Government can do more, sooner and better.

JOURNALIST: You talk about the design of the business assistance. I guess part of the reason why it's not coming in until the end of April is they're trying to make it so that businesses don't have to fill in any forms, they just lodge their regular BAS and [inaudible]. So how would you propose doing it so that it's easy for business, but can happen sooner?

CHALMERS: The idea that business, which has already been doing it really tough, and particularly small business, can wait until the end of April for some assistance just doesn't pass the pub test. Businesses are doing it tough right now. Pensioners, workers and the unemployed are doing it tough right now. They shouldn't have to wait until the end of April or until July in some cases to get the assistance that they need and deserve. The Government should have explored other ways to get this money into the community sooner, whether it is through single-touch payroll or other options available to them. When you speak to small and medium sized businesses, as I have been doing, their biggest concern is that they won't get this assistance fast enough to make a genuine difference. People are already getting laid off and businesses are already closing. The idea that not a cent of this assistance has flowed yet and that some of it won't flow until the end of April or even July in some circumstances is clearly not good enough.

JOURNALIST: With the July payment, though, that's a second round of funding. There's the first round due to go out at the end of this month. Are you suggesting pensioners should all just get $1,500 now, immediately? What would be the difference if they know they're getting it in the future and can plan towards it?

CHALMERS: If the Government thinks that there is a need for these payments, then there's a need for these payments to be out the door urgently. If the Government thinks that pensioners are doing it tough, and we think so too, then they need to find ways to get that assistance into people's hands sooner. The idea that people can wait months in some cases for assistance just doesn't stack up. We welcome what the Government is proposing but we think there's a lack of urgency in how they're looking to deliver it. Unfortunately for too long now, the Government sat on its hands. We haven't seen enough action quickly enough and this is just one example of that.

JOURNALIST: Just two things, though, on that. You said that you wanted to take the time to consider this legislation. The Government is hoping -

CHALMERS: I meant overnight.

JOURNALIST: I was going to say, there's not that much time, so my question is, is there really any capacity at all for any kind of due diligence or is that something we just have to let go by the wayside so that you get the speed that you're looking for? And then as a result of that, are these concerns that you have kind of redundant because you're obviously going to support the measures anyway?

There are a few parts to your question. We should be putting a premium on urgency and we need to get these bills passed through the Parliament this week for obvious reasons. We offered to sit the Parliament last week and the Government said that they weren't prepared to do that. Our highest priority is getting these payments out the door urgently. When I say that we will go through the details of legislation, that's the task that we're undertaking right now and we'll be doing that overnight as well. We've been indicating for some time now that we don't want to stand in the way of getting welcome assistance and support out the door. Our role as a responsible Opposition is to point out where we think the Government can be doing things better. The business assistance is not designed in a way that guarantees workers will receive some of that assistance. There are issues with timing and the design of the payments going out the door. We reserve the right to make those points outside Parliament and inside the Parliament as well.