SATURDAY, 23 MAY 2020
SUBJECTS: The Treasurer’s bungling of the JobKeeper program.
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: In the history of this country, no Treasurer has ever made a bigger mistake in a budget than Josh Frydenberg just has. This is not something that he can just grin and spin his way out of. He has to actually take responsibility for the biggest budget stuff up in the history of this country. He needs to stop blaming business, stop hiding behind public servants, stop pretending that this is just an issue with the filling out of forms. He needs to take responsibility and he needs to take responsibility today. Don't forget that this $60 billion error was made by the Treasurer before a single form was even filled out by any Australian businesses. He has got this wrong from the very beginning. He should stop pretending it's business's fault. He should stop hiding behind the public servants. He should take responsibility for the biggest budget blunder in the history of the Commonwealth.
This has implications for real people in the real economy. It goes to the Government's economic credibility. It goes to their incompetence and ineptitude. It means that people have been making decisions based on the wrong information.
This humiliation absolutely demolishes the Government's economic credibility. After all the lectures about fiscal responsibility, we now know that the Treasurer got his numbers wrong by $60 billion and 3 million workers. The fact that this JobKeeper program has been badly implemented, badly communicated, and badly budgeted shows that you can't trust a bad government with a good idea.
The $60 billion question is, how can we ever believe anything that this Treasurer or this Government tells us about the budget or about the economy into the future? How can we believe after an error of this magnitude that what Josh Frydenberg and Scott Morrison are telling us about the economy is true? Now these are very difficult and uncertain times for the entire country, Australians deserve much better than the bumbling incompetence of this hopeless and hapless Treasurer, and this Government, which has got the JobKeeper program wrong from the very beginning, badly implementing it, badly communicating it and badly budgeting for it as well.
This is more than an accounting error. It does go to the Government's credibility. It does go to incompetence and ineptitude. It does have implications for people who are already doing a tough enough in the very difficult economic conditions that we find ourselves in. We need to remember that ratings agencies downgraded Australia to negative watch during the week based on the false numbers that the Treasurer has provided. We need to remember that businesses have been taking decisions based on the numbers which Josh Frydenberg provided, which have turned out to be wrong. We need to remember that the Reserve Bank and the International Monetary Fund have based their forecasts for the Australian economy on numbers that we now know, were falsely provided by the Treasurer. We also know this: hundreds of thousands of Australian workers have been excluded from the JobKeeper program on the basis that that program was full, when we now know that it was really 3 million workers short. For all of these reasons, the Treasurer has badly let down the Australian community by getting these numbers so horribly wrong. By excluding people from the JobKeeper program, it means that more and more Australians have taken the decision to raid their super early with consequences and implications for their retirement as well.
This kind of incompetence does have implications for the economy, and it does have implications for the future. If the Treasurer and the Prime Minister can stuff something like this up so badly, what else have they stuffed up? What else will we find out about when they try and sneak it out on a Friday afternoon and hope nobody notices? If they can't get this right, how can they possibly get the recovery right in the interests of millions of Australian workers?
This is a bumbling and incompetent Government, who has badly implemented what was a good idea in wage subsidies. This error is the biggest error ever made in a budget by any Australian Treasurer at any point in our history and Josh Frydenberg needs to take responsibility for that.
I've received one question by text message, which I'll read out and then answer. The question is: "When did the head of Treasury ring you and how did he explain the error?"
I took a call from the Treasury Secretary about half an hour before this information was made public yesterday, clearly I won't go into the fine details of the conversation that we had, a very brief conversation about what has gone on here. My issue is not with the public servants. My issue is with this helpless and hopeless Treasurer, the Butterfingers of Australian politics, who has dropped the ball on this important JobKeeper program again and again and again. The Treasurer needs to stop hiding behind the public servants, stop blaming the business community, stop trying to grin and spin his way out of this, and he needs to take responsibility for the fact that the biggest error ever made in an Australian budget will always have Josh Frydenberg's name on it.
Thanks very much.