ABC Afternoon Briefing – Sydney lockdown, JobKeeper, tax policy

Thursday, 29 July 2021

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: We’re joined by Julian Leeser and Labor’s Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education, Amanda Rishworth. Julian you’re in Sydney, 239 new cases. We are now five weeks into the lockdown, a four week extension. How are you feeling?

JULIAN LEESER, MEMBER FOR BEROWRA: Look, it’s very hard. People are doing it really tough in Sydney at the moment. By the end of August we will have been locked down nine or 10 weeks. Parramatta LGA comes into the southern part of my electorate, that’s a part of Sydney where people are really restricted in their movement, only 5km from their house and they have to wear a mask outdoors. Most people don’t want this lockdown to continue a day longer than is absolutely necessary. The best thing we can all do is pay attention to the health orders and obey them so this lockdown doesn’t have to go a day longer than is necessary.

KARVELAS: Julian you are in Sydney, in the epicentre of the crisis. Today the confirmation just this afternoon that the ADF will be involved too in the operation now in Sydney. I know that the Prime Minister offered that support to Gladys Berejiklian several weeks ago. Was it a mistake not to take it and not to escalate this earlier?

LEESER: These are matters that are a matter for the New South Wales Government. They’re responsible for the lockdown arrangements, and they’re the ones that can best make the judgement. But I do think as somebody said, I think as Greg Hunt said to you, the ADF does provide a degree of confidence and reassurance. Only a few months ago the ADF were on the banks of the Hawkesbury River in my electorate, helping with the clean-up. And the morale boost that gave people, showing in a very tangible sense that the Federal Government is there with them, that our Defence Force is there at a tough time, I think it is very useful. So I’m pleased the State Government has taken up the offer.

KARVELAS: Amanda, the New South Wales Premier says things are likely to get worse before they get better. If New South Wales had taken a harder approach earlier, do you think some of this would have been avoided?

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: I can’t really make comment on I guess hypotheticals. You can only go by the health advice in front of you. I think the challenge is now, and the challenge to get on top of this is not just a challenge for Sydney or New South Wales, it’s a challenge for the country. It is a national emergency. We do need to get on top of this, we do need to encourage people to take up the vaccine, to stick by those rules. But I do feel for Sydneysiders, it is a very difficult circumstance. But they are actually doing it for the whole country, because if we don’t get on top of this, then there will be constant leaks and lockdowns right around this country.

KARVELAS: Julian, there seems to be a consensus now that going in hard and early and locking down when you first see this Delta outbreak is the best approach. The Prime Minister has said that this week as well. Why has it taken until now to realise that? Has seemed really obvious to me for a long time.

LEESER: Well, I think Delta is so different to the first round of COVID that we had last year, and I think we saw that in India and the like. It’s easier to be wise after the event. But what we are seeing more and more is that this is such an infectious virus, that you need to take hard measures and allow people to obey those hard measures. And I think, even thinking about what we did in New South Wales last year, the tracking and tracing in New South Wales has been to, this point ,the world’s best practice. The State Government has really tried to preserve as much liberty for New South Wales citizens as possible, for as long as possible. But I think where the virus is at now they’ve had to take these harder measures. No one wants this to go on a day longer than is absolutely necessary. So we all have to obey the health orders, that’s my most important message.

KARVELAS: You mentioned some people in your electorate will have higher restrictions and others won’t. How does that feel to have a two-tiered approach in your own electorate? Do you think that’s right for social cohesion?

LEESER: It’s very hard set of circumstances. These are done by LGAs, not by electorates. And the Parramatta electorate, the most north-eastern part of the Parramatta LGA, comes into the most southern part of my electorate. That’s going to be particularly hard for people there, there are people only a few streets away who won’t have those tighter restrictions.

KARVELAS: So is it fair and will it work to have some people under these rules, others under the other rules? It seems to be confusing.

LEESER: The alternative is putting everybody under the harder rules. And I think what the State Government has tried to do here, and they’ve been responsible for the management of this, is to try and preserve people’s liberties for as long as possible. But when it’s clear the virus is moving quickly in a particular area, to bring in harder restrictions, and I think a measured and incremental approach is probably still the right one.

KARVELAS: Is it really, with 239 cases?

LEESER: Well there are parts of Sydney where there hadn’t been any cases or any contact. So the idea of putting those people under exactly the same restrictions as people in areas where there have been significant cases, I think is a difficult one. It is a difficult argument to maintain.

KARVELAS: What do you make of that, Amanda? Different treatment for different situations?

RISHWORTH: Look, it’s very hard. Once again, I don’t get the medical advice in Sydney, I don’t live in Sydney. I do know in South Australia, we have just come out of a seven day lockdown. It was right across the board, and I’m very pleased that local residents of my electorate and right across the State did the right thing. And we’ve been able to come out, with some restrictions, with mask wearing in indoor spaces. There are still a lot of restrictions that people have to abide by. But I feel in my personal experience, that did make us feel like we were all in it together. But I am not at that table, and there are some unique things I guess in Sydney that need to be taken into consideration.

KARVELAS: Let’s talk about yesterday’s big announcement. Julian Leeser, it’s the first day of the four week lockdown extension, and the Federal Government has stepped in with these increased payments. Should they have been delivered earlier? Be honest here. You know about people struggling, they’ve been struggling for weeks now. Shouldn’t they have been given the higher rate earlier?

LEESER: Well, the good thing about what’s come in is it’s responding to the fact we are going to go into this lockdown and it is going to be longer. It will be nine or 10 weeks at the end of August, and I think what’s good about these payments is that they could be turned on and turned off quickly, and they’re available to our broader range of people. The COVID Disaster Recovery Payment has been a good support. I think the increase will help many people, the supplement to the pension will help people. And I think the massive increase in business support, which is 50/50 funded by the Federal and State Government, will also improve confidence. So much of this is about maintaining confidence, across what is a very difficult time for people in New South Wales.

KARVELAS: Amanda, Victorians and South Australians who have just come out of lockdown, they didn’t get the higher rates. Is that an issue?

RISHWORTH: I think there is a question of equity. I’m not sure why 18 months into this pandemic we didn’t have a response ready to go for what we knew was going to happen, there was going to be lockdowns. So I think there’s a question of equity. But I also think there’s a real question around the connection of the worker with their employers and that is missing from this COVID payment. It was there with JobKeeper and it worked with JobKeeper. There were some problems with JobKeeper, but we had a model that kept that connection. And I am really worried, not only that we don’t have a system in place that can respond quickly as we experience these lockdowns, but I’m already hearing from sectors, such as early education and care, they are deeply worried about the lack of connection. If an educator loses their job, gets stood down, and goes on to something else, they may never come back to a sector that is experiencing shortages. So this connection with work can’t be underdone and underplayed. And I am disappointed the Prime Minister didn’t announce that yesterday.

KARVELAS: Yeah Julian that connection with your employer was a really key part of JobKeeper, to keep people connected. That is a flaw, isn’t it, that that connection going?

LEESER: No, I don’t think it is. Firstly, because the business payments are dependent on the businesses maintaining their employees. But the COVID Disaster Recovery Payment isn’t dependent on that, and that has actually made the COVID Disaster Recovery Payment eligible for a far wider group of Australians. I remember when JobKeeper came in, my office took lots of calls from people who were not eligible for JobKeeper. Josh Frydenberg gave an example of a national business whose turnover hadn’t dropped the relevant amount. Now under JobKeeper those people would not be eligible for these payments, but under the COVID Disaster Recovery Payment those employees are eligible. I think that’s an important part of this new payment and new system.

KARVELAS: Just to some breaking news, the members of the Australian track and field team in the Tokyo Olympic village have been cleared to return to their regular routines. They had been isolating in their rooms as a precautionary measure. That’s some good luck there for the Australian track and field team, who have been cleared to go back to their training and preparing. Just a little pause there, now back to my final question to you Amanda Rishworth, because the Greens have released modelling that shows that the Government’s tax cuts, that have now been backed by Labor, will give men $2 for every $1 that women get. You’ve backed them in. Do you think that’s fair?

RISHWORTH: What we’ve done is we are giving certainty to the community when it comes to tax cuts. But I would like to talk about the gender pay gap, because that is a significant issue. And Labor has been very clear that we want to address that –

KARVELAS: Wait, I have to interrupt. You are going to back the stage three tax cuts you’ve said, which you know will benefit men more than women. You know it. So you can talk about something over here, but in this policy, that’s what will happen.

RISHWORTH: No, I’ll tell you what will benefit women in the workforce and that is Labor’s plan around child care. If you want to look at tax and workforce disincentive rates, the current child care system has a significant disincentive rate. So we are looking at how we provide certainty when it comes to the legislated tax cuts, but by no means will I accept the Greens’ picture that we are somehow not going to have significant policies moving forward to address the gender pay gap.

KARVELAS: You might have other policies, but this policy entrenches, does it not, gender inequality?

RISHWORTH: No what this policy is it’s in the Parliament, it’s legislated and we –

KARVELAS: You can unlegislate it. If you won, you could unlegislate it.

RISHWORTH: We could unlegislate a lot of things, but we need certainty. We’re coming out of a global pandemic. We need to work on policies that will build our country back for the better, not back to the same, but back for the better. And quite frankly when I look at the gender pay gap and look at the workforce disincentive, it is child care in particular and access to affordable child care that particularly is impacting women. And that’s what they’re telling me.

KARVELAS: Julian Leeser, you don’t get off the hook on this one, because it’s actually your policy. Labor is going to back this, but it’s actually your policy, and it does mean men get more of the benefits than women. Are you comfortable with that?

LEESER: I’m not going to base policy discussions on the basis of Green economic modelling here –

KARVELAS: Hang on, it’s a fact, higher income earners are men and they’re getting the tax cut. That’s fact.

LEESER: What I’d say here is Labor took $387 billion of new taxes to the election, and only in the last couple of days have they said they’re not going to repeal them. The Greens have made clear that the price of dealing with the Greens in a hung parliament will be the repeal of these, and a 6 per cent wealth tax. We know Labor has been in government with the Greens before, both in Canberra and around the country. If people are serious about getting tax cuts, and tax cuts put more money in the pockets of men and women right across the economy –

KARVELAS: At the higher end, definitely men, if you lock at the scales, and I have. Thank you to both of you, Liberal MP Julian Leeser, and Labor’s Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education and Development, Amanda Rishworth.

ENDS

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