ABC Weekend Breakfast – JobKeeper, culture in Parliament

Saturday, 27 March 2021

SUBJECTS: JobKeeper; culture in Parliament.

HOST:  We are joined by Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman and Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education and Youth, Amanda Rishworth. Welcome to both of you. Obviously JobKeeper is coming to an end. I wonder, though, the floods have really compounded this issue as well. We will see a lot of businesses that are disadvantaged because of the floods, a lot more produce and property ruined. Trent, the final cost of these floods are unknown for now, but small business grants up to $50,000, up to $75,000 for primary producers. Surely this is not the time to be ending JobKeeper just yet?

TRENT ZIMMERMAN, LIBERAL MP FOR NORTH SYDNEY: Well, obviously JobKeeper was always meant to be a temporary support and it has played an incredibly pivotal role in seeing the pandemic here in Australia over the past 12 months, no doubt about that. But if you look at what’s happening in those flood ravaged areas, there  is some more support mechanisms. You did outline some which are in many ways more generous than what you might receive through JobKeeper. There are also individual payments that could be made, so the immediate support for those who have been affected of $1,000 per adult, $400 for children. 30,000 claims have been posted already. So there is significant support through the joint federal and state disaster relief programs will flow to those who have had their lives devastated as we’ve seen this week.

HOST: Amanda the government has also announced specific support for some industries that are still really affected by COVID, like the arts industry and the tourism industry. This JobKeeper payment does have to end sometime. There is not an endless supply of money. Is now the right time?

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: Well, of course JobKeeper was always meant to be temporary but now is absolutely not the right time. We have a pandemic still in this country and we are still seeing shutdowns. There are industries that don’t have specific packages. One industry I’ve been talking to is the party industry. I have local small businesses in my electorate who say there is still a lack of confidence to hold a party, because of whether it’s numbers from restrictions or the fact that there isn’t the confidence that there isn’t going to be an outbreak. So the pandemic is still very much here. The vaccine rollout has got off to a very slow start, so there are many businesses and jobs through no fault of their own – and that’s what I’ve got to stress, this is through no fault of their own – who have been very successful for decades and now are facing actually having to close when JobKeeper comes to an end. So I think the Government should be a bit more mindful to many of these small businesses, the ones that don’t receive any support from these more tailored packages, all fall through the cracks and just aren’t going to survive as a result.

HOST: Amanda, the other side of the argument here is that JobKeeper has been able to help businesses ride out through the pandemic for a year or so, but it has given us an inflated sense of what the economy is like. Surely the end of JobKeeper will then give us a more realistic view of what we need to deal with?

RISHWORTH: That is not going to be very much comfort for those people who lose their job or their business shuts down because we haven’t bounced back. And not because the economy is changed, but because there is still a lack of confidence out there. We are not getting international flights coming, we are not seeing the tourists return, we are not seeing international students return. These are industries that one day I hope will have a bright future, but if we don’t support them through the times when we have not transitioned yet, the industries will completely collapse and we won’t have the opportunity to grow them into the future. It is a very tenuous time. I’m not saying this is all businesses – many businesses have done very well – but to suggest we won’t have a bright international student future in this country and we should just let it wither I think is very, very short-sighted.

HOST: Trent, as Amanda was saying there, the confidence is still a little shaky in some areas. We’ve seen this new COVID case in Queensland. This certainly isn’t over yet. Is the government going to target more support?

ZIMMERMAN: I think confidence is growing. We’ve seen it most dramatically in the latest labour force figures, 5.8 per cent the unemployment rate really exceeded anyone’s expectations. It was a lot earlier than any of the Treasury or Reserve Bank predicts were showing. In fact, the size of employment in Australia is basically where it was before the pandemic. That’s not to say that there aren’t going to be individuals and parts of the economy that continue to suffer and obviously when you have international borders closed, that is an obvious case. What give more confident is the speed of the vaccine program that will now pick up. We’ve got local productions happening. We are obviously curtailed by the bans that we saw coming out of Europe, which meant we only got a fraction of the vaccines we were expecting earlier in the program. Just this week, we had 800,000 vaccines released from the AstraZeneca or CSL facility in Victoria and I think we are going to see that program really ramped up quickly, which will give people more confidence.

HOST: It isn’t just the confidence in what the government’s doing, it’s also the confidence in the Government’s schemes. I want to point to the $4.1 billion JobMaker hiring scheme, which is only really delivered 521 new jobs in its first six weeks. So obviously corporations and businesses are not attracted to this scheme at all?

ZIMMERMAN: I don’t agree with that analysis. A couple of points – firstly, the scheme only started, registrations only started at the beginning of February. Secondly, those on JobKeeper today are ineligible for the JobMaker program, so I suspect after this week we will see further uptake. And there also have been positive problems asrising with the scheme, with the retail sector for example saying, the larger retail employers, saying they are so confident about their conditions that they don’t think they will need to utilise it. But I do think it is early days and we will see more uptake. But it will be affected by the fact that the jobs market is recovering so much faster than anyone had predicted, even when we handed down the budget last year.

HOST: I want to move to the conversation around the treatment of women in particular the safety of women in Parliament. It seemed as though the Prime Minister this week wanted to do a bit of a reset with that press conference that we saw earlier in the week. Amanda Rishworth, do you think that worked?

RISHWORTH: I think the Prime Minister started off by saying things that the Australian people – in particular women – wanted to hear. But then unfortunately it descended into a very defensive attack on journalists asking the questions. For me, it made me think “were the words that you said at the beginning of the press conference actually genuine?”. Because it descended into accusations – “people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones” – and those sorts of comments don’t signal to me true contrition and truly wanting to listen. Instead it sent a very defensive message and a very aggressive message. So I was pretty hopeful at the beginning of that press conference and by the end I was feeling incredibly disappointed. That was certainly the feeling I got from many of the women I spoke to.

HOST: Trent, the Prime Minister had flagged the possibility of using quotas, said he was not opposed to the idea of using quotas, and over the last few days or so he has actually walked back from the idea of quotas. What is the reluctance of the Liberal Party to introduce quotas?

ZIMMERMAN: I will say a couple of things. Firstly, I am very attracted to quotas and I think it is something we should be looking at. There are some circumstances where I think it is relatively easy to implement quotas, like for Senate preselections. But the reality is in Liberal Party we do not have the centralised control that you see in the Labor Party. For example, our national executive doesn’t have the power that the Labor national executive has. So it would be a decision of each State and Territory division of the Liberal Party. I think the reluctance comes – I’ve spoken to women in the party this week, including some aspiring excellent candidates, and a few of them have had reservations about quotas and they’ve basically said “I’m not sure that I want to win other than in a contest where 50 per cent of the vote delivers the outcome.” I get that point, but my point is that we have tried a range of mechanisms to encourage more women into politics. There has been concerted campaigns to support women coming through the party, but the gap is still way too large and we need effectively a game changer to increase the number of women in the federal parliamentary Liberal team so you get that critical mass. And it will be a hard process because of the nature in the Liberal Party in deciding these things, but we have to have the discussion and act on it, in my view.

HOST: Amanda, the Prime Minister did flag he would be announcing some action at some point, but we haven’t seen that as of yet. What would you like to see from the Prime Minister?

RISHWORTH: Firstly, when it comes to political parties, I would say that the Labor Party has had quotes for some time and I don’t feel I got there just because of quotas. I feel that what quotes do is get parties to look further afield, they look for people in places they may not have looked before. And I think it has been very important in the Labor Party which is now approaching 50 per cent women and it does change culture and it does get that critical mass. Further, we need the Prime Minister to respond to the Respect At Work report that has been on his or his Minister’s desk for some time now. That has 55 recommendations from Kate Jenkins to look at how we improve our work cultures right around Australia for women, whether that be in different businesses, whether that be in politics, within the public service. I think as a first immediate step, there is a platform on which the Prime Minister could build, and I would urge him to seriously respond to those recommendations as soon as possible.

HOST: We have to leave it there. Amanda Rishworth and Trent Zimmerman, it’s great to have you on with us this morning.

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