AM Agenda – borders, JobKeeper

Monday, 31 August 2020

TOM CONNELL, HOST: Let’s go to my next guests on the program, Shadow Early Childhood Education Minister Amanda Rishworth, and Liberal MP Julian Simmonds. Thanks very much for your time. Still a lot of talk of course about the border approach for COVID-19. Interesting to look at the Newspoll out today though Julian, it suggests there’s plenty of support still for the Premiers, whatever you think of the merits of the policy. Is it a warning about intervening in border policy?

JULIAN SIMMONDS, LIBERAL MEMBER FOR RYAN: Knowing the Prime Minister the way I do I know polls will be the further thing from his mind, he will just be looking for the best health and economic outcomes for all Australians. The issue with these border closures is we need to see more compassion, more common sense when it comes to them. You know the border closure between New South Wales and Victoria was done in conjunction with the Federal Government because it was necessary at the time, but other border closures there is a lot of confusion about, there doesn’t seem to be a path out of them. In my own State up in Queensland, the Queensland Premier goes on TV and says “Queensland hospitals are just for Queenslanders”, and then the inevitable and tragic outcome of that is somebody in a border New South Wales town seeks urgent treatment in Sydney, a long way away when they could’ve gone closer to Brisbane.

CONNELL: Yes it was a pretty awful case wasn’t it Amanda Rishworth?

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: It’s very, very tragic. And from the reports she may have been able to cross the border. I don’t want to get into individual speculation and use this for politics.

I think though if you put yourself in the Premiers’ positions, you actually realise all this Prime Minister does is shirk his responsibility, even in areas such as aged care where he has direct responsibility, he says no we jointly do this with the States. You can put yourself in the Premiers’ positions and say well we’ve got to take responsibility, we’ve got to be leaders because the Prime Minister doesn’t have a plan, the Prime Minister doesn’t take responsibility for anything, so we’ve got to actually take the reins here. So I think what’s very clear is the national cabinet is breaking down, we’ve got shots going across the bow, we’ve got the Treasurer saying “where is the Victorian economic plan”. Well where is his plan? He’s the Treasurer of Australia yet we’ve heard nothing about an economic recovery plan from him.

CONNELL: I just want to stick to borders at the moment and ask you this Amanda Rishworth. You mentioned having a plan, Scott Morrison is attempting to outline a traffic light system if you like for borders. So there are an agreed number of cases including community transmission that will deem areas green, yellow and red. Now wouldn’t that be a better approach than the arbitrary one we have at the moment?

RISHWORTH: I guess the question is what is the responsibility that the Prime Minister is taking and has it been actually directed by good medical advice? When you look at the Premiers they are following the medical advice in their States, they’ve got to take responsibility for the hospital system. Once again you hear the Prime Minister blaming the States about aged care, even though it’s directly the Commonwealth’s responsibility. This is a Prime Minister that doesn’t take responsibility for anything, so I can certainly understand the Premiers saying well why is he dictating to us when he himself will not take responsibility. Obviously they’ll work through national cabinet. But the way the Prime Minister is flagging this without sitting down with the Premiers and discussing it, instead taking shots over the bow in the media, does really show I think that this national cabinet is anything but united and constructive.

CONNELL: What do you think the Federal Government’s approach should be on possible intervention Julian if there’s no agreement at all on this traffic light system? Should the Government weigh up the test of the States here which a lot of experts suggest probably would get overturned?

SIMMONDS: Firstly I don’t accept Amanda’s efforts to play cheap politics with this. The national cabinet process is working well, it’s a way that the Premier and the Prime Minister – it’s something that the Prime Minister instituted to bring them all together to thrash these types of issues out. I know he’s going to seek on Friday to get a national definition of what is a COVID hotspot and when these border restrictions might be in place, and importantly when they might come down. There’s nothing inconsistent with that, with Josh Frydenberg calling for compassion and reason when it comes to these border policies. The problem at the moment is the Premiers aren’t able to articulate a way out, when these borders are put up, when they come down, what’s the rationale behind it, what are the exemptions and to consistently apply them. And that’s the clarity that we’re seeking for all Australians.

CONNELL: We’ll see what comes out of national cabinet on Friday, that seems to be the main issue. Now I want to turn to JobKeeper though, the legislation that Labor is seeking an amendment to. What we’re talking about here Amanda Rishworth is businesses that no longer qualify for JobKeeper, what they might be able to pay their employees. So Labor is saying they want to make sure that amount doesn’t drop or go below minimum wage. What does that mean if the business goes to the wall, that’s not going to help the worker or the business?

RISHWORTH: What we’re saying is, is it fair that a business that no longer qualifies for JobKeeper can indeed cut the wages of a worker, so much so that they may not be able to put bread on the table? This is a full time worker having a cut of $300. So what we are concerned about is that minimum wage workers would have their hours cut, where the company is no longer qualifying for JobKeeper so their turnover and revenue has gone up. We’re concerned about this loophole and the ability for those employees to have a cut in their wages, and quite a substantial cut that would go below the JobKeeper rate. That is not good for workers.

CONNELL: Is the solution just to have the workers paid more? Because if that’s the only thing to happen in isolation, you’re going to have businesses fail aren’t you?

RISHWORTH: If you have a look these businesses no longer qualify for JobKeeper, their revenue has gone up. And what we’re saying is this would be a terrible outcome for those workers who might’ve been on JobKeeper before and relying on that amount, to then have an up to 40 per cent cut to their wage. It’s quite a significant impact, these are full time workers. So I guess that is the big concern, is if they are no longer getting JobKeeper, that these employees would be getting a substantial cut to their pay which would have devastating consequences for them and their families.

CONNELL: We’re hearing today that the economic situation in Victoria is worse than expected, that is what the Treasurer Josh Frydenberg is telling us Julian, so does that mean the Government will revisit how much assistance is available? Would that be the next logical step?

SIMMONDS: And our hearts go out to the Victorians at the moment, they’re in such a distressed situation and it’s so very hard for them. That’s why the Government’s put in place over $300 billion in economic support. Over $100 billion of that is JobKeeper, supporting 900,000 businesses, 3.5 million Australians, and so our plan in Parliament this week is to make sure that it’s extended. Labor have been all over the shop on this, first they try to claim JobKeeper was their idea, then they’re trying to tear it down, then they’ve tried to amend it, then they say if they can’t amend it they’ll still vote for it. If Amanda about –

CONNELL: The wage subsidy was something Labor was calling for before the Coalition introduced it.

SIMMONDS: But they’re all over the shop, if Amanda’s worried about support for workers why would they oppose them getting access to their own money through the super scheme, which Labor did.

RISHWORTH: Hang on, hang on, that’s got nothing to do with JobKeeper. Julian, come on mate.


SIMMONDS: – and businesses open throughout this pandemic.

RISHWORTH: So somehow Julian you’re suggesting that our constructive criticism about the wage subsidy, somehow we don’t support it because we have problems with the early release of superannuation? I mean talk about spin. Labor has been –

SIMMONDS: I’m just pointing out that you’re all over the place.

RISHWORTH: No, no, no. There are serious consequences about this early release of superannuation, serious consequences. And it –

SIMMONDS: Well it’s their money, it’s workers’ money.


RISHWORTH: Instead of properly supporting these individuals, what you’re doing is encouraging them to raid their retirement savings, so they end up living in poverty in retirement. That’s what you’re doing and –


RISHWORTH: Let me finish Julian. The two are completely unrelated. Labor has been consistent when it comes to JobKeeper, asking for support, identifying when workers are left out. Early educators in Victoria, they’ve had JobKeeper ripped away from them and we know that educators are now losing hours, losing their jobs. So when Labor brings up issues, maybe rather than doing spin, you should actually pay some attention.

CONNELL: I think we might be talking about superannuation next time perhaps as that announcement looks imminent. Julian Simmonds and Amanda Rishworth, thanks for your time.


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