01 June 2020


SUBJECTS: Gambling and early access superannuation; housing stimulus; JobKeeper; US riots.

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: I want to bring in my afternoon panel, Shadow Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones and Liberal MP Andrew Lamming join me now. Hello and welcome to both of you. Let's just start on that on that data that Sue Lannin was talking about, that new data showing a large portion of the early release super being spent on discretionary lifestyle items alcohol, bedding, that sort of stuff. Andrew Laming, is there a problem with that, people, you know, digging into their retirement savings to spend it on items like this?

ANDREW LAMING MP, MEMBER FOR BOWMAN: No problem at all, PK. It won't surprise you, I’m a Liberal. It's their money, they can spend it how they want. I worked really hard to make sure that applications were able to be placed by Australians in very early April not mid-April. The ATO was very slow to open this program up initially when we thought there could be significant financial impact. So many of these applications went in quickly and long before people realised what financial position they'd be and it's ultimately their money. Half a million young Australians, who are about a third of this cohort, are not going to be told how to spend it and of course, I don't like having to remind consulting firms that do this research, they don't have much of a counterfactual. They actually can't tell us how much gambling spending was occurring long before this. They can only look at the categories banks provide them and these institutions don't give very useful categorical data about their spending. There's large uncertainties, as anyone who's done that banking will know these categories aren't terribly reliable. They're very broad. They're having a wild guess and I tell you what a few people spending it in these areas, they're smoothing, not only their own expenditure over their lifetime, but they're dealing with very large dip in national spending and they're helping the nation by spending it. I'm agnostic how they do it. They make those decisions about where they need the money not the government and certainly not the media.

KARVELAS:  Stephen, you've heard a strong defence actually from Andrew Laming there, of how people spend their money isn't it their choice? I mean, they've made an application, they clearly need the money or they say they do. Why should it be policed?

STEPHEN JONES MP, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Because the Treasurer and the Prime Minister stood in Parliament and said the purpose of these new arrangements is to help Australians in hardship. And whilst we had some concerns about the way the scheme was put together, we could see helping Australians in hardship had to be a priority. Instead of helping Australians in hardship, we can see that one in ten dollars, that's one in every ten dollars that has been released under this scheme, has gone to some overseas online gambling organisation. Instead of helping hardship, it's adding to hardship. And frankly, it's just not right to say that superannuation money should be treated as any other money. It's not treated as any other money when it's earned, when it's invested, or when it's released from a superannuation fund because there are significant tax concessions that are applied to that money at every step along the way. The reason we do that is so that people are encouraged and incentivised to save for their retirement. The consequence of this, and this is the thing that Mr Laming is championing, the consequence of this is that we all lose. The people who withdraw the money when they don't need it means they have less money in retirement savings. For every 20,000 dollars they've withdrawn, they're about $120,000 worse off. The rest of the fund members lose because there's a massive withdrawal from the funds at that point in time, but we as taxpayers lose as well because it means we're going to be paying more in pensions down the track than we need to be. If it's genuine hardship, absolutely defendable, but Mr Laming out there defending spending money on gambling, frankly, you just stood in Parliament and said the purpose of this act is to ensure the people can take their superannuation money out and go and spend it on online gambling, he would have been laughed all the way back to Queensland and he would have deserved to be laughed all the way back to Queensland. 

KARVELAS: Well, I have to give you a right of reply Andrew Laming. You didn't sort of say this is what the money should be spent on. Is that the issue, that there's a disconnect there with what you said it should be spent on?

LAMING: Clearly, when you talk to those who took the money out, they said their main focus was going to be on debts, mortgage and rents and clearly some people have debts to gambling entities and they've chosen that additional money to clear a debt that had a massive interest rate on it in order to place themselves in a better financial position. That's how you get the 11%. It's probably only very tiny proportion of people spending a lot more than 11% and the great majority aren't involved in online gambling at all, but it's the headline for the day. I'll answer the question. They're probably paying off old debts, but putting themselves in a far better financial position than having that same money earning nothing for the six months in superannuation. 

JONES: That's not true. That’s not true.

KARVELAS: Alright, I can see you disagree on this, so I'm just going to park it there and leave it in the disagreement column, which we have a few of. Let's go to stimulus because we know the Government has confirmed that they are looking at stimulus on housing for instance. Perhaps giving householders cash grants. Is that a good way to spend money? What's your view on that, if I can begin with you Stephen Jones? I mean, this would be obviously helpful to the residential building sector. 

JONES: Yeah, look six weeks ago Anthony Albanese and Jason Clare called on the Government to pay some attention to what's going on in housing and construction. We could see back then they're about to hit a cliff. Tradies are already being laid off because of a cessation of work. The pipeline of work has ended and its not being replenished. So we absolutely need some urgent support for that industry. I hope it's not, like so much else that the Government is doing, a big announcement with no follow-through. I'll also say this; I welcome the fact that the government is proposing to do some stuff in the building and construction industry, but 55% of the people who've lost their job through the coronavirus economic crisis have been women. I'd like to see the Government paying more attention on the sorts of programs that are going to find women back into jobs, women back into the workplace. I welcome the fact that they're proposing to do something in building and construction. But what about that majority of workers, who seem to be forgotten by the government at the moment?

KARVELAS: Andrew Laming, how about women? I think it's it is actually a relevant question, if you look at some of the data and who's been affected disproportionately in this crisis, should there be more effort to get women into work?

LAMING: Stephen makes a really good point and obviously only when an economy gets a head of steam do we see the job creation that creates more part-time and even casual work, so getting new businesses started again, they often will start with employing casuals and in particular that means that women are often the last to be the beneficiaries of those really low unemployment conditions and we're a long way away from there. So we've got obviously support across the political divide. [INAUDIBLE] government to crack the economy back up. Stephen is right to point out building and construction has such long lead times to get a major project or a land subdivision together so many Council regulations and hurdles to clear. It's not like going down to Bunnings and of course their sales are through the roof. So you're right that these longer projects are a massive concern for the entire economy. We want to make sure they're shovel-ready projects ready for the Commonwealth to fund. There isn't always, when we do go looking for those projects they're simply not shovel-ready. And then lastly anything we can do to encourage both the home renovations, by allowing mortgages to be expanded slightly, or more liquidity  in general for people to have the confidence through perhaps the deposit assistance scheme, which is steaming along, I understand. These are all good measures but right now, dead right our concern at the end of the year that the projects that should have started back in April won't be there when we need them.

KARVELAS: And just still with you Andrew Laming, I know that a former colleague of yours, Craig Laundy, made an interesting point today saying that particularly for the sector, his sector, you know, he now deals in restaurants, that's what he used to do and he's gone back to it, he’s a publican, and that JobKeeper should last till the end of the year. That's obviously the sector, hospitality, that's been hard hit. Do you agree?

LAMING: I'll be making a point, I think I have already on your show, PK, that JobSeeker and JobKeeper can both be tailored to the economic conditions. It's not for me to say how Keeper should work. But my view is we can look very closely at the BAS activity when the tax is remitted by individual sectors to identify when they're back to speed and I see potentially that some areas like international conferencing, tourism and travel might be some of the longest and hardest hit.You may find JobKeeper staying in some areas longer than others, but that's just my point of view. The ATO can give us a very clear fingerprint on exactly which sectors are recovering first. And there's your case for reconsidering JobKeeper at that point. 

KARVELAS: Look before we end I would like to talk to you both about the biggest story in the world. You know, there is nothing else for watching, it's coronavirus and it's what we're seeing, this protest movement now in the United States. Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has commented on President Trump's handling of the protests in the US. He says the President is a deliberately divisive leader, he seeks to divide and is basically he's exploiting division and far from making America great again, he makes America weaker. Do you share that sentiment Stephen Jones? 

JONES: I grew up in a world where we looked to the United States for leadership and inspiration and as we look across the Pacific today, there's not very much that we like that we're seeing. It's an absolute disaster. I don't think they need comments from politicians in Australia, such myself and Andrew at a point like this, but you know, it's a humanitarian disaster sparked by a tragedy. It's got out of control and I think what America needs now more than ever is forces of unity and not further the forces of division .

KARVELAS: Andrew Laming, what do you think about what Malcolm Turnbull's had to say and about the way Donald Trump's handling this crisis?

LAMING: I think Stephen answered your question well. I don't think it adds a great deal for former Prime Ministers or even commentators like myself and Stephen to be talking about the America-China relationship. My focus is on the Australia-China relationship. We've got to be firm but fair, we've got to stand behind the values that we believe in. We don't need to unnecessarily engage an antagonistic conversation. It's way more important to see a really, really strong economic relationship and it can be only compromised by more words on this side of the equator. So I look to see business getting on with what they do best, politicians are aggravating stuff and leaving it to the Foreign Minister to make further commentary. I mean our relationship with China and the US are both so critical, it's a delicate balance. You can always find an excuse to chop one way or the other. I think we need to steadily move forward and protect the relationships we have with both of those countries and that's in our national interest.

KARVELAS: Sure, but when we see protest in Hong Kong, for instance, politicians have commented and been critical of the way they've been treated. What do you make of what we're seeing in the United States right now?

LAMING: Well that is a huge tragedy as Stephen’s already talked about. The Hong Kong issue is a little different. We've got a gentleman called Drew Pavlou at the University of Queensland having his own battles there in the close relationship between Australian universities and China. We've got exquisitely sensitive relationships between Australian exporters and China and I believe in going steadily ahead, standing up for what we believe in but not engaging in unnecessary vocalisation of our personal views or solo flights on human rights issues as individuals. We've got a Foreign Minister who can do that. 

KARVELAS: I'm going to be very polite about my observation, but I think I'm right,  you've pivoted to the China part of the question. I'm asking about what we're seeing in the United States, these demonstrations in a response to what we've seen which is the death of this black man in custody. You must be alarmed by what you're saying.

LAMING: Okay, I probably misunderstood your question slightly.

KARVELAS: Fair enough.

LAMING: No, I'm just mortified by everything I watch and like you, PK, watching TV horrified and you know wishing that this nation can work its way through that horrific individual challenge, one of many have come before this President, different situation having to manage a very, very difficult situation, but I don't want to comment on it as an Australian politician, if that's okay. 

KARVELAS: Yeah, look, you know, I understand people have different views about the, you know, the way politicians should talk about foreign affairs. Everyone has a different way of answering that look. Thank you to both of you for joining us.

JONES: Thanks, before you let us go one thing; one campaign I'm going to get  behind, which Andrew will agree with me on, is better broadband, better NBN for the electorate of Bowman, I've got to say. I'm sure that's something that Andrew will get behind and maybe we could deliver that. Improve the connection on these interviews, PK. 

KARVELAS: Are we going to start pork-barrelling the electorate of Bowman on this show? I'm not going to be part of that. You can campaign on that all on your own. I believe in equal internet for the nation. 

LAMING: I owe you one Stephen, thank you.

KARVELAS: Equal internet for the whole nation. Thank you very much, Shadow Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones and Liberal MP Andrew Laming. And I want everyone to have really good internet in Australia.