22 September 2020


SUBJECTS: FinCEN Files; COVID-19; the rate of JobSeeker.

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Time for my panel, Liberal MP Katie Allen and the Shadow Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones. Welcome to both of you. I’m going to start with you Stephen. What do you make of these leaked files and how they implicate Australian institutions?

STEPHEN JONES MP, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: It's an enormous scandal and we need to hear from the Government about whether Australian banks have been implicated in these multinational crime proceeds being transfer around the world. We've had examples in the past, where our banks have been discovered to have had lax systems, where they've copped fines approaching $100 million. What now appears to be the case is that whilst the bank systems may have improved, AUSTRAC appears to have been lagging. Frankly, if the banks, Patricia, if the bank’s systems aren't up to scratch, then hefty fines should be imposed. If AUSTRAC's system aren't up to scratch, if AUSTRAC isn't sufficiently resourced to do the job that it needs to do, then it's the Government that needs to pay the penalty because we're all at risk. Banks shouldn't be profiting out of these transfers of billions of dollars in ill-gotten gains around the world. And the government systems need to be up to scratch to ensure that when the banks are reporting these crimes or suspicious activity, the government is acting on it and it appears that may not have been the case.

KARVELAS: Katie Allen, what do you make of the reports? Obviously, it's an international story, but there's an Australian angle too.

DR KATIE ALLEN MP, MEMBER FOR HIGGINS: Yeah look, it shows this is the underbelly of international financial transactions. There's multiple jurisdictions involved and it's very important that each country has strong anti-money laundering laws and that they have strong regulation as we do with AUSTRAC. But we also all need to realise we're having to step up with regards to the digital world. It's easier for people to hide, it’s easier for these things to happen and we need to make sure we have good cyber-security and good frameworks to actually track this down and make sure that resources towards AUSTRAC are actually at the highest level they can be. I think it will be interesting to see what comes out of this. But it is pretty shocking. I think the public are pretty shocked by what they’re hearing and reading in the newspaper.

KARVELAS: Katie Allen, staying with you. For the past two days, Victoria's new COVID cases have hovered in the low teens. You said the Premier should redo the road map based on improved tracking and tracing capabilities. What do you want it to look like? Because he says if we rush it, then of course all this good work could be undone. In fact, I spoke to Peter Doherty who says that actually, it's all the other states that won't let Victorians in unless we get the case numbers really low. Given that requirement, don't we need to stay on this road map?

ALLEN: Look, I think the Premier probably panicked a bit in the early stages of this getting out of control and he's kind of overcompensated for poor performance perhaps. And I think the most important thing is we know there's three levels of security with COVID. The first one is quarantining, the second is track and tracing and the third is lockdown restrictions. And we had to go to those lockdown restrictions because both quarantining and tracking and tracing got out of control. The good news is Daniel Andrews has now increased his capabilities with track and tracing. He sent a team up to New South Wales to look to see the best way to do it. He’s increased resources, he’s accepted help from the ADF, he's also undertaken a project to digitalise the track and tracing. Hopefully we're now on the right track. He's getting control of the pandemic here. Let's see the benefits of making sure he uses the proper track and tracing strategy so we can open up the economy, we can open up businesses and schools, using a COVID safe approach. Now, what I'm worried about is this scorched-earth targets, which were based on modelling which would've been based on poor tracking and tracing capabilities. Now that those have improved, I think now is the time to look at how to open up more quickly. We're talking about 11 cases today, 14 days yesterday, and five million people in Melbourne in lockdown. That's five million people who are not getting back to their jobs and businesses. There's five million people who are worried about seeing their loved ones, and we can see the break it's having on the economy here in Victoria. When I speak to my federal colleagues in other states, in WA, they’ve effectively gone back to normal in so many ways. So we know that quarantining step was the first one, we have to get that under control. We’ve passed those services to other states. We have to maintain our track and tracing capability because only we can do it and Premier Andrews is saying he can now do it, so if he can, have the confidence to open up the economy, open up Victoria for business, get us back to work because we now have 11 cases and five million people on the other side of the ledger who are desperate to get out and get going again.

KARVELAS: Stephen Jones, the revised JobSeeker payment has been extended until December but its future after then is unknown. I spoke to the minister before but she said while the pandemic lasts, people can be sure that there will be boosted payments, but she wouldn't talk about a permanent increase. Do you want the budget to deliver a permanent increase to JobSeeker?

JONES: It has to happen. If $40 a day was unliveable and unfair when half a million people are relying on it, it doesn't become any less or more fair when you have one million people unemployed. On the Government’s own estimates, that number being added to by another 400,000 by Christmas. The Government really does need to adjust that rate to make it fair and make it liveable. We welcomed the Coronavirus Supplement. We think the slashing of both JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments are pre-emptive. We know at the end of this week there is going to be less money in the economy and less money supporting those households of the people who are receiving those payments. So, they’ve have acted too fast to ramp down the payments, the least they can do in the budget, in two weeks' time, is to provide some security going forward to all of those Australians who are going to be relying on it. I make this point, the Government has tried to argue in the past that JobSeeker is just a transitional payment, that people are only going to be on it for a few weeks, well we now know that Australians have been on JobSeeker, many of them for over seven months now, many of them with little hope of turning that around after Christmas. It's absolutely imperative the Government gives these people some security by maintaining a dignified rate of unemployment support. They cannot argue that people have got their own resources, because after months, and months, and months of relying on unemployment benefits, running down their own savings, the bank accounts are empty. They are relying on the government, the government's got a job to do.

KARVELAS: Katie Allen, would you like to see a permanent increase in this payment? I mean, $40 a day, do you think that's liveable?

ALLEN: I think what we're seeing with the new Coronavirus Supplement is a new situation that's arising. When you speak to services that support those in disadvantaged situations, food banks, they're seeing a completely different situation with regards to people coming forward. I think the Coronavirus Supplement was really helpful for people in that category during the last few months. And so, I think that we are seeing as we move towards the step down there's a new concept of understanding about where this is going to land. I'm very supportive of the fact we increased the Coronavirus Supplement during these last few months and I'm supportive of us looking at a new normal.

KARVELAS: A new normal would have to be higher than $40 a day, right?

ALLEN: Correct.

KARVELAS: Okay. And  when do you think that new normal, a new JobSeeker payment needs to actually be established?

ALLEN: Well, I think the important thing is we've got JobKeeper and JobSeeker at the moment, which is this transition through a COVID and post-COVID process and so we know that up until Christmas time that we do already have a plan that's going out there. I expect in the budget that we will see what the plan will be going forward. So of course there's a lot of modelling, a lot of economic modelling that goes into this, a lot of assessing how the situation has transpired, what impact it has, what sort of impact we're having with regards to the economy basically bouncing back. In other states outside of Victoria we're seeing quite surprising rises in people getting jobs, which is really good news. And so it's pretty hard to predict how the economy is going to actually move into the post-COVID world. So of course we need to have a look at the modelling to see how the adjustment occurs. So there's kind of a settling down of the economy that is already occurring. Some parts of the economy are sort of opening up much more quickly than other parts and that is a transition process that can be difficult to predict, but we've got clever boffins looking at all of these things very carefully. It's not just one size fits all, you've got to look at all the different effects and how they massage their way through the economy. So, I'm feeling positive about the strong economic management that the Government is delivering and transitioning people forward to this post-COVID world, which is hard to predict, but I think very positive in many cases.

KARVELAS: Thank you to both of you. We're out of time. Liberal MP Katie Allen and Shadow Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones there.