09 March 2020


SUBJECTS: Impact of Coronavirus on the economy; Stimulus; Stock market; Facebook in the Federal Court; Government advertising for Coronavirus.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: I want to bring in my political panel, because of course it is the politicians that will have to make some of these decisions, Shadow Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones and Liberal Senator Andrew Bragg join me this afternoon, welcome to both of you. Andrew Bragg, the ASX is closed with a 7.33% plunge. It's the worst day of trading since the 2008 global financial crisis. This is a huge story. How alarming is this result?

SENATOR ANDREW BRAGG: I think there are many factors that can spook financial markets and one thing that governments can do is to step into the breach with a strong response and as you said in your intro PK, I think the Treasurer is intending to release a stimulus package in the next few days.

KARVELAS: Okay, but what are your observations about what's going on on the market? I mean, we're seeing the worst result since the global financial crisis. We know your government says this is primarily a health crisis, but this is clearly a financial crisis, too.

BRAGG: Well, I mean, I make it a policy of my own not to comment on financial markets too vigorously or either on monetary policy decisions made by the central bank. I think the best thing the governments, executive governments, can do in this case is to focus on what is actually within their preserve, or within their control, and that then lends itself to talking about the budget and the stimulus package.

KARVELAS: Stephen, what are your thoughts about the result we've seen on the share markets?

STEPHEN JONES: On the share market, there’s generally two sorts of investors, the people in there speculating, trying to get a short-term gain, those sorts of investors. They understand, they’re sophisticated investors. They understand that there's swings and roundabouts. Then there's a long-term investors who know that you've actually got to see through these things and I think I'd urge people not to panic over the short-term. It can obviously be pretty disturbing but we have been through these cycles before and I'd urge people, as we are across a whole range of areas, to not panic. We do need a government response. We do need the Government to jump in with some measures which will support aggregate demand, in plain speak, support and get people spending money in the economy. We need some measures to give business some confidence to invest. Business investment before the bush fires before the coronavirus had decreased by 20% under this Government. We need the government to step in and start giving business some confidence to invest and some incentives to do that. I also think there's another sort of economic intervention that we need and this is the sort of economic intervention that ensures that some of the health interventions don't fail. We're telling people to self-isolate, but if you're a casual worker, a labour higher worker, an independent contractor and your next meal is dependent on you turning up to work tomorrow, that's a pretty powerful incentive to soldier on, which is exactly the opposite of what we need people to doing. I'm hoping that in the government's response this week, they have measures in place which encourage workers to do the right thing by their co-workers and give them the financial security that enables them to do that.

KARVELAS: What do you think of that Andrew Bragg? I've actually spoken to the retailers today, also the AMA, they all say the Government should step in and pay this sick leave while casuals are put into self-isolation, if that's the case. Do you think the Government should step in there?

BRAGG: I think there are some good arguments that I've heard profiled over the last day or two and people who have been casuals, whether you're working in the gig-economy or even if you're running your own business, like many people have done, you know that if you don't go to work, you know, you can't eat effectively. So this is where we are, right. The Attorney-General's meeting with these groups tomorrow and no doubt they'll be able to unpack some options on this side.

KARVELAS: Andrew Bragg, there is a bit of a discussion about what this stimulus package should look like. Do you support a kind of cash handout stimulus package that kind of pumps money into the economy by actually giving consumers money in their pockets?

BRAGG: The Treasury Secretary, Steven Kennedy was quite clear last week that a lot of the focus needed to be on the business side, keeping businesses investing, keeping people employed. And so that is the advice I expected the executive would follow.

KARVELAS: What do you think on that one, Stephen? Because you know the Government's ruled that out, but there is some reporting this afternoon in the Australian newspaper that perhaps it is on the table.

JONES: Steven Kennedy is an excellent economist and a fine public servant. When I heard him say that with they'll be an initial response, but we shouldn't have other things off the table, I took some comfort from that. When we dealt with the global financial crisis, at the beginning of things, we knew we had a big problem, but we didn't know how it was going to unfold over time. That's why there was a first wave of response and we held some stuff back to ensure that we had something ready to respond if the crisis was more protracted and deeper than we initially thought. I'd encourage the Government to take a similar approach this time around. We want a very firm response this week, but if, against all hopes and against all planning, the health impact on the economic impact are deeper and longer than we think then there may need to be more.

KARVELAS: There's a story that's broken this afternoon that I think is quite significant, the Australian Information Commissioner is taking Facebook in Australia to the Federal Court over privacy breaches relating to this Cambridge Analytica scandal. It's believe more than three hundred thousand Australians had their personal data sold off and use for political profiling. I'll start with you Andrew Bragg, what do you make of this?

BRAGG: Well, I mean these organisations have enormous power and the platform's inquiry looks at this in some detail. my sense is that the political parties that were approached by Cambridge Analytica, I think some use them and some didn't, would be probably quite worried about this development this afternoon.

KARVELAS: Okay, and there was what's your take as a Liberal Party member, because there was, obviously, contact but it was ultimately not used. What can you tell us about the Liberal Party’s conversations with Cambridge Analytica and how this implicates the political system?

BRAGG: The only public reporting I've seen is that the Labor Party considered using Cambridge Analytica, or did actually engage them. My understanding is that Liberal Party did not engage this organisation in any way.

KARVELAS: Well, I did say they didn't engage this organisation was quite clear about that. Stephen Jones?

JONES: This is not about political parties, this is about individuals. 300,000 data breaches, 300,000 individuals who had their privacy rights violated. The Privacy Commission needs to throw the book at Facebook. It's outrageous, their behaviour, and I want to see every resource thrown at this to send a very clear message, not just to Facebook but to other new media organisations who are collecting vast amounts of data. This is not a carte blanche right to be able to abuse that very personal and very private information that you have collected, often unbeknownst to the people whom it belongs to.

KARVELAS: We've already talked about the stock market and there's another angle to all of that and that's superannuation. Andrew Bragg, on that topic, are you worried about the impact coronavirus may have on superannuation?

BRAGG: As Stephen said, superannuation is a long-term investment. So I would encourage superannuation trustees not to panic and to stick with their investment strategies. Our agenda over the last little while was to try to get people a better deal for their super. So today I was chairing public hearings into a bill which is designed to give all the Australians the right to choose their own super fund, which is an important reform.

KARVELAS: And on this topic Stephen, Andrew has written this op-ed about enterprise deals and super choices calling for some changes. What do you make of that?

JONES: At the end of the day this is all about performance and what we've seen consistently over the last two decades is those industry funds, often provided for by a default basis through enterprise agreements, more often than not they weren't, but they are performed most other sectors of the market and consistently. What I am concerned about is the fact that often a lot of evil is done in the name of choice and with highly disengaged superannuation membership, I don't want to see a situation, or a repeat of situations, that were exposed during the Hayne Royal Commission, where businesses unscrupulously were putting their employees into superannuation funds and, quite frankly, those employees were being ripped off. Choice sounds good. I like the sound of it, I like the idea of it, but I don't want to see unintended consequences and I don't want to see individual employees losing their money because of the unscrupulous behaviour of others.

KARVELAS: Very briefly there have been concerns about why there hasn't been a public health campaign run by the Government, just like we saw those advertisements run about the Government's response to the bushfire crisis. Andrew Bragg, should there be one, just like basic facts, we're told them by the experts, but a big public information campaign about how to keep yourself as safe as you possibly can during this outbreak?

BRAGG: But it's everywhere. I mean every bathroom you go into in Sydney CBD, for example, or here at Ultimo at the ABC you see all the all the signs about how to wash your hands properly and whatnot. So that's quite a practical way to communicate, I think.

KARVELAS: You don't think there needs to be another level, television advertising, online, social media?

BRAGG: I mean, there's wall-to-wall communication about the coronavirus, and also private media out there to providing explaining and directing people to the Government website, so I don't think there's any shortage of information or access to that information.

KARVELAS: What do you think Stephen, briefly?

JONES: I think two things need to happen here. I want to see more of the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Medical Officers and less politicians in this space, because I think we need a single trusted source. As good as the Health Department's information is on their website and I've been directing people there. It's not exactly cut through. You interviewed Bill Bowtell on your program on Friday, I remember the grim reaper campaign very well. I was a young teenager at the time. I remember it well, and I think we need that sort of advertising with some cut through measures, politician stepping back, get the experts in who know how to sell a message, who know how to provide a message through social media and other media outlets. I think that would go a long way to dispelling a whole heap of the misinformation and some of the hysteria, frankly, we've seen over the last couple of weeks.

KARVELAS: I'll just have to fact-check you, it was actually my colleague Linda Mottram, I believe.

JONES: I stand corrected. It was a good interview and it did take me back.

KARVELAS: I want to thank you both for coming on the show.

BRAGG: Thanks, see you.

JONES: Good to be with you.