SKY NEWS AM AGENDA
WEDNESDAY, 22 JULY 2020
SUBJECTS: JobKeeper and JobSeeker; Cancellation of Parliament.
ANNELISE NIELSEN, HOST: Joining us live now is Shadow Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones. Stephen Jones, thank you for your time.
STEPHEN JONES MP, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Good to be with you.
NIELSEN: Really important announcement yesterday from the government, JobKeeper is continuing until next march. What do you make of this new approach?
JONES: Look, this is welcome news for all of those small businesses and who are relying on the wage subsidy program. It is simply untenable for this to fall over at the end of September at the same time as the bank to loan deferrals were due to expire and a whole heap of other deferrals of expenses such as rent, utilities were due to expire, it would have been a massive hit to the economy. Frankly what surprised me is it took the government so long to acknowledge what was obvious to everyone else and that is that this game needed to be modified and it needed to be continued. We welcome that. Welcome news also that the JobSeeker, that's the unemployment benefit, boosted rate has been extended to December. This gives us some breathing space to work out what the long-term viable rate is going to be. There's no way on God's Earth that it can return back to the $40 a day, not good for the unemployed, people not good for the economy as a whole.
NIELSEN: On JobSeeker, we've seen the announcement that people on that payment can now earn up to three hundred dollars of fortnight and not have that impact their JobSeeker payments. Do you think that's a good thing to help people dip their toe back into the workforce?
JONES: I certainly do think it's a good thing. You know prior to the crisis there was a significant number of people who were receiving both unemployment benefits and wages because they were simply underemployed. A very high level of underemployment. In The Reserve Bank Governor's speech yesterday he gave some pretty startling numbers on the number of Australian workers who had their hours were reduced, still technically not unemployed, but they've had their hours reduced to zero because of down turning trade. We want to see as many of those people back in work as possible. But with 13 people applying for every one job that's available, we've got a concern that maybe the economic activity is not going to be there, in any way near the level that the government anticipates, to see those job numbers picking up again.
NIELSEN: The argument of the government is that you need that time coming off JobKeeper, you need that slow down, so business picks up again. Otherwise, they could become reliant on that. Do you agree with that approach?
JONES: Well, I agree with what Kate Carnell, your previous guest, was saying, the Small Business Ombudsman. We think that there's no doubt that there are businesses there that probably won't make it, that's a tragedy, but they're probably not going to make it to the other side of this crisis. But for all of those viable businesses, all those businesses who but for the coronavirus crisis would still be up and running, we need to look at ways that we can support them and the JobKeeper arrangement is one of those ways. Some hard discussions though are going to go on over the next couple of months. Those bank deferrals are being renegotiated between the banks and their customers at the moment and for many of those small businesses, the discussions are going to be; well, how do we get you out of this situation, it looks more like a wind-up than a continuation of trading? Which means with all of those conversations going on we know that the unemployment numbers are going to rise, a concession that the Treasurer made yesterday and the Reserve Bank Governor acknowledged yesterday in his speech as well.
NIELSEN: Just on that speech. It was interesting to see the Reserve Bank Governor basically say look, there's not much left we can do, we need to move away from the idea that we can just print more money and get more stimulus in the economy by the government taking on more debt. Do you think that is the right approach?
JONES: I think the Reserve Bank Governor is spot on. I mean, they've done a good job. They’ve secured liquidity in the finance markets, banks can get credit a very cheap rates, the bond market has been stabilised which means the government can now borrow an incredibly cheap rates. It's now over to the government to start pulling down on the range that it has available to them. Fiscal policy has got a big role to play over the coming years. Nobody expects that we're going to see the budget balance this year or the next year. The role for the government in circumstances like this is to use its balance sheet and its borrowing capacity to be investing in people and productive capacity a couple of big things that they can be doing and should be doing. We know to get out of this crisis and to kick-start manufacturing again, we've got to transform our energy industry which means electricity and how we generate power. A great time for the government to be sorting out the market and investing in both generation and transmission capacity, so that we can rebuild our manufacturing sector and deliver energy at cheaper prices and greater certainty over the long term. If there's a standout candidate for government investment it's our power, it's our power generation and transmission system, at the same time as investing in retraining all of those Australians, more than one-and-a-half million Australians who are currently out of work, retraining them for the jobs that are going to be there on the other side of the crisis.
NIELSEN: And just finally we've had the government cancel the next two sitting weeks of Parliament. Do you think that was the right call?
JONES: I’m very disappointed by it. We've got some huge calls that are being made at the moment. The government is accountable to the Australian people at elections. It's accountable to the Parliament between elections. Mistakes have been made and will continue to be made. The scrutiny of Parliament is the best way to ensure that we are getting the best policy possible. The scrutiny of Parliament ensures that the Australian people get the government that they deserve and the programs that they deserve. We cannot cancel Parliament again. The government is expecting Australian businesses to change the way that they do business, to work from home, to find new ways to do the same thing, the very least that we can do is to take on that message ourselves. We're up for it. Labor's up for it. We want Parliament to sit. We want Parliament to meet. We want to ensure that we can get on with the business of government and I think the Australian people deserve is to do that as well.
NIELSEN: It is a unique workplace in that you have people coming from every corner of the country to then sit next to each other in close proximity. It's just a safety issue isn't it?
JONES: If the finance ministers from 20 of the world's most advanced nations can have a virtual G20 meeting, if the United Nations from all the nations on Earth can have virtual United Nations meetings and if Australian and parliamentarians can be having the committee business of Parliament go on through virtual meetings, I see no reason why we can't do a combination of in person, that is attendance at Parliament and having people, perhaps from hotspot states like Victoria at the moment, attending virtually. Frankly, this is the 21st century, we're talking about putting permanent human populations on other planets and on the moon, surely we can have Parliament sitting. It can't be beyond our wit and imagination to solve this problem. The Australian people expect us to do it. The government's got a couple of weeks to come forward with some proposals. Labor is up for it, but we cannot have another 12 months without having government scrutinised by Parliament on the big calls that we've got to make.
NEILSEN: I think we do have another two weeks in August, but we will have to leave it there Stephen Jones. As always, thank you for your time.
JONES: Great to be with you.