30 November 2021

SUBJECTS: Election timing; Online safety; extended border restrictions.
PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: Stephen, good to see you. Thanks for your time this morning. So as Justin Timberlake once said, is it going to be May?
STEPHEN JONES, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: I think it'll be any time from, call it anytime from Australia Day next year. It looks like May, which means all of the announcements that Scott Morrison has made over the last couple of weeks won't come to pass if they rely on legislation. It means, let's take for example the big announcement that he made yesterday on cracking down on social media trolls. Sounds good on the face of it. But it won't happen till the end of next year at the earliest because he's refusing to schedule Parliament. Once again, we have big announcements being made, but no follow-through because they can't, they simply aren't scheduling the Parliamentary days to get work done.
STEFANOVIC: Speaking of announcements, yesterday the Government came through with what it claims was. strong action on scam texts. In your opinion is was it enough?
JONES: It's a step, a welcome step. I've been sitting out to what Labor would do if we win the next election over the last month and a half hour. Five-point plan, getting Government to coordinate the actions of the private sector, absolutely critical. If I've got a criticism of what the Government announced yesterday is that it comes to years too late. We know from the government's own figures that scams are costing us $33bn a year. So we've been calling on this for two years, for the SMSs to be blocked at source. It’s cost us $66bn while the Government's twiddled its thumbs, not acted on what is a very, very simple move. The technology has existed for decades. It's the same technology they use to filter out emails. It can be applied to the SMS as well. Why the delay?
STEFANOVIC: Okay, onto our major story of the morning, Stephen. Just want to get your reaction to the pause that the government is pressed now on international travel including skilled migrants and students. Was it the right call? Or is this going to fuel and a public that's already over it and already high on anxiety?
JONES: I'll look there's a hell of a lot of uncertainty around this new African strain of the virus. we know that is more virulent. We don't know whether it is going to be more deadly than the previous strains. So some caution is warranted but geez, it’s a blow to my region. Local universities were making plans to get international students back. Hospitality businesses crying out for staff that they simply cannot get. So it's going to be a real whack to business and to the economy in the lead-up to Christmas, a whack that we didn't need.
STEFANOVIC: Well, that's right. I mean you're seeing at the moment already businesses need those migrants, need those students to be able to help out. You might in people might be aware, you go to a restaurant It's taking a lot longer to be able to get whatever you order because they don't have enough staff. So, you're coming into the busy Christmas period now, That's going to continue right?
JONES:  Look retail, hospitality, the entertainment industry, all have been absolutely whacked about over the last 12 months. We should have been planning these totally foreseeable labour force shortages a lot earlier. To have plans in place to provide hospitality and the tourism sector of the staff that they need. Disappointing that that hasn't happened. And this is going to be an additional blow. Not having the students in particular who are a mainstay of staff in the hospitality industry coming back in as scheduled. A huge blow to the industry when they least needed it.
STEFANOVIC: But just to be clear, you support the pause of two weeks at the moment?
JONES:  Look, I think it's a sensible, cautious measure. We don't know the full impact of this new strain. We’ll probably have a better idea mid-December. So I think it's an entirely sensible strain. But I've got friends overseas who were planning on coming back for Christmas. They're going to be very disappointed with the change in these travel arrangements. More uncertainty means more cost.
STEFANOVIC: Doesn't our high vaccination rates account for something though? I mean, we are at the at some of the highest levels in the world at the moment. And if travelers are double vaxed when they come in. And if this variant seems to be only mild then was there a need to do it really?
JONES: It's the second “if” that we don't know about. Believe me we want to see those border safely opened up so that people can travel again. But it's the second if we're not sure about about yet. We don't know whether our existing vaccines are going to be sufficient to provide protection against this new strain. Early indications are that is looking good. But two weeks caution is a reasonable response in all the circumstances.
STEFANOVIC: And just finally here Stephen Jones, are you worried that this will give reason for state premieres to keep borders closed, or shut them again?
JONES: Well state borders have got to manage their health systems the way they see fit. We're not all in the same set of circumstances. In the big states of New South Wales and Victoria, very high vaccination rates. Some of our other states catching up but they are a way behind. So you can understand some caution in those areas. I want them to hurry up because I, like many other Australians, want to see people being able to travel, do their business and get back to life a little bit more normal.