29 January 2021


SUBJECTS: Shadow Ministry reshuffle; JobKeeper; superannuation.

TOM CONNELL, HOST: Let's get our next guest in the program, Stephen Jones who is taking on superannuation after the Anthony Albanese reshuffle. Thanks for your time today. This reshuffle is being pitched as a last roll of the dice for Anthony Albanese as leader. What did you make of that? 

STEPHEN JONES MP, SHADOW ASSISANT TREASURER: I'm pitching it, Tom, as the team that is going to put jobs and economic recovery front and centre in the political debate between now and the election, which we expect to be at the end of this year. This is a strong team which will take the argument up to Scott Morrison and lay out the plan about a better future a better recovery focused on jobs and economic growth, the concerns of ordinary Australians. We're not focused on the internals. We're focused on the needs of Australians, what's going on around households, what's going on in workplace and what we need to do to build back a better Australia. 

CONNELL: Well, you might not be focused on internals, there's briefing outgoing and it’s impossible to draw the conclusion other than that the two seemingly biggest contenders, Tanya Plibersek and Jim Chalmers, have had well maybe you'd call them Shadow Ministerial haircuts.

JONES: Look, I don't agree. Both Jim and Tanya have key roles in our front bench and both are doing a tremendous job. I work closely with Jim as head of our economic team and Jim's doing a fantastic job taking the argument up to Josh Frydenberg, pointing out each and every time where the government's plans have either gone wrong or fallen short of what the Australian people need. And of course know where will that be more central this year when we’ll be focusing on the government's plan to break its promise on superannuation and the government's lack of a plan to build back jobs and to pull the rug out from under businesses, long before the recovery has got underway by withdrawing JobSeeker support before the economic growth has bounced back.

CONNELL: On JobSeeker and JobKeeper, let's focus on JobKeeper. What's Labor specifically calling for, is it a targeted program here? Because the situation isn't the same as when it was introduced. A lot of economic recovery is going on as evidenced by these loan repayments and encouraging figures out today.

JONES: Tom, we've been saying for several months now that we can't just yank JobKeeper out not have something in its place. It needs to be targeted and tapered and ensure that it's getting to the businesses and regions where it's needed.

CONNELL: Target it where? Where does it need to go? 

JONES: Well, let's just deal with international tourism. Up and down the east coast of Australia there are towns and regions which have been devastated by the lack of international tourism that is coming in. I'm thinking about far North Queensland as an example. These towns can't just have JobKeeper ripped out and nothing put in place to substitute it. Health authorities are telling us, the Government’s telling us that international tourism is unlikely to come back this year, maybe next year, we don't know yet. We've got [INAUDIBLE] businesses which is just going to be left hanging, thousands of workers losing their jobs and businesses shutting the door. 

CONNELL: So you said; what about these regional areas? I mean Sydney and Melbourne some of these cities and tourist attractions are even quieter because domestic Australians aren't going there. Why just the regions under the plan you outlined?

JONES: I'm saying two things Tom, both industries and regions. Yes, parts of Sydney, parts of Melbourne, parts of my own area in the Illawarra and South Coast have been hard hit. I picked a couple of examples where it's obvious, where the vast majority of the economy is based on international tourism, is having a devastating impact on jobs and businesses in those areas. So we need both a sectoral and a regional response to fill the gap if they yank JobKeeper out. We don't care what it's called. We do care that the support is going to workers, to households, to businesses so they can get through the buffer to have a buffer to get through until the tourism starts to flow again. That's just one example, there are others as well.

CONNELL: You mentioned a international tourism not starting for a while. First of all, we need to get Australians back. Apparently only 6 out of the 20 repatriation flights promised to fortnight ago have been scheduled. Is this hard for the Australian Government as well with what's happening out of London and UAE and more implications possibly?

JONES: Support the health measures, but frankly the government has done too little and too late. It has responsibility for quarantine. It's tried to shirk the responsibility to the states but the Commonwealth has responsibility for quarantine. It has responsibility for airports. It could be doing much, much more to bring Australians home. It has a constitutional responsibility to be doing this. I've had to go in to bat for constituents in my area who've had flights booked and then cancelled not once, not twice, sometimes three and four times. They've been trying to get themselves and their families back because the government has not done enough. The Commonwealth Government has not done enough to exercise its responsibility to open up the quarantine arrangements that it has available to it. These people are left stranded overseas and are simply not good enough.

CONNELL: And what of the options right now available to the Commonwealth Government on quarantine?

JONES: Two things the Commonwealth can be doing; use the facilities that it has available. Whether it's in the Northern Territory or whether it's elsewhere around the country. It's immigration facilities. They are there, they could lease facilities off the private sector. Yeah. Let me just wrap this up.

CONNELL: One of the issues has been for quarantine of COVID now, in normal times yes, a lot of these places could be used but you need separate toilet, bathroom, shower facilities and these places don't have them. So a lot of those facilities that are there are not actually appropriate for quarantine. The other issue is whether or not there's a major hospital nearby. So what remains available facilities that you mentioned there, that would tick those boxes?

JONES: Tom, can I just say I simply don't accept this. This is a government that was able to stand up an immigration detention facility on Christmas Island after the Medevac legislation was put through the parliament. It was never used, it was never used, but it was able to stand that up in three or four weeks. I'm just not going to give them a free pass on this one. 

CONNELL: I'm not asking for a free pass. What are the logistics involved in getting an individual  bathroom, toilet etc facilities for every single either person or group staying there. That's the unknown.

JONES: Are we something that is beyond the wit and capacity of Scott Morrison and his ministers to be able to stand up enough portaloos, enough showers and enough beds to house the Australians who need to come home, who are stranded overseas. He takes credit for everything, but he cannot stand up enough toilets and showers. Is that really the thing that he's standing behind and saying this is the reason that we can't get these Australians home because we haven't got enough done. I mean for God's sake frankly, this is the Prime Minister of Australia. They have all the resources available to them surely we can do a bit better than this. They do not get a free pass. They should be bringing those Australians home and be moving Hell and Earth to ensure they can do it. 

CONNELL: I want to ask your finally about superannuation. I know Labor’s talking about the legislated increase. We have still some of the highest fees in the world, a big chunk of that administration fees. What's Labor proposing to do about that?

JONES: Well, the first thing we're going to do is ensure that the government doesn't pass legislation through the parliament which ignores fund under performance and overcharging on fees and that's precisely what the government is planning to do. They've got a raft of legislation which pretends to be about improving the performance of superannuation, but it gives a green light to funds to increase the fees. The second thing we're going to do is going to be calling the government out on their hypocrisy. Scott Morrison promised before the last election that he would not cut superannuation, now he plans to do exactly that. He says 9.5% is enough for the cleaners, the retail workers, the tradies but 15.5% is enough for himself. Did you know this, this is a really important point, the average Australian is retiring today with a hundred and eighty thousand dollars in retirement savings while the Australian taxpayer is giving Scott Morrison more than that every two years for his superannuation. Why is 15.5% enough for Scott Morrison, but only 9.5% for the person who cleans his office or, the people who are driving our buses, or serving us in retail centres. We're calling the government out for their hypocrisy. We're not going to let them get away with it. 

CONNELL: We'll leave it there. We might delve into fees next time, bit short on time, but Stephen Jones, thank you. 

JONES: Great to be with you.