31 May 2021

SUBJECTS: Victorian lockdown; NSW Labor leadership.

GABRIELLA POWER, HOST: Joining us live is Shadow assistant Treasurer, Stephen Jones. Stephen, should the Federal Government be pitching in right now?

STEPHEN JONES: Absolutely they should. It's only a few months ago that the Prime Minister said we're all in this together. But it seems when he was saying we're all in this together he didn't mean Victorians, who are now struggling through their fourth lockdown. We're not asking the Commonwealth to take complete responsibility, but surely an extension of Job Keeper or a Job Keeper-like payment to assist all of those workers, particularly the one in five casual workers, who have got no support throughout this lockdown, no income through that period. And let's not forget, we don't want to have a situation where we are forcing workers to make a choice between doing the right thing by way of public health, or doing the right thing by keeping food on the table and a roof over their head. That's a terrible choice for somebody to have to make. Absolutely the Commonwealth's should step in.

POWER: Josh Frydenberg argues that the Commonwealth is already spent $45 billion dollars on Victoria with more direct support per capita than any other state. Don't they need to draw a line somewhere.

JONES: Well this is more of the “job finished” type of response that we're getting from Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg. The job isn't finished until everyone's vaccinated. Until hotel quarantine is fixed. Until we’ve rid our country of this horrible scourge of covid-19. Until aged care facilities are no longer having life-threatening outbreaks. It's simply not good enough for the Prime Minister or Josh Frdyenberg to say our job is to put out press releases and it's the State Government's job to do all the hard work and the heavy lifting. I think we need a cooperative approach with the Commonwealth playing a role.

POWER: I suppose to the issue is Victoria is the only state that has gone into lockdown four times. So it shouldn't it be up to the Victorian government to really be funding, you know, recovering the cost for workers that are missing out right now?

JONES: Look yesterday, the Victorian Government said they're going to put in place a business support package. I welcome on that. I think small businesses who are struggling in Victoria will welcome the fact that there will be some relief there. But let's just remember this outbreak started because of a failure in hotel quarantine in the state of South Australia. So, somebody moving from hotel quarantine in one state into another state. I think that underscores the nature of the fact that this is not a problem that starts or finishes within any one state. It's a national problem we need national support and national leadership here. Yes, Victoria and yes every other state has a role to play. But the Commonwealth just cannot exit and say, you know, job finished, we’ve put out a press release, that's our job, now let's move on. The job's not finished. We still have a woeful roll out of the vaccine. We still have confusion and a hotel quarantine service that isn't working. It's no longer fit for purpose. We've got vaccine hesitancy growing by the day. Scott. Morrison cannot, to use one of his own one descriptions, Scott Morrison can't be hiding under the doona when Australians need him out and on the job, doing the Commonwealth’s part in this terrible breakout in Victoria.

POWER: With Victoria, five new cases today. There are reports that aged care residents have contracted the virus. Should the lockdown be extended?

JONES: Oh look, I'm not going to insert myself into speculating on what the public health officials in Victoria will decide and premier of Victoria will announce. But it's very worrying indeed. We shouldn't have been at this situation. We are months now into the rollout of the vaccine where those high-risk category people, the people in aged care and their workforce, were supposed to have been vaccinated. Four million Australians were supposed to have been vaccinated by March. It has not happened. It's just another example of press release without follow through. Look, we've got to get on top of this aged care. Firstly, we've got a contain it in Victoria, but ensure the same problem isn't breaking out in other parts of the state. All the more reason why we need to fix up the rollout of the vaccine, sort out hotel quarantine, get confidence in the community up by ensuring that we have proper advertising campaigns about the urgency and the importance of getting the vaccination, every individual getting the vaccination and ensure that we're dealing with these long-term issues at the same time. Aged-care, very, very vulnerable. Commonwealth responsibility. We've got to get this back on track.

POWER: Just turning our attention to New South Wales. Now Chris Minns is expected to battle it out with Michael Daley for the New South Wales Labor leadership. Who do you think's going to win.

JONES: Well, I hope there actually isn't a contest. I hope Mr Minns and Mr Daley are able to sort it out amicably and their respective supporters are able to sort this out. This is something to the Labor party doesn't need. It's certainly something, a distraction, that we don't need work. We're not out of the woods on the pandemic in any state, we're not out of the woods. We should be focusing on the people of Australia, not on ourselves. Michael Daley’s entitled to put his hand up, Chris Minns is entitled to put his hand up. But I think for the good of the party and for the good of the people of New South Wales and the Australian people who want us focusing on their problems, not internally, this should be sorted out amicably inside the Labor Party and quickly.

POWER: Looks like there will be a leadership showdown though. What will this mean in terms of a federal election coming up?

JONES: I wish this whole thing didn't happen. I thought Jodi was doing a good job under tough circumstances. She's made a decision. We've got to respect that. They'll be there a process for electing a new leader. I hope it's quick. We've don’t need a long, drawn-out process. We could be just months away from a federal election. New South Wales is a critical state. We want the party members in New South Wales focussed on electing Anthony Albanese as the next Prime Minister of Australia, not sorting out an internal battle for who's going to be the next Labor leader in the New South Wales Parliament. The number one objective in Labor at the moment should be focusing on the next federal election, which is only months away, not internal issues.