01 September 2021

SUBJECTS: National Accounts; Covid lockdowns.

HOLLY STEARNES, HOST: We're now joined by Labor MP and Shadow Financial Services Minister Stephen Jones. Stephen great to have your company as always. 
STEARNES: Great to see you. Now Australia's GDP rose 0.7% in the three months to June. How is actually it possible when the country's major cities are in lockdown? Can you just break it down for us? 
JONES: Yeah, look these numbers are backward-looking. So first I got to say I'm pleased that we were starting to climb our way out of the covid recession hole in the three months leading up to the end of June. Of course, most of those gains have been wiped out again, particularly on the east coast in the big states of New South Wales and Victoria where the Government estimates the lockdowns are costing somewhere between $3bn and $3.2bn a week. So a big cost there. So look some good news, some early good news. But I think we've got to look through these and say, well what's going to be the result of the existing lockdowns? When's it going to be safe to lift these restrictions? And what's the pathway out of here? And I think we should say, yep, well and good there was hope that we could have pulled ourselves out of it before the second wave hit us. But what's the pathway out of where we are? 
STEARNES: Yeah. I was just about to ask you that. I mean the nation's economic figures were generally pretty positive. But have we truly seen the full impact of lockdowns yet? And if so, what will they likely look like? 
JONES: No, we haven't seen the full impact of it yet. And look, if you go back and have a look at those national account figures and decompose some of the line items, a hell of a lot of that albeit very small growth was generated by Government spending, some of it on the health response. So vaccines and the like and testing and other health responses. So a lot of that generated by Government-sector spending. The message it sends I think is that we're going to continue to need Government support well through the remainder of this year and into next year. And more than just talking about hope, there's got to be a plan to get us there. It's got to be sensible. I think we've learned anything over the last 12 months it’s that a health strategy, a sensible health strategy, is a sensible economic strategy. So we've got to get that right as well. So yeah, more economics, more health policy, less politics I think is the simple cut through a talking about it.  
STEARNES: Stephen, just on that there has been a call out, an open letter, from Qantas a major airline in Australia, Telstra, a major telco, and banks as well to have a clear reopening plan. How important is it that big companies like that are coming out and joining together? 
JONES: Look, it's incredibly important that we have voices that are in there, talking about what we need to do to get the country back on track. I am more keen on getting our vaccination rates up and focusing our efforts on getting the vaccinations up beyond the 80 percent target. I think that's critical. And getting young people vaccinated as well. I think that's absolutely crucial to the opening up plan. I think we can do it if the Commonwealth Government does its bit and delivers the vaccines through the States and the GPS and the pharmacies, we can get there. Nobody wants to be in lockdown a day longer than we already are. And there's lots of young people throughout the country are just itching to have that have that holiday that they have put off for so long. Whether it's a holiday in Australia or holiday overseas, there's a lot of pent-up demand for that. So we just need a sensible plan to get us there. I think if we've learned anything from Victoria and New South Wales as well, we've got to be cautious. We want to lift the restrictions, but we want to do it in a way that's sustainable. The worst possible thing I think for business and consumer confidence would be to lift the restrictions and then have to whack them back on again in a few weeks’ time because we had a massive outbreak that out that our health system couldn't cope with. And at the end of the day, that's what so much of it is about. Not wiping out our health system so that they can't cope with the number of cases that we know are going to be flowing through to our hospitals. That's the key to it. 
STEARNES: Now, Stephen picking up in a point there that you made that we're all, you know, ready to go on a holiday. I think everyone around is dying to go on a holiday at the moment. But speaking of holidays, New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian is insisting that once those vaccination targets are reached of 70 to 80 percent that international borders will reopen. What's your thoughts on that? 
JONES: Again, we can't be demanding that other countries take our travellers at the same time as refusing to have a sensible policy where we're taking tourists from other countries on the east coast of New South Wales that’s vital to our economy. We want to be able to welcome overseas travellers again. We want to do it in a way that's safe and sustainable. And for that reason, having good quarantine arrangements in place and accepted, internationally verifiable means of ensuring that travellers are vaccinated I think is absolutely critical. I think nobody wants to see us open those international borders and have a whole bunch of unvaccinated, infected people coming into the country and messing up the hard work we've done. So that's a part of it, an important part of it. But it shouldn't be beyond our capacity as a country to line all of those things up. 
STEARNES: Stephen, I mean there's been lots of concerns and it almost feels like, you know, New South Wales versus Victoria and the Premiers sort of fighting against each other. So do you think it's likely that we’ll actually travel to London before you can even come into our studio here in Melbourne? 
JONES: Look I hope not! I love my trips down to Melbourne and looking forward to coming to the Ticker studio and seeing you guys face-to-face across the desk. But I'm in Parliament today and the point I just made downstairs before it came up to talk to you was you can understand the position of all those small businesses, whether they’re in Western Australia or in Brisbane, today. They're saying well, life is going on pretty much as normal here at the moment. Western Australia just got the grand final and that’s going to be a great boost to their economy. They don’t want to put that at risk by opening their borders only to see a whole lot of infection coming into their state and then not being able to cope with it. So yes, the border restrictions have got a be lifted. They’ve got to be done in a sensible way when we hit our vaccination targets. And I can understand the position of states and businesses within those states saying, look we're living life as normal as is possible. Can we not be reckless in the way that we lift those public health restrictions?