14 May 2020


SUBJECTS: Gaps in the Government’sJobKeeper wage subsidy program; migration; Australia’s relationship with China; Queensland’s potential equity stake in Virgin; Peter Dutton’s day job.
KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: I'm joined by Shadow Home Affairs Minister, Kristina Keneally. Thanks so much for your time. Let's start with the overall picture, if you look at this today – 600,000 jobs lost in the month of April. It would have been so much worse if not for the Government's job subsidy, wage subsidy scheme, JobKeeper. They deserve some credit, don't they?
KRISTINA KENEALLY, DEPUTY LABOR LEADER IN THE SENATE AND SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS: Kieran, we do support JobKeeper. A wage subsidy program is what Labor called for early on in this crisis. The Government resisted it for some time but then finally came to the table and we acknowledge that. We've always sought to be constructive during this health and economic crisis and the passage of JobKeeper was a good thing for the country. But those 600,000 families where jobs have been lost, that has a devastating impact for so many Australians right across the country. It does go to show the significant impact that this virus is having on the economy and particularly on families, but I've got to say Kieran, there are real problems, real flaws in the way the Government is implementing JobKeeper. They have made decisions in its design to exclude workers from the program. Workers who had a job, were in an employment relationship with an employer. And that's the 1.1 million casuals, that's casual teachers, that is local council workers, arts and entertainment workers, all of these workers who had work have been excluded from JobKeeper. The Government have actually made a decision…
GILBERT: But you say deliberately…
KENEALLY: … after the implementation of JobKeeper. But let me finish this point, Kieran. The Government made decisions after the implementation of JobKeeper to actually exclude workers who work for foreign-owned entities. So people like the five and a half thousand dnata workers – taxpayers – Australian families who pay Australian taxes have actually been excluded from JobKeeper as a result of this Government's decisions.
GILBERT: You say “deliberately excluded”. The Government had to make it simple in order to expedite the whole program, surely, that's the idea. They had to keep it a flat payment, they did it so they could get the payment out the door as quickly as possible. And the simplicity enabled the speed. If you go through all these other, and as you say, some very worthy individuals who've missed out, it makes it a much more complex thing to design, doesn't it, and slows it down.
KENEALLY: I don't think so at all, Kieran. What is so complex about saying that Australian workers who were working for a company like Dnata, which has an Australian Business Number, where they were employees of long-standing, previously worked for Qantas. The Government made a decision to exclude them. They made a decision after they introduced the scheme to exclude those families. Universities, our university sector has been deliberately excluded by this Government. We are going to see significant job losses that have been forecast in the university sector and we're going to need the university sector as we head towards the economic recovery. These are not complex things, Kieran, to include workers who are in an employment relationship with an employer to be able to retain that. That was the whole focus of a wage subsidy scheme. For some workers it's working, but for others they have been excluded by the Government's decision.
GILBERT: Do these job numbers reinforce your view as expressed in the op-ed a couple of weeks ago, that you want the migration level to reduce? Because obviously your argument is that more temporary migrants take Australian jobs, so given that the jobless rate has risen and 600,000 people have lost jobs, that would only reinforce your view on that, wouldn't it?
KENEALLY: Kieran, what we're seeing here today is a result of the coronavirus – the numbers we see today. What I have been arguing about since I took the portfolio is that this Government has gone out there and capped the permanent migration level, but the temporary migration level has in fact increased. And that is really the conversation that we need to have: what is the right mix of a permanent and temporary migration within our intake? Now when we've seen the temporary migration level soar under this Government's migration settings, we've seen exploitation occur, and that exploitation has put downward pressure on wages. When we have seen a temporary migration soar, and when we don't have independent labour market testing, that has had made the job market more difficult for Australian workers. When we have seen a Government cut funding for training and for apprenticeships, that creates the conditions where Australians aren't getting the skills and the opportunity in order to put themselves forward for jobs. I don't think there's anything remarkable in that observation.
GILBERT: Pauline Hanson doesn't think it’s remarkable, she gave you a massive compliment last night in the Senate, said you're arguing her policy.
KENEALLY: Well I think nothing could be further from the truth, Kieran, and indeed if you read the piece I wrote I talked about how we are a country built by migration. I talked about how permanent migrants have come, here settled down, contributed to the community. Think about the Snowy Hydro Scheme and built this country. I talked about how we are the most successful multicultural nation on Earth. These are not sentiments you're going to hear from Pauline Hanson.
GILBERT: Well yeah, and I've read the piece, I've got it right in front of me. You also say: “should we have the same number of migrants after COVID-19? Our answer should be no. We need a migration program that puts Australian workers first.” Pauline Hanson could have written that.
KENEALLY: Kieran, I would encourage you to actually read the sentence accurately. I said, should they be in the same composition and numbers, and that is the important thing here. This Government has capped permanent migration…
GILBERT: And numbers…
KENEALLY: And you can't. This Government has capped – but you can't talk about numbers without talking about composition, Kieran. And that is the trick that Scott Morrison has tried to play on the Australian people. He said he has kept permanent migration but he has allowed temporary migration to grow significantly. If you look at the budget projections under this Government, Net Overseas Migration was growing. When Scott Morrison looks the Australian people in the eye and says he's capping migration he's doing no such thing. And this is the conversation we need to have, this is the discussion we need to have. Right now the migration program has effectively stopped. This is an opportunity for us to talk about the exploitation that was happening of temporary migrant workers, the lack of independent labour market testing, the downward pressure that that was putting on wages and how we get those settings right as we emerge from this. Migration, alongside skills and training, will be an important part of the economic recovery, it's a conversation we need to have as a country.
GILBERT: Some of your colleagues are annoyed that you didn't take it to Shadow Cabinet, though, before you wrote that piece. Can you understand why they would be annoyed on that?
KENEALLY: This is a conversation that we've been having within the Labor Party for some time, Kieran, indeed I would invite you to reflect on the settings and policies we took to the last election. We have been arguing consistently for independent labour market testing, we have been arguing consistently for an increase in training and apprenticeships, we have been arguing consistently for things like a national labour higher licensing scheme. We have been arguing, Kieran, that Australian workers, indeed, get the training and the skills that they need and the opportunity to do what they do best, which is to aspire for themselves, their communities and their country.
GILBERT: Sounds like you've got a bit more of an argument ahead of you in the Shadow Cabinet, but let's move on and I want to ask you about China because this situation right now it's going to be so important in an economic sense for us. But it’s so problematic right now. We are in for a reset with China given how aggressive they’ve been for what the Opposition Leader says is an unremarkable request and that be a bit of transparency about how the whole virus started in the first place.
KENEALLY: Labor has supported the Government when it comes to their call for an inquiry and there is nothing remarkable about that. If there are deaths in Australia from an unknown cause we do inquire into that. What we have seen in Australia and around the world, tragically, are deaths and significant transmission of this coronavirus and it's quite unremarkable for us to support an Inquiry into how this started and where it came from. But what I think we need to be mindful of is that this Government needs to get control of its messaging and of its narrative about China and its relationship with China. It would be in the benefit of Australia's national interest if the Foreign Minister could be a bit more visible, you know, do her job to explain Australia to the world and the world to Australia. I mean, quite frankly, we could do with a little less George Christensen, and a little more Marise Payne.
GILBERT: The final issue I want to ask you about is Virgin, the airline, and the suggestion the Queensland Government is going to buy into an equity stake in that airline. Peter Dutton and David Littleproud have criticised that at a federal level. Is this something state governments should be really buying into, as a former state Premier yourself?
KENEALLY: Well, first of all, I can understand why the Queensland Government is interested in seeing Virgin with its 16,000 employees, and the services it provides regional communities, including in Queensland. I can understand why they're keen to see that airline survive. I have to say, though, I'm quite puzzled by Peter Dutton's ongoing and somewhat obsessive commentary about what is happening in the Queensland Government, it might be worthwhile if Peter Dutton remembers that he has a day job. That is to be the Minister for Home Affairs in the Government of Australia. I mean to look at his Twitter feed and his public commentary you think he's moonlighting as the Opposition Leader there in Queensland. I'm not sure if that is the job he really wants, but it would be important for him to do his day job, particularly when we see the 22nd death from the Ruby Princess. In fact, the deaths from the Ruby Princess if you count the North West Tasmanian outbreak, which seems to have been linked as well to the Ruby Princess, of over 30. It accounts for 10 per cent of Australia's coronavirus cases. I suppose if I was Peter Dutton I wouldn't talk about my day job either.
GILBERT: Kristina Keneally, we're out of time I appreciate your time, thanks.