21 May 2020

SUBJECTS: State border closures; gaps in the JobKeeper program; Scott Morrison’s mythical “snap back”, international students.
KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: Let's go live to one of the members of that Committee, Kristina Keneally. Senator, thanks so much for your time, given how dire that is, that outlook, is it time for the states to open the borders and to allow economic growth to, and the recovery to, start because, while we've got nations within nations, that’s going to stifle growth?
KRISTINA KENEALLY, DEPUTY LABOR LEADER IN THE SENATE AND SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS: Good morning. Good afternoon, Kieran. It's been a long day already. Good afternoon to you, Kieran and your viewers. The question about interstate borders is really one that needs to be informed by medical advice and medical advice being taken by Premiers in their own state health agencies. But you are right to point out that these were sobering economic statistics we heard today. What I took out of Dr. Kennedy's evidence before our Committee today is that there really isn't anyone who thinks that the economy is going to ‘snap back’ to so called ‘normal operations’ within the six month time frame that the Prime Minister has set. The RBA doesn't. The IMF doesn't. And certainly the Treasury. And if you think about this, there are really kind of three takeouts from the Treasury's evidence today, one in the short term that the unemployment rate in reality is probably about 15 percent, counting the people who left the workforce and the people who are on JobKeeper but not working. Secondly, that monetary policy is exhausted and really we're going to be looking at a fiscal response for much longer than that six months ‘snap back’ timeframe. And then thirdly, that some $13.2 billion has been taken out of superannuation. You know, Australians, some one and a half million Australians have reached into their private savings for support, and of those two thirds are under the age of 40. Which means that the economic crisis here and the policy response of the Government is going to have a very long tail when we start to contemplate that young people are taking ten and twenty thousand dollars out of superannuation. That’s a hundred and twenty thousand dollars by the time they reach retirement that they will have missed out on.
GILBERT: But doesn’t it show as well that the package has been designed appropriately given the demand on that side? That people wanted to use their money now in the face of this crisis and with this time frame for the JobKeeper? Because when you’ve got JobKeeper there like you can see in Queensland at the moment, Anastasia Palaszczuk has got that, and this has been reported by my colleague Andrew Clennell today, the sense is within the Federal Government that because of JobKeeper, the Premier can keep her borders shut for longer. It's actually going to be stifling growth if we keep that support in there for longer than currently scheduled…
KENEALLY: Kieran, I'm not surprised that Australians reach for their superannuation savings, because the Government was quite slow in getting the JobKeeper and the JobSeeker payments out the door and into the hands of families. You know, the fact is that the JobKeeper and one-off $750 payments that were made to people. Those are only equal to about $13.4 billion. So the reality is this has been by design taking some time, that government money. People had no other choice but to reach into their private retirement savings. But you're right to make a point about JobKeeper. And that is that while we know that the economic recovery is going to be patchy, we also know that some sectors are going to bounce back more quickly than others, some are going to really struggle to bounce back. And what that says is that we can't have a response, policy response, from the Government than simply yanks it away in six months’ time just because that was the arbitrary date set by the Prime Minister. What the Government needs to do in fiscal policy settings is look at what's happening in workplaces. Look what's happening in industries. Look at what is happening in families and make sure that whether we're tailoring or tapering JobKeeper, but we're not just snapping it away from families while this economic crisis is continuing.

GILBERT: While you while you rightly say the state borders issue is a matter for the states, it's also the JobKeeper matter and support is distorting some of those decisions because while it's a policy, a very welcome policy, because it's kept millions of people in their work in their jobs and connected to their employers. If it's there for too long it'll stifle the recovery, won't it? How long does Labor want it in place for?

KENEALLY: Labor has always said that what we want to see is a response that meets the economic conditions and the challenges and families are facing, not some arbitrary 'snap back' just because the Prime Minister said it in a media conference a few weeks ago, that everything would 'snap back to normal' in six months' time. But Kieran, I think this goes to the importance of these COVID Committee hearings. A couple of weeks ago, we heard from Treasury that there is a concern about the implementation of JobKeeper and the idea about 'zombie businesses'. We've heard that from other sectors as well, that JobKeeper could potentially distort in that way. I think the importance of these hearings, providing oversight. Today we heard that the list of companies that receive JobKeeper will not be public. And this comes on the back of reports in media, that there are some companies that look like they're doing very well on the outside that are claiming JobKeeper. And so there are a lot of questions, I think, about the implementation. I want to be clear, Kieran, with you and with your viewers. We support JobKeeper, it is a direct wage subsidy. We called for it. The Government, they resisted it for some time, they did an about-face, we thank them for that. We acknowledge that it is a good idea to have a direct wage subsidy, but we do have frustrations. This is a good idea that we say is being implemented badly. You have gaps such as a university student now making more, because they are on JobKeeper, than they did before the crisis. And a university staff member, whether they are an administrator or a lecturer who has had to go onto JobSeeker because the government has excluded universities on JobKeeper. It’s that type of disparity, those types of gaps that really do need to be addressed by the government in the implementation of this program.

GILBERT: The Premier, Gladys Berejiklian is talking today about reopening the borders to international students to get that sector that you refer to, universities, back on their feet. The Federal Government is also looking at this now to get COVID-safe campuses and to get that sector up and going again, do you welcome that?

KENEALLY: Labor has always said that we would welcome the return of international students when it's safe to do so. The real question In here is how do you make safe to do that? And that is a question of policy for the Federal Government first and foremost, because, as you've heard me say many-a-time in relation to the Ruby Princess, when it comes to our borders, the buck stops with the Commonwealth. It's not the Premier of New South Wales or any aspect of the New South Wales Government make a determination about who can come through the borders, it is the Commonwealth Government. The real question is, how can that be done safely? And how can it be done in a way that is economical? And I think the real question I would have here right now, who is going to pay for that? Is that a cost that is going to be borne by the taxpayer, by the University, by a state or indeed by the university students, the international students. These are questions I think need to be answered in the design of any program.

GILBERT: Senator Keneally, as always, thanks for your time. Appreciate it.

KENEALLY: Thank you, Kieran.