Mar 19, 2020











SUBJECTS: Coronavirus; economic implications of coronavirus; supporting the casual workforce and sole traders; Tasmania’s tougher border control; government funding for independent schools.


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: I am here today with Jim Chalmers, Labor’s Shadow Treasurer. And we eagerly await the news from the Reserve Bank of Australia who are having an extraordinary meeting and then Philip Lowe will be giving a special address at 4:00pm. We do support further action being taken by both the RBA and the Government to protect our economy and to protect our jobs. We want to protect lives in this health crisis. But we also want to make sure that we emerge from this health emergency with our economy as intact as it can be and with jobs saved, with protection of living standards and particularly with protection for the most vulnerable in our community. We want to protect businesses but those who work for businesses. And today we think of those 20,000 Qantas workers who’ve been laid off temporarily. This will be a very difficult day for them. They’ve contributed to the building of a business that is perhaps the most iconic Australian brand internationally. This is a good business. And the difficulties that it, Virgin, and other airlines are going through are not due to any errors that they have committed. It is due to circumstances well beyond their control. We do know that the sooner the response, the more effective it will be. We also know that the sooner the response, the less the cost will be in the long run. So, if we are going to do something next week, please, let us do it today. I have said before that Australians need to have confidence in authorities, whether it be the health authorities or our economic authorities such as the Reserve Bank. And in order to do that, the authorities have to have faith and trust in the Australian people. Be transparent about where we are at. I think it would be a good thing, for example, whereby just as the Reserve Bank of Australia, when they make an announcement, there is then an explanation for why it occurs, if when there have been changes in health advice from the Australian Government, such as we have seen over simple issues such as whether people should be shaking hands, over social distancing, over cancelling of various gatherings, there needs to be an explanation of why that change is occurring. I think that would go a long way to easing peoples’ anxieties and building confidence. Australians do need calm, consistent information. Let’s make sure that during this crisis that we spread kindness, not spread coronavirus. I think that is the key. And we’re seeing already emerging in local communities right around the country, people putting a note in the letterbox of a neighbour, checking if they’re okay, checking if there’s something they can do for them, particularly our elderly and vulnerable Australians. And that is a very good thing indeed. I now will ask Jim to make some comments, particularly on the economic measures that might come later on today.


JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: Thanks, Anthony. This unfolding economic crisis demands urgency, and scale, and it demands coordination among all of the decision makers in our economy. We are conscious that the Government, the Reserve Bank, the private banks and others right across the board are working out the next steps to be taken in the economy. We need to see those as soon as possible to get support out the door and circulating in an economy which desperately needs it.

In the last day or two, I’ve spoken to the CEOs of the big four banks, I’ve spoken to regional banks, the customer-owned banks, the peak business groups and others. I’m conscious that they are working as hard as they can to get a package of support out there to support borrowers and businesses right around the economy. I want to extend my gratitude to those businesses, those CEOs, and those peak groups for the opportunity to engage at a time when we need all of us coming up with the best ways to help our workers, businesses, families and communities right around Australia.

It’s become abundantly clear that what the Government announced last week was too small and too slow to make a genuine difference in this unfolding economic crisis. This is an extraordinary set of economic challenges and it requires an extraordinary set of economic responses, right across the board. We need to make it easier for borrowers to pay their loans and we need to make it easier for businesses to avoid defaulting on theirs as well. If that means considering steps that wouldn’t ordinarily be contemplated, then so be it. Every decision maker in the economy has a role to play here to support workers, businesses, families and communities.

Australians are anxious about their jobs, their mortgages, their rent, their superannuation balances and how they’ll pay all of their household bills. As we have been right from the beginning, Labor stands ready to support effective, decisive measures which are big enough and deploy quickly enough to make a difference in the economy. We will be responsible, as we have been, in the aftermath of whatever the Reserve Bank, the private banks and the Government announces in the coming days.

That also means being constructive about where the Government can do better and where the gaps are. There are still issues with casuals. There are still issues with sole traders, and renters, and charities and the entertainment industry. There are a number of substantial gaps which need to be addressed by the Government when they release their next package of stimulus. It needs to be released urgently. We need to get that support out the door as soon as we can so that it’s circulating in an economy which desperately needs it. We’ll examine the details of what the Reserve Bank, the other banks and the Government announces in the next day or two. Our commitment to the Australian people is that we will continue to be responsible, constructive and supportive because these are serious times and they do warrant a serious response. We will be as bipartisan as we can be to help Australians through a difficult period.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much. Happy to take questions firstly from people in the room. We’re trying social distancing. So, there’s journalists on the telecom system here.


JOURNALIST: I guess you mentioned the measures there. What sort of specific measures do you think should be put in place to maybe help people like sole traders? Is it a Newstart payment? Or is it something more than that?


CHALMERS: We don’t want to pre-empt what the Government proposes in the next day or two but clearly there are substantial gaps in the support that has been announced so far. The feedback that we have all been receiving, and which I can only assume the Government has been receiving too, is that sole traders have largely missed out in the first package that was announced a week ago today. Without being prescriptive about it, the Government needs to do something about that. There are hundreds of thousands of sole traders in Australia who desperately need assistance. We want to see that in the package that’s released. Similarly, there’s an issue with renters and an issue with charities, whether it be food providers and others. There are a number of gaps there which ideally the Government will address when they announce the next package of stimulus measures.


ALBANESE: Can I say on that issue that one of the issues that has emerged, I think, during this crisis is the implications behind changes in the labour market that have seen an increased casualisation of the workforce, less security at work, less conditions like paid leave, sick leave, annual leave, have, I think, been a bit of a wake-up call for what’s been happening in the labour market in general. And there will need to be, like with other issues, arising out of these emergency conditions, an examination of where we go as a country heading forward. In the immediate sense, of course, no one should be in a position whereby if they don’t turn up at work, they lose all of their income. And unfortunately, there are a range of people in professions, particularly soul traders who have definitely been put in that position.


JOURNALIST: The issues surrounding coronavirus change every day. Do you have any revised figures or amount that you think needs to be spent on this in general?


ALBANESE: Look, we are not the Government. What we say is that you need to spend whatever is necessary. And we also say that if you delay action, then it will end up costing you more. And so, we stand ready to support measures in Parliament next week. We’re not in a position to appropriate funds. But quite clearly, the first response was not adequate. Which is why two working days later, the Government was talking about additional expenditure.


JOURNALIST: Do you support the Tasmanian Government’s decision for going ahead with the toughest border controls in the country?


ALBANESE: I do support the Tasmanian Government decision. I am firmly of the view that we can’t take this issue seriously enough. And that one of the issues that we don’t want is for us to be having a media conference like this in November or December this year. And for you to be in a position of asking, ‘Do you think that we should have acted sooner with any measure which is proposed?’ So, I think the Tasmanian Government have made a strong decision. But it’s the right decision for Tasmanians. And I congratulate them on it. It will, of course, result in some inconvenience. It will have a particular impact on the Tasmanian economy given that it is so reliant upon the tourism sector. But I do think it’s the right decision. We need to make the right health decisions first. And then consider what the economic implications are of that, and then address the economic consequences. But people’s health has to come first. That will result in better economic outcomes as well.


JOURNALIST: So, should then other states implement the same border control?


ALBANESE: Look, Tasmania is an island state. So, there are particular circumstances there for Tasmania, I believe. Other decisions are a matter for the respective decisions of the state and territory governments. But Tasmania is in a unique circumstance, of course. When we dealt with a major outbreak 100 years ago, in the aftermath of World War One, Tasmania was free of that virus at that time. So, we need to, I’m sure that the Tasmanian Government have made the decision in that context.


JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, would you be supportive of (inaudible) workers potentially that are going to lose their jobs, or would you prefer the Newstart allowance to be raised?


ALBANESE: Well, quite clearly one of the issues that is exposed here is that Newstart isn’t enough. I spoke to someone on Saturday who was in here in working on my statement to the nation, a camera person, working in your industry. He is the sole breadwinner in his family. He has a wife and three kids. They can’t survive on $40 a day on Newstart. And his work has dried up. That will be the case for so many people. And I think we need to do as much as possible to provide assistance to those workers. I note that a range of businesses, and I congratulate them, businesses like Coles, Woolworths, Target have announced voluntarily that their casual workforce will be given leave if they’re forced to self-isolate. That is a good thing. We need to pull together as a nation. But the Government needs to do its bit as well.


JOURNALIST: Just another thing, this talk about wanting independent schools to have government funding slashed because they are sending students home already and public schools aren’t. Is that something you think is a positive thing or should happen?


ALBANESE: This isn’t a time to slash school funding. Thank you.