Mar 29, 2020





SUBJECTS: Governments’ health package, Telehealth, Mental Health, Wage Subsidies, Labor’s proposal to list the tapering-off point of Income Cutoffs for Support


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much for joining us here at Henson Park. Labor welcomes the Government’s announcement of health changes today worth just over a billion dollars. We’ve been saying for some time that Telehealth is important, and it’s critical that the Government is on board for it. It’s also of vital importance that we prioritize mental health issues and I’m very pleased that the Government is doing that. So we welcome the announcements. We support them. We will back them in, should any legislative change be required at some time in the future.

I also wanted to comment on the issue of wages. It’s very clear that a wage subsidy is vital if we’re going to minimise the impact on individuals and businesses of this coronavirus crisis. What it would do is to provide certainty for business, but also certainty for people who are doing it tough.

I also welcome the fact that the Government has indicated that they’re looking at ensuring that it backdated for those people who’ve been laid off up to this point. Because this has been a major issue that Labor, along with unions and employer organisations, have championed over recent days and indeed weeks. We argued that this was important. We argued that the Government’s measures that went through the Parliament didn’t provide any incentive for people to be kept in work. And that’s why we regarded them as inadequate. So we welcome this announcement of an impending announcement about wage subsidy.

But we do say get on with it. The Government resisted and said that this wasn’t possible for a long period of time. It’s very clear other countries around the world have similar mechanisms. That’s why we haven’t tried to be prescriptive. In all measures that we have put forward, we have been constructive. We have attempted to give the Government the space to design their own mechanisms without trying to tell the Government, without the ability to cost things in Treasury and finance, precisely what they should do.

The third item though, is one that was agreed last Monday. And it is incomprehensible to me why it hasn’t been fixed. Already. Last Monday, I met with Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg. I proposed a range of changes which were adopted by the Government.

One of those major points was on two income families where one person loses their job where currently the cut-off for support would be $48,000. What we’ve proposed is to lift the tapering-off point from $26,000 up to $52,000, which means that people would be able to get some income support, as long as the breadwinner earned a little bit over $70,000 or under, making a major difference to families in our suburbs where two people are working, one part time, typically with kids, whether the father or the mother are looking after the kids at home for a proportion of the week.

We identified this as a major gap in the package and it was agreed by the Government. And the changes were made to the legislation to allow the minister to make those changes. The Government subsequently sent mixed messages saying that there wasn’t an agreement there.

I’d say to the Government – ‘get on with it’. Put these changes in place because the longer there is uncertainty the more anxiety that’s there from people who have suffered in this circumstance.

There’s a lot of families where the casual worker has missed out on their job and where they’re really struggling to know how they’ll pay their mortgage and other bills.

I’d ask Tony Burke to make some comments particularly about the wages and workplace issues.


TONY BURKE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS: Thanks, Anthony. We need the wage subsidy implemented. And we need it implemented urgently. Two weeks ago when we were arguing this, and unions have been arguing it, business has been arguing it, Scott Morrison as Prime Minister ridiculed the idea, described it as unworkable. Now, we are pleased that he’s come to the table and says that the Government is now working on implementing it.

We’ve simply said design it how they want, but there have to be a couple of key features. One, the support has to be conditional on keeping people in work. And secondly, it has to be enough of a subsidy to give a real incentive to employers to keep people in their jobs. We want people to keep their relationship with their employer. Unions want it. Employers want it. And if Scott Morrison, instead of ruling this out weeks ago, had been working on it then, then some of the scenes we’ve seen in the last couple of weeks, we may not have.

We encourage the Government; make sure they design it with those features locked in, make sure that people can keep their connection to their employer during this. We’ve seen a whole lot of people transfer from work to the welfare system. The best approach is if we can have a wage subsidy,so they can keep their connection to work so on the other side of this, we’ve got an economy that is ready to go again. So many lives have been turned upside down. Get this done, recall the Parliament, lock it in and give people some certainty.