ANTHONY ALBANESE MP
LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY
MEMBER FOR GRAYNDLER
FRIDAY, 22 MAY 2020
SUBJECTS: Government’s extraordinary revision on JobKeeper numbers; JobKeeper program issues; Bob Hawke.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks for joining me. The Government’s extraordinary revelations that it isn’t 6.5 million people who are on JobKeeper, but 3.5 million; it is not a $130 billion cost, but $70 billion, blows any previous mistake when it comes to economic figures in Australian history right out of the water. This is a mistake you could have seen from space. And this is a Government that couldn’t run a bath let alone be good economic managers. The fact is that if you can’t get this right, how can the Government get economic recovery right? And the real problem here is that there are real-world consequences for Australian working people who are doing it tough. Australian working people who’ve missed out on support, because the Government has abandoned them. Because the Government said it’s program was fully subscribed, and that the $130 billion had all been allocated. When we know now that that isn’t the case. Well, there are one million casual workers who have not received support. Local government workers who have not received support. Entire sectors such as the arts and entertainment sector that have not received support. At the same time, this smug Government has, time after time, repeated figures that are wrong to the tune of $60 billion and wrong to the tune of three million workers.
This is a Government that rejected wage subsidies when it was first proposed when Parliament first sat during this pandemic, and Labor, unions and business were arguing for it. Because of that, they clearly have not done their homework to get the program right and not had any accountability or measures in place so that they can properly determine how many people were on this program and how much it would cost. One number that we needed to get right is how many workers they were helping. But instead, this is an absolute shambles. And again, the consequences there for people. People who are not getting the support that they need, which means that the recovery will take longer. Which means that the economic downturn will be deeper. And it means that the consequences are more severe for working Australians who are doing it really tough during this period.
The idea that we will ever again listen to Josh Frydenberg and think that he has any credibility at all is gone. The bloke and the Government, along with Scott Morrison, who produced mugs saying the Budget was already ‘back in black’ when that simply was not true, that mistake and error of judgment has been blown out of the water by this. They said they couldn’t expand the program because they had ‘drawn a line in the sand’. What we know now is that sand was indeed quicksand and Australian working people have been sunk by the failure to provide proper support for them at this time. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: How embarrassing is this for the Government, specifically the Treasurer?
ALBANESE: Well, this is humiliating for the Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, and for the Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann. Can you imagine what the Coalition would be saying if this were a Labor Government? Can you imagine what some of the media outlet headlines would be tomorrow if this was a Labor Government? This is a very serious issue which has real implications for real people. That’s the problem. It’s not just some academic exercise here. We’re talking about a $60 billion error and three million people error when it comes to the figures that have been established here. Are there any questions from the phone?
JOURNALIST: Just two quick questions. Treasury says the issue is with businesses filling out the forms incorrectly rather than the Government. Do you agree with that? And secondly, with an extra $60 billion in the bank, should JobKeeper be immediately made available to a much broader scope of people as you have been pushing for?
ALBANESE: Well, it’s just absurd for the Government to say that it’s not responsible. The Government should have had in place mechanisms, basic mechanisms, to check on the forms that were coming in. If you look at the extent of this miscalculation, the fact that many businesses who should have put down one, instead put down 1,500, if there was a proper oversight of this process that the Government is responsible for, then the local shopkeeper or coffee shop, chances are the coffee shop on the corner where I’m speaking right now does not employ 1,500 people. They employ just a few people. So, the mistake should have been very obvious. And the fact that it would appear that you had multiple businesses who put down 1,500 should have indicated that unless there was some extraordinary statistical miracle, whereby all of these businesses all had exactly 1,500 people employed who were eligible for JobKeeper, then how is it that wasn’t picked up? And I ask you to contrast it with this Government’s actions when it comes to Robodebt, whereby people who made an error on a document got letters, got chased up for money sometimes that they didn’t even own.
This Government won’t accept responsibility for anything in the past. They have to accept their responsibility for this. It is their responsibility to have proper oversight over this program. And quite clearly, they haven’t. It’s been a hands-off approach and the Government must accept responsibility for this. If not, this is a Government that won’t accept responsibility for sports rorts. Angus Taylor won’t accept responsibility for fraudulent documents being given to newspapers. How about someone in this Government accept responsibility just once? Any other questions? I am just going to leave it to this issue. This is my second press conference today.
JOURNALIST: But this means the Government is actually going to be spending less money than it originally forecasted and that the economy’s going to be in less debt than originally predicted.
ALBANESE: Well, what will happen is that as a result of the Government not supporting a whole range of people, including casuals, local government workers, people who are in the arts and entertainment sector, the recovery will take longer. And in the end, that will mean the Budget has difficulties as a result of the longer recovery. And what we have here is a circumstance as well whereby Labor has raised very clearly the point that for some people, they’re receiving multiples of their previous income. So, if you’re a young person working your way through uni in a casual job where you work regularly for more than 12 months, for a single employer, then you might have seen your income increase from $150 a week to $750 a week. But if you’re a mum with three kids working to put food on the family table, then if you’ve been in a casual job or in employment for 11 months, you are not eligible under this scheme. This is a Government that has made errors in the way that it has rolled out this program. It is the ultimate triumph of a Government addicted to marketing and political spin that they are trying to spin their way out of a $60 billion error. Because it’s not 6.5 million people involved in JobKeeper it is in fact 3.5 million. What we need to get through this crisis, what we’ve seen from working people, is commitment, diligence, hard work, making sure that they look after their fellow Australians. That’s what nurses, supermarket workers, public transport workers, community service workers, childcare workers have been doing. What we need is more of that spirit and less of the marketing and spin from this Government.
JOURNALIST: Bob Hawke’s daughter has resolved her matter out of court, I guess her stake in her family will, I realise it’s a delicate matter, but you must be pleased, this is a much-loved Australian family. Are you pleased that this has been resolved and it’s been quietly resolved? And does this go in any way shape or form towards Mr Hawke’s legacy?
ALBANESE: Look, I’m very pleased at the news that this has been resolved. Bob Hawke was a great Australian. He loved the Australian people and they loved him back. And his family deserve to have his legacy honoured. And it is good that any outstanding issues have been resolved. And I certainly wish, I know that Blanche has not been well, and I and I think every Australian would wish her well. She looked after Bob in his later years, and they loved each other very much. And to witness them together was to see that firsthand. And it’s one of the privileges of my life to have been so close to both Bob and Blanche. Thanks very much.