May 23, 2020






SUBJECTS: Government’s extraordinary $60 billion error; JobKeeper program issues; temporary visa holders; Hong Kong; need for the Prime Minister to take responsibility.


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks for joining me. This is an error you can see from space. In America, they devote a rock formation to their Presidents at Mount Rushmore. If they were going to vote a rock formation to this mob, it would be called the Bungle Bungles. Because this is a $60 million error. It was dropped out, surprise surprise, late on a Friday afternoon in order to avoid scrutiny. But there were no apologies from this Government. This is a Government that makes mistakes, but never admits them. But this $60 billion mistake is a doozy. And it comes at the same time as we know that as of a week ago, Australians who are struggling had taken $13.2 billion out of their own superannuation accounts. What that means, of course, is that means they have less in their retirement savings. And it also means that the cost to the future economy, the burden which is there of retirement, will be greater on Australians and on our national economy. We know also that there has been substantial fraud when it comes to the handling of superannuation. This is a Government that should have rolled out this program in an orderly way, but they didn’t. They said no to wage subsidies when Parliament first met and only were dragged to it by the knowledge that without wage subsidies there would have been substantially more people joining the Centrelink queue. There would have been queues like we saw on that Monday morning. Those horrific scenes that we haven’t seen in this country for many decades. But what we see with this Government and this error is $60 billion as a mistake that they didn’t bother to inform the Australian people of until a Friday afternoon. And that comes at the same time as so many Australians are really struggling to get by. So many Australians. A mum with three kids, working in a job for 11 months is not eligible for the JobKeeper program. The whole arts and entertainment sector is not eligible for JobKeeper by and large because of the nature of the work. And yet we have a Government that is arrogant. Josh Frydenberg, the Treasurer who brought you the ‘back in black’ declaration when it wasn’t true, and this Government has never produced a Budget surplus and will never produce a Budget surplus. I’m happy to take questions.


JOURNALIST: You spoke a bit about some people who have missed out. What areas in particular of JobKeeper should now be standard?


ALBANESE: What we should have is the calculation, if the Government can actually do it competently, of what the cost would be. For example, the impact on casuals who have missed out. The impact on other sectors who have missed out. What should happen to areas like the arts and entertainment sector in terms of a specific package to provide support to those workers. The university sector. Workers like dnata workers. Dnata workers used to work for a company called Qantas. That company, along with other catering firms in the airline industry, were sold to dnata, an overseas-owned company. But they’re doing the same tasks, many of them, that they have been doing for many decades. And yet they’re not eligible for the JobKeeper program due to changes and a specific decision by this Government to exclude them. That’s not fair. That’s not fair on them. And it is those workers who are being punished, not the owners of the company dnata, who, of course, received the permission of this Government to take over that company.


JOURNALIST: Specifically, what industries does it need to be extended to?


ALBANESE: What we need is a calculation of what the figures are from this Government on casuals, on the arts and entertainment sector, on other groups who have missed out, dnata, and some real figures on what the costings would be. Can we actually get some straight costings from this Government? But if they can’t manage a program like JobKeeper to the tune of a mistake of $60 billion, and three million people being miscalculated, the difference, then there has got to be a great question mark over how they’ll manage the economic recovery. This is a Government that’s good at boasting that the Budget is ‘back in black’, that they’ve got this all under control. But when it comes to the detail, they’re simply not capable of delivering. And it is a Government that continues to be divided and not have any answers about how we recover and is still talking about snap-back as if we’ll wake up one morning and everything will be back to where it was prior to any of these crises occurring. But of course, we know that the economy was already struggling before the bushfires and before the coronavirus.


JOURNALIST: The Assistant Treasurer, Michael Sukkar, said this morning that the extra $60 billion isn’t sitting there to be spent, it is borrowed money. Isn’t it better not to rack up more debt?


ALBANESE: It’s the Government that this time yesterday was saying that it was $130 billion program that was fully subscribed. Not Labor. It was the Government who were doing that. And it was the Government who were saying that there was no problem with their debt. Of course, we know already they had doubled the debt prior to the bushfires and the coronavirus. And quite frankly, the credibility of Michael Sukkar and Josh Frydenberg has been shot into space from where you can see this $60 billion error. That is where they are at. The Government said that they needed to draw a line in the sand because the program was fully subscribed. We now know that sand was quicksand and Josh Frydenberg’s credibility, and Michael Sukkar’s credibility, and Scott Morrison’s credibility is sinking in that quicksand. They need to actually fess up properly and say that they made this error and when they discovered this error, which is a critical factor, and why they dropped it out on a Friday afternoon? Why they then misled the Parliament, misled the Senate Committee on the COVID-19 response, and why the Australian people were told something very different. Because what they’re saying is that up to 1,000 companies who had one employee put down $1500, exactly the same number that were eligible for JobKeeper on a form and no one noticed. No one noticed. Compare that with Robodebt and how they deal with chasing up working people who make an error and happens to them.


JOURNALIST: But the timing aside, isn’t it better to not rack-up the full debt?


ALBANESE: Well, this Government’s the debt party. This Government is the party that racked up a doubling of the debt prior to the bushfire crisis. And it is Labor that have actually pointed out consistently that there are a range of people under JobKeeper as well who are receiving multiples of what their former income was before the crisis, and for many of those, they are receiving multiples of the income without having to work because they are eligible for JobKeeper. It’s the Government that have put this system in place. Labor has argued for a responsible, well managed, well targeted scheme that provides assistance for people who needed it.


JOURNALIST: So, if the Government isn’t prepared to expand JobKeeper, are there other areas you would like the $60 billion to be spent?


ALBANESE: Look, Labor will outline our policies over a period of time. But what we need to focus on here is how the Government is responding to these issues. The Government up to this point, there are major flaws in JobKeeper. There have been major flaws and indeed fraud when it comes to superannuation. And we know indeed that certainly that superannuation money that’s been taken out of accounts hasn’t been spent wisely, has been gambled rather than money that was intended for people’s superannuation. And remember what superannuation is and why Labor supports it. It’s about prudent, financial management. It’s about people saving for the future and reducing what would be their debt burdens in the future of the Commonwealth by reducing the outliers that are necessary for pensions. This Government has not only miscalculated to the tune of $60 billion, they’ve established a system that has undermined the future retirement savings of Australians. And that’s why this Government has no credibility when it speaks about prudent fiscal management. What they have is statements that we know aren’t true, such as the Government was already ‘back in black’, which is what they declared a year ago.


JOURNALIST: How concerned are you about what is happening in Hong Kong?


ALBANESE: Well, Labor is very concerned. Hong Kong, of course, is a two-systems, one country, is the theme. Two systems is important. Hong Kong has a democratic tradition. It’s important that human rights in Hong Kong be respected. On the line, anyone?


JOURNALIST: We know that temporary visa holders are among those who have been most exposed during this pandemic, would you also be calling for the Government to consider expanding efforts to temporary visa holders who are struggling at this time?


ALBANESE: The question is about temporary visa holders. On Easter Sunday, I went to the Exodus Foundation run by the Reverend Bill Crews. He has his Loaves and Fishes restaurant that traditionally has looked after people who are really hard on their luck. People who are homeless, people who have problems with addiction, people who are really struggling to get by. And they queue up and they get a free feed. And I might say they get a bit of love too from Reverend Crews. I volunteer there from time to time. And I was volunteering there on Easter Sunday. The thing that struck me was the number of temporary visa holders, Nepalese students and others who were queuing up to get a feed. Queuing up because they had no income whatsoever and they were struggling to get by from day to day. Now, the Australian Government said, and I agree with them, that if people could go home, they should have, but there are a range of people who couldn’t go home because there simply weren’t flights to get them home. And those people are doing it tough and the Australian Government, having invited people here to work or study on a temporary basis, do have some responsibility to ensure that those people can get by from day to day.


JOURNALIST: You’ve also spoken about the need for a transition with the JobKeeper payment. Given the accounting situation, would you be again reaffirming that call for a transition?


ALBANESE: Well, this is about a transition. The question is about transition and the Government’s approach of snap-back on a particular day. I remain concerned about the Government’s snap-back approach. The idea that you can have now we know 3.5 million, not 6.5 million, which is what the Government said were on JobKeeper. But substantial numbers on JobSeeker as well. We have this idea as well with childcare, that these changes will all revert back to where they were on a single day. That six months JobKeeper is in place and on six months plus one day, JobKeeper disappears. The idea that you will not have a transitional plan to transition the economy going forward is, I think, frankly, absurd. It’s an example of the Government once again engaged in marketing and engaged in spin, rather than engaged in outcomes and being concerned about the impact on real people of these changes. And the impact if you just shut it down on one day will be a shock to the economy, which will cause major damage not just to the individuals who are taken off JobKeeper, but to the businesses and to other parts of the economy as well as that shot flows through. We need a plan from this Government. Scott Morrison’s finally standing up and having something to say on next Tuesday. I want to know why is it that Scott Morrison didn’t front the media yesterday about a $60 billion mistake, a $60 billion error. And with Scott Morrison, I will make a prediction, he won’t be out there today either. And he probably won’t be out there tomorrow. It is about time this Prime Minister took responsibility for the errors that are there. He wouldn’t take any responsibility during the bushfires. He won’t take any responsibility for the fact that he said the Government was already ‘back in black’. And the fact is that this Government and this Prime Minister need to accept responsibility for the circumstances we find ourselves in. Thanks very much.