Jul 21, 2020







SUBJECTS: Government’s announcement of changes to JobKeeper and JobSeeker; coronavirus outbreaks in Victoria; increase in Newstart.


FRAN KELLY, HOST: Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese, is our guest. Anthony Albanese. welcome back to Breakfast.




KELLY: So, JobKeeper will be revamped. It’ll be split into two tiers now for full and part-time workers. And there’ll be a new eligibility test. Is this redesign more fit for purpose?


ALBANESE: Well, we argued very clearly for wage subsidies when the Government was still resisting it, Fran. And we then argued, of course, that the idea of snap back and just withdrawing all support in the last week of September would have had a devastating impact on the economy. We’ll examine the detail. It’s good that the Government’s finally woken up at some of the wastes in this scheme. We know now that some 875,000 people were paid more than they were earning before this crisis. And that has resulted in literally billions of dollars being added to what will be a record deficit and record debt that should not have been in the original design of the scheme.


KELLY: Well, it’s reported, we don’t know the exact levels yet, but it’s reported that the two-tier payment for those who are being paid more than they were actually receiving when they were in the workforce will now, that payment, will be cut from $1500 a fortnight to somewhere around perhaps $600 a fortnight. Is that about right? Would you be happy with that?


ALBANESE: Well, what’s not right, Fran, is people to be earning more than they were earning before.


KELLY: No, and the Government is going to address that now.


ALBANESE: Well, we’ll wait and see the detail. But it shouldn’t have been beyond the wit of Government, given that they do run the ATO, to not pay people more than they were being paid before.


KELLY: So, you criticise the Government for putting in a blanket approach, even though the Government’s argument on that is it was so important just to get a mechanism that could go out quickly to people. I think most Australians would have welcomed the speed of response.


ALBANESE: Well, the fact is, Fran, the Parliament sat for the first time this year, and they resisted wage subsidies, they introduced JobSeeker, which, of course, employers at the time because there weren’t wage subsidies, took as an incentive to put people off. And people were in those massive queues outside Centrelink, which is was what led to the Government finally to respond to what Labor, the business community and unions were saying, which is that they needed to keep that relationship between employers and employees. But, Fran, if a Labor Government have had wasted the billions of dollars that has been wasted here in additional income to people more than they were earning before, then they would have been crying from the rafters about debt and deficit. This Government can’t have it both ways. They used to talk about deficits. And, of course, we know that last year they claimed the Budget was ‘back in black’ when it wasn’t. They had doubled the debt before this crisis. And one of the issues that the economy is dealing with is how weak it was at the end of last year with productivity going backwards, wages stagnant, and with debt having been doubled.


KELLY: Okay. The Prime Minister is going to announce today also that the corona supplement for unemployed people, the so-called JobSeeker payment, will be continued for another six months but at a lower rate. It won’t be the $1100 a fortnight it is now, so that that $550 corona supplement will be cut. Treasury says that supplement meant some unemployed had an incentive not to apply for jobs, which reinforces the Prime Minister’s comments that the JobSeeker amount was set at a level where it was acting as an impediment for the unemployed to go out and get a job. Do you accept that?


ALBANESE: Well, they’re the ones who set the amount, Fran.


KELLY: But do you accept that it is working as an impediment for people to go out and look for work?


ALBANESE: Well, I accept that $40 a day was not enough to live on. I also accept that the idea that the unemployment payments, Newstart, should be higher than the age pension is not tenable. But I also accept that there are 13 people unemployed for every job and that, overwhelmingly, when a job is advertised, huge numbers of people are applying. I don’t think this is the time for the Government to essentially be running out the dole bludger argument which is so dear to the heart of conservative governments from time to time. The fact is, the jobs aren’t there. But we haven’t argued for a permanent doubling of Newstart.


KELLY: What do you want? Because Labor won’t say what it wants. You say $40 a day isn’t enough, but more than the age pension, which is the current amount, is too much. Where do you think it should sit? I’m sure you’ve got a view on this.


ALBANESE: We do have a view, Fran, which is that we won’t be the Government until, I hope, after the next election.


KELLY: But why not try and influence the Government? If you think you know where it should be, why not try and influence the Government?


ALBANESE: Well, we are trying to influence, Fran, by not letting it off the hook. We want there to be a permanent increase announced by this Government. That’s been the position.


KELLY: Of how much, though? I mean, you don’t want it at $10 a day, I am sure. How much do you want?


ALBANESE: We’re not the Treasury or Finance, Fran. So, you get the same answer when you ask the same question. So, what we want is a permanent increase of Newstart. And the Government should be doing that and should be announcing that today rather than leaving people in doubt. Just as today they should be announcing not just JobKeeper and JobSeeker, but what’s their plan in terms of building infrastructure to use the opportunities that is there now to actually make long-term benefits and strengthen the national economy? Where is the energy policy of this Government to drive through the changes through the economy so that we promote clean energy, which makes us more efficient, which drives jobs and productivity into the future?


KELLY: Well, one thing the Government is going to announce, we’ve just about to Sussan Ley about it, is plans to shift responsibility for environmental approvals to the states. The Minister hopes to legislate on this as early as next month now they’ve got this interim report from Graeme Samuel. Will Labor support that shake-up? The Senate voted down Tony Abbott’s One-Stop Environmental Shop some years ago when he tried to get it up. But if it means less green tape and faster approvals for job creation, at this time, is Labor going to be inclined to support this?


ALBANESE: Look, I was somewhat stunned even by this Government’s environmental standards by the end of that interview that I was listening to where Sussan Ley actually says that the focus is on where it is rather than what it is in terms of projects. That’s the whole point of environmental assessments. This Government has cut the environment department by 40 per cent. We’ve seen a 510 per cent blowout in approval times. They get 79 per cent of the approvals wrong. There’s an error there. And the sort of sensible suggestion by Graeme Samuel, that you need an independent regulator, the Minister actually said, ‘Well, I’ll let my department do that’. That was the whole point of Graeme Samuel’s review. We do need strong environmental protection, but we can do it in a way that is efficient. And the way to do that is not to cut to the bone the Environment department and have the approach that this Government has had. Quite frankly, I have no confidence after having listened to that interview that this Minister and this Government is capable of getting appropriate environmental protection, which also does support jobs in the economy.


KELLY: Can I just ask you very briefly, we’re way out of time, but the economic recovery has been set back by the pandemic in Victoria, the outbreak there, there’s angers in some quarters about the hard lockdown. Are you worried that we might see a breach of discipline, people might start disregarding the rules on masks and social distancing the more we have these lockdowns?


ALBANESE: Well, people should follow the rules. And it’s not asking too much for people to listen to the health advice. And you only have to look at what is happening in other countries, be it the United States or Brazil or other nations, to see what happens when rules are broken down and where we don’t have the discipline. We do all have a responsibility. I’m in Narooma today with Kristy McBain on her first day as the Member for Eden-Monaro. There are issues around Batemans Bay and around the south coast of New South Wales. It’s not just Victoria. And it is likely that there will be other issues in other parts of Australia, which is why we need to just listen to the advice and do our bit. We all have a responsibility here.


KELLY: Anthony Albanese, thank you very much for joining us.


ALBANESE: Thank you, Fran.