Transcript - ABC Afternoon Briefing [14 May 2020]

May 14, 2020

SUBJECTS: JobKeeper; Virgin Australia; China.
PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: I want to bring in my panel Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman and Labor MP Anne Aly. Welcome to both of you.

TRENT ZIMMERMAN: Good afternoon.

ANNE ALY: Thank you Patricia.

KARVELAS: Trent Zimmerman first with you. Labor says more Australians are out of work today because the government deliberately excluded them from the job keeper wage subsidy. Should it be altered to include more people that have missed out.

ZIMMERMAN: Well I think that Labor's criticism is just misfounded because if you look at what JobKeeper is about it is about the relationship between an employer and an employee. And that's why it's been provided to full time and part time workers and casual workers that have an ongoing relationship with their employer. What Labor seems to be talking about is casual employees that don't have a regular employer and that's why we put the job seeker arrangements in place which has involved effectively doubling what we used to call Newstart. So there's basically those two strands of support that's being provided Jobkeeper for those that have an employer and jobseeker for those that don't.

KARVELAS: But the key question is why should you know students who are casuals be earning more than maybe a job keeper that is actually someone who is in the arts industry and didn't didn't actually that wasn't eligible for this payment there are inequities in it. I mean you could remedy it. There is a review would you like to see it fixed?

ZIMMERMAN: Well I think the first thing you have to understand is is that what we were trying to do was roll out a scheme in in a very short period of time that had an element of simplicity about it. So for example you didn't have to set up new bureaucracies assessing individual claims which could have delayed payments for four weeks if not months. But what I would say in relation to for example the art sector that you've just mentioned is that for those in the arts community of which there are a large number that have a ongoing relationship with an arts organisation as an employee or as a long term casual then they will get job keeper but if they don't have that relationship then they'll be eligible for job seeker and in most cases particularly in a city like Sydney the differential between the two payments is not that great. So there is support available through one of those schemes which is is very important.

KARVELAS: Well we know it's available but in your view should this review period be an opportunity? I mean of course it was rushed out it was an emergency situation. No one really questions, or some people might question, but broadly I think people understand that. Use it as an opportunity to deal with some of these inequities. Do you think that is the time to do it.

ZIMMERMAN: I don't accept the premise that there are inequities which are resulting in people not getting support from the government that need it because as I say you've got to look at both schemes operating in partnership together and job keeper is specifically designed to maintain the relationship between an employer and an employee by that very definition. There'll be some casuals that don't need it because they don't have a regular employer which is why we have ramped up jobseeker in the way that we have to provide similar support to those in that category.

KARVELAS: Anne Aly the unemployment rate rose to six point two per cent which was actually less than expected due to the drop in participation but also I suppose what the government says is job keeper. That job keeper payment was helpful too. Do you give the government credit for containing what was a spike in unemployment that no one really could have planned for given we have a pandemic on our hands?

ALY: I think that there's a lot of woulda coulda shoulda around this and I take Trent's point that this was an urgent necessity to roll out the JobKeeper but I do want to address the point about the inequity in the job keeper because I think that in times of crisis there is a temptation to roll out a one size fits all model and not really look at nuances and look at how things are impacted. We have an opportunity now. We have an opportunity right now. This Parliament is sitting to really look at how the job keeper has been rolled out and the impact that it has and there are people who are missing out on both job keeper and job seeker Trent I'll pull you up on that one because I know people within my own electorate who are left with absolutely nothing. And so we have an opportunity now to review it. But the Government is refusing to review it. They're refusing to go back and say...

KARVELAS: Well they are reviewing it.

ALY: To fine tune it. But they're not they're not willing to fine tune it in a way that those people who are missing out. Trent just denied that there were any inequities in the job keeper. And look I give the government full credit for rolling out a wage subsidy, a wage subsidy scheme at a point when we needed a wage subsidy scheme. But now is the time to look at where it could be improved and to fine tune it so that those people who are missing out and so that those inequities like you said where a student who worked casually part time can get a full JobKeeper a full JobKeeper subsidy while a single mother raising three children who was casual can't get it. So let's iron out those those inconsistencies.

KARVELAS: Trent Zimmeman the other big issue that's going to come up is on job seeker, the payment you referred to that's the doubled unemployment rate effectively, that's the old Newstart payment. The government says you know things will go back to normal but obviously our unemployment rate is not going to go back to normal. We know that. Do you think it should be a higher rate than the old Newstart payment.

ZIMMERMAN: Look I do have views on that but I haven't communicated them to the Treasurer so I think it would be wrong for me to do so via your program.

KARVELAS: All right. Well you've given us a hint though that your views must be that you should be higher. I mean unless I'm wrong right? You think it should be higher?

ZIMMERMAN: You could say that my dear P.K. but I couldn't possibly comment.

KARVELAS: All right.

ZIMMERMAN: I've been wanted to use that line for a long while.

KARVELAS: I'm so glad you have and look you know I'd love to be talking about our puppies too and all the lovely things we like to talk about. But I'm gonna nail you down on this because you've given away so much already that you may as well go there. You can call the Treasurer straight after the show Afternoon Briefing it finishes at 5. No problem. So tell me now you think there should be a higher rate?

ZIMMERMAN: Look I think that we're going to see a lag of people returning to employment that's going to obviously last months if not years and that needs to be reflected in what we do as we move forward. And I'll leave it at that.

KARVELAS: Okay so you think you know it's gonna be a problem for people. Look I will go back to you Anne Aly because Labor has also been arguing essentially that point but no one's in the Labor Party I've seen is backing the doubled payments so what should it be?

ALY: Well we've said that we want an increase in the payment. I've been very forthright in saying that it's really difficult if not impossible to live on what the newstart used to be and that the government cannot simply snap back to what it was before. We're not putting a figure on it whether it's double or whether it goes up a little bit by percentage points. We're not putting a figure on that. And like Trent I think this is something up to the Treasurer and up to the government to do. I think it's made been made very clear very very clear right now that the Newstart payment as it was is clearly not enough. And so I think that the government will be hard pressed to make a cogent argument for not increasing the Newstart payments.

KARVELAS: Let's move to another topic and that's Virgin and this bid. Trend Zimmerman, Peter Dutton calls the Queensland Government's bid for the embattled Virgin airline I think he just got described it as an election stunt. Is it?

ZIMMERMAN: Well it's easy to draw that conclusion because and it's similar to the approach that we've seen from a federal level from labor where basically you have a situation where Labor at either the federal or state level is rushing to say the government should effectively bail out the 90 percent of owners who are major foreign corporations and in some cases government owned corporations. And I think that such an approach was premature when Anthony Albanese promoted it. I think it's premature for the Queensland Government to be promoting it because what we're also seeing is that there is actually healthy private sector interest in investing in Virgin and keeping the airline alive and my strong view is is that firstly I'm not convinced that a state government is is the right entity to basically be looking at managing an international airline. But secondly I think that governments should always be the last resort in these circumstances rather than the first. What is important is is that we get to the goal of maintaining two airlines and provide support to those thousands of Virgin employees who've had their jobs threatened. But what we are seeing is the administrator go through a proper process we're seeing what seems to be strong private sector interest. And in those circumstances I just don't think there's a case for for governments to be looking to take a major equity stake in something where they've got not really any experience particularly at the state level.

KARVELAS: Anne Aly the argument Trent Zimmerman makes, he's got a point doesn't he. I mean what experience does the Queensland Government have in running an airline? Is this really a viable bid?

ALY: Oh look I think he does. I think Trent does make some very valid points there. Patricia I'll give him that but I do think that Peter Dutton was overreaching, not unlike Peter Dutton, in his commentary about the Queensland Government. Whether or not the Queensland Government bailout Virgin is a matter for the Queensland Government. For the state government. But it is in the interests of  all Australians that we have two airlines. It's in the interests of people in my electorate who worked for Virgin and have lost their jobs  that Virgin recovers from this and that it's up and running up and running again. So you know I give credit to the Queensland Government for at least starting the discussion at least exploring the possibility I don't think you can bash the government for doing that. But ultimately the goal should be, as Trent said, that we have two airlines and that people get to keep their jobs.

KARVELAS: Trent moving to this topic of sort of the China trade relationship that's really been very dominant this week. Last time you were on the show you labelled the comments from the Chinese ambassador as downright despicable and menacing. Do you think the beef ban and the barley tariff is a case of China acting on its initial threat?

ZIMMERMAN: Well you would like to hope not the barley issue I know has been running for 18 months so it certainly predates the current circumstances. I think that the mooted decisions in relation to the licensing of various abattoirs is poorly timed at best. But I think what's important is is that we move forward recognizing as two countries that have both benefited mutually from our trade relationship. It's not a one way street by any any measure, that both countries have benefited from that trade relationship, that we have to accept that we will from time to time have differences but those differences shouldn't define our relationship. And and Australia is not going to give up on its values and give up on its position in the global arena. But at the same time we do want and recognize the importance of that economic relationship as much as the person to person relationship would have between our two nations.

KARVELAS: Anne Aly what do you make of Andrew Leigh's suggestion that Canberra was being punished by Beijing for acting as America's regional deputy sheriff in pushing for an inquiry into the origins of coronavirus?

ALY: I think our relationship with China should be a relationship where those business interests and diplomatic interests and interests of national security aren't competing with each other. And I think it's up to the foreign minister and up to the government to develop that relationship in that nature and in that vein. I think Andrew Leigh's comments about being essentially China punishing us. I'm not quite sure I think that I wouldn't 100 per cent use that same terminology. I think our relationship with China is important but it's not a relationship that we can just walk away from and it's a relationship that we have to manage carefully. There's cultural sensitivities. There are a whole range of sensitivities but I want to know you know what is the government doing and what is the foreign minister doing to cultivate a relationship that moves forward in ways where our business interests our trading interests as well as our national security interests as well as our concerns about human rights abuses in China as well are all given an equal platform.

KARVELAS: Thank you both of you. It's been well I can't wait to find out about that phone call to the Treasurer Trent Zimmerman. I will definitely be chasing that one. Thanks so much.