WEDNESDAY, 8 APRIL 2020
SUBJECTS: Charities unable to access JobKeeper payments; coronavirus restrictions and the economy.
ALAN JONES, HOST: Andrew Leigh is a very highly credentialed Labor member of the Federal Parliament for the ACT seat of Fenner. He happens to be the Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury. He's most probably smarter than the people who've got the big gig, but that's another story. He's also though the Shadow Assistant Minister for Charities, and the in Parliament sitting today. He's written to me expressing some concern about this JobKeeper legislation bill to be introduced into Parliament. I might add that Andrew Leigh is a James Ruse old boy, so he comes from his fairly smart intellectual stable. Labor and the Government are on the one side, Labor will support the bill. Now this fellow is not oppositional, Andrew Leigh. He's capable of evaluating things on merit. He has written to me to say that even though the Government made a minor tweak to the JobKeeper bill, allowing charities to claim if they had a revenue drop of 15 per cent rather than 30 per cent they'd qualify, Andrew Leigh is saying that major charities including Anglicare, UnitingCare and Oxfam have said that the solution won't work. I just thought we'd have a word with him. This is really important, because I know that there is a bit of disillusionment – and I was going to raise this with Andrew - a bit of disillusionment about charities because people gave generously in drought and bushfires and no one knows where that money has gone. But nonetheless, in this environment which is very, very difficult, charitable work - there is tremendous demands on these charities. Andrew, good morning to you.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: Good morning, Alan. Great to be on with you.
JONES: Thank you. Can I just preface things by saying that point, that charities are a little bit on the nose with the public because they feel that hundreds of thousands of dollars were given somewhere for drought and bushfire relief and no one seems to know where it is. Is that something that is often raised with you?
LEIGH: Certainly from time to time. I think it's absolutely critical that charities account to their members properly for every dollar they spend. They've got a public trust to spend given the money wisely, but I think in bushfire relief it was charities we turned to-
JONES: If we had a poll here now, Andrew, and I know you’re Canberra, but if we had a poll here now, people would say ‘I’ve have seen no money’. Drought people have seen no money. Now we're not blaming the charities, but where the hell is the money? That's not what we're here to talk about, but I'll just leave that with you because something is seriously wrong. There are people who are victims of the bushfires and farmers victims of drought and they haven't seen any dough. Now you're saying that some of these charities are still supporting bushfire victims, but now they're being called upon to assist older families with getting meals and within weeks there'll be a massive need for them to step up and assist with the huge demand for hospital beds. Now donations have fallen off the cliff, as they have for everybody. What is the issue that you're alluding to?
LEIGH: The problem for many of these charities is they simply won't be able to get assistance from the Government's JobKeeper package, and that'll mean that at a time when we're calling on charities-
JONES: Why is that?
LEIGH: Because they have a range of lines of business. Some of them have fallen off the cliff, others have managed to sustain because they've got for example a tied grant to do bushfire relief work. But their donations, their early childhood revenue has cratered and that means you've got charities that are doing domestic violence work, suicide prevention, dealing with the homeless, who we need now more than ever. Charities are to our community what banks are to our financial sector - absolutely critical at a time when we're under stress.
JONES: So you've raised this, I presume, with the Government?
LEIGH: I have indeed, yes. We’re yet to find a fix. I certainly welcome their change to move the threshold to 15 per cent for charities, but you've got Fred Hollows Foundation, the Samaritans, even the Australian Association of Medical Research Institutes saying that they don't think they'll be able to access the JobKeeper package. That means they'll be shedding charities workers.
JONES: So why is that, Andrew? I mean, you've secured the tweak. They've got a revenue drop of 15 per cent rather than 30 per cent. What should that be?
LEIGH: Charities want a different approach to their tied grants. They don't think that if they get a grant from the Government to work on bushfire relief or indeed to deal with the coronavirus crisis that that ought to disadvantage them when it comes to getting the JobKeeper package.
JONES: No, it shouldn't. It shouldn’t. But how does it?
LEIGH: Well, it does because it's revenue and they're looking at revenue right across the board. I think it's really critical that we can sustain as many jobs as possible.
JONES: I mean, that ought to be excised from that, surely. I agree with you, it should be excised. I mean, you're concerned here about $1500 for charities?
LEIGH: That's right. And you know what's important about that, Alan, is that it allows people to keep a connection with their employer. Labor is the party of work. Just like it says on the tin, we are the Labor Party. So when Parliament met 16 days ago, we said that the package wasn't good enough because it didn't ensure that people were kept in jobs. One private sector forecaster said that unemployment would have gone to 17 per cent without this package. They are now forecasting 9 per cent. So it's really important that we have a whole lot of workers right across the economy maintaining a connection with their employer. Work isn’t just a way of getting a pay packet. It's a form of dignity, and if we can sustain employment through the crisis we’ll come out so much better on the other side.
JONES: Yes. All of that - I'm not criticizing you - all of that in theory is correct. It's the practicality that we've got to address. How many people are there from your understanding of things working in charities?
LEIGH: There's 800,000 directly and another 500,000 indirectly. So we're talking about a workforce of something around a million people.
JONES: So that’s 8 per cent of GDP.
LEIGH: Yes, who are doing absolutely vital work for the community right now.
JONES: Ok. Now just so we’re clear - let me get it clear here, because I'll be speaking to some of these people too. I think you're onto something here. What are you saying in layman's language should happen?
LEIGH: Well what charities are asking for their grant income to be excluded from the revenue calculations. So when you ask how much has your revenue dropped, they're saying you shouldn't be take into account the fact that we've just given them a grant to do important work in the community, that that ought to be put off to one side and if they've had a massive drop in their childcare revenue then they should be able-
JONES: And would that solve the problems you're raising?
LEIGH: Look, I think it would go a long way.
JONES: It’s a very simple point, very simple point. So the grants. Yeah, if they're given a grant for bushfire or drought relief or whatever, that shouldn't be regarded as income for the purpose of the JobKeeper Program.
LEIGH: Yes, that's right. And that would allow them to keep on doing their work on homelessness, for example. You know, if we're asking people to self-isolate, we need charities to step up and assist those who are homeless to find a place where they can be where they don't infect themselves and others. And for other charities like Meals on Wheels-
JONES: I've got that point. Just before we go, because you're a very well credentialed in this area, Scott Morrison's talking about crossing the bridge. How long will it take us to get to the other side where things could be cranked up again as you see it?
LEIGH: There is fundamental uncertainty about this. So, what you want is a set of policies that can be pretty dexterous and respond to circumstances. The Prime Minister was wrong to say at the beginning of the year that we didn't need to shut down, and he was wrong recently to say that we had to shut down for six months. We've just got to be able to be flexible, to watch those case numbers as they're coming through, and to think about a gradual reopening which will first reopen on those things which are most economically costly and have at least impact on protecting health, and then probably at the end things that have less impact on the economy and more impact on health.
LEIGH: So older Australians might be self-isolating for longer, when we've got essential office workers - we want to get them back a little earlier.
JONES: Yeah, that’s a very good point. I said right from the get-go, concentrate on those who are the most vulnerable. Throw all our resources there, and then make sure that we don't put the economy into a coma. Good to talk to you. I'll raise these issues with Christian Porter this morning, Andrew, and I'll be back in touch with you.
LEIGH: Thank you, Alan.
JONES: You’re most welcome. Andrew Leigh, the Federal Member for the seat of Fenner in the ACT.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.