2SM WITH MARCUS PAUL IN THE MORNING
TUESDAY, 2 FEBRUARY 2021
SUBJECTS: Companies using JobKeeper to pay out executive bonuses; Companies repaying JobKeeper payments after reporting huge profits; Vaccination program; Industrial relations reform; Federal election; Treasurer not focussing enough on struggling sectors of the economy.
MARCUS PAUL, HOST: JobKeeper – or BonusKeeper, I think BonusKeeper is what my next guest has dubbed it as and he's done some magnificent work. Although the Prime Minister yesterday I see basically turned around and said that he's playing politics with this issue or certainly the federal opposition is. Dr Andrew Leigh is a regular on the program each and every Tuesday. Good morning, Andrew. How are you, mate?
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: Good morning, Marcus. Fighting fit. How are you?
PAUL: Yeah, good. Thank you. And you'll need to be because apparently, according to the Prime Minister who's dismissed your concerns, you're simply playing the politics of envy, quote unquote.
LEIGH: Nothing like having clichés thrown at you by a former ad man, is there Marcus? But the fact is that the Prime Minister designed RoboDebt to harass people on welfare. Then when people ask reasonable questions about why JobKeeper is going to millionaire CEOs or billionaire shareholders, he dismisses them with the oldest cliché in the book. Now the fact is, this is about fairness and decency. It's about making sure that taxpayer dollars are spent where they need to go at a time when we're facing a recession and a pandemic.
PAUL: Stronger, safer, together were the catchphrases yesterday at the marketing spiel and spin at the National Press Club by the Prime Minister. I mean, I'm surprised people managed to actually keep their lunch down yesterday in Canberra upon hearing this, considering he's come up with this so called dismissive tone of politics of envy. I mean, again, it would appear that obviously, it's you know one rule for big business and one rule for the rest of Australia. We know how many people were affected by it - well, I don't know the exact figure, but Robodebt as you quite rightly bring up where Australians were illegally chased for debts they didn't even owe and yet the government doesn't seem to want to clamp down on big business, who obviously are still doing quite well despite the pandemic - paying big bonuses, etc, but not repaying Australian taxpayers the JobKeeper payments have been propped up with.
LEIGH: That’s right, Marcus. And of course, it's just the latest litany in extensive scandals that have come out of the government. We've had sports rorts, we've had the Leppington Triangle, we've had JobKeeper cheques going out to people who’d died. There's been huge waste and mismanagement under the government, and that's extended right through to the vaccine rollout program. Right now around the world, there are about 4 million people a day being vaccinated. And yet Australia isn’t at the front of the queue, as Scott Morrison claims. We are yet to start. This bloke is all gab, no jab. The fact is, we need vaccinations going in the country, not an ad man spin about how maybe one day in the future we'll get there.
PAUL: I don’t know, mate. You might get a job at a PR company with that one. What was it - all gab and no jab?
LEIGH: Well, it's not much good inventing a vaccine if you're not putting into peoples’ arms, Marcus. This isn't just health policy. This is economic policy. The economy can't reopen until the place is vaccinated. If you look to Israel right now, they’ve got half the population already vaccinated. You look to Britain and the United States, you got about a tenth of the population vaccinated. Other countries are moving very fast in this vaccine rollout, and we're moving very slowly. Now thankfully, the pandemic hasn't been as severe here as it has been in other places. But until a vaccine is deployed in Australia, we don't get the tourism sector back. We don't get the hospitality sector back. All those in-person services rely on a rapid vaccine rollout, and we've got one of the slowest vaccine rollouts in the advanced world.
PAUL: Just a question without notice, Andrew. I know you're pretty good at answering these. There's been a little bit of a furore over a commercial which has been dubbed as violent – a violent union ad attacking the federal government's industrial relations reforms has been slammed as a, quote unquote, new low in Australian politics by Attorney General Christian Porter. Mr Porter said the ad, which depicts a bus about to hit a group of workers, was insensitive and disgusting. But the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining, Energy Union – CFMMEU - and the Electrical Trade Union have declared it will not be taken down. Do you have a view on this?
LEIGH: Marcus, I haven’t seen the ad. But the fact is, the government wants everything to be about the ad campaign. What they don't want people to be talking about is the fact that they are introducing a bill which will cut workers’ pay and conditions. They don't want to be talking about the fact that their own measures are going to ensure that people are earning less. Before the pandemic, we already had incredibly slow wage growth. We were already seeing families really struggling to make ends meet as a result of the fact that their pay packets to basically stopped growing. So the government would love to have any distractions from that, and I think that's exactly what they're doing with this campaign.
PAUL: Alright. Albo yesterday responded to the Prime Minister's five point plan for 2021 and he seems to have upped this rhetoric. Are you thinking we might go to the polls this year? Do you think ScoMo may trigger an early election? I know I've got a guest coming on later who's warning him against it in Pauline Hanson. I mean, she's an independent, from One Nation. Basically she’s saying the Prime Minister might be in trouble. We know that it's 50-50 at the moment.
LEIGH: It would be the coward’s way out. The fact is governments should serve their full term. They should go to the Australian people and spend three years implementing their agenda. Anytime he wants to go to the polls, we're ready to go. But if you look around the world, a three-year election term is pretty short - shorter than we've got in all the states and territories right now. And if you cut that down even shorter and you go in two years, then that's more expensive for the Australian people. Governments ought to serve their term – I’m a bit of a constitutional traditionalist on that, even though of course I would love to have the opportunity to be fixing up some of the messes that the government's making in the moment.
PAUL: Yeah, you’d make a half decent Treasurer, I think Andrew. Absolutely.
LEIGH: Jim Chalmers is doing a fantastic job as our Shadow Treasurer and I'm working hard to make sure that we can take the ‘shadow’ out from in front of his name.
PAUL: Alright. Well, you and Jim together I think would do a great job. I mean, Josh Frydenberg - again, he's like a deer in the headlights. Why on earth is he buying into this Google stoush with some of the major media companies? It concerns me, Andrew, it really does. I would have thought Josh’s main concern would, should be the economy. Why is he speaking to Facebook? Why is he taking meetings with, you know, allegedly with Google executives? Why is he getting in the way of this? I don't quite understand. Shouldn't that be the job of the Communications Minister, if anybody?
LEIGH: It is a bit strange that he's got time to be engaging in this when we've got the economy really struggling along. There's some sectors that are doing well, but if you look at tourism in North Queensland, it really doing it tough. You look at the university sector, there's firings left, right and centre at a time when we ought to be encouraging more people back to the learning. And if you look at the arts sector, it's really on its knees right now. So I'd love it if there was more attention coming from the Treasurer to the struggling bits of the economy. As we've talked about Marcus, billionaires are doing very well - their wealth is up 50 per cent over the last year – battlers not so well.
PAUL: Alright. Always good to have you on the program, Andrew. We'll talk next week. Appreciate it.
LEIGH: Thanks, Marcus. Look forward to it.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.