2SM MARCUS PAUL IN THE MORNING
TUESDAY, 11 MAY 2021
SUBJECTS: Three tests for the Budget; Government’s failures on quarantine, vaccines, aged care, housing and ambition.
MARCUS PAUL, HOST: Look, it's a cash cow of a budget, and the jackpot will be in the billions of dollars. Certainly, austerity is dead, buried and cremated. Let's have a chat about it with Andrew Leigh MP. G'day, Andrew. How are you, mate?
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: Terrific, Marcus. How are you?
PAUL: Yeah, not bad. Now, you say the budget must meet three tests. What are they, first of all?
LEIGH: Well, first of all, I think it needs to fix the problems in our vaccine rollout and quarantine schemes. We know that's been bungled and we know it's key to opening up the economy. We were promised to be at the front of the queue but we're way down the back, and without vaccinating Australia things don't come back to normal. Secondly, I think it's got to meet the test of fairness. We've got a childcare package announced which helps some families, but only a quarter as many as the package that Anthony Albanese announced last year in his budget reply. Fairness has to involve actually doing things. Last year's budget centrepiece, the JobMaker program, promised to help 450,000 people and ended up falling 449,000 short of that target.
PAUL: Yes, 609 people were effectively helped by this. [laughter]
LEIGH: Pretty extraordinary isn't it, Marcus? They didn't even get to one per cent of what they promised. Thirdly, I reckon you've got to show a sense of ambition. You look at what the governments of 1945 did. They didn't say at the end of the war 'Let's go back to 1939.' They said 'Let's do a whole lot better. Australia can have a higher homeownership rate. Australia can have a lower unemployment rate.' I worry that Josh Frydenberg is setting his ceiling as 2019. If only he can get back to 2019 he reckons that'd be great. For most Australians, the pre-pandemic economy wasn't delivering. It wasn't delivering in household incomes, wasn't delivering in wages, wasn't delivering in home ownership.
PAUL: Well, let's go back to your first point, fix the problems in our vaccine rollout and quarantine schemes. Well, the vaccine rollouts are getting better daily. In New South Wales, for instance, with this mass vaccination hub opened in Western Sydney. I mean, that's a good start, certainly here in this state, but my issue is more really around quarantine. There've been some murmurings, perhaps. that we're going to set up a quarantine situation in outback Australia, up in the Northern Territory, et cetera. This has come 12-15 months too late, in my opinion, Andrew.
LEIGH: Absolutely, Marcus. You look at the way in which we used to do quarantine. You've got stations like North Head and Point Nepean which were purpose-built in order to make sure that disease didn't spread through the community in an era before we were able to treat and vaccinate for a lot of diseases. We need to look at those sorts of facilities. The Government should have been doing this 15 months ago when the pandemic first struck. We also know that we've got to be doing better on vaccination. I agree with you there's been some positive steps in recent days, but if you want to know what under-promising and over-delivering looks like have a look at Joe Biden, who said that he'd get 100 million Americans vaccinated in his first 100 days, and is now looking like he’s going to get 200 million Americans vaccinated in first 100 days.
PAUL: How can they, in America, how can they get this so right, and yet we've got it so wrong?
LEIGH: Well, they're producing them, and we put all our eggs into a small number of baskets. The University of Queensland vaccine didn't pan out. The AstraZeneca vaccine, the only one we produce domestically, has had these challenges of blood clots. We don't have mRNA production facilities. That's what we should have been doing, as well as signing more vaccine deals. We had few vaccine deals with the global manufacturers and we weren't looking at ramping up Australia's production facility, which is really what we ought to be doing now.
PAUL: Look, also, as we know, border closures are a major issue here. I mean, the budget assumes the border will open in 2022, but Finance Minister Simon Birmingham has conceded that that probably doesn't mean it will do so on 1 January, so a lot of it is speculative.
LEIGH: It's really chaotic, isn't it? A year ago, Scott Morrison was talking about opening up the borders within months. Now he's talking about the border being shut indefinitely. Yesterday Josh Frydenberg said that borders will open next year. Now, if the Government can't work out a consistent line with itself, how can it have that difficult conversation with the Australian people about the level of COVID that we're willing to tolerate? That is going to be a hard conversation to have with the Australian people. We've had lower COVID rates than most of the rest of the world, and reopening is invariably going to bring in some COVID even with vaccination and quarantine. So, the Government needs to work out how it feels about what its timeline is on opening up the borders, and then begin that complex conversation. Business is crying out for certainty on this, particularly in areas like international tourism and higher education.
PAUL: Now, one of the, I guess, centrepieces of the budget needs to be an aged care package. Some are suggesting, yesterday, it was $10 billion. Today, we're reading $18 billion, in response to the Royal Commission's recommendations by offering more in-home care plans and greater investment in residential care. My concern here is all this money, this, you know, this billions and billions of dollars being thrown into the care sector, will go to waste unless it's followed up with policy changes. In other words, the aged care operators will just get richer, staff won't receive any pay rises that they're so desperately needing, and we'll just go back to ground zero. In other words, there needs to be major policy shifts in the way we regulate the aged care sector rather than just throwing an $18 billion very expensive band aid over it.
LEIGH: You're totally right, Marcus. The system is in crisis. We've had 22 reports under this Government pointing to problems. One of them just had the title 'Neglect'. We've got two-thirds of aged care residents malnourished or at risk of malnutrition, residents suffering maggots in their wounds, and a report that says that you needed more than $10 billion to do something in the sector. I agree with you about the importance of getting reform. These used to be called ‘nursing homes’, but they changed to ‘aged care homes’ because many took the nurses out. You need nurses in these homes in order to make sure that residents are getting the proper medical care that they deserve, and that involves looking at the workforce at the same time as ensuring that the funds are there overall.
PAUL: All right, now, let's have a look at your second test being that the budget must meet some kind of fairness. In other words, does the childcare package even help enough families? And the housing measures, will they reduce homelessness? I mean, obviously, I mentioned yesterday, is it any wonder that the Master Builders Association of Australia are chomping at the bit over the investment in properties. That's fine, but where's the spend, Andrew, on social housing? It's all very well to build these homes that are, you know, in Sydney and other major centres are going to be worth over $1 million each, give or take, with the ridiculously over-inflated prices of property, but how do first home buyers, young people, get into the market? And, of course, this two percent rate for a deposit for those who perhaps are a little less off financially, single mums, single-parent families, all the rest of it, surely that's almost a debt trap situation given property prices, Andrew?
LEIGH: Absolutely, Marcus. For young couples that don't have the support of the bank of mum and dad this is a really tough market to be breaking into. We've got a Housing Minister that doesn't mention the word homelessness and won't meet with peak homelessness bodies. We've got underinvestment in social housing, which we know is crucial for people who are vulnerable, and we've got the Government touting announcements for single-parent families that will help only a tiny, tiny fraction of single-parent families break into the housing market. We've got to break that gap between announcement and delivery. This Government is terrific at announcing things. It's terrible at actually delivering.
PAUL: Yeah, I mean, again, I go back to social housing. Why will this Government not invest in social housing? In other words, OK, take the word social out of it - affordable housing. It's like they're happy for the market just to continue on its merry way of being completely overinflated. The property prices are extremely hot. We know that. I mean, you can't get a property in Sydney 25 kilometres within the CBD radius for anywhere under a million bucks. I mean, that's outrageous.
LEIGH: It's really tough, and rather than subsidising people who already have a lot of resources to do a renovation, the Government ought to be putting its focus on social housing, making sure that people are able to move from homelessness or unstable housing into having a home of their own. We’ve seen this complete collapse in home ownership rates, particularly among young people, especially among lower-income young people who are just unable to find a job that will pay a mortgage.
PAUL: Alright mate, you also say, of course, the budget must show the same sense of ambition and the character as our leaders at the end of the Second World War. I mean, I guess, in a way, as we slowly, eventually, hopefully come out of this pandemic, it's akin, if you like it, economically, to the damage a war causes. I mean, I would like to see a little bit more ambition as well.
LEIGH: Yes. The nation deserves a bold budget, not a flaccid financial statement. You look at Donald Horne's comment in The Lucky Country about Australia being run by second-rate people who share its luck. I'm just worried that this is a second-rate government Marcus, a government which is less ambitious than the people of Australia deserve. We ought to a country which is doing more innovation, which has more jobs paying good wages, which is raising its aspiration for education rather than waging a war on the universities, and which is including all people, including Indigenous Australians and the most vulnerable. We've got the capacity to do that. It's an exciting national project, but I don't get any of that sense of vision, excitement and possibility out of the Morrison Government.
PAUL: All right, good to have you on, Andrew. I appreciate it.
LEIGH: Thanks to you, Marcus. Terrific to chat.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra