ABC MELBOURNE MORNINGS
FRIDAY, 26 MARCH 2021
SUBJECT: Morrison Government’s JobKeeper waste.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI, HOST: Andrew Leigh is the Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury. Andrew Leigh, good morning. You've been hearing all the stories there, real life stories of Melburnians.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: Absolutely, Virginia. Bruce, Lindy and Hugo’s stories are just some of those from many people across Australia who are on JobKeeper right now and who face losing their jobs when the program ends. Melbourne University’s Jeff Borland says the number of job losses could be anywhere from 150,000 to 250,000. And I heard Josh Frydenberg in your program yesterday, saying that he thought the job losses would be hidden in the unemployment statistics - that you wouldn't see it because there might be some job gains somewhere else that would offset it. But that's cold comfort to people like Bruce, Lindy and Hugo, who could be facing the unemployment queue.
TRIOLI: Do you know - if we stay with that Treasury projection of 150,000 people losing their jobs when it ends, do you have any sense of how many of those might be in Victoria? Because I know, I think many more Victorians are reliant on it at the moment than any other state. Is that right?
LEIGH: That's right. And as you know, Melbourne is a quarter of the Australian population, but I think it's going to be a lot more than 37,000 Victorians who are facing a loss of jobs when JobKeeper ends. It could be anywhere upwards from 50,000 people. So that's a huge hit to Victoria, which has gone through so much over the course of the last year.
TRIOLI: Look, I think everyone agrees that it was a terrific piece of policy to get Australia through the economic hit of the pandemic and the lockdown. No one argues with that. I don't think anyone would really sensibly argue with it coming to an end at some stage. Andrew Leigh, what do you suggest is the better response? Or are you saying that it should just go on indefinitely?
LEIGH: It should have been better designed the first place, Virginia. It should have been designed a way in which so much of the money wasn't wasted on firms with rising profits. Among the listed firms, we know that a fifth of the money went to firms whose profits were going up rather than down. If that's true across the entire program, then that would mean somewhere between $10 to $20 billion wasted-
TRIOLI: I think we only have a formal figure of about 1 billion at the moment, don't we, of going to companies with rising profits?
LEIGH: Because Josh Frydenberg hasn't disclosed exactly what's going on in the rest of the program. So we only have the information from the listed companies. But I don't think there's any reason to think that's unrepresentative. $10 to $20 billion dollars is 10 to 20 ABC budgets. It’s 10 to 20 hospitals. It's enough money to easily extend JobKeeper for another six months.
TRIOLI: You can't argue, can you, that you could afford-
TRIOLI: What I wanted to ask you was, looking at it then, should the Labor Government - should we have a Labor Government right now and if you were in power, to what extent of time are you saying the budget could bear an extension of JobKeeper?
LEIGH: To answer your first question, Virginia, we definitely should have a Labor Government-
TRIOLI: That was not a question, Andrew Leigh, but go on.
LEIGH: [laughter] I'm wilfully mishearing. But what would happen, of course, if we had a more compassionate government in place is that we'd be tailoring assistance to meet the needs of those sectors. We know in the arts sector that too little of the money has been spent and the money has flowed too late for people in that industry. We know in the travel sector that travel agents are completely cut out of the package that the government's put in place around the travel industry. For regions like Cairns, which are so dependent on international tourism, the government's done nothing to make sure that those areas are supported. It's been focused instead on an overall programme, which was designed in such a way that billions of dollars flowed to those who didn't need it. And they failed to provide the transparency on JobKeeper, which is essential for the Australians who are paying the bills. It's not Liberal Party money. It's taxpayer money.
TRIOLI: Sure. But that's looking back at the situation that brought us to here, which is you know - I politically understand why you do that, but it doesn't really help the situation. Treasury itself identifies specific disincentives to keeping JobKeeper in place, that it actually is a pressure, an unnecessary pressure on the job market getting started again. Do you acknowledge that, that Treasury is right on that score?
LEIGH: JobKeeper can't continue forever, but it's certainly an appropriate program for various parts of the labour market-
TRIOLI: So tell us, so tell me for how long would you, if you were Treasurer, how long you'd be prepared to fund it? You've already looking at, what, a $134.6 billion deficit right now. So for how much longer would you be prepared to fund it?
LEIGH: The question of waste goes directly to this, Virginia. I mean, if they hadn't wasted so much money on profitable firms, then for the same cost you could extend this program for another six months. But I think you need to also look at which industries stand a good chance of bouncing back and which are being affected by structural change. So in the case of a travel agent for example, I spoke to one travel agent where over 90 per cent of his business is international travel. That should bounce back once Australians are vaccinated and international travel resumes. Again, the vaccination rollout has been handled abysmally. We're in a situation now where we’ve still got less than 1 per cent of Australians vaccinated - compared to the US which has now vaccinated 100 million, the UK which plans to have given every adult a shot by the end of July. And so that's going to slow the recovery and then place more pressure on the labour market.
TRIOLI: We'll leave it there, Andrew Leigh. It'll be a difficult day for people on Sunday and then we'll track what changes or what changes in Victorians lives from that. But thanks for joining us today.
LEIGH: Thank you, Virginia.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra