PM playing 'whack a premier' to distract voters - Transcript, 2CC Canberra Breakfast


SUBJECTS: JobKeeper and JobSeeker; foreign affairs and Australia’s national interest; China; Scott Morrison playing ‘whack a premier’ to pass the buck on aged care; charities facing perfect storm of falling donations and increased demand.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO, HOST: Joining us, as they will. on a Tuesday is our political panel. The Labor Member for Fenner and Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury and Charities Andrew Leigh joins us for the first time. G’day, Andrew.


CENATIEMPO: And Zed Seselja, the ACT Liberal Senator and Assistant Minister for Finance, Charities and Electoral Matters. You guys are actually head to head in more than one way today.

ZED SESELJA, LIBERAL SENATOR: Good morning, Stephen. Morning. Andrew. How are you?

LEIGH: Wonderfully well. Yes, it's a nice coincidence to have two people concerned about charities from the ACT, isn’t it Stephen?

CENATIEMPO: Absolutely. Now before I get on to - let's talk important stuff before we talk politics. Andrew, where do you get the best pie in the ACT?

LEIGH: Mate, I'm a runner so I'm absolutely hopeless on pies. I can tell you where to get the best burger, which is Young and Frisky, right next to my office in Gungahlin. But it's been a long while since I went out and bought a pie, I’m afraid mate.

CENATIEMPO: Righto, we’ll take the best burgers. Zed, where do you reckon the best pie is?

SESELJA: Unlike Andrew, I'm nowhere near as fit so I do know the odd pie shop. So the Cakery Bakery in Erindale I'm going to say, it’s fantastic. Great team.

CENATIEMPO: Fantastic. Now following on from my editorial just them, the legislation to extend JobKeeper and JobSeeker will come before the Senate this week. I think everybody accepts that we need to take this thing a little bit further, because we're not through the woods yet. But there's got to be a timeframe to get the economy back on some sort of level peg. I mean, we can't keep these things going forever. Andrew, I’ll let you go first.

LEIGH: Thanks, Stephen. I think the challenge is that we're seeing a much more prolonged shutdown than we had expected when the Government announced these measures on the 30th of March. The Prime Minister then was saying that we would get a snap back and that things would be back to normal by now. We're very far from that. So we think that the right rate should reflect the economic circumstances at the time. We think that the rate of JobSeeker, what used to be known as NewStart, is too low. And in saying that, we're expressing the view not just of Labor and a whole lot of social services groups, but also of the Business Council of Australia and John Howard. People need to know what the long term rate of JobSeeker is going to be, and that's money that's good for the economy. It flows straight back out, because people who are looking for work are spending every cent they get. Whereas if you're giving tax cuts, then about a quarter of that is going to get saved. So JobSeeker is good fiscal stimulus, and raising the rate would make a lot of sense right now.

CENATIEMPO: Zed, I think that's a fair comment. I mean, going back to the pre pandemic rate is probably not viable, but it's probably too high where it is at the moment.

SESELJA: Well, look, obviously what we're doing at the moment is, is we have had it doubled. So we've had obviously JobKeeper, which has been an absolute lifesaver for businesses, for charities, for all sorts of organisations. And then obviously, the rate of JobSeeker has been significantly supplemented - the $550 a fortnight on top of the usual rate and that’s now going to scale down to a $250 supplement. So we do need to start to scale these things down. That was always going to be the case. This has been unprecedented levels of support, as it should be, but it's been an extraordinary fiscal response from the Australian Government. What we are seeing, particularly in those states outside of Victoria, is we are seeing the effective rate of unemployment coming down as economies open up. We want to continue to work with the states and territories to continue that process, but obviously Victoria has faced some very particular challenges and some particular failures from their government. But regardless of that, we're going to work towards making sure we get on a sustainable footing, get the economy going, because in the end, we all have to pay this back at some point. People say ‘well, yes, the cost of money is cheap at the moment’. That is true. But you still have to pay the debt down at some point, and there's going to be a significant amount of debt as a result of this crisis we’re all going through together.

CENATIEMPO: I want to talk about this federal government move to have veto power over state and other entity agreements with foreign entities. Andrew, surely you agree that the federal government's got to be the last line of defence when it comes to foreign affairs?

LEIGH: The federal government clearly takes care of foreign affairs, and I think setting those guidelines makes a lot of sense. It's got to be said, when the Victorian MOU was signed it was welcomed by Marise Payne and Simon Birmingham. So this is a change of tack from the federal government. The Port of Darwin acquisition was made under the Coalition. So they're shifting quite substantially on this. Now in some sense that’s a response to changing global circumstances. China is behaving differently now than it did even a few years ago, being much more assertive in world affairs. But I think it's important that we take a national interest approach, and I get worried when the Prime Minister decides to play ‘whack a premier’ to distract from his own problems.

CENATIEMPO: But surely you’ve got to agree that the state premiers, whether they be Labor or Liberal at the moment, are being a little bit recalcitrant?

LEIGH: No, I don't. I think the state premiers are making decisions based on health standards, and I would support Liberal premiers such as in in Tasmania and New South Wales who are making decisions on borders based on medical advice. I’d support Daniel Andrews, who is making his decisions based on medical advice. I think if Scott Morrison is serious about a national cabinet approach, then white-anting state premiers, looking to pass the back for something like aged care which is squarely a Commonwealth responsibility, isn't in the national interest.


SESELJA: Surely as a Canberra resident, you can't with a straight face say that Annastacia Palaszczuk has stopped Canberrans from coming to Queensland based on medical advice when we have zero cases. I mean, that that's a political decision, Andrew, surely you must see that. I mean, you're, you're not defending that decision. That's not a medical decision. That's a political decision.

LEIGH: I think the decisions they're making, Zed, are based on medical advice, and they're trying to work out practical ways through it. I certainly understand the frustration, and there I deal with a whole lot of people through my electorate office. I spoke to somebody the other day who needed to go up to Queensland for a commemoration for a family member who had passed away a year earlier. Queensland has an exception for people to attend funerals, but not for somebody to attend a memorial service. So we worked with the Queensland Government, and were able to ensure that that constituent was able to get up there and spend time with her family in Queensland, as was appropriate. These things are enormously frustrating. I certainly understand that, and we've worked with a lot of constituents, whether it's getting people back overseas or getting through borders, working with constituents to try to sort things out to get back from Wodonga to Canberra. But we all need to be practical and focused on the national interest, and the blame of premiers just isn't in the national interest right now.

CENATIEMPO: Yeah, I’ve got to-

SESELJA: Canberrans are not a risk to Queensland. I mean, we're not. Let’s get fair dinkum.

CENATIEMPO: I'm going disagree with you there too, Andrew. Zed, I just want to say to you though on this veto power, is this shutting the gate after the horse has bolted? I mean, not only we had the Port of Darwin and the Port of Newcastle, the Belt and Road MOU, and then an MOU between the New South Wales Government and the Government of Luxembourg over space exploration. I mean, this is getting ridiculous.

SESELJA: I mean, look, there's no doubt that this has been going on for a long time, well before our time in government, and it's obviously been an emerging issue. And so, you respond to challenges over time. You know, no legislative regime is perfect and what we've been responding to is a series of challenges. But what we're laying down is a principle that says we determine Australia's foreign policy. Australian sovereignty is something we take very, very seriously and therefore, having a regime where the national government protects those things, I think is a very good step forward.

CENATIEMPO: We could go on all day, guys, and I'd love to but unfortunately we're running short of time. So I just want to ask you both with regards to the charities portfolio. Andrew, International Charities Day on Saturday, how are charities coping during this pandemic in your view?

LEIGH: They’re having an incredibly tough time, Stephen. Two thirds of volunteers have had to step back from volunteering, donations are down 7 per cent this year, probably 12 per cent next year, and there’s been a huge spike in demand. In the initial coronavirus response package, there was nothing for charities. There was very little in the second package. That's why we pushed hard for charities to be included, and also to have a lower drop in turnover threshold to access JobKeeper. But I think there's still a lot more that needs to be done. One report reasonably suggests that it's possible that one-fifth of charities will hit the wall, and this is a sector that employs a one-tenth of Australians. So it's a really big sector, and making it a priority both in economic terms and in social terms is something we've all got to be doing right now. If you've got a bit of spare dosh, now's the time to be donating to a charity. And I think recognising the role that charities play, celebrating charities is absolutely critical right now.

CENATIEMPO: Zed, 30 seconds to finish off.

SESELJA: Yeah, look, they are doing it tough and that's why I think JobKeeper’s been so critical. There's about 320,000 charitable employees who are on JobKeeper. It's been a huge support for the system, we've given them a discounted turnover test of 15 per cent. So yes, they continue to do it tough. I support Andrew’s call, if people can make a donation to do so, but we're going to continue to support them as we have been through the crisis.

CENATIEMPO: Andrew Leigh and Zed Seselja, thanks for your time this morning.


Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.