MONDAY, 24 AUGUST 2020
SUBJECTS: Treasury figures; JobSeeker and JobKeeper; Costume designers turning to mask making after the arts sector misses out on JobKeeper payments.
PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: Now joining me live is the Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury and Charities, Andrew Leigh. Andrew, good to see you. Thanks so much for joining us. So I just want to get your reaction to some of those new figures that have been released by Josh Frydenberg this morning, New South Wales seems to be leading the recovery – 69 per cent of people who lost their jobs a few months ago have returned in some capacity. So it's now eight and a half per cent unemployment. Are you encouraged by that?
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: It’s all about jobs right now, and that's going to be the story for the next few years. We're talking about an effective unemployment rate of 13 per cent, which is one of the highest we’ve seen in Australian history. And every time we think about an unemployment rate, we've got to think about the number of lives that are blighted by that. The families that are hurt, their sense of self confidence, the scarring for young people entering the labour market in which it's near impossible to find a job. We've got about 13 job seekers for every vacancy right now, so it's an incredibly tough labour market and every focus in policy needs to be on creating jobs.
STEFANOVIC: But there does seem to be some green shoots there, wouldn't you acknowledge?
LEIGH: I think it's not as bad as it could have been. Certainly there's countries in the world that are doing worse. And largely, I think this turns on our ability to control the virus. It's difficult to see sectors that require close in person interactions, such as hospitality, really getting going until we get the virus under control - which is where I think they sort of argy bargy over border closures, suggesting that we need to trade off health against economics is fundamentally mistaken. We know from the Spanish Flu experience, the places that get the disease under control get more economic growth as a result. You don't have this idea that it's an either or, you've got to put health first and the economic outcomes follow.
STEFANOVIC: Okay. Well on that, I mean Queensland hasn't recovered quite as well. It's unemployment rate, its effective unemployment rate stands at 11.4 per cent. Presumably a lot of that has to do with the tourism sector. Is this evidence that borders need to reopen as soon as possible?
LEIGH: That goes to the question of whether you think that there's some trade off between health and economics. Fundamentally, the evidence tells us that there's not. We've got a range of border closures. Of course, the Commonwealth is responsible for a significant international border closure, which is impacting tourism and international education, but that's the appropriate measure right now. One of the reasons Australia has a lower fatality rate from coronavirus than many countries in the world is that we've been quick to put in place those public health measures. So we need to have no one playing political games, everyone focused on listening to medical experts. Get the disease under control, get those signed agreements in place and so when a vaccine is created, Australians are able to get vaccinated and we're able to reopen.
STEFANOVIC: Victoria, Andrew, as you would know, returning to peak pandemic unemployment rates. Is this evidence in your view that when it comes to JobKeeper and when it comes to JobSeeker, that those levels shouldn't be wound back at the end of next month?
LEIGH: I think that's been true even before this pandemic hit. We've known that NewStart - now JobSeeker - simply wasn't liveable. We've known that it's important to increase it. Calls for that have come from everyone from John Howard and the Business Council to the ACTU and Labor. So we need to have a long-term solution on JobSeeker. We also need JobKeeper adapted it’s better targeted-
STEFANOVIC: So is the extension not enough?
LEIGH: On JobSeeker, I think you need a permanent increase to the level. I don’t think the level is currently liveable, and now's the time to the increasing it because all the money that's spent on JobSeeker flows straight back out to the economy - unlike tax cuts to the top end, a quarter of which tend to be saved. Payments to low income Australians flow straight back out as fiscal stimulus. JobKeeper, the wage subsidy scheme, could be better targeted. Still the government's not targeting actual wages, as many other countries have done, but they're giving a flat rate payment. That’ll be two flat rate payments after September, but still not good enough Pete. We can do a whole lot better getting the data right in order to get the policy right.
STEFANOVIC: Just onto claims from 60 minutes and The Age newspaper this morning, Andrew, which alleges some branch stacking within the Liberal Party in Victoria. So are the Libs just as bad as the Labor Party when it comes to politics in Victoria?
LEIGH: This stuff makes me so angry, as somebody who got into politics in order to serve my local community. When you see people who are getting into politics not because they want to be of service to others, but because they want something for themselves. You think about all of the great people who are crowded out. People who have been passionate for their whole lives about homelessness or that boosting business innovation, who don't get it go because of insiders who are takers for themselves. That's true when the boot is on the other foot, frankly. We've got to get more terrific community campaigners into politics, and I really hope this is a wake-up call for the Victorian Liberal Party to open up. I know people in Victoria on the other side of the political fence who would make great Members of Parliament, who wouldn't say as some of these insiders said in their interviews that they want to stay away from constituent service. Good people would see constituent service as a joy, a pleasure and an honour. It's people like that that we need to be attracting into politics.
STEFANOVIC: Alright. Andrew, did you have a mask that you wanted to show?
LEIGH: I do, yes. This is made by a Sydney costume designer, a woman by the name of Stephanie Howe who is obviously struggling for work as many designers are right now. But she's produced a great range of coronavirus masks. I’d very much encourage people to step out there and help out designers as they’re staying safe.
STEFANOVIC: Whatever you got to do to get by. It's very fancy, it looks very fancy. Why don’t you show it up just for a bit. Is that what you're going to be wearing around Parliament House?
LEIGH: Absolutely. Everyone's masked up, it’s a very different look in Parliament now, even more than the last sitting. We’re taking public health very seriously, as we need to.
STEFANOVIC: Andrew Leigh, really appreciate your time this morning. Thanks for joining us.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.