Government always picks on pensioners and gives back rubs to billionaires - Transcript, 2SM Mornings





SUBJECTS: The Government pursuing pensioners but not billionaires for JobKeeper repayments; the Government’s vaccine failures; Scott Morrison leads the most anti-university government in Australia’s history; the Government’s lack of action on climate change.

MARCUS PAUL, HOST: All right, Andrew Leigh, Federal Member for Fenner. Good morning to you, Andrew.


PAUL: All right, look, I know there's a couple of other things you want to talk about, but I don't want to say I told you so, but it's almost reminiscent of RoboDebt. You have been working extremely hard. We don't call you #JobKeeper warrior for nothing. You've tried to call back tens of millions of dollars from big business that have done well out of the pandemic. We don't criticise them for putting their hand out at first, but once they've paid handsome dividends and made a profit and all the rest of it they should give our money back, us taxpayers. Most of the money is borrowed anyway, but they haven't, and they're not being forced to by the Federal Government, by the Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, in particular. But when it comes to average income earners, people who've done the right thing, that obviously did receive JobKeeper, some of them a little bit too much, after they've done the right thing and put their tax returns in, they now have a debt and they're being chased for it - $32 million worth. Andrew, why are we chasing mums and dads and small-income, average-income earners and not big business?

LEIGH: Extraordinary double standard isn't it, Marcus? You'd think that the Government would, as its first port of call, look at those multinationals who've received JobKeeper and gotten rising earnings. Instead, they always seem to look to the little guy. The Government that developed RoboDebt, the illegal scheme that cost them a massive court settlement; the Government that wanted to put in place automatic assessments for people on the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Yet again, every time they look to raise money for the budget it's raising it from the most vulnerable rather than from the most affluent.

PAUL: I don't want to be too critical of big business. They employ a lot of people. I understand that. I think the criticism here should be labelled toward the Government. I mean, of course, if you give an option to a business operator like a Harvey Norman or someone and you say 'look, if you feel like it, Gerry, you can pay it back. If you don't, it's OK." What do you think he's gonna do? He's not gonna pay it back. I lay the blame fairly and squarely on the Federal Government on this because when questioned about it a number of times, Josh Frydenberg simply shrugged it off, and so did the Prime Minister. They called it, quote-unquote, "the politics of envy." I tell you what, Andrew, there'd be a lot of average taxpayers out there feeling pretty bloody envious, particularly those that received these debt notices.

LEIGH: It's not the politics of envy, as you know, Marcus. It's the politics of fairness, which is what the nation was built on. We are an egalitarian nation which prides ourselves on the idea of the fair go, and that's just being thrown to the wind by a government that is constantly as hard on the vulnerable as they are soft on the strong.

PAUL: 10 million doses expected to be here by the end of the year, this Moderna vaccine has been approved. That is good. Better late than never. Just a quote on that for me, please mate.

LEIGH: Marcus, I was at a scout camp with my son recently and the there was a pile of cold toast sitting by the toaster and someone said, 'I'm going to make some more toast.' So you guess what happens to the pile of cold toast? No-one wants to touch it, because they know there's some hot toast coming along.

PAUL: Absolutely.

LEIGH: I feel that's exactly what the Government's done with this announcement. At a time when they ought to be doing everything to encourage the vaccine rollout, they've instead said by Christmas there'll be more mRNA vaccine coming. I can't see how that would do anything but slow the vaccine rollout. I can't see how that's going to do anything other than prolong the lockdowns. I think this is a deeply destructive announcement made entirely for the Prime Minister's political purposes, rather than being made with an eye to the national interest.

PAUL: Well, just on vaccines, there continues to be a lot of discussion about the compulsory jab debate. Should vaccinations be made mandatory for workers? Call them vaccine passports, call them whatever you like. There are some concerns, even within the New South Wales Government. One of their MPs, Tanya Davies from Mulgoa, has gone a little rogue on this and gone against the health advice, suggesting people should have a choice, Andrew, as to whether they get vaccinated or not.

LEIGH: We already require a range of vaccines among healthcare workers. I think we'll certainly move to a stage where we're requiring COVID vaccinations for healthcare and aged care workers, as well as perhaps disabilities workers as well. You can only do that once you've got the supply on board and the botching of the supply has really been the story of this pandemic. We're running last in the developed world because Scott Morrison didn't sign enough vaccine deals. When they're patting themselves on the back for Moderna they don't say that America started using Moderna in December of last year, nine months ago. France, Germany, Italy started using it in January. Singapore was using it in March. The fact is that we are very late to getting the vaccine deals. The Government shouldn't be beating up on people who haven't taken the vaccine until it can get the supply on board.

PAUL: You made a speech yesterday: courses cut in everything from languages to engineering, campuses closing, international education in chaos, tens of thousands of job losses, the Australian National University from my old stomping ground, your area,  Canberra, has been literally decimated. There's never been, well, a worse time for our tertiary education system.

LEIGH: That's right. I've spoken to a lot of people in higher education. They're tearing their hair out at the fact that the Government wants to work against them rather than with them. In the pandemic and global downturn it's a natural time to be thinking about how we can improve people's skills so they're ready to deal with a wave of job changes and automation. Instead, we've had these cuts to universities that have seen languages programs, design programs, engineering programs, outdoor education, agriculture closing. Some universities are closing entire campuses. Across the sector we've seen at least 17,000 job losses, maybe up to 30,000 job losses. That hits hard on regional areas. It hits hard on students. And it hits hard on Australia's ability to innovate to deal with the technological challenges of the future. This is the most anti-university government in Australian history. I know John Howard was a bit of a Philistine when it came to universities, but the fact is that these guys are worse. They are cutting into universities in a way in which we will do long term generational damage: everything from killing the demand-driven system to botching the China relationship, and now the Orwellian-named ‘Job Ready Graduates’ package which is just hugely damaging to the sector.

PAUL: Before I let you go, just a quick comment on the environment report, the IPCC report. We're going to speak to the Greens' Adam Bandt about it on the program very soon, but obviously, Andrew, we have, unfortunately, a government that just doesn't want to look at the science. We're too enamoured with the fossil fuel sector at the moment to even see what's going to happen in the future. I've always said on my program, of course we're not going to toss away coal tomorrow. We're not going to stop using the resources that we have at the moment tomorrow. It needs to be a gradual transition. But with this report, and with bushfires burning across many areas in Europe and all sorts of other issues, the Government needs to get with the program, yet we continue to have in Canberra denial of the science, obfuscation, obviously, in the reporting of our commitments. We just can't agree on reaching a target because we're too attached to the teat of the fossil fuel industry.

LEIGH: Yeah, Marcus, the IPCC talks about the dangers of climate change: the floods, the hurricanes, the bushfires we've seen here in Australia. California is experiencing the Dixie Fire right now. What we've also got to remember is the opportunities of tackling climate change: those new jobs in the renewables sector, the potential for Australia to become a clean energy superpower. This doesn't need to be painful. We can act quickly and get the benefits that will come from being a fast mover on climate change, but when we've got a government that's in thrall to the tinfoil hat brigade, that's had some 20 different energy policies, that aren't able to convince their recalcitrant backbench, then that's holding Australia back from a future which is not only less prone to extreme weather events, but one in which we're also more affluent, more egalitarian, in which we're grabbing with both hands those great clean-tech opportunities that will set us up for the future.

PAUL: Good to have you on, Andrew. We'll chat again next week. Appreciate it.

LEIGH: Thank you, Marcus. Take care.


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.