2SM MARCUS PAUL IN THE MORNING
TUESDAY, 7 SEPTEMBER 2021
SUBJECTS: The Government’s JobKeeper secrecy and waste; National Women’s Safety Summit; Prime Minister’s travel on Fathers Day
[CLIP OF JOSH FRYDENBERG ON 7.30 REPORT PLAYS]
MARCUS PAUL, HOST: Andrew Leigh is our #JobKeeperWarrior. Good morning, Andrew.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: Good morning, Marcus. We've been talking about this for a long time. It seems like everyone else is just catching up this last week, doesn't it?
PAUL: It does.
LEIGH: 7.30, Insiders, 60 Minutes.
PAUL: That must have infuriated you, that interview with Josh Frydenberg.
LEIGH: Yeah, it did. I think leadership is about being able to admit that you've made mistakes and learn from them. Good leaders say 'Well, we've we screwed up on this and here's how we're gonna do better in the future.' But if you can't admit your mistakes you're doomed to continue repeating them. What I'm really worried about with JobKeeper is that it's emblematic of the way the Morrison Government manages. So much is focused on the spin. It looks here like they spent more time trying to come up with the name for the program than coming up with a design that would ensure we stimulated the economy without funding bling for billionaires.
PAUL: Well, speaking of bling, and look, again, I'm not critical of JobKeeper itself. I think it was an amazing package, and it was obviously needed, but, like Centerlink overpayments, I think of Robodebt and all the rest of it, but like a Centerlink overpayment, you should return Australian taxpayer dollars back to the taxpayer that you didn't need. Today we learn in a story, front page of the Sydney Morning Herald, that Gucci, Bulgari, and the company behind Cartier and Mont Blanc, claimed more than $10 million combined in JobKeeper, while - here we go, this old chestnut again, Andrew - also making multi-million dollar profits.
LEIGH: It's those firms that increased their revenues that I really worry about, Marcus. As you say, many firms saw a downturn and got JobKeeper and that was exactly the way it was designed. But every time the Government's asked about the $13 billion they gave to firms with rising revenues, their defence seems to be 'well not all of the money was wasted.' No-one ever said the entire program was a debacle, but we certainly said $13 billion went out the door. With that money we could have built fibre-to-the-home National Broadband Network for every urban house in Australia. Imagine how useful that'd be right now, with half the country stuck in lockdown. Instead, we've got these bling brands raking in JobKeeper, many of whom didn't seem to need it because their earnings were rising.
PAUL: Well, roads, hospitals, other key pieces of infrastructure funded by the federal government, you know $13 billion would go a long way. $88 billion, it is the single largest economic support program ever put in place by an Australian Government. I would have thought the scrutiny and the oversight on such a public spend of money would be first and foremost on the Treasurer's mind.
LEIGH: There's been relatively little, hasn't there? The Treasurer referred to the report that his department did in the middle of last year, and that showed pretty clearly that 15 per cent of the money was going to firms with rising revenues. That ought to have set off massive alarm bells for him, but the assessment of the scheme has been pretty light on. There's been a lot of 'Nothing to see here', and the Government refusing to disclose which firms got the money. We really only know about 3 per cent of JobKeeper recipients, the listed companies, and not about the 97 per cent of unlisteds, so we're groping in the dark to try and figure out how they spend our money. I reckon we need further scrutiny. I hope the Audit Office's report which is due out in the next couple of months does a deep dive into some of these issues, because the Australian taxpayer has a right to know how our money was spent and how it was misspent.
PAUL: And we don't need to be insulted with political terms like 'stop the politics of envy'.
LEIGH: Exactly. The idea that it is somehow the politics of envy to ask a reasonable question of the Prime Minister as to why he gave billions of dollars to billionaire shareholders and millionaire CEOs at a time when Australians' real wages are falling – according to the government's budget. Many Australians are hurting right now. The economic indicators have many people feeling like we're in a recession right now, regardless of whether or not we're going to hit that technical definition of two quarters of negative growth. People are doing it very tough and people are mad when they look around and see $13 billion going off to companies that just didn't need the assistance.
PAUL: All right. Yesterday, the National Women's Safety Summit started, and - I'm sorry, I have to say it - it's sort of an act of chutzpah not seen since the day Tony Abbott appointed himself Minister for Women, but did Scott Morrison reserve the opening keynote address for himself?
LEIGH: I'm not sure that the delegates needed an hour hearing from a bloke talking about women's safety. I think this is an issue where the conversation needs to be led by women and needs to involve a lot more listening than talking. I was disappointed earlier this year when the Prime Minister didn't go out to hear Brittany Higgins and the March for Justice. He didn't even need to give a speech there. He just needed to be there as a listening ear. Sexual harassment is a huge problem for Australia, not just for the women who suffer it but for the co-workers and firms who miss out on the intellect and the talents of women who don't pursue careers because they are harassed. Getting rid of sexual harassment will make us a more equal country but also a more productive one at the same time. So I was surprised when we had a package of bills coming to Parliament this week on Kate Jenkins' Respect@Work report which didn't implement all 55 recommendations. Labor moved amendments to fully implement that report and they were rebuffed by the Government.
PAUL: Finally, we're told constantly that we are all in this together. I think there is little doubt that we are, Andrew. I was disappointed - in fact, I was infuriated - to read the Prime Minister was given special exemption to travel from the ACT into Sydney for Fathers Day on Sunday and then returned back to the ACT without enduring quarantine. Obviously, he's an essential worker. There are plenty of other people who are essential workers. You look at that, and I haven't got a problem with, to be perfectly honest. Of course the Prime Minister should be able to travel freely throughout the country, just like New South Wales parliament should be bloody well sitting right now, but it's not, because of Covid. There seems to be a lot of hypocrisy and a lot of double standards in play here. We all saw the scenes of families hugging each other over what I like to call the Orange Wall up there at Coolangatta-Tweed Heads. If I hear one more politician out of Canberra or New South Wales tell me we're all in this together, I'll throw up.
LEIGH: As a politician I think you need to recognise that sometimes you need to make some sacrifices for the job. It's a bit like the Prime Minister's refusal to come home from Hawaii when the bushfires struck. You need to make those hard decisions, recognizing that the job is going to require some significant sacrifices and people will sometimes judge you by those sacrifices. We've seen great leaders in the past making those decisions and people really respect them for that, so without going into any of the specifics of those decisions I do worry sometimes when I look at Scott Morrison, feeling as though he isn't willing to put on the line what's necessary to be a truly great leader.
PAUL: Very diplomatic, Andrew. Very diplomatic. Again, I don't have a problem. Of course the Prime Minister should be able to see his daughters on Fathers Day. Of course he should, but then again so should every other bloody Australian, and so should Australians be able to travel from northern New South Wales or elsewhere across the border for cancer treatment. I should have been able to go with my sister and my brother to put our father to rest and all the rest of it. That's the double standard and hypocrisy, and it's not just us. There's hundreds of thousands of Australians who are suffering because of these lockdowns, and we're told 'oh, we're all in this together'. We are clearly not.
LEIGH: You speak directly, Marcus, to my feelings as to what leadership involves. Leadership is really saying 'we're in this together', and if you use a battlefield analogy, it's not about sitting back sending troops off into battle, it's about being out there in the middle of the fight, experiencing whatever everybody else is experiencing, and taking on those same hazards at the same time. That's where we think true leadership is. It's being shoulder to shoulder with people, rather than being away at some safe remove.
PAUL: All right, mate. Good to have you on. Thank you very much.
LEIGH: Thank you, Marcus. Take care.
PAUL: Chat next week.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra