2SM MARCUS PAUL IN THE MORNING
TUESDAY, 3 AUGUST 2021
SUBJECTS: Labor’s $300 vaccine incentive policy; Government’s vaccine failings; JobKeeper waste and other rorts.
MARCUS PAUL, HOST: Andrew Leigh, good morning, mate. How are you?
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: Good morning Marcus. Terrific to be with you.
PAUL: I'm sorry - the boss called in. He stole your thunder about these $300 payments.
LEIGH: I think it's fantastic that he's a regular on your show, Marcus, and I'm as proud as he is at Labor taking the lead again on policy. We've got to be positive during a pandemic. It's up to Oppositions to not just criticise when necessary but also to put forward constructive solutions. Just as Labor's been urging for an advertising campaign for vaccines, domestic mRNA manufacturing, purpose-built quarantine and a faster vaccine rollout, now we also think that vaccine payments make a difference. Others have urged lotteries, but the evidence that I've seen suggests that cash payments work better. We need to overcome vaccine hesitancy. About 12 per cent of Australians still say that they won't get vaccinated. That's down a little since May, but it's important that we increase those vaccination rates.
PAUL: Those callers, there, let's deal with them one by one. The fellow who said that there's been some concerns about AstraZeneca - some of the messaging has been mixed, let's be honest. I'm fully vaxxed. No problem. I got Pfizer. Why is there still that hesitancy out there?
LEIGH: The Grattan Institute identified a number of different concerns. Certainly, safety is one. There's some general concerns about vaccines people have. Also, some people just say they haven't gotten around to it: busy lives. It's important that we push on all different fronts, that we make getting vaccinated as easy as possible, using stadiums for vaccinations as well as GPs, bringing pharmacists in. The Government's been quite slow on those sorts of alternative approaches. Text message nudges, transport vouchers, workplaces encouraging people to get vaccinated: there's a range of different things we ought to be doing in order to get off the bottom of the medal tally when it comes to vaccinations. We're doing fabulously well in the Tokyo Olympics, but in the Vaccination Olympics we're doing a lousy job. The targets are still a long way off. The Grattan Institute say 80 per cent of the entire population. The Government says 70-80 per cent of adults, which is 50-60 per cent of the entire population, so the Government's got lower targets than the Grattan Institute. It'd be good if they'd released that Doherty Institute modelling just to be really clear as to why they think that's right.
PAUL: All right, a really good story that I caught up with from Michael Roddan. “God Defend New Zealand, the little island nation whose gold standard implementation of its COVID-19 wage subsidy program helps reveal the stunning inadequacies in the Australian government’s JobKeeper program. As business calls grow louder for the return of JobKeeper ahead of the military parade soon to be unleashed in Sydney’s western suburbs to enforce compliance with pandemic restrictions, a quick look at the New Zealand Ministry of Social Development’s website provides an insight into why Canberra is so reluctant to revive its $90 billion JobKeeper program. As business calls grow louder for the return of JobKeeper ahead of the military parade” - which it's, well, it's already happening now around Western Sydney – “a quick look at the New Zealand Ministry of Social Development’s website provides an insight into why Canberra is so reluctant to revive its $90 billion JobKeeper program. Now we know that essentially the money is there, back at the old JobKeeper rates of $750 per week, but there's still a hell of a lot of money that really should be clawed back. We talk about being responsible fiscally, and Albo and Labor have come up with $300 incentives to get people a jab, and people are gonna run out today and certainly there'll be briefings as we've heard already this morning from the Federal Government, you know, 'Labor, they love wasting money', but if we clawed back some of this money it would help pay for all this.
LEIGH: Biggest discretionary program in Australian history and the biggest waste of taxpayer money in Australian history, Marcus. JobKeeper saved jobs, but it also saw an awful lot of money go where it wasn't needed: to the men's-only clubs, to firms that were increasing their profits, to private schools such as The Kings School, to hedge funds and investment banks. Those firms ought to be paying it back, but the Government needs more transparency as to how this happened in the first place. We now know that in July of last year the Government's own research was showing that 15 per cent of the money was going to firms whose earnings were rising rather than falling, and yet they did nothing to stop the waste. I've been out there publicly calling for them to release the data that would allow us an independent analysis of the JobKeeper program, but also it's absolutely vital that the Government comes clean itself with who's been getting JobKeeper. The New Zealand example is a really good one, and maybe if we're rolling more payments out the door to businesses in New South Wales, then at least for the large businesses we ought have a bit of a public register.
PAUL: Well, there's no public register, and as we know, the Federal Government from the Treasurer down, say 'there's no incumbency on these companies that did quite well' - and are still doing quite well, mind you - 'during the pandemic to repay any of this money', and that is frustrating.
LEIGH: From a government that set up the RoboDebt scheme and was trying to do automated assessments for people on the NDIS it's pretty rich that they're so relaxed about handing out this money to billionaire shareholders and millionaire CEOs. They act like it's Liberal Party money rather than what it actually is: taxpayer money. We need more accountability over this. We've had another report today from an accountability body suggesting some additional $10 billion has gone out to other rorts under the Morrison Government. They're profligate with public finances. Where the money's going out the door to their corporate mates they don't do a thing. We need better accountability over this. At a time in which debt is going to a trillion dollars, it's just not good enough for Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg to be ducking appropriate scrutiny.
PAUL: Well, the Treasurer has failed to act on "imperative Treasury advice" to set up an independent review of the $90 billion JobKeeper program despite Parliament's budget watchdog exposing an estimated $25 billion was paid to firms that did not record the forecast revenue falls. The largest government spending program in history included $4.6 billion paid 157,650 firms that recorded increases in revenue in the wage subsidy's opening three months, between April and June last year. That's according to an independent Parliamentary Budget Office report.
LEIGH: That's right, and that request that I put into the Parliamentary Budget Office really laid bare for the first time the extent of the waste. Now, just in that first three months we had $4.6 billion going out the door to firms with rising earnings. If that's true right across the scheme then we're talking about $13 billion, which is enough to bring fibre-to-the-home NBN to every urban home at home in Australia. It's more than the Commonwealth Government spends on public schools in a single year. It's around $1,000 for every Australian adult. At the very time same time they were penny-pinching with Pfizer in the middle of last year, refusing to pay $1 billion for enough vaccines to cover every Australian adult, they were rolling $13 billion out the door to cashed-up corporates. It's just not good enough, Marcus. We've got to get to the bottom of this, and as your #JobKeeperWarrior I'll keep on the case.
PAUL: Good on you, mate. We'll talk soon. Thank you.
LEIGH: Terrific. Thanks, Marcus.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.