We need taxpayer dollars to help economic reconstruction, not billionaires - Transcript, 2CC Canberra Live


SUBJECTS: Economic reconstruction; JobKeeper rorts; vaccine delays; Scott Morrison’s cuts to the NDIS.

LEON DELANEY, HOST: Our federal MPs today met with local business leaders to talk about economic recovery following the long list of unfortunate events, I guess is one way of putting it: bushfires, hailstorms, and of course the pandemic. It has thrown the economy, not only around Australia but here in the ACT into a, well, near-cataclysmic event. The roundtable discussion could be the first step towards recognising the needs of Canberra's business community as many still struggle with the end of the JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme. The roundtable was organised and coordinated by the Labor Member for Fenner, Andrew Leigh, who is on the phone. Good afternoon.

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: Good afternoon, Leon. Great to be with you and your listeners.

DELANEY: Thanks for joining us today. So, obviously it's a good idea to listen to the constituents. Did they have a message for you?

LEIGH: Yes, we got a strong picture of the importance of the vibrancy of Canberra's business sector. I think a lot of people don't realise, but two-thirds of people in the ACT work for a private sector employer. The public sector in Canberra isn't the majority employer, they're a large minority employer, and so it's really important that our small businesses do well. We learned there's only 36 businesses in Canberra that employ more than 200 people, so it's not just a majority business town, but it's majority smaller business town, and keeping that vibrancy of the business sector is really vital.


LEIGH: We had Richard Marles-

DELANEY: Go ahead-

LEIGH: We had Richard Marles, Labor’s Deputy Leader who has the portfolio for jobs and national reconstruction, as well as Alicia Payne and David Smith and I, so we were all ears today and got a lot of really thoughtful input from the business community.

DELANEY: Generally speaking, the economic activity in the ACT has held up pretty well, but there were obviously some people who did struggle quite a bit, particularly in the hospitality and dining and so forth sectors. Are things getting back to normal now?

LEIGH: In some sectors they are, and you’re certainly right that the quick movement of the ACT Government in managing the pandemic has been critical to the strong performance of the economy, and measures such as fast-tracking infrastructure projects in the ACT and ChooseCBR digital discounts scheme has made a difference.

DELANEY: That's the one everybody's making jokes about, isn’t it?

LEIGH: Well, I think there's discounts out there if you need it. The money's, I think, two-thirds gone so far, but there's still chances to use those vouchers. It makes sense to me if you are encouraging people to shop local. I speak to people like a travel agent in my electorate who's doing it really tough right now.

DELANEY: Absolutely.

LEIGH: 98 percent of his businesses is overseas, so the resumption of domestic travel doesn't allow him to keep his full complement of staff.

DELANEY: Now, of course, JobKeeper has come to an end. For somebody like that travel agent, what do they do now without JobKeeper?

LEIGH: Well, they’re really left between a rock and a hard place, Leon. We know now that the JobKeeper program subsidised a whole lot of people who didn’t need it; that about $10-20 billion went on firms whose profits were rising rather than falling; and too much was splashed out to millionaire CEOs and billionaire shareholders. That means that the Government then said, ‘Well, we've run out of money. Sorry, we've got to cut the program at the end of March.’ But for people who are in the tourism sector, the arts sector, they've really been left without a lifeline.

DELANEY: Well, they didn't really run out of money. It actually came in at less than the original projection because they made an error in calculating it, didn't they?

LEIGH: That's right. It was a deliberate decision of the Government, as you say, to cut it short, and it's about priorities. If these were welfare recipients who'd gotten more than they were entitled to you can bet Scott Morrison would be on the phone to them, writing angry letters demanding the money back, but when it's some of Australia's wealthiest billionaires, he said he's pretty relaxed about the way they've behaved. That's got real consequences for our ability then to support the most vulnerable.

DELANEY: So, at your roundtable discussion today, what did the business leaders of the ACT have to say? What is it that the Government can do that would most effectively help them now?

LEIGH: Re-engaging with the global community is vital. Canberra really is a global city. So many of our businesses engage with the world as exporters, but also use internationally born workers. Migrants are a big part of our labour force, overseas students are important for some businesses, and so until Australia gets vaccinated the Canberra business community can't get back to normal. That's why the delay in the vaccine rollout is not only a health risk as the vaccine continues to mutate, but also an economic danger because we can't have a whole lot of parts of the economy returning to normal.

DELANEY: Yes, well, obviously, the Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese, has been saying for several days now that the rollout of vaccine has been badly handled, but you can't just keep repeating that over and over. It gets a bit boring. Obviously we have to get on with it now and make sure that we do get the vaccine rolled out and hopefully we can all look at brighter days ahead. Listen, before we wrap up today, I've got say to you this: earlier today on 2CC on the Breakfast Show with Stephen Cenatiempo, your colleague Alicia Payne was on a panel discussion with Senator Zed Seselja representing the Government. Apparently the confrontation became rather heated, so much so that it's now been reported by The Canberra Times with Senator Seselja’s comments describing things said by Alicia Payne as being a disgraceful comment and an outright lie, and so I was wondering, Andrew, could you please say something really controversial so that I can get reported in The Canberra Times, too?

LEIGH: Well, Alicia is somebody who has followed the NDIS’ progress very closely. She's on the NDIS scrutiny committee and been working closely with Bill Shorten there, and she is outraged on behalf of her constituents. This is the white-hot anger of people who are dependent on the NDIS, who see the Federal Government trashing what ought to be a great scheme of bipartisan support, penny pinching on the NDIS just as they writing big checks to billionaires for JobKeeper. It's one set of standards for the vulnerable, another set of standards for the most affluent-

DELANEY: But Senator Seselja says it just isn’t true. He says, and I quote, “that's an outrageous statement and you know it is a lie.”

LEIGH: He would say that. What else would you expect from Zed, somebody who will stand up for Scott Morrison come hell or high water? He's concerned about his career and about his position in the Government, not about vulnerable Canberrans dependent on the NDIS who aren’t getting the packages they need. This is a real crisis point right now. The Government again switched the Minister responsible for the NDIS. That lack of leadership, the lack of commitment to properly funding the scheme, all of these things are causing real heartache for people in the sector. I'm being contacted by people on the NDIS. I'm sure people are contacting your show as well. It's got to stop. Hands off the NDIS.

DELANEY: And if people are concerned about that you might be pleased to know that Sterling Griff, the crossbench senator, has said he's not going to wave it through without proper examination, so let's see how that unfolds, these proposed reforms of the NDIS.

LEIGH: Look, just for your listeners’ information, these are changes that would allow someone with a profound disability to suddenly be reassessed by a doctor they'd never met before, a doctor who didn't know the complexity of their case. It’s hard enough helping somebody with profound disabilities without having to also battle the Government. People on the NDIS should know the government has their back rather than being out there trying to Gtake their packages away.

DELANEY: Andrew Leigh, thanks very much for your time today.

LEIGH: Thanks so much, Leon.


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.