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Transcript: ABC News Breakfast 2 January 2021

January 02, 2021


SUBJECTS: Cuts to JobSeeker and JobKeeper; NSW COVID-19 Outbreak; State borders.

HOST: Now we're joined by the Minister for Defence Personnel and Veterans Affairs, Darren Chester, and also joined by Labor MP, Andrew Giles. Good morning to you both and Happy New Year.



HOST: We might just begin on another story that's been reported on this morning in The Guardian. Andrew Giles, there are reports that Anthony Albanese is set to turn up the heat on the government this year ahead of his speech to some Victorian party members, he is quoted in this report as saying that he's branding the Prime Minister of fake who's obsessed with politics and shifts blame. If this report is indeed correct does this mark the return to partisan politics?

GILES: Look, I think what we've seen through the pandemic it's been a decision of Anthony Albanese made as Labor leader, to be constructive wherever possible, to act in the national interest and that's why we've had things like JobKeeper, things that Labor have called for and other vital supports. But what's also clear as we start to think about life beyond this crisis is that there are very different visions of Australia's future, and in Labor, Anthony has been very clear that we're prepared to fight for a better society, we're prepared to fight to fix the things that have become so apparent in the experience of the pandemic, particularly in areas like insecure work, which have been so brutally revealed to Australians.

HOST: But can't the Labor Party continue to fight, your words, work constructively and in the national interest without it being bipartisan?

GILES: Look again, where the Government gets it right, Anthony and Labor will be the first to say so. But when we think they are letting people down, and we think that's happening right now. I mean yesterday, we started 2021 with $100 cut to some of the most vulnerable people's income in Australia. We've just got to call that out, every economist says it's the wrong thing to do, and the lived experience of so many people I represent who've seen their lives transformed by having the security and dignity of a decent income. We can't let that slide.

HOST: Darren Chester I want to bring you into the conversation here, you know that's a really good point that Andrew Giles has just made the fact that the coronavirus supplement is now being taken away from the JobKeeper scheme, we're starting to see these schemes start to wind down now, particularly in March, there's still no word as to whether that the schemes will be extended, we know that economists have been warning us that insolvency numbers will be on the rise and rise once this scheme actually comes to an end. Is it right really to call an election so soon if it was to happen?

CHESTER: Well, there's a lot in that question, let me begin by clarifying both JobKeeper and the JobSeeker coronavirus supplement were introduced by the Government during the pandemic during the crisis, to try and help people get through those difficult periods and what we were able to do is keep people connected to their workplace. In fact, of all the policies that have been introduced in the 13 years that I've been in Parliament. It's the one where I have received most positive feedback from our community about how JobKeeper allowed businesses to keep their employees attached to their workplace. So in better times return, they are able to re-employ them and keep them going so it's been a great success, and the decision to wind it back to more normal levels, so JobSeeker is going down to $150 supplements, it's still there and additional supplements still being paid under JobSeeker, is to help people make their transition back to the workplace. We want people back in the workplace, not relying on the welfare payments if we can possibly do so and what you see now these last few months have been an incredibly resilient economy where it's bounced back stronger than most people thought, most of the economists thought we'd be in worse shape than we are right now. We're seeing jobs created and people getting back to work and it's a very positive thing for 2021.

HOST: Darren just to pick you up on one point there you mentioned that these supplements are returning to more normal levels, is that levels that they were pre-pandemic because you know the Grattan Institute has found that, you know, these supplements have meant the difference between putting nutritious meals on the table for people and not?

CHESTER: So the JobKeeper was obviously a wage subsidy that's being transitioned out into March and there's going to be other industries as you're probably well aware like the hospitality and tourism and travel where there's probably going to be arguments made for continuing in some form or another and cabinet will consider that at that time which is in a couple of months from now. But in terms of the JobSeeker supplement, the coronavirus supplement, that's $150 more than it was prior to the coronavirus period and that goes on until March as well, so these are other conversations that cabinet will need to have at the right time, but people do have the confidence and security of knowing that supplement is still in place.

HOST: Andrew Giles if I could bring you back into the conversation here, I just want to circle back to the issue of Anthony Albanese's expected speech and, you know, Kath earlier on, was talking about the fact that we are expecting that speech to be on the attack and attack of the Prime Minister and the Coalition Government as well. Given that the Labor Party still isn't quite agreed or have a consensus on their own climate policy. Is this really a time for the Labor policy to be laying the groundwork for a potential election?

GILES: Well, we'll be ready for an election whenever an election is called, but I just don't agree with the assertion. I haven't been part of a team that stays as unified and focused on the challenges of the future Fauziah than we are now.

We look at the enormous body of work that we've got to do, to rebuild, to build a country that's every bit as good as Australian. To make sure that we don't see people or businesses held back, and particularly that we don't see any Australian left behind. And if that requires us to muscle up to the Government of course that's what Australians expect us to do, and that's what we will do.

Australians are getting increasingly frustrated. This is a Prime Minister who has in his own words, doesn't hold the hose, but more profoundly that he seems to be unwilling to pick up that house, we see that every day. As soon as the cameras are packed away the Prime Minister isn't there. And that's just not good enough Fauziah.

HOST: Sure, but I just want to touch on something else that Darren Chester said about the JobKeeper and JobSeekers scheme as well you know there's a lot of consideration, there's a lot of discussion now about broadening the base of the JobSeeker scheme perhaps with a more targeted approach. And as to who would be eligible for this and I know Labor is in favour of this. Do you have a clear policy on the JobKeeper scheme?

GILES: Well, in terms of the JobKeeper scheme, I guess there are a couple of things to say. I was really pleased to hear Darren say that the policy that he's got the most positive feedback for because of course when Labor proposed this the Government thought it was a bad idea back in the early stages of the pandemic. So I'm very pleased to hear that. What we say is that it's too early to be moving away these supports, particularly in some industries which continue to be very affected by the pandemic. Obviously there's a mechanism in the scheme, which should counter that. So, I guess, what I'd be saying to the Government is, show us your plan, show us your plan to safeguard jobs into next year, into this year I should say now it's the second of January, of course.

HOST: Darren it's probably right for you to have a reply there I imagine you'll probably like to outline JobTrainer and JobMaker there?

CHESTER: Well, the plan is evident to anyone in Australia who drives on any road or drives to the cities and sees $100 billion worth of infrastructure being built over the next ten years. We've got people out there on the roads right now building new and better roads, safer roads, improving rail systems in partnership with willing state governments, investments in new airports. These are things that are creating jobs right now. The problem for Mr Albanese is that he wants to have an each way bet on these things, he's got something has split personality at the moment. He wants to appeal to the inner city lefties and the greens but at the same time, he's selling his base out the blue collar workers, in electorates like mine. Blue collar workers in power stations in my electorate are leaving the Labor Party in droves because they don't know what they stand for.

HOST: Is there an identity problem, Andrew with the Labor Party, as Darren alluded to?

GILES: Not at all, that's a creature of the imaginations of conservative politicians and some in the media. I think it's very clear who we are focusing on. And I mean, what is frustrating is that we have a government that is much more interested in talking about the Labor Party than talking about the needs of the Australian people. And I think that says everything that needs to be said about this Prime Minister, our challenge is surely to look at the future, to look at what has happened here, and to be every bit as good as the Australians to show respect for their resilience, their capacity to look after each other, with a positive vision for the future - that's not what we're seeing at all.

HOST: Darren Chester, you know, we're having this conversation of course, with a pandemic as the as the backdrop and use alluded to a little earlier that the Australian economy is recovering, it's on its way, but the recovery really does depend on borders staying open, you and Victoria has shut the borders to New South Wales. How then do you balance this recovery in terms of the pandemic and economy at the same time?

CHESTER: Well, to be fair, when you say you and Victoria, you're talking about the Victorian State Government shut the borders, and what the health authorities and what the Premier and his Ministers need to carefully consider is that every time you shut borders you are ruining lives, ruining lives in Victoria and ruining lives in New South Wales. Now the closure of borders this week, the precipitous closure this week, where people who were holidaying in green zones, areas that they were told by the Victorian Government were green zones, and then had to rush home within six or seven hours to avoid going to quarantine for 14 days is an example of I think, poor decision making. It's a real issue for us. I mean, we've got people now who are being told that they can't return to Victoria - the border is closed to them, even though they travelled to green zones. Now, we've got to make sure that these people can return, I hope common sense will prevail over the weekend. We've got examples where people who are on holidays, maybe packed the caravan or the swag or the tent, and we're camping 400 or 500 kilometres from Sydney now being told they can't come home that is madness. We have to fix this.

And I urge the Victorian authorities to come to a common sense solution this weekend and let those people return home.

HOST: We've just got two very brief questions to go and we're almost out of time. Andrew, just on the response to that, what would Labor's position be? Is there a role for the Federal bodies and authorities to step in and decide on some sort of consistent approach to borders when they are under the system that we live in, arranged by the States as Darren just alluded to?

GILES: Yeah, that's a really good point. I mean, I think that the two things that I would say there are, firstly, I support every state government taking action on the basis of public health advice, which is what's been happening here. When it comes to the role of the national government, I think we need to see the national cabinet working more effectively, we hear a lot of talk about it, but it's not going to meet again until the 5th of February, that's just not good enough when we have these issues to work through. What's also very frustrating here is the Victorian Government sought the help of the national government in terms of the ADF to assist with the border and that request was of course rejected. So again, we're seeing a national government failing to take responsibility for important national concerns.

HOST: Darren Chester, just finally we know that you're coming to us for another very beautiful part of regional Victoria, we can always count on you on being such an advocate for regional Victoria. We are of course, marking the anniversary of the black summer - the bushfires that we saw in the last year or so. Are you comfortable? And are you still perhaps may have some concern over the recovery that regional Victoria is undergoing from those bushfires?

CHESTER: Well, I should start by saying just how thankful and grateful my communities have the support we received during the initial relief in response phase, we live in a great country where we have volunteers prepared to protect other people's homes. The initial stages of recovery went very well, in terms of that great response, we saw this longer term recovery regarding rebuilding infrastructure is an issue for us, we need to make sure that 2021 is the year we get things done - both State and Federal Governments have money on the table now.

So our challenge is to build those local projects in places like Gippsland and Northeast Victoria and the south coast of New South Wales to build that public infrastructure so that when people want to go on holidays, when it's safe to go on holidays, they can visit these regions and enjoy everything they have to offer because it's a great time to visit regional Australia. Obviously, there's travel restrictions in some places right now, but we need to get people out and about supporting local businesses, supporting local communities. We've got a lot of work to do this year, but the recovery is heading in the right direction.

HOST: I couldn't recommend more highly the rail trails in the northeast they're cycling through Myrtleford and Bright, just a perfect part of the world. Darren Chester and Andrew Giles, thanks so much for joining us today on Weekend Breakfast. I look forward to talking to you again soon.

GILES: Glad to be with you.

CHESTER: All the best.