Transcript: ABC Capital Hill 19/6/20

4.15pm | June 11, 2020

GREG JENNETT, HOST: Joining me is Labor's Shadow Assistant Minister Jenny McAllister. She's in the Mural Hall here at Parliament House, and Assistant Finance Minister Zed Seselja in our Parliament House studios. Jenny, let's just deal quickly and straight off the top, just on the question of these Labor MPs who are self-isolating today and being tested for COVID-19. Do you feel at all exposed or vulnerable because I'm assuming you had sat in the same room the caucus room, in fact, with some or all of them yesterday?

JENNY MCALLISTER, SHADOW CABINET SECRETARY: Well, we do have a number of MPs who've taken the decision to get a test. That's obviously well beyond the health advice and health advice is to monitor your symptoms and get a taste if you feel unwell. But these parliamentarians have decided to get themselves tested. And we'll see what the results are.

JENNETT : Yeah, fair enough. Zed I think the point is being made at least in relation to the Queenslanders possibly the Northern Territorians as well, that at no point had their relevant state authority ever said don’t attend those rallies. So, there can be no suggestion that they've done anything wrong here, have they?

ZED SESELJA: Well, they haven't followed the health advice. I mean, the health advice in all of those places, has been not to be in large gatherings and in most parts of the country that's been under the force of law. So, they either haven't followed the health advice or depending on exactly where they've attended rallies, they may have breached the law. But, you know, we've I've made my views known on these protests. I mean, I think they have undermined Australians faith in the measures that we've been taking. They're a slap in the face to those Australians who have been complying with the rules are under threat of fine in many cases. They haven't been out of farewell loved ones they have made out to run their business as they would like to, they haven't been out celebrating with family and friends. And now we've got Labor politicians who don't follow the health advice who potentially weren't following the law, and whether it's those Labor politicians or whether it's those state and territory leaders who allowed it to go ahead, I think it's a big slap in the face to the community. And I think there's a lot of anger out there about these double standards.

JENNETT: Alright, well, pending the return of those results I guess we'll either be speaking more or not speaking more about this. Let's go to some substantive policy issues though. Jenny McAllister, on childcare, I know you've been speaking a lot about this around the house today. Can I just put to you the point that Holly Hughes and other Liberals are making if you had a situation where two parents whose income weren't wasn't affected in any way, let's say a nurse and a police officer say, now, continuing work as normal, they took no pay cut. Why should they continue to have received free childcare indefinitely?

MCALLISTER: I think the issue is a snap back to the old system of childcare provision. Even before the COVID-19 process, childcare fees were going through the roof. And we know that for many families, that actually has a real impact on the ability of one or both parents to participate in work. The situation now is that there are many families who are still under significant economic pressure. And particularly for women in the workforce, we know that many of them have either lost jobs or lost hours. It doesn’t seem right to me..

JENNETT: But isn’t the argument…Sorry to interrupt, but isn't the counter argument to that, that the subsidies would be scaled to reflect the new circumstance?

MCALLISTER: I think the issue is that we are returning to an old system that wasn't working for parents, and particularly for working women. So, the government had many options to think about how it would evolve or change its system. No one's quibbling with that. But it hasn't chosen to consider any of the material that was before it. Instead, it's snapping back to an old system that frankly didn't work. They need to explain why that's acceptable.

JENNETT: Sure. Well Zed, we’ll hand that over to you. You can explain why now is the appropriate time, I know it was due to expire anyway, but why is now the appropriate time to settle where Dan Tehan has? 

SESELJA: Well a couple of things, and the first is to respond to Senator McAllister. That system that was in place before the emergency measures that we put in place, saw a very progressive support i.e 80% subsidies for the lowest income earners, and then phasing out to a 20% subsidy at the higher end. So, it is highly targeted to those who are on low and middle incomes. That's the way we designed it. And that's the way it should be if you want to see workforce participation, and if you want to support families who are doing it tough.  But it's fair to say that these emergency measures, were never going to last forever. They were always there while we dealt with this crisis, and as we see a return to normality, and as we see more and more people going back to work and as we see participation rates growing in the childcare sector, it is the time to reset. I also need to make the point that JobKeeper, and this point was made this morning by Mathias Cormann JobKeeper was supporting 120,000 workers in the childcare sector but was not supporting around 80,000 workers. So, there was a need to recalibrate, to make sure that we continue to support the sector, which we will, but the idea of having zero fees for parents going forward was never a sustainable one.

JENNETT: Alright well, that does invite a question about JobKeeper and just how unique this childcare circumstances is. Just one final one on childcare to you though Jenny McAllister, do you have any feeling, any hunch about when and how the free system of childcare should have been transitioned out or slowly disappear?

MCALLISTER: Our concern all along has been for the government to provide the community at large with a sense about how we are going to transition out of these arrangements. The truth is that the economy is still operating well below It's normal level of activity. And the practical implication of that for families is that many families are operating on much lower incomes than they had before. The government's been unable to explain how that dynamic is going to interact with a return to their old system of fees and payments. The old system wasn't working when people were on full incomes. We'd like the government to explain how they think it's going to work out for families, many of whom are on substantially reduced incomes at the moment. 

JENNETT: Well, let's go to JobKeeper Zed Seselja and the question is, if childcare, yes, with subsidies, is able to be taken out of the scheme, what other industries and sectors could follow and when we say follow I guess  I mean, before the expiration of the scheme in September?

SESELJA: Well, the first thing to make clear is that we've committed to the JobKeeper scheme for the six months and that commitment hasn't changed. We said at the outset that we will review it and that review will be taking place. And we'll release that review once it is completed. And once we've made decisions in relation to going forward, but we are in the position we are, which is a better position than we had expected a couple of months ago, both economically and in a health sense, because as a nation, we have done a good job. So…

JENNETT:  But do you have in mind a sector or an industry if you can name one that kind of matches up to the childcare experience where ,in their case enrolments had bounced back, we’re being told a figure of something like 70 odd percent,  ss there anything that stands out to you as a sector, which maybe doesn't need JobKeeper through until September?

SESELJA: Well no and I'm not going to speculate ahead of the review. We said we would review it, we are reviewing it, it is a good thing, that the economy is doing better. Nowhere near where we would like it to be but better than we had anticipated it would be doing at this point. And we are working very hard to make sure that that continues to get better over the coming months, there's a lot of work to do. We are fortunate we are in a much better position health wise. So the review is important. It was always going to take place. But it's good to be doing it at a time when we're in better circumstances than we anticipated. And what we ultimately want of course, while we've committed to JobKeeper for the six months, what we ultimately want is as many people as possible getting back into work, so they don't have to rely on government subsidies going forward. 

JENNETT: So, Jenny McAllister, if an example was made or the evidence came forward, that particular sector was very well off and really shouldn't be getting these payments from, let's say, July onwards, would you countenance any further carve outs?

MCALLISTER: Well, there's an unpredictability about the government's approach to JobKeeper. Just last week they were saying that it would run through to September. This week, we find out that there's 120,000 workers in the childcare sector, the vast majority of whom are women, who are now out of the system. It raises the question for families and in fact, for businesses that are reliant on the JobKeeper payment, what changes are coming next? And it really isn't acceptable for the government to keep making such unpredictable decisions because it imposes a real burden and it reduces the capacity for families and businesses to plan. The other point that I would make, is that he does seem a little cynical to have pushed this review just past the by- election. If the government's got something up its sleeve, in terms of new groups of people who are going to be excluded from the JobKeeper they really should make that public.

JENNETT: Yep, that's not on the timeline at present. But I’m sure, they’ll be asked many more questions and I know both of you do need to get to question time, which means I won't be able to ask anymore myself but Zed Seselja and Jenny McAllister, thanks for joining us on Capital Hill today.

MCALLISTER: That’s a pleasure.