Transcript: Sky News 22/5/2020

10.55am | May 29, 2020


FRIDAY, 22 MAY 2020
SUBJECTS: Economic impact of COVID19 on women; JobKeeper; China relationship.
ANNALIESE NIELSEN, HOST:  One of a major issue, one of a number of major issues for Australia in the recovery, recent ABS data shows a significant drop in the employment rate among women, heavily impacting this short and long term economic engagement. Joining us live now for this is New South Wales senator and Shadow Cabinet Secretary Jenny McAlister. Jenny McAllister, thank you for your time.
NIELSEN: I know a lot of people say that there's a lot of pain being felt all around when it comes to the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic. Why are women in particular feeling it more than their male counterparts?

MCALLISTER: Well, the employment data seems to suggest that women are having a particularly tough time in the labor market. I think it's for a couple of reasons. One is that women are much more likely to be working in part time and casual work and so they've experienced redundancies. Another is that they're often concentrated in some of the sectors that have been hardest hit, I’m thinking about retail, accommodation, hospitality, and those sectors have fared very badly because of the shutdown. And I think women's employment is really suffering as a consequence.

NIELSEN: Why is it in particular women though? It's not like the pandemic impacts haven't been felt right across the board. Is there any particular factor that's impacting women more than men? And when it comes to things like superannuation?
MCALLISTER: I think that the government's response to the Coronavirus hasn't always explicitly thought about the particular nature of women's economic lives. So if you take JobKeeper for an example, we've been very critical of the decision to exclude so many casuals from that system. The JobKeeper program is only available to people who've been with their employer for more than 12 months. Now, a lot of the research indicates that there are many women, because they are concentrated in casual roles, who are now not eligible for JobKeeper. As a consequence, they might have been stood down or lost all of their hours. They're losing that key role relationship with their employer. My concern is that the design of that program in excluding so many women, puts them in a position where they may experience a long term disconnection from employment. I know that today the Treasury seems to be indicating that the cost of JobKeeper is substantially less than what they originally indicated. There is really no excuse for Josh Frydenberg not to make the changes that would see a lot of these casual workers back into a relationship with their employer and maintaining that critical relationship with labour market.
NIELSEN: I did want to ask you about that. It is pretty extraordinary that this has come out. A number of employers accidentally punching in the 1500 dollar stimulus amounts into a box on the form instead of the number of employees, $60 billion is nothing to sneeze at. What do you think has gone wrong here and is it the government's fault, or is this just really trying to get as much done in the shortest amount of time possible?
MCALLISTER: Well, this is quite an incredible revelation. What it does do is reinforce the point that this program needs to be designed in a way that keeps as many people attached to employment as possible. The government now should understand that it's not costing as much as they had budgeted for. There are a lot of people who are plainly missing out on this payment, and you can see that in the unemployment statistics and the collapse in hours worked. There is an opportunity for the government to remedy this problem. And they should take the opportunity to do so.
NIELSEN: I wanted to ask you about the commentary surrounding Joel Fitzgibbon as well, he's been quite heavily criticized about his comments in support of China saying we shouldn't be jeopardizing the relationship there that it has that economic cost in particular. David Littleproud’s called for him to stand down today, saying that he's threatening Australia's sovereignty which is pretty strong language. Do you support Joel Fitzgibbon staying in his role as Shadow Agriculture Minister?
MCALLISTER: Joel has a very close relationship with the agricultural sector. He's very close to the producers and the processes. And he's a very strong representative of their interests. I think the point that we have been making for some time is that the government does not seem to have a clear strategy around its relationship with the Chinese government. And that's not just a problem right now, that's been a long standing issue. We would like, we always need to be standing up for our interests. We are a democratic country, with different values to the Chinese government. And at times, our interests are going to diverge. But this is a really important relationship for Australia. And we have been calling for some time for the executive leadership - Minister Payne, Prime Minister Morrison - to really initiate a big picture conversation about what our relationship with China is going forward.
NIELSEN: There is this risk of an economic cost though, we have seen really strong retaliation from the Chinese because they perceive our calls for an inquiry to be political, whether that's intentional or not, that is the fact of how it is being received. Do you think it undermines the moves by the Australian Government to stay firm in the face of what's pretty strong criticism from the Chinese, by having someone in a leadership position on the Labor side saying that we should back off?
MCALLISTER:  We were pretty clear that we would have handled this differently. We said that we thought that it would have been better had some diplomatic support been assembled around the globe before the foreign minister went out and announced it. That said, it is important that there is an open and transparent inquiry into the pandemic. That's not so we can lay blame, that is so we can understand what went wrong. And it's in the global interest that we learn those lessons and prevent any of those mistakes from being made again. I think that is a pretty unremarkable proposition. It's a very good thing that a resolution establishing an inquiry of this kind was successful the other day, with 137 countries signed on to it. That is a good outcome and Labor welcomes
NIELSEN: Senator Jenny McAllister, thank you for your time.
MCALLISTER: It's a pleasure.