Transcript: Sky News 6/5/20

2.50pm | May 07, 2020


SUBJECTS: Eden Monaro, JobKeeper, ME Bank,  Naval Group
ANNALIESE NIELSEN, HOST:  Now joining us live is Liberal MP Tim Wilson and Labor Senator Jenny McAlister for our political panel. Thank you both for your time.


NIELSEN: Now we've had this big breaking news this morning. It looks like Andrew Constance is stepping back from a Eden-Monaro pretty shocking development. Is this a badlook, Tim Wilson for the Liberal Party.

TIM WILSON MP: Now, I think this is a momentary blip. The reality is, it's always a challenge for people to want to stand and step up and say they want to contest federal parliament, particularly for an existing state government minister, because the reality is that governments haven't won by-election for over 100 years. Politely, the chances of the government winning the by election is very slim. This is a Labor seat that they need to defend. And the suggestion that anyone who thinks it's going to be an easy pathway into the Federal Parliament if you're on the liberal side of politics, has probably got to rethink their judgment. That's really what Andrew Constance has done.

NIELSEN: Jenny McAllister, do you think this is all playing a bit well for Labor? It seems like the only candidate that's stood up and meant it has been the Labor one.

MCALLISTER: Well, that's right. I mean, Kristy McBain is an exceptional candidate and actually an exceptional person. She's been leading her community right through that very difficult period, through the drought, through the bushfires. And now she's ready to stand up and run for federal parliament. So it’s been pretty unedifying, on the liberal side, I think, seeing Mr. Barilaro exchanging nasty text messages with Mr. McCormack, Mr. Constance wavering about whether or not he's interested, committed and now perhaps not committed., It all actually just looks like a group of people obsessed with themselves at a time when actually the people down south really, really need some decent local representation to replace the excellent Mike Kelly.

NIELSEN: And we can say from his office that we understand he won't be fronting cameras today. But we do expect a statement out from Andrew Constance soon. So we'll have the latest on that in a moment. But in the meantime, job keeper payments are supposed to be rolling out from today. Tim Wilson, what do you make of Labor's criticism that not enough people are being supported that this under budget looks like spend, on job keeper means that more people are missing out than they should?

WILSON: Well, I think it's a cheap shot, frankly, I mean, the focus of the government is to introduce a wage subsidy program to help millions of Australians across it. We've done it through job seeker as well as job keeper to make sure that they get support at this difficult time. Now, the reality of rolling out a massive program as we are means that it's difficult to touch on every single job of employment condition. We've tried to make the parameters broad, to include as many people as possible, and then to make sure there's a pathway for support. So we've achieved what we've sought out to achieve but if labor has some grand crystal ball, they can somehow figure out who's in what type of working conditions and whether their employer can apply to job keeper would love to see it? The reality is it's a cheap shot designed to lay criticism when the government is doing everything it can to try and support Australian workers and those out of work and we'd rather onboard.

NIELSEN: Jenny McAllister, is it a cheap shot?

MCALLISTER: Labor has been as supportive as we can be of the government through this time. We've recognised that this is not a time to seek out arguments. We've been looking for solutions. We argued for the wage subsidy. And we were very pleased when the government came to the table. But we are concerned that there are design flawsthat mean that more people than necessary find themselves in the unemployment queues, and fewer people than should be benefiting from the Job Keeper. The Treasurer essentially admitted yesterday that more than a million opportunities have not been taken up, they are more than a million under what they projected. And that is because the program design is complex, employers are struggling to know whether they're eligible and how to access how to access it. And they have also, for reasons that are not really explained, excluded a whole range of workers who have lost their jobs, for reasonably arbitrary reasons, and not able to access the program. We've argued for a much broader range of workers to be included in this program. And I think the announcement by Mr Frydenberg yesterday of the some of the underspend in these program suggests that those arguments really need to be engaged with seriously by the government.

NIELSEN: Now, Tim Wilson, one story that's been making headlines in financial circles has been ME bank changing the policy for its redraw facilities. That meant a lot of people all of a sudden realised that there wasn't money in their account that they thought should be there. This seems like a pretty harsh thing to do. In the current environment, but they've said it was a systemic issue.

WILSON: It is it's a disgraceful act, frankly, for ME bank to have taken money out of people's offset accounts and use it to repay down people's mortgages without their notification. And that's the critical thing is not just that they make this decision, but people woke up to check out their bank balances, they thought they had a certain amount of money, they might have been saving for medical condition, or a rainy day fund to deal with things like renovations, whatever it was, and it was essentially taken from them by the bank without their notification. And so as chair of the house economics committee, I've already submitted a series of questions to ME bank. And I can clarify, also have requested the Secretariat of the committee to look at pathways to have an emergency or urgent hearing of ME bank to get to the bottom of what exactly it is they've done, why they made their decisions, the systemic nature of it, and how they made those decisions. And of course, the volume and the impact because we know there are many Australians out there who thought they had cash in the bank that's been removed from

NIELSEN: Jenny McAllister, do you think ME bank has some questions to answer?

MCALLISTER: Certainly. And I should disclose that I'm a customer of ME bank. I feel like I need to put that on the table. But yes, they do have questions to answer. This is disappointing. This will be challenging for a lot of people at a difficult economic time. We do need to get to the bottom of this and Labor is, I guess, looking closely at the answers provided by the bank to their customers and to the public about decisions they’ve taken.

NIELSEN: Some other questions that need to be answered around naval group. It's come out this morning that they've been paying their staff bonuses in the midst of the Coronavirus crisis. This is at the same time that it's been revealed that the subs program is coming over budget over $80 billion and is taking longer than it was planned to. Jenny McAllister, we'll start this one with you as well. Do you think that the government should be taking a harder stance with the naval group and saying that they shouldn't be paying bonuses now, and especially not when they're living up to what they should be doing?

MCALLISTER: Look, I think our greater concern is making sure that the finances of this project are broadly under control. It was revealed in recent weeks that the project is costing significantly more than was first projected. I think the government really needs to explain the steps that it is taking to make sure that this project is actually brought under control and is not going to blow out and that the budget increases that we've been seeing don't continue.

NIELSEN: Tim Wilson, what do you make of this, does naval group needs to be stepping up and explaining why they're paying out bonuses.

WILSON: Well, I'm somebody who's fiscally prudent. So in short, yes. And no, the reality is these projects are vitally important for our national security and national interest. We should be engaging with them to make sure that we can defend our country and have the latest technology and resources to be able to do that. But the ambition should always be to do them in a cost effective way. And of course to make sure that they are delivered exactly as people want. So as the government commission, so these are questions, I think which naval group does need to explain a particular time when there's obviously hardship across the Australian community? It's actually about setting the standard.

NIELSEN: Do you think just on that we should be revisiting the contract at all. That's an awful lot of money. We're not going to get the subs for a very long time, and it could be put into the Australian economy right now. It only cost about 140 million dollars to break that contract. It could be a lot more money that we could put back into the economy. Jenny McAllister, I’ll get you first on that.

MCALLISTER: These are really questions for the minister managing the project. These are critical pieces of infrastructure. We've had a long discussion about getting some of these naval projects going and making sure that we have job’s for Australians arising from these really important procurements. The key question now is that the…

NIELSEN: I'm really sorry to interrupt you we're going to have to wrap up this panel because we have some breaking news coming into the newsroom. Senator Jenny McAllister and Tim Wilson, liberal MP,  thank you for your time.