17 March 2021

SUBJECTS: JobKeeper; Future Submarines; Liberal MP Nicolle Flint; PNG COVID situation; Vaccine Rollout.

MATT KEOGH MP, SHADOW MINISTER FOR DEFENCE INDUSTRY, SHADOW MINISTER ASSISTING FOR SMALL BUSINESS: It is now only 11 days until JobKeeper comes to an end. The government had been saying that it would provide support for the businesses that still needed it after the 28th of March. But instead, all we got was a major airline support policy for a handful of destinations. Meanwhile, though, one government agency is right onto how difficult this problem is. Because Centrelink has already gone out advertising, telling the 100 to 250,000 people that were expecting to become unemployed once JobKeeper comes to an end, that they should go and pre-register for job seeker now, so that Centrelink isn't swamped with all of those applications come the end of March. Centrelink is onto this problem. And it's a problem that's going to be affecting small businesses and other businesses across Australia and business deserve better from this Morrison Government. 

And another area where business deserves better from the Morrison Government is when it comes to defence industry and guaranteeing Australian industry capability in our future submarine contracts. The government's now come out and said that it will be requiring the 60 per cent AIC requirement for future submarines. But what's now been revealed is that the terms of that requirement are going to be secret. Australian Business, defence industry businesses and Australian taxpayers now won't know what is being required in that contract to develop Australian industry capability. We need to see that detail so that we can see how this capability is not just going to be developed at the end of the contract. But how's it going to be developed from right now. Australian industry capability our sovereign capability needs to be developed from now all the way through that contract? It's not good enough that the 60 per cent requirement is only met right at the end of the future submarine contract. We need to see that detail now. And it's can't be claimed as the governments tries to say, “Oh, well, this is commercial in confidence”. There is no competitive process going on here. Everything's locked in with Naval. And it's important that Australians get transparency around these AIC requirements. And it's why Labor has committed that we will have auditable, transparent requirements that are measurable for AIC in all major defence project contracts. So the industry has certainty, Australian taxpayers have certainty that the government is doing everything that it can to develop our sovereign capability here in Australia. 

JOURNALIST: On JobKeeper – economists, the consensus economic view is that removal of JobKeeper status bit, but ultimately keep us on this largely the rebound trajectory we've been on, doesn't that mean that it's probably around about the right time, maybe give or take a few months to be getting off JobKeeper? 

KEOGH: Well, isn't this the whole point, give or take a few months is crucial when it comes to our economic recovery in COVID. We're still seeing cases developing in Australia. Fortunately, there hasn't been community transmission now for a little while. But we know we're exposed. It's all around the world. We're still in the very early stages of the delayed vaccine rollout now in Australia. And so we can't just be withdrawing supports when businesses are still suffering. We've seen the reports that these businesses that are in the CBDs of Australia, so not tourism related businesses, other businesses are still hugely suffering, you don't come up with a number of 100 to 250,000 jobs being lost, if there's not going to be a significant impact from the withdrawal of JobKeeper. And frankly, we've seen some of these projections before, from government entities saying the unemployment rate will just tick back to where it was going on trend before. And time and time again, those numbers have proven to be inaccurate. In fact, frankly, you'd have better chance of hitting an accurate unemployment figure if you threw darts at a dartboard and you listen to some of these government figures. 

JOURNALIST: What did you make of Liberal MP Nicolle Flint's speech last night talking about her experience as an MP and saying that key Labour figures including Penny Wong, haven't done enough to call out sexism when it's been on the other side. And she basically was saying that they didn't do enough to discourage people from doing things like vandalising their office or abusing her. Has Labor done enough there? 

KEOGH: I didn't see Nicolle Flint's speech last night, but obviously she's raised some very important issues. And Anthony and the whole Labor leadership have been very clear about setting up processes on our side and encouraging across parliamentary processes to make sure that stories are heard and understood and acted upon. Where there problems being confronted by female MPs, by staff in this place as well. And the critical point is this - we want to see more women coming into politics, more women coming into parliament, not fewer, and we certainly don't want to see them leaving politics because of issues like this. 

JOURNALIST: But is Labor not complicit by standing by and seeing that action against her in her campaign and doing nothing. 

KEOGH: I was not involved in the campaigns in South Australia. So I really can't comment about what was happening on the ground in the electorate of Boothby. 

JOURNALIST: But, I mean, do you think that perhaps that both parties have an issue here, where perhaps they know of issues within the party and it gets swept under the rug for political convenience, rather than having an open and honest conversation with themselves about mistakes, or, you know, bad things that have happened? 

KEOGH: Well, certainly Labor has taken this sort of issue front on and that's why our National Executive a few weeks ago endorsed a bullying and harassment policy so that all members of the party, whether they're MPs, whether they’re staff, whether they're volunteers, party officials all have mechanisms now to raise their concerns, to raise complaints and have them dealt with in an appropriate process. We're saying to people, if you have concerns, if things have happened to you, if you're aware of issues, raised them, that's why we've set up this process. 

JOURNALIST: Are you concerned that an alleged serial sexual harasser returned to a Liberal, a Liberal Minister’s office? 

KEOGH: I haven’t seen that.  

JOURNALIST: Can I ask as well, the government is sending in medical teams to PNG, the situation in the country is dire. Do you think that the government's kind of waited until one minute to midnight here for this kind of emergency, you know, to send in the fire trucks here when the reality is, is that PNG has been potentially staring down the barrel of a situation this serious for not just months, if not a year. 

KEOGH: Certainly the situation in PNG is dire. It's very serious, it has some very serious implications for Australia. I think to put it in context, especially from a West Australian point of view, I think the distance from Australia to mainland PNG is about three kilometres, Rottnest Island is 19 kilometres away from Perth. So we're talking about a very small distance. COVID is a very big problem, and when it's that close, there is clearly an obligation for Australia to support PNG in making sure that its vaccine rollout and its health and safety are going smoothly and happen quickly. We've already seen delays in vaccine rollout in Australia, I think it's quite clear that the Australian Government should be doing more and should have been doing it earlier in PNG and we encourage them and support them, in doing everything they can to support PNG, to help the people of PNG as well as to make sure that Australia is kept safe as well. 

JOURNALIST: In terms of the vaccine rollout. How would Labor have actually fixed that sort of supply issue. Labor’s talked about signing more contracts. But at the end of the day, the European Union has basically taken on a protectionist stance that regardless of the number of contracts we've had, we've not seen Australia get large numbers of vaccines as we had initially hoped. 

KEOGH: So we've seen a number of problems with the government's vaccine rollout, which have been a concern. One of them is that they only signed a limited number of contracts for supply of vaccines when there's now quite a number of vaccines available that have been proven to be effective against COVID, and that's been a concern. But the other issue when it comes to on the ground in Australia, is that because of the delay in getting the vaccine into Australia, the Australian Government had all this time to prepare its rollout. And yet what we've seen is when that rollout started, it had numerous problems. So many problems, in fact, that after the first week of that rollout, they had to call out the Army to help with the logistics and distribution of that vaccine. They should have had all of the logistics in place sorted out well in advance, especially given there was such a delay. In the actual beginning of that rollout. The government said they would have 4 million vaccines, people vaccinated by the end of March and they've been crab walking away from that number, but it's not like they're just going to miss that 4 million vaccinated people target by a handful or by even a million. That'd be lucky if they're going to get to a million people by the end of March at this stage. It is a huge failing by the government. And that is something they really need to get a handle on as soon as possible. And that's what Australians expect to have happen.