23 February 2021

SUBJECTS: JobKeeper, JobSeeker,  Brittany Higgins

MATT KEOGH MP:  It’s now 33 days until JobKeeper comes to an end, and the government needs to provide small businesses across Australia with certainty about what is going to happen on the 28th of March, and what supports the government is going to provide when JobKeeper comes to an end.

What we do know is that the COVID crisis is not going to come to a shuddering halt on the 28th of March, businesses need certainty about what is going to be there to support them, after the 28th of March. It’s really, really important that businesses understand that not just for the people running and owning those businesses, but for the 1.3 million Australians who work for businesses that rely on JobKeeper.

Today, we've seen reports from business SA that 70 per cent of businesses support ongoing targeted support after the 28th of March. They’re saying that two out of three businesses in tourism and hospitality are still seeing declines in revenue of over 50 per cent. You can't say in any way that business is ready to have all supports withdrawn. The COVID crisis, the pandemic is still with us, still affecting those businesses, businesses are not all back on their feet. Whilst it’s great the number of businesses that need to rely on JobKeeper may have reduced, there are many businesses out there that still need that support. And it is incumbent on the Morrison Government to provide that support, and provide that certainty from March 28.


JOURNALIST: When what day, would Labor look at providing that certainty in JobKeeper, when would you withdraw?


KEOGH: The important thing, here, it's not about a date, it's about the circumstances that these businesses are finding themselves in. And if we look at the circumstances in Australia, while we've been able to open up certain parts of our economy, our international borders are still closed. There are businesses that cannot continue to operate. You look at the circumstances of the cinemas, the major movie releases have been deferred and deferred. There are things that are happening that are impacting those businesses that are outside of their control. The government needs to be responsive to the circumstances. So it's not about a date. It's got to be about the business conditions that these businesses are operating,


JOURNALIST: (inaudible)


KEOGH: This is what we've been saying, the government needs to develop a new scheme that follows after JobKeeper, something that provides the targeted support needed for those businesses in areas that are still finding it really hard and struggling to continue because of the Coronavirus crisis that we're dealing with today.


JOURNALIST: (inaudible) it looks like there is a strategy, they’re looking at targeting tourism for example and creating packages to specific areas.


KEOGH: And this is the fundamental problem that Australian business has right now, we've got these breadcrumbs being dropped by the government “oh we might look at this. And we might do that. And that creates two fundamental problems for business. It means some businesses think, oh, it's going to be okay come the end of March, we'll be looked after only to be rudely shocked if they find that they don't get any of that support and they have to let staff go. And then other businesses who are thinking without certainty, I need to let staff go now, I need to start planning to wind up, because they don't have the certainty that Government needs to provide them.


JOURNALIST: What about JobSeeker, it looks like government's come to a decision about raising the rate?


KEOGH: Well, we've got to see the detail of what the government actually announces. I know there's been some reports about what the government might be approving in terms of a small increase to the JobSeeker rate. But as anyone who's ever had to rely on JobSeeker knows, it's not just about the rate, it's about the tapering, it's about the income levels that you qualify to receive JobSeeker, we need to see all of that detail before we can understand fully what the government is doing is good or bad for those two million Australians out there that either don't have a job or are looking for work.


JOURNALIST: But if it was raised, if it was raised from the current $40 day, it might be at around $47 a day looking at the reporting today, would $27 be enough there’s tapering and all the rest but in that strict number, would that be acceptable to you?


KEOGH: We've got to see the detail. And you know, whether it's 47 or 51, or maybe a higher number, there have been lots of people calling for a higher number, but the real issue is the detail. How does that work with tapering rates? How does that work with income levels? The question I think all of you have to ask Australians is whether a burger and chips is going to eb enough for them to make a significant difference.


JOURNALIST: (inaudible)


KEOGH: I think what we've seen is a government strongly resistant to any move to increase JobSeeker. over a long period of time. Meanwhile we’ve been seeing Australians having to rely on JobSeeker, suffering and suffering as a consequence and you just look at any agency that has to provide financial counselling and support to Australians. What they have said time and time again during this crisis is that the temporary increase during the Coronavirus crisis to payments like JobSeeker has been a godsend for those people, they haven't had to provide as much emergency relief in support of these families, they haven't had to provide as much financial counselling, because they've actually been able to buy food to put on their own tables. I mean, it may seem shocking to people, but if you give people more money, it helps alleviate poverty. That's why we've been calling for these increases to come for JobSeeker but we've got to see the detail now from the government, It’s great that it’s been reported that they're looking at increasing it. But the devil as always with this government, as Australians have found, time and time again is in the detail.


JOURNALIST: And just quickly as well, on that detail, it looks like part of it, as well might be increasing the mutual obligations, would Labor support that? Does Labor support mutual obligations? (inaudible)


KEOGH: As always with everything the Government does, whether it's increasing JobSeeker or any other thing, the devil is absolutely in the detail. It was a Labor government that introduced the concept of mutual obligation, the concept of mutual obligation is not something that anyway Labor is afraid of, but it’s got to be productive as well. There's certainly many examples where mutual obligation is counterproductive to many recipients of JobSeeker, it actually stops them from getting a position or getting into a job. So once again, devil will be in the detail, we will wait to see the package once the government actually announces it.


JOURNALIST: The government has four different inquiries into the Brittany Higgins saga and allegations against a Liberal staffer, but one of those inquiries, it's not confirmed that will make that public, is that good enough?


KEOGH: It’s not good enough at all. And I think it just is a further indication of the problem that I think everyone has been seeing as part of this tragic and horrible set of circumstances around Miss Higgins, where there are many, many questions to the government. But there's not many answers coming in a fulsome and transparent way from them.


JOURNALIST: (inaudible)


KEOGH: I think there's certainly a cultural issue at play in and around politics, as there actually is in many parts of business in the private sector as well, that has a dramatic impact on women in their experience in the workplace, and their vulnerability in the workplace. And that is something that needs to be addressed in this building. And something needs to be addressed in every workplace around Australia to make sure that women are safe. And that is a fundamentally important thing that we need to do. And we always need to keep in check, the way in which we operate as employers and as bosses in a building like this, but also as leaders in our national community as members of parliament as parliamentarians. That's something we always need to be alive to, and making sure that we send the best message and example to the country.


JOURNALIST: Clare O’Neil was making a point that this is not about the safety of women, it’s (inaudible), It’s cultural (inaudible).


KEOGH: I would look at it in terms of there's certainly a cultural issue that has not dissuaded people from doing the right thing. And that is a fundamental problem. People use different words to address that issue. But it's fundamentally there's a cultural problem that may, that can create a culture that enables or condones, or at least doesn't dissuade people from what is not just bad behaviour, but let's be very frank about this. This is a serious crime, and that needs to be fundamentally addressed.


JOURNALIST: Do you think that it sounds like using Yaron Finkelstein, the Principal Private Secretary for the Prime Minister has been used to protect the PM and keep him above the fray?


KEOGH: I think it's pretty clear that there's a lot of questions that people don't feel like they're getting direct, straight answers about, about who in the Prime Minister's office knows, what they told the Prime Minister, when he knew and what he knew.

Thank you.