24 March 2021

SUBJECTS: JobKeeper, Job figures, Defence Estimates, Minister Reynolds  

MATT KEOGH MP, SHADOW MINISTER FOR DEFENCE INDUSTRY, ASSISTING FOR SMALL BUSINESS: So it is now four days until JobKeeper comes to an end and small businesses and their employees around Australia are being left high and dry by the Morrison Government. Josh Frydenberg’s spin machine has gone into overdrive this week, making sure that Australians and all media outlets are aware of just how many Australians have graduated from JobKeeper. Meanwhile, ignoring the 30 per cent of those people that started on JobKeeper that still rely on it, the million Australians employed by businesses that are still relying on JobKeeper, but come the end of this week will not be receiving JobKeeper anymore.

Treasury estimates that 100,000 of those employees will be joining the unemployment queues as a result of JobKeeper coming to an end. Other economists have estimated that that number may be as high as 250,000 people joining the jobless queues, when you think about that 1 million figure of employees working for businesses relying on JobKeeper, you realise that that's about 10 per cent of our workforce here in Australia relying on a payment that is going to come to an end at the end of this week, because of the Morrison government.  In just four days time, JobKeeper will come to an end. These people will be left high and dry without the targeted ongoing support that they all clearly deserve in times when these businesses across a number of sectors are still suffering the effects of a COVID induced economic downturn.

The other issue I just wanted to cover off on, of course today we've got Defence estimates coming up. And we've seen a lot of stories of issues across the defence sector coming up - we've seen now reports that Chinese Aluminium being used in some of our boat build is not have a sufficiently high quality, we've seen reports of delays with the OPV programme. And we've had confirmation now that Naval have finally signed up to a 60 per cent minimum of Australian industry capability in the future submarine project. But what we haven't seen from the government is sufficient accountability and transparency around what that 60 per cent actually means. Because when we look at what AIC - Australian Industry Capability is, the government has not been clear, it has not disclosed, how Australian is that really going to be? Is this money and these jobs and this spend going to be going to businesses that are homegrown Australian owned here in Australia, or is it merely going to be spent with businesses that are wholly owned subsidiaries of foreign defence primes? Is this going to be about delivering actual capability to Australia? Or are we just going to see lots of people working to put steel together, which is very important, but we also need to see developing the capability and skills of drafters, engineers, designing the capabilities that we need here in Australia being involved in design, and building that sovereign capability so that we're able to modify and extend all of these platforms going forward.

What the government has confirmed is that 60 per cent will only be reached at the end of the project, which makes it very clear that in the early stages that we're in now that we'll still see billions of dollars spent, that the Australian industry capability content requirement, is going to be much lower than 60 per cent. But we don't know what the level is. The government needs to come clean with Australian industry and Australian taxpayers on the biggest ever defence spend project. What is the actual requirement for these early stages of the contract? What will be the capabilities being developed or what we see what we saw before where the government tries to claim that it's meeting its Australian industry capability targets by delivering on French language lessons, security guards, real estate agents, when it should be about developing actual sovereign defence capability here in Australia.

JOURNALIST: Unemployment is back to pre-pandemic levels, isn’t it the right time to withdraw JobKeeper? Isn’t this proof that people aren’t being left behind, that they’re back in jobs.

KEOGH: This is the thing, right now unemployment is at a better figure than it was is not yet back to where it was before COVID started. But even before COVID started, we know that the economy was not actually in a good place. Wage growth was completely anaemic. And by withdrawing JobKeeper now, by adding hundreds of thousands of people to the jobless queues, what's going to happen is a complete reduction of demand in the economy and the economy, which is doing better, but it's still not taken off, it’s still not seeing increases in wages. Australians need to ask themselves, do they actually feel like they're doing better right now than they were before the COVID pandemic started? I don't think they do. We might be happy that things have come back, you know, in a way quicker than we thought they might. But I don't think anyone is realistically standing back and saying that the economy is doing well, that they feel like they're doing better. And so to be withdrawing support, when there are groups in the economy that clearly still need it is the wrong thing to do.

JOURNALIST: What sectors do you expect to see job losses in?

KEOGH: So we've still seen some real declines across areas like accommodation, like tourism, like hospitality in all of our CBDs across the country that don't just rely on tourism, but actually they rely on just everyday workers coming back into their office buildings, who either because of restrictions, or because of heightened working from home environment, now, are not able to come back into their CBD office places. And that means for every cafe, the hotels, the pubs, the restaurants, the retail shops, in these areas, as well as in our high demand tourism areas, or those stores and cafes that rely on university students who are not going back on their campuses, for example, all of these sectors are suffering, and they need the support from government. Josh Frydenberg’s right, it's not the same numbers it was at the beginning of this pandemic. We're not saying JobKeeper needs to continue for everybody. But there are sectors a much smaller number now, but still 30 per cent of what was there before, that do require some support, and the government should be delivering on that.

JOURNALIST: The scheme has been described by some as corporate welfare to that businesses to pocket the savings basically, (inaudible) they need. Surely no scheme is better than a flawed scheme.

KEOGH: Well, actually making sure that we deliver and helping Australians and what is fundamentally important about the JobKeeper scheme, and you're, it is correct, there have been businesses that have been able to take advantage of that and have then made some huge profits. What the government should have done is designed this programme better so that it could claw that money back. In fact, if it had designed this programme better, maybe it would have the money that it now claims it doesn't have, to be able to continue with some targeted supports going forward, a better designed programme at the beginning from this government, which Labor was very happy to work with the government on making sure we got a better designed programme, would have meant that it could have kept this programme running further. This is all at the feet of the government when it's leaving these businesses and employees high and dry.

JOURNALIST: I guess the defence estimates is coming up the Defence Minister won’t be there, she is currently still on sick leave. Would you like to see her front up another day and answer these tough questions?

KEOGH: It is absolutely imperative in circumstances where we have defence estimates today and the Defence Minister is unavailable, that the Defence Minister make herself available to the Senate for a spill-over day, a further day of estimates hearings, when she comes back from leave. It is imperative she does that, there are so many crises gripping Defence right now when we look at programme delays, when we look at blow outs in costs when we look at substandard metal being used in our projects. When we look at what are the actual Australian industry capability requirements that are going to be used for the future submarine programme, a $90 billion programme, the biggest ever defence spend, the biggest ever project spend in the history of Australia by the Australian Government. You can't say that it's appropriate for the government to avoid scrutiny and for the Minister to avoid accountability. We understand she's on leave now. She should be showing up for a spill-over day, an additional day of Senate estimates when she returns from leave.


Thanks, everybody.