22 March 2021

SUBJECTS: JobKeeper, job figures, Ship Building Advisory Board, Minister Reynolds  

MATT KEOGH MP, SHADOW MINISTER FOR DEFENCE INDUSTRY, ASSISTING FOR SMALL BUSINESS: So it is now just six days until JobKeeper comes to an end. And whilst we're all here in the building and the House of Representatives is sitting, the senate isn't, what that fundamentally means is that there is now no opportunity for the government to provide any further targeted support, as needed by small businesses and their workers across the country.

With six days until JobKeeper comes to an end, Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg, have left Australian small businesses and their employees high and dry. And so what I think is really important is that those small businesses start to think about, if they haven't already, and their employees start to think about, is making sure that they know what is going to happen after the 28th of March, making sure that they've sought the appropriate financial advice and that employees have had the necessary conversation with their bosses to find out, are they still going to have a job after the 28th of March? Do they need to be taking financial steps, do they need to be, as Centrelink have already advertised, pre-registering for Centrelink, so that they can at least get JobSeeker when JobKeeper comes to an end.

It is a very sad and disappointing moment, when so many people across so many sectors and industries, whether it's in hospitality, businesses in CBD’s, businesses connected to universities, so many sectors are still suffering, the economic impacts of COVID-19. And despite the calls for ongoing targeted support, no one has said that JobKeeper needs to go forever. But everyone has recognised that there are industries and sectors that still need support. Despite all of that, the government has not provided that, and now we are in the dying days of JobKeeper. People need to take action to look after their businesses and to look after themselves. And that may include, as Centrelink have already advertised, going and registering now for the much lower payment of JobSeeker.

JOURNALIST: The unemployment figure released the other day is (inaudible) and the Reserve Bank seems to be saying they don’t expect a sustained increase in unemployment. Maybe there'll be a blip, but not any substantial rise. Why are you so worried?

KEOGH: Nothing about 5.8 unemployment rate is good. Never let anyone convince you that 5.8 per cent unemployment is good. And for all of those thousands of Australians who are out of work, It's certainly not good. They might be better than people expected. But if you go and look at the RBA’s predictions for unemployment rates going back over the last few years, little own over the last decade, you could throw a dart at a dartboard and get a more accurate figure than what the RBA has been projecting. So no one has confidence that that's necessarily going to be what turns out, and for all of those hundreds of thousands of Australians - and we're talking hundreds of thousands that are going to lose their job because JobKeeper comes to an end. They don't care what the jobless rate is, they are worried about how they're going to put food on the table for their families. And Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg, are leaving them high and dry.

JOURNALIST: Those same labour force figures seem to show that the unemployment rate came down a bit, a pretty good number but the underemployment rate is up significantly.

KEOGH: This is a significant problem in the transition of our economy that's happening during COVID-19. And we've seen this happening long before COVID-19, where we're seeing employment picking up but under employment, also going up. And we're seeing the changing nature of employment, people are losing full time, permanent employment, the sorts of jobs that allow you to go and get a mortgage, the sorts of job that allows you to go get a car loan. And instead they're picking up casual work, or part time work where they don't have enough hours, they're not able to make ends meet for the family budget. That transition that we're seeing is a very big negative for our economy. So just to look at the headline figure is quite problematic. We need to look at the mix of work that is occurring as well. And that's why programmes like JobKeeper are actually so important, they were keeping employees linked to the employer so that as business resumed, as the economy grew, those businesses could move forward. And across so many sectors in the Australian economy. We're not quite there yet. That's why they still need that targeted support. And that's how Scott Morrison and his government are letting those businesses and their workers down.

JOURNALIST: It’s clear that JobKeeper is keeping people employed, but it's also been accused of being corporate welfare, a lot of businesses profit into their bottom line if it is going to be extended (inaudible) beyond measures put in place.

KEOGH: So the thing with JobKeeper is that no government programme, especially one rushed out like JobKeeper is ever going to be perfect, but the principle behind it, of subsidising wages to keep employees linked to their employer was very important. We've been saying for a long time that there were things about JobKeeper that needed to be improved - gaps that needed to be filled, for example, where some sectors were missing out entirely, as well as making sure that that was good accountability mechanisms at the back end. That's where the government has missed out here, because businesses that might have needed JobKeeper right at the beginning have turned out to be quite profitable, as the year has progressed. And unfortunately, the government has done nothing about making sure there's mechanisms to claw back those JobKeeper payments, we've seen some voluntary repayments and of course, that is welcome. But there are still many businesses out there that have made quite stellar profit it has to be said over the last 12 months, but had chosen to keep the taxpayers money that they were given to help them get through this crisis.

JOURNALIST: The Treasurer seems to concede that the JobMaker hiring credit is not really working, and that they're open to maybe doing something there. I think I understand the take up rate is really, really low compared to where they thought they would be right now, is that fixable or should they kick it?

KEOGH: Well, there's a first time for everything, and when it comes to the JobMaker hiring credit, the government actually announced that it got something wrong. And we need to wait and see what the government does. There was some, we were very critical of it at the time that it was going to see a skewing of employment. It hasn't been taken up surprise, surprise. There's been many programmes that the government announced over the last 12 months that haven't worked out the way that they should have, we’ll have to wait and see what the Government puts on the board.

KEOGH: I just want to mention one other thing. We've seen reports today that the National Shipbuilding Advisory Board has been abolished by this government. This was the peak body for advising the government on the national shipbuilding enterprise, advising government on projects like the Future Frigates and the $90 billion future submarine programme. That Advisory Board has been abolished and instead replaced by a new cabinet subcommittee. Now it's very clear  that is a good thing that the government is providing now cabinet oversight to the national shipbuilding enterprise. However, the problem with this process, abolishing the national shipbuilding advisory board and replacing it with a cabinet subcommittee looks a lot like the government trying to avoid transparency and scrutiny so that it can cover information and documents in the cloak of cabinet in confidence. The government has been very cagey about the way it's handling all of these naval shipbuilding projects. And we are concerned that the government is using this as a way to cover up instead of making sure that it fixes the way those projects.

JOURNALIST: Just on that quickly, Defence Minister Reynolds is still off on sick leave. It’s Senate Estimates this week, do you think she needs to speak on behalf of the department to fix this?

KEOGH: I think there’s absolutely a case to say that while Minister Reynolds is unavailable this week for estimates, that once she returns to work, when Minister Reynolds returns to work, she should be making herself available to the Senate for supplementary senate estimates hearings so that the Senate and the Australian people can hear directly from the Defence Minister about these important projects, let's not forget the future submarine project that $90 billion is the biggest purchase ever by an Australian government.


Thanks, everyone.