House of Representatives 15/02/2022

Mr KHALIL (Wills) (17:55): I also support the Parliamentary Workplace Reform (Set the Standard Measures No. 1) Bill 2022. It implements much-needed reform that is well overdue in this building, but it is just one step in the process of making Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces safer by implementing some of the recommendations from the Jenkins review. It’s just one step, and we have many more to go.

It’s not just about us here, as important as this place is—the MPs, the staff, the workers in this place; it’s really about every woman in every workplace around Australia. Our job here will not really be done until we can say there are structures in place to ensure that every woman is safe in the workplaces around the country, including ours, and in homes and even in schools. Our job will not be done until there is equality in every place and until women have the same opportunity to achieve whatever they want as any man. I don’t think we can say that job will be done until we can say that.

There has been a lot of commentary and analysis about the toxic culture in Canberra—that bad behaviour has contributed to the bad culture of this place. But what people rarely ask is: What contributes to this culture? What are the contributing factors to this culture? We know that culture is determined by the behaviours and structures that are in place. While there has been bad behaviour that has occurred in this place; there has also been a lack of structure that has let people down. It’s remarkable to me that in a building which 5,000 or so people descend on for weeks at a time, which involves long, late working hours, where there’s a mix of power, a power imbalance and a lack of accountability, in the place where the actual laws of the land are made, the Commonwealth parliament, there’s an absence of legal mechanisms, of HR structures, to deal directly with harassment, bullying and assault allegations.

Instead there are some 227 MP and senator offices that are effectively little fiefdoms, and each office deals with the transgressions, the assaults, the harassment and the allegations. Effectively there’s a monarchy in each and every office. That is bad structure, and bad culture emanates from that. When you have a situation or an issue in an MP’s or senator’s office where there may be an allegation of harassment between staff members, how can the MP or the senator be the one to fairly adjudicate on that? Every workplace that I worked at before I entered parliament had an arms-length HR department or legal department and proper mechanisms to deal with those issues. That’s been lacking here, and that’s what I mean by the absence of culture.

We’ve also talked about behaviour and role modelling. As the previous speaker, the member for McEwen pointed out, we have in our party—we’re not perfect—women in positions of leadership. That actually matters. They are role models that set a standard of behaviour. It also educates and informs our understanding of how we should be dealing with each other. That is something that, as the member for McEwen pointed out, has been of exceptional importance for the Labor Party in setting our standards to improve. Our caucus is almost 50 per cent women, and there are women in positions of leadership. That’s not true often of many workplaces around the country, although it is somewhat better in the Public Service. I remember working in the Public Service, and most of my supervisors were women. For me it was basically understanding that, regardless of one’s gender, it was about their merit, their hard work and so on. That was an important lesson for me through the workplaces that I experienced.

But, after a year or more of talking about these issues, not much has changed in some respects, as far as the actual structures that are or aren’t in place are concerned. I would hope that the behaviours have changed and improved over that time as well. Just last week we sat in this place until 5 am, had a few hours break and then came back for another day of work. There are not many workplaces around Australia that would expect this of their workers. To be clear, I know that I’m here to do a job: to represent the people of Wills. Most of my colleagues here are the same: they understand that we’re signing up for a job and that it’s not a nine-to-five job. We understand that. The point is, though, that the MPs, the staff and the journalists—all the people in this building who regularly work very odd and long hours—do so in a high-pressure environment with high stakes. You can see that that is one of the reasons the Jenkins review found working at this parliament to be unsafe. It’s a contributing factor.

The Kate Jenkins report also found that one in three parliamentary workers have faced sexual harassment and, out of those people, 84 per cent did not seek support or advice. That’s a startlingly high number. To me, it shows that the lack of structure and the lack of mechanisms in place have meant that people have not been able to seek support or advice with respect to the harassment that they may have experienced.

Many people ask why this is. As I said, we know why: when people in this place do the wrong thing, there’s not really a structure or even a culture to deal with the problem, at least effectively. As I said, it’s sometimes left up to the MP or senator to determine this in their own office. There’s no independent arbiter for allegations of harassment, bullying and assault. There is no arms-length process in the workplace, in a sense. There is no HR department or legal mechanisms in that respect. I think this structural deficit enables bad behaviour. People behave badly, but the structure, or the lack of it, also enables that bad behaviour and the overall culture.

But changing that culture is more than just talking about it, and that’s what parts of this bill are fundamentally about. We have to match our rhetoric and our need for change with action. So we need to change those structures and set the standards that people can abide by. When we get this right—and I hope we will and I’m confident that we can—it can contribute and set an example for better behaviour, and that then becomes the norm. It becomes accepted, as I have experienced in other workplaces, as I mentioned. I think every woman in this building deserves that, at the very least.

The bill implements recommendations 17 and 24 from the Jenkins review. We know that recommendation 17 is that the Members of Parliament (Staff) Act 1984 be amended to make clear that the unfair dismissal provisions of the Fair Work Act apply to MOP(S) Act staff and that a written notice of termination specifying the reasons for termination must be provided. Recommendation 17 also provides that it should be made clear that the Work Health and Safety Act applies to parliamentarians in their capacity as employers. Recommendation 24 is that the Age Discrimination Act and the Disability Discrimination Act be amended to clarify that those laws apply to MOP(S) Act staff. We know that the lack of job security for parliamentarians’ staff is a major barrier to staff raising complaints. That’s been quite clear in the review and the inquiry. The lack of job security results in power imbalance, which makes it easier—if that’s the right word—for bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault to occur and harder for complainants to speak up, because they don’t have the support network to allow them to raise those issues. Legislating these two recommendations of the Jenkins review will help provide greater job security for staff and highlight to parliamentarians their obligations as employers. It’s a positive step. The parliament has also decided to establish a joint standing committee on parliamentary standards to oversee standards and accountability in this place, which I warmly welcome.

But these are only the first steps in making sure our workplaces—this workplace particularly—are safe and inclusive. The Labor Party have committed to working towards implementing all recommendations in the Set the standard report, and we will consult with our parliamentary and electorate staff, the relevant unions and workplace representatives to do this. Our staff are the priority in this process. This is their workplace. And, like all Australians, they deserve to feel safe and supported in their work environment.

Labor have a long-held commitment to ensure our parliamentary workplace is a safe and respectful place for everyone. We are committed to gender equality and promoting and supporting women’s leadership in the parliament, but it is certainly true that there is still much work to be done.

House of Representatives 17/06/2021

Mr KHALIL (Wills) (10:12): I rise to speak on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Portability Extensions) Bill 2021. I recently welcomed the temporary changes that were made to pension portability, meaning pensioners would be able to retain the full rate overseas for longer than 26 weeks. That was a commonsense measure. Let’s not forget that, a year and a half into the pandemic, the government has left 35,000 Australians who want to come home stranded overseas. We’ve heard it from previous speakers. It’s a fact. There was a promise made to bring them home, and they failed on it. They failed to keep their promise to bring them home by Christmas. Not even this government, surely, would be cruel enough to cut the retirement income of Aussies they’ve left stranded overseas?

While this bill make sensible administrative changes to pension portability, which we support, there are significant and wider problems with the pension that need to be addressed, including by making more concerted efforts to increase the number of countries we enter into bilateral agreements with. That would allow Australians to more freely travel when they can and live in other parts of the world during their retirement or part of their retirement. I know that the government, in the most recent budget, allocated a bit over $18 million to enter into social security bilateral agreements like this with the Republic of Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. I think Australia should be more ambitious about what we can accomplish with that vast sum of money. But this government’s leadership and ambition are often lacking.

I note that Prime Minister Morrison, on his trip to Paris recently, met with President Macron—a very important meeting—and they talked about many important elements of the bilateral relationship. But why wasn’t a bilateral social security agreement on pensions on the agenda? I would urge the government to look into developing a bilateral social security agreement with France. I’ve been contacted by numerous expat Australians in that country who worked and paid their taxes for decades in Australia and are unable to receive their pension. This is despite such a protocol, such an agreement, existing between Australia and 31 other countries, including 21 in the European Union, but not France. France actually has more than 40 such agreements in place with other countries, but not Australia.

It’s probably true to say that many members on both sides of this House would agree with the ambition to sign more agreements with our friends and allies abroad when it comes to Australian pensioners being able to receive their pension when they are spending time overseas. What members on this side of the House do not agree with is the government’s shameful track record of cuts to the pension and attempts to cut the pension. In a speech in 2015, a freshly minted Treasurer—now the Prime Minister—stated that the age pension should not be regarded as an entitlement for all. Let that sink in. He then outlined the government’s vision for an overhaul of the country’s retirement income system through reducing expenditure on welfare payments. This Prime Minister rejects in an ideological sense what is effectively a contract between the state and the citizens. Australian citizens pay their taxes all their working lives. They contribute to this country. They work hard and make a tax contribution. They are entitled to a pension in their retirement. That is part of the social contract. It includes things like defence and security, schools and education, hospitals and health care. It’s not just a welfare payment.

Labor opposed those measures at the time because pensioners have worked hard and contributed all their lives to make this country what it is today. Older Australians deserve our respect and dignity. But this government tries to push through pension cuts at any opportunity. Many of those in the firing line of the coalition’s attempts to cut the pension are migrants to this country who are now pensioners—after 30, 40 or 50 years working hard here, paying their taxes in Australia, building a life here, raising a family here. They should be able to receive a pension that allows them to live comfortably and reconnect with family and friends overseas that they may have left behind to come and build a life in Australia. These older Australians have made a sacrifice in many ways to build a life here in Australia and to become new Australians. They left their families and cultures behind to help build Australia through their work and their contribution. Yet we’ve got a government that drags its heels on doing all it can to support these people to spend their time with elderly relatives and long-lost friends. It wants to make their income uncertain if, for example, they were to accidentally spend a bit too much time overseas.

Let’s have a look at this government’s track record and a few recent instances of where they have got their scissors out and tried to start cutting. As I mentioned, the Prime Minister, in 2015, when he was Treasurer, tried to cut the pension and increase the age of entitlement. In the 2014 budget the government tried to cut pension indexation, which would have meant pensioners would be forced to live on $80 less within 10 years. This unfair cut would have ripped $23 billion from the pockets of every pensioner in Australia. In the 2014 budget they cut $1 billion from pensioner concessions—support designed to help pensioners with the cost of living. In the same budget, the infamous 2014 budget, they axed the Commonwealth seniors health card. In the 2014 budget the Liberals tried to reset deeming rates, which would have made 200,000 part-pensioners worse off. In 2015 the government did a deal with the Greens political party to cut the pension of around 370,000 pensioners by changing the pension assets test. In the 2016 budget they tried to limit overseas travel for pensioners to six weeks. These are the people I was just talking about, who go overseas to visit family and friends after a lifetime of work here. The government also tried in that same budget to scrap the energy supplement for new pensioners. And in August last year the government was caught out by Labor on its attempts to freeze payments for 2.5 million pensioners.

Pensioners in this country would not be surprised to hear that the coalition has tried to cut the pension this many times. They are obsessed with it. They have tried to do it in every single budget over the last eight years. Cutting the pension, unfortunately, is in the Liberals’ DNA. Building and supporting the pension is in Labor’s DNA. When we were last in government we actually increased the pension by $30 per week.

I would like to take a moment to show how this bill has an impact on my local electorate of Wills and the people who live there. It’s an incredibly diverse electorate. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, just under half of the people in Wills either were born overseas or have at least one parent who was born overseas. Many of these people migrated in the postwar period—of Italian background, or Greek, Lebanese, Turkish, Vietnamese, Indian or Pakistani, and many others. These are some of the people who helped build this country. Many of my constituents go back to their country of origin to visit, to see their family, to see friends they haven’t seen in many, many years. By the time they get there and the jet lag ends—because it’s a long trip; we’re far away in Australia—they may actually have to start thinking about coming home again, at around that six-week time frame. That is because the government hasn’t done the legwork to build a more comprehensive network of agreements, as I was talking about earlier—social security bilateral agreements—to help them claim their pension overseas if they were to stay a bit longer.

As I said, these are Australians who have worked hard. They deserve that break to visit family and spend some quality time with long-lost friends and family overseas. And just because they’re overseas it doesn’t mean that their expenses are decreasing. Pensioners tell me again and again that land tax and council rates are rising, that the cost of living for them is constantly rising. Despite this, the government’s instinct—its go-to—is to cut the pension to try to rip it away and make life harder for the nation’s elderly. It’s particularly cynical when you consider that the Treasurer has attempted to stimulate the economy by shovelling billions of dollars out the door, spending money to resolve the government’s political problems.

Wouldn’t increasing the pension help with the stimulus? Do you reckon pensioners would save this money in their sock drawer? Or would they spend it—on groceries, bills and gifts for the grandkids? Like JobSeeker recipients, pensioners aren’t saving their payments. The additional money goes almost directly into the economy, to stimulate the economy—a good use of public money. Yet this government won’t even consider it, because it runs counter to their ambitions to dismantle that social safety net that Labor spent so many years putting in place. They won’t consider it because ideologically the Prime Minister—publicly—doesn’t believe in it, because apparently it’s an entitlement. Apparently this type of welfare needs to be ripped away, and government needs to move away from providing that kind of payment to pensioners or the vulnerable. Apparently he doesn’t believe in that. And this is a deeply held belief. He doesn’t think government should be doing this.

It’s a problem, because in recent years we’ve seen stagnant wages, declining productivity, high underemployment and declining living standards—all under this coalition government. And the government has no plans to really turn the economy around. As I said, the budget that they recently passed was all about spending money on what they perceived to be their political problems—a short-term political budget, long on spin and spending on political problems but short on any real investment in the Australian economy. That’s not what a Labor government would do. We would invest in Australia’s future while looking after those who helped to build this country.

The age pension is a fundamentally important aspect of this commitment, to ensure that older Australians can actually have a life in retirement that’s one of dignity, after so many decades of working and contributing. The pension, Medicare, unemployment benefits, superannuation and the NDIS: these are all policies for the little guy, the average Australian—supporting those who have been doing it tough or who’ve worked all their life to make their contribution. These are the sorts of defining policies that Australians can trust the Labor Party to deliver if elected to government. And frankly, these are the kinds of policies that the coalition are ideologically opposed to, that they hate; they try to slash them at every opportunity. We’ve seen this government do that on so many occasions, as I’ve outlined.

We on this side will not stand silently as this government seeks to cut social services by stealth. We’ll continue to put forward the progressive policies that will make Australian lives better and create that fairer society that we should all have.

House of Representatives 15/03/2021

Mr KHALIL (Wills) (13:45): I’ve just come from the women’s March4Justice—thousands of women from around Australia came to parliament to have their voices heard, to stand up for equality and to say loudly: gendered violence, sexual assault and harassment should have no place in our society and should have no place in this parliament. I was there to listen to the speeches and the testimony of women like Aminata Conteh-Biger and Brittany Higgins. They spoke not only for themselves but for millions of women. I was there to stand with these women and to acknowledge and understand the challenges and the injustices they face every day. I was there because men need to be there, standing alongside women who are calling for respect, for equality and for basic safety at work, walking home at night and in their relationships.

We need to change the culture in this place—the laws, the structures and the workplace standards. Whether issues are raised within our government, our Labor Party or any party, it doesn’t matter. If there are claims of bullying, harassment or sexual assault, we must listen, investigate and act, not politically spin with the craven hope that these issues will disappear with the next news cycle. There is a spotlight on the hill today, shining brightly on some dark places. Let’s keep that spotlight shining right here. Let’s do everything we can to make the change that is necessary in this place.



SUBJECTS: Fed. Gov. JobKeeper/JobSeeker Spending, Vic. COVID-19 Quarantine Problems, Mandatory Masks in Victoria

PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST And the doctor will be joining us in a round about half an hour’s time. Well, let’s go to Melbourne now, joining us is Labor MP, Peter Khalil, Peter, good morning to you. Thanks for joining us. So, first of all, your reaction to the treasurer’s $20 billion spend yesterday?  

PETER KHALIL MP: Well, look, it’s good that JobKeeper has been extended. We’ve been arguing that for that for a long time, Peter, as you know, on this program as well. I’ve got to ask the question though, that even though it’s been extended, Josh Frydenberg still, and the government still have not addressed some of the weak spots in the big gaps, the gaping gaps, I think, the cracks in the JobKeeper program from the very beginning, which leaves out a million Australians who are casual. You know, so even with this extension, you know, a single mom who has worked as a casual for 11 months at a particular employer does not qualify because she doesn’t meet the 12 month threshold. And there’s about a million other Australians in that category for, just for, for example. So again, we have tried to play a constructive role Peter, we’ve supported the economic stimulus packages when Parliament has managed to sit, but we always try to see where it can be improved and where it can be better. 

HOSTWhat are your biggest concerns moving forward about, about the new changes, even though JobKeeper, you know, it’s broken up into two tiers now, 1500 down to 1200 and then eventually down to a thousand dollars and that’s for the full time workers. And then obviously you’ve got the cuts to JobSeeker as well. And, and you did say that you’re going to support it, but, but, but is there, is there anything that alarms you the most out of all of that? 

KHALIL: Well, a couple of things, Pete, we’ll look at the detail when Parliament does sit to actually amend this, if that does happen in late August, because Parliament’s been suspended in the first two weeks of August. So, I mentioned the casuals, there’s a couple other categories that have been left out of JobKeeper entirely. We’re going to push again for the government to consider or reconsider those groups. Millions of Australians who have been left out of JobKeeper. The stepped approach is something that we’ve talked about as well. Like it was, it was kind of very strange and I think wrong that a person who is working a couple of hours a week was getting the same JobKeeper as someone who was basically having JobKeeper replace their, their income, as a sort of someone who’s a provider for a family, that didn’t make any sense.  And that’s been sort of been addressed with the stepped-down approach announced by Josh Frydenberg. The other issue that I have an issue with is the JobSeeker. We’ve been advocating for that to be maintained, and that’s something I don’t think is going to happen although there’ll be an extension, but a stepped-down extension as well with the supplement. So there are a number of issues that need to be addressed. And again, I’ll go back to this point about Parliament not sitting it’s, we, we will be constructive. We will, we will work with the government to get economic stimulus out to Australians that need it. But we also need to play our role as an opposition and hold the government to account and see where we can make this stimulus package better than it is. 

Host: Because you’d have to agree wouldn’t you, that, that you don’t want, there can’t be a disincentive to find work, right? I mean, we do understand everyone understands that the working conditions are really tough at the moment. Businesses are really struggling, particularly in those regional areas, but there also has to be an incentive for people to not take the government help if they can, and to find work. 

Khalil:  So, Peter, do you really think that the vast majority of people who are now relying on JobSeeker, don’t want to get a job? I mean, there’s some contradiction in the way the government’s talking about this, on one end Morrison’s saying, oh, we’ve got to disincentivise people from just staying on job seeker because you know, they’re bludgers and so on, the old sort of trope, you know, the dole bludger trope, right? When in actual fact, the vast majority of, we had 1.6 million Australians, I think on JobSeeker. Within a couple of months of COVID hitting hard, millions, or, you know, almost a million Australians went on to Centrelink queues. These are people who are working. These are people who want to work. I don’t think it’s the case that they are quite happy sitting there on JobSeeker, frankly.  And then you’ve got to ask the question. It makes economic sense, doesn’t it, if you are putting money into people’s pocket, they’re going to spend it in the economy. That’s going to stimulate the economy. You pull that back, you’re going to have a bit of a problem because people are going to stop spending that money. And I don’t think people on JobSeeker, the vast majority of unemployed Australians or people who’ve had their sort of employment suspended are saving up the JobSeeker cash every fortnight and putting it in a sock and then buying shares with it. That’s not happening. 

Host:  Just on the Victoria, as a Victorian, a couple of a couple of issues. I’m sure you’ve got yourself a mask, are you happy that that is made mandatory statewide? 

Khalil:  I do. Yeah, I’ve been following this debate, it’s interesting because a lot of the medical evidence obviously has pointed out that that masks can assist in preventing the spread of the virus. If you’ve got it, or if someone else got it, putting the droplets in the air, it has some measure in actually slowing that down or preventing, preventing that flow in the air. And, and I think that especially so indoors, so in Victoria, it’s, it’s mandatory to wear the mask in indoor, closed spaces, but also if you’re going for a walk or, you know, around other people outside. You don’t have to wear it if you’re running, which is interesting. But I’m surprised that it wasn’t actually introduced earlier in Australia. When you’ve seen some of the success stories overseas when large populations, like Japan and South Korea, where mask wearing was a sort of big factor in their attempt to address the virus, as well as very good contract tracing, I should say. I’m surprised that we haven’t moved to mask wearing earlier in this phase. 

Host:  Yeah, no, I’ve got to agree with you on that point. It makes sense, given that, you know, a sneeze can go out one and a half metres, or a cough can go out one and a half metres, and then those particles hang in the air as well. It makes sense to me as well. I don’t know if you caught 7:30 last night, Peter, did you, on the, on the, on the security guards in, um, in Melbourne, uh, who, who took the job and on a WhatsApp message and, uh, you know, it basically accentuates the calamity of the quarantining system in Melbourne. Just your thoughts on that, if you did manage to catch that report. 

Khalil:  Yeah, well, well, yeah, it’s funny, you should say whether I caught it or not I was on remote learning duty yesterday and then dinner duty, cause my wife had to do some work. So I actually didn’t watch the full report. I saw snippets of it. But, but on that, on that, I’m not going to dodge the question on the issue of the security guards and the hotel quarantine. It’s pretty clear from the chief health officer in Victoria, that the vast majority of the clusters that have formed, have their origins in that breach from quarantine, the hotel, quarantine hotels. Now I’ve said this before, governments, both federal and state, like the Ruby Princess in New South Wales, was a big mistake. This is a big mistake. It’s caused another cluster. That’s going to happen. We want to limit that as much as possible across governments, in Australia, state territory and federal.  And I understand that this is frustrating and angering people because it has largely led to this second lockdown in Victoria. Although there were some cases of community transmission that haven’t been traced back to the hotel quarantine leak. And so there has to be accountability on that. Absolutely. And that’s why I understand the Victorian government has an inquiry with a judge, a retired judge that is going through that and calling witnesses and so on. And I would hope that that is a process that actually, delves deep into how that happened and why it happened and make sure it doesn’t happen again because, a final point on this, Pete, if we are going to be successful in Australia around a suppression strategy, rather than eradication strategy, we have to make sure that our quarantine processes and systems are watertight. Because you’re gonna have people coming in overseas from America or Europe or other parts of the world, with mutated strains of the virus, and we don’t want that leaking into the community. 

Host:  Alright, Peter Khalil, good to get your thoughts. Thanks so much for joining us as always, chat to you soon. 




SUBJECTS: US Protests, Jobkeeper and Jobseeker

ANNELISE NEILSENHOSTWe’re joined live now by Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman and Labor MP Peter Khalil. Thank you both for your time. Now, the big news today is what’s happening in the United States. We’re seeing absolutely shocking scenes, these many protests turning quite violent. I’ll start with you, Trent Zimmerman. What do you make of what’s happening there so far? 

TRENT ZIMMERMAN MP: Well look, you can only look at the imagery coming from the United States with a sense of despair. It has been a very difficult five months in 2020 for citizens of the United States first with Coronavirus and now with the tragedy that we’re seeing unfolding in so many cities across the United States. It is a country that we have such close affinity to, but more importantly, the United States for over two centuries has been the beacon for hope and for the liberal democracy and the values that we share. And we’d like to see that emulated around the world. And when you see citizens of the United States in despair themselves it is a pretty sad message for all of us. 

HOST: Peter Khalil, what do you make of what’s happening there? This is certainly making many question about the US is place and global world order and its leadership, especially for Australia.  

PETER KHALIL MP: I’m deeply saddened because we are watching the US Republic unravel almost before our very eyes and on the point of the protests themselves there have been tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of Americans who have peacefully protested and in many respects, the message of their protest has been distorted, has been ripped away by some of the violence that’s occurred, the rioting and the looting and so on by elements, by the way, which are from the radical extreme, both the far left and the far right whose objectives are very different than justice and social justice with respect to George Floyd and his case, and more broadly African-Americans and institutionalised racism that has been a constant in the US. I mean, let’s call this out. African-Americans, particularly under COVID-19 have had higher death tolls, two and a half times their fellow Americans, they’ve had high unemployment, they’ve been hit harder because they have poorer paid jobs, but that’s in the historical context of decades, hundreds of years in which there has been this stain – Joe Biden called it the stain on the nation – which is institutional racism against African Americans. And there was a lot of anger and there’s a lot of people who are protesting quite justifiably around the police brutality towards minorities, particularly African Americans. But the thing is the violent protests is diluted, the rioting takes away from the focus on the need to reform police standards,  and the need for social justice. And you hear that from the leaders, the community leaders, the African American leaders, who are protesting peacefully calling for there to be a focus or a refocus or what needs to happen around reform. 

HOST: If we can turn back to Australian politics, we’ve seen these reports that the government’s going to be putting more money into the building industry to try and re-stimulate the economy on the other side of the easing of restrictions. Trent Zimmerman, I’ll go to you first, what do you make of this particular push? Would this be better spent on supporting people in the arts industries, things like that who’ve missed out on so much support so far?  

ZIMMERMAN: I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive and I’m very aware of the need for the arts community to receive support during what’s been a horrendous time for them as well, along with the hospitality and retail sectors. I think that they’ve probably been the most effected segment of the economy and of society. Of course, sectors like arts, as on with all parts of the economy have been strongly supported through both the Jobkeeper and the Jobseeker program. And in fact, billions of dollars have flowed to workers in the arts and entertainment sector through those programs.  

KHALIL: Not true. 

ZIMMERMAN: But I think what’s important as we come out of the other side of this is that we look at those parts of the economy that will have continued negative effects from the pandemic. And undoubtedly the construction industry is going to be one of them. It’s one of our nation’s largest employers and anything that we can do to support it get to the other side during the months ahead, I think is going to be really important. 

HOST: Peter Khalil, do you think that’s enough support coming through or do you think it needs to be more targeted?  

KHALIL: Just in response to Trent, I’m sorry, the Jobkeeper is a good idea that has been implemented very poorly, both around the big discrepancies in the eligibility criteria. You know, a single mum, who’s a casual only for 11 months with an employer doesn’t get Jobkeeper, but a uni student that’s working four hours a week, suddenly gets 10 times what they’re being paid. But there’s also been a deliberate decision made by the government to leave out a million casual workers, to leave out, almost its entirety, the arts sector – that’s not true, what Trent is saying – to leave out temporary visa holders. There has been deliberate decisions made by the government to leave the most vulnerable elements of the community out of the Jobkeeper program. Now we’ve been calling and talking blue in the face to get the government to actually address these gaps. And so, no the money has not flowed into the arts sector, the arts sector has been eviscerated Trent. So I think the best thing you could probably do is to go back into your party room, if you feel that strongly about it, and convince Josh Frydenberg to pick up his pen and include casual workers, include a package for the art sector and that go some way to supporting those vulnerable groups that have been the hardest hit over the last couple of months. 

ZIMMERMAN: I have to say, Peter’s interpretation is completely wrong. The first thing the Prime Minister has indicated that, like the construction sector, as we emerged from this, there are these several packages announced, which is basically what he referred to this morning when he talked about the arts and entertainment sectors. But during this crisis, there have been two ways in which we’ve supported individuals, Jobkeeper, which is a wage subsidy for those that have a relationship with an employer and many arts workers and arts organisations have benefited from that. In fact, I’ve heard on multiple occasions, the major artists companies saying that Jobkeeper has kept them alive. But secondly, for those that are casual workers, then there is Jobseeker available. And the difference between the two after you take into account tax and also the allowances you get through Jobseeker is very little. And so we have seen billions of dollars through flowed to arts and entertainment workers through both Jobkeeper and Jobseeker as should have occurred.  

HOST: Sorry, gentlemen, we’re going to have to leave it there. Thank you for your time. 




SUBJECTS: Industrial Relations Reform, Tax Cuts, Vocational Education 

PETER STEFANOVIC, HOSTGood morning. Thanks for joining us. So is this an uneasy truce? 

PETER KHALIL MP: Morning Pete. Well, it’s interesting Pete because, you know, the Prime Minister can try and emulate Bob Hawk all he wants, I think you asked him that question this morning if he’s taking a page out of Bob’s playbook. But you know Bob spent years leading up to the accord and the work and the relationships that he built with both unions and business. So my question really is this, is this another marketing ploy by Scotty from marketing or is it really genuine? Because if it is genuine, there is going to be, has to be, some serious commitment by the Prime Minister to make compromise. It’s not just about getting the unions and the business in the same room. It’s about actually making some big calls and having to actually make some genuine, uh, compromise and some commitments to actual reform. So that’s my big question around that.  

The second point I’d make on it, is while productivity is important, this is the gambit he is making, the need to create jobs through improved productivity and agreements between unions and business. There are broader structural reforms, economic reforms that this country needs. We’re in a transformative period in the global economy with the upheaval around Covid-19. There needs to be a look at big issues like manufacturing in Australia, like sovereign capability, issues around reform for the economy with respect to full employment. All of these things need to be considered as well, productivity is just one narrow part of that broader reform that’s necessary to set us up for the 21st century in our economic recovery.  

HOSTWell, what about business tax cuts? Would you support that? I mean, business tax cuts across the board?  

KHALIL: Well, we’d have to look at, I mean, that’s a very broad thing. I supported tax cuts for working and middle-class Australians last year. I was on the record about that. I thought we should have brought forward those tax cuts for working Australians. Whether it needs to be extended to businesses? At what level? You know, there’s potential reform around GST and tax cuts with respect to, sorry, tax reform with respect to, even small businesses having to pay their GST every quarter. What about giving them some relief around cash flow? There’s a lot of stuff there that can be looked at and that needs to be dealt with. All I’m saying is, I hope that it’s not just spin over substance. That it’s not another sort of marketing ploy. Because this is going to be a big, big effort.  

HOST: Well you did mention that the Prime Minister should be making compromises. Compromises on what?  

KHALIL: Well, when you get to a point where you’ve got business and unions in the room, everyone has different solutions, about what they think needs to happen with respect to industrial relations. It’s obviously not agreement Pete, I think you’d understand that between elements of business and the union movement, and even the Government with respect to this. In fact, the Government’s been very ideological about this, until this sort of about face or this pivot that we’ve just seen in the last 24 hours. So there’s going to have to be some compromises made by all parties. That’s what happened in the Accord, back in the eighties. People had to work together, they had to engage. And the business community and the unions had to come to certain agreements, made certain sacrifices. So that’s going to apply to the Government. Now, are they going to turn around their whole party room? Which, by the way, for ideological reasons, has killed reform on energy policy, for example. Are they going to be able to make those compromises with respect to moving forward? Even if you get agreement from the unions and business on a whole range of things, in industrial relations; around fixed employment and casuals and rights at work and all of these issues, is the Government going to be able to actually move forward and get that through as well, and make those calls and make those compromises which is against its own ideological, part of history, if you like.  

HOST: Well what about, a couple of other parts of the announcement, that has been talked about a little bit and I’ll get your views on it. You know, increasing the education and skills around trades that was talked about yesterday, but also, the boost to housing construction? This was talked about yesterday afternoon too where large grants can be given to buyers of new homes. I mean, does that have merit?  

KHALIL: Well, to just to answer your question about the vocational skills training first. This is a Government, when I talk about ideological positions, they have cut $3 billion from TAFE and training and skills. So they’ve been a real skills killer in many respects. 140,000 apprentices and trainees have gone under the current government. So I think that’s what I’m talking about with making this big ideological shift for this Coalition Government on something like this. So they’re going to have to really change the way they do things and the way they see things. We’ve been calling for more support and funding for skills training and up-skilling and apprentices for years. Obviously as a Labor party, that’s what we do.  

On your question about the housing market, obviously, you know, you noted some support for bolstering the housing sector. Obviously there’s going to be some, uncharted territory that we’re heading into where the economic slowdown and the high levels of unemployment, how that impacts the housing market is going to be, I think, significant. Not sure exactly how bad it’s going to be, but I’m sure it will be a significant impact. So of course there needs to be policies around looking at how to make sure that the housing market doesn’t collapse. So there’s a whole suite of economic reform and economic policy that needs to be looked at. And that’s why the point I made earlier about this effort to try and improve productivity by getting unions and business and government under the same tent. Great, but not withstanding the ideological problems that I raise. But there are a whole range of other things that need to be dealt with structurally. And you mentioned some of them just then, on vocational training and the housing market. So it can’t just be about productivity. 

HOST: So do you reckon September’s too ambitious?  
KHALIL: Well, it’s a pretty short runway, isn’t it Pete? I mean again, this is what makes me nervous. I want to Australia to succeed, obviously. So, you know, I’m trying to put aside our partisanship. We want the best for Australia. We want better rights and conditions and working conditions for working Australians – absolutely. Are you going to be able to come to all those major decisions and come to an agreement within four months? That is a really short runway. And that is another red flag for me with respect to this. And this why I’m trying to give the benefit of the doubt, but I’m questioning whether this is more Scotty from Marketing, doing a marketing ploy to look like he’s riding the crest of the wave of being the leader during an epidemic, and having the national cabinet be quite successful and sees the benefit in consensus politics, which we’ve been calling for for a long time now, whether it’s on energy policy or any of these things we’ve been calling for him to come to the table. So is it a road to Damascus moment for the Prime Minister? Is he a true convert Pete or is this just another marketing ploy?  

HOST: Peter Khalil, I appreciate your time this morning. Thanks for joining us. 




SUBJECTS: Immigration, Jobkeeper 

TOM ELLIOT HOST: Okay, let’s go back to immigration. Now there’s been a strong debate about what role immigration could play post pandemic. The Greens have been silent on the issue. The government has said, well, we should put workers first. Interestingly and Kristina Keneally who is a Labor MP also said we should cut back on immigration and prioritise Australian workers. Our next guest thinks something different. He’s the Federal Labor member for Wills right here in Melbourne. Peter Khalil good afternoon.  

PETER KHALIL MP: G’day Tom, how are you going?  

HOST: Yeah. Good. Thank you. Now, I read your piece with great interest, but for those people who haven’t read it, just explain for us in a nutshell, what you think we should do with immigration post the pandemic when borders reopen.  

KHALIL: I think we have to have the debate about immigration, an open debate because it’s actually critical for the success of our economic recovery post the pandemic. It’s a debate that has to be had because it’s critical for our future as a nation. My argument in the op-ed in the Herald Sun was really to say that we should have a strong, permanent skilled migration program, because those migrants actually create jobs. When they come to the country, they set up businesses, they’re here for the long term, they spend their money in retail, they spend their money in other sectors in the economy, they’re actually good for the economy and I think they will be critical for economic recovery. Whereas temporary migrants, temporary workers are only really supposed to fill skill shortages, temporarily.  

However what’s happened, we’ve seen over the last seven years under the government where there’s been an increase in temporary visas and a reduction in permanent skilled migrants. Now, my parents came to this country as permanent migrants. They become new Australians as have millions of Australians, and they’ve set up and they’ve made an enormous contribution this country.  So my argument is that we should be calling this out. We should be increasing permanent, skilled migrants and reducing the temporary visas. They still have a role Tom, they can fill shortages, but there are so many unemployed Australians now because of COVID-19. They need to be upskilled, trained, education provided to fill jobs and whatever shortage is left over, you can use that with a temporary migration program. Unfortunately, that temporary visa number is way higher than the permanent number.  

HOST: Okay. But I mean we’ve got the situation of fruit picking, for example, where locals don’t want to go and do the hard work of picking fruit off trees up around Shepparton. So they bring in whole teams of people from villages in the South Pacific. So is that okay?  

KHALIL: Well, as I said, if there are skill shortages then fine, we need to use it.  

HOST: Well, that’s not a skill shortage. That’s an effort shortage, Australians just don’t want to do the job.  

KHALIL: Well, that’s a cultural question, isn’t it? Like our world’s going to be different. Are we going to become more resilient as a nation? I mean, I’d get lots of odd jobs, did any part-time job, on a on a building site, I was a cleaner, I did lots of different things, worked at a servo on night shift. You learn the value of a dollar. So, I mean, I think we’re entering a period of time in the future where, you know, I think a lot of unemployed Australians are going to have a different view about this. They’ll do whatever it takes to get a job. 

HOST: Well that’s a very interesting point because there’s a lot of people out there who are getting Jobkeeper, who’ve actually had a pay rise and refusing to go to work. Cause they’re saying, Oh, well, the federal government’s paying my wage, why should I actually bother to do anything? We have double the dole as well. I don’t know how long that’ll last for, but I mean, what you’re saying is that we’ll go back to a, sort of a depression era where people will absolutely chase work because they feel that they need it. But my concern is that since we’ve increased welfare so much that it might act actually is a disincentive for people to work.  

KHALIL: I kind of agree with you on that. I’ve been critical about elements of the Jobkeeper. For example where you’ve got a single mum, who’s a casual worker, trying to put food on the table for her kids and she, you know, she doesn’t qualify for Jobkeeper cause she’s only worked at the employer for 11 months and you need a 12 months and then you’ve got a uni student who’s a part time worker does a couple of hours a week and is suddenly getting paid 10, 15 times what they were getting paid previously. So there’s a lot of discrepancy there. On your point about Jobseeker, there’s a big question about when it cuts off and the reduction, the government’s talking about this being a six month program, but there’s a massive number of unemployed Australians. And the real question is whether we’re going to find employment for all these Australians post the pandemic.  

HOST: Well, it is a big point. Now can i just ask you about Kristina Keneally. I tried to interview her a couple of weeks ago, but she didn’t want to come on. Now she seems to be a little bit at odds with what you’re saying. She says we should prioritise Australian workers first and not bring in more skilled competitors. Is there, is there a debate about this going on in the Labor party right now?  

KHALIL: Well, I don’t think we’re at odds at all actually, because I talk about Australian jobs for Australians as well. And when I talk about Australian jobs for Australians, I’m talking about jobs for Greek Australians and Italian Australians and Vietnamese Australians, and so on. It’s not a race question; her piece got misinterpreted on that basis and distorted. She’s talking about prioritising training and skills and education for Australian so that they can actually fill the positions that are there, use the temporary migration program to fill whatever skill shortages are leftover. I’m also adding to the debate now saying we should really obviously be looking at increasing the permanent skilled migration because they don’t compete for jobs, they actually create jobs. When migrants come here, and they’re coming here to become a new Aussie, they set up businesses.  

And what do businesses do Tom? They hire people, right? So they’re actually creating jobs. They’re buying property, they’re spending in the economy and that actually creates jobs. And I think it’s actually critical for our economic recovery that we get the composition of our migration program, right in the coming years. My criticism of the coalition government is Scott Morrison is wanting to have it both ways. Both as Prime Minister and as Immigration Minister. He has increased temporary visas and temporary migrants and got the benefit out of economic growth that comes from those migrants. But at the same time, is telling everyone “Oh look at me, I’ve reduced permanent migration, I’m congestion busting”,  it’s a bit of a scam mate because he’s dropped it down by 10,000, you know what there is over two million people on temporary work visas and 87% of them are based in Sydney and Melbourne. So he hasn’t really touched congestion at all. 

HOST: Well, he sort of has, cause right now there’s not too many cars on the road and not really too many kids in school, but I take your point. Thank you for your time. Peter is the Federal Labor member for Will’s.  



SKY AM Agenda with Tom Connell     

SUBJECTS: Minimum Wage Increase, International Inquiry into Coronavirus  

TOM CONNELL, HOST Gentlemen, thanks both for your time today. Why don’t we start with this wage push from the ACTU. Is it really the time to have the same sort of call for a minimum wage increase Peter Khalil? 

PETER KHALIL MP: Well Tom, I mean it is pretty clear there has been a bit of a theoretical economic argument going on between those on one side saying putting stimulus into the economy, increasing the minimum wage is actually good for recovery. Because frankly those on a minimum wage will spend that money in the economy. They are going to be, they are not going to be putting it into a sock under their pillow given everything that they need to purchase, to just live day to day. So there is a strong, practical argument that the minimum wage should increase so that that money can flow into the economy and actually aid economic recovery. There is lessons from the Great Depression, when you restricted wages or cut wages, it actually made things worse, because there was even less spending- 

CONNELL: But that is very different from an increase. So if you are talking about the impulse to employers, yes, increase wages, there will be some extra spending. But clearly an employer is not going to get all the money back. Shouldn’t there be some inclination to listen to business right now? We know how much they’re struggling Peter Khalil, this is not the normal wage negotiation process surely? 

CONNELLSo this is going to be an enormous and big package. Just on the detail here, Dave Sharma, obviously this will be announced tomorrow and it’s at a Cabinet level, but do you think the government should be prepared to go twice and make some, you know, really monitor the impact that this first announcement has to ensure that the economy is kept stimulated and is activated given what we’ve seen in the wake of Coronavirus? 

KHALIL: Sure, look one of the big costs for small business and businesses in general are the wage costs- but they’re not the only costs. There are other costs in running a business, and so if you are really making an argument in that a small business that is starting to do well, people are coming to spend their money there at a café or wherever it might be. They are going to be putting people on and they are not going to stop putting people on because the minimum wage is a couple of dollars more. Because business is going well. This circular point that, you know, when you have got money in the economy, flowing in the economy, people are going to go to cafes and restaurants. The very same people that are getting that minimum wage are going to spend that money at business across the economy. So I think it is a really important step that needs to happen and of course the Fair Work Commission needs to look at it. 

CONNELL: Alright, before I go to you Trent, we will just have a brief listen in to Steven Miles the Health Minister. We will just have a listen to his update on coronavirus. 

[QLD health update] 

HOSTI just interrupted my political panel, I’ll go to you now Trent Zimmerman on this minimum wage push. If it is a no for now for workers, what can be offered, perhaps a goodwill gesture about an increase, a decent one, once it is affordable for business?  

TRENT ZIMMERMAN, MP: Well I think the first thing to be said, that is as we go through what is obviously a very dark period for the economy and for the employment market because of the coronavirus. We do need employers and employees, business organisations and unions, working together and we have seen that happening to date. I’m not convinced that with so many businesses, particularly small businesses, on their knees that now is the right time to be pushing for a major wage increase. Because really the priority has to be getting people back into work as we emerge on the other side of this and I’m not sure that a significant minimum wage increase is going to be the best way to achieve that. But obviously, supporting wages, supporting incomes during this period will be important that’s why maintaining things like our program of personal income tax cuts will be important as we go forward.  

CONNELLInteresting from the Prime Minister, on the front pages of the Australian today, talking about a new sort of grand accord bringing together unions, employers and workers as well. Is Scott Morrison the sort of figure that can be unifying in that way do you think Trent Zimmerman? 

ZIMMERMAN: Well I think that’s what we have seen so far during this crisis and that’s happened at the political level, through the national cabinet, where we are seeing the states and the commonwealth working at historically positive levels, if I can put it that way. But it has also happened across the economy and across the community so if we can marshal and corral some of that spirit to continue as we emerge from that, then I think that can be really important.  

CONNELLWhat do you think Peter Khalil? Is Scott Morrison capable of doing a Bob Hawke? 

KHALIL: *Laughs* Well he is certainly no Bob! Bob was a historic accord, obviously in the 80s we have been looking back as some what of a golden age. In the Australian, being an Australian I wish the Prime Minister all the best in working cooperatively and constructively with the union movement and business to replicate if you like, some of the successes of that golden age no doubt. But the point is, you know, the national cabinet has worked fairly well during this crisis and that’s something that we should look at with some pride. And that includes, state premiers, Labor and Liberal working with the Federal government. There has been some differences as you would know Tom, but there has been a really good level of coordination. That I think is good for Australia, I think, in the long term.  

CONNELLOkay, I wanted to ask you about this push for an inquiry into COVID19. It seems to be gathering some pretty strong support right around the globe, including some unlikely allies even Russia on board apparently. Peter Khalil does this show that the Australian government’s approach has been a pretty good one? 

KHALIL: Well as you know Tom, I have been calling for an international inquiry on this program or on Sky, a couple of weeks before the Prime Minister made that announcement and as many others of my colleagues have. We had to find a way, into the origins of this coronavirus, the emergence of it, so that we can learn the lessons and make sure it never happens again. My own, so I agree with the Prime Minister, as Labor did, provided bipartisan support for having an international inquiry. My only criticism was in the manner in which he initially went about it, which was not actually working with the international community and China, and sort of going out and jumping out of the trenches and running into no man’s land without having done the diplomatic hard yards. The good news is, it seems that they have started to really work well over the last couple of weeks with the international community. You see that the EU is supporting this motion, many other countries are supporting this motion. There is some negotiation over the next 24 hrs. But the inquiry, an independent, comprehensive inquiry is necessary because that is what is critical to ensure that this kind of pandemic doesn’t happen again. And that we learn the lessons from this. And that it is not against any particular one country, although China, has to be accountable with respect to its actions, like every other country has to be accountable. And that is why the international community has every right to conduct this inquiry.   

CONNELLAnd your thoughts on this Trent Zimmerman, I mean it appears there could be consequences. Is now the time to not to worry about them too much, what’s your message, for example, out there to farmers who might be concerned around tariffs? 

ZIMMERMAN: Well look firstly I want to congratulate the government, Marise Payne and Greg Hunt for the great job they have done in corralling support for this motion at the World Health Organisation assembly. We have seen a large number of nations across the planet get behind our push, and the Europeans, they are taking up the charge as well. And hopefully we will get a consensus outcome and the point we have made all along, and this comes to the your, the thrust of your question is that, this is not an inquiry about a blame game. This is an inquiry that is about learning the lessons from the pandemic, how it started, what we can do better across the world. And therefor any country that has experienced this pandemic, including China, has a stake in its outcomes. And we have to learn from what’s happened. So my message, I suppose, to Chinese authorities is that we want a cooperative relationship with China on this and other issues, and this should not be seen as a threat.  

CONNELLWhen you say that it is not a blame game, that is not what the inquiry seeks to do. But if it finds in some way, that China deliberately covered up information about this, there will be blame to apportion won’t there? 

ZIMMERMAN: Well I think there are going to be important lessons for all of the international organisations and some of the national governments about the level of transparency and maybe there is an opportunity to look at the protocols that are in place for reporting outbreaks like this. But really it is looking forward, how we can learn from this. It is looking at the causes. So, did wildlife wet markets trigger this? Is there a role for closing wet markets, selling exotic animals and wildlife, down so that there are not sectors for diseases like this. Transparency, the international action, the supply chain, the health supply, are going to be very important for us to look at. And the role of the World Health Organisation itself.  

CONNELLPeter, where do you sit on this? I mean, if it emerges that it wasn’t just errors but cover ups, then does Australia have to go another step further and be willing to apportion some blame? 

KHALIL: Well, look I agree with much of what Trent said, and I think it is, as a matter of principle, important for us as a nation to stand firm on principles like having independent, comprehensive inquires of this nature and doing it with the international community. Because it is in our common interest with so many other nations and for the global economy that this kind of thing is mitigated in the future, pandemics in the future. With respect to, you’re asking a hypothetical, with respect to what the inquiry finds. We don’t know that yet, that’s why we-  

CONNELLWell it’s also based on a lot of reports we have seen already. So it’s not a complete hypothetical. 

KHALIL: Ah look, yeah but some of the reports, for example, from the US administration, our own Prime Minister has, you know, said is not quite accurate. For example the emergence of the virus from a lab, which has been pushed by US Secretary of State, Pompeo. Well our Prime Minister has said there is no evidence for that, based on our understanding. So everything is up for evaluation, I think is the point here, and the principle of having an international inquiry is first and foremost, and not blaming anyone in particular, but doing this independently.  

CONNELLOkay, Peter Khalil, Trent Zimmerman, thanks for your time, talk in a couple of weeks.  




SUBJECTS: Coronavirus, Fiscal Stimulus Package, Recession, Casual Worker Support, Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert 

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: I want to bring in my panel, Liberal MP Dave Sharma joins me and Labor MP Peter Khalil, welcome to both of you.  

PETER KHALIL MP: Thanks Patricia.  

DAVE SHARMA MP: Thanks Patricia.  

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOSTSo this is going to be an enormous and big package. Just on the detail here, Dave Sharma, obviously this will be announced tomorrow and it’s at a Cabinet level, but do you think the government should be prepared to go twice and make some, you know, really monitor the impact that this first announcement has to ensure that the economy is kept stimulated and is activated given what we’ve seen in the wake of Coronavirus? 

SHARMA: I think certainly, I mean this, this crisis if you like, is evolving in our response is evolving alongside it. We’ve had significant health measures announced yesterday, a further travel ban imposed on the country. Tomorrow, it looks like it’ll be a fiscal stimulus package of some sort that’s announced. And look, this is going to be something that’s kept under continuous review. It depends a lot upon how the virus is tracking, worldwide, but also how the global economy is responding to it. So this is not a sort of a set and forget set of policies. This is going to be something that we’re always monitoring and adapting and our response will continue to evolve. 

KARVELAS: Peter Khalil, we know that this is a multibillion dollar package. This is not a small, measly package. Will Labor provide support to the government for these measures? If you make the assessment that it’s big and it has the potential to really shift what we’re seeing here. 

KHALIL: Well Patricia, of course we will be constructive in our bipartisan support for what’s necessary to keep us out of recession with respect to the economic fiscal stimulus package and it’s good to see, and we haven’t seen the details yet, but we’re hearing that the government is actually moving on a fiscal stimulus package, which they’ve spent pretty much the most part of this year and maybe parts of last year critical of Rudd’s stimulus package back way back when we kept, or Labor kept, Australia out of recession during the GFC as if it was some sort of disease itself, fiscal stimulus. We’ve been calling on the government to stimulate the economy by raising Newstart, by bringing forward tax cuts, the second phase of tax cuts by bringing forward infrastructure spending, by assisting in incentivising business and small business to try and deal with this. And the fact is, Patricia, the economy was weak and it was struggling under their watch. Well before coronavirus appeared, well before the bushfire season as well. So what they’ve done in being reluctant to actually use fiscal stimulus is put us in a position where we’re dealing with these crises from a position of weakness rather than a position of strength. 

KARVELAS: Well, I have to give you the right of reply there, Dave Sharma, are you doing this from a position of weakness and it is fair to say that the government is being very critical of this kind of cash handouts and it looks like you’re very much going down that road, that announcement tomorrow. Why the shift?  

SHARMA: Well, I’d firstly say why let’s wait and see what the details are in announcement tomorrow, but I’m confident that what we will be presiding over will not be as structural deterioration in the budget. This is a fiscal stimulus, but it’s going to be temporary. It’s going to be in line with the business cycle and it’s not going to be what Labor didn’t respond to the GFC, which was preside over a structural deterioration in the budget. Now, I would take issue with what Peter said earlier. I mean, you know, the fourth quarter, figures just came out last week. The economy was growing at 2.2% not 0.5% for the quarter, which is one of the strongest figures in the OACD. So in fact, the economy is well placed to withstand this crisis and the government’s balance sheet by returning us to a balanced budget last year, the government’s got the fiscal headroom to respond to this crisis. If we’d done what Labor had wanted, if elected imposed $387 billion in new taxes on the economy, we certainly wouldn’t have the fiscal capacity to respond to this crisis. Now that’s what prudent economic management is. 

KARVELAS: Let’s just talk about the impact that the coronavirus might have on workers, which will be potentially huge, particularly casual workers. I want to start with you, Peter Khalil. Just on this proposal from the union movement, they want this legislated two weeks paid leave for all workers. What do you make of that proposal? Do you back it?  

KHALIL: We’ve got to support casual workers. It’s kind of remarkable that Christian Porter was, I’m quoting him or paraphrasing him, saying that casual workers do casual work and they put some money aside in case of emergencies like this because they get paid a bit more because it’s casual work. I mean he is woefully out of touch. I mean does he really think casual workers, who could be single mums, you know, low income parents, could be migrants, new and emerging migrant groups, that can only get casual work. They are putting every last red cent into paying their bills and putting food on the table. They’re not putting money aside for a pandemic. So I think Christian Porter was completely out of touch on this and they need to basically address the fact that there are going to be people who are on casual work who may have to self-isolate and if they can’t, if they want to just survive, they’re going to go into work and they’re going to cause more problems with respect to potentially putting others at risks. So they need to do something about it.  

KARVELAS: Dave Sharma should casual workers receive greater support from the government if they forced to self-isolate for two weeks?  

SHARMA: Well I think in the first instance here, we should be looking to employers to do the right thing by their workers and do the right thing by the economy. And I think that was very much the Prime Minister’s message at the AFR business summit yesterday, that employers will need their workers through this crisis, and beyond it, and I think in the first instance we should rely on and expect goodwill and good faith from them in terms of looking after their workers casual or otherwise. If they’ve got sick leave entitlements, by all means use them. But if they don’t, let’s find another way to make sure that they can continue to work or contribute in some sense. 

KARVELAS: Should the government step in though for those workers who don’t get covered for sick leave? 

SHARMA: The immediate priority here is really dealing with the health impacts of the crisis and the economic impacts of the crisis. 

KARVELAS: But that’s not what – I want to just step in here because that’s the issue that people may put other people’s health at risk if they’re worried about their livelihood. That’s actually at the heart of this.  

SHARMA: Yeah, I mean I think if you’re talking about a government legislative solution to this, this isn’t going to be something that can happen within a matter of hours or days. This is going to take a little bit longer than that. So I think we’re talking about the short term/medium term management of this crisis. We need to rely upon people to do the right thing and people to exercise good judgment. I think that’s what we should be expecting in every Australian, employer and employee.  

KARVELAS: But Australians also have to feed their families, right? So ultimately they’re going to make judgements, not just about others. We’ve seen people do work in their self-interest. That’s what people do.  

SHARMA: So what’s your question there?  

KARVELAS: Well, my question is, do you accept that people will think about the material interests as their primary decision maker about the way they interact with work?  

SHARMA: Well, I mean, I expect Australians will think about their own interests, those of their families and those of the broader nation at large. I’m not asking anyone to do anything that would endanger their own health or the livelihood of their family here. But I think this is, I mean, as I said, this is a public health crisis of a significant magnitude that we haven’t encountered before. So necessarily our response to it is iterative.   

KARVELAS: So, on those other issues about the way to stimulate the economy. I know Labor’s been arguing, Peter Khalil, that Newstart should be raised. If the government does provide, as it looks like it will, a one off payment for Newstart, is that something you’d be welcoming?  

KHALIL: Look, we’ll be constructive in our bipartisan support to tackle these crisis, no doubt about that, but we have been saying for a very long time now, not only us, the Reserve Bank, economists, experts, institutions, they’ve all been calling on the government to provide fiscal stimulus to the economy and all they’ve done is really rely on the ever shortening rope of monetary policy and just hanging on and waiting for the reserve bank to cut interest rates again and again and again. It’s not good enough. That’s not good economic management. This whole myth, Patricia, that the liberals are such good economic managers belies the reality. I mean under their watch, this economy was struggling and weakest, there were stagnant wages (inaudible). 

KARVELAS: Sure, let me intervene just like I did with Dave Sharma in the interest of fairness too, if the government manages to avoid a recession when you give them credit for that? 

KHALIL: Of course we want Australia to avoid recession. 

KARVELAS: Will you give them credit for the way that they handled it? 

KHALILIf they do a fiscal stimulus package, which actually addresses the issues that we’ve been talking about. Absolutely. We’re about Australia’s national interest. It’s not about political point scoring. We want to avoid a recession, but the thing is, Patricia, it’s not us that have been bagging fiscal stimulus. It’s Scott Morrison who goes around critical and making jokes about Rudd’s stimulus package during the GFC that’s coming back to bite him now and they’ve avoided fiscal stimulus now they’ve got to a point where they can’t avoid it. They know that they need to go hard, they need to go fast to avoid recession to keep the economy ticking over. Finally, they’ve let go of this political fear of fiscal stimulus. It’s about time.  

KARVELAS: Dave Sharma, there’s been a lot of confusion or distress in the community over Covid-19 and it’s been reported Victorian doctors with even mild coughs or runny noses are calling in sick after one was shamed by the state’s Health Minister in Victoria. Are you worried about the flow on effects this will have on the whole healthcare system?  

SHARMA: Well, I’m worried about the broader sense of confidence and I think this is a very important point to make here that anyone in a position of responsibility and that includes the government and the opposition and the Labor party needs to be helping Australia to respond to this crisis but not unnecessarily panicking people or causing people to feel that things are worse than they are in fact. So, you know, we need to remember a few facts about this crisis. Yes, it’s significant, yes, it’s big, but the mortality rate is still lower than that of SARS. We’re still learning about the, you know, transmission methods and the life cycle, if you like, with the virus. We’re still developing a vaccine. But you know, I don’t have any doubt that the Australian public health system and our institutions are strong enough to get through this as we’ve got through many other crises and the world will come out the other side of this as well. And I think it’s important to keep those things in mind and not exacerbate the crisis by causing people to do things that they really, on any measurable objective, aren’t required to be doing. 

KARVELAS: Peter, Hobart’s Dark Mofo winter arts festival, which was scheduled to be held in June, has cancelled because of Coronavirus and an annual street festival celebrating Melbourne’s Jewish community is also being cancelled. But this weekend’s Grand Prix is set to go ahead in Melbourne. Is that a wise move? Why are the other things being cancelled and the Grand Prix are goes ahead?  

KHALIL: Look, I’ve seen some of the press conference of the Victorian State Premier, Dan Andrews, and he has rightly said that there is going to come to a point where major events are going to have to be cancelled. Major sporting events, we’re talking about the footy, the Aussie rules for those who follow it being played to empty stadiums potentially. And if we have to take that action, state governments, federal governments, they have to take that action. I think it’s necessary. Why did the Grand Prix go ahead? I think there was some screening of some of the Italian crew that were working for Ferrari and some of the other teams and they’ve decided to go ahead with it. I think they’re making a judgment based on each event as it comes along and also around where you’re seeing community transmission. So at the moment there hasn’t been that much community transmission. There’ve been a few cases of it, but once that starts to increase, I think you’re going to see sporting events cancel so that you limit that community transmission becoming worse than it actually is.  

KARVELASDave, more than 150 Ferrari team members have arrived in Melbourne from the Coronavirus epicentre in Italy. Is that fair enough? What do you make of that decision to let people in? I mean, we now have a travel ban on Italy, but this obviously happened before.  

SHARMA: This predates the travel ban before. Look, I think we just need to be careful with all of this, that our responses are proportionate and based on evidence and an objective assessment of risk. Otherwise we risk that the cure here will be worth worse than the disease. I mean, you know, if we wanted to, we can grind the entire world economy to a halt. We can stop all their travel, we could, and you know quarantine people within their homes and things like that. But I think that would be a disproportionate response given the level of risk we face. So I think with this particular instance I respect the role of the organisers of major events to make their own risk assessment and make a decision based upon the facts and the evidence they’ve got before them. You know, I think I expect we’ll be keeping a close eye on the Grand Prix and we’ll certainly be looking at signs that any infections amongst the teams or elsewhere. But I think, you know, it’s important in these sorts of situations to realise that life needs to go on and should go on and people should continue to live their daily lives as normally as they can. 

KARVELAS: Let’s talk just briefly about something that’s happening in Iran. They’ve temporarily freed 70,000 prisoners from jails around the country out of fear of coronavirus spreading in prisons. But British- Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert has not been released. I want the view from both of you on that. I mean, it seems extraordinary to me. Peter Kahlil? 

KHALIL: Yeah. Well look, Dave and I both have been working on this and we are very concerned about her health, her state of, you know state of health and her wellbeing. 70,000 prisoners are reported to have been released from Iranian prisons, but she hasn’t. Now I know the government is doing everything they can, using every sort of diplomatic tool possible to secure her release. They talk about the release of political prisoners, but Evin prison is probably one of the worst prisons in the world with respect to the conditions and she’s in real danger there. And I think we need to do everything we can to ensure her release. I know we’ll meet with diplomatic representatives in Canberra when we can. And I think we’ve got a bit of a bipartisanship on this because she’s an Australian citizen and the government has raised the fact that she has had nothing to do with some of these allegations. None of them had even been tested Patricia in any kind of judicial system. So we’ll do everything we can to try and secure her release. 

KARVELASAnd I know you’ve been watching this issue too, Dave Sharma. I’d love to get your view? 

SHARMA: Yeah, I very much echo the comments of Peter there. I mean Iran, you know, has the second highest number of cases outside of China. It’s clear that their public health system is struggling to deal with this. And it’s clear that some of the prisons, particularly Evin prison, is a sort of hotspot for this Coronavirus outbreak. So I think for compassionate reasons alone, you know, I’d urge the Iranian government to consider releasing people like Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert, for health reasons and safety reasons. But beyond that and as Peter alluded to, I mean, I think, we reject the charges and the allegations that have been made against her and we believe that she should be released. 

KARVELASThank you to both of you for coming on.