ABC AFTERNOON BRIEFING
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, HOST: So 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?
KHALIL: If 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.
KARVELAS: Dave, 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.
KARVELAS: And 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.
KARVELAS: Thank you to both of you for coming on.