Sky News Interview: AM Agenda: US Protests, JobKeeper and JobSeeker



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.