Sky News Interview: AM Agenda: Victoria’s COVID-19 Response, JobMaker Scheme



SUBJECTS: Victoria’s COVID-19 Response, JobMaker Scheme

TOM CONNELL, HOST: Joining me live now, my political panel, Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman. From the Labor party, Peter Khalil. The latest roadmap, it does mean the vast majority of businesses cannot reopen, Peter Khalil, this must be disappointing for many? 

PETER KHALIL: Yeah, look, it is, Tom, and we’ve gone through over a hundred days now of pretty strict lockdown and restrictions, and Victorians have done an amazing job, frankly, to get the second wave under control with down to, I think, two cases yesterday, one the day before. There’s been a lot of talk and criticism about the speed of easing restrictions, if you like, or letting businesses get back into play. I just want to say this. I’ve been very constructive in my criticism. It’s not partisan, it’s not political, frankly. This is a pandemic. I’ve criticised the Victorian Government around the hotel quarantine, the contact tracing capacity and so on. But let’s not conflate the mistakes that are made with that, with the response which was necessary. If you look at the UK, just in the earlier story, they were at the same number of cases that we had per day. When we were at 723 cases, three months ago, they’re at 763. Now they’re looking at, you know, 15,000 new cases a day. The same with France, 34,000 new cases a day, so they’ve really gone into an outbreak which is becoming very difficult to control. So, we’re talking about the fact that Victorians have actually saved lives. I mean, some 67-70 people have died a day, in the UK, admittedly, they have larger populations, but the point is we have done what is necessary to control the second wave. The pace at which you then open up again is important for business, absolutely, and I think the Premier also said that he may actually bring that forward to the 26th of October. 

CONNELL: We’ll see. I mean, you’re comparing it to Europe. You could compare it to other states such as New South Wales. Is there an inherent issue though, the Victorian Government, as you alluded to there and the next ones will be my words, but it’s been responsible, essentially, for this second wave. It’s also up to the Government when to release the handbrakes. I mean, them being in charge of this, but also risk averse because they cannot afford, for their own credibility apart from anything else, a third wave. Is that a bit of a problem? They’re not going to have any risk appetite at all. 

KHALIL: I think you’re–I think you’re assuming a few things there, Tom. You assume it’s all political. I think the risk averse and cautious approach is because we don’t want a third wave. We don’t want people to die. We don’t want to get it out of control. I used the comparison to Europe, yes, but only because New South Wales never had some 750 new cases a day, which we did. And, you know, the UK did three months ago at the same point in time. Admittedly it’s a larger population, but having said, that they know, I think, clearly, that we can’t go back to a similar type of strict lockdown with strict restrictions that we’ve seen over the last three months. So they want to make sure they get it absolutely right. And if it means opening up retail on the 26th of October or the 1st of November in ten or eleven days, then so be it. 

CONNELL: Trent, the message coming loud and clear just seems to be a straight ‘open up, do it now’ from the federal government. Do you agree? 

TRENT ZIMMERMAN: Well, I think Victorians have done an amazing job over the last few months in stamping down on the second wave, but I can also understand the considerable frustration that Victorians must have today. And particularly when they do look across the border and they see New South Wales with a similar, if not slightly higher case load, and see all the freedoms that I’ve been enjoying over the last week, and seeing businesses being able to operate, people being able to get on with their lives, livelihoods being restored every day. And really the measures that Dan Andrews are putting in place is almost a vote of no confidence in his own government’s capacity to manage the virus because New South Wales has demonstrated that if you have got the authorities working with proper contact tracing, with proper controls, in partnership with business to make sure that business is operating in a COVID-safe way, that you can open up and restore the type of freedoms that Victorians I’m sure so desperately want. And at the same time, what we’ve been seeing is obviously the consequences of this lockdown starting to manifest themselves, and what really worries me is just the mental health figures that we’ve seen starting to emerge over the last couple of weeks where the mental health impact being faced by many Victorians is so much worse than the rest of the country. 

CONNELL: So the Health Minister has actually pointed at Melbourne. Even Melbourne is no longer meeting the definition of a COVID hotspot. Does that mean New South Wales should open up to Melbourne now? 

ZIMMERMAN: Well, I understand that there might be decisions about that as early as this week, but they are obviously decisions that the New South Wales Government will make on its health advice. But I certainly think that for regional Victoria– 

CONNELL: But–again, if the Health Minister is saying Melbourne is not a COVID hotspot, wouldn’t the next logical step be for the Federal Government, which has been concerned about the Queensland-New South Wales border before, to start talking about the New South Wales-Victoria border? 

ZIMMERMAN: Well, let’s see what the New South Wales Government does over the next couple of days. I think that there will be some positive moves, particularly for regional Victoria, but we’re getting pretty close to when, hopefully, we can see those borders reopened, and that’s something that I’m sure that we’d all welcome. 

CONNELL: Job subsidy scheme is going to be the order of the bait today. Peter Khalil, what’s Labor actually saying here? I mean, you’re going to support this scheme, but you’d like another one in for older Australians? You’re not going to oppose this from what we can see. 

KHALIL: Yeah, well, we’re looking at it in our caucus tomorrow morning, obviously. The shadow cabinet as well, making decisions around the support or otherwise for the JobMaker scheme. I think the real point here is that you’re looking at unemployed people over 35. There’s 928,000 people aged over 35 on unemployment benefits. And again, this government has kind of adopted these Keynesian type politics, policies I should say, with wage subsidies, but sometimes, very reluctantly, we’ve had to push them to do it. And oftentimes they’ve left big gaps there, big cracks, and left a lot of people out. A million Australians who are casual workers were left out of JobKeeper. A million Australians who are casual workers were left out of JobKeeper. Again, why are you setting people against each other based on their generation? We’re talking about a lot of people in their forties who are going to have great difficulty getting back into the job market. There should be support for all Australians, regardless of their age. Yes, the youth have taken a big hit, and we absolutely support it. That’s why we’re looking at supporting this JobMaker hiring credit, but you’ve got to look at the entire problem. And this Government tends to leave out big groups. Big demographics. 

CONNELL: So Trent, we know young people were the first, in many cases, to lose their jobs from this, but also becoming the first to get them back. Look at any other recession. Older workers are the ones that stay unemployed for the longest. That is a fair enough question, isn’t it? What’s in this budget for them? 

ZIMMERMAN: Well, two points, firstly, this is about ensuring some hope and a future for our younger generations which stand the risk of being decimated by this pandemic. And I think there’s a real moral imperative for us to be providing that generation with some hope. And we know that the consequences of pandemic have hit younger Australians most severely, in fact, job losses and reduced hours four times more than for the general community. And we also know from past experience that it is often young people that are the slowest to be able to return to work. So, there’s no apologies from me about the fact that we’re trying to provide some hope. 

CONNELL: Is that the case? Isn’t it, generally in recessions, older Australians, including the latest cohort that most often going on to Newstart even before the pandemic, the biggest growing cohort were actually people over fifty that were on Newstart for a prolonged period of time. 

ZIMMERMAN: Well, in the last recession, the unemployment rate for young people took fifteen years to recover compared to something considerably less for the general community. But the other point that I’d make is, obviously, that we have a range of wage subsidy programs, some of which predate this pandemic, and all of which are still available. So for workers over the age of fifty there is the Restart Programme which provides subsidies up to up to $10,000. 

CONNELL: Only up to six months. Only up to six months on the dole queue for them. 

ZIMMERMAN: Indeed. And I think that you’ll find that when you look at the course of this pandemic, there are going to be a lot of people that are eligible for that, because we’re talking about an employment impact that hit in April, March this year, so six months have elapsed. But also we have wage subsidy programs for longterm unemployed, for Indigenous people, for families. These are part of the architecture. And I haven’t heard, in the past, Labor complaining about targeted wage subsidy programs. It’s almost as if Labor is saying that you shouldn’t target. 

CONNELL: We’ll have to leave it there. I’m sure this debate will still be going next time we talk. Peter, Trent, thank you. Talk again soon.