Sky News Interview: First Edition: Mental Health, Tax Cuts, COVID-19 Lockdown



SUBJECTS: Mental Health, Tax Cuts and COVID-19 Lockdown

PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: Joining us live now is Labor MP Peter Khalil. Peter it’s good to see you, thanks for joining us. There is some statistics coming out from the government today that are quite alarming. A million Australians have needed help for mental health issues since the COVID outbreak. But also there’s been quite an uptick in Victoria. There’s been a 30 per cent increase just over the past four weeks alone. Is that being mirrored in your own electorate? 

PETER KHALIL MP: Yeah I’m not surprised by these statistics at all. I think the mental health strain on Victorians in my electorate has been immense. We’re in Mental Health month actually and 1 in 5 Australians experienced mental illness before COVID-19. The restrictions and the pandemic and everything that’s happened to all of us this year, particularly in Victoria has only exacerbated those strains. You see it with parents, with small business owners, you see it with students and young people. You see it with singles, people who live alone. Even the elderly who are more isolated. We’ve had to do grocery drop offs and things like that. Just call them up on the phone just to have a chat, just to keep connected with people. The good news is that schools back, so that’s a big relief for parents frankly. But there is a real strain on people’s mental health during these restrictions.  

HOST: So, what does that say to you? You’ve got to get people back outside, back outdoors and try and get things back to the way they were.   

KHALIL: Absolutely Pete. And look, your lead story on the restrictions in Victoria, setting aside all the politics – this is not about politics now – it’s about good public policy. I think the Victorian Government are obviously responsible for the Hotel Quarantine, I’ve raised issue as constructively as I can about the fact that there hasn’t been capacity or good enough capacity on contact tracing, raised issues around the restrictions and inconsistency around some of those restrictions, so it’s not a partisan thing. Its about good public policy and they are trying obviously to bring down this second wave so that we don’t have the health system overwhelmed but you’ve got to make, obviously, decisions on the cost to people’s health, mental health as well as other health issues. Cancer screening has dropped because people have been scared to go and get tested. Things like that need to be assessed in all of this. And I would say, frankly, once we get contact tracing up to a capacity that is really good, you really want to be able to localise your response to outbreaks. Like the ones we’ve seen in Shepparton and in part of country Victoria. You localise that response, you don’t lockdown the entire state because of a break out in Shepparton for example.  

HOST: The Premier is now suggesting, Daniel Andrews is suggesting that the current number are as good as it gets. He’s not going to be able to get to his level of 5 and then easing restrictions, so is that another example of the goal of elimination being impossible? 

KHALIL: The State Governments have said they’re not trying to get to elimination  

HOST: Well Jenny Mikakos would disagree.  

KHALIL: Yeah, well that’s a good point. It was a very strict form of suppression which, you know, it’s all a bit semantics isn’t it.  

HOST: Yeah strict suppression or elimination. That’s the same thing.  

KHALIL: Technically, if you look at New Zealand for example, they had outbreaks even after they had supposedly eliminated the virus from the country. So, I think we’re stuck with this virus, everyone knows that. That’s why the response has to be, there has to be a quick fire and localised response. The contact tracing has to be really on top of its game and very strict, if you like, at a local level. So you don’t collectively shut down the rest of the state or the city or the economies there and try to get back to what the Premier has called “COVID Normal”. And they’re working through all those figures, I’m not privy to all the figures and I’m not a medical expert. But politicians and leaders have to make tough decisions. How much risk are we prepared to take visa vis the mortality rate, with the virus and the capacity of the health system and the ICU capacity. Now right now in Victoria we’ve got, I think, 25 or 23 people in hospital with COVID-19, the ICU capacity is a couple of people on ICU, but we have about 800-900 beds. How much are you prepared to take of that? You look at the UK, Boris Johnson’s had to go back to a partial lockdown.  

HOST: Yeah that’s right.  

KHALIL: Because the health system is now being overwhelmed, or the ICUs are being overwhelmed. So it’s about getting that balance right.  

HOST: Well, Trump’s gone the other way.  

KHALIL: That’s right. And there’s been a lot of criticism for that. I think politicians around the world have struggled. You’ve got one end of the spectrum that’s like it doesn’t really matter. And the other end of the spectrum, obviously a much stricter, a much more concern around having any of the virus get out of hand. It’s somewhere in the middle that’s Covid Normal, until we get a vaccine, if we ever get a vaccine. And we have to actually face that reality.  

HOST: Just finally Peter, we’ve got eyes on Josh Frydenberg at the moment. He’s about to attend a door stop.  

KHALIL: Oh, I’m more important than Josh aren’t I? 

HOST: There’s the live pictures now. So when we start hearing from Josh we’ll bring that to you live folks. But just finally, you brought up the economy, I’d like to ask you about that Pete, Because there’s a report in the Financial Review this morning that suggests that Antony Albanese is likely to scale back stage three tax cuts if he wins office, rather than revoke them. What would you like to see on that front?  

KHALIL: Well last year, I argued very strongly we should support the tax cuts for stage one and stage two. I didn’t agree with the stage 3, never have and Labor, the caucus never agreed with stage three because 80 billion dollars that would go to high income earners, people earning over $200,000  

HOST: But that doesn’t change. People earning over 200k, there’s no change there. They were at 45 per cent.  

KHALIL: Well we’re looking at amending elements of the package so that the stage three tax cuts don’t go, or the 80 Billion doesn’t go to tax cuts. It can be spent on schools, on roads, on hospitals, on manufacturing, on job creation. And people who are low income earners, they spend their tax cuts. The evidence is there, the economic evidence is there. They’ll spend it in the economy and that’s a good thing. That’s why we supported stage one and stage 2. So I think we’ve settled on a very good position, and I think the Government is being a bit suborn on this frankly. Because they know that those stage three tax cuts, that 80 billion can be spent better elsewhere.  

HOST: So would it be your plan to scale back or revoke? Just to be clear, you’d revoke it completely? 

KHALIL: Well, I don’t know. We’d have to look at stage three. With the caucus, we’d have to look at stage three tax cuts at the time. Look at the economy at the time and assess what kind scaling back or – 

HOST: Because there’s a lot of people in that bracket. 

KHALIL: Over 200,000? 

HOST: Under 

KHALIL: Yeah, but if you’re amending something, you want to make sure that the stage one and stage two tax cuts – and I think you’re talking about stage three impacting people who are low- and middle-income earners. Of course, we’re going to look at that because what we want, is to ensure that low- and middle-income earners are getting all of their tax cuts even if some of it flows from stage three. Now technically how we do that with amendments bill, if we win government, it’s all hypothetical right, but if we win government, that’ll be the work that we would have to do. The principle, Peter, is making sure that the money flows to low and middle income earners, under $200,000, but the high income earners are not getting 80 billion in tax cuts or there abouts. That that money is spent on education, on schools, on hospitals and so on.  

HOST: Okay. Pete good to chat. We’ll talk to you soon. 

KHALIL: Thanks Peter.