By Tanya Plibersek

01 October 2020


SUBJECTS: Liberals cuts to JobKeeper and JobSeeker; jobs shortage and regional industry.
ALAN JONES, HOST: Well, let's go to Tanya Plibersek, the former Deputy Leader of the Labor Party and Amanda Stoker the talented Liberal Senator from Queensland. Ladies good evening to you. Look I have to confess that on this JobSeeker, JobKeeper unemployment story, I tend to be on a unity ticket with Tanya Plibersek. Today is October 1, from today the JobKeeper subsidy, which will continue until March next year, falls from $1,500 to $1,200 a fortnight. People working fewer than 20 hours of get $750 a fortnight. Let's take these bit by bit and see if we can get some tight answers. 
Tanya Plibersek, will business stay in business and keep employing people on JobKeeper now that it's $1200 a fortnight?
TANYA PLIBERSEK SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING: Look, I think a lot of businesses are already struggling and this will tip some of them over the edge. I was talking to travel agents in my electorate earlier this week Alan and they obviously are one of the hardest-hit industries. I think these sorts of decreases in JobKeeper subsidies will probably push some of them over the edge. 
JONES: Yes and from next year it goes to $1000 a fortnight and we're only guessing can business stay in business? Amanda Stoker just on business, Australia's top 20 lenders have approved a combined $266 billion of repayment deferrals, 10% of all the loans. Now understand the banks of extended the six-month loan deferral by another four months. But this is called kicking the can down the road when the $266 billion Amanda has to be repaid, businesses will also have to resume paying the meeting their monthly commitment. Can you tell me how business does that?
AMANDER STOKER: Well banks are working flexibly with businesses to find the right time for them to start making repayments. Businesses have received record support from the Government to get through this hard time, from the cash flow boost to the instant asset right off, through JobKeeper subsidies and through record support for particular industries, for instance the childcare sector. And we've done an awful lot on the demand side to try and stimulate more demand for all businesses, but particularly small businesses. Some examples I can give you are the homebuilder scheme, which has been very popular. Also the advertising campaigns that have been supported for the fishing industry and the tourism industry and public private infrastructure partnerships that are all about getting that money flowing and keeping business cash registers ringing. 
JONES: Right, 
PLIBERSEK: Alan, can I just add a little something here, because this is all about the announcement once again. The small business loans guarantee, the Government announced $40 billion and they got $1.8 billion out the door. The home builder announcement, the last time we asked the Minister there was not a dollar of that spent. The Government's also announced support for the arts, as far as I know not a dollar of that has actually been distributed to organizations. So it's all big headlines one day and a lot of nasty detail the next. The help is not there on the ground and business owners will tell you that.
JONES: Now that's the correspondence I'm getting. Just while you're with me, JobSeeker from today, this is the unemployment thing, goes from $1,100 to $800 a fortnight. There is a Coronavirus supplement of $250 a fortnight. So that's about $500 a week. There are more than 5 million Australians receiving JobKeeper and JobSeeker. Tanya Plibersek how many of them will be in jobs now that the payments have fallen?
PLIBERSEK: Well, we know that there's 13 people for every job out there. There's 13 applicants for every job Alan. So there are so many Australians who will either be struggling on reduced JobKeeper or snapping back to those lower JobSeeker payments. $40 a day was never enough for people to live on, we certainly can't go back to those poverty wages because people can't even look for work. They can't afford the train fare to get to the job interview when you've got such low benefits. 
JONES: I'll come to the job issue in just a moment, for the benefit of our viewers JobSeeker was 1.45 million people in July. JobKeeper, sorry the other way, JobKeeper was 1.45 million, JobSeeker was 3.5 million and the Treasure did say in July that real unemployment is almost double the official figure. But can I just take this point up that Tanya made about 13 people for every job. Now given this grim picture on unemployment and people screaming out 'where are the jobs?' the joint standing committee on migration, I've made this point many times, made a recommendation in early September that university students and recent graduates should be given HECS debt discounts to encourage them to pick crops in regional Australia and plug this labour shortage. Amanda, trees are being ripped out in your state because the produce can't be picked. $6 billion dollars of horticulture is at risk your Government seems to be saying well they can stay on JobSeeker, that's the unemployment benefit while undertaking low-paid agriculture and horticultural work, I haven't heard a person in Government pushing this issue. Is it happening? There are jobs out there available and Tanya is saying, oh well it's 13 applicants for every job. Who's taking these jobs? 
STOKER: Well at the moment the industry who I meet with regularly, particularly in the Wide Bay and in the central Queensland regions, they tell me they've got plenty of jobs, but they can't get Australians do them.
JONES: That's my point. Well, why?
STOKER: Well there's every disincentive that can possibly be removed at a Federal level has been removed. We've got a tapering off in JobSeeker and JobKeeper to make sure that there are incentives for people to get to work. 
JONES: There's got to be something wrong with this, you're quite right, I just don't understand this. 
STOKES: There's more we've done more Alan, 
JONES: I know but horticulture industry today, I'm not disagreeing with you, I just don't understand this. We're forking money out to people there are jobs there, the horticulture industry, Tanya Plibersek said today, they've got a shortage of 30,000 workers. There's something wrong here isn't it? What's going on? 
PLIBERSEK: I think Alan we spend billions of dollars on job network providers with the aim of connecting Australians to jobs that are available. You would be old enough to remember the old Commonwealth Employment Service. You need a good information flow to job seekers about where the jobs are. I don't think we're doing that well enough. We need to make sure the pay and conditions for those jobs is sufficient. We've heard terrible stories about fruit pickers not being properly looked after. 
JONES: But they are able to keep JobSeeker.
PLIBERSEK: That's good. I'm not arguing with that at all. I want to see these young people, in particular take up these opportunities and especially those ones who won't be having a gap year. It's a great way to see more of Australia. I'm simply saying that the information flow has to be better about where the jobs are and we need to make sure, we have heard stories about backpackers and Pacific Island workers being exploited. We need to wipe that out of the system so that people can go with confidence, especially their parents want to see them go with confidence. 
JONES: See Amanda there are two issues on this, the jobs are available, but then people can't get to them. Border closures surely are an enormous issue in all of this. 
STOKER: Border closures are an enormous problem. I won't wear what Tanya's had to say about the connection between where the jobs are and the job seekers not being there. The jobs portal has had record popularity. The seasonal harvest worker program online connects people from across the country directly with the seasonal picking jobs that are available right now. But you're right the borders remain a continuing problem and until those open the Sydneysider who's out of work isn't able to easily come to say Queensland and pick citrus or go to the Sunshine Coast and pick strawberries or Victoria, and go and pick blueberries.
JONES: To both of you guys say this, farmer said to me today, Australians haven't shown themselves to be interested in harvest work in general. I think the economic situation will need, this is the farmer, be quite dire before unemployed people in the cities have the impetus to look for work in the regions and relocate as needed. Government's got to step in here somewhere. Just a quick one from both of you. Tanya, what does Government have to do to match those people who are unemployed with the work that needs to be done? 
PLIBERSEK: They need to make sure that the jobs are advertised in a way that people can find them easily. But Alan, it's also think if you're talking about 18 and 19 year olds, their parents will want to know that they're safe that they've got good accommodation, safe accommodation. I don't mean luxurious accommodation. I mean somewhere to stay that is safe and a decent rate of pay and you know food at the end of the day and a glass of water every few hours in the hot sun. These sorts of working conditions, of course most places are fantastic and do that, but we've had some pretty bad stories along the way too.
JONES: Well Amanda I'll just finish with you. How do we match this army of unemployed people, with the army of jobs that's available to assist our produce getting to export or onto our dining room table?
STOKER: Part of it requires a culture shift. We need to be willing to go where the work is, but the other part is this, we need to open our minds to the adventure that this can be. There is an awful lot of incentive simply in the fact that you can go to beautiful regional Queensland see our gorgeous country have gone accommodation often provided for you. Earn a good income make new friends as the PM said maybe even fall in love. This can be the new gap year in circumstances where people won't go overseas for a while.
JONES: I know but Amanda I'm a Queenslander and if I wanted a job I can't get there. This is the point, I can't get to the place, so there we are. All right, well done to both of you and we'll talk again next week. Tanya Plibersek and Amanda Stoker we'll take a break be back after that.