27 July 2020

MONDAY, 27 JULY 2020

SUBJECTS: Child incarceration, federal government responsibility for aged care, coronavirus restrictions, tax cuts. 

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: I want to bring in my afternoon panel. Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman and Shadow Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones, welcome to both of you.



KARVELAS: I actually want to pick up on the age of criminal responsibility. It's probably something you're not both focusing on intensely, but I think it's a really important issue and it seems that, you know, the can is being kicked down the road today by Attorney-Generals, that's what that's how I see it. Trent Zimmerman, should we really be holding 10 year-olds criminally responsible? Do you think the country needs to look at this issue?

ZIMMERMAN: Well, look it’s not an area where I'd claim to have any great expertise, but instinctively agree with the proposition that you're putting. It doesn't sit comfortably, having 10 year-olds treated that way. I'm interested to see what more work the attorneys have commissioned, but it would be good to get a resolution to this issue one way or the other, I would have thought. But as you know, it is primarily a matter for state and territory governments because most of the criminal justice system falls within their jurisdiction.

KARVELAS: Yeah. No look, that's absolutely right. That’s why the Attorney-General's met on it. Stephen Jones, should we be setting that benchmark at 14? I mean, there are many Labor governments at a state level that will have to be making this call. Should WA and Queensland be moving in this direction?

JONES: I think the Commonwealth does have a role. It's a role to lead. It's hard to think of a policy more specifically designed to harm the life outcomes of young people than sending them to jail. It's more expensive. It costs over $1,000 close to the $1,500 a day to have a person in jail. We know that their life outcomes are going to be ruined as a result of it. Rehabilitation outside of institutional setting has got to be the option that we are looking for and I think the Commonwealth should be leading. And let's not forget if you're a young Aboriginal boy or young woman you're more likely to be one of those kids who are being sent to jail furthering the inequality and life outcome. So, let's turn our mind to a way that we can build this into a national program. At the same time as looking at indigenous incarceration targets as well. Commonwealth, absolutely got a role to lead.

KARVELAS: Yeah, and you're also less likely to have parents that are able to argue your way out of it as well. As we know that's one of the more disturbing parts of the system. Look I want to talk about coronavirus. I know you're both from New South Wales, but I want to start off with the situation in Victoria. Barnaby Joyce has called for the Morrison government to step in and take charge of Victoria's management of the coronavirus crisis. I’ll start with you Trent Zimmerman, should there be federal intervention?

ZIMMERMAN: There should be federal support but I don't think there's a case for federal intervention and their federal support is obviously flowing in bucket loads of the moment, be it be the 1400 Defence Force personnel that we have down there or the support that we're providing to the tracing capacity and marshalling the other states to help with that a little bit. There will be, clearly, lessons to learn from what's happening and other states will look closely as to how Victoria responds to those because they will need to learn the lessons themselves. But I think it's a mistake to think that the Commonwealth itself has an army of contact tracers and health officials that are hidden away somewhere that could be deployed overnight to replace Victorians doing that job. We will supplement and support where we can as you know, the Prime Minister has an open door to any request from Dan Andrews or other premieres and he's saying yes when he's asked, that's the important thing at this stage of the pandemic.

KARVELAS: The state's Premier Daniel Andrews said he will look at closing certain industries if the workplace transmission of coronavirus is not slowed. I wonder, Stephen Jones, is that something should have happened already? If we know workplaces are one of the places that this happens and we've got over 500 numbers today of new cases, is that something that needs to happen?

JONES: I'll just actually come from a briefing on this particular issue, Patricia. There's been over 120 workplace clusters in Victoria. We shouldn't feel smug in New South Wales. There's a growing number of workplace clusters in New South Wales as well. I think we've got to get to the root cause. I think swift action to close down, to clean, to identify the source of the infection, absolutely 100% support that. I think we also need to be looking at the cause of how a disease does spread within a particular workplace. We know that at high levels of casualised, low-paid workers are exactly the areas where people are too poor to be able to stay at home. So we need to be able to support those workers to ensure that they can do the right thing by everyone by staying at home if they're sick, or showing symptoms, or have an adverse test. So yeah, I think more needs to be done in those areas. But can I just say one thing about Barnaby's unhelpful intervention, firstly cooperation is going very well. Secondly, it's not like the Commonwealth doesn't have an area of exclusive responsibility in the area of Victoria as well and that's in the area of aged care. So if the Commonwealth wants to up its level of intervention in any state or in any area, I think it's in the aged care area where we know the risks are highest and once it gets in there, it spreads like wildfire. So if Barnaby wants to be helpful, perhaps he can be focusing on the areas where the Commonwealth has explicit and almost exclusive responsibility, and age care is one of them. 

KARVELAS: Yeah, Trent it seems that aged care, of course where this is spreading and it's really sad, we can expect more deaths in coming days and weeks. We know what will happen, we've been told it's going to happen. It's a very, very dark time in Victoria, but I think all Australians feel a sense of sadness around all of this. Shouldn't we have been better prepared? I mean there is a federal responsibility too with aged-care, PPE, the mobile workforce, you know, aged care workers being able to come in and out of different aged care homes. Aren't these things that should have already happened by now?

ZIMMERMAN: Well, I think they have been happening and it's a continuum of ramping up based on what you see happening, based on infection rates and so on. So for example, I think two weeks ago the Victorian government of the Commonwealth agree that mass should be compulsory in aged care facilities. We have been providing, I think, five million masks to the aged care sector in Victoria alone. So there's a continuum of responses based on the level of community transmission. But what is really difficult, I think in relation to the aged care setting, is the fact that obviously someone can be working in aged care facility without any symptoms but still be transmitting coronavirus. Now, it's less likely than when you are symptomatic, but that's possible and that's I think one of the great challenges that the sector has faced, both here and overseas.

KARVELAS: Just talking about places, of course, where the virus can spread, organisers of the Black Lives Matter protest are pretty upset because it's an unauthorised event, according to the courts. I want to start with you Stephen Jones on this question. Do you think that's reasonable, should the protest be able to go ahead, what's your view?

JONES: I 100% support the objective of the protesters, which is to put a spotlight on inequality, to put a spotlight on injustice in respect of Australian First Nations people, but I don't agree that when we have a pandemic spreading through the community, when the risks are so high, that this is the best way for us to be doing it in this particular month. So I'll be showing my support in whatever way I can but I didn't attend last one for this reason, I won't attend the next one for this reason. 100% support the cause, but we've got to find another way to conduct our protest, to conduct our advocacy during this pandemic period.

KARVELAS: The organisers have said the event will go ahead despite the court's ruling. Is that a mistake Stephen?

JONES: I think it's unfortunate. I've said what my view is. I understand the passion. I've listened to all of the interviews of the organisers. I admire the passion. I admire the conviction, the single-mindedness of it, but I disagree with the conclusion. I don't think this is the best way for us to be getting our message across, for them to be getting their message across, when we're in the middle of a pandemic. Find another way, you have my 100% support for the cause but I don't think we should be getting large numbers of people together in the middle of a pandemic. It’s too risky.

KARVELAS: Trent Zimmerman, the court may have said no but it seems that organisers still want to go ahead. Do you understand or do you have some sympathy for their desire to get on the streets and make this point at this particular time in history?

ZIMMERMAN: No, I greatly admire their passion for a cause and obviously the right to protest is an important part of our democracy, but it's outweighed in current circumstances by the risks involved and the court decision should be enough, but more importantly, court decision or not, it's the consistent advice from all of the health experts in New South Wales that this is a risky enterprise. This isn't politicians making that judgement. It is our health professionals making that judgement and no planning in the world can overcome the fact that a protest, by its nature, is very hard to be an environment which you can force proper social distancing. So I think that the advice of our health officials should be followed and I would just say to the organisers, please, please, please think about other ways in which you can make your point. We saw earlier this year our veterans who wanted to honour their fallen compatriots have to reinvent themselves in terms of the way that they honoured Anzac day and they did that really effectively. There is more than one way to protest in our democracy and we need that to happen at this time more than ever.

KARVELAS: I just want to move to the economy before I say goodbye to both of you. Trent Zimmerman, still with you, some of your Liberal colleagues pushing to bring forward personal tax cuts. Do you think that would be a good way forward to get more money in people's pockets and get the economy moving?

ZIMMERMAN: Well as a matter of principle, I'm always attracted to personal income tax cuts and that's why I've supported the plan that we have to reduce income tax over the next couple of years. But I think what the PM said, quite rightfully, is that our priority has to be about employment generation over the next 12 months and probably for longer. There's no point in income tax cuts if you haven't got an income, which is why jobs has to be the number one focus. So I think everything that we need to do needs to be within those parameters. Now, of course income tax cuts would have some stimulatory effect, but there might be better ways to be spending Commonwealth resources, just at this point in time. 

KARVELAS: What do you think on that issue, Stephen Jones? Do you still support a call the that we've heard before from Labor for the pandemic that some of these tax cuts be brought forward?

JONES: [INAUDIBLE] We've already said in relation to the second tranche, which is too low and middle income earners, that there may be some merit in that. But I do want to make this point, on Friday last week, sorry on Thursday last week the Government released the budget update. 84 billion dollars’ worth of deficit this year 185 billion dollar deficit next year. The debt approaching 1 trillion dollars. The Treasurer said in response to questioning on this that he was taking his inspiration from Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan doubled the budget deficit, he doubled the government debt during his time in office and he did it because he was so wedded to the ideology of tax cuts, at the same time as the needs upon the budget are going to be greater now than they have been in a long time. Now, we were just talking about aged care, we've just had Royal Commission that says there is not enough money in the aged care sector. We know that one of the reasons that the virus is a higher risk factor in aged care, quite apart from the frailty of the residents, is that there are a lot of low-paid casual workers in that sector because there's not enough money in the aged care sector. So I think we've got to be very, very careful about saying we're going to have a tax cut lead recovery. A lot of very serious economic thought says that it won't work this time. But secondly, we've got budget deficits growing, government debt growing, how is a tax cut the answer to meeting the immediate needs of the economy and the medium and long-term use about bringing that budget back in to surplus? Taxes should not be a cent higher than they need to be, but we need to look at both sides of the equation, how are we going to pay for our ageing population? How are we going to pay for the nation-building projects? How are we going to ensure that that generation of young people who are leaving school now, that the Productivity Commission has identified will be scarred for life if they do not find their ways into jobs in the next two years, how are we going to stable this off? I'm convinced it's not through a voracious campaign of tax cuts.

KARVELAS: Thank you to both of you for joining us this afternoon.

ZIMMERMAN: Thanks Patricia.

JONES: Great to be with you.