SKY NEWS AM AGENDA
WEDNESDAY, 19 MARCH 2020
SUBJECTS: Economic impacts of COVID-19.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: Joining us live is Stephen Jones Shadow Assistant Treasurer, joining us via Skype, which is the new normal. Stephen, thank you for your time. Now. What do you make of this announcement from Qantas this morning? It's not entirely unexpected, but the degree to which they're impacted by coronavirus really is quite shocking.
STEPHEN JONES: The entire aviation industry, in fact, the tourism sector and the transport sector are being smashed. There's no doubt about it. Very, very concerned for all the workers and their families, they’re heading into an enormous period of uncertainty. I don't think anybody is surprised, anybody has been to an airport in any of our state capitals over the last week will have seen just about nobody traveling and that is magnified when you look at some of the regional Airlines as well. Assistance is needed for not only the businesses, but the workers impacted by those layoffs.
NIELSEN: Do you think this is a time when the government should be stepping up and saying that they will bail out the airlines if needed?
JONES: My number one concern is that we keep viable businesses open, and that at the other end of this crisis, and there will be another end of the crisis, we have a competitive domestic and international airline industry. That requires the two existing carriers being able to continue and it also involves us having viable regional airlines as well. So there's a role for the Government and for the banks, for that matter, to be assisting these businesses through the crisis that we know will come to an end. I'm just as concerned to ensure that the workers affected, the people who are losing their jobs this morning, know that the Government's got their back, know that the Government is going to help them through these difficult times and a call out to the companies themselves that they are bringing these workers back on their books, looking after these workers and bring them back to work, as soon as it is feasible and possible.
NIELSEN: There has been a story today about the banks stepping up to give low interest, or interest free loans, to be helping people, especially small businesses, to get through this time. Is there a risk that if we put too much pressure on the banks that they lose their stability, they lose their ability to say we are so well established a weather a storm like this?
JONES: That's why we need a couple of things to happen today. The Reserve Bank Governor will be making his statement this morning. That's very welcome. The number one job of the Reserve Bank in a time like this is to ensure liquidity for the banks, to ensure that the banks have a supply of money, so that they are going to be in a position to secure the people on their mortgage and their loan book as well. We need the Reserve Bank to spell out its suite of measures to send a very clear message to the markets that it is got the banks’ back. That involves it getting into the bond market in a much more aggressive way, but I'll leave it to the Reserve Bank Governor to spell the suite of measures that they are going to implement. In addition to that, with the banks having secured their supply, we need to ensure that the banks are doing the right thing by their customers. So the sorts of things that would be looking for would be mortgage holidays, extending the length of mortgages for both households and businesses. The important thing here, Annelise, is if we've got a business that is otherwise viable before we went into this crisis, we want to ensure the that business is going to be there at the other end of it and that measures are put in place to support them through those extraordinary times. The Prime Minister himself has set the test, a test that I agree, the test for the Government is ensuring that businesses survive through this, that will workers’ jobs are saved through this. I think that is the appropriate test because that's what matters to every Australian household, ensuring that at the other end of this crisis, we've got a job and our business as a staying open.
NIELSEN: There is going to be this announcement from the Government, at some point this week or early next week, of what's been called a rescue package. We've kind of moved well beyond stimulus at this point. My understanding is the approach the Government's taking is they're not putting a dollar figure on what it's going to be, they're looking at what needs to happen and then working backwards and it'll cost what it costs. Do you think that's the right approach?
JONES: A couple of things here, we can't give up on stimulus. We need to ensure that every viable business that can be saved is saved, that every job that can be saved is saved, so we don't give up on stimulus. Obviously, just as important as that is, ensuring that households can keep food on the table, electricity turned on, their rent paid or their mortgage paid. Everybody's got a part to play in that, the private sector, the banks ensuring that there's some flexibility with mortgages and mortgage repayments and my discussions with the ABA they're up for the challenge, their members are up for the challenge. They're encouraging their customers to contact them as soon as possible, if they know they're in hardship, because arrangements can and will be put in place. We need those sort of measures to be put in place to ensure that businesses can get through. There's another point I'd like to make, in other countries utilities and securities arrangements have been put in place to ensure that people don't have the power switched off, they don't have the their telco services, their phone services, they find surfaces switched off as well because they can't make payments. I think everyone's got a role to play in this, big companies, small companies, the Government, the banking system, we can get through this, but we are going to need all of those businesses, particularly those businesses in critical areas of supply, electricity, finance, telecommunications all playing a part and showing the flexibility that is going to be needed by Australian households.
NIELSEN: Is there anything the government's not doing now that you think they should be?
JONES: I'm going to leave the health issues aside, my colleague Chris Bowen has been doing an excellent job of showing both bipartisanship and leadership where needed, if I could deal with some of the economic issues, I think the Reserve Bank's got a role to play, delighted to see that the Government is going to be making a statement today. We'd like to see a lot more support for households. We'd like to see a package of measures put in place for casual workers, because they are the most vulnerable. The Government itself has acknowledged, with its own workforce, that special measures need to be put in place. It has put in place income maintenance, wage maintenance arrangements for its own casual workforce, if they are stood down, or they can't attend work because of because of sick leave. We want other big businesses around the country that are in a position to be doing exactly the same, but we also need some extraordinary measures to be put in place for casual workers. The ACTU has suggested a raft of measures, they’re one suggestion. I think they have merit but I think we need to have everything on the table here so that we can take a targeted and a flexible approach to secure those casual workers. And frankly, I don't think I've heard enough from the Government to give us comfort that that's being thought about. eyes. I was talking to the hotel industry last night, of their 250,000, 200,000 of them casual workers. Now if people aren't coming into bars and clubs because of social distancing measures, they are in the front line of the people who are going to be affected and they need special measures being put in place. Extraordinary times demanding extraordinary measures.
NIELSEN: I feel like we keep saying this but it's absolutely just unprecedented, Stephen Jones. Thank you for your time.
JONES: Great to be with you.