31 July 2020

FRIDAY, 31 JULY 2020

SUBJECTS: ACCC; Early access to super scheme. 

ANNELISE NIELSEN, HOST: Joining us live now is Labor’s Shadow Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones. Stephen Jones, thank you for your time. 


NIELSEN: We want to discuss early access to super, but firstly we wanted to have a chat about the ACCC releasing this draft code of conduct this morning. This is a big move in what's been a long-running battle with media companies in Australia. Do you think that this has been the right call?

JONES: Yeah look, coming from a regional area where I've seen jobs lost out of newsrooms, I've seen newspaper newsrooms shrink, this can't come soon enough. We know there's a lot of pressure, it's not just competition and free content for the digital giants. There's a lot of pressure on advertising and advertisers and the business model for traditional media, but we need to have a level playing field and we need to have the big digital players paying for the content that they benefit from. So it can't come soon enough with all the pressure on media players at the moment. And as far as I'm concerned the test is this; will it lead to more viable journalism? Will it lead to quality journalists writing quality stories, broadcasting quality stories and ensuring that we can rebuild our journalists workforce? It's been smashed over the last decade. We need to start rebuilding quality journalism in this country. 

NIELSEN: And what do you make of the idea that there is the potential for these media giants to not come to the negotiating table? The government said that they have this arbitration system set up. So it will force them into some kind of agreement but there is the potential for these media giants to simply say we're going to turn the news tabs off on our websites and you guys can deal with it.

JONES: Google, Facebook not above the law if they don't comply with what is a very reasonable, very commercial arrangement as being recommended by the ACCC, that is that there be a commercial negotiation go on between the big platform providers and the media organisations. There's a big stick in the background, but hopefully a commercial arrangement can be reached. I don't think the Australian people have got any tolerance for free riders. I don't think the Australian people want to see these large multinational IT companies being the source of the collapse in our journalism and our media here in Australia. Everybody's got a role to play, they’ve got to do the right thing by the audiences and by the country that they make a lot of money out of. 

NIELSEN: Now if we can move on to the early access of super, it has certainly gone above what the Government's projections were of 27 billion dollars, but it's the questions about whether they've been doing adequate checks before they release the money. Going into this it was supposed to just be released for anyone who said that they did have some kind of hardship, those were the provisions that existed for early access to super before the pandemic. So why should this be any different? 

JONES: The Government has completely and utterly cocked this up from beginning to end. There's been a 50% blow out in the estimate of what it was going to cost. We were told when the laws going through Parliament, it'll be 29 billion, a big number, 29  billion, it’s now estimated to be closer to 42 billion with a lot of the funds estimating a could get closer to 50 billion before it's done. The tragedy in all of this is there is close to half a million Australians who now have no retirement savings. The second tragedy is the way the Government has administered the scheme, leaves thousands and thousands if not millions of Australians liable to a tax bill and a massive fine because of the way the Government administered the setup of this scheme. Now, this is just quite frankly, this is just intolerable and not only that, it was revealed yesterday through the Senate Committee that these people who may have wiped out their retirement savings be liable for a fine and a tax bill and ineligible for JobSeeker, because having taken the money from their superannuation fund and put it in the bank they'll now fail the liquid asset test which will kick back into place from September. So from beginning to end this has been a massive cockup and the Government has big questions to answer. Somebody's got to be accountable for this. It's not the individual people have taken the money out of their fund. It has to be the Government ministers responsible for the administration of this woeful scheme.

NIELSEN: This is what the government's been saying the scheme is to allow people to access their own money. They've said that this won't really impinge on the liquidity of any super funds across the country. Do you think that there is a point when we should just say this is people’s savings and they should be able to use it in this time of crisis?

JONES: Look, can we not get diverted on some silly argument that the Government is trying to put out there that Labor doesn't believe this is people's money. Of course, it's people's money. It was money put in place by Labor legislation to ensure that people could save, with all the tax benefits associated to it, for their retirement. I mean, it’s the issue of an ageing population and the pressure on the budget and the ability of our economy to be able to afford to pay pensions hasn't gone away. The Government likes to imagine that we've suddenly imagined away the problem that we have on pressures on the budget to pay the pensions into the future. That has not gone away, in fact, it's got worse with the massive, massive budget deficits stemming out for years and years to come. So for the Government to try and divert this into an argument about something else, that's frankly disingenuous. Yes, it is people's money. They've had to take it out because the government support has been so uncertain, so slow in arriving and now we realise all these tricky tricks and steps in the way as well, so frankly the Government's trying to change the conversation. We won't let them get away with this. They have cocked this scheme up from beginning to end and they have to be accountable for it. It is simply unacceptable that millions of Australians face a fine and a big tax bill because they couldn't administer a scheme properly.

NIELSEN: We’re going to have to leave that there. Shadow Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones, thank you quick chat today.