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2GB Breakfast with Alan Jones interview

Ministers:

Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash
Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business

E&OE

Subject/s: JobKeeper wage subsidy, JobSeeker payment, Jobs Hub announcement

ALAN JONES: My listeners love hearing from Michaelia Cash – she’s so up front, always on top of her ministerial responsibility. So, because she is the Minister for Small Business and Employment, there’s been a stack of correspondence on this in relation to the JobKeeper initiative, I just thought we'd have a yarn with her. Mind you, it is 4:15am in Perth – I don't know what state she's in. Good morning to you.

MINISTER CASH: Good morning Alan, and I'm glad I'm not on FaceTime. I’d shock you and your listeners.

ALAN JONES: [laughter] Now look as I keep saying, seriously, that anyone's death diminishes all of us but the figures tell us that as a proportion of the number of cases in Australia, the deaths are .43 of a per cent. If the JobKeeper package is going to cost $130 billion – it’s a lot of money, 13 per cent of national income, no Liberal government has ever contemplated such spending – it has to be legislated. Now when will that happen?

MINISTER CASH: Alan, it was decided yesterday that we will return, in a very limited form though as you know, to the Parliament next Wednesday to deal with this as quickly and efficiently as possible. This is because we've made the commitment to the Australian people – but in particular, as you note, to employers and employees. We want to keep people in their jobs. The business may go into hibernation, it may close down for six months, and we want to keep people employed, connected to their business as quickly and efficiently as possible, so next Wednesday we return to Canberra to do this.

ALAN JONES: Michaelia, it terrifies people, everyone is talking about six months. Now so far as I understand it, there’s almost up to half a million businesses have registered for this. You can get a JobKeeper ATO – $1500 a fortnight or $1300 after tax. But, Michaelia, given that there are 2.25 million small businesses with 0 to 19 employees, and 50,000 with 20 to 119 employees and only half a million have signed up, where are the rest of them?

MINISTER CASH: Either in the process of signing up – some are obviously still open, some have made decisions at this point in time that they'll watch, and they'll wait, and they'll see exactly what is on offer by the government. But like you, I am just so encouraged that almost half a million have already signed up because what does that say? It says as a business, I want to keep my business open. Or alternatively, when we get through this on the other side, I want to reopen my business and I want to keep my employees on. The feedback – like you, Alan, and I do listen to your show – the feedback from employers has been absolutely overwhelming. I’m always humbled you know. You know when you speak to small business what’s the first thing they talk to you about? What they can do for their employees.

ALAN JONES: Yes, quite. Look, the majority of Australian businesses – 62 per cent as you know, are sole traders.

MINISTER CASH: Yes.

ALAN JONES: No employees. What is in it for them? I think- what I'm saying there's farmers, bushfires, drought, and so on. I mean they're out there flogging it out and doing it tough. What is there in it for the sole trader who doesn't have an employee?

MINISTER CASH: Absolutely. And we have now ensured that they are able to access the JobKeeper payment. We are just so keen for these sole traders to keep working on their business and as such we have made a deliberate decision that they are able to access this particular payment.

ALAN JONES: So they just go to ATO.gov.au?

MINISTER CASH: Look, I want to say it's as simple as that, and it is. I've done it myself. I've looked at what you need to do. You log on, you put in your details, and then you will literally be contacted by the ATO either by your email or by SMS on your mobile phone.

ALAN JONES: Good on you. Look, I’ll just share with you a couple of comments. One person says: Alan, having lost all my hours and sent on leave without pay, $1500 is better than nothing. Another: this is less than I earn a fortnight, but it beats the humiliation of having to wait on the phone for four hours trying to contact Centrelink. And another one: Alan, is a great scheme but the employers – now here’s a point, Michaelia – will be expected to pay people from today, the government won't provide the funding until May. A lot of small businesses can't afford to pay wages until then. What do you say about that?

MINISTER CASH: What I say is so many find, many are they're in this position, many have said they’re happy to go and speak to their bank and just get the loan to tide them over for the next four weeks knowing that on 1 May they will receive that money back from the ATO. And obviously, Alan, the tax commissioner is going to be given substantial discretion.

But if anyone has any queries they can phone my office, we can talk them through it. The Prime Minister was really clear, we want this payment to go as far as possible. We don't want to be ruling people out, we want to be ruling people in. It is a substantial amount of money, almost 6 million employees and we want to touch those 6 million employees.

ALAN JONES: Michaelia, what about the employer? Because in this circumstance of course, we've got this question which I've said all along. I mean, if you're going to put the economy into coma then basically any government – not your government – any government should provide the life support. When the economy’s put into the coma some businesses have said: that's it for me. Look I'm 68, I'm going to close it down – my 8 employees will go. Now, this is about reconnecting the employee with the employer. What if the employers shut the door and the employee therefore can't be reconnected? What happens to that person?

MINISTER CASH: Okay. So, if they've actually shut the door, and they don't have an employment relationship, and they didn’t have that employment relationship on 1 March, they can then access the JobSeeker payment, as opposed to the JobKeeper payment. I have to say, since the Prime Minister’s announcement of the JobKeeper payment I have been flooded with feedback of employers who previously thought: ‘I'm just not going to be able to ride this crisis out,’ and they are now saying: ‘This has given me the hope that I needed’. This has given me the cash flow that I needed to keep those employees on.’ And they are completely sinking their business decisions. And that has been a really good thing.

ALAN JONES: Okay, so the JobSeeker, the JobSeeker is 550 bucks a week, it is?

MINISTER CASH: That is correct, yes.

ALAN JONES: And the JobKeeper is $750 a week.

MINISTER CASH: It is. And obviously after tax it will be a little bit less because you do need to pay tax on this.

ALAN JONES: Yes quite, I know. I know. Michaelia, just on that. You've got to pay tax, it’s about $37,000. You’ve got to pay tax on that. We're not being mean or greedy here but if someone, for example, was on 80,000 which is not a lot of dough…

MINISTER CASH: Yes.

ALAN JONES: Or even a hundred grand, and of course they organise their life according to that – the predictability of that income. How do they manage on $37,000?

MINISTER CASH: Look. There are obviously other ways that they can actually get that additional money. For example, you know, the early release of superannuation. If you are in individual in financial distress, as so many are as a result of COVID, you can access up to $10,000 of your superannuation in 19/20 and a further $10,000 in 20/21. We would also say go and sit down Alan, with your bank.

ALAN JONES: Well let me just— yeah. Let me say that about the superannuation I am being flooded with stuff here.

MINISTER CASH: Yeah.

ALAN JONES: Superannuation balances, as you know, have been dramatically reduced in this economic crisis. Superannuation funds are being inundated. Do you think superannuation funds are happy to sell off assets, because they actually have a lot of non-liquid assets – superfunds. Are they are going to be selling off assets at a time when the market is in decline? Because listeners are telling me that the superannuation funds are making it difficult to access the super; they’re not returning email communications; they’ve got pre-recorded messages when they’re called saying: they have no confirmation from government that they can release any money. Am I right in saying that that superannuation money can’t be released until 28 April.

MINISTER CASH: Eligible individuals, as you know – you can go online now; you can go through myGov; you can apply to access up to the $10,000 of your superannuation before 1 July, 2020. We obviously have to put in place all of the processes and this is one of the reasons that, in terms of the JobKeeper payment, it does not commence flowing until 1 May. But certainly, the feedback I’ve been getting is its superannuation funds are actually doing the right thing. But I can follow that up, Alan, absolutely.

ALAN JONES: Okay, right. Just another thing here. See, where a casual – the notes saying, ‘Where a casual employee has been with an employer for at least the previous 12 months they’ll be eligible for the payment.

MINISTER CASH: The JobKeeper? Yes.

ALAN JONES: Yeah, JobKeeper. How do you explain that if a casual was with an employer on 1 March had worked all of the last 12 months as a casual but was with the most recent employer only for a couple of months – they’re ineligible?

MINISTER CASH: All of this feedback is now coming in and we are providing it directly to the Treasurer’s office. There will obviously be – the Commissioner’s going to have discretion Alan – again, we want to rule people in, we don’t want to rule people out. You do have to have had that employment relationship as of 1 March.

ALAN JONES: Yeah. It’s the nature of a casual. It’s the nature of a casual is it that they’ve most probably been working for years and years as a casual, but they may not have been with this last employer for 12 months prior to 1 March.

MINISTER CASH: For that 12-month period, that’s exactly right. And we’ve had to make a hard cut off and some hard decisions. But what that casual will be then entitled to is the JobSeeker payment. Okay? So they’re not going to be left high and dry.

ALAN JONES: That’s $550 bucks. But see then someone says this Michaelia, then someone says to me: Alan, why does – pardon the language but I’m just telling you what they’ve said – why does a dole bludger who doesn’t have a job and has never looked for a job get $550 bucks but someone like me, who has worked nonstop for the past 28 years gets only $750? Now, what he’s saying is that immediately someone on $550 and he’s $200 bucks better off, if he’s lucky?

MINISTER CASH: At the end of the day this is all about providing a safety net to get all Australians through the crisis to the other side. And in relation to the JobKeeper payment, as you know, it is all about the connection between employers and employees. And just on that, that particular bit of feedback, as you know, we’ve launched the Jobs Hub date. Okay. So, there are jobs out there and if people don’t want to access JobSeeker, if they don’t want to be on JobKeeper, they can actually go to the Jobs Hub on the Department of Employment’s website and you can look at, on a state by state basis, the jobs that are available in your area, advertised there.

ALAN JONES: Yeah, okay. I haven’t got that detail, so I might get that detail from you so I can let our listeners know. I don’t have that detail about the Jobs Hub. So you might—

MINISTER CASH: That’s okay. It’s a launch today literally.

ALAN JONES: Today?

MINISTER CASH: Jobs Hub – it’s live. If you are looking for work because, as you know, while some – absolutely – employers are reducing their workforce

ALAN JONES: Yeah. Others are putting people on. Yep.

MINISTER CASH: Others are and those jobs are on the Jobs Hub. We’ve received feedback, people want to work.

ALAN JONES: Okay. You’ll give me that detail will you as to how I get hold of all of that.

MINISTER CASH: Absolutely, absolutely.

ALAN JONES: Just on this other thing; I mean, in a previous system if your partner earned than $48,000 a year, you didn’t have a job, you didn’t receive anything. You’ve now increased the $48,000 to 70 odd thousand, is that right?

MINISTER CASH: That is correct, that is absolutely right. So again, the Government is listening and we’re implementing. We receive the feedback, we listen to it, we made the appropriate change; because remember, this is all about ensuring people have that safety net to get through to the other side. So, we listen, we learn, we implement.

ALAN JONES: Okay. Now, a lot of people are complaining, forgive me for asking you this, but I’m just telling you what they’re saying.

MINISTER CASH: No, it’s okay.

ALAN JONES: But this business about, we’re all in this together. And yet public service employees are being paid full salary, in fact in Queensland the public service salaries are going up by two and a half per cent. Public service get the lot, they don’t take a 50 per cent pay cut. The ABC’s not been pruned to a skeleton staff, they spend most of their time criticising the Morrison Government. And if we’re team Australia they say ‘should politicians, public servants and the ABC be part of the belt tightening?’

MINISTER CASH: The answer is we are stepping up, we are working our backsides off – look at the Prime Minister – to get Australians through this crisis, I understand that. There is going to be pay freeze for senior office holders, as there should be. The Government is going to write – if we not have already – to the Remuneration Tribunal to request a pay freeze on all positions, Alan, across the board including my own, that are subject to Rem Tribunal determinations. We have a clear expectation, no salary increase for these positions, until after this crisis is resolved.

ALAN JONES: Okay. Self-funded retirees; term deposits are now for many around 1.31 per cent 12 months ago. One writer says to me: I was getting 2.55 per cent so I’m drawing on my superannuation which has currently devalued by 30 per cent. This is a reduction in investment for the self-funded retiree of about 90 per cent? How does that- can you understand the situation where a self-funded retiree suddenly had his income reduced by 90 per cent?

MINISTER CASH: And look it is. So many people, Alan as you know, have had their income reduced, this has been raised with me by a number of self-funded retirees. I know that in relation to say, deeming rates, we have made decisions in relation to them. But again, we get this feedback, we listen to it and then we put in place an appropriate policy response. This is happening, as you know, it is happening very, very quickly and the Government now have announced three separate packages in response to the coronavirus.

ALAN JONES: Okay. Now, I just want to say one more thing before we go, we’ve run out of time, and no answer here, but listen. This is going to cost a lot of money.

MINISTER CASH: Yep.

ALAN JONES: We could be running into debt of $1.5 trillion. Now if the issue is cost, which it is, you have a submarine contract worth between $80–150 billion; your expert naval ship building advisory board called, in January, for the cancellation of the contract. Can you apply your weight in the Cabinet to say: listen, call the thing off and start again?

MINISTER CASH: This is obviously a matter for the Minister for Defence.

ALAN JONES: That’s it.

MINISTER CASH: And I wouldn’t want to step on her toes.

ALAN JONES: No.

MINISTER CASH: Can I just say, thank you to all the small businesses out there, thank you for stepping up and doing what is needed.

ALAN JONES: Well thank you for you for getting up. Keep in touch. Listen I’ve got to go to the news but we’ll keep in touch.

MINISTER CASH: I will. Okay, you take care.

ALAN JONES: Okay, all the best. There she is.

ENDS