Shadow Minister for Communications, Transcript – ABC News Afternoon Briefing with Greg Jennett and Susan Templeman – Aged Care pay increase, Inflation, Housing Australia Future Fund, JobSeeker, Mobile Black Spot Program

Subject: Aged Care pay increase, Inflation, Housing Australia Future Fund, JobSeeker, Mobile Black Spot Program

Greg Jennett: Alright, let’s bring in our political panel. Joining us today, the member for Macquarie, Labor’s Susan Templeman. Welcome back Susan. And the member for Banks, Liberal MP, David Coleman. Welcome to you too, David. Susan, why don’t we start with you on aged care. We do see the fulfillment of this election commitment coming in the Budget next week. Of course, if it works, it’s supposed to draw in more staff to the sector. But from where? Is that apparent to you yet, Susan, where these workers are going to be found?

Susan Templeman: I think it’s going to do a couple of things pretty quickly. It is a terrific announcement that will give a real boost to current workers who may have been thinking that they just couldn’t keep doing it any longer. So, it will help retain workers and I wouldn’t be surprised if some choose to come back. It now makes the sector competitive and attractive in that way. And we know there are lots of other things we’re going to need to do to bring workers in. We’ve talked about needing some workers from overseas but what more than anything I think it will do for long term sustainability, it will inspire younger people or people who have different training to train up as someone who works in our aged care system, knowing that finally, there is a decent funding model for it, and they will be fairly remunerated.

Greg Jennett: Well, 15% is nothing to sneeze at, is it? David Coleman, do you now accept that this is an embedded cost for Governments to pick up into the future, the history of these sorts of interventions, picking up substantial components of the payroll as the Government’s proposing here is, once you do it, that support remains with Liberal Governments in future to adopt that.

David Coleman: Well Greg, we’ve recognised the need for increased wages in the aged care sector. But the problem Greg, is that inflation in Australia is running rampant. And so, whether there are a wage increases in the sector, people are absolutely getting smashed by inflation. So, like right now today, we have a higher core rate of inflation in Australia than anywhere else in the G7. 6.6%. So that’s, that’s very significant. And I think, in terms of the Government’s response on aged care, you’ve also got to look at some of the rhetoric versus the reality. There’s an aged care centre in southern Sydney called Vickery Village in Sylvania, very well known in the community. It’s closing. And part of the reason it’s closing it’s because of a lack of staff. Part of the reason it’s closing is in reference to the various policy changes made by the Government. The Government said that there would be a registered nurse in every Aged Care Centre by the 1st of July. That was never going to happen, and it’s not happening. So, rhetoric is fine, but reality is what matters. And regardless of what wages people are on at the moment, everyone is getting smashed by inflation by this Government.

Greg Jennett: Yeah, I think you were referring there to a Wesley Mission facility. I think, David they might have suggested that there were multiple reasons, including scale as to why they were closing. But just on inflation, since you cited David, 15% is well above inflation for these low paid workers. Do you quibble with it? It’s, I won’t use the word generous, but it’s certainly more than matches inflation. You’d have to agree.

David Coleman: Well, as I said, I mean, we recognise the need for increased wages in the aged care sector, Greg, but whatever your job, whatever your wage, whatever the level of wage increase that you’ve obtained, you’re getting hit. And Anthony Albanese likes to talk about the war in Ukraine and blame the war in Ukraine. Well, that frankly, is getting a little tired, Greg. We have a higher rate of inflation than the UK, than the United States, than France, than Germany. Core inflation is out of control in this country. It is a wave that is crashing over workers. And it’s time this Government took action to address it.

Greg Jennett: All right. Well, we’ll watch the Budget to see whether it does or doesn’t. Why don’t we move on to the Housing Future Fund, Susan. We’re hearing this demand; I suppose for compromise between the Government and the Greens. They seem to be the missing block of votes now in the Senate. Is there room to move? Should there be some movement by the Government because the need is unquestioned, I think?

Susan Templeman: Well, the missing block of votes is actually the Opposition because they are not engaging in something that would actually be really key to people, the availability and affordability of housing. But setting that aside because the Opposition simply won’t engage. And all they’ll do is say, ‘oh, it’s not good enough’. Anything that we’re doing, after them having 10 years of really failing on all these issues that we are now cleaning up. So, I’m thrilled that the Tasmanian, the two independents, Tasmanian senators, have seen that it is it is really important to have this housing fund passed through the Senate. We will continue to work in good faith with the other crossbenchers in the Senate. You know, for me in in the electorate of Macquarie, or when I think about this housing fund, the very first thing I think about is the funding that would flow from it for a new domestic violence housing project, which was one of the first things I committed in the lead up to the election. And if it doesn’t get through the Senate, then we are having the Greens and the Opposition willingly saying that stuff isn’t important. So, you know, it’s not too late for the Opposition to come to the party and getting engaged on this issue. We certainly will continue to work with the Greens and the other crossbenchers.

Greg Jennett: Well, there is the invitation open to you David, to rethink these matters. I mean, the public demand for the word ‘crisis’ around housing is incessant at the moment. Is there any cause for a rethink, in light of this need?

David Coleman: Well look, the housing of course is a huge issue in the community. But this isn’t the way to address it. And let’s be really, really, clear Greg on what this proposal from the Government actually is. It’s for a perpetual $400 million a year interest bill for taxpayers. Basically, what they’re saying is they’re going to borrow $10 billion. And the interest on that today is about $400 million a year. And that’s before you’ve invested in a single house. It’s also very rubbery in terms of precisely how this fund will be used. This is a Government that said that we’re going to build 30,000 additional homes, haven’t built a single one. And we have a very strong record in the Coalition through the various first homebuyer schemes that we put in place, that getting through COVID with Homebuilder, which was a spectacularly successful policy under Michael Sukkar. And so, look, we’re not we’re not going to take lectures from Labor on this, and we’re certainly not going to sign up to a perpetual $400 million interest bill that just adds to inflation and an environment where inflation is out of control.

Greg Jennett: Although you’re not philosophically opposed to these types of funds because the Medical Research Future Fund, the original Future Fund itself were Liberal creations, were they not? So why quibble with its deployment into the housing.

David Coleman: Well, this is absolutely the wrong time to be taking on a huge interest bill in an environment where we’ve got a very high rate of inflation. By going into the market and borrowing that level of money, what you do is you put upward pressure on interest rates and that is not a good thing for the country.

Greg Jennet: All right a couple of other Budget measures we might be able to cover off, Susan. JobSeeker, almost no one has passed through our program, not on the political panels anyway of late, without that question. Do you want to state publicly where you stand on an increase? Even if it’s not across the board in JobSeeker, even if it’s targeted to a particular demographic or age cohort? Are you on board publicly for that?

Susan Templeman: I have been supportive of an increase in JobKeeker payments for many, many, many years. So, it just isn’t news that that I would be saying of course, that’s what we need to be aiming for. And I know there’s very serious consideration being given to how, while still being restrained and exercising Budget restraint to try and clean up the mess that we’ve been left, how we do it. No, it is, there’s, every issue we’ve talked about so far this afternoon has been the result of absolute failure by the previous Government to do anything, and I just, there must be a chorus of laughter, I’m afraid. David, hearing you say it’s the wrong model? Look, this is the time to do as much as we can, as quickly as we can. And that’s certainly what we’ll be doing around support for those really vulnerable, low-income people who really rely on Governments to do the right thing.

Greg Jennett: Well, that does sound like strong encouragement. I know there is a view, David Coleman, across the Labor backbench, which is now finding expression publicly that they really think now is the time to move on JobSeeker. What’s your own attitude on that? Even if it’s only an incremental step towards coverage of all age groups?

David Coleman: Well, let’s see what the Government does in the Budget next week. Greg, I don’t want to speculate on that. And let’s not forget, of course that employment is so critical. And so, we want to see initiatives in the Budget that are about helping people to get jobs, that are encouraging businesses to invest, and that are taking steps to put downward pressure on inflation. Because that’s causing so many problems in the economy at the moment, but let’s wait and see what the Government says next week.

Greg Jennett: We’ll run a ruler over that. And just finally, I know we’ve spoken about this before on the program. Your pet topic, David Coleman, of black spot funding programs. You did write, and I think we discussed this last time, both of you were with us, to the Auditor General. You got a very non-committal response, though. Basically, the office has said, ‘we’ll leave this on ice until early January’. You’re entirely certain you’ve got something to be examined here.

David Coleman: Oh no, the Auditor-General said there’s merit in inquiry and that his next work program comes out in July, so not quite as far away as that Greg and that’s, it’s very encouraging. And it’s important that that investigation takes place because this is super dodgy Greg, to use a technical term.

Greg Jennett: Technical?

David Coleman: Yeah. I was in Victoria last week, Greg, and it’s easy for us to talk about these issues in political terms, but I was in country Victoria last week in bushfire affected communities and those places were not allowed to apply under Michelle Rowland’s hand-picked list. And Susan will say that…

Greg Jennett: We’re going to get her to tell us.

David Coleman: But she will say that in her electorate, there were needs that were addressed. And I’m not disputing that, but the problem is that 100% of the needs that were addressed in New South Wales and Victoria, were in Labor electorates. No sensible person can say that’s okay. And I look forward to the Auditor-General’s investigation.

Greg Jennett: If it happens. Susan, last word to you to wrap us up on that.

Susan Templeman: It’d be great if the Auditor-General also looked at the 2016 Liberal Government round of black spots, where 124 out of 125 mobile black spot funding decisions went to Liberal and National seats. Now, that was one that came only a couple of years after the big bushfires that we had in the Blue Mountains that destroyed 200 homes and had really highlighted the urgency of ensuring that bushfire prone areas have good mobile coverage. So, the announcements we made are spots that the previous Government had ample opportunity to fund in their time in Government. They failed to fund those spots. And in fact, one of those spots at Mount Tomah was funded after, by the Liberal Government. And then it got a little bit hard doing it and they took that site away and moved it out to a National Party seat. So, you’ve got an incredibly vulnerable area, prone to bush fires. And sure enough, a couple of years ago we saw the scale of what that fire might be. Previous Governments failed us miserably, left us vulnerable and lives could have been lost here. I am very proud that we are fixing those.

Greg Jennett: I promised Susan the last word and I’m going to stick to that David. Because I also know that next time we have you both on, we’ll probably end up with this among our topics to discuss then. David Coleman. Susan Templeman. We’re clean out of time. Thanks again for joining us.

The Hon. David Coleman MP
Shadow Minister for Communications
Federal Member for Banks