24 March 2021


SUBJECTS: End of JobKeeper; Prime Minister’s apology; the need for the Prime Minister to listen to women; Nicolle Flint; quotas.


JANE NORMAN, HOST: Well, I'm joined now by our Wednesday political panel, Labor MP Alicia Payne, and Liberal, Trent Zimmerman. Thank you both for joining me. Can I just ask you firstly about Stephen Kennedy's comments there on JobKeeper? Firstly to you, Alicia Payne, Labor has been asking for some time that the Government extend out the JobKeeper program. Stephen Kennedy there, the head of Treasury seeming to suggest that the scale of job losses we're expecting kind of sits with what we would normally expect in a kind of a cycle of the workforce.

ALICIA PAYNE, MEMBER FOR CANBERRA: Well, we're clearly not ready for JobKeeper to end this weekend. And people, businesses and workers will be sitting around this week deciding who is going to lose their job, and how they're going to cope with that and families discussing how they're going to make ends meet. Up to 150,000 people as estimated by Treasury, that's a lot of people that are going to be losing their jobs.

NORMAN: I mean, but Stephen Kennedy there was sort of saying that given the unemployment rate, there's space in the labour market, he doesn't seem too concerned. So I guess why should we extend it if the head of Treasury is giving this sort of advice?

PAYNE: Well, I know that people in my electorate are concerned. And I think we as politicians need to be concerned, the government should be concerned about people losing their jobs. We're in a recession. We're not out of it yet. You know, there are particular industries, tourism, hospitality, that are clearly not as ready as others to have this withdrawn. And we shouldn't be withdrawing it from them yet.

NORMAN: Right. Is the Government concerned about job losses? And just how bumpy might the next few months be?

TRENT ZIMMERMAN, MEMBER FOR NORTH SYDNEY: Well, everything I think we've done on the economic front over the last 12 months has been to preserve jobs. And obviously, the last unemployment figures were just outstanding, the fall was obviously a lot more considerable than anyone was predicting, down to 5.8%. And we've actually seen employment, number of people in work almost reached or reached the number immediately prior to the pandemic. So the employment market is getting more healthy every day. I think what the important point that the Treasury Secretary made was, is that they don't expect the end of JobKeeper to affect the trajectory of unemployment, which is continuing to be downwards. And I'd also note that the Treasury has been very conservative in its estimates throughout this, and thankfully, all their predictions have proved to be wrong, because the improvement has come a lot quicker than anyone really could have hoped for.

NORMAN: Politically, it's well, easy if you want to talk about spending money, but it's easy to, you know, give Australians money, very, very hard politically for a government to take it away. Are you expecting the Government to be punished, at least initially by at least those people who are gonna be losing their jobs come the end of JobKeeper?

ZIMMERMAN: Well, I think the Government's always been very upfront that JobKeeper was a temporary support measure. And it has been ratcheted down as the economic conditions in the employment market has improved. So, so I think businesses have had time to plan for the end of this month. And, and obviously, in the last budget, a lot of the measures that we introduced were about making sure there was job creation at the end of these temporary supports and things like the JobMaker hiring credit will become more important and I suspect far more utilised when we see JobKeeper come to an end.

NORMAN: Are you shocked though that two months into JobMaker, remembering this is the centrepiece of last year's Budget, that only 600 positions have been created when the Government was predicting, I mean, not, of course, in the initial phases, but you're predicting up to half a million jobs?

ZIMMERMAN: Well, I think it reflects two things. Firstly, JobKeeper has been there until the end of this month. But secondly, obviously the employment market has improved at a far faster rate than we even thought just at that Budget late last year, which is a positive problem to have, in many respects. But also the logic for JobMaker, I think has been borne out. We were concerned about the lasting impact of the recession on younger people. And we see that the unemployment rate for those aged 35 is I think, around 4.5%. For young people under 35, it's almost double that. So the focus on supporting those young people, I think it's been really important.

NORMAN: Okay, I want to go to the top story of the day and that is the Prime Minister's apology, which we've just played, which told our viewers about. Alicia Payne, do you think it was, well, firstly appropriate for him to apologise? And are you satisfied with the way that he's apologised over that attack yesterday on the news corp journo?

PAYNE: Well, which apology are we talking about? You know, yesterday morning there was one apology that turned into a threat towards journalists. And then we've had a scrambling, desperate apology at 11 o'clock at night on social media. What the issue is here is that we have a Prime Minister who does not want to be held accountable. It's a crisis of accountability. He doesn't like to be questioned by us in Question Time and he turns to threats. And when journalists questioned him, he also turns to threats.

NORMAN: I mean, what do you think of that? Because it is certainly a perception that is growing, that the Prime Minister doesn't talk straight, that he isn't accountable?

ZIMMERMAN: Well, I think what we saw in his statement at the press conference yesterday was clearly a recognition that he is the leader of the Government that does have to make sure that he takes responsibility for what is happening inside this building. And that's what everything he's putting in place is designed to be about. I think he's very genuine in wanting to address the problems that've been highlighted, not just in the Parliament, but across Australian society because the protests that we saw the anguish, the rage that we're seeing reflects the fact that we do have problems that haven't been addressed adequately over decades in the broader community. And he is very, very genuine about that. I have no doubt about that.

PAYNE: I'm sorry, I just don't accept that. We've seen him in Question Time over the last fortnight. 12 times failed to answer a question. 'Has he asked his staff if they were undermining Brittany Higgins' loved ones?' He hasn't asked them. He hasn't answered that question. And then he turns to threats like saying to the Opposition Leader, 'Well, I put my character up against yours.' And when journalists question him, as is their job, he turns to an allegation that News Corp is saying is not actually an allegation.

ZIMMERMAN: Well, I think what women and others in my electorate have been saying is, is that we want the Government to focus on addressing the problems that these issues have highlighted. And I think, that's why he's looking to the future and what we can do. And I do think he is very serious about that.

NORMAN: So, do you think that yesterday's press conference was the reset that he was, I guess, hoping for in terms of changing the conversation about the treatment of women in Australia?
ZIMMERMAN: I think so. And I think he was very upfront about the fact that some of his language was poorly chosen, if I can put it that way over the last couple of months. And he indicated that he regretted that and he was very much focused on moving on, I think we saw the real emotion and passion that he has to try and address these problems. Because he like all of us recognises that in this building, but even more broadly, that there just are issues that we haven't addressed as a society, as Governments in the way that we ought.
NORMAN: Alicia Payne, I'm keen to get, sorry...
PAYNE: I was just going to say, I just again, some of his language yesterday was poorly chosen when he said, "women need to stand with me", "I've put more women in my Cabinet than any Prime Minister." This is not about him. This is about him needing to listen to women.
NORMAN: Is that him trying to get allies, though, on board with this, you know, big movement that we're seeing to improve the treatment of women to get concrete steps?
PAYNE: Well, yes, but women just want to be listened to and we want the Prime Minister to lead on these issues. And I mean, questionably, we've seen more of response to some of the disgusting behaviour that's come to light in Parliament House this week than we've seen to an alleged rape of a 24 year old staff member of the Government's team. You know, like we didn't see that press conference at that time.
ZIMMERMAN: Well, I actually don't agree with that, I have to say, because I think that when these revelations were made about the appalling circumstances of Brittany Higgins, I think we saw real distress and emotion from the Prime Minister at the time.
NORMAN: But he didn't call an early morning press conference, he sort of door stopped on the way out of a breakfast that was already being held.
ZIMMERMAN: And that was immediately after those revelations had been made. And I think he wanted to address them quickly, matter of half an hour difference in timing, probably. But I think that yesterday, he was not just talking about the events of this week in the Parliament, he was talking about all the events that we've seen highlighted over the last month. I think it's wrong to characterise yesterday as being a comment about that video that was released by one of the news networks. It was a response to the fact that he has been listening to women across Australia, that have been raising the issues that were for example, raised in the respect of work report, and that's what he was responding to.
NORMAN: All right now, just before we let you go, because Question Time is approaching, I wanted to ask you about some comments made by not only Nicolle Flint, but a number of women who have talked about some really disgusting, appalling behaviour that they have been on the receiving end of on the campaign trail. And this is one of the issues I suppose that's being considered by Parliament. But what do you think can actually be done, you know, to actually to solve this to change it?
ZIMMERMAN: Well, I think the examples that were highlighted by Nicolle Flint, and also, other Members of Parliament, including Labor members in Parliament about their treatment on the campaign trail, have been genuinely shocking. And when we talk about wanting to attract more women into politics, frankly, anyone into politics, we have to address those issues. And I think as much as we look at the culture in this building on an ongoing basis, we need to look at what happens during election campaigns, which are probably the most hated part of our democracy. So I actually think that there is a strong case for the Government and the Opposition and other parties to be working together to effectively establish a committee that involves the Federal Police, the AEC, during election campaigns, so that these issues aren't seen through the prism of the day to day argy bargy of politics. That are actually seen through the prism of the effect on candidates so that parties can address it. Many of these issues aren't from party workers they're from others in society, but still, the issues arise and they can be dealt with by the authorities, but also by political leaders so that if something happens to a candidate like Nicolle Flint, they can be called out by the entire political spectrum.
NORMAN: So this committee would exist during election campaigns for an MP to make a complaint to?
ZIMMERMAN: And for others to make complaints to so that, for example, if there's something happening to an opposition candidate, it's really affecting them personally, that members of the government aware of it and vice versa. So it can be addressed so that there can be a combined response of condemnation, if that's what's required, but also involving the police and the AEC so that if it's criminal behaviour, it can be properly addressed.
NORMAN: Alright, well, Alicia Payne I understand you're only just hearing about this. But what do you think about such a proposal, is it needed?
PAYNE: Well, I just want to start by saying that what happened to Nicolle Flint is completely unacceptable. And you know, that it's very sad that she's leaving politics, we need more women in Parliament, not less. And for Labor's part, we have just gone through an extensive process of updating our own code of conduct that applies to all party activities, including campaigns. And that having worked as a volunteer on many campaigns, and obviously, as a candidate, we've always been very clear about people acting in respectful ways. And that that's how we should campaign. So I think, you know, this could be something that's looked at, but for our part, this is something we've always taken very seriously.
NORMAN: And just before I let you go, we are really running out of time. Quotas to get more women into the Liberal Party, yes or no?
ZIMMERMAN: I think that we need to look at quotas. We're not doing well enough. We've tried everything else in the book to encourage more women to get involved for the Liberal Party preselection. It is complex, because under our structure in the Liberal Party, these are very grassroots decisions. I think we should start with the Senate. That's the obvious place to start because they're statewide preselections, and introduce a mandatory 50% female candidates requirement for that, but I also think that we need to look at the House of Representatives as well.
NORMAN: Alright. Trent Zimmerman, Alicia Payne, thanks for your time today.