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ABC Radio Brisbane - Mornings with Rebecca Levingston

1 May 2020

Interviewer: 
Rebecca Levingston

Subject: COVID safe app, JobKeeper payment, JobsHub, Unemployment

E&OE

REBECCA LEVINGSTON: The first JobKeeper payment will hit business bank accounts a week from today. This is part of the $130 billion package the Federal Government hopes will keep people in jobs. The Federal Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business is Michaelia Cash. Minister, good morning.

MICHAELIA CASH: Good morning Rebecca, and good morning to your listeners.

REBECCA LEVINGSTON: You have a message for small business today. What is it?

MICHAELIA CASH: I absolutely do. We back you every step of the way, and as small and family businesses across Australia know, one of the ways that we can ensure that you open back up sooner rather than later is to get Australians to download the COVIDSafe app. Can I give a big shout out to the over 3 million Australians who have already voluntarily downloaded the app, which as you know we only launched recently. This is one of the tools we are using to quickly alert people who may be at risk of having contact with the coronavirus. The better we can do that, the more quicker we can stop the spread of the virus in the community, the quicker we can all go back to life as it once was.

REBECCA LEVINGSTON: Three million’s a long way away from the 10 million required to hit the 40 per cent mark. What's the timeframe you need people to have downloaded the app in for it to actually be effective?

MICHAELIA CASH: Look, obviously, the more people we have on the app, the more effective it will be. But certainly, the three million that we've already had anticipated, that exceeded our expectation. What we now need to do is get that message out to each and every Australian. If you want to get back to the pub, if you want to get back to your Pilates lesson, if you want to go to a local restaurant, sit down and have a meal with your family, one of the best ways you can ensure that that happens is to become part of that Australian community that have downloaded the COVIDSafe app.

REBECCA LEVINGSTON: Some people still have privacy concerns over the contract to host the data being given to Amazon, an international company, the source data not being released to the public. Are you going to fast track that?

MICHAELIA CASH: Well as you would be aware, we've got legislation that is going to  come before the Parliament. We return to Parliament next week – the week after next, the 11th of May, and we'll have legislation in place. But certainly, in terms of the privacy concern, the Health Minister has already issued a determination under the Biosecurity Act to protect people's privacy and restrict access to app data for state and territory health authorities for contact tracing. He has also made it clear it will be a criminal offence to use any app data in any other way.

REBECCA LEVINGSTON: Michaelia Cash, the Federal Employment Minister this morning on ABC Radio Brisbane. Minister, you probably saw overnight, the Northern Territory bragging about the fact that their pubs will be reopened on 15 May. What sectors do you see opening up next?

MICHAELIA CASH: Look, well that's going to be on a case-by-case basis, and obviously the National Cabinet meet again today, and they then meet again on around, I think, it’s May the 11th. So that will be a determination based on the very, very best available medical advice. I have to say, look, down the road from me in my office in West Perth, we've got one of our cafes that is reopening today. That is absolutely fantastic. The buzz that's been generated by the restrictions lifting in the Northern Territory, I think really shows that people do want to see their small businesses open. They want to get back to some sort of normality, albeit, as we all know, we will be living with the virus. The new norm will be living with the virus. One of the best ways that we can ensure that small and family businesses in particular can get back to business sooner rather than later is literally to be part of the over three million Australians who’ve already downloaded the COVIDSafe app.

REBECCA LEVINGSTON: Okay. Minister, let me just jump in there, because just on cafes, I'm just going to bring up Keith from a cafe in Brisbane. He has a question that I'm getting through on text as well, and I reckon you'll be the Minister to answer to it. So just let me pop you on hold, Minister, and I'll go to Keith at Willow & Spoon. Keith, good morning.

CALLER KEITH: Good morning, Rebecca. How are you?

REBECCA LEVINGSTON: Well, thank you. Just in terms of the JobKeeper payments, what's your question there?

CALLER KEITH: Yeah. So, well thanks Rebecca.  Just the question I’ve got regarding it, is now we’re – initially it was set out saying that it's going to be something in place for up to six months for the business, whose turnover is down 30 per cent to be initially eligible. But then every month, we're having to report where we’re at with sales and so forth to the Government, to the ATO. Now would that mean that if we – for example, in three months’ time – we are at a loss of say 25 per cent down from previous years instead of 30 per cent that initially made us eligible – will the JobKeeper payments cease and come to an end early, or is it something that’s been committed to for the next six months no matter what?

REBECCA LEVINGSTON: Okay. It’s great question, Keith. Thank you. And it's one, Minister that our other listeners are asking this morning. Michaelia Cash, what happens when business picks up? Do businesses lose the JobKeeper payment?

MICHAELIA CASH: Okay, so you only need to satisfy the fall in turnover test once. That is – well, it's bad news, because I hate to say, that you've had a fall in turnover, but for the purposes of JobKeeper, and it is under the Australian Government, ATO fact sheet applying the turnover test, on the front page it clearly states you only need to satisfy the fall in turnover test once. You don't need to test your turnover in the following months or quarters, depending on how you are testing the fall in GST turnover. So that's the good news for Keith, you only do need to satisfy the fall in turnover test once, and then you qualify for the scheme.

REBECCA LEVINGSTON: For that six-month period through until September?

MICHAELIA CASH: Well, depending on when you are applying. So, if you're applying for the March–April period, the answer is yes. But, for example, if your qualifying period is not until May, you would qualify in May for the balance of. But for people who are qualified now, and I'm assuming Keith is looking at qualifying now given the industry he is in, and given the fact that obviously there would have been that in excess of 30 per cent downturn in turnover, he qualifies once, and he does not need to test his turnover again in the following months or quarter.

REBECCA LEVINGSTON: Okay, because that's a really important plank in the scheme.

MICHAELIA CASH: Really is. I agree.

REBECCA LEVINGSTON: Okay. Alright. That's good, because I looked up this morning just in terms of key dates on the Federal Government's site, saying by the 8th of May, pay your employees $1500 for each fortnight to claim JobKeeper payments and that'll be back dated, and...

MICHAELIA CASH: That's right. And just on that as well, and what we've also done with that, you now have until the 8th of May to ensure all eligible employees have received that payment. But what we've also done is we've pushed out the enrolment day until the 30th of May, just to give businesses that little bit of extra time to get their affairs together and to get into the scheme. Can I just say Rebecca as well, as of today, almost 700,000 businesses have formally enrolled, and that now covers in excess of 4.1 million employees across Australia. That's good news for those employees as we know, because they’ll have that connection to their employer which is just so important throughout the pandemic.

REBECCA LEVINGSTON: You're listening to Michaelia Cash, the Federal Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business. Minister, how many people are unemployed in Australia right now?

MICHAELIA CASH: At this point in time, the next set of figures actually come out on the 14th of May. You will have seen that the labour force figures came out in March but they were only done the first two weeks of March. So, we actually saw what was an increase in employment ironically for the February quarter. We know though – and I was very upfront when I did the press conference – that is not going to be the situation when the set of labour force figures come out in May for the April period. I mean Treasury have estimated that we're heading towards 10 per cent unemployment. But what Treasury have also said is but for the JobKeeper, it probably would have been five percentage points higher. So, I think we've had around 550,000 JobSeeker claims processed, so that's people who are going through the welfare system. The good news for those 4.1 million employees who'll be on JobKeeper, you’re basically getting paid by your employer in the normal way and you have that connection with your employment.

REBECCA LIVINGSTON: That's still about a million or so people that have joined the Centrelink queue potentially. So, was there a month missing there in terms of the labour force figures?

MINISTER CASH: No. So, April came out for March. I do apologise, I jumped ahead of myself and May comes out for April. So, it’s always one month behind it.

REBECCA LIVINGSTON: Okay. Got it. Alright. How many job vacancies are there in Australia right now?

MINISTER CASH: That's a very good question. We have a Jobs Hub  and if you go onto the Jobs Hub, you can see all of the jobs that are available, that are advertised or that are linked to that particular site. I haven't gone on it this morning but when we first launched it, 50,000 jobs had actually been advertised the previous week because as we know, there are some industries that are actually experiencing a demand. There are some employers that across Australia are looking for employees. And so, what we did is it made it as simple as possible for people – go onto the Department of Employment’s Jobs Hub and you can literally click on, for your home state. In fact, you can go even further than that, you can look at where you are in your particular home state. So, if I'm sitting in Brisbane and I want to know what jobs there are in Brisbane, those jobs will come out and it will take me through to the applicable employer.

REBECCA LIVINGSTON: Yeah. Still a big deficit though between those out of work and those looking for work.

MINISTER CASH: Yeah. Look, and Rebecca, it’s not unexpected. Not unexpected given the nature of what has occurred because of COVID-19.

REBECCA LIVINGSTON: Yes.

MINISTER CASH: But I think that JobKeeper payment and in particular the fact that we've had over 700,000 businesses now formally enrol, covering in excess of 4.1 million employees, has made a huge difference to what unemployment would have otherwise been.

REBECCA LIVINGSTON: Yeah. Although the other difference in figure that I noticed there is the announcement from the Treasurer Josh Frydenberg was about that JobKeeper ensuring the connection of 6.6 million employees. So there's about–

MINISTER CASH: It was around six million employees.

REBECCA LIVINGSTON: Yeah. So, there's a two million difference there. There's another group of people, a million or so, who many of whom work in the arts and entertainment sector, those who've been casual for under 12 months. If the JobKeeper payment doesn't go to the originally forecast six million, will you announce something more for say arts and entertainment workers?

MINISTER CASH: In terms of the current figures of in excess of 4.1 million employees, let's not forget that is until now. We have also extended the enrolment date. So, businesses can still enrol. But, also, some businesses may not yet qualify. And so that figure will gradually increase as the months progress. But what we also said was after a three-month period we would actually have a review of the JobKeeper scheme. And so we'll do that. The Treasurer and The Prime Minister have always been very, very clear – we will look at the evidence that's provided to us and we will make decisions at the time. I am just really pleased that at this point in time, almost 700,000 thousand businesses have enrolled or just in excess of and are now covering in excess of 4.1 million employees.

REBECCA LIVINGSTON: Okay. Minister, just briefly, finally, a message here that's come through from Heather who says: Dear Minister Cash, I'm not a member of any union but a flyer has come to light through COVID-19, it's very disturbing. Minister, are you aware of a percentage of employees having standover tactics saying they will agree to the JobKeeper, providing the employee pays a portion of that money back to the employer?

MINISTER CASH: An absolute disgrace; not allowed. And we have very clear integrity provisions in place. The employer has an obligation to pass on the full amount, the $1500, taking out the appropriate tax of course, to the employee. If this does not occur, because obviously the monies will start flowing back to the employer in the first week of May, can I recommend that you call the ATO and you report this behaviour. It is wrong. It is not allowed.

REBECCA LIVINGSTON: Minister, appreciate your time. Thank you.

MINISTER CASH: Great to be with you Rebecca, as always.

REBECCA LIVINGSTON: Michaelia Cash, the Federal Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business.

ENDS