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Interview with ABC Illawarra

8 May 2020

Melinda James

Subject: COVID-19, National Cabinet, JobKeeper, Eden-Monaro by-election


MELINDA JAMES: National Cabinet meets today to decide how to reopen the economy following its partial shutdown due to COVID-19. Any relaxation of the restrictions will be gradual and cautious we're told, incremental. They'll be lifted in increments of four weeks, four to five weeks, at a time. We're hearing some reporters say three stages, some say a five staged approach. And the Prime Minister is hoping National Cabinet can agree on some sort of framework so Australians can understand what the next few months will look like and that there can be some consistency across the states, although we're already hearing the Northern Territory is due to open up completely very soon. Ultimately, it's up to the premiers and chief ministers to decide. I'm joined now by the Federal Member for Hume and the Minister for Energy of course, Angus Taylor. Angus Taylor, good morning.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Good morning, Mel. Thanks for having me.

MELINDA JAMES: This sort of incremental approach, how important is it that there's consistency across the states or do you think it's okay if states go it alone, to a degree?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, the principles should be the same but every state is in a different situation. And the overwriting principle you've already outlined, it is gradual and graduated, but it needs to start and needs to continue. So, gradual in the sense that it's not all going to happen at once and it can't because we need to understand how opening things up might have an impact and be able to respond to that quickly. And graduated – it has got to happen in stages, we need to have carefully calibrated stages as we move through to opening up the economy. But it must begin, it's incredibly important, Mel, we get people back into work, get businesses back going and make sure that we've got a strong economy, and most importantly, strong jobs growth and strong opportunities for people coming out of this. We've done well on the way in, I think we can do well on the way out. There's an enormous amount of work going on, on making sure that's done the right way. And the single biggest thing everyone can do is download that app, COVIDSafe, and make sure we're in a position so that if there is an outbreak, we know exactly where it's come from and who's been exposed to it.

MELINDA JAMES: We've seen from the Melbourne's Cedar Meats abattoir cluster, that things can get out of hand incredibly quickly. What do you say to people in terms of their expectations of opening and closing various parts of the economy, or even small regions into the future and possibly for months and months ahead?

ANGUS TAYLOR: The point I'd make about Cedar Meats is, in fact, it has been contained. So, you know, this is incredibly important, if there is an outbreak and this is a virus where outbreaks happen - we've seen it all over the world - we have to be able to contain it. That means we have to do this gradually. It means we have to do it with the best information possible, and that means having the app - that's why it's so important - but also a strong testing regime. And, of course, we've done extremely well on testing as a country and we need to continue to do well on testing. So, it's managing any outbreak that might happen, containing it, and ensuring that it is managed carefully. You know, of course, in regional areas-

MELINDA JAMES: But you say contained - I know that you have no responsibility for this whatsoever –


MELINDA JAMES: But you say contained, contained and yet 62 people are now known to have been infected as part of that cluster in that outbreak.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Yeah, yeah.

MELINDA JAMES: That is, I mean, do you need to tell Australians and be upfront with them, that with the opening of the economy that is what we can expect in the future for those sorts of-

ANGUS TAYLOR: We don't want any outbreaks. Yeah. Sorry, Mel. I was going to say, we don't want any outbreaks - of course that's the objective - but we've got to be realistic and put ourselves in a position where, when they occur, they are as contained as they can possibly be, that they're transparent, we know what's going on, we know who has been in touch with who. That way we can continue to reopen things, get people back to normal, deal with the cabin fever we're all suffering at the moment in a really careful and calibrated way. I think we can do that if we're all responsible about it. It means we have to continue to hold those social distancing principles close, continue to do them. I'm seeing, all around my electorate, people are really being incredibly responsible - and of course, in regional areas we have done well, as I said, but it is important we continue to stick to those principles, download the app and of course, ensure we've got a strong testing regime in place. And if you are feeling the symptoms, get tested. This is very, very important.

MELINDA JAMES: Can I ask you, just about some of the concerns about JobKeeper that have been raised recently? One on the side of employers and one on the side of employees. Treasury revealed that 768,000 firms have applied for JobKeeper payments and 5 million workers covered. So that's fewer than the Government anticipated. A lot of people are saying that's because small businesses in particular simply can't afford, they don't have the cash flow to pay those payments, the $750 a week payments, while they're waiting on the Government's reimbursement, so a lot of people have just simply been unable to take it up. And then on the flip side, there are also workers complaining about feeling exploited by certain employers who are demanding they work more hours than they're able to in order to work for what the employer thinks is a $750 worth of work. Are things still needing to be ironed out or do we have to live with these flaws?

ANGUS TAYLOR: No government program is ever going to be perfect of course, Mel, and we've had to do this quickly, there has been no choice, but the numbers are huge, whichever way you look at it, they're absolutely enormous and not something any of us could have anticipated. Look, on the small business side, it is very, very important that small businesses talk to their banks. We've seen enormous, well over a $100 billion of loan deferrals and so the goal of the banks has to be and for the most part I've seen they've been doing this, to cut small businesses a break because they have to be able to manage their way through this and of course that's critical to them being able to put the JobKeeper initiative in place. It's also true this is not going to apply to every business and it's set at thresholds which are designed so that it doesn't apply to everybody because it would be completely affordable for the Government to do it that way. But, you know, the numbers are big. I'm seeing around my electorate that a large number of businesses and employees are engaging in this. It is making a difference. But, you know, any imperfection is another reason why we have to unwind this in a sensible way but as quickly as we possibly can, without putting people's health at risk.

MELINDA JAMES: I know everyone will be very keen to hear the Prime Minister has to say when he emerges from National Cabinet. Can I quickly ask you on one final issue - a three cornered contest, the potential of it in Eden-Monaro. You have experience of one yourself, there in Hume, a three cornered contest. What would you like to see happen in Hume? How do you feel about the Nationals potentially - sorry, I beg your pardon - in Eden-Monaro, the Nationals potentially, Barnaby Joyce, once again, strongly encouraging John Barilaro to put his hand up again. What would you think about the Nationals contesting that seat?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I mean, three cornered contests have a long history in Eden-Monaro. I grew up there and I voted there for many years and of course there's no secret that that's typically how they're run and there's nothing wrong with that. Look, I think we should always celebrate democracy in action and, you know, I think democracy is a wonderful thing. It can be messier at times than some would like but that doesn't matter because it ultimately gets to good outcomes, and I think, you know, the pre-selection contest we're going through now with good strong local candidates in the Liberal Party for Eden-Monaro, I think that's going to be a great contest, will deliver us a great candidate who's been tested by the preselectors, the local grassroots branch members on the ground. It will deliver us a great candidate. The Nationals are, of course, free to run, and I think that that democratic process has worked so well for Australia for so many years. Let's celebrate it, get on with it. It's an important by-election. It's important for Eden-Monaro, important issues to work our way through. I'm sure the democratic process will deliver a good outcome as it typically has over the years.

MELINDA JAMES: Angus Taylor, thanks for your time.