SUBJECTS: Coronavirus, Government stimulus package, Keynesianism

LAURA JAYES, SKY HOST: We go live to Sydney now where Shadow Cabinet Minister, Bill Shorten, joins us. From what you've seen so far Mr Shorten, do you think this is the right response to the Corona virus in terms of the stimulus package?
BILL SHORTEN, MEMBER FOR MARIBYRNONG: In terms of the stimulus, we'll have a look at the detail. Labor will be constructive. Anthony Albanese has said that. We think that the economy does need rescuing. I mean, it wasn't in great shape before the virus, but measures which help keep people at work we will certainly be very constructive about. Remember, the one thing I want to look at personally when I look at the stimulus package today is are they doing enough to look after 3 million casual and part time employees? These people are at the sort of bottom of the employment hierarchy and a lot of them, if they are told to stay at home for two weeks, don't have a lot of money. And so I want to see if they're looked after. But we're up for constructive support for the economy, for business, for small businesses, but also for 3 million casual and part time workers who I’m worried will get forgotten about.
JAYES: So far from the detail that we've seen, you can't see Labor standing in the way when this gets to Parliament?
SHORTEN: We need to see the detail. But Labor has said they're going to be up for constructive measures. Anthony Albanese and Chris Bowen have been talking with the chief medical officer. They've been talking with the experts. We want to be constructive. This is not a time for party politics. It's a time to be constructive. Of course, what we want to make sure is that the package is fair. We want to make sure that the package is timely. I mean - the bushfires - some parts of bushfire affected Australia have only seen four or five loans go out already. So we just want to make sure that it's not hype and that there is, you know, it's really going to happen. But Labor's up to being constructive, absolutely.
JAYES: Okay. You mentioned those 3.3 million casual workers. What kind of support do you think they need?

SHORTEN: Well, I noticed that some in the union movement are saying there should be some special leave provided for them where they get some money and then the employers could seek reimbursement from the government. I don't expect that small business should have to pay for the special leave. But what I do think is that where you've got a casual worker, asking them to self isolate for 14 days or seven days or 10 days when they have no income at all, puts them in a terrible bind. They either self isolate and starve, or they go to work sick and neither is a good option.
JAYES: But who should pay for that? I mean, there's a lot in this package for business. Shouldn't that then be channelled through? Isn't it up to business, not taxpayers?
SHORTEN: Well, what I think is that it's a co-operative effort, and I think the government, at the end of the day should be helping business, particularly small business with this cost. So I ultimately think that it's it's a team effort. One thing's for sure, though, if you're on $20 an hour and you only get, you know, twenty five hours a week and then you're told that you've got to stay home for two weeks, all of a sudden you're in you're in a hole for a thousand dollars and you've got to pay your rent. I just want to make sure the casuals and the part timers don't get forgotten. I mean, we have a flexible labour market. The problem is that in this unprecedented pandemic, I just want to make sure that millions of ordinary Australians don't get forgotten. I'm sure we can work it through.
JAYES: I’m sure we can. Let's go through some of the detail now. Let's start with the one-off payments that have been foreshadowed to the Newstart recipients and pensioners. That a good idea?
SHORTEN: It sounds positive. Sure.
JAYES: Do you have a figure in mind about what it should be?

SHORTEN: Ah, no, I don't. I'll wait to see what the government suggests. But people on Newstart. I know that there's sometimes a bit of poor bashing goes on and elements of the political debate from the from the right wing. But Newstart’s two hundred and sixty bucks a week roughly. People who get a stimulus package from the government - they're not going to start buying gold bullion or Cayman Island shares. If they get the money, they'll be spending it. And that's exactly what our small businesses need in the Australian economy. Some money being spent. The biggest problem economically with a pandemic is it kills confidence. So if you've got people, pensioners, people on Newstart and they've got some scarce dollars, they'll spend it. And that'll generate economic activity right through the value chain in Australian business.
JAYES: Wage subsidy, support for apprentices, all positive?
SHORTEN: Yeah, that's good. Apprentices are crucial. I mean. Yeah, yeah, we can we can debate what the government's done on apprentices another day and their cuts. But I'm not going to be a cloud of misery. I think if they're looking after apprentices, well, Labor's the party of apprenticeships so I think that's headed in the right direction.
JAYES: This seems a lot more targeted than what Labor did during the global financial crisis eleven years ago. I know, I know. They're two very different crises. Absolutely. But are there lessons about how Labor responded to the GFC that the government is heeding here?
SHORTEN: L.J I think that's just a bit of government spin. You haven't heard me on the show saying, you know, rubbing the government's face in it, that they promised to be back in black and –
JAYES: No but there are lessons you can learn from history. So is there something that you went through 10 years ago that you would say that the government should be quite attuned to now?

SHORTEN: This is about the corona virus and the public health emergency. But the lesson, which I think has been learned is that for years, the current mob in power rubbished Wayne Swan and Kevin Rudd for having the stimulus package. Now, it seems that whilst they're trying to say it's different. The reality is that, you know, if it walks and quacks like a duck, it probably is. And this is a stimulus package. And sure, circumstances are different, but it seems to me they're resorting to the same economic textbook that Wayne and Kevin used.
JAYES: Keynesians? We’re all Keynesian now?

SHORTEN: Well, some people probably never stopped being Keynesians. But the point about it is one thing that the economist Keynes said, and I don't think I've got the quote exactly right, but it's effectively: when the facts change, so does his opinion. And I think that Messrs Frydenberg and Morrison having rubbished Labor are now confronted with a set of circumstances, they’ve gone ‘Oops, well, we won't call ourselves Keynesians, but, you know, hey, if it walks and quacks…
JAYES: Let me quickly finally ask you about the 2.4 billion dollars it was set aside yesterday as the medical response to all of this. This is being spent not just in this financial year, but next. What does that tell you about what the government is thinking around, how long coronavirus has to run?
SHORTEN: I think this is the big issue. It's actually bigger than the economic stimulus package, despite the amounts of money. Coronavirus is a public health emergency. You know, I've just been looking around the world what other countries are doing. India is not taking foreign travellers to April 15th. Israel's requiring people to isolate for 14 days.
JAYES: Should the GP go ahead in Melbourne?
SHORTEN: I think it's already starting today. But I will make this point and it won't be a popular point. I think the chief medical officer and the medical officers, they're doing everything right. Stimulus - let's see the detail. But at the end of the day, it is about public health emergency. So what that means is, you know, in Kentucky, they're not even having church services on Sunday, in Washington State events larger than two hundred and fifty they're not having. We just heard in your news bulletin, the Italians are basically saying that unless you are grocery or a chemist shop, you're going to go into lockdown if you can't create a metre distance between customers. The only way to make sure this pandemic is not worse than it otherwise could be is to have more drastic social distancing measures. Singapore and Japan and parts of China - they are putting in more draconian reactions. As a result, it would appear that some of their pandemic numbers are not going to be as bad as other countries who are just doing too little, too late. This is going to be a major policy question, not in weeks and months, but in days. Do we keep having big events? Will we teach school from home? But we've got to have more social distancing. And that is the only way to stop this pandemic being worse than it might otherwise be.
JAYES: Bill Shorten, appreciate your time.
SHORTEN: Thank you.
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