May 12, 2020

RICHARD KING, HOST: Yesterday the Labor leader gave his vision for Australia emerging from the pandemic crisis and he said it’s going to be a different Australia. He outlined, in a sense, his vision of what the country should look like. With his thoughts and reflections on that and a few other things, joining us now is the Federal Labor Member for Shortland down in a very chilly Canberra, Pat Conroy. Good morning Pat.


KING: Very well thanks, pretty cool down in Canberra this morning Pat?

CONROY: I went for a walk and it was about -2°C outside.

KIM BAUER, HOST: Well it’s a balmy five here at Sandgate, see what you’re missing out on? But you are tackling some very, very serious things down in Canberra at the moment including, gee, what we are going to look like after COVID. Alright, so Mr Albanese yesterday, take us through what you consider the most important points of Labor’s plan to move forward.

CONROY: Well I think the most important point Albo was making is that while we are striving to rebuild the economy, we shouldn’t rebuild it into yesterday’s economy. We need to make it a fairer economy. We’ve got huge amounts of economic insecurity in this country and this crisis demonstrated that. We’ve got more than half the Australians who worked before the crisis who weren’t in permanent jobs - they were in casual jobs or short-term contract jobs – which meant they had no sick leave or annual leave or any other safety net when the crisis hit. So the main message from Albo is that we need to tackle employment insecurity and make sure that when we come out of this crisis, we have better jobs, fairer jobs and more secure jobs for all Australians.

And then he pointed out that we also need to think about how we shape the broader economy. He was very high on decentralisation so getting more jobs for our region, a very fast train is very important as well, and how do we rebuild manufacturing using cheap, clean energy to make us a manufacturing powerhouse again. So it was a really exciting speech that I think tried to start a conversation about once we get through this crisis, how do we make a better Australia that’s fairer for everyone.

KING: He spoke about how our economy has become riskier. What exactly does that mean – our economy has become riskier?

CONROY: Well he’s been talking about how the risk has been put onto ordinary workers, and that’s a threat because we’ve got so many casual workers in the economy and so many people on short-term contracts with no fixed hours. It’s very unusual in the developed world to have such a high percentage of casual workers which means they bear all of the risk - if there’s a downturn their employer will let them go, if there’s a crisis their employer will let them go – rather than the risk being shared between the employer and employee. So Albo was making the point that we don’t have to return to that. We can have an economy that’s growing and prosperous and creating jobs but one where those jobs have more security, where people can plan. Most young people I talk to have never had annual leave. They’ve never had sick leave. How can you plan your life, how can you get a mortgage, how can you plan a holiday if you can’t rely on those sorts of entitlements? So I think Albo’s point is we need to rethink what Australia will look like once we get through this crisis.

BAUER: But Pat, how will you change that when this is, I suppose, a trend around the world to casual employment? You know, the long-term permanent jobs just aren’t around. How can Labor change that position?

CONROY: Well we will be coming up with policies before the next election but a couple of ideas. One which we took to the last election which was around labour hire - labour hire has its part in the economy but regulating it so that employers don’t just use labour hire so that they can cut wages. So in the mining industry for example, coal miners should get paid the same whether they are a permanent employee of a mine or a labour hire company. So that’s one idea.

Another one that’s floating around that’s been in the construction industry is portable entitlements. So yes, people might not work for one employer, people might have casual jobs, but each hour they work they get paid a little bit of money into an entitlements fund for long service leave. My brother is a concreter and he has had this entitlement for decades even though the employment is a bit less than permanent. So there are ways of tackling these issues. We don’t have to go back to the days of everyone working a 38-hour week for one employer, we’re not arguing for a return to the 50s and 60s. But other countries are doing it more smartly, and even in some industries in this country, there’s a bit more security if we are a bit more creative, and that’s really important.

KING: Okay, given it would appear it seems okay to move out of lockdown - there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, we’ve had the three stage process outlined last Friday by Scott Morrison. The possible review of JobKeeper - do you think okay, we’re heading out and people are going back to work etc. it would make sense to review JobKeeper and maybe cut it short under the six months Pat?

CONROY: I am really worried about this to be honest Richard, I am really worried, because we aren’t out of the hard economic times. We are moving through the health impacts and that’s getting better courtesy of the hard work of all Australians being sensible and following the medical advice, but the economy is really being hit hard. We get the official unemployment figures later this week and people are predicting something like an eight or nine percent unemployment rate, and the Reserve Bank thinks it will be 10 percent by the end of the crisis. So the economy hasn’t recovered yet, and a premature withdrawal of the JobKeeper subsidy will be a massive step backwards. That will mean that employers that aren’t making a profit yet will be forced to sack more workers, and that will add to even higher rates of unemployment. So I was really worried when the Prime Minister floated that idea yesterday of not keeping his commitment to have JobKeeper for at least six months and in fact pull it back earlier. And that’s on top of the actual problems with the scheme, for example that it excludes one million casual Australians who don’t get access to it. So I’m worried. I think it’s premature, and we need to make sure that we look after everyone and not be too focused on pulling back programs just now.

BAUER: Oh well we’ll find out more in the next few weeks, but speaking of looking after everyone, our nurses do that and it is International Nurses Day today. Would you like to give a shoutout to a nurse or a unit Pat?

CONROY: Absolutely, in fact my wife is a nurse, and I am in awe of what they do. So I want to give a big shout out to my wife and every other nurse who’s working on the frontline looking after people, risking their own lives at the moment to make sure that every Australian has the best possible health. So thank you to all of the nurses, I am in awe of what they do in the very tough circumstances they face.

KING: Thanks for your time this morning Pat, have a good day.

CONROY: You too, thanks guys.

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