June 19, 2020

RICHARD KING, HOST: Our next guest Labor’s Federal Member for Shortland is on the line. Good morning Pat.
KING: Yeah, a good win last night Pat. Happy days are here again.
CONROY: It was a great victory. I was very proud of the boys, and it looks like a great combination between six and seven and one and nine which you need in the modern game.
KING: Indeed. Obviously not too happy though about the figures released yesterday by the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealing the impact of obviously the recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 835,000 Australians have lost their jobs since the worst of the virus hit, but as a number of people have obviously pointed out, you can’t look at a timeline of unemployment figures over the years, you really can’t compare this with anything can you Pat in fairness?
CONROY: No, look this is completely caused by an external factor. The economy was slow before the COVID crisis hit, but to be fair, obviously it’s the lockdown of the COVID crisis that’s caused the massive recession and massive unemployment figures which, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, when you include those who have given up looking for work as well as those who are still looking for work, the unemployment rate is 11.3 per cent. So one in 10 Australians are unemployed who are trying to find work.
So look, it’s been caused by an external factor, it’s very distressing, and the real debate isn’t about why it’s occurred. The real debate is how do we get out of it, and that’s where I am really worried.
KIM BAUER, PRESENTER: Well how do we get out of it? All week there’s been headlines ‘100 days until the bloodbath’ when JobKeeper stops. How do you think the Government should be handling what happens with JobKeeper after the 24th of September?
CONROY: Well I think they need to extend it, and I think they should extend it on an industry-by-industry basis because some industries have recovered, but others are really struggling, and there’s a million workers who missed out on JobKeeper in the first place. So any casuals who worked less than 12 months didn’t get JobKeeper.
So I think we need to retain JobKeeper because we’ve got, as we said, 835,000 Australians unemployed, we’ve got one in five Australians who either lost their job or lost hours because of COVID, and we’ve got three million Australians receiving the JobKeeper wage subsidy right now. If that just falls of a cliff in September, not all of those three million Australians are going to keep their job, and that will make this much, much greater. In fact it will have an unemployment rate while we were in the Great Depression if that occurs.
KING: The Prime Minister and our Treasurer Josh Frydenberg intimated yesterday - look they’ve left open continuing JobKeeper but they’ve also intimated that perhaps they might transition those on JobKeeper to JobSeeker which you don’t think is the right thing to do Pat?
CONROY: No, and for people out there not au fait with the new lingo - JobSeeker is the old Newstart, it’s the dole. It’s been very important that it’s been increased and that it’s there for people who lost their jobs during the COVID crisis. But every study of past recessions has shown that once someone loses their connection with a job, it’s very hard to get a new one. So we need to actually keep people tied to jobs through JobKeeper.
And the other point to make is JobSeeker is $400 lower than JobKeeper, so to reduce it, to reduce people’s living allowance would have a very big effect. And we’re already seeing the impact of this in the childcare sector, for example, where the Government for whatever reason is removing JobKeeper in a couple of weeks’ time. That’s going to have a real impact in a sector that really is essential to the economy.
BAUER: Locally the figures are a lot better though Pat. They’re saying we’re one of the most resilient areas in the country. What do you put that down to?
CONROY: I’m not sure how widespread that is Kim to be honest because our unemployment rate is above the State average, and our youth unemployment rate is really concerning. I think there are some pockets that have gone okay. Obviously the mines where they’ve been able to adopt COVID procedures have gone well, but our local economy compared to the rest of New South Wales for example has more workers in hospitality - so bars and restaurants and cafes and more people in accommodation - and they’ve been really hit for six by this crisis.
So I am really concerned about our local economy, and I am particularly concerned about youth unemployment. The national youth unemployment figures when you combine people who have given up looking for work as well as those out of work is 35 per cent. So one in three young Australians can’t find a job, and that will be worse in the Hunter because our youth unemployment figure before the crisis was worse than the national average.
BAUER: Gee, that’s a big number.
KING: Yeah. It’s fourteen past seven on 2HD. Our guest, Labor’s Federal Member for Shortland Pat Conroy. Pat, I might just to wind up touch on the sticky issue of branch stacking which obviously of great concern to your party. An interesting editorial in the Newcastle Herald on Tuesday and they outlined a number of instances, well locally. One of them being Belinda Neal on the Central Coast a couple of years ago and the Liberals suggested branch stacking a couple of years ago re the preselection for the seat of Port Stephens. And, look the editorial finishes up by saying look, none of this is to excuse the goings on in Victoria, but in the same way that one person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter, one person’s branch stacking can be another’s effort to bring on change. The crime as far as the political class is concerned usually lies in getting caught. Do you accept the fact that it’s been going on since day dot and that it’s happening on, well, both sides of politics on an ongoing basis?
CONROY: I accept that outbreaks of branch stacking has occurred regularly in both political parties, but it needs to be opposed, it needs to be stopped. I’ve fought for democracy within the Labor Party for the 24 years I’ve been a member. Every time I have stood for preselection I have insisted on a rank and file ballot where the branch members of Shortland and Charlton before that get to choose who their candidate is.
Branch stacking is a cancer on all political parties. It undermines democracy, and particularly in the Labor Party, it undermines what is the heart and soul of the party and what makes it unique which is our branch members. We’ve got the largest party membership in the country, and those people are teachers, construction workers, pensioners and students, and they should decide the future of the party, not branch stacks. And that’s why what occurred in Victoria was so distressing because that took branch stacking to an industrial level, and that is unacceptable in the Labor Party. It’s unacceptable in the Liberal Party when it occurs there, and we’ve seen it in the Greens as well. So you’re right, it does occur within every political party from time to time, but that doesn’t mean we should accept it, we need to stamp it out because it’s a cancer on democracy.
I can assure listeners that certainly in the Hunter and the Lake Macquarie region in particular we haven’t had branch stacking, and I’ll be very vigilant to make sure that doesn’t occur.
KING: Good, well look thank you very much for your time. Good to chat Pat. Have a terrific weekend and thanks again.
CONROY: Have a great morning everyone.

You can listen to the interview here.