SUBECT/S: Economy; small businesses getting through lockdown; JobKeeper

ROSS GREENWOOD, HOST: Joining me now the Federal Labor Deputy Leader Richard Marles, Shadow Minister for National Reconstruction, Employment and Small Business. Richard, many thanks for your time. I want to start with that word; ‘R’, recession. Do you think there is a real prospect right now that Australia is in danger of going into a double dip recession?

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well Ross, I’m hearing that talk as you are, I obviously hope that doesn’t occur, because the consequences of that will be profound. But I think the very fact that commentators who would look at this closely, are actually speculating about this, speaks to how significant the economic impact is of having Sydney locked down for the period that has been locked down. And obviously Melbourne, as well over the last couple of weeks. And really what this must point to is that we’ve got to get to a point where we are on the other side of COVID-19, where we’re not living in the land of the lockdown, where there is predictability for businesses in terms of how they operate, so that they can have certainty around their business model. And I think what underlies that, obviously, is we’ve got to get vaccine rates up which people be speaking about a lot. But we also need to have government start articulating what is the journey to the other side of COVID-19, and what does the new normal look like?

GREENWOOD: Okay, so that being the case, right now, we’re in this situation that we are. So is it time that the government reintroduced JobKeeper, mainly because I’m hearing from a whole bunch of small businesses, you’re the Small Business Shadow Minister, you’d be hearing the same thing, that going into these state based schemes is expensive, is cumbersome. And it’s really, if you like, almost not worth the money for many of those businesses.

MARLES: Well, exactly. And I was speaking to a number of small businesses by Zoom in Western Sydney on Friday, actually, who are right at the epicentre of this and they were saying exactly what you’ve just said there. And the point that they’re making is that there was a scheme that was operating for most of last year, which people have become familiar with, which actually used the data of the ATO in order to assess whether or not those businesses were eligible, and it worked. And the obvious question is, why don’t we just reintroduce that? That being JobKeeper. Our view is if it’s not that, it needs to be something like it. But what we’ve got now with this package of support, which, as you say, requires, essentially, interacting with state based regulators, means that the businesses themselves are having to go through the process of looking at their own books, to see whether or not they qualify for the assistance, which has been provided. I mean, businesses already rightly, I think, talk about the difficulty of the administrative burden that they face in Australia, in relation to a whole lot of matters of interacting with government. This particular thing is putting a massive administrative burden on them, right at a moment when they’re facing really an existential crisis. And so, I think the way in which this has been set up is cumbersome. And the other point Ross is, and this came through loud and clear in the conversations I’ve had with people, this has been kind of done on the run. I mean, I think government is making it up as they’re going along, to a degree. There is nothing like the certainty that existed last year, in relation to JobKeeper. And so as businesses are trying to plot a path to the other side of this crisis, trying to work out what a new normal looks like, what they’re met with right now is real uncertainty, in terms of the support that’s being provided to them-

GREENWOOD: Federal Deputy Leader Richard Marles, I’m going to leave it there and I appreciate your time today. Many thanks.

MARLES: Thanks, Ross.


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