FRIDAY, 15 JULY 2022
SUBJECTS: Extension of Covid leave payments, RAT tests.
NATALIE BARR: Anthony Albanese is facing a backlash within his own party over a decision to axe $750 pandemic leave payments. New South Wales Labor leader Chris Minns is calling for the payments to be extended, while other party backbenchers are also reportedly questioning the decision. It comes as the PM also cops criticism from the Coalition for scrapping the free RAT scheme, which will come to an end in a matter of weeks. That is despite Mr Albanese stating on several previous occasions that the tests should be free and accessible.
For more we’re joined by Education Minister Jason Clare and Deputy Liberal Leader Sussan Ley. Good morning to you both.
JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Good morning.
SUSSAN LEY: Good morning, Nat.
BARR: Jason, why scrap the pandemic leave entitlements right as this third wave starts?
CLARE: Well, there’s a trillion reasons why we have to do it. We’re inheriting a trillion dollars of debt. It’s a tough decision to have to make, but we can’t keep spending forever. We’re getting National Cabinet together on Monday. National Cabinet is one of the really good decisions that the former government made – credit where credit it is due. It’s a good idea. The state governments are on the frontline of this. We want to work with state governments to tackle this issue.
You had a story a moment ago about hospitals. They’re under pressure at the moment. We’re expecting more people to get Covid in the month ahead. The extra $800 million that National Cabinet agreed to about a month ago for hospitals is important. But so, too, Nat, is those antiviral medications for people over 70. They were in warehouses. They’re now in chemists. A key part of keeping people out of hospital is making sure that people over 70, in particular, get access to that medication when they get Covid.
BARR: Sussan, can we afford to keep those pandemic leave payments going?
LEY: Anthony Albanese said he would take responsibility and he would leave no-one behind. He’s failed both those tests this morning. At the heart of this is a leave payment that is there for people who just don’t have finances to fall back on. And as we walked to the studio today past the people who clean the train stations, who set up the coffee shops, $750 is a lifeline for them. And what we don’t want is them feeling forced to come to work to protect their family to put food on the table. And this is just not good enough.
BARR: Yeah, Jason, won’t people do that? That’s the point, isn’t it, that Sussan makes. So, if you are a casual worker or you’ve used up all your leave and you get Covid, you’ll fudge it and say, “I can’t afford to stay home.”
CLARE: This is a challenge for casual workers full stop. Whether it’s Covid or whether it’s the flu or anything else. Casual workers don’t get sick leave.
BARR: But we’ve got a Covid wave, right. We’ve got the third wave coming.
CLARE: That’s right.
BARR: So, thousands of people are getting Covid – well, millions, Mark Butler, the Health Minister said.
CLARE: And so, you’ve got to assess what are the practical things you can do to tackle this. Number one, more money to make sure our hospitals are up to scratch. Number two, make sure the antiviral medication is there for people who are going to get really crook to keep them out of hospital. And number three is, get the fourth jab. So, for all of us over 30, we can go out now and get that booster shot. They’re practical real things that will help us over the course of the next month.
LEY: And number four, Nat, is consider very carefully how you support casuals. Because these measures, some of them look like waiting until someone’s really sick and on their way into hospital or even needing antivirals. Yes, totally agree about the vaccines, and we’ve got to encourage everybody that is now eligible. But the health minister said millions of people are going to get Covid and sort of stood there and then the state premiers, quite rightly, have said, “Well, what about this payment?” And then there’s a sudden hastily convened mad scramble to get National Cabinet together, which was a meeting that we did regularly so that we could be positioned to respond, not on the back foot all the time. This is – you know, this is a real concern to people who, as I said, don’t have that finance to fall back on.
BARR: Exactly. Because people are still getting it. You know, I’ve had my fourth, too, and we know – everyone knows now, you can still get it.
BARR: And so, people will – aren’t you forcing people to go into work sick by not extending this payment?
CLARE: And as you say, even if you’ve had it before, you can get it again. I had Covid in March. We’re all susceptible to getting it again. You’ve got to make –
BARR: Yeah, but you’ve got sick leave.
CLARE: Well, that’s absolutely right. Politicians are in a bit of a different category again. But if you’re a permanent worker you’ve got that sick leave, if you’re a casual worker you don’t. This is a bigger problem about insecure work in this country.
We’ve got to make a decision about what are the practical things we can do to help. We’ll talk to state premiers about this on Monday. I think it’s one thing to convene it; it’s another thing to work together. In the past what we saw, Nat, is a Federal Government suing the Government of WA and arguing with the Government of Victoria. That doesn’t help anybody. We’re serious when we talk about working together.
LEY: I actually wonder, Nat, whether Jason has a slightly different view. Because a couple of years ago he was saying exactly what I’m saying now and advocating for a disaster prevention payment so to speak and saying let’s stop this before it happens and saying we need to protect casuals. So, I don’t know, Jason, if you were running the show maybe you would perhaps be coming up with some different policy.
CLARE: Well, we came up with lots of practical ideas. JobKeeper was Labor’s idea. A freeze on evictions was Labor’s idea. You know, the problem here is short-term memories by the former government.
BARR: And free RATs, Jason, which is something that –
CLARE: Well, when we couldn’t find them –
LEY: I must pick you up on the short-term memory –
CLARE: When we couldn’t find them and they were very, very expensive.
LEY: Because you’re using a decision that was made by the Morrison Government over a year ago before Omicron even existed to justify the end of this payment. That doesn’t make sense. That’s not a government coming in, grabbing control, looking after people and, as your Prime Minister said, taking responsibility.
CLARE: You forgot to order enough vaccines, but you haven’t forgotten how to be negative. This Opposition has all the hallmarks of Tony Abbott, and it’s only a couple of weeks old.
BARR: Okay. Now we’re getting bogged down. Now we’re getting bogged down in politics. It’s good to argue the points, but we won’t – we probably won’t do that. Thank you very much both of you for coming in.