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Get workers through the COVID-19 crisis: Australia needs an 80% wage subsidy now

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Adam Bandt 26 Mar 2020

Sky News, On the Hour 11am
Air date: Thursday 26 March 2020


Tom: Welcome back. My next guest on the program is Greens leader, Adam Bandt. Thanks very much for your time this morning.

Why don't we start on what we're looking ahead to in terms of this crisis and evictions. What do you believe should happen as the government weighs up exactly it. And this could be more state governments that—

I know the Greens have been speaking about, not evicting anybody. What happens to the landlords in that situation expecting and needing rent?

Adam: We need — if the priority is to save lives, then we need to do whatever is going to make that happen. And that starts with a moratorium on evictions and a moratorium on foreclosures.

No one should to be kicked out onto the street during the course of this crisis. And if that means looking at rent holidays and mortgage holidays as well then we should start there too. But the bottom line is that if we want to minimise the spread of Coronavirus and we want people to be able to self-isolate, then that means everyone having a home to self-isolate in.

So as far as landlords go, I think many of those may well be covered by insurance. A large number of landlords are insured, and if they're not, then the government could look at whether there's support that's necessary or whether it might be, in a way that everyone is taking a bit of a hit at the moment, whether the government has to assess what is appropriate for landlords, and what should be supported by the government.

But the starting point has to be the public health response, and if the public health response is saying – don't go out, don't spread then that means that everyone has to have a place to stay.

Now we've had some success, NSW passed a Greens amendment just recently that requires — gives the Minister the power to ban evictions in this crisis. Tasmanian Parliament just last night passed a Greens amendment to give renters more protection and now it needs to go national.

And I am very worried that the government seems to be paying a lot of attention to commercial tenancies, and next to no attention to residential tenancies. I was expecting something last night from National Cabinet.

Tom: Well say that happens. You do have commercial as the, obviously the pressing issue right now and obviously that other one around, residential ones will come in the next few weeks. But you're saying ultimately in terms of who carries the can, it shouldn't be the renters.

It's going to either be for those where you can't claim through insurance– I'm not sure the various loopholes that might apply there because insurance policies tend to be that way— It's going to either be the government or the landlord and they'll just have to take a hit for the country.

Adam: Well that's something the government going to have to look at. I mean the government's been prepared to hand out billions to corporations without any strings, and we've seen on the employment front we're seeing depression-era images of dole queues stretching around the corner.

I think part of that could've been avoided had they accepted a Greens amendment that we moved on Monday to require jobs and wages guaranteed. Now they should be strings attached as there is in the UK.

The Greens back the ACTU's call for 80% wage subsidies so that people remain connected to their employers, so they've got wage guarantees and a job guaranteed throughout this. Cause if we keep people connected to their employer, that's another that's a job that we don't have to recreate at the other end of this. Now as far as what we've seen… [crosstalk]

Tom: Just on that UK model, for example, guarantee – that 80% you spoke about guaranteed £2,500 a month. That was the maximum. So in Australian language, we're talking up to $5,000 a month, $60k over a year per worker. How much could that cost the budget?

Adam: Well, what the government's made clear is that the surplus isn't the priority. The priority is to minimise the number of people who die. And so, at the moment we've got to have a look, be looking at everything through the lens of what is the best public health response. You know, at the moment, if you said to every worker, "look, you will continue to get a proportion of your wages perhaps up to that amount, you're not going to be thrown out, to have to now navigate Centrelink, and we're gonna require that the billions that the government has already handed over"

In terms of how much it would cost, the government has already handed over huge amounts to corporations. So yes, we need to support business, of course we need to support business.

Tom: That plan. The 80% UK plan might, might hold. Obviously the government's ditched the surplus – that's a conversation from a while ago now, but it's still not unlimited money that can be shovelled out, As you said, around rental assistance. You have to pick and choose. So what would that 80% plan cost? Is there a ballpark figure?

Adam: Well, the criteria has to be — what is going to minimise the loss of life and what is going to make it easier for the economy to recover at the end of it.

Because the costs of having people lining up and not being able to get get into ventilators, not being able to get into our public health system, get the intensive care beds, that is beyond calculation. The aim of this has to be to minimise the number of people who die and to put us in the best position to recover society afterwards when we manage to manage the crisis.

Now, on the rental front to say, 'Oh well' as you suggested before 'that can wait a few weeks and let's look after commercial tenancies first.' I'm sorry, that is the wrong priority. The priority should be looking at people first.

Similarly when it comes to working out the best way for supporting employers. I think the government needs to accept now that a growing chorus, just as the Greens said at the start of the week, you've now got business associations out, backing the ACTU's call.

The government needs to accept they've got it wrong, and need to fix it, and if it doesn't fix and implement wage subsidies, it should look at recalling parliament, online if necessary, to make it happen.

Tom: Yeah. Online parliament, perhaps a possibility. The government has said it will act further, if and when it needs to. So we'll watch and wait on wages. Adam Bandt, appreciate your time.

Adam: Thanks very much.

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