Interview with Peter Stefanovic – Sky News – Tuesday 31 March 2020


SUBJECTS: Moratorium on evictions; Virgin Australia; Economy.
PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: Well, joining us now is Shadow Minister for Housing Jason Clare.  Jason Clare good morning to you. Thanks so much for joining us. So, before we get on to this moratorium on evictions, I just want to get your thoughts on the wage subsidy scheme. On a report card of the Government announcement what mark do you give?
JASON CLARE: Well, looks good. That’s what we’ve been asking for the last few weeks. We’ve got to go through the details Pete and put it through our caucus and Shadow Cabinet. It’s the sort of thing that we’ve been asking for, for a couple of weeks. The Government previously said they couldn’t do it. I’m glad to see there has been a change of heart. And now we’ll be able to put this hopefully through the Parliament pretty quickly.
STEFANOVIC: Okay, so there’s no, there’s no doubt about whether Labor would support it or not?
CLARE: Well, this is the sort of thing we’ve asked for. I think if this was put in place two weeks ago, we wouldn’t have seen those huge queues of people snaking out of Centrelinks around the country. Most people would agree that if you can, we would much rather use taxpayers’ money to keep people in their job rather than paying people unemployment benefits. The economy has been thrust into a coma. This is about trying to keep businesses on life support. Keep households alive. The last thing you want at the end of this – once the virus has come and gone – is to be left with a zombie economy and that’s the real risk here. I’m thankful that the Government has had a change in heart.
STEFANOVIC: The Treasurer did warn us that this is going to take many, many years to bounce back from, to recoup and the Shadow Treasurer said this morning that it might take a generation to get over. What’s your thoughts on that? And does it matter how long this will take to recover? Because surely what had to be done is being done right?
CLARE: Well, you know I think back about the Global Financial Crisis, the advice was that you’ve got to act fast and decisively. Otherwise, you’re going to see unemployment go through the roof and get plunged into a deep recession. The action that we took about a decade ago helped to stop unemployment going through the roof and a recession coming. And that’s what these sorts of measures are about. In a sense, we’re a little bit lucky here because we’ve been able to see what’s happened overseas before it gets to us. There’s about the same number of people in Australia today that have got the virus as there were in Italy three weeks ago. There’s now about 80,000 in Italy with the virus and about 8000 dead. Now we can avoid that nightmare with the advantage of knowing what we’ve got to do to stop that. That means telling people to stay at home, the more people who stay at home the fewer people will die. Preparing our hospitals, getting more ventilators. But it also means looking at what other countries have done to help save their economy. The poms, the kiwis and a couple of other counties have adopted this wage subsidy idea. That’s why we said it’s a good thing to do and I’m glad that the Government has listened and adopted the idea.
STEFANOVIC: Do you think people are reflecting more kindly perhaps now on the efforts of the Labor Government back in the GFC?
CLARE: I’m not sure and really that’s not what we should be focused on. We’ve got to fight this war. This really is a war. It’s a World War, it’s going to affect every country, infect every country. We’ve got to make sure that we get the big calls right here to help Australians. Where the Government gets those calls right, we’ve got to back them. Where they get it almost right but there’s a few extra things to do I think it’s the job of the Opposition to say that we can tweak this and improve it. That’s why we argued that partner payment change. Where they’ve missed things, I think it’s part out our job to say “what about this?”. That’s why I’ve been arguing that we need a freeze on evictions over the next few months to make sure that we don’t have people punted out of their house at the same time as we’re telling everybody to stay at home.
STEFANOVIC: Okay, well just on that. There has been a moratorium that has been placed for evictions, both in the commercial sector and in the private sector as well.  What’s your thoughts on that? And is it airtight? Are landlords able to wriggle out of that if they can?
CLARE: Well first, it’s a good thing that the Prime Minister has announced this will happen. As I said, we called on it to happen a couple of weeks ago or a bit over a week ago. The next step is for the state governments and the territory governments to put in laws to make this law. The Tasmanians have already done that, they did that last week. It’ll be how the laws are drafted that’s important.  It’s also going to be really important that real estate agents perform a sensible, cooperative approach. We want to make sure that people aren’t dudded, there is obviously a risk that that could happen. The laws have got to be airtight. We need real estate agents to help landlords and tenants to sort this through. It’s not a waiver of rent, people are ultimately going to have to pay it. What we don’t want is people who are unable to pay the rent now because they’ve lost their job to get thrown out on the street or forced back to go home to sick and old parents who are in isolation at a time we are all being told to stay at home.
STEFANOVIC: Sorry to interrupt. I mean, in the commercial sector, if landlords do decide to take a hard-line approach, do you suspect that there’ll be more people like Solly Lew, who will just refuse to pay up?
CLARE: If there’s an attempt to try and kick people out, I think that they would struggle to find another tenant at the moment. It’s that serious at the moment. But if the laws are structured properly, then we will avoid that problem happening.
STEFANOVIC: Okay. When the Treasurer and the Prime Minister talk about, you know, in the private sector, for the tenant and the landlord to just sort of sit down and have a chat and talk about it, is it really that simple?
CLARE: It should be shouldn’t it. You know, I think most Australians get it. They realise how difficult this situation is. If you don’t have money coming in the door, if you don’t have customers, you don’t have money to pay the rent.
STEFANOVIC: Well that’s the thing isn’t it. For some landlords that’s their nest egg. That’s their entire income.
CLARE: Yeah that’s right – and this is in the context of residential rent – what I’ve been arguing is we’ve got to look after landlords as well. We’ve got to look after those homeowners, that rely on that rent every week either to pull food on the table for their own family, or to pay for the mortgage. That’s why the deferral of mortgages by the banks and the building societies is the right call and I congratulate them for doing it, there’s thousands of people that have already deferred their mortgages. But it might require governments to go the extra mile and help with providing tax relief either land tax relief or other forms of tax relief for landlords who are really struggling where they’ve got a tenant who’s lost their job and have no way of paying the rent or at least can’t pay the rent in full for the next couple of months. 
STEFANOVIC: Jason, just before I let you go. Just finally your thoughts on Virgin Australia, it needs 1.4 billion dollars for a bailout. Is it an inevitability that that will have to be given to keep two major airlines running in Australia?
CLARE: Well we want two major airlines. I think most Aussies watching today would say you don’t want at the end of this to be just left with just one airline. So, we’re open to that. Catherine King, the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, is working really well with Michael McCormack, the Deputy Prime Minster, on this. Whatever it takes, we’re here to help to make sure that we don’t get left with that zombie economy I mentioned before. We should be open to all of those ideas and working together, Labor, Liberal, Federal Government, State Government, private sector and Government to help get us all through this.
STEFANOVIC: Okay Jason Clare really appreciate your time this morning. Thanks so much for joining us.