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29 March 2021

Interview with Michael Rowland, ABC News Breakfast

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Treasurer, good morning. Michael West is a Sydney travel agent. He is quoted in the Financial Review this morning, he says, "today is going to be a bad day", he's going to have to sack staff, most of his staff are women with children. He says he’s doing this because of JobKeeper going. What do you say to Michael and his largely female staff?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, travel agents have obviously been hit hard by not just the international border closures but also the sporadic state border closures. We have responded with a targeted package of more than a quarter of a billion dollars for travel agents alone, as well as the $1.2 billion broader aviation and tourism package which is designed to provide half-price airfares so there are more planes in the air and, therefore, more tourists on the ground. This comes on top of the JobKeeper payments, the CashFlow boost and the other incentives that we provided to businesses, like Michael's, across the economy. So we understand that there will continue to be businesses that do it tough even when JobKeeper comes to an end, but I want to be very clear, Michael - the advice from Treasury is that JobKeeper must come to an end. It was initially for six months, we extended it to 12 months, and as an economy-wide wage subsidy it would have some perverse outcomes for the economy if it was left in place as the economy strengthens, in particular it would prevent workers moving more freely to more productive roles.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Okay. Andrew Laming, your Queensland LNP colleague, has announced over the weekend that he is not re-contesting the next election. He stands accused of many other things, including taking a photograph of a young woman while she was bending over and her underwear was exposed. Do you believe Andrew Laming is a fit and proper person to serve in Parliament, a fit and proper person to give you his vote until the next election?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, Andrew Laming's behaviour is completely unacceptable. It's demeaning of women and it certainly is not becoming of a member of Parliament, let alone anybody across our society at large. Yes, he's apologised for his behaviour, yes, he's going through counselling and other education processes to correct his behaviour, and, yes, he's announced he will not contest the next election, so really the onus is on Andrew.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Is he a fit and proper person in your view? You're the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, to stay in Parliament from now?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Michael, as I said yesterday, I believe he should stay in Parliament but I also believe he should correct his behaviour and he was elected by his constituents to serve out his term, he has a responsibility to deliver for them a better government and Australia coming through this pandemic, that's what the Coalition is determined to do as we continue to roll out the economic support measures we have just been talking about. Importantly, though, the onus is on him to show that he has understood the errors of his ways, he has understood the gravity of his behaviour and that he has understood the need to ensure that he improves...

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

He's a 54-year-old man, he's been in Parliament for 17 years, he's a doctor to boot. Can you understand why people are frustrated by this sort of behaviour? And frustrated by the fact that he's staying in Parliament?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

I certainly can understand why people are more than frustrated by his behaviour, why people are appalled by his behaviour and certainly the conduct and the culture that we have seen in Parliament is just not good enough. And it has been shocking for Australians and I think it has undermined the public's confidence in a fundamental institution in our democracy, namely Parliament. So no-one is understating the seriousness of these issues, Michael. What we need to focus on as a country and certainly as a Government and as a Parliament across the political divide is to ensure that things improve from here and that is why we're putting in place a whole series of processes including through the Kate Jenkins review, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, working on a series of recommendations to the Parliament to ensure that behaviour improves and that processes are better than they have been.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

It's great to see that action taken, but I just want to go back to the point - you are completely happy - this is the standard you're willing to walk past, a man who stands accused of taking a photograph of a young woman while she was bending over and her underwear exposed, this is the standard the Government is prepared to walk past and accept this man's vote until whenever the next election is? 

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Michael, we're not walking past that behaviour at all.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Why don't you pressure the Queensland LNP - you're the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party. You carry lots of sway, lots of influence, why don't you pressure the LNP to dis-endorse him right now?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, the first thing to say is he's not contesting the next election.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Which could be 12 months away.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, I'm not going to comment on the timing of the election, but what I am going to say is that he is working to correct that behaviour. Now, the onus is on him to prove that he has understood the error of his ways and that he's going to improve his behaviour going forward. He was elected by the people of his constituency to represent them in Parliament. His behaviour has been unacceptable. It's been appalling and it is something that, you know, he has now admitted was completely wrong.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

So given all of this, can you understand why in the latest Newspoll, the Prime Minister's approval rating has fallen 7 points in the last two weeks? 

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, it's no surprise to see events of the past few weeks reflected in those polls, but that's not what is driving us. What is driving us is to help get Australia out of this pandemic stronger than when we went into it, and let's not forget that our economy has outperformed all major advanced economies in the world. We've avoided the severe economic shock that we've seen in other plays like France or Italy, the United Kingdom or the United States. The incredible work of our tireless health professionals has helped suppress the virus, combined with the record $251 billion of economic support has helped keep people in jobs. And the fact that our unemployment rate has fallen to 5.8 per cent, when Treasury feared it could be as high as 15 per cent, is a sign of the success and resilience of the economic support.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Do you have confidence in the Prime Minister?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Absolutely.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Do you have confidence in the way that he has handled the broader issue of the treatment of women over the last six months?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

He's been the first to recognise, Michael, that he could have handled these issues better. He has publicly said that, and he's working hard behind the scenes to put in place a series of new policies and new responses that will help improve the situation going forward. He's the first to recognise that. We spoke numerous times yesterday. 

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Just one final question, which troubled me yesterday. Why was it you, as the Deputy Leader, coming out and announcing, even before Andrew Laming did, that Andrew Laming wasn't going to contest the next election. Where was the Prime Minister?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

I was always going out in a press conference yesterday morning because yesterday was the day that JobKeeper ended. I went to the Breast Cancer Network of Australia which is in my electorate - another organisation that has used JobKeeper to keep their 35 staff in place. And it was a remarkable story...

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

It was a good story.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

And even with the lockdown, that was in place in Victoria, the hard workers at the BCNA were working from home. They didn't miss one of the 13,000 calls from people who needed education or support.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

They do fabulous support.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Nearly $8 billion has gone from the Government to the not-for-profit sector through the JobKeeper program. So we were talking about the positive aspect of JobKeeper and how it supported businesses and organisations...

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

All credit to them. Just very quickly, I was just wondering why the Prime Minister, given the gravity of the situation, wasn't the man to A - pull his MP into line? And B - announce that he wasn't contesting the next election?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, he did pull his MP into line because Andrew Laming's announcement came after a conversation with the Prime Minister yesterday which Andrew reflected on and, therefore, Andrew made his decision. So the Prime Minister's conversation with Andrew Laming had the consequence of Andrew making his announcement yesterday that he would not contest the next election. I was standing up in the morning. The Prime Minister and I spoke. I also spoke to Andrew Laming and, hence, I made that announcement at the press conference.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Okay. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, really appreciate you joining us this morning. Thank you for your time.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

My pleasure.