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James Cullen on Sky News First Edition: COVID-19

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PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: Well joining us now is James Cullen, the Senior Director of Government relations at Cornerstone group. James good morning to you,  thanks for joining us. As we’ve  been reporting, the national cabinet takes place today – schools will be front and centre won’t it. It has been somewhat confusing for parents out there to follow, is it confusing or is it quite simple in your opinion?

CULLEN: Yeah look it’s clearly confusing, hopefully we’ll get a bit more clarity at national cabinet today, we really need to have that clarity across the country so there’s one set of instructions for parents.  I think it’s clear that if you’re if you’re in a situation where you’re an emergency services or essential services worker then you safely get your child to school but I think beyond that now we’re starting to get conflicting health advice from the Commonwealth level and Victoria in particular about whether or not it’s actually safe to have schools operating in that face-to-face learning so again, we’re  looking for a bit of clarity out if that from national cabinet later on today.

HOST: Okay jobs figures coming out in a couple of hours’ time from now.  things are going to get worse aren’t they? This will show about 5.5% unemployment which is the worst we’ve had for some time,  but we could get beyond that?

CULLEN: Yeah that’s right Pete, looking at the median market projection today is 5.5% for the March number and of course we saw Treasury figures out yesterday which suggest that with the JobKeeper package in place we could see unemployment still rising to 10% and of course the IMF is suggesting that  unemployment could continue to rise in Australia over the next few years. So it’s a real concern beyond hopefully getting through COVID-19 over the next six months. So it’s a new reality and as we know what’s quite concerning is that group of casual workers who haven’t been caught by the JobKeeper package who are unemployed and I suppose at the moment in the process of hopefully receiving that additional support from the Jobseeker payment – the enhanced Newstart payment

HOST: What are the voter concerns at the moment, James?

CULLEN: Yeah look we saw there is some research up today from the Ipsos monitoring in Fairfax today suggests that the concerns are now switching away from things like climate change and perhaps unsurprisingly to the state of the economy, unemployment and healthcare.  So perhaps a little bit unsurprising given we are all focused and we’re all at home and stuck and a lot of people for the first time in their careers have been out of work so it’s a real concern and it’s a changing set of concerns in terms of what are voter concerns. From a political perspective even in terms of how the governments look to respond, they have put those issues at the forefront and have put ideology aside and looked to put a social safety net in that supports people. The real challenge now will be how we manage that transition and ease those restrictions back and hopefully in time get back to some normalcy and see the economy hopefully come roaring back.

HOST: Well that is the debate now isn’t it people are talking more and more about that.  I noticed the front page of the Financial Review this morning and it comes a surprise to nobody that business confidence is an all-time low, now there’s a push to get the retail sector open again, same with schools, same with restrictions.  What do you do here though, you just don’t want that second wave?

CULLEN: Yeah look this is the thing politically they’ve really only got one shot at this in terms of getting it right with a really clear pathway to ease restrictions back and get the economy going again, so in some ways you’d hope they’re sort of focusing more on the health side rather than the economic side at the moment.  You’d want to have our decision makers getting it right in terms of containing the spread of infection and then making sure that the restrictions come off after that – I mean the worst thing for all of us from an economic point of view and a health perspective would be going out to soon, easing restrictions and having the infection spread and having everyone back home again.  I think that would be an absolute disaster and certainly a disaster politically.

HOST: Well then it would just be all this for nothing…                             ..

CULLEN: Absolutely right, exactly and then we’re back to square one. The death toll is one thing and that’s obviously a real concern that needs to be managed in the mix here, but the economic impact of having to come back and effectively start again,  so you’d hope your decision makers at the moment are erring on the side of a cautious reopening of the economy.

HOST: James always good to chat thanks for joining us.

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