02 June 2020




SUBJECTS: Local unemployment, Robodebt, Parliament.

BRENDAN TELFER, HOST: Peta Murphy from the Dunkley electorate, good morning.

MURPHY, MEMBER FOR DUNKLEY: Good morning, I was twenty-five – twenty-six in 2001 so I do remember that song.

HOST: Just a punk. Peta, welcome back to RPPFM. This is our weekly update on ‘things’ Dunkley, the electorate. I must say probably one of the most alarming things that I saw this week in terms of the headlines for the Greater Mornington Peninsula was indications that unemployment rates are pretty high down here. However, recovery is probably going to get them back and happening again. But boy, at the moment, there are a few people doing it pretty hard.

MURPHY: Oh absolutely. I think you will have seen the Grattan Institute, it was reported in the papers, that they did an analysis of bureau statistics data and job losses across all of Australia's federal electorates. And in Victoria, the four electorates with the highest job losses, are Wannon, Mallee and then Dunkley and Flinders and both my electorate, Dunkley, and Flinders, which is obviously the rest of the Mornington Peninsula, 7.9 per cent drop in employment, or 7.9 per cent rise in unemployment during this period. And I guess we know that, just from personal experience, but that's clearly the tourism industry, the retail and hospitality industry, people that work at gyms, PARC you know, 259 people lost their job at Parc in Frankston, so that's a big whack. A lot of people who have joined the unemployment queue.

HOST: Indeed, but I must say the government's certainly spending up pretty big. I see that another 4.8, when you talk about Flinders, coming into that particular area, courtesy of the government's local road and community project allocation, which is 1.8 billion dollars. Question is, is it enough and is it going to turn these people around?

MURPHY: Well, I mean, at one point, 4.8 million dollars for Flinders is welcome, and there is 700,000 dollars in Dunkley, which is welcome. And I’d worked with the council to put in an application for that money. But it's not, look, it's not a huge amount of money. It always surprises me how much construction projects cost. But 700,000 dollars in Dunkley is enough for one pedestrian set of lights probably, one intersection. And when you think that we’re the third and the fourth highest job losses in Victoria that local council money for roads, unfortunately, isn’t going to go a very long way.

HOST: So how do you then, in opposition, make the point that more needs to be done and you need to protect the position of your electorate?

MURPHY: Well, we have two weeks of parliament coming up. I'll be going up on either Sunday night or Monday next week. So I will be taking every opportunity to raise Dunkley in the parliament. And particularly, I've obviously been speaking to constituents a lot and where people have been really hard hit. Most people have given me permission to tell their story in the parliament. I've also been very active at writing to various ministers, as you might imagine. The Social Services Minister, I think, got something like 15 letters from me asking for grants for various volunteer groups on top of the ones that received them last week so that they can go out and help the community. So, look, it's just a matter of raising it at every opportunity, everywhere, raising it on RPPFM so people know that I'm out there and can contact me to tell me what they need. And then I take it back to Canberra.

HOST: Indeed, but at the moment, given the stats and the facts, it looks like the government's tracking pretty well in terms of its management of COVID-19. I mean, Scott Morrison enjoying some pretty good numbers at the moment. Cut through is difficult for you as an opposition but I guess if you basically throw yourself on the people and present the argument and the needs of the people, you're going to get some traction there.

MURPHY: I think that's right. And that's really what our job is at the moment. And people have been responding really positively to the way in which I have been advocating locally and helping people locally and trying in a constructive way to work with the government. And I think people have been responding across Australia positively to the constructive approach that we’ve been taking. Here’s two examples, I think, of the way I have raised issues and the Labor Party has raised issues, which look like they will come to fruition with the government. We've been advocating, for example, for a stimulus package for the arts and cultural industry for quite some time, and that is the musicians, writers, painters. It also goes to people who runs pubs where gigs are usually held, theatres, you know, plays, music, movies. And I gave a speech in Parliament last time we were up there, where I read out a letter from a local who runs an arts review blog, who has lost all of his income because all of the events that he usually reviews, have collapsed. And a local writer from Langwarrin who is also a literary agent. And we are now hearing the Prime Minister and Arts Minister saying that they're looking at a stimulus package for the arts. And, you know, it's that constant pressure. And today, all the news, talking about a housing stimulus package. It’s something like 36 or 38 days since Labor first came out and said there needs to be a housing stimulus package. We called for it to start with, social housing, building and repairing social housing, but then also helping people buy houses and help with mortgages. And it looks like the government is going to do something. So absolutely raising issues makes a difference.

HOST: I would say the other big one that you've been hammering lately is Robodebt as well.

MURPHY: And isn't that just a tragedy? Three quarters of a billion dollars - the government announced late on Friday afternoon, you might think, on what is commonly called take-out-the-trash-Friday to try to put it under the radar - having to be repaid to people and it's not enough just to repay the money. And we'll see how that goes with the repayment, but people are absolutely owed an apology. I mean, I had a couple in Frankston and she had a debt raised against her that was eight years old from when she was at university, which was wrong. It got overturned. Three, I think was two years later, you know, she and her husband got back on MyGov because they were going to have a baby, to look at the maternity leave and the debt had been raised again. And so they were looking at, you know, going into having their first child and all the financial stress and everything that happens with having your first child and all of a sudden the robodebt had been raised again and we had to intervene to get it lifted. Now that that finally got lifted, but that couple were under great stress. And that is almost nothing compared to the people that we know who have committed suicide because they thought they owed huge amounts of money and it turned out they didn't. And it really is one of the biggest scandals that we've seen in federal politics for a long time. And I think it's got, unfortunately, quite a way to play out yet.

HOST: Indeed, the consequences are very poor. I can see, I probably get and understand the argument in the first place, the efficiencies, but algorithms I don’t think are probably the way to manage people in that social welfare environment. But nevertheless, I can sort of get the efficiencies that theoretically it was to drive. But when it does drive people to that sort of desperation then the consequences are absolutely extreme.

MURPHY: I think so, Brendan. But there's two things that make this, obviously, based on an ideological position that people are rorting welfare. It wasn't just the algorithms and they had been used in previous governments, but previously an algorithm being used to say, look, it looks like there's an anomaly with this person’s payments and then a human being would go in and look at it to understand. So a human being can say “oh, well, it looks like it but actually, they didn't earn anything for 11 months and then they earnt 500 dollars in December so you can't average that out over the whole year, it's okay they don’t owe any money”. But when there's no human being looking over it, it just comes up at as a debt, didn’t get checked. And then the second thing that Scott Morrison introduced, because he introduced it when he was Treasurer, was a reverse onus of proof. So instead of simply going to people and saying, we think you owe the debt and we are going to investigate it and we need to prove it, they put out debt notices and said, if you don't think you owe this, you prove that you don't. And for a lot of the most vulnerable people, let alone, my example of someone, you know, where it was seven years old - they don't have their payslip, they don’t have, you know, their bank account details from years and years and years ago to hand. And they were unable to prove that they didn't owe debts.

HOST: It's amazing, isn't it? And it’s probably a little ironic that this government now has got it’s hand on a very fat cheque book and it’s doing cheques all over the place and really trying to stimulate the economy given COVID-19 but that is the way of the world and that is the way of politics. So we appreciate you bringing these matters to our attention, Peta Murphy, thank you very much indeed. So you're off to Canberra very very soon. When do you head up?

MURPHY: I'm either heading up Sunday night or Monday. It’s the long weekend and parliament, is starting… it’s actually sitting Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, next week but there'll be a lot of meetings on the Tuesday, and there's not very many flights, as you would imagine. So I think that we're all stuck in Canberra for the weekend and then we've got parliament the following week.

HOST: Fantastic.

MURPHY: Yeah so a quite a long time up there. But, you know, as I say I think almost every week, if anyone has anything they think they'd like me to raise, anything that's going wrong, or any positive suggestions for things that they would like to see done, get in touch, because I will have a lot of time in Canberra to raise them.

HOST: Well, thank you. And if you do, maybe we can humbly suggest that you might give us a preview of the week ahead if we speak to you next Tuesday.

MURPHY: Oh I'm very happy to do that. So I will absolutely be up in Canberra, I'll be in my office. I'll chat to you on Tuesday and I’ll know what legislation is coming up that week so I'll be able to talk about that.

HOST: Thank you so much indeed, Peta. Appreciate your time very much indeed.

MURPHY: You're welcome, it’s my pleasure, have a good day. 

HOST: Safe travels up to the federal capital for us.

MURPHY: Okay, talk to you next week.

HOST: Peta Murphy, who is the member for Dunkley, joins us each and every Tuesday here at RPPFM, bringing us up to speed on what is happening, what's big, what is not, in her part of the world, the Dunkley electorate in particular.


Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.