ABC Afternoon Briefing 11/05/22

11 May 2022

SUBJECTS: Scott Morrison has plenty of excuses for his costs of living crisis but no plans to fix it; Anthony Albanese wants low paid workers to keep up with inflation, Scott Morrison doesn’t; Labor’s plan to get wages moving again so Australians can afford to put food on the table; Labor will work with employers and small business. 




SUBJECTS: Scott Morrison has plenty of excuses for his costs of living crisis but no plans to fix it; Anthony Albanese wants low paid workers to keep up with inflation, Scott Morrison doesn’t; Labor’s plan to get wages moving again so Australians can afford to put food on the table; Labor will work with employers and small business. 
FRAN KELLY, HOST: I'm joined now by Labor's Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers to try and nail some of this down. Jim Chalmers, thank you very much for joining us.
KELLY: Scott Morrison has branded Anthony Albanese as a loose unit with the economy, did your Leader mean to sign Labor up to backing a rise in the minimum wage of 5.1 per cent? And do you second it today?
CHALMERS: I do. That's because it's entirely consistent with what we've been arguing for some time now, which is lowest paid workers in our economy shouldn't be going backwards during Scott Morrison's cost of living crisis. You know that Scott Morrison is desperate and under pressure when he does all of this name calling and all of these desperate distractions from this cost of living crisis, of which falling real wages is a big part of the story.
KELLY: Okay, I just want to be very clear here. If Labor is elected, will a Labor Government urge, in writing, the Fair Work Commission to lift the minimum wage by 5.1 per cent in line with inflation?
CHALMERS: The mechanism that we do that is to be determined, but we've already made our view very clear - not just yesterday, but for some time. We have said that in the middle of this cost of living crisis that has emerged on Scott Morrison's watch we don't want to see the lowest paid fall further and further behind. The remarkable thing about this Fran, is not that Anthony Albanese wants low paid workers to keep up with the cost of living, it's that Scott Morrison doesn't. The Prime Minister is going to this election with a policy of real wage cuts and that will make this cost of living crisis worse, not better, for hundreds of thousands of Australian workers.
KELLY: You just said then the mechanism to do that is to be determined, that sounds like wiggle room to me. The question is, will the number 5.1 per cent appear in a Labor Government, should there be one, submission to the Fair Work Commission?
CHALMERS: We haven't determined a final position on how we make that our view.
KELLY: But Anthony Albanese said absolutely yesterday?
CHALMERS: We've made our views very clear. Anthony did yesterday, we have before then, and we have after that.
KELLY: How else could you present it to the Fair Work Commission if you don't write 5.1 per cent in a submission?
CHALMERS: We have already made the case that Australia’s lowest paid workers shouldn't be going backwards. Whether that's in a formal submission or not, our view is already incredibly clear - not just to the Commission but to the Australian community. There's a very clear choice here, Fran. Labor and Anthony Albanese want low wage workers to keep up with the rising costs of living, Scott Morrison does not. He's got all the excuses in the world for real wage cuts but he's got no plans for real wage growth and that's one of the choices at this election.
KELLY: Sorry to labour this, but what would you be writing in your submission of the Fair Work Commission? If it's not necessarily the figure 5.1%? You say that you made it very clear, how would you make it clear to the Fair Work Commission?
CHALMERS: We've made it clear for some time not just yesterday -
KELLY: Putting in a submission, what would it say? 
CHALMERS: We've made it clear for some time that we don't want people to go backwards. That's been the position that we will put formally, informally, The way that we do that in a submission if we're successful at the election is to be determined, but people know our view, Fran. We shouldn't get caught up in the mechanics of this. There's an important principle at stake, which we've all been enunciating in one way or another. That is the difference. We've had a decade now of a Government that has attacked wages and job security, undermined and diminished wages and job security at every turn - not accidentally, but deliberately. That needs to end because ordinary working people in this country are falling further and further behind during this cost of living crisis.
KELLY: I'm sorry, but it did sound yesterday that Anthony Albanese was saying you support a 5.1 per cent increase. You're now saying that might not be written into your formal submission to the Fair Work Commission?
CHALMERS: I'm saying that our position is already clear. I was with Anthony Albanese, he was asked would you support a 5.1 per cent increase, and he said absolutely. That is our position. 
KELLY: Why wouldn't you write that into your submission? 
CHALMERS: That is already known. The mechanics of that is a matter for Tony Burke, myself, and Anthony Albanese to determine, but people know our position on this.
KELLY: Scott Morrison's position is that this shows Anthony Albanese is inexperienced with the economy, because he says government shouldn't be directing the Fair Work Commission with a number, it's independent from government for a reason.
CHALMERS: You know why I'm laughing at that Fran? Scott Morrison, in one press conference, says that the government shouldn't indicate a view at the same time as he's saying 5.1 per cent is too high. He can't have it both ways. He's saying government shouldn't have a view at the same time as he's saying 5.1 per cent is too much.
KELLY: He's not saying 5.1 is too high he's saying government shouldn't stipulate a number.
CHALMERS: No, he's saying both of those things simultaneously, which is what makes his position such an unacceptable joke. This Prime Minister is desperate, he's unhinged, he's doing all this name-calling as a desperate attempt to distract from this cost of living crisis and from his policy of real wage cuts. We've had a decade now of undermining wages and job security, the chickens have come home to roost in the form of this full-blown cost of living crisis on Scott Morrison's watch. If he wants to to talk about this every day between now and the election, we're very happy with that.
KELLY: For the - what is it 184,000 workers who are on the minimum wage, and the two million others who might be affected by a change - if they're listening now, Labor's position is the minimum wage should go up by 5.1 per cent. Is that it? 
CHALMERS: We've made that clear, and what that means is $1 an hour for Australia's lowest paid workers. That's not too much to ask. Many of these workers are the heroes of the pandemic. It's not too much to ask that they get $1 an hour extra. If the Prime Minister wants to say that an extra dollar an hour for Australia's low paid workers will break the economy, then the economy is not in the condition that he pretends it to be. Economic management, if it's anything, is about whether or not Australian workers can afford to put food on the table. Under Scott Morrison they'll fall further behind, under Anthony Albanese they'll keep up with the skyrocketing cost of living.
KELLY: Well, talking of affordability, is a $1 an hour raise rise for the minimum wage earners out of the scope of small business, because employer groups are warning that it's not affordable. The AI Group is advocating 2.5 per cent wage increase for minimum workers in its submission. The CEO, Innes Wilcox, says an excessive minimum wage increase will fuel higher inflation, and higher interest rates would have a particularly harsh impact on the low paid. Are you robbing Peter to pay Paul?
CHALMERS: No, of course not. As you probably know - and hopefully you'd expect, Fran - I work very closely with the peak business organisations, and I hope to work with them in a Labor Government, so I take their views very seriously. But our view is that we want to work with the business community to get wages up in a sustainable way. We've said that before this week, and we will say it after this week. One of the defining economic challenges in our economy is that real wages are going backwards. We all need to work together to get wages growing again in a sustainable way. It's not good for the economy to have people falling further and further behind, it's a problem that we all need to address together.
KELLY: But we need to address the issue of inflation. There's plenty of economists saying a rise of this size, the minimum wage, would be inflationary. When, in your view, does a wage rise become inflationary? At what level? 5.5 per cent? 5.9 per cent? 
CHALMERS: What many of the same economist say - certainly what the Reserve Bank thinks and the Commonwealth Treasury thinks - is that what matters here is how much productivity you get with these wage increases. That's why our economic plan is all about boosting productivity so we can grow the economy without adding to inflation and get real wages moving again. I released an Economic Plan with Katy Gallagher a couple of weeks ago now, which is squarely focused on these challenges.
KELLY: That was only worth billions over a few years. That's not much.
CHALMERS: It was a broader Economic Plan, you're referring to part of the Budget Strategy. We have a broader Economic Plan, which is how do we grow the economy without adding these inflationary pressures and get real wages growing again. The Government's got excuses for real wage cuts, but not plans for real wage growth. 
KELLY: But if you're talking to businesses all the time, they're saying this amount of a wage rise would be inflationary. How do you stop small businesses passing on the cost to all their customers and pushing up inflation? 
CHALMERS: My message to small businesses right around Australia is it's not good for local economies to have people under such extreme pressure in this cost of living crisis, that they're falling further and further behind. It's not good for local economies. It's not good for small businesses. It's not good for the national economy. I think that's self-evident.
KELLY: Can I just finally ask a broader question about the election campaign. You're the senior Labor politician in Queensland. The Liberal launch will be in Brisbane on Sunday. Does that signal that the Coalition is confident it will hold the seats that Labor really needs to win government? If Labor doesn't win a seat in Queensland, can it win government?
CHALMERS: Well, first of all, I think the Coalition has taken Queensland for granted for too long in electoral terms, but also in economic terms. We are putting our best foot forward in Queensland. As a Queenslander, I am conditioned to understand that we have to work twice as hard for every vote there, and we are up to that challenge. We accept that challenge. We're competitive in a handful of seats in Queensland, but I'm not in the prediction game. It is always tough in Queensland and it will be tough this time but we're doing our best.
KELLY: The simple question is, if Labor doesn't win a seat in Queensland can it win government?
CHALMERS: I have said for some time that the road to a better future for Australia goes through Queensland and that's as it should be. We need to do well there if we're to do well nationally. There's different combinations and permutations of how Labor could get to a majority, but I'd like to see us pick up seats in the best State in the Commonwealth.
KELLY: I'm not sure if that's a yes or no. Jim Chalmers, thank you very much for joining us.
CHALMERS:  Thanks, Fran.