ABC Canberra Breakfast 2/12/21

02 December 2021

SUBJECTS: National accounts; Costs of living; JobSeeker; House Prices; Climate policy; Voter ID laws; Charities.






SUBJECTS: National accounts; Costs of living; JobSeeker; House Prices; Climate policy; Voter ID laws; Charities.


ADAM SHIRLEY HOST: Jim Chalmers, do appreciate your time on ABC Radio Canberra. Thank you for it today.

JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: Thanks for the opportunity, Adam.

SHIRLEY: Yesterday's news that the Australian economy had contracted in the September quarter wasn't a surprise, the lockdowns in New South Wales, the ACT and in Victoria ensured that. Additionally, most economists think things are already picking up. Could we really have expected any other numbers regardless of who is in government?

CHALMERS: I think the fact that the economy went backwards in the September quarter is not a surprise. We had those lockdowns which were caused by the federal government's failures on vaccines and quarantine. So everybody expected the September quarter to be horrific in economic terms and it was. It was the third worst downturn we've had in our economy in the history of those figures. I think most tellingly, around the world in the OECD amongst the advanced economies, there are 28 that have reported their economic outcomes for the September quarter, and ours was the worst in the developed world. We were stone cold last. 28th out of the 28 that have reported. That's because we had the beginnings of a recovery at the beginning of this year. In the May budget, the Treasurer said the economy was coming roaring back. Instead, we got the third biggest contraction in our history in the September quarter. I think what that tells us is we can't be complacent about the recovery. We do expect the economy to recover strongly. But it needs to be the right kind of recovery and we can't be complacent about it, especially with this new strain of the virus.

SHIRLEY: One could make the argument that the federal government has not been complacent since that time, that vaccination rates across the country have picked up especially here in the ACT, that things are opening up, albeit depending on Omicron and what unfolds there, but at about the right time for Christmas. So do they deserve some sort of credit for recognising that and acting on it?

CHALMERS: I don't think so, Adam. The reason that we were so far behind for so long was because they didn't order enough vaccines, we had a supply issue. Once the supply issue rectified itself, then people did the right thing by each other. I think 100 per cent of the credit for those really quite terrific vaccination rates belong to the people of Australia. In your case, the people of the ACT, the numbers here are just through the roof. That's a great thing and we pay tribute to them.

SHIRLEY: How fair is it given lockdown so significantly impacted this quarter's results to make sweeping judgments about what the federal government's management has been in this period?

CHALMERS: I think any objective observer who looks at the year that we've just had the fact that there were those big problems with the vaccine rollout and the initial stages we didn't have purpose built quarantine, a lot of the lockdowns were caused by the fact that so many of these cases came from hotel quarantine, which is proven to be not up to the task of limiting the spread of the virus.  I don't even see it as a political assessment, Adam, to point out that the pandemic was mismanaged through the middle of this year. That led to economic mismanagement, we had this contraction, it didn't have to be that way. It was the downturn that we didn't have to have. Other countries dealing with delta, many of them, most of them grew strongly in the September quarter, ours went backwards and the difference is Morrison, Frydenberg and the government made a heap of mistakes, and that had economic consequences for small businesses and working families.

SHIRLEY: If the trend that some economists are already observing continues that things pick up significantly in next quarter will you be in a position where you need to concede that the leaders of this country have done a reasonable job?

CHALMERS: Look, the point that I would make about that Adam is this. The government can't take credit for the recovery if they're not taking responsibility for the downturn. They can't have it both ways. Unfortunately, this government is pathologically incapable of taking responsibility when times are tough. They're always blaming the states. They blame Andrew Barr, they blame Annastacia Palaszczuk or Mark McGowan or Dan Andrews. They never take responsibility when times are tough. When things start to pick up, they pretend it's all they're doing. I think Australians are onto them. I don't think they like that sense of not taking responsibility. They will take credit for the recovery. I don't think they can have it both ways.

SHIRLEY: Jim Chalmers the Shadow Treasurer is our guest on ABC Radio Canberra mornings Adam Shirley with you as well today. Let's have a look at Canberra. It's a tale of two cities if you have a great well-paying job you get by, if you're in a low paying job or unemployed life becomes unaffordable very quickly, what can be changed in this capital region to help people who are on the margins here?

CHALMERS: I think in Canberra and in other parts of Australia, the big issue here is for those people whose real wages are going backwards. What that means is that people can't meet the skyrocketing costs of petrol, rent or some of life's other essentials. I think that as we think about the economy recovering, we need to remember it's not a recovery for everyone. It's not a recovery, if people are left behind. It's not a recovery, if we just go back to all of the wage stagnation and flatlining living standards that we've seen for much of the last eight years. I think that's another really important reminder that we can't be complacent, we can't get carried away about this recovery. While people look to Christmas and beyond they don't feel like their material circumstances are improving much. That's because, in lots of cases, their real wages are going backwards. That's the big problem in the economy, we had it before COVID, we risk going back to it after COVID too.

SHIRLEY: As you might know out of the parliamentary bubble here in the capital region, rents and prices of even units, let alone single dwellings are going through the roof in many suburbs. That goes down to state and territory government management land release, what can be done better here to make life more affordable?

CHALMERS: I think housing affordability is such a big problem, that there's not kind of one lever or two levers that you need to pull. You're right that there's a local government role. There's a state and territory government role, and there's a federal government role. You've got to recognise that you can't fix it overnight. It's a big problem that's been emerging for a long time. Our priority is social housing, we've said we want to build more homes. That's our priority. We've said that we're working on other policies that we will announce between now and the election. States and territories have got a role to play with land release and all the rest of it, as you say planning is an important part of the story and local governments too. But there's not one thing that we can do, which will fix this problem, which has been an issue in terms of housing affordability for a long time.

SHIRLEY: It comes back to issues like negative gearing like capital gains tax, and some of the right offset investors who have a portfolio can follow through on. Are you revisiting, not the whole policies for 2019 but some of those when you look at an area like Canberra?

CHALMERS: No we won't be proceeding with some of those proposals we've had in the past around negative gearing and capital gains. We've made that clear for some months now. We think that if you're serious about the housing market, the first thing you need to do is deal with social housing. That's why we've got that multibillion dollar Future Fund for housing, which is about building tens of thousands of properties, making it easier for people to live near where they work when they're essential workers, making it easier for people fleeing domestic violence and other vulnerabilities. That's our first priority. But our Shadow Minister Jason Clare is doing a heap of work with other colleagues to see what else might be meaningfully done. But as I said before, the feds have got a role to play as do the regulators, the states and territories and local government. It is a big and growing problem. It is one of the issues that people raise with us most substantially.

SHIRLEY: What about the JobSeeker rate? Are you actively considering that as Shadow Treasurer?

CHALMERS: We've said for some time, that we are considering that. We haven't concluded a view on that. The reason for that is because we've got to try and work out in the context of a trillion dollars in debt in the budget what our first priorities are. We've still got a couple of budget updates to go between now and the election, we don't know quite how bad the budget will be that we inherit. We've got to weigh things up against each other. We want to be really responsible with the budget. We've got to make sure that we what we promised that we can actually deliver in the budget. The other thing we need to recognise is you can't undo all of the damage of the last eight years, all of the attacks on vulnerable people in one Labor budget or in one year or even in one term. So we've got to work out what our first priorities are, and in doing so will always be responsible with public spending.

SHIRLEY: You know, I don't think voters or economists would expect one Labor budget should you win government to fix things. However, when you've got groups like the Business Council of Australia and others advocating along with the not-for-profit sector for an increased JobSeeker rate is it fair to assume that you'd be looking at some sort of increase? Whilst the amount of that is still under consideration?

CHALMERS: I wouldn't make any assumptions about our final policy as I said we haven't landed it. We haven't come to a concluded view. I mean that very genuinely, for all the reasons that I've just described. But obviously, not just the BCA, but ACOSS and others they've made a very strong case here, and we take all of this input incredibly seriously. One of the things that we want to do differently as an Albanese Government is to treat input from peak groups, and from the community more broadly, is to take it seriously, constructively and recognising that when people have different views, that's a good thing in a country like ours and not some kind of personal affront to the government. So we listen intently when people make suggestions like those groups have done.

SHIRLEY: Jim Chalmers, the Shadow Treasurer is with us on ABC Radio Canberra. Adam Shirley along as well on mornings appreciate you listening online and on air. On a couple of other key issues and this is directly related to economics. Weeks after the conclusion of COP26. What will your emissions target be?

CHALMERS: We'll make that very clear quite soon. What we've said about that is we'll have interim targets which strike the right level of ambition, which recognise that good climate policy is good economic policy, as you alluded to in your question. It's good economic policy, because it's all about getting the jobs, investment and opportunities that flow from cleaner and cheaper energy. We've had a wasted decade of missed opportunities when it comes to jobs and investment opportunities in the clean economy. We want to add new sources of renewable energy. Our policy will reflect all of those objectives and we'll make it clear in the next couple of weeks.

SHIRLEY: Many scientists as well, as economists are saying that 2030 is the crucial date. There's been criticism of the federal government for not changing what has been their 2030 target to this point, can you at least say whether you're considering a concrete 2030 target?

CHALMERS: We've said before, via our leader Anthony Albanese, and our climate spokesman, Chris Bowen, we've made it clear that we will have interim targets. We will have a 2030 target. You mentioned the Glasgow conference where one of the key outcomes of that conference was that countries need to update their 2030 targets for the meetings next year in Egypt. We want to make Australia part of the solution when it comes to dealing with climate change. Not part of the problem. For too long we've been kind of outliers in the international community, and they judge us harshly for it. We want to make a contribution there. Part of that is making clear our interim targets, Chris and Anthony and others have said for some time that we'll be doing that.

SHIRLEY: Can listeners presume, or at least expect, that the 2030 target will be higher than what the federal government currently has?

CHALMERS: I think everybody knows that we take climate change and cleaner and cheaper energy more seriously than the government, I really don't want to get into the business of front running what Anthony Albanese and Chris Bowen might be talking about in the next couple of weeks. I want to be really careful about that. I make my contribution at the Shadow Cabinet level. But I really wanted to assure your listeners, we will be more ambitious than the government. We will strike the right level of ambition. That's because we recognise that if we are to grow and modernise this economy the right way, then cleaner and cheaper energy needs to be a bigger part of the story. For too long now there's been a handbrake on investment because there hasn't been that clarity on policy. We want to fix that as part of an Albanese Labor government.

SHIRLEY:  One other issue that might seem at first glance in the minutiae of politics, but actually counts a lot in the lead up to an election. In exchange for the government to dump the voter ID proposal you've side with the government on the political campaign bill which forces charities to register as a political campaigner if they spend money beyond a certain threshold on what's dubbed an electoral issue. Why did you support that bill, when you have significant concerns about it, and the voter ID bill was unlikely to pass on the numbers?

CHALMERS: Two things about that, Adam. First of all, on the voter ID laws that was American style, voter suppression designed for one purpose only, which is to disenfranchise the most vulnerable people in our country. So we resisted that fiercely. I'm pleased to see the back of that legislation. When it comes to charities, I ask charities in this country to judge us on eight years of being the last line of defence, when it comes to the Coalition's attacks on charities. With every piece of new legislation we have to balance, trying to work out where we can agree and where we have to dig in and disagree. I think if you look at our record, and I pay tribute to Andrew Leigh from the ACT, who's really led the charge for us in lots of ways when it comes to charities -

SHIRLEY: He seemed disappointed in a tweet he put out yesterday that Labor had ended up siding with the government on this.

CHALMERS: I would say what Andrew would say to your listeners, which is our record over eight years has been as the primary defenders of charities. We understand that there is some disappointment that's been expressed here, but judge us on eight years of being the last line of defence when it comes to the Coalition's attacks.

SHIRLEY: Jim Chalmers, we've covered a bit of territory. I appreciate your time.

CHALMERS: I really enjoyed the chat Adam. Thanks so much.