ABC Melbourne 18/05/22

18 May 2022

SUBJECTS: Scott Morrison’s cost of living crisis; Election costings; Worst real wages outcome in more than twenty years; Morrison Government waste and rorts; Labor's plan for the Australian public service; Polls; A better future under Labor or three more years of the same; Anthony Albanese. 




SUBJECTS: Scott Morrison’s cost of living crisis; Election costings; Worst real wages outcome in more than twenty years; Morrison Government waste and rorts; Labor's plan for the Australian public service; Polls; A better future under Labor or three more years of the same; Anthony Albanese. 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI, HOST: Dr. Jim Chalmers is the Shadow Treasurer and Federal Labor Member for Rankin and he joins us now. Jim Chalmers, good morning.


TRIOLI: You're on the record saying that this Liberal National Government has taxed more, borrowed more and spent more than the last Labor government. Are the policy costings that you're just about to release, are they going to blow that away?

CHALMERS: No, of course not. The other part of that equation is that the Government's delivered less and that's the main point here. This Morrison Government has racked up a trillion dollars in debt with almost nothing to show for it. What we will show when we release our costings is that we can make responsible investments in growing the economy the right way and getting real wages moving again by investing in areas like cleaner and cheaper energy, or child care, or free TAFE in areas where we've got skill shortages. That will be the difference between our approach and the Government's approach. Our alternative is more responsible, and more future focused, whereas their budget is heaving with rorts and waste. 

TRIOLI: Will deficits then be higher or lower than this Government? Let's cut to the chase here.

CHALMERS: We'll release our costings tomorrow, which is the usual time for Oppositions to do it. It's the time that the Government when they were in Opposition did it.

TRIOLI: It's not the time that Labor did it last time around. In the 2019 election you released those costings much earlier and you did that for a reason. You did that to really offer a clear alternative, and to allow voters to compare and contrast. So the questions over the last 24 hours have been around why would you not want to do that this time around?

CHALMERS: Well we are providing a clear alternative, a very clear choice, a better future with a stronger economy and a more responsible budget under Labor.

TRIOLI: But enough time for it to be considered?

CHALMERS: Obviously, when we've released our policies, we've said how much our policies will cost. We've been doing that all along. Our policies are about getting a genuine economic dividend, whereas the Government has been sprung again and again and again, whether it's $20 billion in JobKeeper for businesses that were already profitable and didn't need it, whether it's $5.5 billion for submarines that will never be built, or a billion dollars on political advertising funded by the taxpayer. So we won't be taking lectures from the most wasteful government since federation. We would be inheriting a trillion dollars in debt, but not a plan to grow the economy. So we've got a plan to grow the economy the right way and our costings will reflect that.

TRIOLI: Let's get to a few key points, then we can move on to some broader issues. Jim Chalmers, when did you submit your costings to the Parliamentary Budget Office?

CHALMERS: Well, that happens progressively as it does for the Government as well. For example, the Government announced that housing policy on Sunday and submitted a costing on Monday-

TRIOLI: Let's talk about you, though. Have they all been submitted?

CHALMERS: Well, the point that I'm making is that these things get done progressively over a long period of time. Some of our policies were costed before the election, some will be costed during the election, some have capped amounts, some are matching Coalition commitments, some have no cost - 

TRIOLI: And they've all been - just to get clarity - they've all now, as of this morning, they've all been submitted to the PBO?

CHALMERS: We've been working with the PBO for some time on these costings. What you'll see tomorrow is PBO costings of our policies, you'll see matched amounts and capped amounts. That is the standard practice.

TRIOLI: Here's what I don't get; the Parliamentary Budget Office simply tells us what all your promises add up to and what the Government's promises add up to, for that matter, as well. They don't in any way tell us whether the country can afford them, whether there might be cost overruns for your programs, whether the programs are any good, or what the Budget looks like into the future. So what really is the point of all this?

CHALMERS: Well, I think it's important that before election day, the parties can show how much they've committed throughout the term of the Parliament. I think that's entirely reasonable and normal.

TRIOLI: Sure, but then we get to Budget time and government after government says 'whoopsie, we didn't see this that or the other, and now we've got a different bottom line'.

CHALMERS: Well I think it’s an inevitably that Budgets get recalibrated. But what's been unusual the last three years, I think, has just been the extent of the rorting and the wasting - which we want to put an end to. We'll have more to say about that over the course of the next couple of days as well. I mean, this has objectively been the most wasteful government since federation. Time after time after time, they've been sprung rorting and wasting money in the Budget. We will be far more responsible than them because we want to invest in a better future and that's one of the choices at this election.

TRIOLI: What was the thinking, though, with leaving it this late? You've touched on that it's traditionally done this late, although, of course history shows as I mentioned then in 2019, the Labor Opposition did release the costings early. What's been the thinking in leaving it so late? When an Opposition always has so much to prove why not have released it earlier?

CHALMERS: Well, we're releasing it on the on the timetable and the precedent established by the Government.

TRIOLI: You're not answering the question ‘why?’ when you've got so much to prove?

CHALMERS: That is why. We decided that we would do it on the same timeframe as the Government because that's the practice that's been established. They did it at the last election. They did it in 2010 and 2013, when they were last in Opposition. All of this confected outrage about the timing of our costings from the Government is designed to distract from the fact that we've got a full-blown cost of living crisis and real wages are going backwards. Did you know, for example, Virginia, that there's a new wages number coming out today and what economists expect that to show is the biggest cut in real wages in more than 20 years. Now, the Government doesn't want to talk about that. They want to talk about Anthony Albanese's press conferences, or they want to talk about the minutiae of the timing of campaign costing releases. Australians are not focused on whether or not Labor releases their costings on Tuesday or Thursday, they're focused on whether or not they can feed their kids during Scott Morrison's cost of living crisis when their real wages are going backwards.

TRIOLI: Jim Chalmers is with you, Shadow Treasurer and the Federal Labor Member for Rankin. The country's leading constitutional lawyer, Anne Twomey says a great deal of you and the Government's funding promises in traditional state areas are unconstitutional. What advice have you sought and received to indicate that those promises are constitutionally sound?

CHALMERS: Well, they've traditionally been seen as sound -

TRIOLI: My specific question goes to whatever information you have sought and received, constitutional advice, to show that it is sound.

CHALMERS: Well I haven't, Virginia. But that's because these sorts of commitments that we've been making are consistent with past practice -

TRIOLI: Has anyone in the Labor Opposition done that? Has anyone gone and sought the advice?

CHALMERS: Well, you'd have to ask them. Not to my knowledge, because as I keep saying, it's consistent with past practice. If there are complex constitutional issues to work through, then I'm sure Mark Dreyfus, and others will work through them.

TRIOLI: I asked Katie Allen in Higgins if the Prime Minister was a drag on her vote. Is Anthony Albanese himself turning out to be a drag on the Labor vote? The more people see him, it seems, the more that your primary vote drops.

CHALMERS: Of course not and I don't think that is the case. I think that the polls bounce around, as we'd expect. I think everybody expects the polls to tighten the closer you get to election day. That's because national elections in Australia are traditionally tight. I think the more people see of Anthony, the more they understand he's the type of leader who shows up and takes responsibility and works hard every day to bring people together. You contrast that with a Prime Minister who goes missing, who never takes responsibility, and is always looking to divide us. So I think - I believe - that Anthony is one of our best assets in this election campaign, particularly when you compare him to - almost a decade now – of the kind of excuse-making and buck-passing that we see from Scott Morrison.

TRIOLI: You've announced the funding boost for public servants. But the Government is saying that they're funding their spending promises, at least in part, by cutting public sector wages. So what's the voter supposed to make of that? Whose approach is right here?

CHALMERS: Well our approach is right. I mean, their answer to everything is to cut jobs, maybe thousands of jobs lost as a consequence of their policy. What we've said-

TRIOLI: Public sector waste would seem to be a pretty good area to focus on. And I don't know how much of a vote winner it will be. 

CHALMERS: That's why we're focused on it.

TRIOLI: I don't know if it's going to be that much of a vote winner to say 'hey, we're going to be boosting public servants’ salaries'. No one wants to see a public servant like my salary boosted.

CHALMERS: Well, let me explain the difference between the policies: the Coalition wants to cut thousands of jobs. What we've said is we can save $3 billion by trimming spending on outsourcing on contractors, consultants and labour hire and we put about $500 million of that back into boosting the capacity of the public service. So a net save of about $2.5 billion. And that is how you get a more efficient public service. See, the madness of how the Government's gone about this is that they spend more money getting less outcomes because they've let spending on outsourcing blow out. So we will trim that. We'll put some of it back into the public service and we'll return $2.5 billion to the bottom line. That is a much more effective way of boosting efficiency in the public service.

TRIOLI: And just finally this morning, Jim Chalmers, do the polls square with your impression, three days out - you've been travelling the country - that you're daily losing ground? Does that feel about right to you?

CHALMERS: We have always thought it's going to be tight and so there's nothing surprising for us, if the polls are accurate. But the polls have not been very successful at picking election outcomes. We have thought, even before today's polls and yesterday's polls, the election will be tight. We take no outcome and no votes for granted. That's why we're absolutely working our butts off all the way up to the close of polls on Saturday, to make sure people understand the choice between a better future under Anthony Albanese and Labor, or three more years of the same under Scott Morrison. A better future is possible, but people have to vote for it.

TRIOLI: I remember speaking to many people from the Labor Opposition in the aftermath of 2019 and just remembering how completely dispirited and shattered they were, Bill Shorten amongst them. Jim Chalmers, do you have another federal election loss in you, could you bear it?

CHALMERS: Well it's not about me, Virginia. I mean, obviously that will -

TRIOLI: But you're part of the team. I mean, could you bear it?

CHALMERS: Of course it'd be difficult, Virginia. But it is genuinely not about us. It's about people whose real wages are going backwards. One of the things we've done every day of this term in Opposition is make sure that people are front and centre. That's what our policy is about. That's what our whole approach is about. We want to make sure that people understand the choice which is central to this election. A lot of people have voted already, but a lot of people are still to vote, and they need to understand that choice: a better future or three more years of the same.

TRIOLI: Good to talk to you, Jim Chalmers. Thanks so much.

CHALMERS: Thanks for your time, Virginia. All the best.