ABC RN DRIVE
THURSDAY, 8 OCTOBER 2020
SUBJECTS: Federal Budget; Anthony Albanese’s Budget Reply.
PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Jim Chalmers, welcome to the program. What more can you tell me about Labor's $6 billion childcare package and who would benefit most from it?
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: I was just thinking Patricia, we've done this show on the Thursday night of budget week a few times and typically, I've tried to keep my job by not revealing all the details of the Leader's speech. People should watch it at 7:30 on the ABC. But clearly childcare is going to be a big priority for Anthony Albanese. It's something that he thinks is deeply wrong with the way that the economy is working or not working at the moment. He doesn't think that women or families should be penalised for taking on extra hours or taking on a job. He sees improving the childcare system as a fundamental economic reform. If we're going to get this recovery from the deepest recession we've had for almost 100 years right it's inconceivable that women wouldn't play a big part in that. That means making sure that they can participate in the workforce more easily.
KARVELAS: I'm just fascinated to find out, is Labor's decision to put this as the centrepiece in response to what you saw as an absence of women's policy or childcare policy in the budget, or was it always the plan?
CHALMERS: A bit of both, Patricia. It was always going to be a big priority for us. Anyone who looks objectively at our economy and what we need to do in this recovery to make sure that more people can grab the opportunities to work, anybody would see childcare is a big avenue for change. We've had that view for some time but we were surprised frankly that on Tuesday night the Government when they racked up a trillion dollars in debt, $100 billion dollars in new spending in the budget alone, and still not a cent for childcare. That is a real missed opportunity, something that we think should have been in there and Anthony will have more to say about that very shortly.
KARVELAS: Yeah, he will and that's the centrepiece as I say. What I want to know is do you think paying $5, as Jane Hume put to me, as an out of pocket expense for childcare, is $5 too much? Is that in your view just too high?
CHALMERS: Well I'm going to avoid getting into the numbers before we announce the policy. But I think that the key way to look at it is, is the current childcare system preventing women from taking on extra hours or taking on work that they want to do? That really is the defining question in childcare. That's something that we've been tossing around for some time but increasingly since Tuesday night and your listeners will hear more about that in an hour or two.
KARVELAS: The Government is making the point that, how are you going to pay for it? You go on about the Government's trillion dollar debt, you've made the point that's a bad thing. But equally, you're prepared to go into more debt for these measures, right?
CHALMERS: Patricia, I refuse to take a lecture from these characters who printed mugs saying the budget was in surplus and then delivered the biggest deficit in the history of the nation, and more than a trillion dollars in debt. Those days of taking lectures from these people who have spent 10 or 12 years since the remarkable success of the Rudd Government in seeing off the GFC with levels of debt a tiny fraction of what they are now are over. The days of them being able to lecture us on fiscal responsibility are over.
KARVELAS: You think they're over but my question wasn't do you think they should continue lecturing you. The question was different. It was, do you think you should go into more than a trillion dollars of debt?
CHALMERS: We think you can spend the money more effectively. This is a Government who spent $30 million on a $3 million parcel of land. They've sprayed more than $100 million around in sports rorts. There are lots of examples where the Government has not spent the taxpayers money wisely. What we want to see, we don't quibble about the fact that governments have to spend money when the economy is weak. We've been consistent about that all along. The Government has been inconsistent about that. Clearly, what we need to do here comes with a big price tag. The issue we've got is how effective that spending is. We believe that spending money on childcare, which is a crucial economic reform, will help grow the economy and by growing the economy, we can help repair the budget.
KARVELAS: In terms of the overall debt that you're prepared to go into, do you think it should be roughly the same as the Government's but spent in different ways?
CHALMERS: We think it should be spent more effectively. Objectively, most economists have said, since the budget and indeed before the budget, that if you want to get maximum bang for buck from all of these borrowed dollars then childcare makes more sense than a lot of the things the Government has been talking about. Social housing, by the way makes a lot more sense. What we need to spend money on are industries where it's labour intensive, and where there's a lasting benefit, and where there's a benefit to the economy so that we can grow the economy more quickly in this recovery. We can kick start the recovery, make it grow strongly and in a more sustainable and inclusive way. By doing that we can repair the budget. Even the Government has said that the priority for the time being is not paying down debt. The priority for the time being is to grow the economy in ways that we can pay down that debt quicker in time. What we're saying tonight, what we've said consistently is that there are better ways to go about it.
KARVELAS: The other critique Labor's made is that this budget has forgotten older workers, anyone over 35, which we can confirm both of us are right? So, anyone over 35 is not helped by this budget is the argument you've been making if you're unemployed. Will Labor make announcements in relation to those unemployed workers?
CHALMERS: The argument that we've been making is that there's 928,000 people who are currently on unemployment benefits who can't access the hiring subsidy. So there have been too many people left out and left behind when it comes to the budget. We think hiring subsidies can have a role to play. We obviously want to help younger people and younger workers. We do fear a lost generation of workers. But it seems to us that leaving so many people out, the same people in many cases who've had their JobKeeper cut, and they'll eventually be thrown off JobKeeper and at the moment onto $40 a day JobSeeker. We don't think that makes a lot of sense in a budget that racks up a trillion dollars in debt. It doesn't make a lot of sense to us that they've found a way to leave so many people behind.
KARVELAS: So Labor is also making an announcement about social housing that you've already talked about. That's $500 million on repairing these 100,000 social housing units. Will there be more on that?
CHALMERS: That'll be part of Anthony's speech tonight and you spoke to Jason Clare yesterday about that on your TV show. We think that social housing is really one of those types of stimulus that ticks more than one box. It is labour intensive, you can get it going quickly, it's got a local benefit and it's also got a lasting benefit especially for the most vulnerable Australians. When you ask economists, they do those surveys in the newspapers, what's the most effective stimulus when the economy is weak and social housing, particularly maintenance of social housing, is always at or near the very top of that list. We're reflecting that in the proposals that we're making tonight.
KARVELAS: Another announcement you're going to be making tonight is that Labor would rebuild the electricity network to ensure its integration with renewables. Can you talk me through what you're trying to do that?
CHALMERS: Again, I don't want to get -
KARVELAS: Give me some idea. We're about to know pretty soon.
CHALMERS: What I will say is that clearly, we need to make sure that the energy transmission network keeps up with changes in our energy market. Our overwhelming priority is to get cleaner and cheaper energy into the system. That's good for families. It's good for businesses. One of the issues we've had in our economy for too long now is that the energy policy uncertainty, which comes from 22 different energy policies in seven years which means that there hasn't been sufficient investment more broadly. We think one area where the Government could play a role is in transmission infrastructure to try and get those energy costs down. Again, your listeners will hear much more about that shortly.
KARVELAS: Jim Chalmers, thank you so much for joining us tonight.