AM Agenda with Zed Seselja

17 July 2014


SUBJECT/S: Abbott Government unfair budget; Abbott Government fuel tax

KIERAN GILBERT: Thanks for your company on AM Agenda. With me now, Liberal Senator, Zed Seselja, and Labor frontbencher, Jim Chalmers. Let’s talk about the ongoing budget debate here. Chris Richardson, a respected economist – he’s saying that senate obstruction is going to create a $300 billion further hit to the bottom line in a decade, Jim.

JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY TO THE LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: It’s not just the Senate that opposes this budget, the Australian people do. If you look at the papers today, half the Abbott Cabinet seems to be getting into Joe Hockey for his mishandling of the budget. The Australian people don’t like it because it’s unfair and it’s divisive. There’s no coincidence that the Senate is following the will of the people.

Labor’s always said that we’re up for a sensible conversation about budget repair, we’ve said that repeatedly. I think if you’re fair dinkum about fixing the budget you’d start with that extravagant paid parental leave scheme, you wouldn’t be reopening loopholes for big multinational companies, all of those sorts of things that we think would be a better way of going about repairing the budget.

GILBERT: Joe Hockey said yesterday that if they can’t get what they want through the Senate, the Government will have to do this around the Parliament essentially – without legislation. That’s been described as an “own goal” reportedly by a Liberal frontbencher, so there has been some internal doubt about the strategy here.

ZED SESELJA: Well look I’m not going to get into responding to anonymous sources, Kieran, but what I would say is Chris Richardson is not alone. The Governor of the Reserve Bank, the head of the independent Parliamentary Budget Office have all identified that we’ve got a serious budgetary problem. And what Chris Richardson has said today just adds to the weight of evidence that says we can’t do nothing – we can’t do the Labor way which is just hope for the best.

We do have to take decisions now that will ensure that my children and your children and our grandchildren aren’t saddled with ridiculous amounts of debt. That is what we’re facing at the moment. Chris Richardson has laid that out very, very clearly.

GILBERT: Let’s talk about that though in detail. What Labor is saying is they’re willing to make tough calls but that the priorities are wrong with the Government, that the Budget’s priorities are wrong. That’s essentially the point they are making.

SESELJA: Well they’re not willing to make tough calls because even some of the tough calls that they were prepared to make at the end of their time in Government, they’re now blocking. Even the things that they believed when they were in Government needed to be cut from the budget, they’re now saying that they won’t support it. Things like the efficiency dividend in higher education – they believed that was a good idea when they were in Government, now they believe that is not a good idea. It just adds to the list that the Labor Party, along with other minor parties, particularly the Greens are blocking that will stop us from fixing the debt problem.

GILBERT: Okay then, was it embarrassing for Labor when Joe Hockey cited that yesterday, which was a bill from Labor previously on increasing the Low Income Tax Threshold. You proposed it in Government and now in Opposition, you’re going to block it.

CHALMERS: The main one the Treasurer was talking about yesterday was the one that Zed referred to, which was the higher education saving. And that was to pay for needs-based school funding. Because the Government is not proceeding with needs-based school funding then that way of paying for that measure is no longer there. That’s why we have the position that we have on university funding.

But to pick up on what Zed said about budget repair and the Governor of the Reserve Bank and all of that. Everyone acknowledges that the budget will face challenges in the future as the population ages and all of that. Everyone accepts that challenge. We have a different way of going about it, as you said. But in terms of this budget emergency language, that is a con. There was a very good article by Gareth Hutchens the other day in the paper, earlier this week, which cited a whole range of economists who said that there was no budget emergency. That was a very important article because yes, the Governor of the Reserve Bank and others have said that we need to make sure that we’re making the budget sustainable, we agree with that –

SESELJA: And yet you won’t support anything to actually do it - that’s the problem.

CHALMERS: I let you finish Zed, so let me finish. We do reject this rubbish language around a budget emergency. It’s just a political strategy. It’s a political strategy not being very well prosecuted according to Joe Hockey’s own colleagues in his cabinet. It’s a political strategy, not an economic strategy.

GILBERT: But is Labor just being obstructionist here? If you look at the Low Income Tax Threshold that Labor had proposed putting on hold, now you want it in place, you want it delivered on July 1, 2015. Is there a bit of hypocrisy from Labor, opportunism here?

CHALMERS: Not for a second. I mean, what we’re trying to do in our response to this Budget is protect the most vulnerable people – the people on low and middle incomes. It’s our job, it’s in our DNA to stand up for people who are doing it the toughest in our community.

The Liberal Party is attacking those people. There’s no opportunism, it’s values and principles and we’re standing up for these people.

GILBERT: Well I guess the issue for Joe Hockey and it’s been a recurring problem here for the Government is that Labor can simply say okay if you want to make savings, go to your paid parental leave scheme, start there.

CHALMERS: It’s the best place to start.

SESELJA: You can have the cheap shots we get from the Labor Party all the time while they block measure after measure after measure. The fact is that the Paid Parental Leave scheme is fully funded, so if you were to not go ahead with it, it would make no difference to the budget bottom line. So that’s an absolute furphy.

CHALMERS: That’s not right.

SESELJA: But what Chris Richardson has said is that there is no alternate plan. And that is very clear. Now we’ve got a plan to cut debt, to lower interest payments in the future, to put our finances on a sustainable footing. There is no alternative plan.

Just saying cheap shots like the Paid Parental Leave which won’t change the budget bottom line is not an alternate plan. And that’s the fundamental problem Labor has. They haven’t spelled out an alternate plan. We’ve got a plan on the table and all they’re going to do is vote no to it. Now voting no simply means saddling our kids and grandkids with more and more debt.

GILBERT: But do you think Joe Hockey saying that he could go around legislation, go around the Parliament was a smart move? Because now basically Labor can say do you rule out that, do you rule out that, do you rule out that and basically create concern about a whole raft of areas.

SESELJA: I think it’s a statement of the bleeding obvious that if you want to get the budget back into surplus and if you are constantly frustrated that you will always try and find sensible things to bring the budget back to surplus.

CHALMERS: So there should be more cuts? Are you saying there should be more cuts in addition?

SESELJA: Let me finish. It is a statement of the bleeding obvious that we will do our best through sensible measures to try and bring the budget back to surplus. That’s what Joe Hockey’s been on about, that’s what the coalition is trying to do.

GILBERT: What about the critics internally, would you tell them to rein it in?

SESELJA: Look you will always occasionally get internal critics who will anonymously say things. Anonymous sources are not worth responding to, Kieran. They never have been. They’re no more worthy of response today than they are any other day.

GILBERT: On the fuel tax, it looks like according to the Australian report this morning that the wealthy would be paying a lot more as a share and that the roads built would benefit less well of areas. Wouldn’t that fit in with the Labor view?

CHALMERS: It’s laughable, it’s laughable to read anything that suggests that this budget doesn’t hit the most vulnerable people. It’s just a laughable piece of “Government analysis”, as it’s called in The Australian. I don’t think any objective sensible observer would come to a conclusion other than this budget is a direct attack on the most vulnerable people in our community.

GILBERT: Would you be hoping, in the thirty seconds left Zed Seselja, that some of the rougher edges of the budget can be smoothed over with the ongoing negotiations?

SESELJA: Well just on the fuel excise, it’s about forty cents a week for the average family and it would be part of the job of making the budget more sustainable.

CHALMERS: On top of everything else though.

SESELJA: No-one likes it, but forty cents a week for the average family is a reasonable contribution to try and fix Labor’s budget mess and to try and bring down the massive debts and deficits that we’ve inherited.

GILBERT: Gentlemen, we’re out of time. Zed Seselja, Jim Chalmers, thanks.