Doorstop - Sydney (2)

19 April 2018



SUBJECT/S: Turnbull’s harsh cuts to pensioners; Zombie Measures; Liberals;’ Budget incompetence; IMF Fiscal Monitor; Wayne Swan’s new appointment; Banking Royal Commission; Australia-China relations

MATT THISTLETHWAITE, MEMBER FOR KINGSFORD SMITH: Welcome to Daceyville, it's wonderful to have Jenny Macklin and Jimmy Chalmers here with us this morning. This is an historic suburb in the electorate of Kingsford Smith. It was built in 1912 as Australia's first public housing estate by a Labor Government. Rowland Dacey was the NSW State Treasurer at the time and he was sick and tired of working class Australians and pensioners living in the slums of the inner-city and a Labor Government came up with an initiative to build this wonderful public housing estate which is now heritage listed and still provides housing for many vulnerable people in our community.


The people who live in this estate are battlers. The people who've been drastically affected by many of the policies of the Abbott and Turnbull Governments - pensioners and working-class Australians who are really struggling with rising electricity prices, with cuts to pensions, can't get into hospital for elective surgery, and are struggling with increasing costs associate with private health insurance. These are the battlers that Labor intends to look after if Labor is elected to Government.


And I'm very pleased that Jenny's here today to talk about some of the Government's policies when it comes to pensioners and the dramatic effects that they're having on people that are living in this housing estate and pensioners across the country. So I welcome Jenny to say a few words.


JENNY MACKLIN, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FAMILIES AND SOCIAL SERVICES: Thanks very much, Matt, and I'm very, very pleased to be here with Matt in this particular suburb and shortly we're going to have a very large forum with hundreds of pensioners and I have no doubt that they'll be telling us how they've been impacted by the Turnbull Government's cuts to pensions over the last few years.


I'm also very pleased that we're joined today by Jim Chalmers, who is the Acting Shadow Treasurer, and Jim will talk to us today about the upcoming Budget and just how important it is that this Government for the first time actually protects pensioners. There's a very big test facing this Government when it comes to this Budget. For the first time, this Government should give a guarantee that it will not cut the pension. In every single Budget since Mr Abbott and Mr Turnbull were elected, this Liberal Coalition Government has cut the pension - every single Budget they've cut the pension. They've hurt pensioners, they've hurt pensioners very, very badly.

But what they've also done is introduced cuts to the pension that they haven't been able to get through the Parliament, but they're still keeping them in their Budget. Jim will talk a little bit more about the fantasy of these fiscal cuts. But I just want to talk about what they mean for pensioners. One of the biggest cuts that is still in the Budget is this Government wants to abolish the Energy Supplement. Pensioners and many, many other Australians know how hard it is to make ends meet. The costs of energy just keeps on going up. And yet this Government wants to abolish the Energy Supplement. For a pensioner couple, that's $550 a year. For a single, around $360 a year. That's a lot of money out of the pension and we want to see that cut out of the Budget and out of the Parliament.


Another very substantial cut that remains in the Budget is this Government wants to increase the age pension age to 70. We think this is unfair. We have voted against it in the past. The Government has not even had the guts to bring it into the Parliament in this term of office. So it's not even in the Parliament, this legislation, but they still count it in their Budget. So it's a complete fiscal fantasy. The Government should abolish these cuts, get them out of the Budget, be honest with the Australian people about the state of the Budget, but also for once be fair to pensioners.


JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FINANCE: Thanks very much, Jenny, and thank you Matt for welcoming us to this really beautiful part of the country here in his electorate of Kingsford Smith. Our message for Malcolm Turnbull today is pretty simple: stop the attacks on pensioners, stop the handouts to multinationals and millionaires, and stop falsely propping up your Budget bottom line with fake savings which won't pass the Parliament. If Malcolm Turnbull, in three weeks' time, doesn't pull these fake savings out of the Budget, then it will be nothing more than a fiscal fairy tale not worth the paper that it's written on. And even with $2 billion of fake savings still on the Budget books, we have record and growing debt under this Turnbull Liberal Government. We have record and growing debt growing faster under this current Liberal Government than it did under the former Labor Government and Labor of course had a Global Financial Crisis to deal with.


Overnight, the International Monetary Fund has released a very important report which shows that, under the Liberal Government, debt as a proportion of our economy is growing substantially at the same time as it's falling in the United States, New Zealand, Canada, Germany and the other advanced economies, including the G20 as a whole. And what that tells us is the so-called Budget emergency that Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison used to bang on about has gotten substantially worse on their watch. They don't talk about that Budget emergency any more because net debt has doubled on their watch, gross debt has crashed through half-a-trillion dollars for the first time in Australian history, and the deficit for the current year is currently eight times bigger than it was in their very first Budget in 2014.


When you have record and growing debt, the absolute worst thing you can do is shovel billions of dollars in the direction of the top end of town at the same time as falsely claiming billions of dollars in savings which won't pass the Parliament. We have record and growing debt in this country, not because the Senate has refused to pass some of Malcolm Turnbull's harshest cuts, but because he continues to shower largesse on the top end of town and he continues to give big tax breaks to those who need them least.


This is a make-or-break Budget for Malcolm Turnbull in less than three weeks' time. We call on him to listen to the Australian people. It's a test of whether he is prepared to listen to the Australian people, by ditching his cuts to health and education, ditching his income tax hikes for people earning up to $87,000 a year, ditching his big business tax handout which costs the Budget $65 billion and to also take out of the Budget these zombie measures which are attacking pensioners, which are falsifying the Budget, when we have a better way of going about repairing the Budget in a fair way. That's Labor's way of closing down some of these tax breaks that go to those who need them least, which are costing the Budget billions of dollars and leading to this record and growing debt under Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison and Mathias Cormann.


Before I throw over to you for questions, I also wanted to enthusiastically welcome on behalf of federal Labor the announcement today that Wayne Swan has been appointed to a very prestigious international body, which also has on it people of the calibre of Joe Stiglitz and Thomas Piketty and others, who are doing terrific work around the world making sure that our settings on corporate tax are appropriate and can fund the services that the citizens of this country and indeed around the world need and deserve. This is a terrific opportunity for Wayne, it's recognition that he has been a leading light in the fight against inequality, the fight for economic justice all around the world. And this gives him another opportunity to serve and promote that important cause. Wayne is recognised the world over for his work during the Global Financial Crisis and its aftermath and it's very pleasing to see that work recognised and for him to get this opportunity to continue that work. Wayne is leaving the Parliament, but he's not leaving the battlefield of ideas, and this recognises that he is as fired up as he's ever been about economic justice and he has a contribution to make here in Australia, but also around the world. Over to you.


JOURNALIST: You talk about the record debt and the growing debt and this type of thing. The truth is that the Government right now has got significant revenues coming through the door because of the jobs that are being created, we're going to see again probably a strong jobs number coming out today - that means that taxes are being paid into the Budget. It also means because of strong iron ore and coal prices, the Government's likely to come into surplus sooner than expected. Income tax cuts are expected at this Budget right now. It would seem that the Government might be in a better financial position than what you say.


CHALMERS: There are lots of parts to that question, Ross, so remind me if I leave any off. First of all, revenue is roaring back into the Budget, and that's why Scott Morrison and Malcolm Turnbull have absolutely no excuse for record and growing debt on their watch - debt which is growing faster than it was under Labor during the Global Financial Crisis. Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison and Mathias Cormann have probably the strongest global economic conditions for a decade to rely on as they hand down their Budget in less than three weeks' time. You would have seen the World Economic Outlook out just this week substantially upgrade their view of the global economy, and that will no doubt help the Budget, that's true. But that means that they have no excuse for the mess that has been made of the Budget in good global economic times compared to its predecessor.


On jobs, yes there will be a jobs number later today and we won't want to pre-empt that number of course, but I will say that one of the reasons that the Australian people think that Malcolm Turnbull is from another planet is because when these jobs figures come out, he expects a big round of applause and a big pat on the back for these jobs figures because he fails to understand that in our community, we have lots of underemployment, we have lots of insecure work, lots of precarious work. A lot of people who would like to work more but can't get the hours that they need to support their families. So the employment picture is a much broader picture, and a much bleaker picture than the one that Malcolm Turnbull paints. And one of the reasons people have concluded that he is so out of touch is because he wants a round of applause for a labour market which has a lot of insecurity and a lot of underemployment really as its defining feature.


I think more broadly on income tax cuts, it's important to remember that currently on the books the Government has an income tax hike for low- and middle-income earners. It would be remarkable if the Government, in the Budget, tried to give a tax cut and expect a round of applause at the same time as they were taking an income tax hike from the very same people at the very same time. And I think the Australian community would view that with a degree of understandable scepticism if they tried to pull that on. Right now, all we have is an income tax hike on low- and middle-income earners from Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison and that will be in the Budget as well, and people will evaluate it in that light.


Were there any other parts of your questions, Ross?


JOURNALIST: No, that was pretty much it. Anyone else? Alright, I'll keep going. Jenny, just in regards to the so-called zombie cuts to pensioners. Of course, much of this relates partly even to overseas pensioners who spend more than six months away overseas losing their entitlement to pensions.


MACKLIN: More than six weeks.


JOURNALIST: Yeah, six weeks I'm sorry. But this is all part of an Omnibus Bill that actually is held up in the Parliament right now, including things such as paid parental leave - an extra two weeks for mothers after they have kids. So is it hard to pick apart this whole thing? Because there are some parts about this that naturally I would have thought Labor would have like parts of that Omnibus Bill.


MACKLIN: Well these are all separate measures now, so each and every one of them could be voted on individually. So the issue you raise where the Government wants to remove the pensioner supplement from pensioners who spend more than six weeks overseas, we think that's unfair. People would have saved up for maybe their only trip that they're going to be able to afford to take in their retirement and this Government is so mean to pensioners that they want to take away people's supplement if they go on a trip that's longer than six weeks. We think that's unfair, just like we think the cut to the Energy Supplement is grossly unfair. Saying to people that you're going to face a cut to your pension when energy prices are going through the roof is blatantly stupid, and we will continue to fight it. We've fought it off when it's been brought into the Parliament before. We will continue to fight these cuts. We think the decision of the Government to increase the age pension age to 70 is unfair. We've opposed it when it was originally introduced back after the 2014 Budget. The Government does have the courage to bring it into the Parliament because they know they won't get it through, but they still count it in their Budget. That just demonstrates this is a completely fake Budget and it's time Scott Morrison and Malcolm Turnbull were held to account. 


JOURNALIST: I have a question for Mr Chalmers. In hindsight, was it wrong for Labor to argue to reduce the scope of the Royal Commission given what we've seen?


CHALMERS: No, Labor has not argued to reduce the scope of the banking Royal Commission. We've been the champions of the banking Royal Commission. We've said it should have more Commissioners, it should look into more issues. So I wouldn't accept for one moment the characterisation of our position on the Royal Commission. The position on the Royal Commission where questions need to be answered is from the Government; from Malcolm Turnbull. Every single new damning revelation is an indictment on Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison who resisted this Royal Commission for so long. Every time you get one of these revelations of a new rort or a new rip off, you've got to ask yourself why did Malcolm Turnbull want to keep this under wraps? Why did he resist this Royal Commission for so long? Even in announcing this Royal Commission, which he was dragged to kicking and screaming, he described it as "regrettable" at the same time as Labor was describing it as essential. Scott Morrison described it as a "populist whinge". And now all of a sudden they want us to believe that somehow they care about customers in the financial system? I mean, give me a break. These characters are so out of touch, that it's just finally dawned on them that there have been rorts and ripoffs in our banking system. And I think the Australian people are smarter than to fall for this Turnbull-Morrison claim now that all of a sudden they are in favour of getting to the bottom of this. It's laughable. The Australian people are much smarter than that. Australians understand that if they want a fair go from our banks and our financial system, the only way to guarantee that is to elect a Shorten Labor Government. Because Turnbull and Morrison and Co, they run interference for the big banks. They support the big banks. They resisted a Royal Commission. They resisted our reforms which separated financial advice from the selling of financial products - all of these important measures. So I think that we can very easily dispatch with the recent claims from Scott Morrison and Malcolm Turnbull. They never believed in a Royal Commission. They don't want to get to the bottom of the rorts and ripoffs in the banking system. Labor does, and Labor will act.


JOURNALIST: Is a Royal Commission effective necessarily, given that the Royal Commission into union misconduct I think only led to two charges. Nobody was jailed. Now people talk about jail terms potentially coming out of the banking Royal Commission. Is it really an exercise in futility, because no charges have come from (inaudible)?


CHALMERS: Of course not. They're very different subject matters. The Royal Commission into the trade unions was a political witch hunt and nobody I think was especially surprised when it was revealed to be that in the findings that came out afterwards. This is a very different thing. This is about protecting 24 million Australians from the rorts and ripoffs which have been in the banking system for too long; in the financial sector for too long. And every time that there's a new revelation of dodgy behaviour in our banks, that vindicates Labor's campaign for some years now for a Royal Commission into the banks. We need to get to the bottom of these issues so that Australians can have confidence in their banks, in their financial sector, in their capacity to insure themselves against risk, in their capacity to get value for money. These are crucial things in a first-rate, first-world economy like ours, and the Royal Commission is proving every single day its worth at shining a light on some of this behaviour which has been ripping off middle Australia for too long.


JOURNALIST: Labor wanted super and insurance providers excluded though. Given what we've seen, was it wrong to argue for that?


CHALMERS: No, we didn't. Unfortunately that's also not accurate. We said we wanted the inquiry to be broad. The Government specifically in their terms of references included industry super as part of that, because they have a political view about having workers' representatives on the boards of superannuation funds. They specifically included that. We didn't specifically exclude that. We wanted a broad Royal Commission. We said that with the resources of Government, we'd come up with the appropriate terms of reference. The Government came up with terms of reference in advance of that which, in their usual way for the usual political reasons, specifically nominated industry super.


JOURNALIST: On China, Australia's relationship with China has been marred by the Chinese ambassador's comments; irresponsible and negative remarks they've been called. Are you worried that diplomatic tensions might affect trade?


CHALMERS: Australia has got more skin in the game than most countries when it comes to open markets for our goods and services around the world, but particularly in Asia. We always counsel restraint. We want to see discussion and diplomacy, lessen tensions rather than increase them, because it's important for Australian jobs. There are a lot of people here in Sydney and around our country who rely very heavily on open markets for our goods and services. Those markets are more likely to succeed when there is discussion and diplomacy. And all of our efforts - and we really support the Government on this, it's a bipartisan effort - to make sure we can play a constructive role in making sure that our trading system works for us and not against us.


JOURNALIST: But are you worried that those tensions might make it harder for Australian companies to operate in China?


CHALMERS: We always want to see our companies have access to markets, especially big markets like China's, so any time that is put at risk, obviously that's a concern to Australian businesses and the broader Australian community employed by those businesses. But on the specifics of what's going on in China right now, I'll leave that to others.