MEMBER FOR RANKIN
JOHN LAWS MORNING SHOW
THURSDAY, 2 DECEMBER 2021
SUBJECTS: The Liar from the Shire; Cost of Living; National Accounts; Morrison government’s failure on vaccines and quarantine; September quarter economic contraction; OECD economies; GDP; petrol prices; interest rates; lockdowns; National Reconstruction Fund; Childcare; Rewiring the Nation.
JOHN LAWS, HOST: Jim Chalmers is the Opposition Treasury spokesman. He joins me on the line. Jim Chalmers, good morning and welcome to the program.
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: Thanks for having me on your show, John.
LAWS: That's a pleasure. Listen, let me ask you a very simple question to begin with. Have you got respect for the office of the Prime Minister?
CHALMERS: I do John, and I know why you're heading in this direction. The whole reason I'm on the program this morning is because I know that we have a difference of opinion about how I described the Prime Minister. And I thought the best way to deal with that is to come on your show and you can put it to me.
LAWS: You wouldn't like to be called one of the ‘dills from the hills’ or something. Why did you call the Prime Minister the Liar from the Shire? It was childish. Did you do that simply because it rhymed?
CHALMERS: I don't take a backward step from that description John. That’s the truth of it. I do have respect for the office of Prime Minister. I think being able to respect the office of Prime Ministers is to be able to believe what the Prime Minister says. The day that I was talking about that he, frankly, was lying about petrol prices and interest rates. And I think the people of Australia deserve much better.
LAWS: Could you please name for me, in a hurry, one politician that doesn't tell lies?
CHALMERS: We try not to tell lies, John.
LAWS: There you have it. You haven't named one. You just said we try not. Tell me a politician that doesn't tell lies. Are you going to tell me you've never told a lie?
CHALMERS: Well, we do our best not to, John.
LAWS: You're not answering the question. You're behaving like a politician. You're dancing around the question. Are you going to tell me you've never told a lie in parliament or anywhere else?
CHALMERS: What I'm saying to you, John, is I don't think I have. I certainly try not to. If you asked me if the Broncos are going to win the Premiership and I say yes, then maybe that's not the full truth.
LAWS: That's not a proper example. That's wishful thinking, that's not a lie. To call the Prime Minister the Liar from the Shire. I don't know much about you but I presume you're a decent Australian bloke. Did you do it just because it rhymed? Because it rolled off the tongue, Liar from the Shire?
CHALMERS: I did it because I'm angry about the lies that are being told about petrol prices and interest rates.
LAWS: You've never told a lie in parliament or anywhere else?
CHALMERS: I don't think so, John. I don't think so. Certainly not about these issues.
LAWS: You're evading the question. Have you ever told him a lie?
CHALMERS: I don't think so, John. I try not to but perhaps everybody has, as you suggest.
LAWS: So maybe you should be forgiving the Prime Minister?
CHALMERS: The point that I'm making, John - if you let me just briefly finish it - is that I am angry that the Prime Minister was lying about the cost of living, which has gone through the roof and people deserve better.
LAWS: I agree with that, absolutely. No argument there. But why is the Prime Minister responsible for petrol prices? Would you mind telling me that?
CHALMERS: He said he was. He said that the difference between Labor and Liberal is if you elect the Labor Party your petrol prices will go up. That's a lie. And I'm going to say that, John. I would rather you agreed with me wholeheartedly but I accept that you don't.
LAWS: I probably agree but I can't tell. I can't look into the future. The point is, you seem to be a decent fellow Jim, but you can't look into the future either. We don't know what's going to happen with petrol prices. It's not up to us.
CHALMERS: The point that he's making is that the petrol prices would be different under Labor and Liberal and I think every objective observer - take us out of it, I'm a player in the political world and you're a respected long-term commentator - but the experts say that the election of one government or another won't make a difference to petrol prices. If it does, the fact that petrol prices have gone up 24 per cent over the course of the last year under that government just shows that Australians deserve better in their election campaign than lies being told about petrol prices and interest rates. That's the point I'm making. You don't like the language that I use to describe it. I accept that. That's why I'm here. I wanted to front up to you, John. I've listened to you off and on for a really long time now, and one of my favourite moments in federal politics, when I was thinking about political life, was when Paul Keating came on your show and talked about land rights. I remember thinking that Paul had a lot of courage to do that. He took all of those callers on your show. I've watched that clip hundreds of times because I just think that's a really good example. I saw that you had a different view to me on this. I heard it. I listened to the clip. And I thought the best way to deal with this is to ring John and see if you'll have me on the show to talk about it. And I'm pleased we have the opportunity.
LAWS: I think you've been very reasonable doing that. I admire the fact that you did decide to come on the show, cop what I had to give you. I haven't given you much though.
CHALMERS: It's all relative, John. It feels like a little bit!
LAWS: Why is Labor constantly insistent on attacking the man rather than the party? I mean, Labor just went on a week long campaign of personally attacking the Prime Minister. You've got some say, why don't you tell them not to do that because that's not going to achieve anything?
CHALMERS: I think the Prime Minister's character is an election issue. But what we've been saying…
LAWS: What's the matter with his character?
CHALMERS: He tells lies about petrol prices and interest rates.
LAWS: And you've never told a lie?
CHALMERS: John, you asked me what the issue with his character is. The issue is - and the reason why I used that term - is because he was telling lies about petrol prices and interest rates. Your question before that was why don't we talk about positive things as well, and we do. Childcare policy, skills policy, Rewiring the Nation - all of these things are very important. We try and strike the right balance. You'd rather we strike a slightly different balance, but I think that every election is partly about whether people support the course taken by the existing Prime Minister and their government and part of it is what the alternative looks like. I accept, 100%, that we need to tell that story as well. That's why we're not 100% focused on the Prime Minister and his character.
LAWS: I really think the inference was because of the standard of living under a Labor government. He used petrol prices as an example. I'm not here to defend him. He does a lot of things that I find extraordinary, but I think you ought to back off a bit now.
CHALMERS: I understand your point. If it makes your listeners feel any better, in addition to petrol prices he did the whole thing about interest rates too. As you know, the last time they ran that scare campaign in 2004 – that interest rates would be higher under Labor - the Coalition government got re-elected and interest rates went up six times. There's a whole range of these things. You and I probably won't agree on the language used, but there's a factual basis for some of these issues that we've been raising as well.
LAWS: I just think the language was childish.
CHALMERS: I understand, John. I understand your view. I listened to it again before I came on the show this morning. I understand that. I respect your view. I genuinely do, but I have a different view in this instance, and I think Australians expect us to be pretty robust when it comes to the things that matter to them, including the cost of living.
LAWS: Yes, but not childish.
CHALMERS: I don't think it was John, but I know that you did. I respect that, as I said.
LAWS: We constantly hear of why we shouldn't be voting for the Coalition. Don't you think it's time that you people change your strategy and told us why we should vote for Labor?
CHALMERS: We have been John. We've got a better policy on childcare to make it cheaper and more accessible. We've got a plan to make sure that there's a future made in Australia, which is all about getting more apprenticeships onto big government infrastructure sites. Our National Reconstruction Fund is all about advanced manufacturing and diversifying our economy. We've got policies on cleaner and cheaper energy, including energy transmission. We've got a whole range of positive policies out there and there'll be more between now and the election as well. We do accept that part of our task is to point out where we think the government should have done better but also to lay out where we will do better. We've done a heap of that already, and there'll be more of it.
LAWS: Do you consider that the economy didn't contract by anywhere near as much as was predicted during the September quarter?
CHALMERS: I don't think that matters John.
LAWS: You didn't answer the question.
CHALMERS: If one economist thought it was going to be -2.5 per cent and it ended up -1.9 per cent, then I understand the point you're making. The point I'm making is if you're a small business or you're a working family in this country, the September quarter in the economy was atrocious. That's because we have these lockdowns made necessary by not doing the right thing on vaccines and quarantine, and people paid the price for that. It was the third biggest contraction, John, in the history of the national accounts. It was the worst in the developed world. So I don't think we should likely dismiss it. We hope the economy's recovering since then, and we think that it is but we can't be complacent about that because this time last year, the Treasurer said the economy was coming roaring back, and then we ended up being cruelled by another outbreak. So let's be careful and cautious about how we -
LAWS: I think you ought to be careful and cautious too because you are with great respect you're comparing with other OECD nations, but consequently you're comparing apples with oranges because the timing of the lockdowns has varied all over the world. And ours came much later than other countries because we'd held the Delta strain at bay for so long. So really, you're comparing apples with oranges.
CHALMERS: Take us out of it again, John. Objective observers, Saul Eslake, who is a very respected economist, said that a lot of the problems we had in our economy were avoidable, some of those mistakes made around vaccines and quarantine. There has to be a reason why our downturn was much more substantial than most of the countries with which we compare ourselves who actually grew in the September quarter. The government uses international comparisons when it suits them. We're using an international comparison now to point out 28 OECD countries have reported for the September quarter and our economic performance was the worst of the lot.
LAWS: Look Jim you're trying to blame the vaccine rollout as the source of this contraction. Do you seriously think that you can ride these vaccine criticisms all the way to the next election when Australia is a world leader in vaccination rates? And we are there's no argument there.
CHALMERS: We're pleased to see that vaccination rates up but it's also in arguable that the federal government didn't order enough in the first instance and we were slow out of the blocks. We're pleased to see some of these numbers in the 90s. We've got to recognise that some other communities including mine are still in the 70s. But we want to see the vaccination rates really high. It is an observable fact that the initial stages of the vaccine rollout were not what we needed them to do and that's one of the reasons we had the lockdown.
LAWS: The lockdowns were imposed at a state level. Melbourne endured the longest lockdown of any city in the world. Can you admit that the Labor governments in Western Australia, Victoria and Queensland have played a huge part in the economic contraction?
CHALMERS: I think everybody recognises that lockdowns are damaging for the economy. You have to work out why those lockdowns were necessary. We had the leakages out of hotel quarantine because we didn't have purpose built quarantine. We didn't have the vaccine rates as high as we'd like to be. So yes Premiers of both political persuasions, have had to make difficult decisions about lockdowns and all of the rest of it. None of those decisions are easy, but we would have been in much better shape had we had a more substantial vaccine rollout earlier and if we had purpose built quarantine.
LAWS: I accept that. But you're not sure of it are you?
CHALMERS: I think that's a fact John. Lockdowns cause a big economic contraction and failures on vaccines and quarantine cause lockdowns. I think that's more or less accepted amongst the objective observers. The government says we had a big downturn and hopefully things are getting better. We want things getting better to Trump. We want the recovery to be really strong. We want to make sure people aren't left behind. We want to make sure that their wages grow so they can keep up with the cost of living including some of those issues we were talking about a moment ago, petrol and paying the mortgage and all of that sort of thing. But we can't be complacent about it. Complacency is what stomped on the green shoots of the recovery we thought were there only this time last year and we can't go through that again.
LAWS: You're quite right. We certainly cannot go through that again. Alright, Jim Chalmers, I've enjoyed talking to you and I hope we get to talk again another day.
CHALMERS: I really appreciate it, John. Thanks for the chat.