WEDNESDAY, 16 DECEMBER 2020
SUBJECTS: Mid-year budget update; Possible changes to ASIC; Inquiry into banks and climate change; Australia’s invitation to the G7; Referral of China to the WTO.
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: Thanks for coming out to Logan today. I want to say something about the mid-year budget update which is expected tomorrow and then I've got some specific requests in from the press gallery in Canberra to cover off some of the issues which are around in the media today.
We expect to see in the mid-year update that some of the numbers and some of the forecasts will improve a little bit as a consequence of the reopening of state economies, and a substantially higher iron ore price than the Treasurer predicted. The Treasurer should not be taking credit for the work that the states have done to reopen their economies, the work that Australians have done to limit the spread of this virus or the higher than expected iron ore price.
We will welcome any improvements to the budget or to the economy but we need to recognise that they are a function of reopening the economy as expected, and also the iron ore price which has been higher than what was in the budget previously. Josh Frydenberg can take credit for neither of those things.
When Josh Frydenberg stands up and tells everyone what a great job he has been doing with the economy, for a million Australians who don't have a job that will not be welcome self-congratulation. It will be news to a million Australians without a job that the economy is going as well as Josh Frydenberg wants to pretend it is. There have been welcome developments in the economy but we still have one million Australians unemployed, 1.4 million Australians who can't get the hours they need at work to provide for their loved ones. Something like 2.5 million Australians in total are at risk of being left behind by the Treasurer in his mid-year budget update.
If the mid-year budget update doesn't have a comprehensive plan to deal with unemployment and underemployment, it'll just be another marketing exercise, another exercise in sloganeering and spin. We need to see a comprehensive plan in the mid-year update for those million Australians without a job, and 1.4 million Australians who can't get the hours that they need.
The Government has racked up a trillion dollars in debt and doesn't have enough jobs to show for it. Because in that trillion dollars there's a lot of wasted money; private jets for ex-ministers, a billion dollar Robodebt settlement, sports rorts, paying too much for land to a Liberal Party donor, taxpayer funded executive bonuses, the list goes on and on and on. In this Government's trillion dollars of debt there's a lot of wasted money and that risks a wasted recovery.
The Treasurer can't have it both ways. He will say tomorrow that the economy is going so well that there's no need for support for jobs any longer, that we can withdraw that support, but at the same time he's trying to say that the economy is traveling so poorly that people need to cop a pay cut or a cut to their superannuation. He can't have it both ways.
This Treasurer and this Government shouldn't be using the pandemic as an excuse to cut wages and cut superannuation. Instead of cutting wages and cutting superannuation we need a comprehensive plan for those million Australians unemployed. The best time and the best opportunity for the Treasurer to bring that forward in in the mid-year update this week.
A couple of other issues just before I take any other questions, firstly, on the story in the Financial Review about possible changes to ASIC. These changes to the ASIC arrangements are just speculation at this stage. This Treasurer is notorious for making half announcements to get himself on the front of the newspaper and then not following through. We will be open-minded about any good ideas to make our regulators more effective and we'll respond to any details if they're forthcoming, when they're forthcoming, and take them through our usual processes. The Treasurer would bring more credibility to this conversation, frankly, if he hadn't sat on serious revelations about the ASIC Chair for more than a month. He still hasn't explained why he did that. There's an inquiry underway, but the Treasurer should begin by coming clean with the Australian people about what he knew about these allegations and revelations about the ASIC Chair, and sat on them for more than a month rather than come clean to the Australian people about what was going on at ASIC. He should clear that up in advance of any changes that he proposes.
I'm also asked to comment on the issues around the inquiry into financial institutions and climate change. There's a lot of really important work going on here in Australia and around the world among central banks, bank regulators, the banks themselves, and other financial institutions about how we manage the financial and investor risk associated with climate change. That is really important work. Any inquiry into these issues should build on that important work that's going on here and around the world. It should use that as a foundation for any other inquiries that this committee seeks to undertake. Unfortunately, Keith Pitt, George Christensen, and others in the LNP live in this alternate universe where somehow the Bureau of Meteorology, the scientists and the banks are in involved in some conspiracy to invent something called "climate change" and that is obviously rubbish. I think it speaks volumes about this Treasurer that he places a higher premium on placating the George Christensens of this world rather than engaging properly and rationally in the important work that's going on to make sure that we can manage financial and investor risk associated with climate change. We want to see this inquiry based on facts, not based on conspiracy theories. There is an important role for the financial system in managing these risks associated with climate change and making sure that we get cleaner and cheaper energy into the system.
Two other issues, first of all, on the G7. We welcome the invitation to participate in the G7. Australia's voice should be heard loud and clear around the table. We should have the opportunity to advocate for our interests and to make a constructive contribution. There's a lot of work to be done around the world with multilateral institutions like this one to ensure that we are managing well the pandemic and its after effects, particularly as they relate to the economy. We welcome the invitation. We want Australia's voice heard loud and clear. There are important issues for the world to deal with. To the extent that we're involved in those conversations and those efforts, then that's a really good thing.
Finally on barley and the World Trade Organization, I'm asked to comment on that briefly. We do support the Government's referral to the World Trade Organization of the arrangements that have been imposed by China on our barley exporters. We see this as an important way to advocate for the interests of our exporters. We see this as an important opportunity to ensure that the rules-based order as it relates to trade is maintained. Our exporters are really worried and jobs are on the line. We need to see the Government work with our exporters to come up with a plan to deal with these near-term issues, but also to work on diversifying their markets so that our exporters can keep doing what they've been doing, which is employing Australians in really important industries.