RN Breakfast 18/05/22

18 May 2022




SUBJECTS:  Polls; Choice at the election; Real wages expected to fall even further today; Scott Morrison’s desperate distractions from cost of living crisis; Costings.
PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: The Shadow Treasurer is Jim Chalmers and he joins us this morning. Good morning, Jim Chalmers.

JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: Thanks for having me on your show Patricia.

KARVELAS: According to the Resolve Strategic poll, Labor's lead over the Coalition has narrowed to just 51-49 per cent two party preferred. A similar result in the Essential poll too. Is there a real danger that Labor could be overrun by Saturday? That you could lose a second unlosable election in a row?

CHALMERS: I think anything's possible on Saturday Patricia to be honest with you. We have always thought that this election would be incredibly tight and incredibly close. My message to your listeners is don't risk another three years of Scott Morrison and all of the blame shifting, buck-passing, waste, rorts and Australians going backwards during his cost of living crisis. There is a really important choice to be made between a better future under Anthony Albanese and Labor, or three more years of the same under Scott Morrison. Australians will take that choice very seriously, but the election will be close.

KARVELAS: The big problem is that your primary vote has slumped at as low as 31 per cent. That's fewer than one in three voters backing Labor. Doesn't that suggest that as voters become more focused on the choice before them, they've come to the conclusion that they don't like what's being offered?

CHALMERS: I think what we learned from the last campaign Patricia is that the polls don't predict the outcome and so I'm not going to get into the entrails. But what is thoroughly unsurprising is that the election will be tight. We've said that all along. We'd expected that all along; that's why we take no votes for granted and no outcome for granted. That's why we're working our butts off, all the way up to when polls close on Saturday, to make sure that we can deliver for people that better future that we've outlined, and not another three years of the dysfunction and drift and all the blame-shifting and excuse-making that we've had from Scott Morrison over the last three or four years.

KARVELAS: If the dysfunction and the drift and the blame-shifting is correct, if it is as you describe it,  why is there a swing back to the Coalition now? Shouldn't it be an easier campaign for you?

CHALMERS: I think federal elections in Australia are traditionally tight, Patricia, as you know. You've seen a lot of elections, as have I. They are traditionally pretty tight and I think for those people who are still working out who they might support on the weekend it's a really important choice that people will make, and we take no vote for granted. We know we have to work hard for every vote all the way up to six o'clock on Saturday and that's what we're doing.

KARVELAS: Are you slightly freaking out?

CHALMERS: No Patricia. We don't get carried away when the polls are good and we don't get carried away when the polls tighten a little bit. As I've said, it’s thoroughly unsurprising in national elections that that is the case.

KARVELAS: Scott Morrison said last night that his comment "I don't hold a hose, mate" was unhelpful and that he could have been more sensitive on occasions. It's all part of the Prime Minister trying to recast his character and to take responsibility for some of the criticisms that are coming out about him. Could that be having any impact with voters?

CHALMERS: I think people see that for what it is, which is complete rubbish. It's last-minute desperate spin and marketing from the Prime Minister. I thought Tracy Grimshaw absolutely slotted the Prime Minister last night pointing out all of these ways that he's been there to take credit when things go well, but never there to take responsibility when things are difficult. He's got an excuse for everything but a plan for nothing. I think people will see through this last-minute spin from the Prime Minister, and I thought Tracy Grimshaw channelled the frustration of a nation last night with a guy that's got all these excuses, he's always buck-passing and finger-pointing, never doing his job or taking responsibility.

KARVELAS: The election could all come down to the final few days. Has Labor blundered by holding back its costings until just two days before polling day given you've opened up yourself to accusations that you perhaps have something to hide?

CHALMERS: Of course not Patricia. There's all this confected outrage from the government about the timing of our costings. We are releasing our costings on the exact same day that the government did last time and the last two times they were in Opposition.

KARVELAS: It may be common practice but hasn't this put you on the backfoot? You can say it's happened before that doesn't mean it's right.

CHALMERS: I don't think so. I don't think it has because Australians understand that this is the most wasteful government since Federation. They've got a trillion dollars of debt in their budget with almost nothing to show for it because it's heaving with rorts and waste and economic mismanagement. They know that we will be more responsible. They know that the commitments that we are making, which will be tallied up tomorrow in the usual way at the usual time, are a fraction of what this government has rorted and wasted.

KARVELAS: On this issue, there was this vision of Anthony Albanese fleeing a media conference yesterday refusing to answer questions about costings. Is that a good look when you said at the start you'd take all the questions; he's so different to Scott Morrison. It didn't look that different.

CHALMERS: I think again, the government wants people focused on the minutiae of press conferences. The point I'm making Patricia is that there are many more important things at stake in this election. We will get a number out today on wages which will probably show that Australians are copping the biggest real wage cut that they've copped in more than 20 years. We've got a full-blown cost of living crisis. We've got a trillion dollars in debt. So the Australian people aren't focused on press conferences or the timing of costings. They're focused on whether or not they can feed their kids under Scott Morrison, whether they can earn enough to keep up, let alone get ahead. That's what they're focused on. If you want to talk about that press conference yesterday, Anthony took 18 or 20 questions, I think somewhere between there. He took questions on costings, he did a speech earlier and took questions after it. I did a press conference which went for I think about 20 minutes and took every question. Penny Wong did a press conference. This is what the government wants people focused on but Australians are focused on the cost of living crisis and real wages going backwards and whether or not the government has enough to show to their trillion dollars in debt.

KARVELAS: You've had the Parliamentary Budget Office run a ruler over your costings. How detailed will they be when you finally release them tomorrow?

CHALMERS: It will be consistent with what governments and oppositions have done before. We're not proposing a dramatically different way of presenting them. We've been working with the Parliamentary Budget Office for some time. Katy Gallagher and I released an Economic Plan and a Budget Strategy a few weeks ago, which I've spoken to you about on your show, which show the economic framework and our economic objectives and our costings will be consistent with that.

KARVELAS: You have already said the Labor Government would run a bigger budget deficit. You've hinted at a couple of billion dollars more a year. Could it be as much as $20 billion over four years, which is the claim made by the Coalition?

CHALMERS: No, it won't be that Patricia. But I think I've made a common sense point in the past and I'm happy to make it again. That if there is a difference between us and the government it will be responsible investments in growing the economy the right way. Because even though we would inherit a trillion dollars in debt, we wouldn't be inheriting an economic plan from the government to actually get the economy growing without adding to inflation, to get real wages moving again and to actually have something to show from this tidal wave of red ink in the government's budget. So if there is a difference, it will be responsible investments in areas like cleaner and cheaper energy or childcare or TAFE and training in the context of the skills shortage.

KARVELAS: If you're just tuning in my guest is Jim Chalmers who's the Shadow Treasurer. According to the government's arithmetic, you have made $25 billion in spending promises but found $5 billion dollars in savings. Doesn't $25 billion minus $5 billion equal $20 billion. So $20 billion is the expected extra debt that you're taking on.

CHALMERS: Patricia it would be very brave to take the word of a government that got their JobKeeper sums wrong by $60 billion. The government that wasted $5.5 billion dollars on submarines that will never be built. $20 billion -

KARVELAS: I've got to stop the list, I do it to other politicians.

CHALMERS: There's a long list of budget stuff ups from the government. The point I'm making is that we will release our costings in the usual way at the usual time, people will have that available to them before Saturday. They shouldn't take the government's word for it after the absolute avalanche of budget mistakes and mismanagement that we've seen on their watch.

KARVELAS: But you're saying it won't be $20 billion - how much lower will it be then?

CHALMERS: We'll release it tomorrow Patricia. I don't think you expect me to read something out on your show now but we will release it at the usual time. It will show that our approach to the budget is far more responsible than the government's.

KARVELAS: The latest wage price index will be released today. With inflation running at more than 5 per cent. How bad will the number be? Could it be the biggest fall in real wages on record?

CHALMERS: I'm not going to predict the number obviously, but economists expect the annual wage growth to be somewhere around the middle two's. If that's the case, that would be the biggest cut in real wages in more than 20 years since around the time when the GST was introduced. I think this is the defining feature of the government's economic mismanagement, the fact that no matter how hard people work, they just can't keep up with the skyrocketing cost of living during this cost of living crisis. That's what economists expect to see today. That people will be falling further and further behind on Scott Morrison's watch. He doesn't want to talk about that. He wants to talk about campaign minutia. But Australians are squarely focused on the fact that their real wages are being cut under this government. It's a deliberate design feature of their economic policy and that's what we're seeing.

KARVELAS: The minutes from the Reserve Bank's most recent meeting point to a string of further interest rate rises. Next month increase could be as much as 40 basis points. How much higher are rates going to have to go before inflation is back under control?

CHALMERS: That's obviously for the independent Reserve Bank, but they've made it very clear as you say, that we are on a trajectory of rising interest rates; that the interest rates increase that happened the other day is likely to be the first of a number of interest rate rises. That's the trajectory that's been set because we've got high and rising inflation which is expected to get worse before it gets better. That's the trajectory that we're on. I think a lot of people are worried about that. I'm not going to second guess or predict what the Reserve Bank might do but one of the reasons why consumer confidence has fallen in the last couple of surveys is because people know they're already doing it tough enough, the cost of everything's going up, their wages are going backwards and now interest rate rises are part of the pain.

KARVELAS: If Labor does lose the unlosable election on Saturday, would you put your hand up to become Labor leader?

CHALMERS: I'm working my tail off to make sure that that decision is unnecessary, Patricia. I'm not contemplating it at all.

KARVELAS: I asked the man who is your opposite number this question, Josh Frydenberg, do you have leadership ambitions?

CHALMERS: Because that's all he thinks about Patricia!

KARVELAS: Isn't that what you think about?

CHALMERS: No Patricia. All I'm thinking about is being a good Treasurer in a great Albanese Labor government; that occupies all of my time. Unlike Josh Frydenberg, I don't sit around thinking about it.

KARVELAS: All right, we're out of time. Thanks for joining us.

CHALMERS: Thanks, Patricia.