SKY News Afternoon Agenda 30/06/22

30 June 2022

SUBJECTS: Lockyer Valley And Darling Downs; Skills And Labour; Food Prices; Economic Challenges, Budget Listening Tour; AAA Credit Rating; Powering Australia Plan; Minimum Wage Increase.






SUBJECTS: Lockyer Valley And Darling Downs; Skills And Labour; Food Prices; Economic Challenges, Budget Listening Tour; AAA Credit Rating; Powering Australia Plan; Minimum Wage Increase.


KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: Now to my discussion with the Treasurer, Jim Chalmers. He's currently doing a range of pre-Budget consultations across the nation. Today he's in the Lockyer Valley near Toowoomba. I spoke to him a short time ago. 

JIM CHALMERS, TREASURER: Good afternoon, Kieran. You're right, so many of the challenges in our economy come together in one way or another in places like this. This farm itself, and this region - so many regions around Australia - have been absolutely smashed by harsh weather, in this case flooding. You've got all of those high input costs, whether it's transport, whether it's fertiliser, difficulties finding people to work on farms like this one, and a combination of those issues is what's driving prices up in our supermarkets and having real impacts for Australians right around the country. 

So I wanted to make sure that I came here and spoke to the growers, here in particular. Also, in Toowoomba, a roundtable with so many of the interests and industries represented in the Darling Downs as well, because in many ways this is the best representation of the economic challenges that we are dealing with as a nation. Also, it's important to remember that we do have a difficult period ahead of us. We don't quite know how long this inflation problem is going to be with us, but on the other side of this inflation problem we've got some reason to be optimistic and that's certainly how the growers here in this region, the Lockyer Valley, that's how they see it. This is some of the best farmland in the world and it's got a bright future but we've got some difficulties to navigate first just like the rest of the country.

GILBERT: And as you pointed out, that is the place where so much of this nation's veggies are grown. I did see Michael Sippel, the President of the Lockyer Valley Growers' Association, he said off the back of the floods - repeated floods in the last year or so - he said he's not sure how much more growers can take. There must be a lot of disappointment, stress, worry, among the growers that you've met there?

CHALMERS: There is Kieran, but this is, in many ways, the most resilient part of our country. If you think about the challenges that get thrown at growers in regions like this one, the fact that they come through to the other side again and again and again, they have a very upbeat and optimistic approach about the future, even as they recognise just how much they've needed to draw on that resilience to get through these difficult periods. 

Floods have been horrific in this part of Australia, as you know. That's had a huge impact on growers and on industry more broadly and on families in this part of the world. But I think there's a real sense that we have a big opportunity in this country, and in areas like the Lockyer Valley, to be really quite successful into the future but we all need to be working together and that's the other reason why I'm here.

Whether it's Anthony Albanese or my colleague Murray Watt, the Agriculture Minister, we desperately want to show the whole of Australia that we want to govern for the whole place. All of the city industries - every part of Australia - not just the parts of Australia that have traditionally voted Labor. It's been an important opportunity to send that message but also to genuinely listen so that we can understand the bright future that the Australian economy and regional economies have at the same time as we recognise we've got to deal with issues around the resilience of supply chains, we've got to deal with labour movement, labour mobility, labour shortages, we have to deal with that. We've got to get the environmental piece right, and water as well, and we've got to make sure that we recognise the impacts of climate change and take that challenge seriously, too. So all of those challenges come together on farms like this one and it's been a very productive conversation we've had here.

GILBERT: Obviously, it's just one sector, but is this part of a consultation process that will help inform your first Budget, come October?

CHALMERS: Absolutely Kieran, that is exactly how I see it. If we want to represent the whole country, and govern for the whole country, it's got to be a Budget for the whole country as well. That's why we will be spending a lot of time in regions. As you know, we've spoken before, before the election in the last term of Parliament, I think I did more than 60 visits to regional Queensland, and I'd like to keep that up if I can, because you learn so much more being on the ground, talking with industries like this one. Mulgowie farm has won sustainability awards, it's fed so many Australians, people come from all around the world to see what is happening here, and we want to understand that as well. We also want to make sure that all of our economic decision making, which comes to a head in Budgets, reflects the challenges and the opportunities that we see in places like the Lockyer Valley.

GILBERT: Treasurer, let's move on to the broader economy and the AAA credit rating, affirmed by the ratings agencies, including Moody's this week. Do you give the former government any credit for that?

CHALMERS: First of all, we've got the AAA credit rating from all three of the major ratings agencies since the last Labor Government. That was the first time that that's happened in our country, and so that's when it began, if you're looking for governments to give credit to. I think the really heartening thing from the Moody's release the other night, was they pointed very specifically and very pointedly, to our Economic Plan, our economic agenda, that Katy Gallagher and I released during the campaign. They said how important it is that we're investing in productivity, that we're doing that in a responsible and measured way - child care, skills, all of these crucial investments - which will pay real dividends in our economy. They're not just costs in the Budget, they're also investments which will deliver a dividend, and Moody's recognised that. 

Whichever governments - new governments, old governments, the government before that - whoever takes credit for it, I think it's really important that Australians recognise that we're on the right track with our Economic Plan. That's what Moody's were saying in their release. We're making measured, responsible investments that don't smash the Budget but they deliver a big dividend, and it's good to see that recognised. 

GILBERT: Among the things that you mentioned in your response during the week, you spoke about that productivity, as you said there, increasing women's workforce participation skills but also - this is the thing I want to ask you about - the generating of cleaner and cheaper energy, that Moody's recognise that as well. I just want to ask you this question, the context of that off the back of the AAA rating but also the AEMO report out today. Is this doable? Is 82% renewables by 2030 doable?

CHALMERS: I believe so Kieran, and I believe that one of the costs and some of the consequences of this wasted decade of missed opportunities in clean energy, and this energy policy chaos that we've had for so long, means we start further back than what we would like to be starting. But we have the right policy now, we've got a Government with the right intentions. Industry, right around Australia, almost every single consultation I do, in one way, is about how do we make our energy mix more efficient and cleaner and cheaper. I think now that we've got a new Government in Canberra, everybody's rowing in the same direction, and so that means we do give ourselves every chance of hitting these targets.

They're absolutely crucial in an environmental sense but especially in an economic sense. If you think about the modelling that Chris Bowen released towards the end of last year, one of its key conclusions is that regional areas like this one stand to be amongst the biggest beneficiaries of our Powering Australia plan. This is where the investment will flow and the jobs will be created. We've given ourselves a bit of runway, we would have preferred to have some more, but we've given ourselves a bit of runway. We've got the right plan, we've got the right intentions. Industry, business, employers of all sizes, in all parts of Australia, are part of this effort as well, and so that's what makes me confident. 

GILBERT: And the key is obviously storage and transmission, the more than $12 billion needed in investment in the next decade alone, that's the key to this. Again, do you have any doubts as to whether that sort of level of transmission can be achieved in such a short timeframe?

CHALMERS: No, I think it's within our reach, Kieran. That's one of the reasons why one of the first policies that we announced under Anthony Albanese was our Rewiring The Nation plan, which is about recognising that generation is absolutely crucial - of course it is - but we need to get it from where it's generated to where it's consumed. We do have some issues with our transmission network and that's why the co-investment that we intend to do under our Rewiring The Nation plan is all about that more efficient, more effective transmission of energy, from where it's generated to where it's used. That's a big part of our plan. It was part of the modelling that Chris released and if we're serious about cleaner and cheaper energy, we need to be serious about transmission, too. And I think we can do it.

GILBERT: Now, a big day tomorrow, July 1st, the start of the financial year, and a pay rise for millions of Australians off the back of the Fair Work Commission ruling. Despite a significant pay rise, they're still not going to keep up with the cost of living rises, are they?

CHALMERS: Almost three million Australians, Kieran, will get the pay rise that they need and deserve tomorrow because the Albanese Labor Government fought for them, stood up for them, and spoke up for them and made a submission. I'm really proud that Tony Burke and I made a submission based on the first decision taken by the Albanese Cabinet to get - particularly women, particularly part-time workers, often the heroes of the pandemic - this pay rise that they need to meet these skyrocketing costs of living. 

We do have a cost of living crisis in this country, we do have real wages going backwards substantially, we've got rising interest rates. So we need to do what we responsibly can - particularly for the most vulnerable workers, the lowest paid workers - to ensure that they can keep up. I think the decision which we took, which we're very proud of, which comes into effect from tomorrow, will be an important thing for the low-paid in this country to rely on as they try desperately, paycheque to paycheque, to keep up. 

GILBERT: Treasurer Jim Chalmers, joining me from the Lockyer Valley today. I appreciate it, as always. 

CHALMERS: Thanks so much, Kieran.