Sky News AM Agenda (34)

16 November 2017




SUBJECT/S: Marriage equality; Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility; Rethinking the Finance portfolio speech


KIERAN GILBERT: The Shadow Finance Minister, Jim Chalmers, is with me. He represents the very multicultural seat of Rankin, but 55 per cent voted in favour of same sex marriage in your seat; a very different result to comparable demographic seats in, say, southwestern Sydney for example. What do you put that down to?


JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FINANCE: I was absolutely delighted with 55 per cent of my constituents voting 'yes' for marriage equality, and 75 per cent participation in the survey. That was a really good outcome. A lot of people thought it might have been a bit tighter than that for the reasons that you say - a big multicultural community. But very proud of my community, as I am of the result around the whole country.


GILBERT: In terms of the debate now, are you encouraged by the noises that you're hearing from the Government? Obviously, Zed Seselja among those who still have concerns about the religious freedoms, but the Attorney and the Prime Minister saying there's not going to be major changes; they're going to get on with it.


CHALMERS: I was a bit concerned about what Zed just said a few moments ago on the program. I think it's crucial that Malcolm Turnbull say to his colleagues, particularly in the hard right, that we can't afford more dithering or delay. We haven't come this far to double back and retrace our steps on discrimination. We've come this far to make Australia more inclusive, not less inclusive.  That's why we should stop dithering, stop delaying. People should not obstruct the bills. We need to get this done as soon as possible.


GILBERT: You're the Shadow Finance Minister. You're going to be giving a major speech today at the Crawford School just down the road here at the ANU. One of the things you're talking about is moving the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility into the Finance Department if you win the next election. Can you explain the reasoning behind that and the broader arguments you make in terms of, I guess, giving the Finance Department more teeth? Is that it?


CHALMERS: Yeah exactly. That Northern Australia fund isn't working. It's spending a lot of money on board fees and directors, but hasn't yet made an investment in Queensland, for example, where I'm from. So it's not working. It's not sufficiently rigorous, or robust. It looks a lot like a National Party slush fund. So what Jason Clare, who is the Shadow Minister for Northern Australia, and I have been discussing, is how we get more ministerial oversight over the NAIF so that it looks a bit more like the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and some of the other funds which have two ministers overseeing it. That's how we bring some of the rigour and robustness of the Finance Department to that Northern Australia fund. That just one of the things that we're contemplating doing, that we're announcing today in the speech I'm giving at the ANU. But there are a whole range of ways I think that we can empower the Finance Department, not just for its most important objective, which is Budget repair which is fair, but also some broader objectives as well around inclusive growth.


GILBERT: Because recently the former UK Chancellor, Ed Balls, asked you and I think former Treasurer Swan about this and said "why is there a Finance Department separate from the Treasury?" and I guess this speech today is providing an answer to that?


CHALMERS: Ed Balls, when he was here with Chris Bowen and Wayne Swan, we had a conversation about why there is the Treasury and Finance split out, which is not the case in the UK.


GILBERT: Is it needed?


CHALMERS: It is needed, but it's underdone. And I think people understand the role of the Treasury in our Government, but they don't really understand that Finance has a lot of capacity to co-invest in the things that we care about; to care about how it spends Government money; to care about how it refocuses the public service. All of these broader roles of Finance are the things that we will rely on when we come to Government and I'm looking forward to talking about them today.


GILBERT: When you say looking at how money's spent, is it basically the auditor, you know that sort of approach? Is that how you see it?


CHALMERS: Even more directly than that, Kieran. The Government spends something like $50 billion on procurement. We want to make sure we get value for money. But we also want to make sure that procurement is satisfying our broader objectives as well, around job-creating inclusive growth. So that's one of the things that I'll be talking about today. There are a whole range of areas where we think that Finance's focus has been unnecessarily narrow. We want to broaden it out, working with Chris Bowen and working with the Treasury in a Shorten Labor Government so that we are properly utilising and harnessing and empowering Finance to do a bigger, broader job than it's doing currently.


GILBERT: Shadow Finance Minister, Jim Chalmers. As always, appreciate your time. Thanks for that.