SKY NEWS FIRST EDITION
THURSDAY, 23 JULY 2020
SUBJECTS: Budget Update; Victorian outbreak; State borders.
PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: Joining us live is the Shadow Treasurer, Jim Chalmers. Jim, good morning to you. Thanks for joining us. A couple of figures have been reported this morning, a couple of eye-watering figures as the Treasurer puts it. What's your reaction to those?
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: Good morning, Pete. Thanks for having me on the show. What we need to see today in this budget update is not just a reckoning of the damage that's been done to the budget or how bad the economy is; we need to know what the Government's going to actually do about it. We need to be careful; the Government's going to try and pull a swifty today and they're going to try to pretend that all of this debt in the budget is a consequence of the COVID-19 crisis. But the last seven very difficult months don’t explain the last seven years of failures on the economy. Most of the debt in the budget was accumulated before COVID-19, something like two-thirds of it. This isn't their first deficit that they'll be announcing today, it's their seventh and eighth deficits. For all of these reasons, we're saying don't just tell people how grim it is, tell them what you're going to do about jobs into the future.
STEFANOVIC: But I mean, it says that we were looking at a $5 billion surplus 12 months ago, and that's completely gone now, as you know. It's down to a $180 billion deficit. So doesn't that suggest that it's COVID related?
CHALMERS: Clearly the COVID-19 health crisis has damaged the budget. We're not contesting that. The point that I'm making is that two-thirds of the debt had accumulated before we'd even heard of Coronavirus, before the bushfires and all the rest of it. It's not the first deficit, it is the seventh and eighth deficit. The point that I'm making really, Pete, for your viewers, is don't be conned today into believing that all of the problems in the economy and all of the problems in the budget are a consequence of the last seven difficult months. Some of these problems have been hanging around much longer than that.
STEFANOVIC: Does the Government deserve some credit? It says that it's stimulatory measures have saved some 700,000 jobs. So, in that respect, would you give some credit?
CHALMERS: Obviously programs like JobKeeper haven't been perfectly implemented, but they're very important. That's the reason we called for wage subsidies in the first place. It's why we welcomed the Government's change of heart on wage subsidies when they announced them. Some of this massive amount of money which has been borrowed in the last couple of months is doing some good in the economy. The priority has to be jobs. Where Government is intervening to save jobs, that's a good thing. The big gap is that there doesn't seem to be a plan for jobs into the future when this otherwise welcome support starts to trail away.
STEFANOVIC: When it comes to spending measures, what would you like to see happen now to get more jobs going?
CHALMERS: It needs to be a comprehensive plan. Let me give you a couple of examples. There's a need for the Government to step in and build more public housing. There's a shortage of public housing. It's very labour intensive, it has a lasting benefit, you get lots of bang for buck for government investment. They should be announcing something like that today. Another example is that there's not a settled energy policy which means businesses are reluctant to invest because they don't know what the energy policy landscape is. That's why we offered to work closely with the Government to agree an energy policy which will give business the confidence that they need to start investing again. These are just some examples of the things we should be hearing from the Government. They extended JobKeeper and JobSeeker, that's a good thing, we welcome that. But there needs to be a plan for creating jobs into the future. Otherwise, all of these hundreds of billions of dollars that they've borrowed will just kick the can down the road and we'll have a problem next year.
STEFANOVIC: Public housing, though, that would be a state issue, wouldn't it?
CHALMERS: There's a proud history of Federal Governments investing in public housing. There's a need there. It's very labour intensive, it has a lasting benefit. It's good for the most vulnerable people in our society, it ticks a lot of boxes. That's an example of the sorts of things that the Government should be considering.
STEFANOVIC: Okay, well, the BCA says that it's calling for a broad-based investment allowance of 20 per cent, covering all forms of investment. That's what the Business Council says would help to create some 2 million jobs. Is that something that you would support?
CHALMERS: Let's have a look at it. Let's see what the Government thinks about it. There's a massive problem with business investment which wasn't just created by this health crisis. There was a problem with business investment before, partly because of energy policy uncertainty, which I talked about. We'd certainly be up for a conversation about ways to encourage more business investment. We took a plan to the last election which had tax breaks for businesses which invest in Australian jobs onshore in Australia. We’d have an open mind to looking at something like that again, whether it's specifically what the BCA is calling for or something else, let's have a look.
STEFANOVIC: Just a couple of state issues before you go, Jim. First of all, Victoria; it's a long road back and the Victorian Premier wants to see it in single digits, the amount of infections, before he opens up the borders again. Is that something that you would support? Or do you think it needs to be brought forward?
CHALMERS: I thought those numbers yesterday in Victoria in particular we're really confronting. Victorians are obviously doing it really tough right now so our thoughts are with them. I think it's important that the decisions on borders, lockdowns, hotspots and all the rest of it are based on continually updated, best medical and expert advice. We've tried to back the Premiers in, whether they're Labor or Liberal, around Australia because they're doing their best to make the right decisions for the right reasons. If Premier Andrews goes down that path, I'm sure it will be based on the right advice.
STEFANOVIC: And would you be expecting further shutdowns of New South Wales? That means that Queensland Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, would be stopping New South Wales travellers from heading in?
CHALMERS: I'm sure that's being considered. Premier Palaszczuk has done a remarkable job throughout this crisis. She got a lot of stick when the borders were closed last time, which turned out to be an inspired, courageous decision. She's doing an amazing job with it. I'm sure if any of those developments which are in the papers today are being contemplated, a bit like other Premiers and Chief Ministers, if she makes that decision, it will be based on the proper considerations and the right advice.
STEFANOVIC: Okay. Shadow Treasurer, Jim Chalmers. Appreciate your time this morning. Thanks for joining us.
CHALMERS: Thanks, Pete.