JIM CHALMERS MP
AMANDA RISHWORTH MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT
LABOR CANDIDATE FOR BANKS
THURSDAY, 28 APRIL 2022
SUBJECTS: Childcare; Labor’s Plan for a Better Future; Labor’s Economic and Budget Plan; Rising Costs of Living, The Cashless Debit Card.
ZHI SOON, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR BANKS: Well, welcome to Goodstart Early Learning here in Carlton, it's fantastic to be here today. I want to say a special thanks to Sonya and her staff for having us here today. And I also wanted to say a special thanks to the whole early childhood workforce who've been doing such an amazing job throughout the pandemic, to continue to support our kids all across the country. Throughout the door knocking I've been doing through the Bank's campaign, a theme that's consistently come up is cost of living and the quality of our education system. So, it's wonderful to be able to be here today to talk about both these topics.
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: Thanks very much Zhi, thanks to Goodstart Early Learning here at Carlton and my colleague, Amanda Rishworth, who you will hear from in a moment. This is a full-blown cost of living crisis on Scott Morrison's watch. This is a triple whammy of skyrocketing inflation, falling real wages, and rising interest rates. Now, Scott Morrison has an excuse for everything, and a plan for nothing. When things are going well in the economy, Scott Morrison takes all of the credit. But when times are tough for Australians, he takes none of the responsibility. And we've seen that again today, once again. He wants to talk about international comparisons and international developments. Nothing that's happened around the world in the last few months excuses or explains almost a decade now, of Coalition attacks on wages and job security. If he wants to talk about international comparisons, the most important comparison is real wages. Australian workers are going backwards in real wage terms faster than their counterparts in the United States. So, if he wants to talk about what's happening around the world, remember those two points. Nothing that's happened around the world explains or excuses his attacks on take home pay. If he wants to talk about international comparisons, then Australian workers are doing it much tougher than their counterparts in the US. So, this is a Prime Minister that it takes credit for everything that goes well, never takes responsibility when times are tough.
What we've seen in the economy in the last little while absolutely torpedo, Scott Morrison's claims to be good at managing the economy. It's not good economic management, if Australians can't get ahead. It's not good economic management, if Australians are falling further and further behind. Now, the thanks that Australians get for the sacrifices they've made for each other can't be another three years of falling real wages, skyrocketing inflation, and interest rate rises. The big risk of reelecting Scott Morrison is another three years of attacks on real wages, which make it harder and harder to keep up with the skyrocketing cost of living and to pay increasing costs on your mortgage. Now, the whole reason why Katy Gallagher and I released Labor's economic plan yesterday, and the budget strategy that we released yesterday, is because the defining challenges in the economy are inflation and falling real wages and not having an economic dividend from the trillion dollars in debt that this government has racked up, more than half of it before the pandemic itself.
So, our plan is all about growing the economy without adding to inflationary pressures. It's about making life easier for working families, in particular. It's about ensuring that we can grow the economy the right way. And it's also about ensuring we can begin to deal with this legacy of a trillion dollars of debt and not enough to show for it. This Morrison Government has taxed more and borrowed more and spent more than the last Labor Government but delivered much less, that is part of their legacy. And after a decade in office, this Government's gift to Australians is skyrocketing cost of living, falling real wages, interest rate rising and a trillion dollars in public debt. Now an absolutely central part of our economic plan is our childcare policy. I'm very pleased to be here with the architect of that policy, Amanda Rishworth. She'll say a few words about childcare then we're happy to take your questions.
AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: Well, thanks, Jim. And it's wonderful to be here at Goodstart in Carlton. Of course, Labor's childcare policy is the right policy for this time in our country's history. Because what Labor's childcare policy does is deliver a double dividend. Of course, families are being smashed with the cost of living with childcare out of pocket costs up 4.2% this year. So families are struggling with having to find more and more money to pay for the cost of childcare. Labor's childcare policy will reduce those cost pressures on families, saving an average family $1,600 a year. So, this is real, immediate cost of living relief right now. But in addition, Labor's policy is so critical for ensuring that there are more workers, skilled workers, returning to the workforce. The ABS suggest that there are 140,000 workers choosing not to go to work because of the cost of childcare. They just simply can't afford to go back to work because of the cost. We know that there are many more particularly women not working the hours they want and need. Many of these workers are skilled workers. Many of these are types of workers that businesses are crying out for. Labor's policy not only delivers an important cost of living relief to families, but it injects workers into the economy, allowing women, in particular, to work the hours they want and need. This has true economic return. Ask economists who regularly cite a dividend of investment in childcare having a 1:2 dollar return. For every one dollar government puts in, we get a two dollar economic return. This is the type of policy that will really grow our economy in a sustainable way, and importantly, help families at the time they need it. If you look at the alternative, Scott Morrison and his Liberals have no plan, they have no offering when it comes to early education and care and that is not to mention, of course the importance of investing in the long term in our little as citizens. So, this is what Labor is offering. There is a clear choice, a clear choice at the next election. If you want to have a sustainable plan to grow the economy, vote Labor. If you want more of the say, of a Prime Minister lost at sea then vote for the Liberal Party.
JOURNALIST: Indigenous Australians have been grappling with cost-of-living pressures for decades. What are you going to do to ease those pressures on Indigenous Australians in remote and regional Australia?
CHALMERS: I think the highest priority when it comes to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, First Nations Australians, is to deal with the housing crisis. And we've had made an announcement about remote housing, which is a very important place to start. We don't pretend that that's the beginning and the end of the challenge in remote communities, there are other challenges as well, including making sure that we can get labour mobility as part of the story, that we can have proper services there, including access to decent health care, which is another announcement that we made in Central Australia. I think we said James and then Jen and then Sarah.
JOURNALIST: Dr Chalmers, you said this morning, or you guaranteed this morning that inflation will be lower and real wages will be stronger under a government that you are the Treasury Spokesman under an Anthony Albanese Government. How specifically, will you make sure that that guarantee is realised? And what specifically will you do, your government do is waiting to increase real wages, it makes sure that it doesn't increase inflation?
CHALMERS: What I said this morning was that a government which cares about real wages, growth, rather than going out of its way to deliberately undermine job security and attack wages will always grow wages faster. And if a plan which is about taking the inflationary pressures out of a growing economy, will always give us a better chance to get inflation down. Now, we don't pretend that if Labor is elected on one day that the next day that all of these challenges will be dealt with. These are big, entrenched challenges. When we're thinking about real wages growth, for example, wages have been stagnant for much of the last decade that the Coalition has been in office. But what we need here is a plan. Now the Government is long on excuses and short on a plan. They have a plan to get themselves from one side of the election to the other side of the election, but not a plan to deal with the cost-of-living pressures in a sustainable way, and along the lines that Amanda mentioned. And so, what we would do when it comes to getting real wages growing again, which is central to our economic plan, and our budget strategy, is we would make sure that we are training people for higher wage opportunities. We’ve got a policy on fee free TAFE and unis. We’d make sure as Amanda said, that if people want to work more and earn more, they can because childcare is cheaper, and more accessible. We said that we will support wage cases before the Fair Work Commission, particularly in the care economy, think about aged care, but also the minimum wage cases. We said that we want to deal with labour-hire undermining wages and job security, we want to deal with the gig economy. There are a whole range of proposals that we've made. Now the Government, they say that there's absolutely nothing we can do to get wages growing, that is complete and utter rubbish. The Government has admitted in a fit of candor, that stagnant wages are a deliberate design feature of their economic policy, getting real wages growing, again, is a deliberate design feature of ours. Jen then Sarah, then I'll come back to you.
JOURNALIST: I asked you a couple months ago, your press club address, I lost track of time...
JOURNALIST: ... whether you would commit to immediate cost of living relief and the extension of the reduction of the fuel excise, you said that you would play the cards you are dealt, cards are on the table, inflation is record at 5.1%. Interest rates will rise. So, I ask again, will you give one off cash handouts to help ease the pressure for immediate cost of living relief and will you extend the fuel excise?
CHALMERS: So, a couple of things about that. We are committed if we're successful on the 21st of May to handing down another budget this calendar year and that budget will take into consideration the existing economic conditions and it will implement our plan for a better economy and a better future. And so, we will play the cards that were dealt at the time. You know, I have said publicly many times including on the night of the budget, that this cost of living relief is important in the near term, it will be difficult to extend it forever. Now we can't do in a budget which is riddled with waste and rorts it's got a trillion dollars in debt but not enough to show for it, you know, we can't fix every problem in one budget. But we will be more attentive to cost of living pressures than the Government. We've got a plan to get real wages growing again and that matters as well. On the specific policies and extending them. I've made lots of comments about them in the past, we'll see what the budget and economic conditions are at the time. But it will be hard to extend that relief indefinitely.
JOURNALIST: Are you open to one off payments? That might be the only thing you can do to help the economy.
CHALMERS: Well, we would play the cards were dealt at the time that would need to balance the inflation in the economy, which is substantial with the budget position, which is substantially dire. We would weigh all of that up do the right thing by the budget and the economy and particularly by Australia. Sarah's next.
JOURNALIST: I'm just wondering how you can absolutely guarantee that when there's so much out of control supply constraints, overseas things like Ukraine? And secondly, how will you fund essential services like health in the future? NDIS and so on. And plan released yesterday shows improvements to the budget only about 5 billion?
CHALMERS: Yeah, so thank you two parts of that question. First of all on inflation. Any responsible government’s task in this environment, is to have an economic plan that grows the economy strongly without adding to inflationary pressures. That's about a more skilled workforce, more participation in ways that Amanda described and all of the other policies that I outlined yesterday, and again, today. That's how we get the economy growing without adding to these substantial inflationary pressures that we have in the economy. In the second part of your question, Sarah..
JOURNALIST: Was about how you can fund those essential, services especially the NDIS, the only $5 billion improvements over the forwards?
CHALMERS: Well, we are the only party in this election, taking the budget position seriously. The Government announced $39 billion in new spending in the budget without any talk of offsets. And what we've said is we want to improve the budget, prove the quality of the budget. Two ways you can do that is trim spending on contractors, consultants, and labour-hire which is blown out under this Government. That's the first thing and the second thing is to do something meaningful about multinational tax avoidance. Now, the responsible commitments that we've made in this election cost a fraction of what this government has rorted and wasted. I mean, the most expensive on budget proposal we're taking to this election, at this point, is Amanda's policy on childcare, and the total cost of that policy is less than what this Government has admitted they're wasting on submarines that will never be built. And so, we need a bit of perspective here. Our commitments are responsible, they are measured, they take into account the budget position. And the proposals that we made yesterday, almost $5 billion in budget improvements are much better than what the Government is proposing.
JOURNALIST: Can I just take you back to the fuel excise, because you didn’t quite answer that question. That is producing real change, people filling up at bowsers are immediately feeling relief. If we face the same situation in six months’ time, and prices are going up, petrol prices are going up. Will you commit to cutting the fuel excise?
CHALMERS: Well, first of all, we supported the Government's policy on this because we do think that motorists need relief. And so that's why we supported the policy. Beyond that, same answer that I gave to Jen a moment ago, we take into consideration the budget position, the economic position, and how Australians are faring. But we can't do everything in a budget which is riddled with waste and rorts and there's a trillion dollars in debt. And so we have to weigh up our priorities.
JOURNALIST: Do you expect that retail power prices will fall over the next three years under your government, if you are elected?
CHALMERS: Well, what our modelling says about our Powering Australia Plan, it's the most comprehensive modelling that any opposition has ever provided about a big policy, like our Powering Australia Plan. And it says that by the middle of this decade, so in a few years’ time, $275 a year in power prices savings. And hopefully we can do even better than that. But that's what the modeling says. Now our proposal to get the cost of living down after this near-term relief runs out on the other side of the election. We've got to plan on power bills, we've got to plan on childcare, we've got a plan to get real wages moving again. The Government is not attentive to any of these things. The Government is asleep at the wheel when it comes to cost of living pressures. They've dropped the ball on this just like they dropped the ball on the Solomons and China, just like they dropped the ball on rapid tests and vaccines. This is of the same ilk. This is a Prime Minister that takes credit when things are going well, takes no responsibility when times are tough, and times are tough, right now, it's time to throw him out. Were only going to take three more, we're going to go James, and we're going to go to Nour, we're going to go Gerard.
JOURNALIST: Specifically, on tax measures, the past four years, low and middle-income earners have been getting up to 1500 bucks in their tax returns every year, in the Lower and Middle Income Tax Offset. You were critical and what you do about that yesterday, but it's now almost May, the end of financial year is coming up. What can you say to those low- and middle-income earners that were perhaps relying on that up to $1,500? Will you do something to give them that tax relief when they put in their tax returns or is the Lamington (inaudible)?
CHALMERS: Well, under the legislation, the Low and Middle Income Tax Offset runs out when people get their tax returns next year for this year. And we don't have any proposals to change that. But you are quite right, that for all of those Australians that the Government likes to talk about, they will get, effectively a tax hike when the Low and Middle Income Tax Offset runs out. And the Government doesn't like to fess up to that. Now when it comes to tax when it comes to tax. This is the second highest taxing Government in the last 30 years. Australians are paying more tax by every measure, then they were under the Labor Government. The Government needs to come clean about that and admit that the changes to LMITO which are legislated mean a tax hike for people after the election.
JOURNALIST: Will you do anything to make up the shortfall. Do you have any proposals that give people that money?
CHALMERS: We have got substantial proposals on the cost of living and getting real wages moving.
JOURNALIST: Can you confirm if Labor has dumped its policy to pay superannuation on paid parental leave? How can you justify it when you know that it contributes to the gender pay gap, and can I get Amanda Rishworth to answer that as well?
CHALMERS: Yeah, of course. So we haven't finalised or concluded a view on that yet. We've read about it in the papers because we've consulted with stakeholders.
JOURNALIST: The election is two weeks away, when will you do that?
CHALMERS: It's three weeks away, I wish I wish it was two weeks away. We've been consulting with stakeholders. And we've said the same thing privately that we say publicly, which is that this is a very good policy idea and we need to weigh it up against a whole range of other great policy ideas. You know, we are being upfront. I thought Katy Gallagher did an incredible job yesterday, of explaining how there is more good ideas than there is room in the budget. We haven't come to a concluded view on that. We consider it to be very important. We've taken that policy to elections in the past, but we need to weigh it up against all the other priorities. So, I'm going to go to Amanda on this. Then we go to Gerard, and we go here, then we're done.
RISHWORTH: Well, what I'd say about the current Government is that their answer to the gender pay gap is actually for male wages to fall so that there is less gap between women and men. What we need to do is lift the wages but also women's workforce participation. Of course, there are many policies that can affect that gender pay gap. And you've mentioned one of those policies that affects the gender income in retirement. But there are many others, including, as I mentioned, those workers, majority women who are not able to go into the workforce when they have little children, because they cannot afford the cost of childcare. We also know that we have one of the highest in the OECD part time, women's workforce participation, other countries have much higher full time workforce participation. And a lot of that comes down to the cost of childcare. So, while there are many policies that can directly affect the gender pay gap, and we've announced another suite of policies, Tanya Plibersek, has answered them, including, for example, getting rid of secrecy clauses, in pay agreements, a number of things that can reduce that gender pay gap. Investing in childcare is one of those critical areas that help women go back to work, earn more and work more hours.
JOURNALIST: Are you asking your colleges to stick with that policy?
RISHWORTH: The childcare policy, absolutely. Superannuation policy, look, as Jim said, we are having to weigh up policies right across. This Government has completely fallen asleep at the wheel when it comes to women. I think you don't have to go very far down the road, really, to get that feedback from people out there in the community. They know that this Government has abandoned women when it comes to their economic security, as well as many other parts of their lives. Labor will consider and have to weigh up a range of policies. But we've already put a very substantial one on the table around supporting women go back to work.
CHALMERS: We're just going to take two more here and here. And then we're done.
JOURNALIST: Are you concerned home buyers who accessed government schemes, for the first time will face additional cost pressures in light of rising interest rates because they haven't paid back the greatest proportion of interest. And second on that Labor has said they've extended that policy by 10,000 spots, most of the regional seats, is that a good policy to do consider it to be more expensive to service a mortgage?
CHALMERS: It will be more expensive to service a mortgage. It wasn't that long ago, that Scott Morrison was running around lying to the Australian people and saying if you elect a Labor Government, your interest rates will go up. And that's blown up in his face. And what we're seeing with the interest rate rise, which most analysts and commentators expect will either happen next Tuesday or the month after. And then subsequent to that as well, is that someone with an average size loan of about $595,000 will be $124, a month worse off, and so it will sting when interest rates start to go up. And most people expect that they will go up substantially more than that, over time. This is the triple whammy that Scott Morrison has handed Australian homeowners: falling real wages, skyrocketing inflation and now rising interest rates are about to add to the pain, as well. And so, when it comes to government policy on housing, obviously you need to strike the right balance here. And we've been supportive about helping people into the housing market. But it is a much broader story than the government's proposals. It's also a story around social housing, there are some other steps that a government could take. And we'll have more to say about housing between now and the election. But these interest rate rises will hurt and Scott Morrison, who takes credit when the economy's going well, won't take responsibility for the fact that a decade now of attacks on real wages in this country, make it harder for people to meet what will be the rising costs of their mortgage. Here and then Madura and then were done.
JOURNALIST: On interest rate rises, you're accusing the Government of not owning the bad economic news. If their interest rates under your watch, as Treasurer in a Labor Government, will you own those?
CHALMERS: I'm saying the Government can't have it both ways. You know, the Government bleats about, for example, the unemployment rate, they pretend that if something's going well, then it's all down to their genius and if something's going badly, it's got absolutely nothing to do with them. Scott Morrison is notorious for this. You know, I was in Zhi's electorate last week and we were talking to people. And people raise all around Australia, this is a Prime Minister takes credit for the good things takes no responsibility for the difficult things. Now we are realistic about inflation. We're realistic about interest rates. And we're not over promising we don't intend to over promise and under deliver. We're simply pointing out that the Prime Minister wants to take credit for things that go well in the economy he needs to take responsibility for the fact that Australians are getting absolutely slaughtered by this triple whammy. And he's been in office now for almost a decade. He only wants to talk about Labor and he wants to talk about international developments. The war in Ukraine doesn't explain or excuse a decade of this mob going after people's wages and job security. And that's a big part of the problem. He needs to take responsibility for once, not point the finger not going missing when people need him, but actually take responsibility. This is a cost-of-living crisis, a full-blown cost of living crisis. And Australians are getting absolutely hammered by it and their Prime Minister true to form is nowhere to be seen. Madura is the last question, then we have got to go.
JOURNALIST: While the election is three weeks away, early voting starts on May 9, when can we know whether the policy that you refer to will or will not be part of Labor's platform? And secondly, on the Cashless Debit Card Age Pension scare campaign, your candidate in Longman, Labor’s candidate is still running that scare campaign, even though it's categorically false. How do you justify it?
CHALMERS: Well, first of all, on our policy announcements, we make them at the appropriate time. If we come to a concluded view on a policy, we announced them when we're ready, and that standard practice of both sides of politics forever. So that's how - that the answer to that question. Now on the Cashless Debit Card. Labor has committed to abolishing the Cashless Debit Card. The Liberals and Nationals have speculated about extending it. Those are two facts. And if the Government's...
JOURNALIST: (inaudible) not the age pensioners
CHALMERS: It's the same as when they said before the 2013 election, no cuts to the pension, no cuts the ABC or health or education. People don't believe this Government for good reason. The Prime Minister is a pathological liar when it comes to these issues. You know, he was saying not that long ago, that there wouldn't be any increased taxes under a Liberal/National Government. There's $2.1 billion of increased taxes in the budget that they handed down last month. You can't believe a word that he says. And so, our commitment, our assurance to Australians is that we will abolish the Cashless Debit Card. The Prime Minister and the relevant Minister, this term of the parliament have talked about extending it and that's the difference. Thanks very much.