The Project 23/05/22

23 May 2022

SUBJECTS: 2022 Election, Swearing in of the Albanese Labor Ministry, Labor’s Budget, Josh Frydenberg



MONDAY, 23 MAY 2022


SUBJECTS: 2022 Election, Swearing in of the Albanese Labor Ministry, Labor’s Budget, Josh Frydenberg


WALEED ALY: Today Former Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, conceded defeat in the seat of Kooyong to teal independent Monique Ryan. That's a very, very big development. Newly sworn in Treasurer Jim Chalmers joins us now. Jim, we'll get to bigger things in a moment, but I'm just curious – how did you celebrate on Saturday night?

JIM CHALMERS, TREASURER: I haven't celebrated yet is the truth of it. We had a gathering of my local supporters and branch members on Saturday night, but I did a few crosses into TV and pretty carefully watched the count for a while and before I knew it was about 1 in the morning, and so we turned in and we've been working pretty much ever since.

PETER HELLIAR: Finger on the pulse, Jim – the kids call it a gathering these days. It's not party; it's a gathering. Very hip, mate. Congratulations. When you do have "a party" will the whips come out? Will you crack the whip? We saw the Prime Minister – the former Prime Minister do that the other night.

CHALMERS: I saw that, at Kirribilli there, and I saw Jenny with her tray of margaritas or something like that. I think it's really great that they thanked the stuff, to be honest. Those people who work for Prime Ministers and senior ministers, they have a really difficult job to do. So if they let their hair down on Sunday then I think that's great.

STEVE PRICE: Treasurer, timing is everything in politics. Might this have been the worst election to win given you've inherited a trillion dollars in debt, you've got interest rates on the way up, cost of living is going through the roof? You've now got to make some really hard decisions. Might it have been better not to win?

CHALMERS: I don't think so, Steve. But I certainly agree with you that we've inherited a pretty tricky set of economic circumstances. We do have inflation high and rising. We do have interest rates rising on a trajectory already set by the Reserve Bank. We've got real wages going backwards. And I think importantly about that trillion dollars in debt is I don't think any objective observer would say we've got enough to show for all of that debt.

So in all of my meetings so far and briefings yesterday with the Treasury Secretary, today with the Treasury more broadly have been about how we start the important work towards an October budget which starts to improve the quality of the budget so that we're getting an economic dividend from all this money that's been borrowed.

ALY: Just thinking, Jim, the last time Labor won power it was on the eve of the Global Financial Crisis. I think there are a lot of examples like that. Why are Labor so good at winning elections just before an economic crisis is about to land?

CHALMERS: Well, we're hoping that the nation's luck will turn this time around. But clearly there's a lot of international uncertainty. We are inheriting all of those tricky circumstances that I was just talking about. But – and what we're going to try and do and including when we talk to your viewers and others, is to try and be upfront about these economic challenges. They are pretty serious. When it comes to inflation or falling real wages or debt or the international environment, these are big, important issues and it will be difficult to get on top of them. But we will put our best foot forward. We will work around the clock every day to make sure that we're making the best decisions we can to responsibly manage all of this uncertainty.

PRICE: Well, on a serious note, obviously petrol prices, the retail price of petrol has continued to go up. We've got a 22-cent-a-litre discount in the excise at the moment. You're going to have to be the person who announces to the Australian motorists and business that that's going in September. Any chance at all that you might change your mind?

CHALMERS: I think that that was announced on budget night by my predecessor – that that relief will come off in September. Again, I've tried to be pretty upfront with people and say it would be difficult for us to extend that forever. It's a very expensive bit of cost of living relief. Necessary obviously in the near term, but we've got to weigh up all of our priorities. When it comes to September we'll do what we can. But we'll do that within the constraints of a responsible budget that recognises we do have a lot of debt already. So we've got to weigh up and work out what are the best things that we can do that get the best bang for buck from any money that we might spend out of the budget.

CHRISSIE SWAN: Jim, now that the dust is settling after Saturday's big election, it turns out seven in ten Australians voted for someone other than Labor as their first preference. Is that a problem for you?

CHALMERS: It is a big challenge electorally I think, and we recognise that. You learn something new from every election. But we did win the election. We're not going to be down in the dumps about it. But we will responsibly address the issue. I think the message is, whether you voted teal, green, orange, yellow, blue or red on election night, Anthony Albanese is really determined to be a Prime Minister for the whole country, and we want to be a government for the whole country, no matter who you voted for. And if we govern well and if we govern in an inclusive way, then the electorate politics will take care of themselves.

HELLIAR: It looks like Peter Dutton will become the Leader of the Opposition. Are you readying yourself to be looking across at his noggin during question time?

CHALMERS: Well, it remains to be seen. I haven't kept a close eye on how that's developing, but certainly when my old sparring partner Josh Frydenberg didn't make it through on Saturday night, we've been assuming that it will be Peter Dutton. But who knows how their processes will play out. We won't underestimate whoever they elect. We will take their views seriously, but we've got a job to do to govern. We've already hit the ground running. The new Prime Minister is already off to important Quad meeting. I've been doing work with the Treasury on the budget. So that will be our main focus no matter who they elect on the other side.

ALY: You mentioned Josh Frydenberg there. Any thoughts you'd like to share on the fact that he's conceded now – he'll be departing politics it seems.

CHALMERS: I'm happy to tell you and your viewers what I've told him privately when we spoke on the phone last night – and that is I wish him well. We've had some big clashes and at times it's been pretty robust and pretty willing, but I do respect Josh Frydenberg. I told him last night – and I'm happy to say again – I do genuinely wish him well. He was a very formidable, very worthy opposite number for me. I respect him as a person, even if I disagree with him on a whole range of policy issues. I really wish him well.

ALY: Treasurer, thank you very much for your time.

CHALMERS: Thanks Waleed, thanks everyone.