ABC RN DRIVE
TUESDAY, 10 JULY 2018
SUBJECT/S: By-elections; Mark Latham and One Nation; energy; China’s Belt and Road Initiative
DAMIEN CARRICK: Jim Chalmers is Labor's Shadow Finance spokesman. Welcome back to RN Drive.
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FINANCE: Hi Damien.
CARRICK: Jim Chalmers, a couple of weeks ago polling had Labor behind in Braddon in Tasmania and Longman in Queensland. Now you're ahead, do you expect to win those seats?
CHALMERS: We've certainly given ourselves every chance to win those seats because we've got better candidates and we've got better policies, frankly; policies which are more in line with the sort of values and aspirations of North West Tasmania and the suburbs around Caboolture and Morayfield and Burpengary in Queensland. I think we've given ourselves every chance. They're very difficult seats to win. We don't take any votes for granted, but we're certainly in the mix.
CARRICK: Indeed, Labor's backflip on company tax left the party looking pretty amateurish and pretty disunited. In some ways, it's quite a surprise that you're ahead now.
CHALMERS: I don't agree with your characterisation there, Damien. I've spent a big chunk of the last two weeks travelling right around Australia - in regional Queensland, in WA, South Australia and New South Wales as well - and I think what people really care about is we get to the right outcome. And we certainly got to the right outcome, which is to say that 99.8 per cent of Australian businesses will pay the same or less tax under Labor. The difference between us and Mr Turnbull of course is that he wants to give a $17 billion tax cut to the big banks, and he wants to see the lion's share of his company tax cuts go to foreign multinationals, and so there's a big difference there. That will be important in Longman and it will be an important difference in Braddon as well.
CARRICK: One Nation Leader Pauline Hanson accused Labor of misrepresenting her position on company tax in robocalls to voters in Longman in Queensland, and she's now got Mark Latham making robocalls on her behalf.
CHALMERS: (Laughs) Yeah, you couldn't make this stuff up, could you?
CARRICK: Well maybe one robocall deserves another?
CHALMERS: Of course not. Pauline Hanson herself went into the Senate and said she hadn't flip-flopped on company tax cuts - she was against them, then for them, then against them again. She couldn't come to a final position by the time the Senate rose. I think it's entirely legitimate for us to point out that it's very hard to tell where the Liberal Party ends and One Nation begins. Pauline Hanson votes with Malcolm Turnbull 90 per cent of the time in the Senate. She's got form in backing the millionaires and the multinationals over the battlers that she pretends to represent. So I think it's entirely within our rights to point that out.
CARRICK: And she's now cosying up to Mark Latham. In not electing Mark Latham as an ALP Prime Minister, can we say that's one of the smartest decisions ever from Australian voters?
CHALMERS: Well look, that was 14 years ago, Damien. I'm not into sort of trying to decide whether people got it right or wrong. I think it's probably a good thing given how things turned out that he didn't become the Prime Minister in the end. But we've moved on from that period. I don't think Mark has; there's a lot of bitterness there. What we're seeing really is this pretty pathetic attempt to become relevant again.
CARRICK: You said today that you don't think a Royal Commission into energy pricing is needed. Why is that?
CHALMERS: No, what I said today was that the Labor Party hasn't formally considered that yet. The point that I was making earlier on in some other discussions that I was having is that the biggest problem that we have when it comes to power prices is a lack of policy certainty. That's because Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott and other elements of his party room are engaged in this sort of bar room brawl over energy policy and nobody's going to invest in generation until there's a bit of clarity and a bit of certainty about policy. They're not getting that clarity or certainty from Malcolm Turnbull.
CARRICK: Are they getting it from you? If you're saying policy certainty is important, if the Coalition back a National Energy Guarantee, will you, will Labor provide that policy certainty?
CHALMERS: We're prepared to engage with them on it, but there needs to be an agreed policy. We don't know what we're engaging with at this moment because, as usual, Mr Turnbull is prioritising the sort-of internal political dynamics of his party room over a good outcome for the national economy. If and when he comes up with an agreed outcome, when he shows some leadership at last, then we've said repeatedly that we're prepared to sit down and try to get to a good outcome because what's happening now is that people are reluctant for good reason to invest in energy generation because they don't know what the policy climate is. So we're prepared to play a constructive role in creating that policy certainty.
CARRICK: But we do know what the National Energy Guarantee blueprint is. Are you happy to sign up to what's out there at the moment, what the current Government policy is at the moment?
CHALMERS: It's not agreed in the Government, that's the first point that I've already made. I think the other thing that we are a bit concerned about is that what's currently being talked about is not sufficiently encouraging of investment in renewable energy. We think one of the big parts of the story needs to be if we're going to put downward pressure on prices, we need to make sure that people can invest in renewable energy with a bit of certainty. I'm not sure that's a high enough priority in what Minister Frydenberg or the Prime Minister are talking about. But again, if they can get something through their party room and we've got a bit of a sense that there's some kind of unity at last on their side, then we are prepared to sit down and talk about all of these things with the Government.
CARRICK: The Government is due to release its report on retail pricing this week, or the ACCC's report on energy pricing this week. If that report confirms accusations of price gouging, will you support tighter regulation to bring down power prices?
CHALMERS: There are a whole range of things that need to be considered in the energy market. There are those issues that you just raised, the competitive issues. There are the issues around the behaviour of the energy companies as well. But I think the main thing, overwhelmingly, is that policy certainty that we've been discussing. The other thing of course, which was a good development, a very rare good development in this policy area, was today the energy regulator came down with a draft recommendation that would bring down the price of transmission, which would flow through to Australian families and businesses as well. So there's a whole range of elements here. I guess the point that we're making is, we've got an open mind to considering the competitive aspects. We're very welcoming and supportive of what the energy regulator said today, but if we're serious about getting downward pressure on prices, we need that policy certainty which has been absent to date.
CARRICK: Jim Chalmers, while I've got you here, your former Labor colleague - former Victorian Premier John Brumby - is urging the Australian Government to sign up to China's Belt and Road Initiative. It's a massive infrastructure development plan that dozens of countries in the region have already signed up to. Should Australia sign up?
CHALMERS: What we've said in the Labor Party is that the best way to approach these projects is on a case-by-case basis. The Government's been a bit negative about the Belt and Road Initiative. What we've said is why don't we examine the projects individually to see whether they're in the national interest or not? Let's have an open mind to examining those projects on that basis, because there are potential benefits for Australia. There are potential partnerships which could be explored which would really help us leverage the best benefits of the best, most dynamic regional economy on the planet which is in Asia.
CARRICK: Absolutely. A new study by a Washington-based consultancy shows that some 14 per cent of Chinese-invested infrastructure projects announced in the 66 belt and road countries since 2013 have hit trouble, and the key problems as identified in the report are a lack of transparency, a lack of oversight and poor management. Should we read that as a warning?
CHALMERS: We certainly need to be hard-headed in our assessment of these projects and often some of the projects in parts of Asia are notoriously difficult to get a good read on. But where we can, we get all the available information, we make a rational and sober hard-headed assessment of whether or not it would be good or bad for Australia, and if it's good for Australia we should have an open mind to supporting it.
CARRICK: Jim Chalmers, thank you very much for speaking this evening with RN Drive.
CHALMERS: Thank you Damien.