MONDAY, 10 JUNE 2019
SUBJECTS: Labor listening to regional Queensland; income tax cuts; economy; G20 meeting; Cairns visit; tourism
ANTHONY CHISHOLM, SENATOR FOR QUEENSLAND: It's great to be back in Cairns. This is my second trip since the federal election and my sixth trip this year. Obviously, we're disappointed in the election result. But the good thing for federal Labor is that we've come together quickly. We've united behind our new Federal Labor Leader Anthony Albanese. And he's also encouraged us to get out and about across Queensland and across Australia and listen to voters and really learn the lessons of the election result. So it's fantastic to be here with Jim Chalmers, a fellow Queensland Member of Parliament in Rankin but also now the Shadow Treasurer. So he's going to have a big role to play to ensuring that we're listening to locals, understanding the election result and ensuring that Labor can put our best foot forward both holding the Government to account but also getting ready in three years' time for an election. So I'll hand over to Jim to say a few more words.
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: Thanks very much Anthony. It's good to be back in Cairns. I've been here a lot over the years but this is the first time as Shadow Treasurer; indeed my first visit as Shadow Treasurer is to far north Queensland here. We're talking to local businesses and peak groups - tourism operators, the Chamber of Commerce, Advance Cairns and others - about how we get the local, regional and national economy growing again.
It's a really important time for our economy in Australia. We've had the worst growth figures in the last week or so, since the Global Financial Crisis a decade ago. Under this Liberal Government - under Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg - the economy is floundering and middle Australia is struggling. If we want to get the economy growing again, we need to lean more heavily on growth in regional communities and regional economies like this one. We have been leaning too much on the economies of a couple of big capital cities in this country. That hasn't cut it. That hasn't been enough to get the economy growing in a strong and sustainable way. We need to make sure that economic growth is broad-based, and sustainable, and creates good jobs for our people. And that means relying more heavily on creating good jobs here in the regions, whether it be regional Queensland or elsewhere in Australia, and great cities like Cairns and the surrounding areas. So I'll be talking with business today. It won't be the last time I'm up here. We'll be up here all the time talking with local businesses about how we create those jobs; how we create that economic growth, because we won't get national economic growth unless we focus more on getting economic growth out of regions like this one.
Before I turn to your questions, I just want to say something about Pauline Hanson's comments this morning about the Government's tax package. When even Scott Morrison's biggest backer in the Senate thinks it's a bad idea to give billions of dollars in tax cuts to the highest income earners five years down the track, then Scott Morrison has a problem. Scott Morrison has a big problem when Pauline Hanson, who votes with him 90 percent of the time in the Senate, says it's a bad idea to commit five years out to these big tax cuts in the third stage of his tax cut plan, which flow overwhelmingly to people who are least likely to spend it in the economy. We call on Scott Morrison to split his tax plan up so that the Parliament can urgently support and pass tax relief for people on low and middle incomes in this country. The Reserve Bank, in cutting rates last week, said that we need this injection of disposable income into the community. The best way to get that is to stop playing games in the Senate and to make sure that we can pass the first tranche of the Government's tax plan, which would give up to $1080 to the people who need it most and the people who are most likely to spend it in the economy.
When even Pauline Hanson is telling Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg to be more responsible with their tax cut plans, then I think it is long past time for those two to listen to the broader Australian community. The community is crying out for tax relief for people on low and middle incomes. The economy is crying out for tax relief for people who are most likely to spend it in the economy. What the Government's position has shown so far is that they are more interested in having a fight with Labor over tax than they are in delivering that genuine tax relief for people of modest means in this economy. So they should split the bill. If they split the bill, I think the Parliament will enthusiastically back the first tranche of their tax cut plan. It makes no sense to support the third tranche which comes in five years away from now and overwhelmingly favours those who are least likely to spend it in the economy. Labor's position is we support the first tranche; we are prepared to have more conversations and discussions and deliberations about tranche two and tranche three. But that shouldn't prevent the Government putting in place the tax relief that they promised for people who are most likely to get this economy going again - people on low and middle incomes.
JOURNALIST: Is there a risk if you don't back them then the Government will cave into One Nation's demands about the coal-fired power station?
CHALMERS: The big risk is that the Government plays games with their tax package, and people on low and middle incomes don't get the relief that they need and deserve, and the economy doesn't get the shot in the arm that it needs from tax relief for people who are most likely to spend it. It is up to the Government to work out their own Senate strategy, whether it be with One Nation or with others. I think what this shows is that even Pauline Hanson is not prepared to back tax cuts five years down the track for people who are least likely to spend it in the economy. I think that that shows that the Government has a real problem here. They should stop playing games. They should split the bill. Let the Parliament support and get in place this tax relief. It's important for the economy as the Reserve Bank and others have pointed out. We stand ready to play a constructive role and we're ready to discuss and deliberate the later stages after that has occurred.
JOURNALIST: Have you had discussions with the Government about splitting that plan?
CHALMERS: We've been calling on the Government for some time now, some weeks since the election, to split the bill. They have said so far that they are unwilling to do so. And what that shows is they're more interested in a brawl over the politics of tax cuts with the Labor Party than they are in doing the right thing by people and the right thing by the economy. The right thing to do here for the Government would be to split the bill, give people tax relief, give the economy the shot in the arm that it needs. The economy is growing at meagre and feeble rates at the moment; the worst economic growth in the 10 years since the Global Financial Crisis. This Government needs to take responsibility for that under-performance. They need to start turning things around. That should begin with splitting the bill so we can get this tax relief out the door.
JOURNALIST: Governor Lowe suggested income tax cuts would boost the economy. Does that mean you guys are standing in the way of growing the economy?
CHALMERS: Absolutely not. We enthusiastically support the tax relief which will come into being in July if the Senate passes the first tranche of the Government's proposal. We agree with Reserve Bank Governor Phil Lowe, who says that the economy needs this injection of disposable income. That is self-evident. We need to see that sooner rather than later. The comments by Governor Lowe are not about getting tax relief into the system three years down the track or five years down the track, which is what stage two and stage three would do. Governor Lowe is making the same point that we're making. The economy needs a shot in the arm. That would come from stage one of the Government's tax proposals, because it would give some more disposable income to people of modest means in this economy, and it would give the national economy a shot in the arm that it desperately needs after six years of the Government having no plan to fix the mess that they've made of the economy.
JOURNALIST: Just a question from abroad, Jim. The meeting of G20 Finance Ministers in Japan over the weekend has failed to press the US and China to resolve their trade tensions. Does the G20 (inaudible)?
CHALMERS: The G20 has proven itself to be remarkably successful, historically. During the Global Financial Crisis, the G20 was the main global coordinating institution and did a remarkable job in getting countries onto the same page. And in that forum, Australia over-performed. We punched above our weight in terms of our arguments, but we also over-performed when it came to economic growth during the Global Financial Crisis. That's a tribute to Wayne Swan and Kevin Rudd and others who put in place arguably the world's best policy response to the global recession. It is true that the G20 has had its challenges ever since, and it needs to remain relevant. Australia has a seat at that important table and so we want to make sure that it remains relevant. We have skin in the game. And we have skin in the game too when it comes to trade tensions between the two big beasts of the Asian and global economies. We want to make sure that they can resolve their differences. Because, for a country like ours - a middle-sized economy, outward-facing, doing a lot of business in the region - we want to make sure that there is prosperity and that means that there is a working relationship between all of the big players.
JOURNALIST: Just in terms of what you're doing here in Cairns, have you met with any of the stakeholders yet or you're about to do that?
CHALMERS: We've met with Advance Cairns already and talked about some of the proposals they have to get this regional economy going. We've spoken with them about a range of matters; not the first time that we've spent time there. We will be meeting with the Chamber of Commerce later on. We'll be meeting with tourism operators later on. We'll also, as Anthony flagged, be talking with some of our local supporters tonight about what we need to do to do better here - not just in the seat of like Leichhardt - but indeed throughout Queensland. I think one of the lessons that we took from the recent election campaign is that we do need to do a better job engaging with Queenslanders and with the regional economies of Queensland. We did a lot of work on that, put a lot of effort into it in the last term. But we need to do more. That's certainly something that I intend to engage with.
JOURNALIST: And so based on the federal election, what are some of the issues that you're expecting to arise out of the seat of Leichhardt when you meet with people today?
CHALMERS: The local economy is a real mixed bag, I think here in Cairns and in Leichhardt more broadly. Unemployment is less than five per cent, but you've got some big challenges in tourism despite the low dollar. You've got some other challenges as well. You've got some big opportunities. It's important I think in a place like Cairns that you'd be glass half-full about the economy. Obviously, there are opportunities in agriculture. There are opportunities in defence, opportunities in tourism, right across the board. And we're at the start of a three-year term of Opposition. We'd prefer we weren't in Opposition for another three years, but we intend to use the time wisely. That means taking our time to listen to all of the relevant players in regional economies, making sure that we do have a good handle on the needs of a town like Cairns, and coming up with a policy agenda that fully maximises the opportunities here.
JOURNALIST: How long are you here for?
CHALMERS: Today and tomorrow on this trip. But as I said, I'll be back regularly. We've got good Senators - Anthony and Murray as well, and other senators that we've got. Nita is now based up here. So we've got a foothold here in Cairns. And I think that augurs well for the attention that far north Queensland will get in the federal Opposition under Anthony Albanese. I'll also say this about Anthony Albanese. There have been very few people who have done more to engage with regional Queensland, far north Queensland, right around the regions, than Anthony Albanese has. Wherever you go in this town, you run into people who give Anthony a big rap for the engagement that he's done here, in his earlier roles in infrastructure and tourism and other roles. And I think that that is a good start and we intend to build on the consultation that he's done over a number of years now to make sure that Cairns gets a big voice and a big say in the operation and deliberations of the alternative Government.
JOURNALIST: Is part of this response directly because of the result in the federal election? How (inaudible)?
CHALMERS: Obviously, when you underperform here in the best state in the Commonwealth, you need to listen and learn from it. I think it's obviously not good enough to only have every fourth Queenslander support Labor with a primary vote. We need to do better than that. As Queenslanders, Anthony and I obviously have a big stake in making sure that we do better here. And obviously, the best place to start when you get a result like the result that we've just had is to genuinely listen to people and engage with them and see where you can do better. And that's a big part of what the next few months and few years will be all about.
JOURNALIST: Tourism is a massive industry up. We've just come off the back of one of our slowest off seasons. It's also a very fickle industry. Will you (inaudible)?
CHALMERS: We've got an open mind really to anything that can boost tourism here in Cairns. I know you've been through a very long wet season; longer than usual. That's had an impact. I know that there are other factors there. The airlines have played a role there in some of the challenges that you have here in Cairns. But we've also got a very low dollar, around 70 cents at the moment. And that's an opportunity for tourism. There's a whole range of factors playing into here. I know you've had some substantial construction in the tourism industry recently. So it's a bit of a mixed bag. We'll get around to all the stakeholders and hear from them and what role Federal Government can play working with our colleagues in the good state government led by Annastacia Palaszczuk.
Thanks very much everyone.