TUESDAY, 9 JULY 2019
SUBJECTS: Income tax cuts; infrastructure; floundering economy under the Liberals; interest rate cut; Luke Howarth; deeming rates; Murray-Darling Basin Plan; Budget surplus; policies at the next election; asset sales
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: Scott Morrison promised to deliver Stage 1 of these tax cuts last Monday and now he expects a round of applause for delivering them eight days later. Labor has always supported Stage 1 of these tax cuts. Our priority has been to get more money into the hands of more workers sooner to help boost an economy which is floundering on the Liberals' watch.
The fact that these tax cuts are starting to get out the door now doesn't mean that the job is done. Far from it. This economy under the Liberals is beset by a double whammy of weak wages and weak productivity. And the Government has been asleep at the wheel when it comes to this slowing economy. Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg have ignored now more than a dozen warnings from the Reserve Bank that we need to lift investment in road and rail infrastructure.
The Government needs to recognise that only 30 per cent of their investment in infrastructure, which is currently in the Budget, will actually get out the door in the next four years' time. And that's not good enough. We have a Government which sees a cash rate, interest rates, at one per cent; weak productivity growth; slowing growth; high underemployment; insecure work; weak consumption; weak retail; flagging confidence, right across the board and they want to pretend that absolutely nothing is wrong. This is a Government which should stop pretending that more of the same will work when it comes to turning around our flagging economy.
I might just touch on a few other issues that are around today before I invite any questions. The first one of these is comments from Luke Howarth, the Homelessness Minister. Scott Morrison's message via his minister to 116,000 homeless Australians is that they should be more upbeat about it. Luke Howarth says today that his priority as the Homelessness Minister is to send a signal to 116,000 of our fellow Australians who are without a home that they should be happier about it and more upbeat about it. This guy is not the Minister for Homelessness, he's the Minister for Hopelessness. This sets a new low when it comes to the way that we talk about homelessness in this country. For Scott Morrison's Homelessness Minister to tell 116,000 Australians who are homeless today that they should be upbeat about it is an absolute disgrace, and both of them should retract those comments immediately.
The next issue is around deeming rates. The Morrison Government has shortchanged pensioners for years and now they expect a pat on the back for finally getting around to looking into it. For five interest rate changes in a row now, the Morrison Government has done nothing to help pensioners with their costs of living. Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg don't deserve a pat on the back for looking into deeming rates, they deserve a kick in the backside. They wouldn't even be looking at these issues were it not for the campaign run by the seniors groups and by Labor to get the Government to do something about deeming rates, which have become unrealistic and which have smashed the household budgets of thousands of Australian pensioners. It's time for the Government to do something about deeming rates, to stop expecting a pat on the back for finally getting around to looking into it. They've been slugging pensioners unfairly for years now. It's long past time to act.
The final issue before I go to your questions is around the Murray Darling Basin Plan and the irrigation scheme. We've seen some explosive revelations about the Government's failure to ensure value for money when it comes to management of the Murray-Darling Basin. We need the Government to come clean about whether or not the tens of millions of dollars that they are giving private companies is actually doing anything useful to protect the river and the communities which are sustained by it. We have a Government which has found new and interesting ways to simultaneously waste money and water. We have scandal after scandal after scandal and nothing less than a full audit of what's gone on here will get to the bottom of the Government's mismanagement of our precious resources. Over to you.
JOURNALIST: Going back to what you're saying about infrastructure, are you interpreting what the Reserve Bank has been saying as a call for more spending on infrastructure in the economy?
CHALMERS: The Reserve Bank couldn't be any clearer. They've been crying out for some time for the Government to do its bit when it comes to infrastructure investment. The Reserve Bank's made it very clear that they can't do all the heavy lifting on their own. We've got an interest rate at one per cent. We're running out of monetary policy room. The Government needs to do its bit. And that's the point that Labor has been making for some time. The Government should stop being pig-headed about infrastructure investment. They should stop pointing the finger at the states or pretending it's somebody else's fault. It's long past time for them to take up the reasonable and responsible suggestions from the Reserve Bank and also from Federal Labor that the Government could consider bringing forward some infrastructure investment. Too much of their infrastructure investment is back-ended as it stands. That won't help the economy now. The economy is floundering now. It needs the Government to stop pretending that there's nothing wrong. When you look around the community, we've got slowing growth and stagnant wages and weak consumption and weak productivity growth. And it's time for the Government to do something about it. They are a third-term Government. They should stop pretending this is somebody else's fault and actually take responsibility for once for what's happening in this floundering economy on their watch.
JOURNALIST: What about Josh Frydenberg specifically this morning rejecting calls for extra stimulus?
CHALMERS: Josh Frydenberg will find any excuse to do nothing about the economy, which is floundering on his watch. He is kidding himself if he thinks that this economy will fix itself when we have a Government which spends all of its time focused on Labor, pointing the finger at the states, doing nothing about the fact that we do have weak wages and slowing growth and weak consumption and weak productivity growth right across the board. Josh Frydenberg is a do-nothing Treasurer and he hopes that things will just fix themselves. But after six years now of stagnant wages and all of the problems in productivity, the fact that we've got the slowest economic growth since the global financial crisis, the Australian people deserve a Government which cares about that, which takes responsibility for that, and which is actually prepared to do something about it.
JOURNALIST: Are franking credit reforms and plans to change negative gearing still part of Labor's tax policy?
CHALMERS: Anthony and I have made this point repeatedly: all of our policies are up for review. Anthony has made the obvious point, as have I, that we won't be taking the identical policy agenda to the 2022 election that we took to the 2019 election. We will take our time to review all of our policies. We'll make the agenda and the policy proposals known to the Australian people well before the next election, and they can make a choice at that point between what we are offering to get this floundering economy growing again to make sure that people get genuine reward for effort when they go to work - all of those things. And they can they can stack that up against whatever the Government is proposing at the time.
JOURNALIST: Just at a quick state level, the Deputy Premier sort of hit out today at this idea to incentivise state governments to sell their assets, saying there's no way that they would support that. What's your response to that?
CHALMERS: I think the people of Queensland have made their views pretty clear on privatisation, and I think the Deputy Premier and Treasurer is rightly reflecting those views. If the State Opposition or the Federal Government has plans for more privatisation, they need to explain to the people of Queensland and the people of Australia what they want to see privatised and why, and what the impact that would have on services and infrastructure in this country. Thanks very much.