WEDNESDAY, 19 JUNE 2019
SUBJECTS: Labor listening to regional Queensland; Liberals’ economic mismanagement; income tax cuts; John Setka; regional funding; Mackay
ANTHONY CHISHOLM, SENATOR FOR QUEENSLAND: Thanks everyone for coming along. It's great to be in Mackay as part of Federal Labor's listening tour. We're about 1700km in to a 2800km trip. We started in Brisbane, finished in Townsville last night and now on our way to Gladstone.
Great to be here in Mackay, and thanks to Mackay Sugar for allowing us the opportunity to tour their facilities and get an understanding of the work that they've been doing. We understand it's been a challenging period for them over the last couple of years, but it's great that they are seeing some light at the end of the tunnel and we thank them for the opportunity. We also broadly know the importance of sugar and agriculture to this community and north Queensland, so it was fantastic just to get a sense of how important it is and what it means for the local community as well as the workers and the employment that it gives and the economic boost at the same time. So we're really thankful for that.
More broadly, it's been a really good experience to be out and about across regional Queensland over the last couple of days. We know that we're disappointed with the federal election result, so it's been good to be on the ground and hear firsthand from people about what Labor can do better, and where we need to improve. And the challenge for us is to take that on board over the next couple of years. It's fantastic to have Jim Chalmers, the Shadow Treasurer, also a Queensland Member of Parliament with us. Jim's going to play a big role as we rebuild across Queensland, and I'd invite him to say a few words.
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: Thanks very much, Anthony. This 2800km road trip and listening tour has been all about speaking with local people and local industry about local jobs, and also learning the lessons from the recent federal election campaign. Very productive discussions so far in a number of regional towns and cities right throughout regional Queensland. Very grateful to the people at Mackay Sugar for the opportunity to learn a bit more about the sugar industry. Such an important part of the local economy. And if we are to get the national economy growing again, we need to make sure that we get regional economies growing, particularly here in Queensland. And so that's what we've been doing while we've been going on this 2800km road trip throughout the best state in the Commonwealth.
The truth is that we need to get regional economies going because the national economy is not travelling real well. The national economy is floundering, middle Australia is hurting, and the Morrison Government has absolutely no plan and no idea how to turn things around. They look like breaking their one core promise from the election, which is that they would have stage one of the tax cuts ready to go by the 1st of July. Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg said repeatedly during the election campaign that stage one of their tax cuts would be flowing by the 1st of July. They have broken that promise. They knew when they made that promise during the election campaign, they had absolutely no intention of keeping it. And as a consequence, as it stands right now, stage one of those tax cuts will not flow into the hands of workers and into the broader economy on the 1st of July. That is a broken promise from Scott Morrison in record time. They only got re-elected a couple of weeks ago and already they are showing all the signs of breaking their one core promise.
Labor calls on them to reconsider the parliamentary schedule. If the Parliament can be brought back early to deal with stage one of the tax cuts, it should be brought back early. We owe it to the workers of this country. We owe it to the economy, which is crying out for more spending in our cities and towns and suburbs and regions. We owe it to people to get stage one of those tax cuts into workers hands and flowing right around the economy. If Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg never intended to keep this promise to have them in place by the 1st of July, they shouldn't have made the promise in the first place. So we're calling on them to bring the Parliament back if they can, so that we can get stage one passed. We can get stage one of the tax cuts doing the good in the economy and in the household budgets that they're designed to do. We are enthusiastic supporters of that first stage of the tax cuts. I think the Parliament would probably pass them unanimously. The Government should bring the Parliament back at the first available opportunity, so that we can help the government not break this promise to get them into the economy by the 1st of July this year, as they committed to multiple times time and time again during the most recent election campaign. Over to you.
JOURNALIST: So you want Parliament brought back early? What's the point of that when Labor hasn't committed to supporting the entire package and the Government says it won't split the bill?
CHALMERS: When Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg and the Liberals said that they could get these tax cuts flowing by the 1st of July, they knew that they were lying. They knew that they would break that promise, because they said they got advice from the AEC that the writs wouldn't be returned in time from the election. Given the results are being declared in Senate races and in House of Representatives races, we feel that it should be possible for the Parliament to come back before the 1st of July, so that the Parliament can get behind stage one of the tax cuts. There is absolutely nothing preventing the Government from splitting stage one out from the other two stages of the tax cuts, remembering stage two and three come in in three and five years' time. We call on the Government to stop holding the economy hostage to tax cuts that will come in in three and five years' time. Split the bills out so that we can pass stage one. The workers of Australia desperately need those tax cuts. The Australian economy is floundering, and desperately needs those tax cuts. Scott Morrison should stop holding the national economy hostage to pig-headed political games. He should bring the Parliament back, let the Parliament do its job; pass stage one so that people can get the tax relief that they were promised by both sides.
JOURNALIST: So say that the Government maintains their position on not splitting the bills. When will Labor make a decision about the tax cuts?
CHALMERS: We've got the time to make a decision about the later stages of the tax cuts. But first things first. All of the country's focus and all of the Parliament's focus should be on the Government's broken promise to get stage one of these tax cuts in place by the 1st of July. That is the urgent business of the Parliament, to get those tax cuts flowing. There's absolutely no reason, other than pig-headed political games from the Liberal Party and from Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg, not to split those bills out. So we want to see those bills split out. I suspect the crossbenchers would vote with Labor and with the Government to get stage one in place into workers hands and into the economy. We can deal with those other stages two and three well before they are due to come into place in three and five years' time.
JOURNALIST: You took that argument to the election and lost. So why are you still persisting with that? That you'll deal with the later stages later on?
CHALMERS: Well, we haven't come to a concluded view on stages two and three. We took to the election a proposal to wind those back. What we've said since the election is that we will take our time to consult properly to deliberate, to take it through our usual processes and to come to a decision on stages two and three. I think that's entirely reasonable, because there is nothing about our position which would prevent stage one being in place in workers hands flowing through the economy. And so our position is entirely reasonable.
JOURNALIST: Is that uncertainty though maybe the reason why you guys didn't win? Because you haven't been clear cut about stages two and three?
CHALMERS: I think one of the things that we're learning on this 2800km road trip through regional Queensland is that there is a range of reasons why we didn't win. We cop that on the chin, and we move on. But I think Australians expect us, when we're dealing with issues in the Parliament, they want us to do the right and responsible thing. The right and responsible thing is to help pass stage one of the tax cuts for all of the reasons that I've identified, and to take our time to make sure we come to a responsible position on stages two and three. We're not talking about small amounts of money here. We are talking about a Budget where public debt has more than doubled under the life of this Liberal Government over the last six years. And so what we assure the Australian people we will always do on these big economic questions is to take the time and do the consultation and make sure that we're doing what is right for growth, but also responsible in terms of the national Budget.
JOURNALIST: Isn't stage three already legislated though? Will you still repeal that?
CHALMERS: There are parts of stage three which are unlegislated. There are parts of stage two which are still unlegislated. About half of the $300 billion has been through the Parliament, but about half of it hasn't. And all of those discussions and all of those issues about the latest stages can be considered separate to stage one, which needs to be passed at the earliest possible opportunity.
JOURNALIST: Just on another topic, unions seem a bit divided over whether John Setka should step down from the CFMEU. What's your position on it?
CHALMERS: His role in the CFMMEU is a matter for the unions. And his role or otherwise in the ACTU is a matter for the ACTU. What I fully support is what Anthony Albanese has said about John Setka no longer being a member of the Labor Party. I support that decision 100 per cent. And I think that that was a very good decision by Anthony Albanese to say the part that we control is his membership of the Labor Party. And what Anthony is doing is moving to expel John Setka from the Labor Party. I think that's a very good decision. I think the community will support that decision and I certainly support it 100 percent.
JOURNALIST: Would you say this has been damaging for the union movement and more broadly in the Labor Party?
CHALMERS: It's a matter for the union movement to assess any damage or otherwise that's been done by all of this. Anthony's responsibility, and our responsibility, is the Labor Party. And what Anthony has said, and what I support, is that John Setka should no longer be a member of the party. We are behind Albo 100 per cent in that. All of the other considerations for the broader union movement are a matter for them.
JOURNALIST: Does it concern you, CFMEU Victoria threatening to donations to the ALP if you do expel him?
CHALMERS: No. Our consideration is doing what's right, and I think what Anthony announced a few days ago is the right thing to do. All of those other considerations are secondary to doing the right thing. I support what Anthony has said, and unions will make their own decisions about support or otherwise for the party.
JOURNALIST: One from Canberra. Is it out of the ordinary that the Coalition awarded almost $1.4 billion in grants through its regional development program in the lead up to the election with about half of the funding not subject to the competitive tendering process? Is that unusual?
CHALMERS: No doubt all of those kind of commitments will be looked at properly in the weeks and months ahead. It's important that taxpayers' money is committed responsibly and for the right reasons and for genuine community benefit. Our view is that it's right to invest in communities like this one to get them the infrastructure that they need to prosper, and to grow as a community and as an economy. I haven't gone through every single commitment that the Liberal Party and the National Party made in the most recent election. No doubt that will be a job undertaken by auditors and others. If it turns out that any of those commitments are dodgy, then obviously we'll be all over it.
JOURNALIST: Would Labor have spent more?
CHALMERS: We made some commitments around Australia - I'd have to remind myself what the total was. But as I said, all parties make commitments in regional areas and suburban areas, and they make them for the right reasons typically. If they haven't been made for the right reasons, we have an audit office and an audit process and a committee process to get to the bottom of that. If it turns out that any of the commitments that the LNP have made have turned out to be dodgy, then we'll have more to say about it at that point.
JOURNALIST: I'm speaking just locally now. Upon your visit to Mackay, what are some of the lessons that have been learned? What do you think you guys may have missed out on votes? Just here in this region?
CHALMERS: Well, there's a whole range of issues and I think it's important that we don't just try to oversimplify an election result like the one that we've just had. But clearly our messaging on mining didn't resonate as well as we would have liked. Clearly we had some difficulties selling our proposals in tax. Clearly we didn't leap on, fast enough, some of the lies that were being told about things that we weren't proposing to do, which got a head of steam on social media and elsewhere. And so the reason that we're here - the first big trip I've done as the Shadow Treasurer - is to make sure that we get out in these communities where we did underperform. We didn't go real well, obviously, in regional Queensland. We had good candidates. We had some good policies, but clearly we fell short. And so we have to cop that on the chin. The best way to do that is to get out and about in these communities, into the businesses, into the industry, into the pubs, into the community groups, on the main streets and listen and learn from an outcome like the one we've just had. Chiz might want to add to that.
CHISHOLM: I think that's right, and obviously we're disappointed with the result here in Dawson in particular. But the best thing we can do is be here on the ground, obviously with a senior shadow minister in Jim. He will play a big role in ensuring that, looking forward, we get those policy settings right so that people in Dawson and people in Mackay can identify with the Labor Party and give us that chance that we need at the next federal election.
CHALMERS: OK, all good? Thanks so much.