TUESDAY, 21 JANUARY 2020
SUBJECTS: Business investment; climate change policies; fires, the economy and the Budget; sports rorts.
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: Today, the Australian Industry Group backed Labor's calls for an incentive for business investment as part of a responsible, proportionate and measured effort to get this floundering economy moving again. Labor took to the election a policy of this kind, and in the last six or eight months as the economy has deteriorated we've been calling for the Government to pick up and run with a version of Labor's investment guarantee to try and address business investment which is flagging and which is at three-decade lows. Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg don't have a plan for business investment and they don't have a plan for the economy, which has been floundering badly for some time now and well before the fires hit.
Employers know that something needs to be done here and they know that Australians are paying a very hefty price for the inaction and incompetence of Josh Frydenberg and Scott Morrison when it comes to the economy. So Labor calls on the Government to pick up and run with these calls today from the business community and implement a version of Labor's investment guarantee so that we can try and get business investment moving again in an economy which desperately needs it, with business investment at three-decade lows.
Business investment has actually declined by a fifth since the Liberals and Nationals took office in 2013, and it's now at the lowest levels it's been since the early 1990s Recession. Business investment is weak because Morrison and Frydenberg don't have a plan for the economy; because the Australian people don't have confidence in their economic leadership; and because the Liberals and Nationals are too divided and too extreme to settle a real policy for cheaper and cleaner energy and to get emissions down in this economy.
In recent days businesses, investors, economists, central banks, respected institutions like the IMF and the Labor Party have all shown that they understand something that Scott Morrison does not, and that is that climate change is a real risk to the economy and to financial security; that cleaner and cheaper energy is key to a new generation of competitiveness, growth, prosperity and job creation; and that failing to act is riskier than acting responsibly.
We've seen some of the consequences of that inaction over the past few weeks when it comes to these fires, which have ravaged so many parts of our country. The fires will have a substantial impact on the economy and they'll have an impact on the Budget. But we shouldn't forget that the economy was already floundering and confidence was already flagging well before these fires started over this summer. We shouldn't let the Morrison Government use these fires as an excuse for more than six years now of inaction, incompetence and ineptitude when it comes to management of the Australian economy.
Five weeks ago, Josh Frydenberg said that the surplus for this year would be five billion dollars. It remains to be seen whether the very worthy tasks of relief and reconstruction, it remains to be seen how much those worthy tasks of relief and reconstruction will eat into that surplus. But we support absolutely action being taken to support local communities, businesses, families and our emergency services.
We've said for some time now and I say again today, the priority here when it comes to the Budget needs to be supporting fire affected communities, families, businesses and the emergency services. That is the highest priority for the Government. We will support measures that the Government brings forward and properly implements to support those Australians who have been impacted by these fires.
Now, the surplus is a test that Josh Frydenberg set for himself. It's a standard that Josh Frydenberg asked to be applied to his economic management and it remains to be seen whether he will meet that test. We won't know that until sometime later in the year.
One more issue before I take your questions, and that's reports that Christian Porter has been asked to investigate the inappropriate actions of Bridget McKenzie in this sports rorts scandal. Only a Prime Minister so lacking in integrity would think it was appropriate for one of Bridget Mackenzie's own cabinet colleagues to investigate whether she's done the wrong thing here, when the audit office has already concluded that she spectacularly failed to uphold even the most basic standards as she went about allocating this one hundred million dollars overwhelmingly to the Government's political prospects. This will make Australians more suspicious that Scott Morrison and his office and some of his senior colleagues are into this scandal up to their necks.
CHALMERS: I'm making two points. The first point is this: the priority needs to be relief and reconstruction. Labor wholeheartedly supports the highest priority in the Budget being supporting fire affected communities, businesses, families and our emergency services. We've said that via Anthony Albanese and all of our spokespeople for some time, that should be the highest priority. The second point I'm making is this; there's been a lot of talk about the budget surplus that has been encouraged and fed by Josh Frydenberg and by Scott Morrison themselves. That is a test that they've asked to be applied to their economic management. That is the standard that they've asked to be held to. The point that I'm making about that is we won't see how much of that surplus has been eaten into by very worthy spending on relief and reconstruction until later in the year.
JOURNALIST: Do you think a Labor Government would have delivered a surplus had they been in Government now?
CHALMERS: Well a Labor Government would have done everything that we could to support these communities who have been so adversely affected by the fires. We've got a very good record when it comes to these disasters that hit our country from time to time, and especially in summer, of effectively and speedily implementing relief and reconstruction efforts. We've done that before and we would do that again if we were called upon to do that. The highest priority needs to be supporting these communities. That's not something we're just starting to say now, we've been saying that now for some time and we want to see the Government pick up and run with the many ideas that Anthony Albanese and others have put forward. They've picked up and run with some of the ideas that we've put forward, but we also want to see them take a more comprehensive approach. We want them to meet with the ex-fire chiefs, convene COAG, we want a more comprehensive plan for mental health, which has been put forward by Chris Bowen and Anthony Albanese, and we want a truly national plan for compensation of volunteer firies. There're a whole range of things that the Government should be doing. They've picked up some of our ideas. They should pick up all of our ideas because our highest priority is helping Australians through a very difficult time.
JOURNALIST: Just on the Bridgett McKenzie saga given that a minister, years ago, was in the same situation and chose to step down do you think that shows she does need to leave?
CHALMERS: Bridget McKenzie's future is untenable. She's been sprung failing to meet even the most basic standards of allocating these one hundred million dollars. The Australian National Audit Office could not be clearer that there's been a lot of inappropriate behaviour gone on here. And the precedents throughout history show that this Government fails to meet even the lowest standards for its ministers. Whether it's Angus Taylor, who should have been stood aside some time ago, whether it's Bridget McKenzie who should be stood aside now, whether it's this farcical attempt to get one of her own cabinet colleagues to investigate behaviour which has already been found to have been badly wanting by the audit office. All of these things point to one thing. It's an arrogant Government. It's lacking in integrity. It's behaved very badly here. And I think this story has a long way to run when it comes to the involvement of others, including Scott Morrison and his office in what has been a shameful episode of the Government using one hundred million dollars of taxpayer money to support their own political prospects. How many times has this Government lectured people about how it's not the Government's money, it's the Australian people's money. Don't look at what they say about the allocation of money or about responsible economic management; look at what they actually do when their political prospects are in play. And that's what we're seeing here in this scandal. And I think it has a long way to run.
JOURNALIST: Do you think it shows a lack of respect [inaudible]
CHALMERS: There have been a number of episodes where the Government has clearly acted inappropriately here. You know, stories about some quite well-off organisations receiving funding. Stories about the breaching of guidelines. Stories about worthy organisations missing out. You know, clearly there's a big problem here. The audit office has done a good job uncovering something which the Morrison Government did not want uncovered. They shouldn't now be appointing another cabinet minister, in this farcical fashion, to investigate Bridget McKenzie. Bridget McKenzie's future is untenable. The reason that Scott Morrison is clinging onto Bridget McKenzie is clearly because the story has a long way to run. We need to know what Morrison's involvement was, and his office, and other senior colleagues in what's gone on here. Thanks very much.