SATURDAY, 26 OCTOBER 2019
SUBJECTS: The economy is floundering on the Liberals' watch; responsible, proportionate and measured stimulus; Josh Frydenberg and new Freedom of Information documents; Paul Keating's comments on superannuation and the state of the economy; Regional city reclassification; Nick Dyrenfurth's book; Campaign review.
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: The Morrison Government has no idea, and it has no plan. When the economy is floundering and people are struggling, they have no idea what's going on and they have no plan to turn things around.
Today Paul Keating added his voice to the growing calls of business organisations, senior economists, the Reserve Bank and the Labor Party who are all calling for policies to boost growth in this economy.
Paul Keating knows that the slowest growth in a decade, stagnant wages, weak living standards, falling productivity, declining business investment, record household debt are all inevitable consequences of a Morrison Government which has a political strategy to bang on about Labor, but not an economic policy to turn things around.
The Government can afford to put in place responsible, proportionate and measured stimulus in a way that doesn't jeopardise the surplus that they've promised.
The Government should bring down the mid-year update so that they can fix their forecasts, outline a plan for the economy, and better safeguard Australians from risks in the global economy.
In the last day or so, we've had even more evidence that the Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, has absolutely no idea what he's doing. We've seen the release via Freedom of Information of some very important documents from the Treasury Department. They reveal at least two things. One, the Treasurer has been caught trying to overstate the impact of the drought and global conditions on Australia's domestic economy in an effort to cover up his own culpability in the slowest growth in a decade.
Number two, in July this year, the Treasurer had to ask the Treasury what quantitative easing was by the Reserve Bank. When he was told how remarkable, how unusual, and how unconventional that would be, he still has done absolutely nothing to change course on the economy since he received that advice some months ago.
The economy has deteriorated substantially since the election. The economy has slowed. We have record household debt, stagnant wages, declining living standards and productivity, the weakest business investment since the early 1990s recession. The Government sees all of this data and does absolutely nothing because they have no idea and they have no plan to turn things around.
This Treasurer likes to talk about how Australia is experiencing 28 consecutive years of economic growth. Those 28 years of growth are because of two Treasurers, Keating and Swan, and two Prime Ministers, Hawke and Rudd. When that 28 years began, it was the proud creation of Paul Keating, and it was defended when it was at maximum risk by Wayne Swan and by Kevin Rudd. Josh Frydenberg can't hold a candle to Paul Keating or to Wayne Swan. When you see what's been revealed in this Freedom of Information request, when you see what's happening in the economy, you know that there has never been a bigger gap between the Treasurer's regard for himself and the actual performance of the economy.
There has never been a bigger gap between the Treasurer's opinion of himself and his actual performance in the economy. When you see the questions that he's asked, when you see the facts of the economy on his watch, the floundering economy under the Liberals, you can see why the Treasurer is becoming such a diminished figure and why he's becoming a laughing stock in serious economic circles in this country. Josh Frydenberg can't hold a candle to Paul Keating or to Wayne Swan, and it shows in the economic data that we've seen since the election and the deterioration of the economy on Josh Frydenberg's watch.
We're proud of Paul Keating's legacy, particularly when it relates to superannuation. Paul has made some comments about super in the papers today. The Government's Retirement Income Review is a stalking horse for more cuts to the pension and more cuts to super. The Morrison Government has got form when it comes to cutting the pension, jacking up the pension age to 70, and attacking superannuation. The Liberals have never believed in superannuation. They are gearing up to thieve workers of the super that they were promised, need and deserve for their retirement. Labor's proud of our role and Paul Keating's role in creating superannuation, and we will fight to defend it.
JOURNALIST: There are reports that the Treasurer flagged printing money to boost the economy. What does that say?
CHALMERS: Back in July, the Treasurer asked the Treasury what quantitative easing was and how unusual it would be, and the Treasury told him rightly that that would be a remarkable step for the Reserve Bank to take. Yet still, having received that advice some months ago, the Treasurer has decided to do absolutely nothing about the economy, which has deteriorated substantially on his watch since the election. I think it's remarkable that the Treasury, having advised him how unusual the steps which were being contemplated by the Reserve Bank were, that Josh Frydenberg still did absolutely nothing about it. Josh Frydenberg has no idea what's going on in the economy. He's got no plan to turn things around and that's why the economy is floundering so badly on his watch.
JOURNALIST: Should the Government look at ditching the plans for a surplus in the immediate future and instead focus on spending and trying to boost growth?
CHALMERS: For the time being the Government can put in place responsible, proportionate and measured stimulus without jeopardising the surplus that they promised for this year. Right around the country respected business groups, the Reserve Bank, senior economists, the Labor Party, and now Paul Keating have all called for responsible, measured and proportionate stimulus. The Government should stop sitting on its hands and hoping things turn up. It's the responsibility of the Government to stop banging on about Labor, stop shifting the blame, stop pointing the finger and actually do something about an economy which has deteriorated substantially on their watch.
JOURNALIST: Paul Keating is actually saying that they should abandon their obsession with the surplus. Do you support that?
CHALMERS: The main point that Paul Keating is making today is that the Government doesn't have a plan to turn around an economy which is floundering on the Liberals' watch. The point that we have made consistently is that there is room in the surplus for the Government to do something responsible, measured and proportionate to turn around an economy which is floundering on their watch without jeopardising that surplus. That's certainly the case for the time being. Paul's point that the Government doesn't have a plan for economic growth is well made. His point that the Government is gearing up to thieve workers of the superannuation that they were promised and need and deserve for their retirement is also well made.
JOURNALIST: What do you think of the Government's plans to reclassify cities like the Gold Coast and Perth as regional?
CHALMERS: That's a backflip, as I understand it, from comments made by my colleagues Kristina Keneally and Murray Watt this morning. The Government is all about spin and not about substance and when it comes to regional migration. They want to pretend that they have a substantial plan to get more people settling in the regions when in reality the number of people settling in the regions in the last couple of years has been remarkably weak. We support in principle encouraging more people who come to Australia to settle in the regions and to settle in places like the Gold Coast. We think that's a good objective. We doubt that the Government actually has a plan to go about it in the right way or that they've been upfront about what's happened to date.
CHALMERS: In principle, we want more people settling outside of the biggest major capitals. We've made that point repeatedly. The Government says that they are interested in that. They don't want Australians to understand that their record on this has actually been pretty poor. We stand ready to support good policy which encourages people to settle where they're most wanted and where they can make the biggest difference to the local economy, whether it be the contribution of their skills or by creating bigger and better markets for local businesses.
JOURNALIST: Do you think it would encourage migrants and international students to go there?
CHALMERS: There are lots of good reasons to move to the Gold Coast already. Certainly we do want to see people settling in parts of the country which aren't necessarily the busiest parts of Sydney and Melbourne. That's a worthy objective, but we want to make sure that the substance delivers as well.
JOURNALIST: Just in terms of that proportionate response to the stimulus, what are some practical ideas or actual things that they could do quickly to boost investment growth?
CHALMERS: For some months now Labor has been putting forward constructive proposals and ideas to try and help the Government out of this mess that they're in on the economy. What we have said is that the Government could do any or all of the following. They could bring forward some of their tax cuts, which don't come in until 2022. They could review and responsibly increase Newstart in an affordable way. They could bring forward some of their infrastructure plans, which are currently off in the never-never. They could have a tax break for business investment, remembering that business investment is the weakest it's been since the early 90s recession. They need an energy policy, the absence of which has been a handbrake on growth for a long time. And clearly they need a wages policy which includes reversing cuts to penalty rates, which means that people have less take-home pay in their wallets to spend in local businesses.
There are so many things that the Government should be contemplating. Instead, as we know from the Freedom of Information request, and as we know from the performance of the economy since the election, Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg want to sit on their hands. They want to pretend that there's nothing wrong with the economy. That's news to the people who are facing stagnant wages and record household debt, who feel that no matter how hard they work, they just can't keep up with the costs of childcare, electricity, private health insurance and other health costs. The Government needs to stop pretending that everything's hunky dory in the economy. They need a plan to turn things around. The absence of a plan so far means that Australians are struggling and the economy's floundering.
JOURNALIST: Do you have an opinion on bikie laws and the Government allowing them to ride in groups of two or more at a time currently?
CHALMERS: I don't have anything to add to that conversation today.
JOURNALIST: Just on another story in the papers today, a former ALP National Policy Forum secretary has called for Labor to invoke a working class quota system to weed out staffers. Do you agree with that kind of system?
CHALMERS: I saw the reports about Nick Dyrenfurth's book, which I'll be launching on Thursday in Melbourne. I think like all contributions in the aftermath of what was a pretty devastating election defeat for us in May, all contributions are important, even if we don't necessarily agree with all of them. I'm not sure I agree in every way with that proposal, but I've read Nick's book and there are good directions in there as well as things that we might not absolutely agree in every way with. I think it's important that people put their views forward. I've done that. My colleagues have done that. Others like Nick right around Australia have put forward ideas. I think that's a healthy thing in the aftermath of an election. I encourage people to read the book, to give their feedback to Nick, and to give their feedback to the campaign review when it's released as well. I think it's really important that once we get to a point where the campaign review is handed down, when we've absorbed ideas like Nick's and others which have been proposed in the last little while, that we do move on and make sure that we do have the best possible policies to take to the next election.
CHALMERS: I have made my own contribution to all of that. I think it is important that we recognise that we need to have policies which are as much about economic growth as they are about the redistribution of the gains of that economic growth. We need to be about growth and redistribution, not growth or redistribution. I've made a series of detailed contributions to that conversation and as we review our policies, as we get the campaign review handed down in the not too-distant future, we'll learn all of the lessons from the last campaign. We'll listen to the message that was sent to us on election day and we'll move forward developing a set of policies for the next election which deal with the challenges that Australia faces into the future. Thanks very much.