Press Conference - Brisbane - 5/6/19

June 05, 2019

SUBJECTS: National Accounts; income tax cuts; AFP raids
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: This is another quarter of feeble economic growth, and it's another hammer blow to this Government's economic credibility. Under the Liberals, the economy is floundering and middle Australia is struggling. If you look at these numbers, which have been released in the National Accounts today, we see some extremely worrying trends. 
Growth for this quarter, the March quarter just gone, was just 0.4 per cent, and through the year, just 1.8 per cent. This is the weakest growth through the year since the Global Financial Crisis a decade ago. Australia finds itself still in a per capita recession - this is the third consecutive quarter that we have had that measure go backwards and that's the first time this has happened since the recession of the early 1980s. That's just how bad a job this Government is doing managing the economy in the interests of middle Australia. Consider some of the other factors as well - household consumption has continued to fall, remarkably weak. And that's one of the reasons why the Reserve Bank was forced to cut interest rates yesterday. 
We have people squeezed by the fact that wages in the measure today are growing just one-eighth of the pace of company profits. We've got productivity which has fallen now for four consecutive quarters, and we have a national economy which has gone from being the eighth-fastest growing in the OECD in 2013 when the Government changed hands, to now being the 20th fastest growing economy in the OECD. So in the bottom half for growth amongst developed countries. A very poor performance under this Liberal Government.
This meagre growth with a one in front of it comes courtesy of six years of stagnation and finger-pointing and blame-shifting and dysfunction and drift. It is long past time for this Liberal Government to take some responsibility for the fact that we have feeble economic growth on their watch. It is long past time for them to put their hand up and say that they have had a role - their lack of interest in the economy has played a role - in the fact that the national economy is growing at such a feeble pace. It has weakened substantially on their watch. The Government has nobody else to blame for feeble growth or stagnant wages or weak consumption, or all of the other factors which are compounding on each other to give ourselves such a meagre growth number in the National Accounts today. 
No Treasurer has spent more time focused on his political opponents and less time growing the economy. This Treasurer has only ever overseen below-trend growth. In every quarter that Josh Frydenberg has been the Treasurer, we have had subpar growth in this national economy. So after these numbers today and after the interest rate cut yesterday, the Government's economic credibility is in tatters. 
Over to you.
JOURNALIST: The Treasurer just said that it's within a range of market expectations. What do you say to that?
CHALMERS: That's pathetic. If that's the best thing he can say about today's feeble economic growth figure, then the country is in even more trouble than we thought under his stewardship of the economy. That is a remarkably pathetic thing for the Treasurer of this country to say in response to the fact that we have had yet another quarter of meagre economic growth. We have got the slowest economic growth through the year since the Global Financial Crisis 10 years ago, and the best that this character can come up is it's somehow within the range of market expectations. The Australian people deserve better than that. The Treasurer, the Prime Minister, the Liberal Party's economic credibility is in tatters. This meagre economic growth number today has torpedoed their claims to be the superior economic managers.
JOURNALIST: Couple of other questions. Has Labor come to a position yet on whether to support stages two or three of the income tax cuts?
CHALMERS: We've made it very clear since the beginning that we intend to enthusiastically support tranche one of the tax cuts that the Government is proposing. We think that that would play an important role in trying to get this economy growing again after a period of sub-par performance under the Liberal Party. We think it's disappointing that the Government is refusing so far to split the bills so we can give low and middle-income earners the tax relief they need and deserve, and to give the economy the shot in the arm that it needs after such a weak period of economic growth. I think the Government's refusal to split the bill shows that they are more interested in having a fight with the Labor Party than they are in actually giving tax relief to people of modest means in this country. We call on them to split the bills. We also call on them to provide the information that they have committed to providing to allow the cross-bench and the Labor Party to come to a considered view on stages two and three of the tax cuts. They could begin by telling us how many billions of dollars will it cost to give tax relief to Australians on the highest income tax bracket. That would be a good start. They said more than a month ago they'd provide that information. They're calling for us to come to a view in the absence of that information. If they were serious about this, they would provide that information so we can come to a final considered view.
JOURNALIST: And the Treasurer says that the ATO could implement the first stages of the package within days of the legislation passing. Are you prepared to deny that if they don't come to the table and split the bill?
CHALMERS: The reason I'm laughing at that is because the Government went through the election campaign promising to have these tax cuts ready to go by 1 July. The Prime Minister in setting the election date and the return of the writs made it actually impossible to keep that promise. So the Government never intended to keep their promise of these tax cuts being in place by 1 July. We had offered to facilitate their passage in time. The Government broke that promise. They knew when they made the promise they had absolutely no intention of keeping it. The point that we have made all along is that we stand ready to give people on low and middle-incomes the tax relief they need and deserve, which would give the economy the necessary shot in the arm, which would help the Reserve Bank in their task in getting the economy growing again after some pretty feeble growth under the Liberal Party over the last little while. We remain ready to do that. The Government shouldn't play politics with stages two and three. They should provide the necessary information. We will come to a considered and concluded view on stages two and three in advance of the legislation being provided to the Parliament in just under a month's time.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of the raids on the ABC Sydney offices this morning?
CHALMERS: As I understand it, my colleague, Kristina Keneally, has made a statement on this today in the last hour or so. We have only just been hearing reports about the raid on the ABC. As I understand it, she, on the Labor Party's behalf, is seeking a briefing on this most recent AFP raid. I do understand that these raids, whether it be yesterday or today, do make people uneasy. I do understand that press freedom is a cherished pillar of our democracy and I think it's important for people to have a better understanding of why these raids were considered necessary.
JOURNALIST: Do you think a day after the News Corp journalist was raided at her house and now today the timing of this - what do you make of the timing?
CHALMERS: I'll leave others to speculate on the timing of these raids. I think it is important that we have our questions answered. I think it is important that Kristina Keneally receive the briefing that she is seeking so that we can understand more about the nature and timing of these raids. I do understand that they make a lot of people uneasy; not just journalists, but everybody who cherishes press freedom in this country as a necessary precondition for a good and well-functioning democracy. Beyond that, I'll leave commentary to Kristina and to other relevant colleagues once we find out more about what's happened here. 
Thanks very much.