Sky News Speers 9/7/19

July 09, 2019

SUBJECT/S: Budget surplus; deeming rates; policies at the next election

DAVID SPEERS: Let me bring in now the Shadow Treasurer, Jim Chalmers, joining us this afternoon. Thanks very much for your time. Look, just on the Budget surplus, do you agree it's important for the Government to deliver the surplus that it's promised this year?
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: Yes David, I think it's possible for the Government to do the right and responsible thing when it comes to deeming rates, when it comes to bringing forward some infrastructure investment, without jeopardising that $7 billion surplus that they've forecast for this year. If the Government thinks that doing either of those things in a responsible way jeopardises the surplus then they need to tell us why they think that the surplus is flimsier than what they've forecast.
SPEERS: Well, they're not suggesting that. Ed Husic, your colleague, has suggested the surplus is just a "vanity project" now. Do you agree with that?

CHALMERS: I wouldn't use exactly the same language. I think the point that I've made repeatedly, the point that I'm happy to make again to you today David, is that at this point we don't have to choose between doing something to get the economy growing again, heeding the warnings and the calls of the Reserve Bank to bring forward some of that back-ended infrastructure investment to try and get the place moving again, make it more productive, get it growing again, remembering that the economy's growing at its slowest rate for a decade since the GFC under the Liberals and on their watch. And so it's possible to do those things responsibly without jeopardising the surplus that the Government's forecast.
SPEERS: The deeming rate, Labor wants some movement on that. Should it be cut by the full 1.25 per cent being talked about here?
CHALMERS: Well, the ball's in the Government's court here, David. It's for them to announce what they want to do with deeming and to defend that and to justify whether or not it's sufficient. We've been campaigning alongside seniors' groups, really making the obvious point that after five cuts to interest rates, the Government's done nothing. They want some kind of pat on the back right now for looking into it; a lot of pensioners want to give them a kick in the backside for leaving it so long. I think it's entirely reasonable for us to say to the Government: act on it. Make an announcement, justify the amount, we'll respond in due course.
SPEERS: Would it be fair though to match the fall in the official interest rate with the cut in the deeming rate?
CHALMERS: There's always factors that you have to take into consideration - issues like the Budget, issues like other changes in the cost of living, the outlook for interest rates, the recent history of interest rate cuts. I think the point we're making is after five interest rate cuts and no action from the Government - in fact I don't think they would have even been talking about this were it not for the campaign that the seniors' groups and the Labor Party have been running, Linda Burney and others. Really, the ball's in their court now. If they're having these meetings about it this week, tell seniors and tell pensioners what they have in mind, tell them why they think that's reasonable. And whether it's the seniors' groups or the Labor Party, then we'll make our views known on that.
SPEERS: The seniors' groups have a pretty clear view that it should be that full 1.25. Let me just try again here - would a quarter or a half a per cent be enough in cutting the deeming rate?
CHALMERS: I'm not going to nominate a number, David, for all the reasons that I've just identified. They need to shift deeming rates. Pensioners have been short-changed by the Morrison Government for some time now. The Government should take action consistent with what we've been calling for and the various groups have been calling for and we'll make our views known on whatever action the government takes in due course.
SPEERS: Should it be set by an independent body as the seniors' groups want? We just heard Josh Frydenberg saying no they're not going to do that. Where does Labor stand on that?
CHALMERS: That's not our position, David. We listen very respectfully to the views of the groups who have put that forward. Other groups and other people, like Everald Compton and other figures that we respect greatly have made suggestions about that or setting the pension rate independently. My own personal view is that it's best to keep a lot of these decisions within the realms of Government so that it can factor in fiscal circumstances. But that shouldn't be used as an excuse along the lines of the Morrison Government right now, which is to do nothing for five interest rate changes. I think there'd be a lot more faith in the system, David, from Australian pensioners if the Government showed some willingness to respond and to act like previous Labor Governments have, and not to just let people hang for five interest rate cuts like the current Government has.
SPEERS: OK, but just to be clear on this, I think your colleague Linda Burney just yesterday was saying it's worth looking at having some independent body set the deeming rate. You're saying no, that's not Labor's approach.
CHALMERS: I'm saying we listen respectfully to all those views that are put forward. There are a heap of good ideas in this space and Linda was reflecting that. My view is that when you consider requests like that from seniors' groups you need to factor in a whole range of other considerations too. Linda's view is not far away from mine.
SPEERS: But to be clear, her view is look at it. Your view is no.
CHALMERS: My view is to listen to the groups who've put it forward as an idea. I've just said that in a couple of answers, David.
SPEERS: No, I appreciate that, but you did earlier say you don't think it's a good idea to have an independent body set the deeming rate. Correct?
CHALMERS: My personal view is that Government needs to maintain the ability to factor in the Budget and other considerations. But I also said, consistent with what Linda has been saying now for some time and the seniors' groups have been saying, that if you sit down and listen respectfully to what they've put forward, there may be some common ground. And three years out from the next election, it's not for Labor to determine a final position on it.
SPEERS: OK other areas that Labor's looking at, there seems to be a bit of confusion. Negative gearing and franking credits - the policies you took to the election. Are they technically still part of Labor's policy today or not?
CHALMERS: Our position is - I think I've probably said to you multiple times, I've certainly said on this channel multiple times - is that our policies are all up for review. I've also made the point repeatedly, as has Anthony, that we obviously won't take the identical policy agenda to the 2022 election that we took to the 2019 election. We'll take our time to review all of our policies, including those ones. We're in no rush. We're still three years out from the next election, and we'll put together an agenda that people can weigh up and consider to inform their choice closer to 2022.
SPEERS: You've said previously you're proud of those particular policies. Are you still, or in hindsight were they bad ideas?
CHALMERS: I've said in multiple interviews and speeches since the election that clearly we couldn't get sufficient support for those tax policies. And obviously in light of the election defeat, we need to review all of our policies, not just those ones, and come up with a new agenda for the 2022 election. But one of the things that baffles me, frankly David, is we are seven-and-a-half weeks from the last election. And to be repeatedly asked what our policies will be for an election in three years' time, frankly I think that's absurd. We'll take the time, we'll do all the consultation we need to do; we'll do all the policy work that we need to do. All of those sorts of things, as the Australian people would rightly expect. We'll take an agenda to the 2022 election which won't be identical to the 2019 election. And we'll take our time to work out which policies we will improve, which policies will discard, which policies will keep. That is entirely unremarkable.
SPEERS: No, I appreciate you want to take your time with the policies you take to the next election. I think it's more a case of whether you've got the message, learnt the lesson from the election we've just had. Oppositions do often immediately ditch unpopular policies. We remember WorkChoices in 2013, Tony Abbott went to great lengths to say it's dead, buried, cremated - all of that. Labor, just to be clear on this, is not saying you've ditched these policies yet?
CHALMERS: Let's be clear, David. I'm not going to follow Tony Abbott's example. The guy that said there'd be no cuts to education or pensions or the ABC. So let's not hold Tony Abbott up as some kind of model behaviour for an Opposition. We have said repeatedly in exactly the same way, all of our policies are up for review. It's seven-and-a-bit weeks since the last election. There's almost three years to go until the next election. The idea that we would settle and announce policies right now is not what we intend to do. And you can ask me all the different ways you like, David, but that's the answer you're getting.
SPEERS: No, fair enough. Jim Chalmers, Shadow Treasurer, appreciate your time this afternoon. Thank you.
CHALMERS: Thank you, David.