Sydney Press Conference 09/10/19

October 09, 2019




SUBJECTS: Collapsing consumer confidence; The Liberal Government’s mismanagement of the economy; Meeting with the RBA Governor and Chair of APRA; Climate change; Nuclear power; Developments in Syria.

JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: We have got new consumer confidence data out today, and what it shows is that consumer confidence is at the lowest level that it's been for more than four years. In the most recent month, consumer confidence has dropped 5.5 per cent to well below the long-run average, it's down 8.6 per cent in a year. Australians' expectations for the economy over the next 12 months are down 6 per cent, and 15.1 per cent over the year. 

What the publishers of this consumer confidence data have pointed out, they've made three key points. The first one is that this is not just because of international factors. It's not principally because of international factors. It's because Australians understand that economic growth under this Liberal Government led by Scott Morrison is stuck at floundering levels. It also makes the point that the Australian community understand that there are questions and there are concerns around a Government which has no plan to turn around an economy which is floundering on its watch. So those three factors are very concerning when you look at the consumer confidence numbers which were released today, which show a sharp decline in consumer confidence. 

Australians are losing confidence in a Government which doesn't have a plan to turn the economy around. Australians know that growth is the slowest it's been for 10 years, their wages are stagnant, household debt is at record highs, living standards and productivity are going backwards. At the same time as all of this is going on, Scott Morrison wants to pretend that there's nothing wrong with the economy. Australians are worried about the economic slowdown. They are worried about stagnant wages. They are worried about how, no matter how hard they work they just can't keep up with the cost of childcare and electricity and private health insurance. But Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg are so out of touch with what's going on in the real community that they don't want to do anything about these very concerning figures. Australians are losing confidence rapidly in a Government which has no plan to turn around an economy which is floundering on the Liberals’ watch. 

This morning I met with Phil Lowe, the Governor of the Reserve Bank, and I met with Wayne Byres, the Chair of APRA and his senior colleagues. I don't want to go into the details of those private conversations. I will rely only on what both of those gentlemen have said publicly about the state of the economy and the state of the banking system and provide my views as well. My view is this: the Government shouldn't be recklessly leaving all of the heavy lifting on the economy to the Reserve Bank. The Reserve Bank has been forced to do everything to turn around this floundering economy because the Morrison Government wants to do nothing. The Morrison Government has absolutely no plan to turn the economy around, and that's why the Reserve Bank has had to cut interest rates to a quarter of what they were during the darkest days of the Global Financial Crisis. If Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg had a plan for the economy, the Reserve Bank wouldn't have to cut rates to less than one per cent for the first time ever. If the Liberals had a plan to properly invest in infrastructure as part of getting the economy moving again then the states wouldn't have to pile on the pressure in advance of the Treasurers' meeting on Friday. 

JOURNALIST: What would you do?

CHALMERS: The Government needs a plan to turn the economy around and we've played a constructive role in suggesting what they might do to help the Reserve Bank which is currently acting on its own to boost growth and boost confidence and boost wages in the economy. We've suggested that the Government could pick up and run with any or all of the following options: They could bring forward part of their own tax cuts; they could bring forward some infrastructure investment; they could review and increase Newstart; they could come up with tax incentives for business investment, remembering that business investment is the lowest it's been since the early 90s recession; they could come up with a wages policy; they could come up with a settled energy policy after 16 failed attempts, because a lack of a proper energy policy has been a handbrake on growth in this country for some time - a point that Malcolm Turnbull himself made earlier in the week. The Government has options and they have levers, but they've refused to pull those levers for a couple of reasons. They are hopelessly out of touch with what's really going on in the economy and in the community. They have absolutely no idea what it feels like for people dealing with stagnant wages, and record household debt, and declining living standards in an economy which hasn't grown this slowly but 10 years. They also - for ideological reasons - they don't want to go down the path of responsibly boosting the economy in a way that needn't jeopardise the surplus. We call on the Government to do something about this floundering economy, floundering consumer confidence, and stagnant wages. They need to help the Reserve Bank do its job in boosting growth in the economy. If they did that then we wouldn't see such appalling consumer confidence figures released today.

JOURNALIST: Joel Fitzgibbon is calling on Labor to embrace the Coalition's 2030 emissions target of 26 to 28 per cent. Do you support this call?

CHALMERS: At a time when we are reviewing our policies and learning the lessons from the most recent election, our colleagues will have opinions about climate change policy, they'll have opinions about tax policy, they'll have opinions about a whole range of policies that we took to the last election. I think that's healthy and I think that's understandable. 

JOURNALIST: Do you support this?

CHALMERS: From my point of view, Labor is the party of real action on climate change and I think it is important that as we review and revise our policies from the last election, and we understand that they may not be identical at the next election, we need to take real action on climate change. I think there is broad support for real action on climate change. We will determine what that looks like. It's possible to take action on climate change by building on our traditional strengths as an economy and not abandoning them.

JOURNALIST: Is Joel Fitzgibbon correct to warn the Labor Party to check its progressive instincts on climate change and other issues, if it's all about attracting blue collar workers and people of faith?

CHALMERS: I don't intend to go through each of the reported lines out of Joel's speech which I understand he's giving later on tonight here in Sydney. I do think it's possible for us to take real action on climate change by building on our traditional industrial strengths rather than abandoning those strengths. I think Joel's view - as one of a number of views that have been expressed on climate change policy - is an important one, and we will continue to consider all of these points of view as we review and revise our policies from the last election.

JOURNALIST: So you're saying that you're open to winding it back a little bit and coming in line with Scott Morrison's policy?

CHALMERS: I don't think you should over-interpret my answer. My answer is as follows. Labor is the party of real action on climate change. We have a history of putting forward ambitious policy to deal with climate change and to get energy prices down by encouraging investment. I think that that's an important objective for us to continue to have. People will have opinions from all kinds of perspectives, and when it comes to climate change policy and all of our other policies, that's my perspective.

JOURNALIST: What did you think when you heard some of these statements?

CHALMERS: I read them in the paper this morning. I think it's entirely understandable and reasonable for people to express their view. We lost an election a few months ago that we should have won. After listening to the message that was sent us, and learning the lessons from that election, I think it is important that we review and revise our policies. I've said in my own area of tax policy that it's important to recognise that no political party takes an identical set of policies in their entirety to one election that they took to the election before. I think it's entirely understandable and reasonable for colleagues to express their view. My view is that Labor is the party of real action on climate change and I think there's broad community support for a Government to take action on climate change - remembering of course that under this Government, despite appointing a Minister for Emissions Reduction, emissions have gone up and up and up.

JOURNALIST: Are you rejecting Joel Fitzgibbon's calls?

CHALMERS: No if you listen carefully to what I'm saying, I'm saying that colleagues have a right to express their opinions about all of these issues and they have done so right across the various policies we took the last election. That's fine by me. It's appropriate as far as I'm concerned. Colleagues will have different views about it.

JOURNALIST: You're from Queensland. Do you kind of agree with him?

CHALMERS: I don't know how many different ways to answer the same question. My view is we can take real action on climate change without abandoning our traditional strengths, including in regional Queensland. There's nothing to prevent Australia becoming a global leader in renewable energy, as I've said many, many times, not just since the election but before it, some of those industries in regional Queensland are very important to us. Important for the local and regional economies, but important for the national economy too. It's possible for us to continue to rely on those strengths as we build new strengths in renewables and in other areas.

JOURNALIST: Well what of the AWU's call for Labor to support nuclear power? Where does Labor stand on that?

CHALMERS: I'm not in the cart for nuclear power. I think we've got big strengths and big advantages in terms of other alternative sources of energy. But again, the AWU has a record of proposing policy ideas from time to time. That's a good thing. That's a healthy thing. I've discussed with the leadership of the AWU their views on nuclear power. My view is that there wouldn't be a community in Australia which would accept a nuclear power plant in their neighbourhoods. All of these members of the Liberal and National parties who support nuclear power should have the guts to identify in which of their suburbs in their electorates they want the nuclear power plant. That's been absent so far largely - with some exceptions - but if people want nuclear power they need to understand that means nuclear reactors in neighbourhoods and I'm not prepared to go down that path personally.

JOURNALIST: Has Labor received a briefing yet on Syria, and are you concerned about Turkey's intentions?

CHALMERS: I've had my head in economic matters today, meeting with the Governor of the Reserve Bank and the Chair of APRA, and dealing with some of these issues around consumer confidence. Clearly the issues in Syria are extraordinarily concerning. There are issues of displaced people. There are issues of, Australians in some of those affected camps over there. My understanding is that typically the Opposition would receive a briefing. I'm not sure if that's happened yet or if it's in the works. So I'll leave detailed commentary on that to my relevant colleagues.