Joint Press Conference with
Senator the Hon Katy Gallagher
Minister for Finance
Minister for Women
Minister for Public Service
Alicia Payne MP
Member for Canberra
David Smith MP
Member for Bean
ACT LABOR PRESS CONFERENCE
WEDNESDAY, 10 MAY 2023
SUBJECTS: 2023/24 Budget; Investments in Canberra; Income support; Housing affordability; Bulk billing; APS jobs
SENATOR THE HON KATY GLLAGHER, MINISTER FOR FINANCE: Okay, well thanks for coming everyone. This is a really strong Budget for Canberra. Obviously a lot of the key measures in the Budget will flow through to Canberrans, so support around energy relief, the investments in Medicare, the cost of living package will flow through. Importantly, there's a couple of other areas that are really strong for Canberra which is the announcement around our National Cultural Institutions, over $600 million flowing into the ACT to deal with a decade of delay and of neglect and under resourcing and underinvestment in those important institutions. That was one of the key things that all of us as federal members in the ACT wanted to see. And indeed, it was one of the top issues that the Chief Minister had raised with me around areas he wanted to see further investment from the Commonwealth. The other area is in the public service. It's our big employer in town. So what happens to the public service matters to this city because a lot of the small businesses and other industry that's located in Canberra is linked to the strength of the public service. So in the last couple of Budgets we have addressed again, a decade of neglect from the former government, of under-resourcing, of underinvestment and that significantly impacted on services, not just to people in the ACT, but around the country. So in these two Budgets in October, and in May, you'll see that we've fixed up some of those issues around lack of staffing. We're addressing some of the conversion issues from contractors and labour hire back into permanent workers in the APS. And we're making sure that key service delivery agencies, many of them located here, actually have the money to do the work that the people of Australia need them to do. Whether it's processing passports, visas, looking after veterans, or supporting pensioners with their engagement with Services Australia and Centrelink. And so this matters to Canberra, it matters to Australia, but we've taken a really responsible approach to the APS and that will have significant impact on Canberra's economy. I might hand to my colleagues now and they'll make a few statements and then happy to take questions.
ALICIA PAYNE MP, MEMBER FOR CANBERRA: Thanks very much, Katy. This is an excellent budget for Canberra with many measures that will be excellent for people in our community. One that I'm most excited about is our serious investment in bulk billing, tripling the bulk billing incentive because Canberra has some of the lowest rates of bulk billing in the country and Canberrans know just how hard it is to find a bulk billing doctor. And this is something that my constituents raise with me all the time, so I'm very, very excited about that measure and what that will mean for Canberra. Of course, we also have a very significant investment in our national institutions. And these institutions, while we're so privileged to have them in Canberra, they belong to our whole country, and under the previous government, they were allowed to fall into a state of disrepair. As all Canberrans, again, would be aware, leaking roofs at the National Gallery and leaking windows at the National Library and our institutions looking at not being able to be open seven days a week, and also, you know, looking at Trove, the National Library's wonderful resource that enables all Australians to acess the digital collection, not being able to continue because all of these institutions were facing a funding cliff because they had not been funded into the future under the previous government, so I'm really proud that the Albanese Labor Government has invested over half a billion dollars in these institutions, but not just for now but into the future. So there's that certainty that these institutions can go on serving our city and our nation and telling our stories, delighting people, visitors, everyone. This is a really great announcement. Also Questacon, of course, where many young Australians first develop a passion for science and we've invested $60 million in that excellent Canberra institution. Aged care workers in Canberra will benefit from this pay rise, long overdue pay rise, and much deserved for these heroes of the pandemic. Around 5000 workers in Canberra will benefit from the $11.3 billion increase to aged care wages, and another thing that I'm very proud of.
DAVID SMITH MP, MEMBER FOR BEAN: And that investment in the care economy, it's easy to forget things that were already planned to come in on one July, so in my seat of Bean we're looking at 6600 families who will benefit from those child care changes that will come in, on the, on one July and as Alicia said, that investment in our aged aged care workforce is so overdue. Last week, I had the good fortune to be with the Treasurer and the Aged Care Minister, down in Bean, when we announced the historic investment, $14 billion across aged care, with $11 billion going to go into the workforce areas. It's over 5000 workers across across the territory. Of course the investments that we're seeing are also into education with expanding the TAFE free places where we should be seeing another 3000 places across the, across the territory. So it's about care, it's about culture, it's about our future in terms of our education, and at the same time, in an incredibly responsible way, managing the economy.
THE HON ANDREW LEIGH MP, MEMBER FOR FENNER: Thanks everyone. My name is Andrew Leigh, the Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury. It's a chilly Canberra morning, but you've got smiles on the faces of all four of your ACT reps because we know that this Budget is good for Canberra and good for Australia. This is a Budget which deals with nine years of Coalition dysfunction and disrespect towards Canberra and our national institutions. As a result of this Budget, 5000 Canberra aged care workers are going to see a pay rise. 50,000 ACT households will get energy bill relief. More than 100,000 ACT households will benefit from cheaper medicine through our double dispensing policy, and more than 100,000 ACT households will benefit from the bulk billing incentive, making it cheaper to see a doctor. We've done this in an environment in which we've been fiscally prudent. We're having this press conference in front of the classic Budget Tree, and for the last 15 years the color of this tree behind us has been appropriate because the Budget's been in the red. This year, the Treasurer and the Finance Minister have managed to deliver a small projected Budget surplus and that's as a result of a range of hard fiscal decisions that they've made. Our commitment to good government and the public service continues through the establishment of an evaluation unit set up within Treasury to measure what works and ensure that our great public servants are delivering the very best public services for Australians and for Canberrans. Thanks very much. We're happy to take your questions.
JOURNALIST: Despite the list of benefits that you all just mentioned, that would flow on to Canberrans, Senator Pocock says there's really not much besides the National Cultural Institutions, for example, the $175 annual energy rebate [inaudible] it's not much, is it?
GALLAGHER: Well, we get that cost of living pressures are real for households in Canberra. I mean, that's why making sure Canberra's got a strong economy, that people are in jobs, good paying jobs, is really important. We're seeing wage increases for the first time and across the forward estimates you'll see real wage growth. I mean, these are really important, you know, measures that will support Canberra families. In terms of the energy bill relief, and part of the issue here is the ACT Government in its, you know, foresight, actually moved to 100% renewable energy many years ago, they've achieved that target and so some of the increases that we've been seeing in other jurisdictions haven't been seen as hard, or hit hard, as hard, here in the ACT. And so we've targeted a program with the ACT Government about how to make sure we can flow some of that support through to people that need it, but it's a common sense approach. It's the Commonwealth and the ACT Government working together hand in hand.
JOURNALIST: Just a quick follow up on that. Canberra is seen as a wealthy city, but really a lot of Canberrans are struggling. On that, also, what would you say to Senator Pocock?
GALLAGHER: Well, I would say that Senator Pocock should read the Budget in its entirety, and not just try and come out and get a quick media grab out, because I think if you look at it in its entirety, if you look across the investments in the care economy, if you look at the investments in Medicare and health, which are broader than just the bulk billing initiative, if you look at the increase in the public service and the investments we've made there, we are setting the city up for a very strong future. And see it in conjunction with what we did in October. We have a massive investment, massive capital investment that's not being seen in any other city, in the National Security Precinct that's underway and start, going to be starting in the next year or so. That will be a major anchor project for this town. That's not being seen in other jurisdictions, because we're the nation's capital, and we're investing in the nation's capital. That has flow-on effects for Canberra. So I don't accept Senator Pocock's criticism at all. I think he's tried to come out and get a quick media grab out, but if you read the Budget in its entirety, this is a very, very strong Budget for Canberra.
JOURNALIST: Could you walk us through the $7.5 million allocated for the ACT Sustainable Household Scheme. What practical benefit will that bring people?
GALLAGHER: Yeah, so that will flow through to households. So it's basically an investment in the scheme that the ACT Government run, and they will flow that through to eligible households. But it's, this is part of our arrangement, part of trying to make sure that our energy bill relief is targeted to the particular needs of each jurisdiction because they're quite different, as is eligibility for different states' programs. So we've worked with the ACT Government about how this gives a fair allocation of the money we've set aside, that can flow through and make a difference for Canberran households that are eligible. And I would say, see it in conjunction with the other investments in the Budget, which is a very significant package to be run by the Commonwealth Government into, sort of, providing support for energy efficiency into homes because we want people, if they, if we can make homes more energy efficient, that will take a lot of pressure off people's bills. Electricity, gas, are the bills that they're paying, and we want to see that happen. And that's part of our transition to a new energy future, which is a big part of this Budget. It's a big part of the growth story of this Budget.
JOURNALIST: So you're tripling incentives for bulk billing, and, as you know, Canberra is probably the hardest place in the country to find a bulk-billing doctor, can you paint us a picture of what that's going to do to GP clinics in Canberra, how many GP, additional GP clinics will be able to bulk bill and how many people will be able to get a free checkup?
GALLAGHER: Yeah, so it'll mean that over 150,000 Canberrans will be, you know, who can use this new bulk billing incentive. It's tripling the bulk billing incentive. Never been done before. And this is because we want to see Medicare, as a universal health care system, work for the people that need it, but also for the doctors that use it. And what the doctors are saying is that they can't afford to run their practice under the current bulk, you know, incentive arrangements. So we've done a huge investment into that. What that means, is for children under 16, pensioners, concession card holders, those consults will be eligible for the tripling of the incentive. That makes a massive difference. Like, if you're, if the Medicare rebate's just over $40, that can mean an extra $21 to $30 on top of that, if you bulk bill. So that's a massive incentive for GPs to bulk bill. That's good for the people that need bulk billing. What it also means is if people don't bulk bill, I'm sure there will be other GP surgeries around that will bulk bill and people will be able to access that support.
JOURNALIST: On a separate, equally important issue, we've seen the Budget now includes 11,000 more public servants. Is this the start of your crackdown on consultants and contractors?
GALLAGHER: Yes, it's the beginning of that. It's partly dealing, there's a few elements to the extra public servants, it's partly dealing with the underfunding and legacy terminating programs that I've been talking about. So, like the Digital Health Agency, the Radioactive Waste Agency, all of those which were just going to lose funding, stop. So we're continuing the employment for those people. We're investing in new areas, obviously, the Net Zero Authority that, that's a new authority, so we're putting new staff into that. And the other component is as you say, it's the conversion of expensive labour hire or consulting arrangements, and basically transferring them into public servants. So there's about 3300 of that 10,000 relate to the conversions and that's just the beginning. We've just started, because we've now got a level on what the arrangements are. That wasn't known when we came in, we've done the audit, we know how many, you know, external providers or external labour exist, and now we're looking at where we can convert them and we're actually generating savings by doing that, because it's an expensive way to employ people.
JOURNALIST: Canberra, has one of the most expensive rental markets in the country. Now, we have an increase to Commonwealth Rent Assistance and also incentivising build-to-rent investment, but that's not going to deliver outcomes for several years and not for everybody. So what do you say to criticism that there isn't really anything in the Budget to help people dealing with the exorbitant rise in rental prices?
GALLAGHER: So, where we have responsibility on, for rent, which is largely around the Commonwealth Rent Assistance, this is the most, the biggest increase in CRA in over 30 years. So that's the first point. And you know, we've had to mold that investment in the environment where we're mindful of how much spending we're doing. Okay, so we've prioritised rent, we've prioritised JobSeeker, we've prioritised Single Parenting Payment, we've lowered the age for the higher rate of JobSeeker to 55. So that package, sort of, you have to, you can't see one, I guess, decision in isolation of others. So that's my first point. My second point is, the area of the Commonwealth can make the most difference is on supply. We don't have enough houses. That's what's leading to some of the rental increases and the other affordability issues that Canberrans are experiencing and that's why the Senate, this week, is trying to get through the Housing Australia Future Fund. This is about building 30,000 affordable and social housing over the next five years. It is just unbelievable that that's stuck in the Senate. So we're getting criticised for not doing enough soon enough, we've got a bill trying to generate that, a $10 billion fund so that we can start seriously, year on year, adding to the supply of affordable and social housing and taking some of that pressure off. And it's not just that, I mean, we get that you're going to have to have a range of interventions. We've got our NHFIC, our financing, housing financing body, we put an extra $2 billion into their liability cap so that they can do more low-interest, finance for social and community housing providers. Yvette Berry announced one last week, I think with the Housing Minister, which is targeted for younger women under the age of 45, who are struggling to get a deposit together but want to move from rent to buy. I mean, that's happening now. So I think again, after a decade of no investment and no interest in national housing policy, you've got a government that's actually here, we're at the table. We're trying to do what we can, in a new Budget environment where we've been mindful of spending and we've got a Budget in structrual deficit. So I would say we're doing pretty much all we can at the moment, but we'll continue to engage with the ACT Government and other state governments on housing. National Cabinet is looking at renters’ rights and how that's packaged together and I would expect there's more work to be done over the next year.
JOURNALIST: You've moved a bit on JobSeeker this Budget, is there appetite to move further in the future?
GALLAGHER: Well, I think the Prime Minister has said that, you know, we look at payments, every Budget, so we'll continue to do that. But we think this is a responsible and meaningful adjustment to the base rate of JobSeeker, that will be indexed in the normal way. So that will be on top of that. And again, for people on JobSeeker, we will also, you know, many of those will be eligible for other support in this Budget. So rent assistance is one of them, but some of the initiatives around bulk billing, obviously, cheaper medicines, all of those will have an impact for people living on fixed and low incomes. I think the other thing is, we've got a very low unemployment rate, you know, and yet we've got a proportion of those on JobSeeker that have been on there for a long time. So the review into Workforce Australia and the programs it's run is really important in terms of next steps, because we want to be able to support people into work. We've got more jobs around, you know, what the labour market's like, and we want to make sure that it's just not a matter of accepting that people stay on JobSeeker forever. So that's part of the answer to that and that's where the, there's more work to be done.
JOURNALIST: Just looking for comments, sorry, to follow up on that. Angus Taylor was speaking this morning. Obviously, the reactions are coming in, to the Budget, and he's saying it's not only inflationary but it's also unfair. What do you say to that?
GALLAGHER: Well, I don't agree with Angus Taylor. You won't be surprised with that. I don't listen to him or take advice from him very often, at all, in fact, ever. But I've heard his comments around the social security system. I mean, Australians want everyone to have a fair go, right. So I think some of the objections around modest increases to people on fixed and low incomes is unfair. That's the unfair thing. We've, we recognise as a Labor Party with our values, that where we can find room in a Budget, we should be finding room to support those that need an extra helping hand. We should do so in a way that doesn't add to inflation at the moment, with inflation being a key challenge in the economy. And I think you'll see in this Budget, it's had to do a number of things. It's had to find cost of living support. It had to deal with the, the, you know, the legacy and booby traps that we inherited from Angus Taylor. So we've had to find room for that. We've had to look at how we invest in the future. And we've had to repair the Budget and be responsible about our spending decisions. And I think when you look at the Budget as a whole, you can see it's a balancing act of hundreds, if not thousands of decisions. And I guess we expect criticism from the Opposition, they say no to everything. I don't think it's any surprise they say no to the Budget.
JOURNALIST: Is it possible to put a question towards Ms Payne? Thank you so much. You're outspoken about the need to increase JobSeeker on ACOSS’s letter asking for a significant increase of JobSeeker. Do you think that $40 a fortnight is enough? That's between two and three dollars a day.
PAYNE: Well, my view is on the record, I have said that I would like to see a more substantial increase. But I'm really pleased to see in the Budget that we are providing relief to people on JobSeeker. As the Prime Minister has said, and as Katy just said, we will look at these payments every Budget and there are a range of initiatives in this Budget that people will benefit from including the increase to rent assistance, the energy bill relief, and also you know, I'm really, really proud about the change we have made to sole parents, moving people with children aged between eight and 14 onto the much higher Parenting Payment. This is an excellent change that will make a difference for so many families in Australia, and something many people have advocated on for a really long time, so great to see that in the Budget.