MONDAY, 28 MARCH 2022
SUBJECT: Federal Budget.
GRAEME GOODINGS, HOST: Joining me now is Dr Andrew Leigh, Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury. Dr, good morning. Thanks for being with us.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: Good morning, Graeme. Great to be with you and your listeners.
GOODINGS: Australia's national debt is approaching a trillion dollars. Can we afford all these handouts?
LEIGH: This is certainly the highest our debt’s ever been. I’m old enough to remember Malcolm Turnbull launching a debt truck when he was fear mongering about $300 billion of debt. Now debt’s up at three times that level, from a government that promised when they came into office they'd have the budget in surplus in the first year and every year after that. Only a couple of years ago, they were printing these ‘Back in Black’ coffee mugs, which they then had to smash by the dozen because they've failed to meet their own fiscal forecasts. But even more worrying is the quality of the spend. You've got sports rorts. You’ve got $20 billion of JobKeeper to firms with rising revenues. You've got overpaying by tenfold for land near the Western Sydney Airport, and the car park rorts scandal that we saw the last election. Extraordinarily Graeme, there seems to be more money in the budget for car parks, despite the fact that for so many of the car parks that they announced last time around construction has never commenced.
GOODINGS: What about this proposed freezing of the fuel excise tax? Surely you’d support that.
LEIGH: We'll have to see what the details are, but we're certainly minded to support that. The thing is that’s only a portion of the hit that families have copped under the coalition government. If wages had grown as fast under this government as they did under the previous Labor Government, the average one of your listeners would be $16,000 a year better off. That’d fill up the tank a few times, I reckon. So the real problem is that cost of living has been going up while wages have been flatlining. And that's not just a story of the last few months or since the Ukraine invasion. That's the story of the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government.
GOODINGS: First homebuyers going to be given a leg up to get into the property market. Would you support that?
LEIGH: We’re very pleased, obviously, to see the government copying our policy today. Jason Clare announced on Friday a policy around ensuring that there was more access to those grants in regional areas, and we've seen the government jumping on board today. What would be great, Graeme, is if they would also copy the rest of our housing policy, the Housing Australia Future Fund, which will create some 30,000 social and affordable homes. We really need to do something about housing affordability. It’s a massive issue for young people I chat to. You know, I was chatting to a bloke the other day who's a bricklayer and just saying that he really doesn't know how he's going to break into the property market. A single dad, two young kids, working as hard as he can, doing all the overtime he can. But he said he just doesn't see how he's going to buy a home of his own.
GOODINGS: The numbers when it comes to the polling, and we all know that the only one that matters is on the big day, are very strong for Labor Party getting back into power. But how do you view the fact that the government has almost a free hit with a budget only weeks out from an election?
LEIGH: You've hit the nail on the head there, Graeme. This is fundamentally an election manifesto rather than a serious piece of economic analysis. So what we're expecting tomorrow night is going to be a budget which is long on spin and short on substance. A budget which looks to paper over the coalition's perceived political problems, rather than actually going to some of those deep structural problems that have emerged during their time in office. I don't think it's going to do much about the fact that we need more skilled workers. We've seen a halving of the traineeships and apprenticeships since the government came to office. I don't think it's going to do much about lacklustre productivity growth, which ultimately underpins wage growth and where we've seen productivity growth going backwards over recent years. It certainly won't put in place the national anti-corruption commission, serious multinational tax reform, or the sort of high-speed fibre NBN that so many tele-workers know is absolutely vital.
GOODINGS: I think cost of living is going to be front of mind for most people when they go to put pencil to paper on polling day. What would a Labor Government do to ease cost of living pressures?
LEIGH: A bunch of things, Graeme. Let me just go through a couple of them. First of all, cheaper childcare. That's important in terms of ensuring that the 51 per cent of the population who are women can participate actively in the workforce. It takes pressure off household budgets. Our Powering Australia plan is projected by RepuTex to bring down power bills by $275 by 2025. And we've said that we will ensure that we crack down on the abuse of labour hire firms and problems in the gig economy, to make sure that we get wages going again because it's fundamentally wage growth that's so important for Australian households. Since the coalition came to office in 2013, real wages - that is wages after inflation - have grown in total 1.4 per cent. If you told me that back in 2013, that they were going to be in office for nearly a decade and they’d deliver 1.4 per cent real wage growth, I would have fallen off my chair. It's an astonishing statistic, and it really speaks to the failures of this government.
GOODINGS: Surely COVID has impacted a lot of areas like that though?
LEIGH: Wage growth was lacklustre even before COVID hit. When you look at that decade, their decade in office, it is the worst decade of income growth since the 1930s. Business investment was going down before COVID hit. Indeed, the Business Council of Australia are out today saying we've got some of the lowest investment figures since the early 1990s recession. The Business Council of Australia is crying out for more investment friendly government, which has the settings in place to allow the stability of investments from corporate Australia.
GOODINGS: Would you think that there'll be some tax breaks in the budget?
LEIGH: I imagine that there’ll be every sort of thing that the coalition thinks will win them another vote. But I don't pretend for a moment that this is going to be the kind of budget that a serious treasurer would bring down. I suspect that treasurers of the ilk of Peter Costello on the other side or Paul Keating on our side will be rolling their eyes in horror tomorrow night when they see what the Treasurer has brought down. Because this is fundamentally a government which is desperate to try and save its own jobs, rather than concerned about the job security of millions of Australians.
GOODINGS: Dr Andrew Leigh, thanks for your time.
LEIGH: Thank you, Graeme.
GOODINGS: That’s Dr Andrew Leigh, Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra