WEDNESDAY, 30 MARCH 2022
SUBJECT: Federal Budget.
LIAM BARTLETT, HOST: To discuss the federal budget today, the ramifications and the fallout from the government and the opposition, we welcome the federal Liberal Senator for WA and Attorney-General Michaelia Cash. Michaelia, good morning. How are you?
MICHAELIA CASH, ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Good morning, Liam. I think more appropriately, I hope you're doing all right.
BARTLETT: I'm in splendid isolation. I can't complain.
CASH: I do apologise. You can actually hear the bells in the background. So I'm calling in from Canberra where the Senate is sitting.
BARTLETT: Absolutely. We understand that. We appreciate your time this morning, Minister. And from the opposition in our Canberra studio, the Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury and Charities, Andrew Leigh. Andrew, good morning to you.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: Good morning, Liam. Great to be with you and your listeners.
BARTLETT: Look, where do we start on this? Because there are so many numbers and so many figures, but the cost of living packages I think are going to have the most impact on the majority of our listeners. So Michaelia Cash, firstly to you, you know - the petrol excise, the cash checks, the tax rebates. Is it really going to make a long term difference, or is this just a little band aid for people?
CASH: What you saw last night, Liam, with the Prime Minister was - the Treasurer is, the Morrison Government we’ve set out what is a plan for Australia's future and a much stronger future. But we also recognise that as part of that plan, you've got to provide cost of living relief now. You know, the government recognises that households are facing cost of living pressures, in particular as a result of the invasion of Ukraine, and Australians do understand the ongoing supply chain issues from COVID. And to ease those cost of living pressures, what we're doing - and you've articulated - temporary, practical support to households and one of the most important things at the moment is the cost of fuel at the browser. And so we announced from last night for the next six months Australians, and in particular Western Australians, Liam - we've got a pretty big state. You and I know, it can take a long time somewhere to drive anywhere in Western Australia. But Western Australians will save 22 cents a litre every time they fill up their car. So if you're talking about a family with two cars who fill up once a week, you know there's [inaudible] $700 over the next six months. But of course, that is only one aspect of the cost of living. And as you rightly said, we're also helping with the cost of living tax offsets. That’s in recognition that there are around 10 million low and middle income earners. They will get the new one off $420 cost of living tax offset, but on top of that - and this one's really important to me, I talked to a lot of Western Australians - and it's the cost of living payments. It's the new one off $250 cost of living payment. It'll be delivered within weeks. We want to see it in the pockets of Western Australians, and it's going to go to around 6 million Australians, whether you're a pensioner, a carer, a veteran, a job seeker, eligible self-funded retirees and concession card holders. But the important thing with these cost of living relief measures is they're targeted. They're temporary measures, and they address the cost of living pressures without adding to inflation pressures. That's a good thing-
BARTLETT: Well, do they minister? I mean, do they really? As I say, or is it just a short term attempt to buy their vote? Let's just go back to the petrol excise. Now it was only a couple of weeks ago the Treasurer was saying, Josh Frydenberg, that there was little point in cutting this fuel excise rebate because of the global price fluctuations. You know, out of our hands, out of the government's control, which is a fair comment. But that was just a couple of weeks ago. Now you've cut it by 22 cents a litre. I mean, what's changed?
CASH: We've listened. We've listened to Australians. We understand that the risks to our outlook remain, the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, and as such that is something that we are able as a government to do, to-
BARTLETT: But in September, it goes up again in September. So six months’ time, when the interest rates will be higher, Minister.
CASH: This is a big difference in Australia, and Western Australians recognise this, between us and the Labor Party. We understand that there are cost of living pressures being faced now. What you can do is relieve those pressures. You do it in a temporary and targeted way, because Australians and Western Australians, they want to know that we are a responsible government. But at the same time, Liam, there are other aspects that need to be taken into account. So for example, this is a government that stands by getting Australians off welfare and into work. And as you know, we now have more Australians, more Western Australians in work than ever before. That is a-
BARTLETT: Well, you mentioned-
CASH: The unemployment rate-
BARTLETT: I'll hold you there, Minister. I've got to give the opposition a chance as well. Andrew Leigh, feel free to jump in there. The Minister is saying this is the material difference between the government and Labor. Is there a difference on this? Would you have done anything differently?
LEIGH: Liam, we would have done many things differently. We would have put in place a long term plan for the future, rather than a short term ploy to get a party through the election. Everyone knows that this is a political document and not an economic plan. As Anthony Albanese has said, they might as well have stapled cash to How-to-Votes. You've got these one off payments in April, you've got a short term tax payment for this year's tax returns, and then you've got petrol price relief that ends in September. And the fact is that even before Russia invaded Ukraine, petrol was nearly $2 a litre. And we've had a decade of sluggish wage growth. Now we’ve got real wages going backwards. We have a budget which is weighed down by rorts, waste and mismanagement, not least the $20 billion of JobKeeper that went to firms with rising revenue that you've turned spoken so much about. And we know that there are at least $3 billion in secret cuts in this budget coming sometime after the election. We've got-
BARTLETT: But Andrew, we don't hear, we don't hear your mob talking about cutting spending, do we? You know, you say you're different. I mean, we don't hear about savings particularly. In these figures last night that Treasurer Frydenberg delivered, we have a budget deficit this coming 12 months of $79.8 billion, and deficits as far as the eye can see for at least the next 10 years. Are you saying this morning that you would somehow turn one of those into a surplus at some stage? Are you talking about any sort of austerity?
LEIGH: If we won in May, Liam, we would inherit the worst set of economic books that any incoming government has ever had. And so I don't think anyone is pretending that you can turn that around instantly. But you do need to focus on the quality of the spend. The sports rorts, the carpark rorts - they have to stop, and only Labor will put in place the national anti-corruption commission which will ensure that we have integrity back in politics. But we also need those long term solutions. I was with Labor's Swan candidate Zaneta Mascarenhas at FoodBank Western Australia a couple of weeks ago, and we were hearing from them about the cost of living pressure that so many Western Australian families are under. That hasn't just come around in the last couple of months. That is an enduring feature of Australia. The fact that people have seen prices go up, but they haven't seen their pay packets go up under this government. So we’d focus on cracking down on dodgy labour hire, which has seen workers’ wages stagnate. We'd put in place proper childcare relief, which would ensure that many of your listeners get that direct relief in their pockets. And our Powering Australia plan would drive down power prices by $275 by 2025, according to the experts. Proper, enduring cost of living relief, rather than a short-term cash splash.
BARTLETT: Let's continue to talk about cost of living. I think this is the heart of the whole thing. 17 past nine, we're talking with Andrew Leigh from the opposition and Michaelia Cash from the government. Attorney-General, look, one thing that bothers me - you have to believe on this, the premise of this budget, you have to believe that interest rate rises over the next 18 months which we know are coming will not affect the economic growth or the wages growth that is forecast. There is no allowance for any sort of fiscal cliff or setback of any kind. Are you, are you not concerned about that?
CASH: Well, I just listened to what you said in relation to the figures and I think it's really important to note we were hit by a global pandemic. A once in a 100 year event. The government made decisions to protect the lives and livelihoods of Australians. And in doing that, we now have or will shortly have the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years. We will also have an economy that is the envy of economies in the world. And in fact, Liam, we've seen our economy recover faster and stronger than the US, the UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan. When you look at the numbers, the 2020-21 deficit. Yes, it’s high. It’s 52.7 billion. But because of the decisions that we took, lower than what was expected just over six months ago. And you know why, Liam? Do you know why? Fundamental difference between Liberal or Labor. We have been assisted in this by more Australians being in work, that is a good thing. What do Australians care about? They care about having a job. We now have more Australian in work than ever before. But also, when you have more Australians in work, you have less people on welfare. We are putting ourselves in the best possible economic position to deal with any challenges, such as an interest rate change. So while the government's actions to protect lives and livelihoods, and we stand by them. Yes, they have come at a cost. But this budget, the budget that the Treasurer brought down last night - and I'd love to be able to take them through the big ticket items for the great state of Western Australia - but what it shows, what it demonstrates, is that our fiscal position remains strong. It remains sustainable. And unlike other countries in the world, it remains with Australia's debt remaining low by international standards. Liam, that is what a responsible government does.
BARTLETT: Well, we're heading into record debt territory, as you know. Over $1.1 trillion-
CASH: Well, just on that-
BARTLETT: How can you say that responsible-
CASH: Gross debt is, now because of the decisions we've taken, is expected to be lower as the 30th of June, that’s 2021 obviously, compared to what was forecast in 2020-2021 budget. It’s down from-
BARTLETT: What was forecast was horrendous because of the pandemic, as you just pointed out, so there’s no point in comparing a bad figure to a horrendous forecast.
CASH: But again, Liam, what you're basically saying is you wouldn't have taken, you wouldn't have taken the decisions that we took to protect the lives and livelihoods of Australians. And I think one of the fundamental differences between the decisions that we took and the decisions that the Labor Party would have taken is that our-
LEIGH: Liam, there is so much to rebut there, but I'm going to have to just interject and say that I'm being called to the chamber now. So apologies for needing to leave you.
BARTLETT: All right, Andrew. Thank you.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.