WEDNESDAY, 30 MARCH 2022
SUBJECT: Federal Budget.
STEPHEN CENATIEMPO, HOST: There's a certain predictability, post budget, to radio programs because the government will always tell you, the government of the day will always tell you that the budget has been absolutely spectacular. The opposition will tell you why it's a failure. We've heard from the government - Simon Birmingham, the Finance Minister, joined us to tell us why it's good. To tell us why it's bad, the Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury, Andrew Leigh, is with us. Andrew, good morning.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: Good morning, Stephen. Great to be with you and your listeners.
CENATIEMPO: Why is this a bad budget?
LEIGH: A trillion dollars of debt and so little to show for it. I mean, you look at the real wages going backwards. Canberra households would be feeling the pinch and knowing that in the time that the coalition has been in office, wages in real terms have grown only 1.4 per cent-
CENATIEMPO: I have to stop you there, because the projections are that wage growth is going to be marginally ahead of CPI increases. So the real wage growth is - look, it's modest, but it's there.
LEIGH: And if you believe the coalition's wage forecasts, I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell you. The fact is they've been wrong in 52 out of their 55 wage forecasts since they came to office. This budget has wages going backwards this year, and you don't need that as a statistic - many Canberra households feel that directly. I was talking to a bloke in Charnwood the other day who was just talking about how hard it is to make ends meet as a bricklayer, to another woman who was talking about how tough it is with short term public service contracts rolling over. And here in the ACT, we've really copped it when it comes to infrastructure, Stephen. We make up 1.6 per cent of the national population. We got 0.3 per cent of the infrastructure spend - less than a fifth of our fair share of infrastructure-
CENATIEMPO: But hang on. If you're going to be a minister in the next government, surely you need to be a little bit more honest than that. I mean, given the jurisdiction, the size of the jurisdiction here, you can't just base it on size of population.
LEIGH: Mate, I'm being completely honest with you and your listeners about the figures. I think if you look at the infrastructure spend, for example, in a place like the Northern Territory. So the Northern Territory’s getting $538 million with a smaller population. Tassie - $662 million, with only a slightly larger population. ACT - less than $60 million. Now those numbers don't lie. They’re straight out of the budget.
CENATIEMPO: But the numbers, they’re disingenuous, Andrew. Because, I mean, it's not like you can build a 400 kilometre freeway through the middle of the ACT. And I'm being facetious when I say that. But I mean, given the size of our jurisdiction, there's only so many places you can build infrastructure.
LEIGH: So you reckon it’s okay we get less than a tenth of what Tasmania gets in infrastructure spent?
CENATIEMPO: Well, on a case by case basis, sure.
LEIGH: I think we've been completely dudded in infrastructure, Stephen, and I think you and I ought to be standing up for the ACT. Certainly, I’m doing that and when I hear Zed Seselja making these claims about everything they're going to build, that’s completely belied by the Budget papers. The ACT has been dudded worse than any jurisdiction on infrastructure. But this is just a budget that’s designed to get the government through the next election. That's why you've got short term cash handouts, but no long-term fixes for things like the aged care crisis, like problems in the childcare sector. You don't have an anti-corruption commission funded. There's a whole lot of things in the country that need to be tackled that have just been kicked down the line, because the government simply just wants to win an election.
CENATIEMPO: Well, I would suggest that every government regardless of flavour has done that with every budget for time immemorial. I want to address some of the comments made by the Shadow Treasurer, Jim Chalmers, who's talked about - I think the terminology he’s using is ‘spraying cash around’ and has pointed to, and these are terms that you guys have been using for a little while now, ‘sports rorts, car park rorts and regional rorts’. My understanding is that Labor didn’t have a problem with the money being spent. You just had a problem with which electorates it was being spent in. So the same amount of cash is gonna get spread around, isn't it?
LEIGH: It's not just us that had that problem, it’s the audit office. The audit office was pretty clear that some of these programs were verging on corrupt. You look at the $60 million worth of car parks announced in the Treasurer’s electorate, much of which now won't be built. You look at the sports grants handed out to organisations that were suggested not to get it by Sports Australia, and then organisations that were meant to get the grants such as Belconnen Tennis Club missing out. These are serious issues in terms of the allocation of public money, and they treated it like it was Liberal Party money rather than taxpayer money.
CENATIEMPO: I would argue that as a local member, isn't it your job to go to bat for your electorate, and if other local members have been better at it than you then so be it?
LEIGH: Certainly I went into bat for the Belconnen Tennis Club, and argued that they should have been funded because the grant was highly rated. I've also been arguing strongly that the government could have done a much better job with JobKeeper. We needed JobKeeper to save jobs. We didn't need money to go to offshore billionaires in France, Italy and South Africa. Some $20 billion - $2000 per household – of JobKeeper went to firms with rising revenue. Now that's fiscal profligacy of a monumental scale, and the government wants now a second decade in office based on a record of having splashed money around, run up what’ll head to be over a trillion dollars in gross debt, and no cure for the productivity problems that have been baked into the economy. We’ve had the worst decade of income growth since the 1930s under the Liberals. That's the economic legacy that they've left.
CENATIEMPO: Pretty good unemployment figures though.
LEIGH: We’ll always welcome low jobless figures, and I hope that rate stays down when the borders open up. But we also want to make sure that people's wages are going up. Wage growth is critical to household living standards, and so many Canberra households are feeling the squeeze. If we'd had wage growth going at the same pace under this government as under the previous Labor government, Australians would be $16,000 a year better off. That’s how much Australians have lost from the sluggish wage growth under this government.
CENATIEMPO: Andrew, I appreciate your time this morning.
LEIGH: Thank you, Stephen. Take care.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra