SKY NEWS AFTERNOONS WITH KIERAN GILBERT
THURSDAY 2 NOVEMBER 2023
SUBJECTS: Cost of living; Bulk billing rebate; Charity town halls; Clean energy investment; Blueprint for the future of the not-for-profit sector.
KIERAN GILBERT (HOST): Joining me live in the studio is the Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury, Dr. Andrew Leigh.
Thanks for your time. The Prime Minister is saying cost of living is the number one game, we do know there are lots of other issues and those international headwinds, but that's the main issue dominating most people's time and focus right now in Australia.
ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR CHARITIES, COMPETITION, TREASURY AND EMPLOYMENT ANDREW LEIGH: Well, the world's throwing a lot of price pressures at us right now, Kieran. And through oil prices, through supply chain challenges flowing out of the war in Ukraine. We know that inflation is high and we're doing all we can to work alongside the Reserve Bank in reining it in. So, you just had inflation figures coming down that showed very clearly that if it wasn't for the government's measures, childcare costs would have gone up 13 per cent. Instead they went down 6 per cent. That energy price inflation and inflation in other areas was lower than it would have been had the government not taken those responsible cost of living measures.
GILBERT: What do you say to the argument, though, that that's expansionary, even though the headline number is down, it has more dollars in people's pockets? So, therefore bringing down inflation on the one hand, but driving it up on the other.
LEIGH: In a macro sense, we delivered the first surplus in 15 years. And so we've managed to do that by making targeted savings, but also providing targeted cost of living relief where it's needed. That's responsible fiscal policy. What we're doing through our Housing Australia Future Fund and through the biggest increase in Commonwealth Rent Assistance puts downward pressure on prices. What we're doing through the tripling of the bulk billing incentive, which began yesterday, is the biggest such expenditure since Medicare started 40 years ago.
GILBERT: I want to ask you about that in a moment, but the Treasurer says today that a uniquely Australian industry policy is the energy policy that your government's pursuing. He wants to unlock more than $200 billion in extra investment in clean energy by 2050. In the short term, though, that drives up prices, does it not?
LEIGH: We need to get more investment into energy. We know that renewables are the cheapest form of energy. The sun doesn't send a bill, the wind doesn't send a bill. So, as we move to renewables, that puts downward pressure on energy prices. If you don't do anything about this, not only do you hurt the climate, but also you hurt people's hip pockets.
GILBERT: Can you do it, though, in a way where it's smoothed out, it smooths the edges for consumers already hurting?
LEIGH: Absolutely. So, the energy bill relief comes immediately and then long term, we're getting that investment to renewables. People shouldn't underestimate what a big industrial transformation this is Kieran. Over the course of a decade, to take the grid from about one-third renewables to four-fifths renewables is a remarkable change. We're committed to that not only for the climate, but also because, as Australians who've got solar panels on their roofs know, it's the cheapest form of energy.
GILBERT: I had Anne Ruston on the program a bit earlier, the Shadow Health Minister. She says this tripling of the bulk billing incentive won't be enough to get GPs back into bulk billing services. Is there any guarantee that the government's approach will work?
LEIGH: It's pretty rich coming from the Coalition who froze the bulk-billing rebate and saw bulk billing rates fall precipitously under them, who at every turn have looked to undercut Medicare. Our investments in the healthcare system have been historic, and that sits alongside measures such as 60-day prescribing, which the Coalition quibbled about, which saves Australian households money because they only have to go to the doctor once every two months rather than once a month if they're on long term medications. And it saves you time as well. So, the healthcare measures sit alongside the care measures, the energy measures, the housing measures, all focused, Kieran, on reducing cost of living pressures for Australian households.
GILBERT: It's a busy time for the not-for-profit sector. Charities are working overtime at the moment, as you know, and you're the Minister for Charities. I've noticed that you've just released this development blueprint. What's the aim of this? Is it to make it easier for charities in the way they do business? Is that what you're seeing here? What's your goal?
LEIGH: To help the helpers. Charities account for almost a tenth of the economy, more than a tenth of employees, and millions of volunteers. They do so much in our community for the environment, fighting poverty, bringing the community together through arts and sport. And the charity sector has been under a lot of pressure, including under the former government. So, the blueprint will bring together experts, consulting with the sector alongside the charity town halls that I'm doing, engaging with the sector as well. We want a more vibrant civil society in Australia, Kieran. It's good for the democracy and it's good for our community as well.
GILBERT: Yeah, well, they do a wonderful job right across the board, our charities, particularly this time of year, heading into Christmas. Andrew Leigh. Thanks. Talk to you soon.
LEIGH: Always a pleasure, Kieran.