SKY NEWS AFTERNOON AGENDA WITH KIERAN GILBERT
THURSDAY, 11 MAY 2023
SUBJECTS: Federal budget, inflation, migration, Opposition Budget reply.
KIERAN GILBERT (HOST): Now the Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury, Dr. Andrew Leigh is an economist by trade. I spoke to him earlier and I asked him whether he thinks this week's Budget would make the inflation challenge worse.
ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR COMPETITION, CHARITIES AND TREASURY ANDREW LEIGH: Can you imagine, Kieran, as a Labor Government if we hadn't dealt with some of these cost of living pressures right now? You know there's people doing it really tough and I think it would -
GILBERT: I totally understand that. But as an economist, you know more about this than many of us. Is it technically inflationary?
LEIGH: No, we've gotten the balance right. We've targeted the spending to make sure that, for example, people - sole parents who have a child between 8 and 14 get additional support. People on Austudy or JobSeeker get an increase in their payments. But we're not engaging in the kind of unfunded cash splash which the former government engaged in, which would have been inflationary if we'd made that mistake
GILBERT: You’re copping flak on that side, but also the Government's copping flak for not doing enough for middle Australia. So, I guess it's a balancing act. But is that one cohort that just has to suck it up right now, the higher prices and so on?
LEIGH: This Budget does more to reduce inequality than any Budget we've seen over the course of the last decade. It is a really important budget for looking after the most vulnerable. We've done that because we're a Labor government with Labor values. We understand the importance of taking care of sole parents. We've increased Commonwealth rental assistance because that is a targeted payment. We understand that in increasing it. We've looked at those who are on the lowest payments. We've looked to increase them by modest amounts. As well as thinking about long-term structural challenges. So, the additional fee free TAFE places, the new university places, targeted those who'll be the first in their family to attend university and a new evaluation unit that will be set up in the Treasury that'll measure what works and do a better job of targeting policies to help the most disadvantaged.
GILBERT: We've seen a surge in migration, 400,000 this year, 300,000 next, and then 260,000 for the few years after that. Has - and this is the criticism from Peter Dutton that while this surge has happened, the preparation in terms of infrastructure, housing and so on hasn't. Does the Government need to focus more on that.
LEIGH: Peter Dutton will flip and flop on migration, but I think he's making a big mistake if he's playing these sorts of dog whistling games. Every serious commentator expected that when we opened the borders, after being closed for a couple of years, there'd be a surge in migration to catch up. With 3.5 per cent unemployment, businesses are crying out for skilled workers to get projects off the ground. They're able to employ more Australians when they get those key skilled workers in to create opportunities. And our Housing Australia Future Fund will add to housing supply. We just need the Liberals and the Greens to vote for it in the Senate, to vote for getting 30,000 more homes, additional homes for people with disabilities, Indigenous -
GILBERT: Does it do enough, though? The Greens are arguing that it's nowhere near enough and that's why they're taking this stand.
LEIGH: The old stereotypical critique of the Greens is that they'll allow the perfect to become the enemy of the good. And in this case, that is exactly what they're doing. They have some idea out there as to how much housing they'd like, and they're saying instead "because we can't get our perfect result, we're going to have zero new housing through the Housing Australia Future Fund". That approach makes no sense, to say nothing of the fact that at a local level, it's often Greens representatives that are holding up new housing developments in communities that need them.
GILBERT: Now, the Budget reply tonight, the opposition leader, we're told, will have a new policy where he'll likely be targeting that sort of cohort that we spoke about before, middle Australia and the working families, as they were once called. Is there a risk for Government if Peter Dutton does sort of tailor his message to that group?
LEIGH: I welcome new ideas, I think wherever they come from, new ideas in politics are a great thing. Sadly, we saw none of that in Peter Dutton's first budget reply. It was all attacks and negativity. Now, Kieran, just near Peter Dutton's office, there's a John Brack painting which has a set of pencils, and next to that there's a little label, ‘No’. And I worry that Peter Dutton walks out each morning, looks at that painting, and that's how he writes his speeches for the day.
GILBERT: We will see tonight the Budget reply. Not long to wait. Andrew Leigh, thank you as always. Appreciate it.
LEIGH: Real pleasure, Kieran.