4BC Drive

07 September 2017


SUBJECT/S: Marriage equality postal survey


BEN DAVIS: This is why I wanted to speak to Jim Chalmers. He’s the Shadow Finance Minister; he’s also a local MP up here in Queensland. Jim, good afternoon.


JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FINANCE: G’day Ben, I was going to start by saying it was good to see you at the Broncos the other night but given how badly we got beaten by Parramatta it wasn’t an especially happy night was it?


DAVIS: Oh hang on, don’t tell me it’s an omen ahead of tomorrow night!


CHALMERS: We’ll be right tomorrow.


DAVIS: Alright, could you help me here? $122 million, have you been trying to do the sums and figure out how the hell it’s costing this much?


CHALMERS: We have. We think the whole $122 million is a waste of money. We wouldn’t have gone about it in this way. I think you made a good point when you were talking to John, which is, this is something that could have been sorted in an afternoon for free and people could have had their say on it and it could have come to a conclusion, like we did in the Howard years. Instead we’re wasting this $122 million on a combination of printing and mailing and return mailing and Bureau of Stats costs – when we could have just got it done.


DAVIS: I know, now I’ve had the Bureau of Statistics on to try and run me through some of these costings and they couldn’t, they said ‘we won’t be able to go line by line, we’re not going to reveal that it’ll all come out in time’. Again, on the back a coaster, we sat down to try to figure how we got to $122 million. The best we could come up with was in the ball park of $80 to $85 million, we built in a twenty per cent contingency, cause any good budget should have a contingency, we had extra staff that needed to be hired and I paid them a very, very extraordinary amount of $100 an hour. Working through, I mean printing and posting - $17 million to send it out, $17 million to send it back, that’s if you’re going on a dollar a stamp. Again, do you have some idea, outside of postage, printing, perhaps the hiring of extra staff and advertising, where this money is going to and how it got up to $122 million?


CHALMERS: We’re in the same boat as you are Ben and your listeners. We’ve been trying to get to the bottom of this figure for some time and we’ve been unable to. It’s not good enough for the Government to say ‘oh it’ll come out at some later point’ when they hope we’re less interested. What I can tell your listeners is what $122 million actually buys you if you didn’t spend it this way: it’s 3.5 million GP visits; it’s 1,906 teachers on an average salary; it’s 5,282 aged pensions for a year. That’s how much money the Government wants to waste on this marriage equality survey, when we should just do the right thing, vote on it in the Parliament. I’d vote yes, a lot of others would vote yes, some people would vote no and then we could get on this the other issues.


DAVIS: So Jim, the thing I’m worried about here is the fact the High Court’s decided the way the Government’s appropriated the funds is okay – they’ve said ‘right we can take this and we’re going to give it to the ABS to run this’, there was no vote on it, there was no putting it across the Parliament floor, they’ve just decided to do it. My issue is here, that this can open the backdoor to other purposes in the future. It sets a precedent.


CHALMERS: This arrangement’s been around for a little while Ben and it’s mostly used in situations like, for example, natural disaster funding, where you’re confident that both sides would support it and there’s an urgent need to get the funding out the door. For example in the aftermath of a cyclone in Queensland, or something like that. So it has been used before. A very prominent guy down here called Mike Keating, who used to run the Finance Department, has come out and said it’s “highly inappropriate” the way that the Government is using this payment, for something where we wouldn’t support it in the Parliament, so it wouldn’t necessarily get through the Parliament. It’s not urgent spending, it’s not unforeseen spending, particularly when you consider the Parliament can just do its job and vote on it. So we think that there are pretty serious questions about the way the Turnbull Government’s gone about spending this money. But, the High Court has now ruled. It’s a reality. We’ll get in and have the argument; we’ll make the case for marriage equality. It’s not the way we would have gone about it but you play the cards you’re dealt. So we’ll have a campaign now.


DAVIS: Jim, can you help me out on this one too. I imagine Andrew Wilkie and co, the Members of Parliament, Janet Rice, who are part of this challenge. They have to pay costs back to the Government – that’s what the High Court has awarded. Their argument was that they as Members of Parliament they were being treated unfairly because they were being denied a parliamentary vote on this issue. So because they were acting on behalf of other MPs, does that their costs incurred will be picked up by us, the taxpayer?


CHALMERS: I heard you raise that before and I’m sorry that I don’t have an answer for that, it’s really something for Andrew and the Senator to deal with. I think there were some other groups associated with their appeal. So it may be that they’re chipping in, or some other arrangement, but I wouldn’t want to give you the sense that I know definitely.


DAVIS: I just thought that under the Finance guise, cause being Shadow Finance Minister that it might have come across your desk, that it may be something you know but I can totally understand that you don’t, cause it’s not an everyday occurrence that we see this.


CHALMERS: Exactly right.


DAVIS: It’s a question for Andrew Wilkie, which we are putting into his office as well. Jim, thank you for your time. Geez, they are some telling figures aren’t they? Jim Chalmers, he’s the Shadow Finance Minister down in Canberra.