ABC Radio - AM (1)

23 August 2016


SUBJECT/S: Budget Savings; Superannuation; Marriage Equality Plebiscite

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: For a response from Labor, I'm joined live on the line now by the Shadow Finance Minister, Jim Chalmers.

Jim Chalmers, good morning.


BRISSENDEN: So, will you remain jelly-like in your approach to the Government's Budget measures?

CHALMERS: You’ve got to feel for the audience at the Sydney Institute last night, forced to sit through that drivel again.  Another characteristically underwhelming contribution which was long on politics and pretty short on economic policy. 

BRISSENDEN: Oh well, let's go to the substance then. The Government is only really asking you to back savings you said you would support during the election campaign. That's fair enough, isn't it?

CHALMERS: Look it's entirely reasonable for us to say, Michael, as we have been for the last week or so, that we want to see the legislation. The position we take in the Parliament will reflect the position we took to the people in the election, but we have a process to go through. That typically begins with a careful examination of the legislation that's presented to us. The Government has less than a stellar record when it comes to accurately representing Labor's views on these sorts of things.  So we'll go through the legislation but our final position will be consistent with what we took to the people.

BRISSENDEN: So why can't you just say you would support it if what's in the legislation is all that you supported?  I mean, do you think the Government's trying to trick you somehow?

CHALMERS: No, we just need to be sure, Michael, that the legislation reflects the policies that we took to the election. That's not unreasonable. The Government does have form unfortunately with misrepresenting Labor's position and we want to make sure that we're voting for what we took to the people and not what the Government says we took to the people. Not unreasonable.

BRISSENDEN: So if you do find something in there that's drafted differently from what you said you will support, what happens? Do you reject the whole bill?

CHALMERS: That’s all hypothetical at the moment, Michael, until we see that legislation. As you know, you’ve been around politics a long time, when the legislation's presented both sides of politics have a detailed process to go through to examine it, to make sure that the party supports or doesn't support that legislation. That's just the normal way that we do things, and that's how we'll go about it this time too. 

BRISSENDEN: But amendments are not out of the question then? You'll push for changes if you think they're necessary?

CHALMERS: Let's just wait until we see the actual legislation, Michael. We're happy to talk about it once it's on the table and once we've carefully examined it. It's all hypothetical at this point. But I can say, as we have been saying for some time, that we intend to put our hand up in the Parliament for a position that reflects what we took to the people in the election a short time ago.

BRISSENDEN: OK. The tone of the Government though does suggest that it's all or nothing. I mean, they haven't said that but that seems to be the message they're putting out. Do you think they want a political stand-off?

CHALMERS: I think what this contribution and the contribution from the Prime Minister last week show is that they don't really have much beyond a slogan, beyond that tax cut - $50 billion gift to multinational corporations - and then this sort of reliance on Labor to help them fix the mess they've made of the Budget. I think people are starting to understand that the Government should be taking responsibility for the fact that they've tripled the deficit since the 2014 Budget, debt's blown out by $100 billion or more and the AAA credit rating is at risk.  And so I think people would find it bizarre in this sort of parallel universe that the Government occupies that they obsess about Labor's positions on things at the same time as they're rewriting their own superannuation policy, going around the country at the behest of George Christensen and others, rewriting the superannuation policy they took to the people and said was ironclad.  So they do need to get their own house in order. They need to make sure they can sort out their own policies. They should obsess less about Labor's policies. We've said all along we're in the cart for Budget repair that's fair - that doesn't mean hollowing out Medicare and other things we care about. But we've put on the table $130 billion in Budget improvements. If the Government was genuine about a bipartisan effort, they would consider some of those. 

BRISSENDEN: Well one of the savings that will be in this omnibus bill is the clean energy supplement that will be scrapped. How does the Labor Party justify making Newstart payments even lower, and how do you answer the criticism from the welfare lobby?

CHALMERS: We always take the input from ACOSS and others very seriously. We work closely with a number of peak organisations in that area. We do care very deeply about the welfare of people in our community. We've got to balance that –

BRISSENDEN: Nevertheless, you do support the reduction of the Newstart payments don't you?

CHALMERS: We have to balance that with Budget repair. We've said all along, we put our position out during the election on this issue and we'll carefully examine what the Government puts in the final legislation. But there's a whole range of matters in that omnibus bill which require us to go through in detail, balancing all of the considerations that we've got, our concern for the vulnerable in the community and our need to repair the Budget and avoid that AAA credit rating downgrade. 

BRISSENDEN: Well you mentioned the super changes earlier. It does appear that the Government is moving to change that, to raise the cap from $500,000 to $750,000 but keep the start date backdated to 2007. Is that something you would support or do you still think it's retrospective?

CHALMERS: Michael, it seems like every day there's a new development, and the idea that Scott Morrison has to run around the country at George Christensen's behest, rewriting the superannuation policy, is humiliating for the Treasurer. It's a bit hard to respond to the daily thought bubbles from George and others. We'll wait and see what the Government puts on the table at the end of the day. People know that we're up for a proper conversation about the tax concessions at the top end of superannuation. We've had a policy on the table for some time. We are keen to address those things. And the Government should get their house in order before they obsess about, as Mathias Cormann did last night, Labor's position on the other matters. 

BRISSENDEN: But you remain opposed to this idea of backdating it to 2007, regardless of what the cap is?

CHALMERS: Yeah, we've been concerned since the beginning about the retrospective elements of the policy. We've said that before the election and subsequent to the election. The thing that is making people most unhappy in the community is that retrospectivity. So we have called on the Government to have an independent review of those matters. They're unwilling to do that but our concern about the retrospectivity remains.

BRISSENDEN: Okay, just finally, the other bill that will be put up-front to the Parliament when it comes back next week is the same-sex marriage plebiscite. Has Labor made up its mind yet on whether it will support that or not?

CHALMERS: Well we're doing our best to get a vote in the Parliament, which is what we're paid to do.  I think it says it all about Malcolm Turnbull's weakness - that he's prepared to waste $160 million of taxpayers' money… 

BRISSENDEN: So you won't support it?

CHALMERS: We're trying to get the parliamentary outcome that people expect us to get. We're putting all of our effort into that. We don't think it should get to a plebiscite for a whole range of reasons including the divisive nature of a plebiscite and the waste of money. 

BRISSENDEN: So you'll vote against it when it comes up?

CHALMERS: Well, we've not given up on a parliamentary outcome, Michael. That's where our effort is, that's certainly my preference and the preference of my colleagues.

BRISSENDEN: Okay. Jim Chalmers, we'll leave it there. Thanks very much for joining us. 

CHALMERS: Thank you, Michael.

BRISSENDEN: Shadow Finance Minister, Jim Chalmers.