Doorstop - Canberra (10)

10 August 2017




SUBJECT/S: Inequality under the Turnbull Government; Scott Morrison thinks $122 million marriage equality postal vote is "money well spent"; ABS role in postal vote


JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FINANCE: The Turnbull Government is all about division and inequality - division in their party room and in the community, and inequality in our economy and in our marriage laws. We've got a very important story in the Financial Review today, which shows that under the Turnbull Government, our economy is becoming less equal. What we've got is consumer confidence down and business confidence up, which shows that there is a widening gap between how the majority of people see our economy and experience our economy and how the top end of town experiences the economy. The reason we have inequality in this country and in this economy is because we've got wages at record lows, we've got company profits very high and we've got the worker share of national income at historic lows. This is the reality of the economy under Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison - deepening division and growing inequality.


Instead of working to make this situation better, we have a Turnbull Government which has a recipe to make the division and inequality in our society and our economy even worse, with their tax cuts for high-income earners and big banks and multinationals, their tax hikes for middle Australia and their pay cuts for weekend work. Theirs is a recipe for more division and more inequality when we need less of both of those things. What we need in this country is inclusive growth and reward for effort and a decent social safety net. We won't get decent economic growth in this country unless ordinary working people have the confidence and the capacity to invest and spend in the economy. We won't get economic growth in this country when we have one group of Australians galloping ahead at the expense of the rest.


The other issue I wanted to touch on today is that Scott Morrison has just said this morning that spending $122 million on a divisive, harmful and non-binding opinion poll is "money well spent". If Scott Morrison thinks wasting $122 million on a divisive and harmful and divisive opinion poll is money well spent, is it any wonder that the Budget is in such awful condition on his watch? When we have gross debt at half-a-trillion dollars for the first time in Australian history, when we have a deficit for this year 10 times bigger than predicted in Joe Hockey's first Budget, when we have the AAA credit rating at risk, we have a Treasurer, Scott Morrison, who thinks that $122 million for a marriage equality plebiscite is money well spent. It is long past time for this Government to stop holding thousands of Australian couples hostage to prime-ministerial weakness and Liberal division and one harebrained idea after another.


We had Michael Kirby this morning say on radio that he feels disrespected by this plebiscite. If somebody as accomplished as Michael Kirby feels like a second-class citizen in this country because of the actions of the Turnbull Government, you can only imagine what thousands of Australian couples feel like when they see one harebrained idea after another, one excuse after another to not get on and do what we're paid to do, which is to vote in the Parliament to make marriage equality a reality in this country.


JOURNALIST: What will you be encouraging people in your electorate to do with the postal plebiscite? Should people boycott it?


CHALMERS: Every single time anybody in my community or indeed around the country asks me about marriage equality, I put my view which is that it's long overdue for us to have marriage equality in this country. I will say that in any forum, in any process, no matter who asks me. For some time now, that has been my response. We need to do all that we can to make marriage equality a reality in Australia. We are lagging behind the rest of the world. We are at risk of a very divisive and hateful debate, which is fed and fuelled by this plebiscite process and made worse by the fact that the Prime Minister was given an opportunity yesterday in the Parliament to denounce some of the more hateful comments, including those made by his own current and former colleagues in the Liberal Party and he didn't take that opportunity. And you can imagine that as this plebiscite goes on, there is the capacity for people to make hateful remarks. I thought my great mate and Senate colleague Penny Wong did such a terrific job of pointing out to the Government and to the broader Australian community that this risks being a very divisive process. But whenever I'm asked, I'll put the case forward that marriage equality is long overdue.


JOURNALIST: So will you be voting in the postal plebiscite and will you be encouraging other people to vote?


CHALMERS: I will participate in any process that gives me the opportunity to advance what I think is an important issue for Australia to confront, which is to make marriage equality a reality in this country. I don't think the plebiscite is a good idea. I think we could wander into the House at 9.30 this morning and we could fix this. We could vote for marriage equality and if people have a different view they can vote against it and we can do what we're paid to do, which is to resolve issues like this. One of the most ridiculous arguments which is put is that there is some link between a plebiscite on marriage equality and a plebiscite on an Australian republic. Constitutional change requires a different kind of process to a change to marriage equality. We can make it a reality in the Parliament. We can save $122 million. We could spend that on health or education. We could invest it in the Australian people. We could avoid some of the cuts that have been made to the Energy Supplement - all kinds of things. Or we could help fix the Budget in a fair way. Instead, we've got a Treasurer who thinks that $122 million on a harmful, non-binding opinion poll is money well spent and that really speaks volumes about the problems we have with the Budget, the problems we have with this Treasurer and the divided and unequal nature of the country under these characters.


JOURNALIST: Do you have confidence in the ABS to run this whole process?


CHALMERS: The Minister responsible for the ABS didn't cover himself in glory when it came to managing the Census. We think there are a whole range of unanswered questions about the process, about eligibility for example of overseas voters. There are still some legal hurdles and some legal questions which are unanswered to date. So there are a whole range of issues that are yet to be resolved. There's a fair bit of confusion which the Government hasn't cleared up and the onus is on them to clear that up.