Insiders 21/11/21

21 November 2021

SUBJECTS: Anti-vax protests, Scott Morrison’s dog whistling double speak, Scott Morrison’s scare campaign over cost of living; Under Scott Morrison petrol prices are going up, Wages are going down, and Australian families are going backwards; Coalition’s appalling record on wages; Industrial Relations; Taxes and election policies; Debt and deficit, Morrison Government’s budget riddled with rorts and weighed down by waste; Migration; Cheaper and cleaner energy.




SUBJECTS: Anti-vax protests, Scott Morrison’s dog whistling double speak, Scott Morrison’s scare campaign over cost of living; Under Scott Morrison petrol prices are going up, Wages are going down, and Australian families are going backwards; Coalition’s appalling record on wages; Industrial Relations; Taxes and election policies; Debt and deficit, Morrison Government’s budget riddled with rorts and weighed down by waste; Migration; Cheaper and cleaner energy.

DAVID SPEERS, HOST: Jim Chalmers, welcome to the program. 

JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: Thanks very much, David. 

SPEERS: Look, we saw big protests across the country yesterday. Do you accept that there are some people concerned about vaccine mandates who aren't necessarily extremists?

CHALMERS: You can express a view in this country without dragging around gallows, a noose, and calling for Premiers to be hanged.

I condemn without reservation, without qualification, the violent threats being made here even if the Prime Minister won't.

We live in a society and that means we have obligations to each other, to try and tame this virus, to look out for each other, to protect each other, to try and keep each other safe. What the Prime Minister is doing is, he's trying to divide us, he's trying to diminish that collective effort, and undermine all of the good and all of the progress that Australians have made together.

He does that with this dangerous dog-whistling doublespeak that we hear from him. He does it by claiming credit for high vaccination rates without taking responsibility for the measures that are necessary to get those rates up. 

I think what's especially troubling to mainstream Australia, is the rest of us see the kind of violent politics that have emerged in the United States in the last couple of years and we want to reject it, but the Prime Minister seems to want to embrace those kind of violent views and violent threats.

I think the country is crying out for leadership, and they're not getting it from this Prime Minister. If he wants to keep playing this dangerous game with dangerous consequences, then the country doesn't just have an opportunity to throw him out at the election, we’ve got an obligation to do that.

SPEERS: Specifically, though, on these issue of vaccine mandates in different states. I mean, there in Queensland a barista has to be vaccinated, a school teacher does not. Do you accept there is some inconsistency that's frustrating people?

CHALMERS: Obviously, when you're making difficult decisions about matters as consequential as vaccine mandates, there are a lot of fine judgments involved. 

SPEERS: Do they make sense to you though?

CHALMERS: I support anything that is consistent with health advice, which protects people from the virus, and which gets those vaccination rates up. That involves and invites some difficult decisions being made by Premiers of both political persuasions, it's not our job to second guess that, it's our job to try and make it work. Because the secret to Australia's performance throughout this pandemic is that we've gotten through it together, and we need to stick together and do the right thing by each other, even if our Prime Minister wants to divide and diminish those efforts.

SPEERS: Let me turn to something else the Prime Minister said this week on cost of living. He suggested that petrol prices, power prices, interest rates, would all rise more under a Labor than a Coalition Government. Are you prepared for an election battle over cost of living?

CHALMERS: Too right we are, David. I would absolutely welcome that. I would be absolutely delighted to have an election about the cost of living, and real wages going backwards, and the fact that the Prime Minister has been lying to Australians about the economy, and that has real consequences for working families. 

If he wants to have an election on the fact that petrol prices have gone up on average over the last year something like $900 for an average family with an average car, at the same time as real wages have gone backwards $700 over the last year, then we say bring it on. Under the Morison Government petrol prices are skyrocketing, real wages are going down, and working families are going backwards. I think that should be central to an election about the economy, about living standards, and about the Prime Minister's failures on economic management.

SPEERS: Let's talk about real wages you mentioned there. What is your solution to lifting real wages? I know unions are now saying they want industry-wide bargaining - or the power to negotiate across multiple employers - would that help lift wages? 

CHALMERS: You have to come at this problem, which has been a problem that's hung around even before the pandemic, we’ve had stagnant wages growth for much of the last eight years - before the pandemic, during the pandemic, and the Government's own Budget says that we'll have four more years of real wages going backwards. So you need to come at this problem in a couple of ways.

SPEERS: To be clear, they were also going backwards still in Labor's final year in office as well.

CHALMERS: Under this Government, we've had eight years of stagnant wages with at least four more years to come.

SPEERS: So how do you fix them?

CHALMERS: If you ask any credible economist, they say you've got to come at it at multiple levels. At the macro level, the key to wages is to get productivity growing again, and to get business investment at acceptable levels. And on both of those fronts - if you look at the last eight years - we've had flatlining productivity and flatlining business investment. That's what matters most at the macro level. But at the very specific level, we've got a policy out there about making work more secure. The main thing that has been undermining real wages in this country is the cancer of insecure work, and that's been flowing through into wages outcomes.

SPEERS: That might be an issue, but really the question was about industry-wide bargaining. Sally McManus says bargaining is how working people win pay rises. Do you think the ACTU Secretary knows what she's talking about here?

CHALMERS: First of all, the question was about how we get wages growing again. Productivity, business investment, and dealing with insecure work - we've got policies on each of those fronts. When it comes to the comments made by the ACTU, I think for the last few years people on all sides of the employment relationship have expressed their concerns about enterprise bargaining and have proposed ways to make it better. We take suggestions made by the unions and made by the employer groups very seriously.

SPEERS: What does that mean though? Sorry to interrupt, I'm just trying to get an answer. Your policy is silent on this at the moment. The unions are saying this is how you fix wages. What do you think?

CHALMERS: We've announced our policy on industrial relations... 

SPEERS: It makes no reference to this. ... 

CHALMERS: … and our policy on industrial relations is all about dealing with the cancer of insecure work, which has been undermining real wages for this Government's time in office. That's our priority. Things like dealing with labour hire - same job, same pay. Making sure that Fair Work Australia is empowered to give people a pathway from casual, insecure jobs to permanent more secure ones. That is our priority.

SPEERS: I understand that, I'm just asking you about industry-wide bargaining. Is it a yes, or a no, or a maybe?

CHALMERS: It's not part of our policy, David. I've just explained to you what our policy is on industrial relations, we've already announced that some time ago.

SPEERS: Well, let me ask you then about, generally, the other issue when it comes to the cost of living, and that's taxes. Would any taxes be higher under Labor?

CHALMERS: We've said that there is an opportunity when it comes to multinational taxes to make the system fairer, so that multinational corporations pay their fair share of tax in Australia. There's been some very welcome and very important developments on the international front, via the OECD, and President Biden and Secretary Yellen in the United States. We've said that there is an opportunity there to do something meaningful on multinational taxes, as part of dealing with the trillion dollars in debt that we will inherit from the Morrison Government with not enough to show for it.

SPEERS: Okay, but beyond multinational taxes, is that it? Would you increase taxes for ordinary Australians at all?

CHALMERS: Our priority is multinational taxes. We haven't finalised our full suite of policies, as you'd appreciate. There is still at least two budget updates between now and the election - we've got the mid-year update in December, the Government says they'll do another Budget, then we'll also have the pre-election update after that. So it makes sense to maintain some flexibility on our final set of policies. We've said repeatedly that we won't take an identical agenda on tax or anything that we took to the last election to the next election. We will finalise all of our policies - including on tax, with an emphasis on multinational taxes - between now and the election.

SPEERS: Okay, you've already said you won't do the franking credit, negative gearing, capital gains tax changes that you took to the last election. What about discretionary trusts? You've apparently still been arguing internally to go ahead with a change there?

CHALMERS: What we've said is, we will finalise our policies between now and the election. We're not going to go through every item that was part of the 2019 agenda... 

SPEERS: But you've knocked off a lot of them, that one's still on the table? ... 

CHALMERS: …and reannounce every one of them. We'll finalise our policies between now and the election date, as I said.

SPEERS: Okay, you mentioned debt. Gross debt is already higher than $850 billion. It's on track to pass $1 trillion. What would you do about this debt mountain, should you inherit it?

CHALMERS: This trillion dollars in debt comes courtesy of a Budget which is absolutely riddled with rorts, and waste, and mismanagement. This Government is the most wasteful government since Federation. What we need to do is prioritise growth in the first instance, so that any new spending that we propose is about growing the economy. The second thing we need to do, is to deal with that legacy of rorts, and waste, and mismanagement, left to us by the Government if the government changes hands. And thirdly, there is an opportunity for tax reform in areas like multinational taxes. But our priority, in the near-term, is to make sure that we get wages growing again, we get that secure work, and we don't turn what has been a decade of missed opportunities and wasted opportunities in the economy, into another decade of that. That means doing things like growing the economy by getting cleaner and cheaper energy, by training our people for opportunities as they emerge, turning our ideas into jobs. All of these things are absolutely crucial to growing the economy. We'll get bang for buck in the Budget. It will be a responsible Budget, not another three years of the rorts, and waste, and mismanagement, we've seen from the most wasteful Government since Federation.

SPEERS: Okay, but it sounds like some tax change on multinationals. Not really any spending cuts beyond the areas that you've described as rorts. You'll still be largely relying on growing the economy to fix that debt problem?

CHALMERS: I don't think we should lightly dismiss the opportunity to wind back some of the rorts and mismanagement in the Budget, we're talking about tens of billions of dollars that the Government's wasted on carpark rorts, settling the Robodebt case, and all the money that they've sprayed around for political purposes. We shouldn't lightly dismiss the opportunities there to have a far more responsible Budget when it comes to spending, at the same time as we do something about multinationals. But yes, the priority with all of our spending - and the reason we hold every proposed policy up to the light - we judge it by what it means for growth, what it means for secure work, because we would inherit a trillion dollars of Liberal debt with not enough to show for it. We need to be, and will be, much more responsible with the Budget than the Liberals had been either last eight years.

SPEERS: Well, one of those policies you held up to the light was the Government's stage three tax cuts. You were previously quite critical of it, you're gonna proceed with them. But what about the rate of JobSeeker for the unemployed? Would there be room to do something more on that?

CHALMERS: We haven't come to a concluded view on that, David. We do recognise that disadvantage is a massive problem in our economy and in our society. As the economy recovers from this pandemic, we don't want to leave people behind. But we also need to recognise that poverty and disadvantage is partly about income support payments - they are important - but it's not solely about that. It's about housing, it's about entrenched disadvantage. it's about placed-based initiatives in communities like the one that I represent.

SPEERS: It's also about the JobSeeker rate though, ACOSS if very clear on this. They've done some polling in marginal seats and it shows, you know, a lot of people actually support an increase. Would you go to the election promising and increase?

CHALMERS: We haven't concluded a view on that David, as I said a moment ago. We welcome ACOSS's input into this conversation, it's incredibly important and a lot of economists have made some of the same points. What we need to do, is weigh-up all of the things that we would like to do, make sure that we can responsibly commit to areas, and we've said that one of the most important things you can do for the disadvantaged and the vulnerable in Australia is to do something meaningful on social housing. That was one of our first priorities. That recognises that there are a range of issues when it comes to people being left behind. We've made housing a priority, we'll come to a concluded view on some of these other policy proposals between now and the election and the first Budget of a Labor Government.

SPEERS: Okay, and when it comes to wages - just coming back to wages - do you see a link between skilled migration and Australian wages?

CHALMERS: The number of workers matters obviously in the economy, but there are much broader issues at play when you think about those eight years of wage stagnation. If it was just an issue around migration, we wouldn't have had stagnant wages before the pandemic, during the pandemic, and expected after the pandemic. The two big issues in the labour market which are driving stagnant wages, are the fact that we've got two million unemployed or underemployed at the same time as we've got skill shortages. And we've got that cancer of insecure work. Those are the issues that are driving...

SPEERS: Specifically on migration. I mean, do you think accelerating the intake of skilled migrants would depress wages here or not?

CHALMERS: It depends on the composition, David. The number does matter, I'm not pretending that the number of migrants doesn't matter. But the composition matters, the balance between skilled and unskilled, the balance between permanent and temporary, making sure that we deal with issues around exploitation. All of that is very important and I don't lightly dismiss it, but it's not the biggest issue in the labour market - job insecurity is. The mismatch between a couple of million Australians who can't find enough hours or a job, and the fact that we've got skill shortages around the country. Those are the big issues driving the weakness in the labour market and the weakness in wages. Those are issues that have been left more or less unaddressed for the last eight years of this Morrison Government. And that's why working families are falling behind and can't meet the skyrocketing cost of petrol and the other costs of living.

SPEERS: Final one, is Labor settled on a 2030 climate target yet?

CHALMERS: We've said David, that we'll come to a concluded view on that in the coming weeks. I'll make...  

SPEERS: So it's still being debated? 

CHALMERS: We're having a discussion about the best target and the best suite policies. At the next election it will be a choice. The Government's got a pamphlet, we'll have a plan. We'll announce our plan in the coming weeks.

SPEERS: Are you still waiting for inputs or is it just an argument really amongst yourselves at the moment as to where it'll land?

CHALMERS: I wouldn't describe it that way, David. We're having really constructive conversations, led by Anthony Albanese and Chris Bowen, with the Shadow Cabinet. I'll make my contribution there, but I'll say this David - we will strike the right level of ambition when it comes to our climate policies because good climate policy is good economic policy. If we get cleaner and cheaper energy into the system there'll be more jobs, more investment, and more opportunities for more people, including in the regions. And as a Queenslander, I think it is tremendously important that we recognise there is an appetite right around Australia for us to do something meaningful about cleaner and cheaper energy. The regions stand to be among the biggest beneficiaries according to the Business Council modelling. So we can do something meaningful here, we can be practical about it, we can be problem solvers, and do something ambitious in a way that doesn't abandon communities or abandon some of our traditional economic strengths.

SPEERS: Jim Chalmers, thanks for joining us.

CHALMERS: Thanks, David.