Sky News AM Agenda (31)

10 August 2017




SUBJECT/S: Divisive marriage equality postal vote; Scott Morrison thinks $122 million marriage equality postal vote is "money well spent"; Turnbull Government’s energy crisis; Inequality under Turnbull Government; Labor’s fair tax proposals


KIERAN GILBERT: Shadow Finance Minister Jim Chalmers with me now. Looks like the postal plebiscite is a reality. Is it now time for you and the rest of the Labor Party to get on with it, campaign and win it?


JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FINANCE: There are still a lot of unanswered questions about the plebiscite. There are some legal questions to be answered, some other uncertainties. But overwhelmingly, every opportunity we get to make the case for marriage equality we make it. A very disappointing thing  happened this morning when Scott Morrison said that he considered spending $122 million on what will be a harmful and divisive and non-binding opinion poll is money well spent, in his consideration. And when you think about it like that, you can see why we've got a Budget in such a mess. You could spend that $122 million in all kinds of ways - heath or education or helping to repair the Budget. Instead, we've got a Treasurer who thinks it's a good idea to spend that much money on something that will be very harmful and divisive.


GILBERT: As I argued, or put to Penny Wong - not necessarily argued, but raised the prospect of - the counter argument to the harmful and divisive debate - why can't the better angels of our community dominate in terms of both sides of the debate being respectful?


CHALMERS: Ideally, Kieran. But already we've seen some hateful remarks, even from the Prime Minister's former and current colleagues about this process. So that would be the ideal outcome, but I don't have much confidence, especially when the Prime Minister's not prepared to denounce some of that commentary as Penny Wong said in the Senate yesterday or the day before, I do think there is a real risk that thousands of Australian couples, will not just be held hostage to division in the Liberal Party, prime-ministerial weakness, one harebrained idea after another like the plebiscite, but also subjected to some hateful commentary and in the absence of leadership from the Prime Minister denouncing, we'll probably see more of it.


GILBERT: Like I said to the Shadow Foreign Minister, there's a lot of goodwill towards same-sex couples in the community as well, isn't there?


CHALMERS: Of course, there is. But that doesn't prevent...


GILBERT: The polls show a majority would support marriage equality as it's described.


CHALMERS: Of course there is some goodwill, but there's also some hateful commentary. And this process will turbocharge that hateful commentary rather than diminish it.


GILBERT: In relation to the energy chiefs in town yesterday, summonsed for the third time in a couple of months, they're now committing to more transparency on prices. That's good, isn't it?


CHALMERS: We've got a full-blown energy crisis in this country which won't be fixed by a cup of tea and some confected and choreographed outrage from the Prime Minister. The best way to understand what's going on in energy right now is we've got prices going up, we've got pollution going up and we've got jobs coming down in the sector, right? We won't fix that problem unless we get investment. We won't get investment unless there's some certainty. We won't get that certainty unless there's an agreed policy going forward that people can invest in. We won't get that certainty unless the Government sits down with Labor and comes to an agreement on the future of energy policy. And we won't get that opportunity until the Prime Minister shows some leadership in his party room, comes to a view and comes to Labor. We have said over and over again that we're prepared to do the right thing. We're prepared to trade away some of the things that we think are the best possible policy settings. We're prepared to negotiate and compromise. But that requires a Prime Minister with the leadership and the capacity to come to the table and come to an agreement.


GILBERT: In terms of power prices specifically though, have companies been gouging in your view?


CHALMERS: There are a whole range of factors and obviously the companies are a part of that. We've said, Mark Butler said this morning on radio, that we welcome some of these other measures, but they're effectively half-measures until you get agreement on a clean energy target. All of these other things are secondary to the main challenge.


GILBERT: The story in the Financial Review today - Jacob Greber reports about this divergence between consumer confidence and business confidence. Is it the case thought that one will lead to the other effectively? That with better business prosperity, that gradually consumers will feel more optimistic as well?


CHALMERS: Ordinarily business confidence and consumer confidence head in the same direction. That's been the history of those two pretty important measures. But what we've had over the last year or so is a big divergence. And what that really illustrates is because of record low wages growth, very high profits, and record low worker share of national income, is that we are becoming less equal. We are becoming more divided. And that's because we've got a Government with tax policies and industrial relations policies that are really feeding and fuelling a situation where one part of the Australian community gallops ahead at the expense of the rest.


GILBERT: Is there scope for you then as a Labor Shadow Minister and Minister beyond the next election if you win to deliver tax cuts for that range of income earners?


CHALMERS: Well the first thing we need to do...


GILBERT: You'd need significant tax cuts to equalise it.


CHALMERS: Already we've said that we wouldn't be pursuing the tax hikes on people earning less than $87,000, so that would make a real difference. Malcolm Turnbull wants to tax low- and middle-income earners more. We don't agree with that. We've already said that we wouldn't proceed with the tax relief that Malcolm Turnbull's given to the very highest income earners. We've said we don't support a $65 billion gift to multinationals and the big banks. All of these things will make a difference.


GILBERT: But the tax relief is the removal of the deficit levy, effectively.


CHALMERS: Indeed, yeah. And the net effect of removing that this year has been an extraordinary tax cut for the top end of town, while Malcolm Turnbull wants people in the middle to pay more.


GILBERT: Is there scope for more tax relief though? Because you've spent a lot as well.


CHALMERS: The Budget's very tight and obviously we'll have more to say about tax in the lead up to the election. But first things first.


GILBERT: If equality's so important, it's pretty pivotal, isn't it?


CHALMERS: Tax is crucial to addressing growing inequality. But so is industrial relations and Brendan O'Connor made a terrific contribution to that conversation last week at the Sydney Institute. All of these levers are important, unfortunately the Government is pulling those levers, but in the wrong direction. So they have a recipe for more division and more inequality when we need less.


GILBERT: One of the issues, you talk about more certainty for the energy companies. What about certainty for smaller businesses with the promise to restore penalty rates, for example, on the weekends?


CHALMERS: When we go to the election, people will be under no illusions about what Labor's policy is as it relates on business, as it related to individuals. What we've done over the last two terms really is we've given people an opportunity - an early opportunity - to really consider our tax policies, to hold them up to the light, to see whether they support them or not well in advance of the election and that's the approach that we'll continue.


GILBERT: Jim Chalmers, appreciate your time. We'll talk to you again soon.