Sky News AM Agenda (32)

07 September 2017


SUBJECT/S: Postal survey; National Accounts; interest rates; Turnbull Government’s energy crisis


KIERAN GILBERT: With me now is Shadow Finance Minister Jim Chalmers. Let's look at the High Court ruling that's going to be handed down during Question Time today. You heard Zed Seselja before the break saying if it is upheld - the survey - and there is a "no" vote, why shouldn't Labor abide by that result?


JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FINANCE: Members of the Coalition only want the result to be binding if it goes in one direction - if the outcome is "no". We'll know more about the High Court's decision, as you say, during Question Time this afternoon. We've said all along that the $122 million of taxpayers' money that the Government wants to waste on this postal survey, which isn't binding, is neither urgent nor unforeseen. And those are the questions that the High Court are looking at, whether or not it was right for the Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann, to spend this money without the approval of the Parliament. We think if it's urgent, we can fix it in the Parliament straight away. The only reason we're not doing that is because Malcolm Turnbull's too weak to lead on the issues he says he cares about.


GILBERT: What's the legal advice to Labor suggesting? Do you think the survey will be upheld? That it will be OK to go ahead?


CHALMERS: We don't make predictions about the High Court outcome this afternoon. We don't think it was necessary in the first place. If it goes ahead, we will campaign vigorously for a "yes" vote. I will certainly campaign vigorously for a "yes" vote. But this is a waste of $122 million. The best way to get an outcome on marriage equality in this country is in the Parliament. If the Coalition wasn't so divided and if the PM wasn't so weak, that would be the course that we would adopt.


GILBERT: On the National Accounts, the Treasurer reflecting on the quite strong numbers suggested that the next move in interest rates would most likely be up. That's the view of most economists, certainly those surveyed by my colleagues at Sky News Business. The majority believe the next move will be up. The Treasurer also made comments last night on Sky News that he believes that a lot of mortgage holders would be putting a buffer in, in terms of their mortgage repayments. Do you share his optimism?


CHALMERS: There are a whole range of things in your question, Kieran. On the National Accounts generally, the Treasurer wants us to believe that they were somehow these beautiful set of numbers, when in reality the defining feature of the National Accounts yesterday was wages have gone backwards in this country and household saving has gone down. We've got economic growth at less than two per cent per year. We've had that for three of the last four quarters, which is the worst performance since the Global Financial Crisis. We're growing more slowly than Canada and New Zealand and the US and the OECD average. And I think it says it all about the Treasurer that he's walking around this building patting himself on the back for numbers which show that wages are going back in this country. And that's why people won't necessarily be able to build a buffer if interest rates do go up down the track, because wages aren't growing.


GILBERT: Do you think that idea of a buffer is a bit hopeful? 


CHALMERS: I don't think it bears scrutiny when we've got wages, which are going backwards in yesterday's National Accounts; we've got household saving going down; we've got penalty rates being cut. I don't think people are building a buffer. On your question about market expectations for interest rates, yes some of the market commentators expect rates to go up, but not for some time now. Most of the economic commentators expect rates to be steady well into next year.


GILBERT: Finally, the last question relates to the energy issue and AGL specifically, the Liddell power station. Isn't the Government and the Prime Minister taking the pragmatic approach here that needs to be done, in terms of base load power? That's what the market operator suggested, that there's going to be a gap there for at least five years. So why not step in early and ensure that the gap is filled?


CHALMERS: The Prime Minister is making it up as he goes along. He's had a different position almost every day this week. The truth is, there will be a gap in supply in this country for as long as there is a shortage of certainty. And there will be a shortage of certainty for as long as there is a shortage of leadership. And that's what we're getting from Malcolm Turnbull - a shortage of leadership.


GILBERT: Shadow Finance Minister Jim Chalmers, thanks so much for that.