Two years of the Abbott Government

07 September 2015


SUBJECT/S: Coalition costings breach standards; Two years of Tony Abbott; China-Australia Free Trade Agreement

JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY TO THE LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everyone. There are revelations today in the media that the accountants who did the Coalition’s policy costings for the 2013 election have been found to have breached the accounting standards. This is a very serious revelation today, it’s a very damning indictment on the Coalition, on their policy costings and yet another error in a whole pile of errors made by Joe Hockey and the economic team in the Liberal Party.  It’s been downhill since then for Joe Hockey.

Today, as you know, marks two years since the election of the Abbott Government. Two years ago today, Tony Abbott stood up in Sydney, looked the Australian people in the eye and said “we won’t let you down.” The two years since have been characterised by lies and broken promises, chaos and confusion, disunity and disappointment. They promised that there’d be an adrenaline surge in our economy. Instead we’ve got unemployment at 6.3% - it was 5.7% at the election. We’ve got more than 800,000 Australians unemployed today, for the first time in twenty years. We’ve got growth at two per cent, which is very weak by our standards. Every quarter of economic growth under the Liberal Party in this Government has been below trend. We’ve got a whole series of economic indicators which show that far from being the solution to Australia’s economic challenges, this Government has spent two years being part of the problem.

What we need in this country is a plan for a future, to rebuild the economy and to create jobs that will last. Our remarkable quarter-century of economic growth is at risk if we choose the wrong path. As Bill Shorten says, we’ve got to choose between becoming smarter or becoming poorer. Becoming smarter means investing in science and technology, teaching and training our people for the jobs of the future and growing our economy so that there is enough opportunity to go around.

JOURNALIST: The accounting breach appears to be mainly centred on the fact that the PBO – some of their findings – were a bit iffy and they didn’t have access to Commonwealth records as well, but the second one that was always going to be the case because they were in Opposition, wasn’t it?

CHALMERS: No, this revelation today is about the standards that were breached by one of the three auditors. The standards that were breached were the accounting standards of the country. This is a very serious and independent finding – not by the Labor Party, not by the PBO or anyone else – but a finding that shows from the very beginning, Joe Hockey’s budget policy was dodgy. It’s only been downhill since then. It’s been two years of lies and broken promises, chaos and confusion, disunity and disappointment.

JOURNALIST: But it was the – are you talking about the assurances that weren’t provided with the costings?

CHALMERS: I’m talking about the breaching of the accounting standards. The national body that polices the accounting standards in this country has found that one of the three auditors appointed by the Coalition in the lead-up to the 2013 election were found to have used standards that were not up to the mark.

JOURNALIST: That was all to do with the assurances, though, that were not provided about how accurate they would be, and that related to not having access to Commonwealth records.

CHALMERS: Every Opposition in every campaign that I’ve been involved in – the last four or five – has had to rely on the numbers that are available to them. They come up with, either they use the PBO process or the Finance Department process or they use their own auditors. In this case, they chose their own auditors. Those auditors did not come up to the mark when it comes to the standards of their own industry.

JOURNALIST: Just on the China Free Trade, Barnaby Joyce said that (inaudible) the G20 Finance Ministers Meeting to discuss Labor’s concerns about the deal with his Chinese counterpart. How concerned are you that Labor has damaged its relationship with China through its opposition to pass the deal?

CHALMERS: I don’t accept that, Jane. I think that we’ve said all along that we’re up for a free trade agreement with China, indeed we worked on this for some years. I’ve said personally that I support a free trade agreement with China. We want it to be the best it can be. That means ensuring that any deal with China maximises Australian jobs and minimises the risk of exploitation in our workforce.

JOURNALIST: And in terms of the changes that Labor wants to make, can you clarify (inaudible) is it the deal that needs to be renegotiated, or is it the relevant enabling legislation, or is it a whole piece of new legislation?

CHALMERS: We’ve said all along that we want to sit down with the Government and talk through these issues. If the Government actually wanted to pass the free trade agreement, they would sit down with us in good faith. If they actually cared about the workforce in this country, they’d seek to do what we’re doing which is maximise Australian jobs and minimise exploitation.

The Government knows full well that they can do what we’re asking of them without renegotiating the deal with China. They know that. They’ve known that all along. It does make me extremely suspicious that they actually want to pass this thing. It looks more to me when they carry on like they are now that they want this as an ongoing political issue, a point of differentiation because they don’t have any other agenda at the moment. They’ve got nothing on the Cabinet agenda, they’re cancelling Cabinet meetings, they’re leaking out of the Cabinet. This is the only thing  they’re prepared to talk about right now. And you do wonder whether they actually want to pass it. Because what we’re asking is not a big deal, it’s to sit down and work through these issues to protect Australian jobs, in particular. That’s not an unreasonable request.

JOURNALIST: Whether or not this is the only thing the Government wants to talk about, their approach on it and particularly linking Bill Shorten with the CFMEU seems to be working. I mean, Mr Shorten has taken another hit in the polls in the way that people view him.

CHALMERS: I don’t think any objective observer of that poll today would come to the conclusion that we’ve taken a substantial hit on our side; it’s all the other way. I mean, I spend a lot of time in my community as you’d expect as a Member of Parliament, and I can tell you that people are absolutely filthy with this Government. They’re filthy with two years of lies and broken promises, in particular. They are itching for the opportunity to cast judgment on Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey, and I think that the polls reflect that. Thanks.