Oct 9, 2020







SUBJECTS: Federal Budget; Budget reply; Labor’s Working Family Child Care Boost; childcare; women; manufacturing; social housing; economic reforms; energy prices; Labor’s plan to Rewire the Nation; Daniel Andrews; Victorian Government’s handling of the coronavirus.


VIRGINIA TRIOLI, HOST: Well, it was a very big spending Budget, wasn’t it, on Tuesday night? And now the opposition has had its chance to reply. And again, the spending is out, but a very different focus. Anthony Albanese spoke last night in the House, giving his Budget in Reply, and he joins us now. Anthony Albanese, Leader of the Opposition, good morning to you.




TRIOLI: Have the battle lines over debt and deficit guilt between Labor and the Coalition guilt and blame, really, have they now been erased because of this pandemic? Can those accusations no longer be thrown at either of you?


ALBANESE: Well, I think the fraudulent arguments of the Government that has pretended that the Global Financial Crisis didn’t exist, they inherited a debt with a two in front of it in terms of hundreds of billions. The other night, that debt hit a trillion dollars, so they’ve quadrupled the debt. It’s a bit hard, I think, for them to argue, as they have, quite frankly, the absurdity that we should have just sat back and let the Global Financial Crisis do what it did to other advanced economies which was to drive Australia into recession.


TRIOLI: Well, given that and given they have spent so big, and I don’t think anyone, yourself included, denies them the responsibility and the need to do just that. You’ve responded with some big spending of your own in terms of a massive underwriting and supporting, should you be elected, for childcare, bringing that up to 90 per cent of the fee required, some building in social housing, rebuilding and constructing the grid, the energy grid, across the country, amongst other things, and we’ll get through to them. So, how do you fund all of that?


ALBANESE: Well, the first thing to say is that for a trillion dollars of debt in Tuesday night’s Budget, they didn’t have any reform, no big announcements that make a difference to the future of our economy, or indeed the future of our society. What we’ve chosen to do is to look at not how we can just return to what was there before, how can we be better? How can we be stronger? How can we be fairer? And one way we can do that is by investing in childcare. And, of course, the way that you get economic growth is the three Ps. Population, and we know that’s going backwards in terms of more people leaving the country than coming in the coming 12 months. The other two, of course, are productivity and participation. And this measure in terms of childcare is an economic reform, as well as one that will assist our kids. So, of course, we know that 90 per cent of brain development happens in the first five years. So, it’s good for particularly women’s workforce participation. It will also assist men, of course. It’s not a gender base. But the truth is that it’s women’s careers that are often disrupted. It is women in circumstances who, frankly, have a disincentive to work a fourth or fifth day in the working week. And that holds them back. And that holds back out productivity as well.


TRIOLI: But let’s talk about the value that you get for that spend. This is Sue Morphet speaking to me the morning after the Budget. She’s the president, of course, of Chief Executive Women. And one who knows this subject very well. She’s talking here about the big spend that is supporting childcare.


SUE MORPHET, PRESIDENT OF CHIEF EXECUTIVE WOMEN: Childcare is a spend every year. It’s a benefit every year. So, if they spent two and a half billion dollars this year, they would get almost $5 billion back in GDP benefit each year going on.


TRIOLI: So, the GDP benefits are clear. And you spoke about that last night. But the spend is significant. And it has to be spent every year. Can a Labor Government say that they can actually sustain that into the future?


ALBANESE: Absolutely. You get a return, as Sue just said. We modelled, through KPMG’s modelling, shows that what we’re proposing would benefit at least $4 billion of return to our national economy. What that means is additional revenue. It’s working women then paying tax back into the system. Its growth in terms of productivity. This will be a substantial reform. And just like down the track, what we’ve said is that we’ll put this in our first term from 1 July 2022. But we’ll also have the Productivity Commission look and review how it’s going in that first term and look at universality, extending the scheme to universality, across the board. Because we think, really, childcare is an essential service. This isn’t a welfare measure. This is about workforce participation and driving productivity. At the same time, of course, there are positive equity considerations as well. The fact is that women still earn less than men. They retire with less superannuation than men. The fact is that we’ve got to address gender imbalances in society. And this is one way that you can do that.


TRIOLI: But you mentioned there that, of course, you get the other benefit that you’ve got women in the workforce and they’re paying taxes. But you’ve agreed to pass the Government’s $50 billion in personal and business tax cuts. That is, to whoever’s in government, whether it be Labor or Coalition, that’s a massive loss of tax receipts into the future for any future government. That’s the hole in the road sort of built into any of these budgets down the line, isn’t it? How do you account for that? Particularly when we’ve got zero net migration, you’re not getting more workers into the country, you’re basically you’re setting yourselves both up, really, for decline?


ALBANESE: Well, we’ve supported stage one and stage two of the tax cuts. The big beneficiaries of stage two are those people who earn between $90,000-120,000. So, that’s a lot of working families who are in that circumstance. And we did support that measure. They will spend it and create economic activity. We remain concerned about the high-end tax cuts. We remain concerned. We said that you couldn’t predict what the economy would look like in 2024/25.


TRIOLI: No, I know that. Just to jump in, I just want to keep you to my question, which is just about the tax cuts that you’ve agreed to pass, that nonetheless, is denying any government any future income for a whole lot of spending, and let’s just stick with you, that Labor says it wants to do. I can’t see, looking down the line, the economic logic or the financial logic of how you pay for it when you have so much less coming in.


ALBANESE: Well, stage two of the tax cuts, of course, had already passed. What we’ve agreed to do is to bring them forward. And that is something that we were calling for last year.


TRIOLI: But the issue still remains.


ALBANESE: Yes, you’re quite correct. But one of the things that you have to do, as well, is to look at how you grow the economy. Childcare reform will grow the economy. It will boost the economy. It will provide a dividend for society. It’s not just the beneficiaries of the families, particularly working women. It is society and our economy as a whole will also benefit.


TRIOLI: I’ve been speaking to those I know who work in social and public housing. And while they welcome your proposal last night to spend money actually fixing up the social housing that exists, making those essential repairs and how important they are, they make the point that without an absolute increase in the numbers of social housing, in the end, that won’t make much difference. You’re not actually fixing the real problem. And I think there’s about 45,000 on the list here in Victoria alone who needs social housing. I note that in your statement you say, ‘Ahead of the next election, Labor will bring forward a comprehensive plan for the repair and construction of social housing’. But that’s nothing that you outlined last night, and they’re disappointed about that.


ALBANESE: Well, the fact is, I grew up in public housing. I’ve foreshadowed further investment in social housing. I indicated it last night. There’s around about 200,000 people, just under that, on social housing waiting lists around the country for public or community housing. We need to boost supply. I agree with them. But we can’t boost supply between now and Christmas, because we’re not the Government.


TRIOLI: You could have put out a proposal there and at least put the states on notice that there’ll be a requirement for them to join in, and NGOs as well.


ALBANESE: Well, we have done that. And we’ve also said the immediate bang for your buck in terms of job creation, which is needed right now, that could get tradies on the tools right now, is the maintenance. When we were in the GFC, what we did was we had 20,000 additional units funded as part of our housing support, but we also fixed up 80,000 units. Now, what that meant, I know firsthand in parts of my electorate in Lilyfield, a run-down sector, where a whole lot of the units weren’t occupied, because they weren’t liveable, is now a fantastic place to live. Anyone who drives past it wouldn’t know that it was social housing because what it did was really fixed it up, revitalise it, regenerate it, whilst creating jobs at the same time.


TRIOLI: You talked about $20 billion to rebuild and to really connect the energy grid across the country, as many people would know that according to those in the industry, has really been the roadblock to actually getting sustainable and nationally connected renewable energy into the picture. Something that occurs to me though that might be a political problem that you have, Anthony Albanese, and that’s getting people like Joel Fitzgibbon to stop undermining such a policy with his insistence on coal. Do you believe that you’ve got him under control?


ALBANESE: I announced our policy and he supportive and everyone supported. What this is about actually doesn’t pick any particular mode. It is fixing the grid. But what we know is that the cheapest form of new energy is renewables. We know that’s the case.


TRIOLI: But we also know, apologies for jumping in, but the most important thing, really, is that we know that it’s the grid and that lack of connectivity, and it’s sort of its modern status, if you like, that’s prevented us becoming nationally reliant, or the energy being reliable to all of us through renewable energy. That’s the key issue.


ALBANESE: That’s exactly right. And that’s what we’ve identified. And the good news here is that the planning works are being done. The Australian Energy Market Operator has done an integrated system plan and identified the infrastructure that’s needed. What’s holding it back too is that you have monopoly providers in the states and territories who don’t really necessarily have an incentive to fix the system nationally. You’ve had all sorts of problems as we know with interconnectors between the states. There’s been talk, for example, of another interconnector from Tassie into Victoria for such a long period of time, but it hasn’t happened. What you need to do is to have a policy that drives that change. Now, if you drive that change, what will happen is that the market will determine those issues. And the market tells us that renewables are overwhelmingly the cheapest form of new energy.


TRIOLI: Well, it’s certainly where the market money has gone. And we’ve discussed on this program many times that there’s been no private money for coal in the last few years. It’s all gone in the other direction. But let me just return you to my question, though, and that’s why I asked it, is that you seem to get that, that the private equity markets seem to get that. But very powerful and influential people in your Party like Joel Fitzgibbon don’t seem to get that. So, do you have him under control?


ALBANESE: I’m the Leader of the Labor Party, Virginia. And I have a very clear position. It’s one that’s supported by all of the Labor Party, including Joel. The fact is that when we’re talking about reliability of the grid, this is just a common sense measure. It is something that should have been done some time ago. As you’d recall, Virginia, we’ve been around a while. I was an architect of the 20 per cent renewable energy target by 2020. At the time, when I wrote that policy as Labor’s Environment and Climate Change spokesperson in 2006, the target was two. We were increasing it by tenfold. And people said, ‘That can’t possibly be achieved, and it will cost too much’. The truth is, we know that it is renewables that not only can provide jobs here, it can drive, if you fix up the grid, it can drive low energy cost into manufacturing, have high-value jobs created here. We can also be an energy exporter, which is what a whole range of people like Mike Cannon-Brookes say. The project in Tennant Creek, the scale of it, a 250 square kilometre solar farm, with a battery that is multiple size, more than 10 times bigger than the battery that is powering in Whyalla, in South Australia, that’s been such a success, and will help to power Singapore. The possibilities of really getting incredible economic benefit from embracing what we know, the solutions that the market is telling us, the energy operators are telling us, everyone’s telling us, that this could be a real driver of jobs and we could be a renewable energy superpower.


TRIOLI: I have to let you go soon. Anthony Albanese is with us this morning, the Leader of the Opposition after his Budget reply speech last night. But just a couple of quick questions if I can, Mr Albanese. Would a Government you lead, would it reverse the Government’s legislation that’s got through the Senate now, that doubles the cost of Arts and Social Sciences degrees?


ALBANESE: Look, we opposed the legislation. We will make all announcements that relate to funding, of course, over a period of time well before the election.


TRIOLI: Can I take that as a kind of yes?


ALBANESE: Well, what you can take it as is that when we announce spending, we do it carefully and we go through a proper process to do so. But that we regard education as something that doesn’t just benefit individuals, it is something that benefits society. And if we’re going to compete in the 21st century, we have to compete on the basis of how smart we are.


TRIOLI: Are you confident in how the Premier here in Victoria, Daniel Andrews, is handling the COVID situation?


ALBANESE: I am. I think that Daniel Andrews has been remarkable in the fact that he’s been prepared to stand up each and every day, argued the case and has understood that the first thing that needs to be done is to keep people safe. You need those health concerns to be put first. Once you do that, then you can look at the economy. And Daniel Andrews, it’s a tough job for all of the state premiers at this time. Daniel Andrews has shown courage. And I declare an interest, I’m a friend of Daniel’s. I think that he has shown true leadership during this period.


TRIOLI: Good to talk to you, Anthony Albanese. Thanks for making time for us.


ALBANESE: Thanks, Virginia.