Oct 6, 2020






SUBJECTS: Federal Budget; Budget reply; economy; Morrison recession; JobKeeper; JobSeeker; need for an Australian Centre for Disease Control; economic recovery; jobs; tax cuts.


FRAN KELLY, HOST: The Federal Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese, joins us in Parliament House this morning. Anthony Albanese, welcome back to Breakfast.




KELLY: So, the Government has made it pretty clear, it will bring forward tax cuts tonight. That will be the announcement. Stage two of those cuts immediately. Will Labor give the green light without waiting for the legislation so the ATO can get on and start sending out cheques?


ALBANESE: Well, we argued, Fran, you might recall, last year, that stage two of the tax cuts should be brought forward. Because last year the economy was flatlining. We had stagnant wages, we had growth being downgraded repeatedly. That’s why the Reserve Bank lowered interest rates to record lows. The economy was really struggling before the pandemic hit. So, we, of course, will await to see what’s in the Budget. But you can expect that the decisions that we will make will be consistent with what we argued last year.


KELLY: So, that’s a yes? I guess the point we’re looking for is; will Labor just say yes tonight after it’s announced by the Treasurer? Or will you insist on waiting for the legislation?


ALBANESE: Well, we’ll await, at least, the announcement, Fran. And to have a look at the Budget papers. We won’t pre-empt that. Because frankly, this Government is good at announcements and good at sometimes leaking announcements, sometimes when you look at the detail, it doesn’t quite match up. So, we will await the detail, of course. But we, of course, will act consistently as we have. We were arguing that the economy needed stimulus last year, that stage two should be brought forward. We were arguing for support for business investment. We had productivity actually go back two quarters in a row backwards last year. It was an economy that was struggling on this Government’s watch. And, of course, now we have the first recession in 30 years, presided over by Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg.


KELLY: Well, the whole point of tonight is to create jobs and get the economy moving. These tax cuts, the stage two tax cuts, are aimed fairly and squarely at middle income earners. Someone on about $50,000 a year will get a $20 a week tax break, someone on $90,000 gets a $50 a week tax break. Is that going to be enough to give the economy the boost it needs to get things moving? Should there be more tax relief for average earners?


ALBANESE: Well, there are two tests, Fran, for this Budget. One is; how do we create immediate jobs and economic activity? Secondly, also, how do we use the fact that we are in a once in a century pandemic, and we are in recession, to actually restructure the economy to have long-term reform that makes a difference, that makes the Australian economy stronger, that makes the Australian society fairer as well? And that is what we’ll be examining in the Budget papers tonight.


KELLY: Just in terms of how do you use this to change things, if one of the first tests is to create jobs and get the economy moving, the Government’s already indicated through leaks that it won’t bring forward stage three of the tax cuts yet because it doesn’t want the financial relief held up by Labor in the senate, dragged down in a political debate? In your view, though, should those stage three tax cuts, which are slated for 2024, should they be shelved altogether, and the money spent on other things right now? Some economists are suggesting the Government should be handing out vouchers to boost the sectors hardest hit by this pandemic like restaurants and tourism and education. Is that a good idea?


ALBANESE: Well, Fran, we argued last year in favour of stage one and stage two of the tax cuts. And we argued against stage three.


KELLY: So, what should we do with that stage three money?


ALBANESE: Well, this is something in 2024/25. This is something that is off in the distance. And last year, you might go back to one of the discussions that we had where I said it was a triumph of hope over experience to make legislation that said you knew what the economy would look like in 2024/25. Now, that was a prediction that I didn’t make under the assumption that what would happen this year has happened.


KELLY: But we are where we are.


ALBANESE: It was a bad decision at the time. And there are a range of things that the Government should be doing. I think that, for example, short-term stimulus through local government, through community-based infrastructure, there’s a massive backlog of local government projects, local road projects, local libraries and activities that should be fixed up according to local priorities, not through the Government’s pork barrel like they have with sport rorts and other activities. That would be a sensible thing in order to create immediate stimulus. We did that when I was the Local Government Minister. We created five and a half thousand projects. And guess what, Fran? None of them involved the sort of activity that we’ve seen with sports rorts and the political decision making. And they created jobs at that local level, provided support for the local suppliers. And that’s the sort of measures that the Government should have in tonight’s Budget, as well as, of course, what we’ve announced, our support for an Australian Centre for Disease Control. This pandemic, this once-in-a-century pandemic, we were unprepared for. We hadn’t had an exercise of going through, a crisis management exercise, as is recommended by the World Health Organization since 2008. We were massively underprepared. We need to make sure that we are prepared in the future, which is why we’re saying that in tonight’s Budget, and if the Government doesn’t do it, then a Labor Government will, establish this, according with best practice. We’re the only country in the OECD that does not have a Centre for Disease Control.


KELLY: Let’s go to what we know will be on the table tonight. And you’ve already agreed with the Prime Minister and the Treasurer that this Budget is a must be about jobs, jobs, jobs. We now know that will include wage subsidies for up to 700,000 unemployed people, people on JobSeeker under the age of 35. Do you support that kind of job subsidies scheme?


ALBANESE: Well, we’ll have a look at that the detail of course, Fran. But we argued for wage subsidies when the Government ruled it out earlier this year. The Government was slow to respond, which is one of the reasons why this recession will be deeper and longer than it needs to be.


KELLY: Okay. So, you’re likely to support it?


ALBANESE: Well, we’ll have a look at the detail. But we have argued that support for jobs, particularly getting people into jobs who currently don’t have them, but also, one of the things that JobKeeper has done, of course, is it has kept people in jobs. We are concerned that the withdrawal too early, that reduction, we’re hearing back, Fran, is already having considerable impact and putting pressure particularly on small businesses to maintain those jobs.


KELLY: One of the headlines out for any Budget, on any Budget night, is those headline figures. And we know they’re going to be enormous tonight. I mean, the Government’s already abandoned its warnings of debt and deficit disaster, the debt ceiling will be lifted to more than $1.1 trillion, the deficit will be over $210 billion for just one year alone. Do you agree the Government has no option but to spend its way out of this corona crisis just like Labor had to do with the GFC?


ALBANESE: This is a Coalition that has, frankly, spoken economic nonsense for years about debt. They inherited a debt that’s something like one quarter of what it will be after tonight. And, of course, they had already doubled the debt last year. Every dollar that is spent tonight will be a borrowed dollar. Therefore, what that requires is proper scrutiny. So, that our concern isn’t good investment, investment in jobs, investment in support for economic activity. Our concern is this Government’s character when it comes to spending. Sports rorts, women’s sporting funds that are better spent for marginal seats, paying $33 million for a block of land that was worth $3 million to Liberal Party donors. That’s what we’ll examine. And we’re concerned that some of the funds that have been set up, for example, for regional support already announced, have excluded areas that were impacted by the bushfires, areas like Eden-Monaro, areas like in Indi, held by an Independent member. We’re concerned about the National Party being obsessed with politics and pork barrelling. And we’re concerned about waste and mismanagement. This Government has announced four and a half billion dollars to fix the NBN. Who knew that fibre was better than copper, Fran? Every 10-year-old in the country.


KELLY: You will get your chance on Thursday night. You’ll deliver the Budget reply. I’ve read this morning you have already told caucus you’re going to start providing details of Labor’s plan for Australia. Will we start to get some detailed policy from you on Thursday night?


ALBANESE: Well, you’ve had it today, Fran, on your program. The Australian Centre for Disease Control is one of the things that we will include in my Budget response on Thursday night. We’ve been constructive during this period. But we’re halfway through the term. You’ll see further statements and announcements. We’ve already, of course, the first announcement I made was for Jobs and Skills Australia, creating a body that would identify where the jobs of the future are and make sure that structures were in place to give Australians the skills to fill those jobs. Good for business, good for providing people with quality employment. That is the sort of thing that we’ll continue to do, putting forward constructive ideas. There’ll be some ideas on Thursday night. Of the Government take them up, that’s a good thing.


KELLY: Anthony Albanese, thank you very much for joining us.


ALBANESE: Thanks for having me on, Fran.