Oct 8, 2020






SUBJECTS: Federal Budget; Budget in reply.


LEIGH SALES, HOST: Back to the Federal Budget. The Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese, joins me live from Parliament House. Thank you for being with us.


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good morning, Leigh. Good afternoon. Good evening, Leigh. It’s been a long day.


SALES: You have been using the term, ‘the Morrison Recession’ recently. You used it again in your speech tonight. Australians aren’t stupid, they see what is happening globally. Who do you think believes it’s all Scott Morrison’s fault?


ALBANESE: Well, he referred to the Keating Recession today in Parliament repeatedly. He’s the Prime Minister.


SALES: You are the Opposition Leader. Address the question. Who do you think believes it’s Scott Morrison’s fault?


ALBANESE: The fact is that it is Scott Morrison who was Prime Minister who presided over an economy that was weak going into the pandemic. And if you look at what was happening last year in terms of growth was so low, the only thing keeping growth going was population increase. We had wage stagnation. We had business investment falling. We had productivity going backwards, so it was a productivity recession last year. That’s one of the concerns that we had. Then this year, of course, Scott Morrison was very reluctant and slow to introduce wage subsidies. He opposed it when Labor was first suggesting it. And Scott Morrison is the Prime Minister. There’s nothing unusual, it is something that happens in government by the name of the leader at that particular time.


SALES: But the economy would be in exactly the same recession if Bill Shorten were the Prime Minister?


ALBANESE: Well, the fact is that we would have had a very different economic program. We had a plan for economic growth. We weren’t successful. The Government was elected last May. And then what you had was the Reserve Bank continually intervening to lower interest rates and use monetary policy, calling upon the Government repeatedly to use fiscal policy to invest in infrastructure, to do something to grow the economy. They didn’t have a plan then. And they don’t have much of a plan now in terms of this Budget.


SALES: You have announced that you will spend billions on further Government spending on childcare. Governments have three ways they can pay for things. Raising taxes, cutting spending or borrowing money. How would you pay for the childcare plan?


ALBANESE: Well, all of our commitments will be fully-funded by the time the election comes, we’ll announce all of that by then. One of the things about childcare, Leigh, is that it’s not just money out, it’s money in as well. And the estimates are from KPMG and from the Grattan Institute and others, that says investing in childcare, they say it provides substantial growth. The Grattan Institute is $7-10 billion, KPMG at least $4 billion. If you are about growing the economy, the three Ps, population, productivity, and participation. Good policy on childcare is about increasing participation, but it’s also about boosting productivity that helps produce returns to the Government. This is a substantial economic reform. This is not about welfare. It’s about a substantial economic reform, recognising that we need to use the talents of our entire population and that includes women and men.


SALES: On the point about women and the talents of the population, if you care about that, why in your childcare policy is there no mention of an increase in wages for childcare workers, mostly women and the most under-paid members of the community?


ALBANESE: I actually did mention that tonight, Leigh, in my speech.


SALES: Well how much will they be getting their wages increased by?


ALBANESE: Well, what we are not doing is announcing a full comprehensive policy on every single issue tonight. This is a Budget reply speech, not an alternative Budget. And the area where we thought the biggest priority was in increasing participation in removing the disincentive that is there for women who often, and it can be men as well of course, provide so that they lose 80-90 or 100 per cent of their income if they work more than three days. That is a massive inefficiency in our economy, it’s one that should be addressed, it’s one that has been identified by economists on how you grow the economy. If this is low-hanging fruit. The Government should have said something about it this week.


SALES: Sorry, just on the point about three days, if somebody need childcare for five days, under what you are proposing tonight, it looks like childcare will be mostly not means-tested, doesn’t that go against the progressive nature of our system so that somebody on $50,000 a year is going to be paying the same roughly for five days of childcare as somebody on $500,000 a year?


ALBANESE: Well, that is not right, in terms of the benefits, they’ll be substantial for people on low- and middle-incomes. They’ll still receive four times the benefit than those on higher incomes from what we are proposing. But we don’t see this as a welfare measure, Leigh. We think that there are substantial advantages by having, not just low-income women, but middle-income, higher-income as well. I announced tonight that what we envisage doing is having in our first term the 90 per cent figure and it would taper down in a straight line to $530,000, so that would be the upper limit. I announced tonight that we asked the Productivity Commission to look at a review of how it’s operating in our first term and to consider where whether you make that universal. Just like if someone needs health care, when there is a report there about, you just heard about James Packer, when Kerry Packer had a heart attack, he ended up in the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in the public section, he got the same care. That’s part of the benefit of having a universal health care system. Superannuation is universal. Our schools, anyone can send their kids to a public school. The fact is that childcare should be regarded as an essential service. You should deal with the tax system in a whole range of other ways by having a progressive tax system. But when it comes to childcare, it shouldn’t be seen as a welfare measure. It’s economic reform which will boost productivity.


SALES: The Morrison Government’s overhaul of university student fees is set to become law doubling the price of humanities degrees. Will Labor overturn that in office?


ALBANESE: Well, we opposed the legislation, Leigh.


SALES: That is not the same as whether you will overturn it in office.


ALBANESE: We’ll make our announcements at the appropriate time.


SALES: The principle?


ALBANESE: Tonight is not the time. The principle is that we support education as something that benefits not just individuals but again fits a society as a whole.


SALES: But if you think it’s unjust why wouldn’t you say tonight that we’ll undo that?


ALBANESE: Because where we are tonight in terms of the childcare policy, we put out a fully-costed policy tonight, attached to that. And we’ll make our announcements at the appropriate time.


SALES: You said it was fully-costed but when I asked you about it you said you’d release the full funding by the election?


ALBANESE: No. We have put out how much it would cost.


SALES: You didn’t say how you would pay for it?


ALBANESE: Leigh, what you don’t have, for every policy, an attachment to it. What you have is a series of expenditures and savings. That’s how budgets work. It’s not hypothecated, you have a program that we will make very clear prior to the election. But quite frankly, Leigh, this Government that has just produced a trillion dollars of debt without a single bit of reform to show for it. Where’s the big change in the economy that will drive future productivity? There’s not even, in this week’s Budget, a major infrastructure project from this Government. You have a trillion dollars of debt and no reform legacy. What happened when Paul Keating presided over the last time that there was a recession is that compulsory superannuation. A major reform that’s proven to be a ballast for our economy which has assisted working people to own a bit of the game, have a share of the economy, and which has helped provide with that $3 trillion, a massive source of funding for investment in new infrastructure. That was a change that happened. This Government has just set up a series of pots. We have seen a whole range of waste. One of the things we wouldn’t do, we won’t buy land around Badgerys Creek for $33 million when it’s only worth $3 million. We won’t provide for the Great Barrier Reef Foundation over $400 million. We won’t have a Sports Rorts program. They’re the sort of saves we’ll have for a start. But we’ll announce our entire program well before the next election.


SALES: We are out of time. Anthony Albanese, thank you.


ALBANESE: Thank you very much, Leigh.