SUBJECTS: Tax cuts; RBA interest rates cuts; Christopher Pyne; Julie Bishop; religious freedoms.
DAVID SPEERS, PRESENTER: The Labor leader Anthony Albanese does join me now. Appreciate you squeezing us in, I know there’s a fair bit of ceremony involved today.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much. David, I had to wait for the national anthem.
SPEERS: Fair enough. Fair enough. Look just on the rate cut. Can I just get your views on this, ANZ has passed on the full amount we are yet to hear from the other banks in relation to this. What do you think it says though about the economy that the Reserve Bank has done this today?
ALBANESE: Well this is a cry for help from the Reserve Bank. They’ve acted now on monetary policy for two months in a row. Quite extraordinary that we have interest rates at 1 per cent, the inflation rate is 1.3 per cent. So basically it not only is money free. It’s better than that. And at the height of the global financial crisis to put this in context; the interest rate was 3 per cent. So we have an absolutely dire circumstance. It’s the Reserve Bank, in their statement today they said this, this is a key point; they said consumption growth has been subdued, weighed down by a protracted period of low income growth and declining housing prices. So the first thing that they identified was that protracted period of low income growth, wages growth. Now the Government has no policy for wages and indeed yesterday we saw come in penalty rate cuts for up to 700,000 Australians working in areas like hospitality by and large low and middle income earners who work on the weekend or work late at night to put food on the table, to pay the school fees, to put petrol in the car. And what we’re seeing is economic growth now, is down to some 1.8 per cent as well, annual economic growth.
SPEERS: The Reserve Bank Governor in fairness, is also saying that the conditions are there for wage, there is already some wage growth coming through and the conditions are there for it to improve and he says the central scenario for the Australian economy remains reasonable with growth around trend expected.
ALBANESE: Well 1.8 per cent is not trend. And that’s where growth is at the moment. And what this does is build our case that at the moment what we need- what we needed of course- was for the Parliament to be brought back to have the first lot of income tax cuts through that, through the offset to happen of all those up to $126,000. But we also need to bring forward and we’ll be moving an amendment in the House of Representatives in an hour or so, to bring forward stage two. That is, the income tax cuts that would benefit by $1,350 for all those above $120,000, regardless of how much they earn and up to that between 90 to 120 by lifting that rate. Now if that’s good policy in 2022. Let me tell you David. Today’s decision by the Reserve Bank screams that that’s good policy in 2019. The Government should do it.
SPEERS: Will you, given this urgent need for some stimulus in the economy as you put it will you at any point this week vote against tax cuts for low and middle income earners?
ALBANESE: Well look we want category one and we want category two as well, we want it brought forward.
SPEERS: And if the price for that is to pass the lot?
ALBANESE: We want it brought forward, David.
SPEERS: I appreciate that.
ALBANESE: The point is, our position, we are the only people arguing in this Parliament when the debate happens in the House of Representatives, we will be the only people arguing for a tax cut for all Australian workers, not just some up to $126,000.
SPEERS: But you’re also in Opposition. You don’t have the numbers in the House.
ALBANESE: Well we’ll wait and see what happens in the Senate. What we don’t do, I’ll tell you what we don’t do. What we don’t do is war game on national TV what happens down the track. What we do is argue our case.
SPEERS: This vote in the House is a matter of hours away. Can you tell me has a decision been made on what you’ll do there?
ALBANESE: Yes it has.
SPEERS: What is that?
ALBANESE: Well we’ll move our amendments, we will vote for them and then we’ll allow the package to go through so that in the Senate it can be dealt with, and the amendments which are receiving- I would have thought today’s decision is an opportunity for Mathias Cormann and for the Prime Minister to say ‘yep monetary policy can’t do all the heavy lifting’. That’s really what the Reserve Bank is saying by changing the interest rates two months in a row. And what they’re also saying, what this is also an indicator of is the idea that today you can say; what the economy will look like in 2024 and 2025 really looks quite frankly absurd. It looks absurd, David.
SPEERS: So have just said you will allow to go through the House tonight.
ALBANESE: Yes. And we have facilitated debate frankly David-
SPEERS: If there’s a division, does that mean you’ll vote for the package in the House?
ALBANESE: In the house. Yes we made that decision yesterday, the full Caucus made that decision and we made that decision because one of the things that’s happening tonight- of course normally now we’d all be off to the Governor General’s residence at Yarralumla to have a nice cup of tea and a sausage roll and have a look at the kangaroos jumping around on the lake- well not on the lake but on the lakeside- but that’s been put off. We’re facilitating the debate which importantly cannot happen without our agreement. We wouldn’t have been debating it now.
SPEERS: When it comes to the Senate will Caucus get another chance to have a say on this?
ALBANESE: Well it’s been referred to the Shadow Cabinet and it will make the decision if there isn’t time for that.
SPEERS: And have you seriously not made a decision on this yet?
ALBANESE: Well what we’ve done David is made the decision to fight for our amendments. And I’ll tell you what today’s decision says, today’s decision says that we’re right. It says we’re right on two fronts. One, that we need to have increased stimulus right now, that we’re being economically responsible. And the second thing we’re right on is saying that to make a decision this week on tax cuts in 2024-2025 is a triumph of hope over economic experience and reality.
SPEERS: Isn’t it also a triumph of hope over experience to think that oppositions can actually force the Government to do this when you don’t have the numbers in certainly one of the chambers?
ALBANESE: David, Parliament makes decisions all the time. We’ve had an election on May 18. Guess what? 100 per cent of people didn’t vote for the Coalition. People were elected to the House and to the Senate. And if what the Government’s saying-
SPEERS: And what do you think people said? What did people say to Labor at that election about tax?
ALBANESE: Well what they said of course was that in terms of tax they were concerned about some of our proposals but by and large it was a negative proposal from the Government. Did you hear?, I’ll ask you this David. Did you hear anyone in the election campaign speak about what would happen in 2024-2025? And do you think that people watching some, or reading some of the tabloids this week and last week know that they are not actually proposing a tax cut for every Australian worker? The only people who will benefit from the offset is a proportion of the workforce. What we’re saying is everyone should get a tax cut this term. And-
SPEERS: But let me just go back to where I started on tax though, is there any chance you’ll vote against tax cuts, given what’s going on in the economy?
ALBANESE: Well let me say this David; is there any chance to put it the other way. You speak about Government responsibility-
SPEERS: I want to get an answer on this. I want to get Labor’s response.
ALBANESE: I’ll give you an answer David. And the answer is this; is the Government really going to if the stage two tax cuts are brought forward and stage three is cordoned off, is the Government going to say; ‘we’re not going to give every worker a tax cut now because of something that might happen in 2024-2025’? That’s the point here David. One of the things that I’m determined to do with the media is point out- as you point out in some of your questions- that the Government’s responsibility is to govern. And that will be a decision that the Government has to make and I can’t comprehend that they would say, ‘yes because of something that might happen not this term, not next term but perhaps even the term after,’ when no one in May was predicting, show me one economist or one commentator on Sky TV who said there would be a rate cut in June, the next meeting of the Reserve Bank after the election and another rate cut in July. This is quite extraordinary action from the Reserve Bank. It hasn’t happened since 2000 and- well for many years, I think it’s at least half a dozen years- and the fact that interest rates are one third of what they were during the global financial crisis. I mean the Government spoke a lot about Labor’s policy and retirement incomes. Have a look at what this decision has had, the impact it’s had on those who rely upon interest rates for their income who are retired. This has had a massive impact.
SPEERS: Let me ask you a couple of other issues just quickly; will Labor support an inquiry into the jobs Christopher Pyne and Julie Bishop have taken in the private sector?
ALBANESE: Look we’re examining those matters of course, it is up to the Prime Minister to examine whether he thinks there’s been a breach of his Ministerial Code of Conduct. The guidelines are quite clear-
SPEERS: Trust him to look into this fairly?
ALBANESE: Well we’re examining the processes. There are a number of options there. There’s a Senate option. There’s also an option of-
SPEERS: But Rex Patrick says they’ve got the numbers if Labor’s not on board.
ALBANESE: There’s also an option of dealing with this in the House of Representatives and we’re examining those options.
SPEERS: All right so you’re still weighing that one up. Religious freedom, the PM says he wants to talk to you this week about it, I’m sure if he hasn’t already. What are your priorities?
ALBANESE: Well myself and the Prime Minister will have a discussion and we’re able to have discussions without broadcasting what they are. And so we’ll have a discussion about a range of issues.
SPEERS: He wants employers- he said employers should not impinge on areas of private practice and private belief when it comes to religion. You agree with that?
ALBANESE: Well I’m certainly of the view that people should have the right to practice their faith and people’s faith should be respected.
SPEERS: What about tweeting your religious views if that’s offending someone?
ALBANESE: That’s my starting point but people also have a responsibility in terms of, in the case that you’re probably referring to-
SPEERS: Israel Folau.
ALBANESE: People have a responsibility to fulfil their contract. This is a dispute about a contract-
SPEERS: So you can’t, you can’t give a blanket protection –
ALBANESE: Well this is a dispute about a contract. I mean if you, working here for this program go and tweet things that offend a section of the audience then I think that your employers would take some action on that. So with a public profile comes a responsibility. And my concern about Mr. Folau’s statements that would condemn the overwhelming majority of the Australian population frankly to hell, is that a range of the things that he identified are things in which people have a choice over. People don’t have a choice over their sexuality. And I certainly don’t believe – any true Christian attitude towards people should be about respecting them and respecting who they are. And I don’t think that Mr. Folau has done that.
SPEERS: Labor Leader Anthony Albanese. I know there’s a lot on today.
ALBANESE: There is a bit.
SPEERS: Thank you very much for squeezing us in.
ALBANESE: Thanks very much David.