SUBJECTS: Debt; Federal Budget; Tax cuts.
TOM CONNELL, HOST: Alright, well let’s thrash out what’s just been in this budget handed down, a plan to get out of the COVID-19 recession with my Pollie panel, Liberal MP Andrew Laming and from the Labor Party Peta Murphy. Thanks both for your time. Peta, just to start with you, half a trillion dollars thrown at recovery, if you include this budget and what’s happened since the start of the pandemic, is that enough money? Or is Labor going to outspend even that gargantuan figure?
PETA MURPHY, MEMBER FOR DUNKLEY: Well, half a trillion dollars or a trillion dollars in debt this budget and still too many people are left behind. And still too many people, particularly women and workers over the age of 35, are wondering where the support is for them. Scott Morrison is good at making announcements and this is a budget that is clearly designed for some short term benefit, and of course we need to get out of where we are at the moment but this is a budget in my opinion that has squibbed this once in a generation opportunity to have a real plan for the future for Australia. There’s nothing in it, nothing in the speech about climate change, nothing in the speech about support for those community groups that have been the fabric of holding us together during this crisis and now need a bit of support themselves, nothing in it for a vision of a fairer Australia. So, we’ll see whether it delivers some of the big announcements but we know that Mr Morrison doesn’t have a great track record on delivery.
CONNELL: Alright, and we will see then I guess if Anthony Albanese wants to throw more than the half trillion at it, I suppose, tomorrow night. It does happen through debt, of course, net debt going to skip past a trillion dollars. The debt and deficit disaster that the coalition campaigned a lot on against Labor, $175 billion of net debt, can you ever run a campaign based on Labor’s blowing out debt again?
ANDREW LAMING, MEMBER FOR BOWMAN: Well, we want to focus on the now and that’s obviously COVID. This is not about political opportunism. We appreciate the bipartisanship we’ve experienced so far but it’s about pedal to the floor at the moment with jobs, and I think that’s bipartisan, which is great. We know this isn’t an asset price crisis, this is an income crisis and a confidence crisis. This is government policy causing a slowdown in particular sectors as a result of a virus. So, it’s very unique. So, getting people back to work and convinced to spend not hoard is really important.
CONNELL: And I get why it’s a situation where money needs to be spent but if Labor does decide to go, well we were going to throw an extra $100 billion at it, you can’t really run a campaign saying that’s too much debt, given the last campaign and we’re going to be five, six times that amount of debt.
LAMING: You make a fair point. There’s only so much you can throw at an issue of unemployment before you have to rely on the market, the job seeker and the boss to do it for you. So, we’re making all of those provisions but in the end, we’re going to have to continue this until we either see a vaccine or we see states climbing out of the current economic crisis that they’re in, Victoria is a good example.
CONNELL: Peta, one of your criticisms, you mention unemployment stays too high for too long, the previous, much less severe recession, if you take Australia back then, it took the best part of 10 years to get back to unemployment levels there. This time, we don’t get to the same level but it’s a normal type figure within four years, that’s actually not a long timeline, is it, relatively speaking?
MURPHY: Well, it’s a prediction and here’s hoping that it’s an accurate prediction. But there are some fairly brave assumptions in the budget including when a vaccine will be available and we all hope that will be the case but we don’t know. And again, this is a government that has made brave predictions in budgets over the years, you may recall the predictions about wage growth, before COVID hit were always way over the top. And remembering there were those real issues in the economy before COVID and before this recession which haven’t been addressed. So, let’s see.
CONNELL: You mentioned it’s a brave prediction, and sure let’s see, but they’ve also allowed it and given us different figures as well if the vaccine happens to be later or earlier. I mean, that’s all they can do, can’t they? What’s the issue here?
MURPHY: You asked me about the unemployment figures in four years’ time and my point is, it’s based on predictions and in four years’ time if we hit that level that will be great.
CONNELL: (Inaudible) Sorry, just to clarify, if we do get to the figure they’re predicting in 2024, you think that will be great, be a good effort?
MURPHY: Everyone wants unemployment to be reduced. We’d like it to be reduced as quickly as possible, that’s why we want there to be a proper plan for jobs and a proper plan for stimulus that delivers for the community. Now, this is a budget that had no mention of childcare, none at all. There is almost an endless line of experts and economists saying that an investment in childcare is central to an economic recovery. It’s great for jobs, which are predominately women in jobs, and which we know how hard women have been hit, it’s great for children because three and four-year-old kinder and early childcare we know is crucial to later educational attainment and it’s great for the economy. Nothing about that is in this budget at all.
CONNELL: Perhaps that’s an insight into Labor tomorrow night, childcare, I’ll just note that comment from you Peta, we always like to get an early insight. Hundreds of thousands more Australians will be unemployed for years to come, that’s what the budget actually predicts. So, from January, they wont get anymore assistance, will they? That’s pretty tough. 
LAMING: That’s not the case. While it hasn’t been budgeted, they’ll be making policy decisions, as they have done right through this year, into next year. And we shouldn’t be assuming that states, regions, sectors or even job seekers are going to be instantly cut off, because what you read in the budget, there will be decisions made after the budget, like all governments have.
CONNELL: But at the moment in January, there is nothing else, you have a massive number of Australians on this payment, which is set to go right back to pre-COVID levels in January, that’s where we’re at at the moment, isn’t it?
LAMING: You could say the same about home builder, for goodness sake it stops at December, what’s going to happen to home construction, we’ll you’ll make policy decisions as required. And you’ve seen this is a very agile Treasurer.
CONNELL: But they’ve extended that already.
LAMING: That’s right. And there’s you example. So, we will respond, as required, as all governments will. And we’re dealing with a six percent contraction, which is about half of what New Zealand’s dealing with, way less than what Europe’s dealing with and Australia has the reserves to do it.
CONNELL: But on Job Seeker or Newstart or the Dole, I mean, let’s call it what it is, we already know these people, these are the numbers, there are going to be hundreds of thousands more unemployed by January, If the government will react anyway, why not tell us now in the budget that there will be more of a payment?
LAMING: Because we want the focus to be about getting jobs, finding those employers and getting employed and the best way to do that is six thousand to eight thousand dollars better off than you would have been without the COVID payments. We want people looking super hard between now and Christmas and opportunities
CONNELL: So, if you increase that payment now, you think people might not look hard?
LAMING: (Inaudible) The duration of it, it’s good that people can work hard between now and Christmas knowing this is not a permanent, baked in increase. This is a big difference between now and the GFC which did bake these extra payments in for years.
CONNELL: Well a lot of talk is that there could be a permanent increase to Job Seeker, not to COVID level but something. Should that happen given people will be unemployed, more people, and in many cases people who would never have been unemployed, other than the government policies you spoke about. Should the payment be higher?
LAMING: It’s and imponderable isn’t it. I mean obviously they’ve been tapered; we don’t know the economic conditions next year but you’ve got both government and opposition having that debate. We need to make sure there’s no obstructions to finding work, that job creation is happening and obviously, we’re a government that grinds down those unemployment numbers and has a record of doing it and we’re intent on doing it again.
CONNELL: But just your view on Job Seeker?
LAMING: Well, I’m not going to give you an absolute view, until we get closer to the economic conditions when there’ll be decisions made.
CONNELL: But we know they’ll be there. There’ not much variable on how many people will be unemployed by January, there’ll be many hundreds of thousands of, quite a few hundreds of thousands
LAMING: I think the main challenge in Australia Tom is that we have jobs and job seekers in different locations in the country. And we’ve got to be matching that need and expertise and there’s a chance that if we work hard on it by January, we can improve this situation.
CONNELL: Alright, let me just get your view finally Peta on phase three tax cuts, so, this is becoming a watching brief, not something for now. Does Labor have a view that this is inherently unfair or is it just that you don’t think it will be spent and help the economy?
MURPHY: I will answer that, but I want to quickly respond to Andrew’s point, I mean, this is what a budget is about, saying where money will be spent. And there’s over 900,000 people over the age of 35 who are unemployed and as you say, there are hundred of thousands of more who will be unemployed by January next year and currently the government’s plan is to put them back onto $40 a day, which is under the poverty line. And it is just inconceivable that so many Australians will be thrown into poverty. The government needs to come clean about what it’s going to do with unemployment benefits and the budget is supposed to be the time to do it.
The third tranche of the tax cuts, we’ve never supported them, we don’t support them and I notice that the government hasn’t even tried to push them through. They understand that they’re not the right thing for the economy or for Australians right now. We need stimulus spending.
CONNELL: Peta Murphy, Andrew Laming, thanks for your time.



Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.