21 November 2019




SUBJECTS: The economy; Josh Frydenbergs attack on older Australians; Westpac/AUSTRAC.

LAURA JAYES, PRESENTER: Let's go live now to Sydney where the Shadow Education Minister, Tanya Plibersek, joins me live now. Good morning to you.


JAYES: What do you think of the latest economic offering from the Government?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think the infrastructure investment proves what Labor has been saying for some time - that the economy is in trouble and that we need a form of stimulus from the Government. What's not clear from the announcement yesterday is the profile of this spending, when the money will start to be spent, when it will actually make a difference to the economy. It's not clear which projects are shovel-ready, which ones are years off in the never-never. And we know, for example, that the Government promised around 100 projects in the lead up to the last election and we still don't know the profile of the spending on those projects. So, we've been calling for some time for extra infrastructure investment. We welcome infrastructure investment because of course, it does drive jobs. What the details of this actual package are is a little less clear and I noticed this morning that even the Queensland LNP, the Opposition Leader up there is complaining about the infrastructure package and the fact that it's not going to make a difference to drought-affected communities. So there is still a little bit to investigate in this respect.

JAYES: Dominic Perrottet was too, complaining about Queensland, that they are actually getting too much. They have all their state demands to deal with, for example in New South Wales, you know, Dominic Perrottet argues there is a $30 billion dollar shortfall. I guess when it comes down to it, a big $4 billion dollar announcement, it had all the bells and whistles in terms of the announcement but $4 billion dollars, a big effect on the budget but it is really not going to touch the sides when it comes to the economy, is it?

PLIBERSEK: Well, look, the real- what's happening in the real world in the economy? People are really worried about their household income. We've got almost two million people who are without work or looking for more hours of work and we've got the lowest wages growth on record. If you ask an Australian family do they feel better off today than they did 6 years ago, the majority of them will say no, at the same time as the Prime Minister's telling them they have never had it better. We've got businesses that are reducing their investment in their own businesses, we've got low productivity growth, we've got the lowest consumer spending since the 1990's. So, of course investing in infrastructure is one of the ways that we can stimulate the economy and when you are building infrastructure that makes our country more productive, that's a good thing to do but will it be enough on its own? No, not unless we do something about historic low wages growth, not unless we do things like, for example, increase Newstart. We know every dollar someone gets in Newstart they are likely to spend pretty quickly and that's the reason so many National Party MPs are keen on an increase in Newstart because they know if you bring $5 extra into the a country town, that $5 extra gets spent in that country town and creates a job for someone else. So, infrastructure investment is a good thing as long as it's actually going to happen sometime soon but we need to do more to really stimulate our economy. We are bumping along the bottom on too many indicators - wages growth, quality of life for family, household debt is very high, business investment is low, consumer confidence is low. It's not an economy that is in good shape and the announcement yesterday just proves that.

JAYES: Some of your words, well Labor's words, might ring a bit hollow this morning as well. You are calling for a lot expensive things to be brought forward - those tax cuts before 2022, higher wages, Newstart. These are all big burdens on the budget. At the same time, Labor has just had its review, you still have got some pretty high taxing policies on the books. When are you going to start to shed those and re-look at your policy platform that suits now this new economic environment?

PLIBERSEK: Well we are looking very closely at the policies we took to the last election. What we're not going to do is rush to say we're going to keep this one and dump that one. We've said that we'll take a responsible, methodical look at those policies. Anthony's been very clear about the fact that the election is not until 2022 and that we'll be methodical about re-examining those policies. But don't forget, Laura, when we were last in government the Australian economy was the first or second fastest growing economy in the world during the term of the last Labor Government. We are now down at about eighteenth. And this government for all it claims to be better economic managers, has doubled our national debt and when it comes to the household budget, truly, if you ask people do they feel better off after six years of this Liberal Government, I think the majority will tell you 'no'. That's the real test of the economy isn't it?

JAYES: It's a real test for Labor, isn't it, given this is not particularly new, and Labor just lost the election, so given these economic standards and the report card that you give, Labor still couldn't win.

PLIBERSEK: Yeah, it's really disappointing and thank you for raising it so often. But Laura, look at the record of this Government. They have doubled our debt, so even on the measure that they talk about, debt and deficit, they have doubled national debt and households are worse off. Their wages have flat-lined. If you look at household debt compared to disposable income, it's at about 190 per cent. I mean, these figures are not good figures. If you put $5 extra into someone's pay packet, they buy themselves a coffee on the way to work, if they're confident that they're going to have a job next week, they don't mind taking the kids out for a pizza on Friday night. That's what stimulates demand in our economy. That's what makes our Australian economy strong - people having the confidence to spend. They're creating jobs for other Australians and we don't have that at the moment, we don't have it. So the tax cuts haven't delivered that, the interest rate cuts haven't delivered it, we are hopeful that infrastructure investment will make a difference, of course we are. But we do need to look at wages and we do need to look at household income, because while people don't have money in their pockets they're not going to spend money they don't have, they're not going to create jobs for other Australians.

JAYES: And would you like to see older people stay in the workforce for longer, as Josh Frydenberg argued this week?

PLIBERSEK: I want older Australians not to be discriminated against in the workforce, and if they want to stay in the workforce longer, good luck to them. What I don't want is a government saying that it's older Australians fault that the economy is in trouble and they have to work until they drop to make up for it. We've got a Treasurer lecturing older Australians, people who have worked hard all their lives and paid their taxes, and telling them that somehow that the fact the economy is in the doldrums is their fault and they're going to have to work even longer. We do see many people who want to work well into their seventies and good luck to them. A lot of them face terrible discrimination in the workplace and they shouldn't. But you've got to remember, almost every budget, this government has told older people that they want to delay their retirement, cut their pension, make them wait longer for their pension, cut their superannuation. It's not the fault of older Australians that Josh Frydenberg and before him, Scott Morrison, couldn't manage the budget.

JAYES: Just quickly, should Brian Hartzer go?

PLIBERSEK: I didn't hear the question.

JAYES: Brian Hartzer, should he go?

PLIBERSEK: Look I think everybody has been really shocked by the revelations that there are what, now, 23 million breaches of the law it's alleged. Any one of those breaches could have attracted a penalty of up to $21 million. It gives you some idea of the scale of what's alleged here and what's particularly concerning obviously is that the allegations are that some of this money might have been used for purposes as bad as child exploitation overseas. I mean, we are looking at really, really critical breaches here. I'm not going to pre-judge or endanger the legal proceedings by making claims about what should happen next, but this is very, very serious. It can't be swept under the carpet and the management of the bank really do need to take responsibility for what's gone on on their watch.

JAYES: Tanya Plibersek, thank you.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.