05 November 2019




SUBJECTS: Economy; Labor Review; Auditor-General scathing about Government jobs program.

LAURA JAYES, PRESENTER: Let's go live to Sydney now, Shadow Education Minister Tanya Plibersek joins me now. Thanks so much for your time. We just saw, not only Melbourne Cup yesterday but the RBA leaving rates on hold. What does that tell you about the state of our economy?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING: I think historic low rates tell you that the economy is in trouble and we've got a Government that is trying pretend its otherwise. They are telling families that they have never had it better. So, I mean of course, a lowering of interest rates yesterday would've signalled a worsening economy. I think the fact that we are bumping along the bottom is no cause for comfort. Families will tell you that they are really struggling because they haven't seen a wage increase in years. That means they're not buying a coffee on the way to work, or taking the kids out for pizza on a Friday night - they are not creating jobs for other people. We'll see Christmas spending in the next few months, I think retailers are really hanging out hoping that there'll be an increase in Christmas spending. But, there is very low confidence amongst consumers at the moment and very low confidence from business. We have seen very low business investment as well. The economy is very much under pressure. The interest rate cuts have not had enough effect on our economy and of course, unless wages start to increase, that problem will continue.

JAYES: Has the Government's $7 billion dollars worth of tax cuts worked enough to warrant fast-tracking a second tranche?

PLIBERSEK: I don't think you can argue that the tax cuts, to date, have had the effect that we hoped they would have on the economy. I think it is very important that the Government gives consideration to bringing forward the second tranche of tax cuts. People need more money in their pockets to spend. At the end of the day...

JAYES: But why would you double down on something that hasn't proven to have worked?

PLIBERSEK: Look our preference, of course, is to see wages increase. We know that penalty rate cuts, we know that unemployment and underemployment - we've got almost two million Australians who are unemployed or underemployed, want more hours at work. This is having an effect on the broader economy. We would like to see penalty rates restored, we would like to see some of those industries where people are clearly underpaid, like childcare, like aged care, have a plan to better paid, more secure work in those industries. But, bringing forward tax cuts, bringing forward infrastructure spending, looking at responsible stimulus - all of that should be on the table for the Government because it can't keep sticking its head in the sand, pretending that Australians have never had it better. We have seriously low growth at the moment. It is a real problem for the broader economy and families are feeling it every day.

JAYES: But looking at the $7 billion dollars in income tax cuts that we've just seen, it has had a very marginal stimulatory effect on the economy. So I am just wondering why you'd double down on something, in terms of Labor calling for the second tranche to be fast-tracked when it hasn't worked, really, to date.

PLIBERSEK: Because people need more money in their pockets. And the fact that the Government doesn't have a plan to lift wages means that we need to look at other measures that are on the table. But, one of the greatest problems in the economy today is that people don't have the confidence to spend because they don't know whether they will have a job next week, they don't know when their next pay cut is coming, they don't know when they will get the extra hours they're depending on to make ends meet. That is a serious issue and I mean, tax cuts are one way of dealing with that. We would absolutely like to see increased wages as another way of dealing with this.

JAYES: Labor's election review is due out this week, on Thursday. Do you expect it to go to this state of the economy now and perhaps, look at Labor's promised spending at the last election and analyse whether it is right for these times?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I am not sure what will be in the review on Thursday. Of course, I'll read it with interest - it's important that we learn from our mistakes. But, I also think that people are a bit over listening to the Labor Party talk about itself and do its therapy in public. I think what we need to do is focus on the things that make a difference in people's lives, and that means decent jobs with good pay, secure conditions. It means health and education systems that meet people's needs - we've got for example, a tradie shortage across Australia, we've got hospital waiting times blowing out. I have people stopping me in the street asking me when their child's school is going to get an upgrade, whether their son or daughter can get an apprenticeship. I don't have them stopping me in the street asking me how's the Labor Party review going. We need to be very clear that our concerns are the concerns of the Australian people - making sure that they've got a good quality of life, the quality of life that they deserve.

JAYES: And has there been too much focus on progressive issues?

PLIBERSEK: Do you know what, I think it is incredible that the biggest- the Liberal Party's out there saying that they won an election with this clear vision for the country. The one thing you could absolutely not say is that the Liberal Party was laying out a clear vision for Australia before the election. Their biggest weapon was the scare campaign about a death tax that Labor doesn't have - that was never Labor policy. So, I don't think, you know, this kind-of Labor navel-gazing solves the problem that we had a lying campaign against us.

JAYES: But it was a suggestion from your own side, from Clare O'Neil who says, and Jim Chalmers who says people in the outer suburbs perhaps felt a little isolated by some of the social issues that seemed to swamp your message. Do you agree with that?

PLIBERSEK: I think the most important thing for ordinary people, ordinary families, is having a job, having a secure job, getting decently paid for that, and having the services that Government ought to supply to Australian citizens working properly - our fantastic, world class health system has seen more and more Australians waiting longer for surgery, waiting longer in emergency, reaching into their pockets for higher out-of-pocket expenses. In education, we've seen public schools missing out on funding increases, we've seen them with run down facilities, TAFEs around Australia closing, young people being denied an apprenticeship - 150,000 fewer apprentices and trainees today than when the Liberals came to office - cutting of funding for university places and research. These are, honestly, the things that people raise with me are what is the Government doing to make my life better and more importantly what's the Government doing to make sure we leave a better country for our kids - that we of course, address issues like climate change because it is about leaving a better country for our kids. All of the other, you know, minutiae that we will look through in this report, that is important for us to learn from, but it is not the top concern of the people that I talk to every day.

JAYES: Just very quickly, an AG report yesterday, that was tabled just after Melbourne Cup found that a $220 million dollar Government scheme gave money to projects that were ineligible.

PLIBERSEK: Wow, isn't it amazing that you would release a report like that when everybody is obsessing over the Melbourne Cup. I mean this is a shocking report that shows that money was directed to projects that were not recommended by the responsible department - that Ministers interfered in the selection of projects that weren't recommended to be funded and projects that were recommended, not to be funded - that there was obvious political bias and poor administration - in this report. And how cynical is it that we have got a Government that thinks that they can slip it out in the shadow of the Melbourne Cup and nobody will notice. So dodgy.

JAYES: Tanya Plibersek, thank you.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you Laura.