17 October 2019




SUBJECTS: Downgrading of Australias economic growth; Newstart; Drought, Free Trade Agreements; NSW Labor Review.

LAURA JAYES, PRESENTER: The economy has been the focus over the last twenty-four hours. Joining me now is the Shadow Education Minister Tanya Plibersek. Thank you for your time.


JAYES: Josh Frydenberg says the surplus means that Australia can more nimbly react to an economic downturn. He's right isn't he?

PLIBERSEK: Well, the surplus is a pretty slender surplus and it's in the face of this government having doubled debt during its time in office. The information from the IMF is very concerning. We have seen the IMF and the OECD and the Reserve Bank and Deloitte Access Economics all downgrade Australia's expected growth and of course, people sort of start to, sometimes, glaze over when you're talking about macroeconomics like that but the real world impact of this is really concerning. And the first to feel it will be our unemployed young people. We already have part of the country like Coffs Harbour, where nearly one in four young people is without work. Nationally, we have got double the rate of youth unemployment compared with adult unemployment - places like Shepparton, Bendigo, outback Queensland, all have very high rates of youth unemployment and when you look at countries like Greece and Italy during the Global Financial Crisis they had 30, 40, 50 per cent youth unemployment. That really hasn't recovered to the degree you'd want it too and, yet now, Australia's economy is predicted to grow slower than Italy, Greece, the US and so on.

JAYES: Does Labor now concede that the $387 billion dollars worth of new taxes that you took to the election was the wrong plan - the wrong plan for this time - and would've been a further drag on the economy?

PLIBERSEK: Well, first of all, we don't agree with that figure. We have been very clear that the income tax cuts that the Government continued to pretend that we weren't supporting - we actually have been very supportive of the early stages of the income tax cuts. And what should this Government be doing right now to fix the ailing Australian economy - that went from the second fastest growing economy in the world when Labor was last in Government and now the twentieth fastest growing economy in the world? Well, we could bring forward tax cuts. Labor has already said that with those income tax cuts that are due in 2022, we are happy to bring them forward. We could bring forward infrastructure spending - the Government's making a big deal about infrastructure spending but most of it is off in the never-never. We certainly need a wages policy. The fact that wages growth is the lowest on record, of course has an impact on our economy, on aggregate demand, on consumer confidence...


PLIBERSEK: We could work with business to encourage business investment. We've seen business investment plunge of a cliff and very low productivity growth because of it. But, of course, Newstart is another option.

JAYES: But I know you are not talking about franking credits and you're not talking about things like negative gearing. And you mentioned Newstart. If Labor was in Government would that be the first thing you would implement? It would cost $3 billion dollars a year but economists say it would have a stimulatory effect?

PLIBERSEK: Well, we've said that our policy before the election was that we would investigate an increase in Newstart and I think there is more and more evidence and more and more support from across the economy, including from National Party MPs, who know the difference it would make in their towns to see that extra money pumped into the economy. We've seen from business groups, from the Reserve Bank, from a lot of conservative commentators, an understanding that an increase in Newstart wouldn't just make a huge difference to those people who are really struggling to afford the basics of life, who are actually trapped in poverty, locked out of a job because they can't afford the public transport to get to the interview or a clean shirt to wear to the interview. It would make a difference to those individuals but it would make a difference to our economy, as well. One of the most effective -

JAYES: So is there more of an economic argument to do that now then?

PLIBERSEK: Oh absolutely there is. I think there's a very strong economic argument to increase Newstart and there's a very strong economic argument to have a proper wages policy that sees wages increase. We've got the lowest wages growth on record. That hits the family budget, it means families are struggling, but it also means that in aggregate, across our economy, demand is lower than it should be. Consumer confidence, consequently spending, is lower than it should be. We're in a spiral that is very concerning, and the fact that we've gone from the second fastest growing economy in the world to the twentieth fastest growing economy in the world, that the US, Italy, Greece, Spain, have overtaken Australia is, I think,something to be concerned about, and the fact that the government is pretending that everything is fine, nothing to see here, I think that's very concerning as well.

JAYES: Just quickly before I let you go, because there's an emergency meeting as I understand it - perhaps that is too alarmist - but Caucus is meeting this morning to discuss two issues - drought and also the Free Trade Agreements. Is there a real factional fight on at the moment about whether Labor should support and ratify these three Free Trade Agreements through the Parliament?

PLIBERSEK: Well people have different views about some of the details of this, but I'm not going to pre-empt anything that's being discussed in Caucus. It's certainly not an emergency meeting, it's an unscheduled meeting and they happen from time to time, really pretty regularly, and you'll hear the outcome of that meeting when it's done.

JAYES: OK just quickly, Bob Nanva, he seemed to have ruffled a few feathers, he's been appointed in New South Wales, and we have Pat Conroy arguing this morning that Labor should have held off, waited for the review and questioned whether he's the right man. Is he?

PLIBERSEK: Well he's been selected as the Right's candidate for the position, and I think it's, I mean it's up to their faction to decide who their candidate is. I think it is very important that we see this Review through to its conclusion. I'm very pleased that Michael Lavarch has been selected to undertake this Review because we have to look at the structures that have allowed this bad behaviour to happen. This is not just about individuals. It has to involve organisational change so that this sort of event can't happen again. My view is that Bob Nanva would be very much up for that as well. I've spoken to him, he's a good bloke, and I'm sure he's very committed to seeing these sorts of reforms as well.

JAYES: OK the 8th of November, we will see. Appreciate your time.

PLIBERSEK: Always a pleasure.