SKY NEWS NEWSDAY
WEDNESDAY, 20 NOVEMBER 2019
SUBJECT: Morrison’s infrastructure announcement, economy, stimulus, Newstart.
TOM CONNELL: For more on the Government’s announcement today, joining me is Catherine King, the Shadow Infrastructure and Transport Minister. Catherine King, thanks very much for your time. I note the Queensland Labor Government seem pretty happy with this announcement today. Do you welcome it?
CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT: Well, obviously the Government has been working with State and Territory Governments on what they might do to bring forward infrastructure projects and I think what you’ve seen today is finally the Federal Government and Scott Morrison admit what we’ve been saying for a long period of time, the economy is not in good shape. We’ve had Scott Morrison out there continuously saying there’s nothing to see here, we’re not going to bring infrastructure forward. I think what we’ve seen today is an admission that the economy is far weaker than what they’ve been saying and let’s hope this package works because frankly, what we’ve seen as part of the package is a bit more smoke and mirrors. The claim that it’s $3.8 billion of federal money is simply not true. A large proportion of it is money coming from the states. There’s a bit of spin coming out of this. Particularly, we’re not going to see a lot of this money flow for the next two to three years and we’re saying the economy needs stimulus now. So let’s hope it actually works because the Government has been failing up until now.
CONNELL: Okay, well, let’s step through first of all the process because you said the Government’s finally recognised the economy needs some improvement. It said quite a while ago to states, come up with some options, we are willing to fast track this infrastructure. It sat down with the states and territories and then it did this and then the announcement. That’s a fair enough process, isn’t it?
KING: Well, what you saw was the Government saying continuously no, there was nothing to see here, there’s nothing wrong with the economy, we don’t need infrastructure investment. It’s only after we had the Reserve Bank governor six or seven times calling for infrastructure investment. We had Labor – myself as spokesperson, Anthony Albanese, and Jim Chalmers as Shadow Treasurer – all saying we think there’s a problem here, you need to bring projects forward. You had a range of economists, you’ve had a range of industry leaders all saying the same. It was only under that sort of pressure that the Government then wrote to the states and then started to take some action. But again, I don’t think this is a strong plan for dealing with where the economy is at now. This is a response to some pressure from Labor and economists to actually get them to start doing something. I think, if it hadn’t been for pressure from Labor and economists, they would not have not have brought this package forward.
CONNELL: So the announcement itself you are saying smoke and mirrors. It seemed that the Government’s being relatively upfront, if you unpack the Federal Government money, we’re talking about 3.7 billion, now 2.7 billion is brought forward. They’re not saying it’s new money, but it’s brought forward in terms of into this particular election cycle. $1 billion of it is new money, you’re not arguing that fact are you?
KING: Well, in fact, we’re not clear about that. So if you look at, for example, the announcement that was made in here in South Australia on Monday there was a proportion of $80 million of the announced $400 million which was in fact state money. The same with the Queensland money, of the $1.9 billion I think 30 percent of that is, in fact, money from the state. So the $3.8 billion is not necessarily all Commonwealth money. So I think that’s an important point to make.
CONNELL: But they haven’t made all the announcements right? So there’s New South Wales to go, they’re all going to be joint projects, that doesn’t mean the total funding envelope isn’t there?
KING: What I am asking is what is the total Commonwealth funding envelope? And I think the claim that they have made as to what is the Commonwealth funding envelope versus what might be state money, I think there’s some lines that have been blurred there. So I think it’s important to unpack that. The other thing to remember is that despite the fact that they’re bringing some projects forward some of this money is still not going to flow for another two, three to four years. We still also then have substantial numbers of projects, I think some 126, that were announced in the election campaign that still have absolutely no funding profile in the forward estimates. So there’s been, you know, there’s obviously been a bit of work done here but I think there’s going to be quite a bit of unpacking of the detail of this package in the days ahead.
CONNELL: Isn’t it a constant thing we sort of bemoan short term government, that yes, they’ve got things that aren’t funded in the forward estimates, but it’s also a 10 year infrastructure plan that’s going to happen. That’s okay, isn’t it?
KING: Well, I think certainly what we’ve been saying is when you look at all of the economic indicators, and particularly the one that I’m particularly concerned about is wage stagnation. And, what’s actually happening when you look at consumer confidence, when you look at what’s happening in our small business and in particularly our retail sector. That is very clear that the economy is in need of stimulus now. It’s great to have a plan, but you’ve got to have a plan, not just for infrastructure – and again we question where the government gets its figures from – you need to have a plan for the whole economy, you need to say this is what we’re doing and we haven’t seen that.
CONNELL: On the broad plan then and the stimulus. So there’s $550 million in drought funding, 7.2 billion in tax cuts that have begun to be handed out since July, so that’s working its way through the system. You’ve got rate cuts, three of them in the past few months as well. This infrastructure stuff brought forward as well. We’re talking about a decent package of stimulus once you add all that up aren’t we?
KING: Well, again, it’s not an economic plan. What they haven’t done is said what is their plan for the productivity of the nation. What is their plan in order to make sure that we get money flowing into the economy in the days and weeks ahead? What they’ve said with this infrastructure plan, again, is that we’ve got some projects, we’ll start to bring forward, under pressure from Labor. But what they haven’t said is exactly when that money will start to flow, and whether we’re going to be able to see that money, particularly out in those communities where they are severely affected by drought. Or where in the regions, where there might be some capacity to build some of these projects, a lot of them appear to be big projects in major capital cities. So really, what we’ve seen from the Government today is a little bit of work. Again, under pressure it’s finally admitting that the economy is far weaker than they’ve been claiming that it is and we frankly don’t think it’s going to be enough to improve economic circumstances and it’s certainly not as big a bring forward that we would have expected in the circumstances that we’ve seen.
CONNELL: We’re still not facing though anything like the GFC when it was a proper crisis and Labor was shovelling money at the door then. Do you agree it does take a more measured reaction, we don’t need the stimulus lever that was pulled back then?
KING: Well, tell that to people whose wages are stagnating, tell that to a small business owner that is expecting flat retail sales through this Christmas period, just wait until you talk to those people and say that this is not an issue.
CONNELL: [unclear] Are you saying we do need GFC level stimulus? I’m not saying it’s not an issue, I’m just saying what level?
KING: Well, we’ve certainly said, and our Shadow Treasury Spokesperson Jim has been calling for a couple of things. He’s been calling for the stage two tax cuts to be brought forward. We have been talking about what you might need to do with Newstart. We’ve of course been talking about infrastructure for quite some time and looking at what is the economic plan to bring forward money into the economy today, not on the never never.
CONNELL: Just on Newstart, what should it be increased by and when?
KING: Well, I’m not going to nominate a figure. I think it’s up to the Government to actually look at. You’ve got a Senate inquiry at the moment underway, I’m not going to nominate a figure on that. But, if the Government thinks that anyone can live on the money that currently is the Newstart rate, then they’re kidding themselves.
CONNELL: Are we talking about a big increase, that $75 a year that’s been spoken about. Labor’s saying increase this payment, you’ve got to give us some indication on how much don’t you?
KING: No we don’t. Well, we’re not in government. So, I think that’s a question to ask the Government, they’ve ruled it out. We’re saying-
CONNELL: Well you’re not in Government so you can’t increase Newstart, but you still want to so how much by?
KING: Exactly. Exactly my point. But we’re pointing out to the Government, as we have done with the infrastructure spending, that this might be one way of getting money into the economy quickly, and particularly for some of the people who we know are in very vulnerable circumstances, but we also know will then go out and spend that money into the sectors that it’s needed to be done.
CONNELL: But there’s a cost too, so $75 would be about a $3 billion cost a year for the economy, and that’s baked in so you can understand the Government’s reluctance to necessarily go with that.
KING: Well, the Government’s been reluctant to do anything. It’s been in denial that there’s even a problem with the economy and we’re only just starting to see signs today that they are finally admitting what we have been saying for a long period of time that the economy under the Morrison Government is weak.
CONNELL: When would Labor put a figure on what Newstart should increase by, after this inquiry that’s going on at the moment?
KING: Well, again, we’re not in Government and we’ll make policy announcements in our own time not on Sky News today.
CONNELL: Right but ahead of the last election you put a figure on income tax cuts for example, you can put a finger on Newstart without being in Government.
KING: Good try Tom, but I think we will wait for our policy announcements in the lead up to the 2022 election campaign not six months after an election.
CONNELL: We won’t get one today, fair enough. But do you think it’s fair enough to put a number on it before the next election? Could we get that?
KING: I’m not the spokesperson for Social Security payments. But, again this continued focus on Labor – we’re in opposition. We’re doing what we can to make the Government do its job. It is the Government in charge of the economy at the moment and it has presided over wage stagnation and loss of productivity. We’ve put pressure on it to do something in relation to infrastructure. Again, we think there’s a bit of smoke and mirrors about what’s been announced today and we also don’t think it’s going to be enough. It’s not an economic plan for the nation. But that is what Labor in opposition is trying to do, that is to get the Government to actually do its job.
CONNELL: Shadow Infrastructure Minister Catherine King, appreciate your time today. Thank you.
KING: It’s really good to be with you.