RADIO NATIONAL DRIVE
MONDAY, 5 OCTOBER 2020
SUBJECTS: Possible tax cuts; Government’s failures on infrastructure; Budget; Kathy Jackson.
PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Catherine, welcome.
CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT: Thanks for having me and thank you for your joyous dancing today. We missed it last week.
KARVELAS: Yes, joyous dancing is what I like to deliver to our nation and hard-hitting interviews, which I’m about to embark on. We’ll get to infrastructure in a moment, but what do you make of the report that stage two of the income tax cuts will be backdated to July 1? Is that a good idea?
KING: Well we’ve been calling for this for a year now, saying that stage two should be brought forward given the economy has been tanking. So let’s see what’s in the budget tomorrow night, but certainly, if that’s what the government is going to do, we’ve been calling for it for a year, it’s something we suggested the government should have been talking about a little while ago.
KARVELAS: Stage three of the tax cuts which abolishes the 37% tax threshold, would deliver less than $100 a year to someone earning $40,000 a year, should they be more tax cuts for low income workers?
KING: Well, again, absolutely. When you look at who’s been hit hardest by coronavirus and the shutdown of the economy, that had to happen, who’s been hit hardest, and it’s low and low-middle income earners that have really, really felt the pinch. Again, we’ve been saying for a while now, if you’re going to concentrate on tax cuts, you’re going to concentrate efforts on cost of living and trying to help people through this, then that’s the group you need to focus on. Not people who are not necessarily going to do what we need them to do, go out and spend the money because we need money circulating in the economy, and we need it right the way across the economy. People on lower incomes, because they haven’t got a lot to start with, are more likely to spend the money than save it, and really, that’s what we need at the moment, money flowing through the economy.
KARVELAS: Look, yeah, we need money in the economy and Labor clearly is going to stick to its position that those stage three tax cuts are not the right approach. But if it’s all put in one bill, last time you voted all for it, are you likely to take the same approach?
KING: Well, we’re going to wait and see what’s in the budget tomorrow night, to be honest, and we don’t know what the government’s going to do, let alone how it’s going to legislate it. So, it’d be pre-emptive of me to say this is what we’ll do if, you know, x, y or z happens. Let’s just wait and see what’s in the budget tomorrow night.
KARVELAS: The government is offering New South Wales more than twice the amount of infrastructure spending as Victoria, despite the second shutdown, what do you think is behind that decision?
KING: Well, I don’t know. I think that it was pretty astounding this morning to hear the Deputy Prime Minister had only spoken to premiers, I’m assuming that means only Labor premiers, the night before to tell them that this is what we’re planning to spend on infrastructure in your state. I suspect it’s about collaboration and I think if that, you know, if that is the case, that would be incredibly disappointing. Because we know that we want construction jobs, we want, you know, from small to medium to large projects that we’re going to take a while to get out of it, and I would have thought that you’d be thinking that Victoria probably needs a bit more of a hand than some other states who’ve been out of this for a while now.
KARVELAS: And Queensland is being offered just $700 million. Have they been short-changed?
KING: Well, it’s hard to say, again, there’s just no transparency around how any of these projects have been chosen and where they’ve been chosen. So, you know, we’ll drill down to that through the Senate estimates process. But again, the government needs to explain, why has it chosen these projects? And it’s not new money either, that’s the thing, I think that’s a thing they’ve been a bit misleading about today. They had underspends on infrastructure every year since they’ve been in office and $1.7 billion was underspent just last financial year alone. So really, they’ve just shuffled the cards, frankly, and reallocated money from projects or some projects have gone over as well. So, again, I think it’s that they’re not really focusing on where are the areas that are hardest hit, where is the economy struggling and sluggish to recover? Where do we need to support jobs growth? And I think it’s disappointing, not only have you not got that with this infrastructure announcement today, where are they saying well we’re going to put money in, but let’s guarantee that we’ve actually got apprentices that are attached to some of those projects, or let’s provide opportunities for some of those young people who’ve lost their jobs, to get a leg into the building industry, if that’s what they want to do. How are we going to support small to medium building companies through this process? There’s really not much attached to it. It’s just an announcement of here is a list of projects that we’ve, you know, obviously talked to some people about, I don’t know where some of them have come from, and, you know, not new money.
KARVELAS: If you’re just tuning in, this is RN Drive, I’m Patricia Karvelas, back on your radio, and our guest tonight is the Shadow Minister for infrastructure, Catherine King. We’re of course talking about the budget and today’s announcement in relation to infrastructure spending. Catherine King, Labor’s suggesting the government can’t be relied on to deliver the spending. But do you accept that political realities have changed because of the recession, and there is now very much an urgency around it and the government has made that quite clear that it feels that way?
KING: Well, it’s got to get on with the job. I don’t have a lot of confidence, to be honest. If you look at something like their Urban Congestion Fund, and that got announced in the 2018 budget, so it’s a couple of years ago now. You would think that you’d see a substantial amount of that money out the door. If you look at New South Wales, for example, $200 million was promised, they’ve spent four. They spent nothing in the ACT, in South Australia or in Tasmania at all out of that Urban Congestion Fund. I think there’s a real problem with this government that it tends to be really focused on the announcement and how it looks, less focused on actually doing the hard yards that you’ve got to do to actually drive delivery. And that’s what we need at the moment, we actually need this money circulating in the economy, the projects started, really clear timelines about when they’re starting and finishing and making sure that we’re growing jobs at the same time. And that’s my worry. We do see these big announcements, yet we just don’t say much follow through on them.
KARVELAS: Is this kind of use it or lose it provision fair enough, given it’s aimed at lifting employment?
KING: Well, I think there’s a couple of things. One is because they haven’t planned those projects in consultation with the state governments, it’s really difficult if the state governments, you know, for example, I see that the Morison Government’s having another crack at the Victorian premier for the East West link, which is a project that they have consistently said, look, we’re not going to support. It’s $4 billion sitting allocated to that project, why aren’t we getting that to use on something else? So, you know, we’ve got an airport tunnel that’s being built, we’ve got regional rail that needs upgrading, why aren’t they recirculating that money to a project the state government does support? Because we know we need the jobs now. I think that, again, I think it’s just poor planning on their part that they haven’t had the discussions with the states and territories. And I think we’re probably going to see the same as we’ve seen with every other infrastructure project in delays and some of it not spent at all.
KARVELAS: WA is expecting to deliver a budget surplus this week that the finance minister Mathias Cormann wants them to spend more to boost economic activity? Is that reasonable, given how tough conditions are elsewhere?
KING: Well, I think I’ll leave it to WA to manage their own affairs, I think they’re doing pretty well over there and Mark McGowan’s done an amazing job in their economy. When you talk to some of the Federal MPs who have come across to Canberra for Parliament, they’re saying their economy is doing pretty well at the moment over there. So, they are investing, they’re investing substantial amounts in infrastructure and big projects as well. So, I think we should leave it to them to manage their own affairs. They’ve done a pretty good job.
KARVELAS: You were shadow health minister before the last election, what do you make of Treasury’s assumption that a vaccine will be available sometime next year? That’s now being built into their assumptions.
KING: Courageous, I think it would be fair to say. I think you’ve had the Australian Medical Association President pretty clearly saying that a vaccine could be some way off. The government’s got form with this, I think there were a number of presumptions built into the budget last time around as well, where we would be getting into surplus if X, Y and Z happened and there are some pretty courageous assumptions. Let’s see what they build in tomorrow night, we’ll certainly put it under some scrutiny.
KARVELAS: And just before I let you go, in some developing news tonight, former HSU boss Kathy Jackson has been convicted of stealing more than $100,000 in union funds following a plea deal. Do you welcome this?
KING: Well, it’s been legal process and the courts have obviously had their say about what’s happened. But certainly, wherever you are, if you’re in a union, or in a company, or in a not for profit organisation, if you steal money from your members, you should be prosecuted and I’m pleased to see that that’s happened in this case.
KARVELAS: Yeah. I mean, I suppose I asked, obviously, because this was a huge issue that dogged the labour movement for a long time and our focus has really moved on. But I remember it was every day of the papers for a long period of time and it did hurt Labor politically. Are you glad to draw a line on this?
KING: Well, certainly glad to draw a line on this. But I think the message that it sends is important that regardless of where you are, if you’re stealing money and you’re stealing money from members, then you should face the full force of the law and that’s what’s happening in this case. This is someone that the Morrison Government, I remember Christopher Pyne was very, very keen to embrace Kathy Jackson at one point in time, I’m not so sure they would be willing to do so now.
KARVELAS: Thank you so much for coming on the show.
KING: Thank you so much Patricia.
CATHERINE KING – TRANSCRIPT – RADIO INTERVIEW – ABC RN DRIVE – MONDAY, 5 OCTOBER 2020