SUBJECT/S: The Government’s attack on household budgets; Federal Election 2016; Budget 2016.

TONY BURKE, MANAGER OF OPPOSITION BUSINESS AND SHADOW FINANCE MINISTER: It’s an absolute pleasure to be here, to be back in Rockhampton again and to be here with Leisa Neaton. Leisa has been taking me through a roundtable conversation in the building behind us where we’ve been looking at the challenges the area is facing right now. People talk about Australia being an economy is transition, but the absolute coal face of that transition is being felt in the regions and places like here in Rockhampton. We’ve been talking about different paths of diversification, whether it be agriculture, whether it be getting proper broadband, whether it be the tourism possibilities as well as looking at the challenges being faced by the resource sector itself.

We’ve been working through those issues, we’ve also been working them through on a particular day, in that this is the first full day of campaigning since the starter’s gun was fired yesterday for the election campaign. As of yesterday, it’s been made absolutely clear we are now in full election mode from this Government as we get the count down to just over 100 days until the likely election date. That’s very much where we’re headed. Two things happened yesterday: Malcolm Turnbull made clear the election was on and Tony Abbott made clear what the election would be about. It was Tony Abbott who went out last night and said Malcolm Turnbull will be campaigning on Tony Abbott’s agenda. Nothing could be more true than that.

This Government is getting closer and closer to delivering in a few weeks’ time, a photocopy of the 2014 Budget with the cuts to health, the cuts to education, the cuts to the pension, the cuts to family payments we saw in that 2014 Budget. The areas that take the biggest hit when you have those sorts of cuts are the regions and the areas like where we are today in Rockhampton.

The other thing of course that’s true, and makes Tony Abbott’s words so true, is what Malcolm Turnbull flagged yesterday: he wants to go to an election with Abbott Government rhetoric, on a double dissolution triggered by an Abbott Government Bill, immediately after he’s delivered a photocopy of an Abbott Government budget. That’s where we’re heading and it just shows what’s been said for a few weeks now: anybody who thought Malcolm Turnbull was going to change the Liberal Party, we’ve now seen the Liberal Party has changed him. It might be a different person up the front, but the policies this election is going to be fought on are the policies laid down in the 2014 Budget from Tony Abbott. 

REPORTER: So what are some of the ways where employment opportunities can be increased in this region?

BURKE: The simple fact of the matter is you don’t deal with the transition to the new economy while you’re doubling the cost of broadband while making it slower; you don’t get the sort of transition you need for the economy unless you’ve got in the schools proper needs based funding and you’ve got a proper commitment to both vocation and university education; and also to make sure you’ve got the sort of incentives you need in place for startups. To be able to afford those sorts of measures without attacking the household budget, you need to have sensible tax reform and you need to make sure you can fund it by getting rid of tax loopholes. What we’ve seen, is the Government is completely unable and unwilling to engage in any difficult tax reform.

The Treasurer not only gets overruled by every idea he’s got on tax, he got overruled yesterday on the date of his own budget. Only an hour before Malcolm Turnbull announced the Budget was going to be on the 3 May, Scott Morrison as the Treasurer of the nation in charge of that document, is there giving public guarantees it will be a week later. You can’t govern sensibly when you’ve got a Prime Minister and a Treasurer at absolute loggerheads. We saw that on full stark display yesterday and when the loser is economic policy, then the biggest areas that miss out are the areas going through the transition in the toughest way, and that’s where we’re standing right now in Rockhampton.

REPORTER: We keep hearing about job losses in the mining industry, what can be done to stem those losses?

BURKE: You have to make sure you have full diversification. The fact the resources industry will go through periods of boom and then will go through periods of slowdown, is to some extent an unavoidable nature of the industry. Some of that rise and fall of demand is how the industry will operate. But if the economy hasn’t diversified in any way, if you haven’t made sure you’ve got the opportunities for areas like agriculture, areas like new technology, if you haven’t made sure you’re getting the manufacturing jobs that should be available in the renewable energy industry, then you’ve got nothing to diversify to.

They can talk all they want, this Government, about the economy in transition, but what on earth are they transitioning to when they’re neglecting the manufacturing jobs available in new technology and in renewables, when they’re neglecting agriculture, when they’re neglecting the platform for so much new employment in high-speed broadband? We must be the only country in the world that has a government deliberately, by government policy, saying the internet needs to be slower and more expensive; but that’s exactly what the Government’s delivered. And who was the architect of their broadband policy? The exact bloke who is now Prime Minister going into the next election.

REPORTER: Queenslanders have voted in a referendum to introduce four year fixed terms. With the threat of a double dissolution, do you think we need something similar for the Federal Parliament?

BURKE: Let’s face facts: the threat of a double dissolution is a political strategy. What Malcolm Turnbull has done, is he has realised there’s a problem going on in the Australian electorate. People are working out there’s a difference between what Malcolm Turnbull says and what Malcolm Turnbull does. The longer he takes to get to the next election, the more that difference will be made plain, so he wants to find a way of getting to the polls. So for all the talk of a new start under him, what’s the trigger he wants to grab hold of? He wants to grab hold of Abbott Government legislation and say that’s what he’ll go to the next election on.

My view, if he wants to play those sorts of games, yep, bring it on. If he wants to go to the people then we’re ready and we’re absolutely willing to be part of that contest. But we need to see it for what it is. At a time when it’s put to people, they would rather have terms go for a longer period of time, as you’ve said in the question, and have more certainty and stability, Malcolm Turnbull’s tactic is to do the exact opposite. He wants to manufacture a sense of crisis, he wants to pull out of the draw Tony Abbott’s rhetoric and Tony Abbott’s legislation and take that in a rushed election so people don’t have a chance to have full scrutiny of a budget looking more and more like a photocopy of what Tony Abbott started with.

REPORTER: The Australian today is reporting more than 100 CFMEU workers are facing more than 1000 court charges. Given this, what will Labor do to tackle union corruption if it does not support the ABCC?

BURKE: Well the example you’ve got there is an example of the legal process taking its course. We don’t tolerate corruption, not for one minute. If people have broken the law then the full force of the law should be brought down on them. The report today would imply that’s what’s happening and imply that’s happening under current legislation, not legislation that picks out one industry and says it should have a different set of rules to any other part of Australia.

REPORTER: How do you feel about the upcoming election?

BURKE: I love the thought of the hypocrisy of this Government coming to a head. I love the thought of the Australian people finally getting a chance to choose between the vision for the future that’s been put forward by Labor and the cuts and unfairness that’s been thrown at them by this Government. Let’s not forget, and I keep talking about the 2014 Budget, but I do it for a reason. What this Government did under Tony Abbott was to say everything they told us before the last election they thought they could be arrogant enough to ignore, that was the Budget. When the promises of no cuts to health, no cuts to education, no changes to the pension, all got ignored and thrown in the bin, that’s what they did. The Australian people haven’t had a chance to adjudicate on what they actually think about that. They’ve needed an election to be able to do it.

The Liberal Party and the National Party thought they could be clever, thought maybe they would change the Prime Minister and no one would notice the broken promises. Well now we’re seeing that the new Prime Minister is adopting the policies that were the betrayal of trust from Tony Abbott. So, if that’s going to be put to the people then I’m absolutely ready for that contest to be brought on.

REPORTER: Do you think the Australian public sees the ABCC and senate reforms as issues important enough to call elections over?

BURKE: People prefer certainty, they prefer stability, but the Government’s shown they’re incapable of providing either. What the Australian people will want though, is a chance to vote on what they think of cuts to the pension, cuts to schools, cuts to hospitals, cuts to the family budget. That’s what this Government’s offered, and it’s offered with no sense of vision as to how we transition in one of the most challenging transitions the Australian economy’s faced.

If you get it right, you get good opportunities for people by investing in people and making sure they’ve got a future with employment and a future that works for them. The alternative though is one where you have the cuts, you have the attack on the household budget and what does it even mean for the Budget bottom-line? From the 2014 Budget to the one that followed, all they managed to do was double the deficit. For all the talk of a Budget emergency. When you attack the household budget, you attack the Australian economy. That’s been their approach and that’s what the election will be about.

REPORTER: What specific policies does Labor have to create jobs in central Queensland?

BURKE: The first thing to be able to create jobs, the first thing you have to be able to do is make sure you’re not attacking demand. If you tell people they’re going to have less money in their family budget, they stop spending and jobs start getting lost automatically. That’s why the job losses haven’t been limited to areas affected by the mining downturn. There’s been a lack of confidence across the economy. People became more wary and lost confidence in the economy because there was an attack on the household budget when the Government decided its first budget was more important than any individual’s household budget; that’s a decision they made. That of itself is the first hit on employment.

To be able to invest in jobs you’ve got to be able to invest in people. No country in the world has created jobs by cutting education, no country in the world says let’s stop training, let’s stop investing in school education and university education and somehow jobs will flow. $100,000 degrees are a pathway to take opportunity away from young people, not to be able to provide any sort of opportunity for future employment. When you invest in people and you invest in infrastructure, whether it be the NBN or road infrastructure, whether it be other key aspects of providing what underpins employment, that delivers jobs. When you deliver jobs, you change people’s lives for the better, this Government’s been doing the opposite. 

Tony Burke