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Transcript of interview with Michael Rowland: ABC News Breakfast: 16 December 2015: MYEFO

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MICHAEL ROWLAND, CO-PRESENTER: We're joined by the Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen, Mr Bowen, good morning to you.


ROWLAND: The Treasurer Scott Morrison says we all have to be patient and responsible to return the Budget to surplus, should we be?

BOWEN: I don't remember that being the rhetoric of the Liberal Party when they were in Opposition. I don't remember them saying well, there's nothing to see here, and patient and responsible planning is what we need. I remember talk of debt and deficit, disaster and budget emergency. When the situation was a whole lot better than it is today. The $26 billion blow out in the budget deficit announced yesterday, of course, comes on top of this Government having doubled the budget deficit already.

So there's a yawning chasm between what the Liberal Party said before the election and what they're saying now.

ROWLAND: But the Labor Party would be in a similar situation if you were still in office care of that plummeting iron ore price. It's punched a massive hole in Australia's revenue stream.

BOWEN: Look, I completely accept that the iron ore price has a big impact on the Federal Budget, as it did when we were in office, as it is now. I'm not going to engage in the sort of games that Joe Hockey used to play, blaming the government of the day for the iron ore price. I'm not going to do that.

What I will do is hold them to account for their own economic management, for the collapse in confidence over the last 2 years because of this Government's rhetoric and actions. The fact of the matter is they've called the economy wrong and we've paid a price for that. And the Government says there's a transition under way, there's ‘real momentum’ in the economy when their own figures reveal yesterday, and they didn't talk about this in their press release and their press conference, it's hidden away in the documents, their own figures reveal a decline in non-mining investment, the opposite of what we should be seeing.

We should be seeing non-mining investment growing to make up for the inevitable decline in mining investment. They had predicted a non-mining investment growth of 4 per cent, it's now declining by 0.5 per cent. The fact of the matter is this transition, which is under way, is not being well handled by the Government.

ROWLAND: A lot of people watching, it's all about their family finances propped up by jobs and on that front it's very good news, forecasting a lower than expected unemployment rate of 6 per cent down from 6.5 per cent. That certainly deserves a tick, doesn't it?

BOWEN: Well, the reality needs to follow the forecast, of course, and that's what we will be watching closely. I would trust and hope that the Government has based that forecast on their very best advice from the Treasury. I would trust and hope that that's the case.

ROWLAND: Are you questioning the motivations behind that forecast?

BOWEN: No, no, I'm simply saying I assume it's based on good Treasury advice, that's my assumption. The assumption I work under unless there's any evidence to the contrary are those sets of forecasts are based on Treasury advice and I welcome that as I welcome strong jobs growth. There’s been some question marks over last month's figures. The ABS themselves have pointed to the fact that you need to look at the trend job growth rate to get a pure picture of the employment growth situation. That's self-evident. Some of the figures last month, some expert commentators have pointed out were quite possibly affected by the large turnover in the sample.

So we'll see the long-term trend, of course, what we do need is a Government focused on jobs and growth and what we see is a Government talking about jobs and growth but downgrading growth forecasts. We need growth upgraded to create the jobs necessary to absorb those entering the labour market and that's what we need going forward.

ROWLAND: Let's look at those cuts to the incentives for pathology and X-ray services. The Treasurer says it will have no real impact on patients. The AMA, of course, begs to differ. How do you read this one?

BOWEN: I'm deeply concerned about it and it appears the Treasurer has simply not done his homework in his consultation about this measure. I saw them both saying

yesterday there will be no impact on people from these cuts. If there's no impact on people from billions of dollars’ worth of cuts you have to question how the system's going to work. I've seen the experts, I've already spoken to some experts in the field who are deeply concerned. I've seen the experts in the media saying people will be delaying their diagnostic procedures, delaying the sorts of treatment they need. That is highly concerning and it appears to me we're seeing a pattern of behaviour again, way back to the 2014 Budget of the Government not thinking through their cuts, not understanding the real world implications and then the Parliament having to clean up the mess by stopping them. Now, we saw this with so many of the cuts in 2014, we saw this with the paid parental leave change, the so-called ‘double dipping’ which the Government just got completely wrong and if the reports are to be believed will be reversing as soon as today in another victory for common sense. We see this time and time again.

So obviously we'll look at the fine detail of the all the cuts announced yesterday but there's some that cause me and the Opposition very, very serious concern indeed. I know how these things work. New Treasurers comes along, the same proposals get put to a new Treasurer that were put to Joe Hockey, put to me, put to Wayne Swan. Some of these proposals that all Scott Morrison’s predecessors would have rejected as being too harsh and yet he comes along and appears to accept it.

ROWLAND: What about the proposal he accepted the $700 million to be gained from cracking down on welfare compliance?

BOWEN: Scott Morrison is a one-trick pony. He's announced this sort of measure several times. You remember the screaming headlines at the time of the budget about Morrison getting tough on social security when he was social security minister. What we know is that when in doubt, Scott Morrison launches some sort of crackdown on social security fraud. That's all well and good. Nobody can argue with better compliance for social security fraud.

What we want to see is tough measures in place on multinational evasion, they're the sorts of plans that Labor has outlined. It was open to the Government to adopt those plans yesterday to say that the situation has gotten so much worse, we're now going to accept Labor's offer of support for things like multinational tax evasion, high income superannuation, tobacco tax, all those things that Labor has been outlining, around $70 billion worth of savings over the decade, all available to the Government to accept, to embrace, to adopt and pass the Parliament very quickly.

Instead we see them going back to the well of the 2014 Budget, including measures which were too harsh for 2014 budget, even too harsh for Joe Hockey, adopting those measures yesterday, instead of adopting Labor's plans which they could have done and got a big tick from the whole Parliament.

ROWLAND: Yet another opinion poll, the Morgan poll shows the Labor Party way behind the Coalition on both the two party and primary vote. Is the Labor Party ready to fight an early election if the PM bungs one on after the summer holidays?

BOWEN: Well, the PM will only call an election if he's so cowardly that he doesn't want to bring down a Budget and doesn't want to show the Australian people his true plans and priorities. But if he chooses to do that, we are ready. We will be competitive. We saw yesterday a small taste of what we would see if Scott Morrison did bring down a Budget.

It would be even worse than the MYEFO that we saw yesterday. No doubt there are people telling Malcolm Turnbull don't do that, don't be honest, don't bring down your Budget. That would be the cowardly way out. Bring down a budget so we can have a debate on the detailed plans.

If the Government's got any guts they will outline including their plans on the GST.

ROWLAND: Chris Bowen from a rainy Sydney, thank you for your time this morning.

BOWEN: Always a pleasure, Michael.