Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Budget 2004: Liberal Member and ALP candidate discuss the budget and upcoming federal election.

Download WordDownload Word




Wednesday, 12 May 2004



ELEANOR HALL:   Well let’s go now to the political contenders in one of these key marginal seats Antony has been describing, indeed what’s likely to be one of the most hard fought over seats in the country, the New South Wales seat of Parramatta. This suburban Sydney seat is held by the Liberal’s Ross Cameron by a tiny margin of 1.2 per cent and is one of the first seats Labor would be looking to win in order to take government. Ross Cameron won Parramatta in the 1996 landslide election which elevated John Howard to the Prime Ministership and he won the seat largely because of the swing to the coalition by those aspirational former Labor voters, now known as ‘Howard’s battlers’. Mr Cameron joins us now in our studio in Parliament House in Canberra.


And competing against Mr Cameron in this year’s election will be Labor’s candidate for the seat of Parramatta, Julie Owens. Ms Owens is a 45-year-old small business woman who is the CEO of the Association of Independent Record Labels, and she joins us in our Sydney studio.


Welcome very much to you both.


First to you, Ross Cameron. So how big is your smile over last night’s budget?


ROSS CAMERON:   Well I think it was a very good budget. I think it was addressing Australia’s key long-term challenges of the work family balance, which the Prime Minister has always described as the ‘barbecue stopper’ that everyone is struggling with who is trying to manage a family but provide for it at the same time; the need to lift the productivity and maintain the strength of the economy as a whole while still fulfilling our core commitments in health, in education, in national security and defence. Then, it has always been our view, that if we’re able to do those things while maintaining a surplus that we ought to return to the Australian people some of the taxes that we’ve been taking from them.


ELEANOR HALL:   And you’d be very happy that the return is going to seats like yours, I imagine.


ROSS CAMERON:   I think that Australians are too heavily taxed. I don’t think it is a good thing that you should have to work all day Monday and all day Tuesday before earning the first dollar for you and your family at about morning tea on Wednesday and I think even the Leader of the Opposition has acknowledged that people who are being hit in the top tax bracket of 47 per cent are middle-income earners, where in countries like the United States, you don’t hit the top tax bracket until you get over $200,000 a year of income. This has been a crying need to be fixed sort of a problem and, in this budget, the Treasurer has largely fixed it.


ELEANOR HALL:   Julie Owens, will this budget make it a lot harder for you to win over the voters of Parramatta?


JULIE OWENS:   Not based on the response I had this morning. I was out at the train stations and shopping centres from 6.30 this morning until 11. I chatted with a lot of people this morning and I think if John Howard and Ross Cameron think that this budget is going to deliver the required number of votes in these marginal seats, they’ve actually got it wrong.




JULIE OWENS:   The overwhelming response this morning is to repeat exactly what people have been saying for the last five or six months which is that public health and education are the principal concerns. They’re the things that sit as the most urgent priorities in people’s minds. And over the last six years, those vital institutions have been gradually whittled away and people have just had enough.


ELEANOR HALL:   And you are saying you’ve got no-one speaking positively about the fact they’re going to have more dollars in their pocket because of tax cuts and more dollars in their pocket because of family payments?


JULIE OWENS:   Well they didn’t this morning. That doesn’t mean they’re not out there. Perhaps the more critical ones came forward first. I’m sure there are families in Parramatta and all around Australia that are in desperate need of help and they have been for quite some time. There are families that are on three-year waiting lists for childcare. There is a desperate need for 40,000 extra childcare places. Some of the things that have been delivered in the budget will help in some ways but in Parramatta, for example, when it comes to childcare, the most urgent need is for the long day care, that’s when people go to work full time and they need to leave their children under the age of five for the full day. There’s a three-year waiting list for children under the age of two. Now there’s nothing in this budget that helps those families. There’s nothing that helps them get access to childcare.


ELEANOR HALL:   Ross Cameron, are you surprised at that response from Julie? Are you finding that people in your electorate are actually responding positively to this budget?


ROSS CAMERON:   I think that no-one would feel they have all their problems solved. And no budget audit ought to pretend that it is going to solve every problem. And frankly, Eleanor, it’s not my view, and I don’t put the proposition that this budget somehow secures my re-election. On the contrary I say this budget is good for Australia. It’s in the national interest and as the member for Parramatta, I’m very happy to support it. I would say that we ought to start by ... Antony Green engaged in this sort of speculation: if a Labor government brought down this kind of budget, what would the reaction at the money markets be, et cetera? My first point is, well no Labor government has brought down a budget like this in the context of a $2.3 billion dollar surplus. And no Labor government has done so after eight consecutive years of surpluses. And the point the Treasurer makes rightly is that this is a dividend not of luck, of a fluke, of a roll of the dice, but of eight years of disciplined economic management by a government that has made hard decisions not to spend, which Labor was never prepared to create.


ELEANOR HALL:   What about the point that Antony Green makes though, that this is a high spending budget that may well generate inflation after the election? Is that not economically irresponsible and are you not concerned about higher interest rates down the track?


ROSS CAMERON:   Well, Eleanor, we’ve had the longest sustained period of high employment and low interest rates that the country has ever witnessed. And there’s been no evidence whatever that that is about to change. We’ve got inflation at the moment at under two per cent and if you want to talk about ... and this, I just want to reiterate, that you cannot see an individual budget separate from the government’s record in economic management, and that is in jeopardy under the ALP.


ELEANOR HALL:   Julie Owens, it is hard for you to argue against some of these points that Ross Cameron is making, isn’t it?


JULIE OWENS:   No, not at all. This government has a long record of feast and famine, of starving the people of Australia between elections and then having huge spending on the eve of an election. The average new expenditure from this government over its six years in non-election years is $3.9 billion. And the average expenditure in an election year is $32.7 billion. The people of Australia are waking up to this. There’s a lot of cynics out there and they understand that what they’re getting now is all they’re going to get. For the next two years, if this government is returned, they’ll be starved again until they’re bribed again at the next election. But for families, you can’t replace the years of starvation. Those two years where they couldn’t get their kid into childcare, so they couldn’t both work, when the debt rose—you can’t replace those years. So this feast and famine cycle isn’t good management. It’s good campaigning, it’s good politics, but it is not good government. I have no problem making that case.


ELEANOR HALL:   Ross Cameron, it has taken a long time to deliver on the barbecue stopper, the family package. Are you concerned there might be a backlash from voters who simply see this as political cynicism?


ROSS CAMERON:   Look, Eleanor, the OECD describes Australia as the miracle economy. And it says that because at a time when we had eight out of our 10 top trading partners in either recession or depression, we continued to grow at between 2 and 3½ per cent a year. And that is a stunning achievement. And the OECD says there is one primary reason for that, and I think it is a direct quote to say it is ‘sustained, disciplined, macro-economic management’. And we have a view...


ELEANOR HALL:   But what about this point, Ross Cameron, that the barbecue stopper was raised by the Prime Minister a good year-and-a-half ago, possibly more. And the people of Australia have been waiting until just before an election for this great family bonanza to be delivered to them. Won’t they be able to be slightly cynical about that?


ROSS CAMERON:   Well, one of the differences, Eleanor, between for example the Treasurer, the Prime Minister and American political leaders is that we have a view that you offer the tax cut and you offer the social dividend when you have achieved a position of strength. The Americans have taken the view, which in some cases has paid off, that you can offer a tax cut while you’re in a significant deficit in the hope that the reduced burden on business and income generation will actually increase economic activity. Now, that has never been the Treasurer’s view. He says you have to pay off debt, and let’s not forget the ALP was generating debts at $10 billion a year when we came into government. They had a $90 billion dollar accumulated debt. We have repaid $70 billion dollars of that. But we have always taken the view that you first get yourself into a position of economic strength, then you have these fabulous choices to be able to make. And the question about whether this is an election budget or not or whether more of it should have been spent in one sector or another is a great luxury that comes from the fact that we have run a very good economic ship over the whole time we have been in government, and Australians would be taking a great risk to go with the alternative.


ELEANOR HALL:   Very briefly to you both: Julie Owens, when’s the election going be called?


JULIE OWENS:   I don’t care, actually. Bring it on or have it later. I’m ready for it and I think the electorate will be ready for a change well and truly whenever it happens.


ELEANOR HALL:   Ross Cameron, early election in this budget?  Is that what it’s telling you?


ROSS CAMERON:   No. I think the Prime Minister has got a view that the Australian people should get value for money when they elect a government; that we should go, in effect, for the full term. He’s been reluctant previously to go too early. I think he has said an election sometime in the second half of this year. He hasn’t sort of cancelled all of his travel arrangements, as the Leader of the Opposition has. I can understand why he wouldn’t want to visit the US administration ...


ELEANOR HALL:   Ross Cameron, we’re going to have to come out there now. But you can continue this debate sometime in the second half of this year. Julie Owens, who is the Labor candidate for Parramatta and Ross Cameron, the sitting member in Parramatta. Thank you both very much for joining us.