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Transcript of doorstop interview: Burnie, Tas: 31 August 2019: the floundering Australian economy needs an economic plan; bringing forward MYEFO; fast-tracking Tasmanian infrastructure; 18 May election result and election review; Biloela family; NDIS financial mismanagement; Queensland politics

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SUBJECT/S: The floundering Australian economy needs an economic plan; Bringing forward MYEFO; Fast-tracking Tasmanian infrastructure; 18 May election result and election review; Biloela family; NDIS financial mismanagement; Queensland politics.

REBECCA WHITE, TASMANIAN LABOR LEADER: Thank you for all coming to the State Labor conference. It is a real pleasure for us to be able to have this event in Burnie and to be able to welcome Jim Chalmers, the Federal Shadow Treasurer, to Tasmania to give the keynote address this morning.

It's quite clear that there needs to be a strong focus on jobs and the economy particularly when you look at Tasmania's unemployment rate which is the worst in the nation. We've lost 2000 apprentices over the last 60 years and there's a real disconnect between the learning pathways to employment in Tasmania.

We need to be able to provide opportunities for Tasmanians to get work here and make sure that they can stay here and have a good quality of life. We also know that this Government is really lacking when it comes to rolling out infrastructure projects that will support job creation activity. Despite claiming that this was an infrastructure budget handed down in May earlier in the year they've delayed infrastructure projects and that delays job opportunities for Tasmanians in our state. So it's important that Government take a really strong focus, provide training pathways through TAFE, apprenticeships for Tasmanians, and invest in projects that will provide job opportunities for Tasmanians to stay living and working here. We have the highest unemployment rate in the country and that will only turn around if we invest in Tasmanians.

So I was really pleased to hear Jim speak this morning because he understands what Tasmania needs and I'll pass across now for Jim to say some further words about his speech.

JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: Thanks very much Rebecca and thank you to my federal colleagues as well - Catryna, Julie and Helen - for the opportunity to address the Tasmanian Labor conference today.

The economy is floundering, Australians are struggling, and the Morrison Government has absolutely no plan to turn things around. Australian economic growth is the slowest it's been for 10 years. Wages are stagnant. Household debt is at record highs. Productivity and living standards are going backwards. Public debt has more than doubled. The Morrison Government has been in denial about weakness in our own economy and failing to plan for that and to do something about it leaves Australia dangerously exposed to shocks in the global economy.

We call on the Morrison Government to bring forward the mid-year budget update to responsibly fund a plan to boost the economy, a plan to boost the economy, spending and wages so that we can get the economy going again. For too long now Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg have pretended that everything is hunky dory in the economy. That's news to the people of Tasmania and the people of Australia who feel with some justification that no matter how hard they work they just can't seem to get ahead. Labor is calling on them to do something about the economy, to bring forward a plan to boost the economy which is floundering substantially on their watch.

That plan should include a review and increase of Newstart, to bring forward investment in public infrastructure including the Bass Highway and other Tasmanian projects, to bring forward part of the stage two of the tax cuts, to implement an investment guarantee to encourage business to invest properly in their businesses and communities, and also to bring forward a proper wages policy which should begin with the restoration of penalty rates. If the Government did any or all of these things that we are suggesting they could boost the economy without jeopardising the surplus.

The people of Tasmania and the people of Australia desperately need a Government not just with a political strategy which is what Morrison and Frydenberg have, but with an actual economic policy. The trade tensions in the global economy that have escalated in the last six weeks or so do not explain the domestic weaknesses in our economy which have been obvious for much of the last six years. It's time for the Government to have a plan. We've played a constructive role in proposing a plan today. They should bring forward the budget update so that that plan can be put in place so that we can invest in the economy, invest in jobs, and invest in communities here in Tassie and right around Australia as well.

JOURNALIST: The budget is already in surplus or will be very soon. Given that,

how can you criticise the Government's economic management?

CHALMERS: Well the facts speak for themselves: in the economy that is overseen by Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg we've got the slowest growth in 10 years, stagnant wages, record household debt, productivity and living standards are going backwards. It goes on and on and on.

The facts speak for themselves. This Government has been a failure when it comes to managing the economy. It's not enough to wander around Tasmania and wander around Australia pretending you're doing a good job managing the economy when the facts tell a very different story. More of the same isn't going to cut it. The economic approach that this Government's had for the last six years has been a recipe for slowing growth. It's time for them to change course. It's time for them to bring forward a budget update to update their forecasts and to responsibly fund a plan to turn this floundering economy around.

JOURNALIST: What difference would [INAUDIBLE] these infrastructure projects make to the economy?

CHALMERS: We've got an opportunity here whether it's the Hobart to Sorrell Highway, whether it's Bass, whether it's the bridge around Hobart. You've got the opportunity here to bring forward some projects which are on the books now, but which in many cases aren't funded until years down the track. What we're saying is we've got plans, we've got projects, we should be ready to go, and if you care about jobs in Tassie and you care about jobs around Australia you should bring forward -where we can - some of those projects so that the investment flows sooner, so that the jobs are created sooner, and so that we can get the economy going again.

JOURNALIST: How did Federal Labor get it so wrong at the Federal election here in the north west and the north of the state?

CHALMERS: Clearly when you look at the result here and in many places around Australia clearly we didn't get everything right and we are taking the time to review what happened in the election campaign from a campaigning point of view but also from a policy point of view. We want to listen and learn from what happened on the 18th of May. That means getting around to as many communities as we can to listen directly to what people are saying about our approach in 2019; to learn from that so that in 2022 we can come back and win back Braddon, and win back other seats sufficient to get us into Government in 2022 under Anthony Albanese's leadership.

JOURNALIST: Do you think Labor's failure to convince voters in northern Tasmania that it would be a better economic manager had a significant impact on what happened?

CHALMERS: I think there's a perception out there that the Liberals have done a good job managing the economy but that is not supported by the facts. The Liberals pretending to be good at economic management is like Gordon Ramsay pretending he's good at anger management. It just doesn't bear scrutiny. And so what we will be doing is we will be doing a couple of things: we will point out where the economy has been floundering because of the federal Government's lack of a plan to deal with it and we'll also be playing a constructive role in trying to turn things around. That's why we've proposed five ideas today. If the Government has other ideas to turn around the economy which has been floundering on their watch they should bring them forward and they should do that in a budget update sooner rather than later.

JOURNALIST: What do you make a commentary that Anthony Albanese hasn't quite made the transition to Opposition Leader yet?

CHALMERS: I completely and absolutely reject it. Anthony Albanese has done in record time what many people thought would be impossible. He's got our show back on the road, he's put it back together. We are enormously united behind his leadership. He's taken up the fight to the Government whether it be on Newstart, whether it be penalty rates, whether it be the floundering economy, the Government's lack of a plan. I think he has done, and is doing, an extraordinary job as the leader of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party.

JOURNALIST: There's a Tamil family facing deportation. They've reportedly been moved to Christmas Island. Do you think this is fair treatment and should they be allowed to stay in Australia?

CHALMERS: I think this family has been treated in a sickening fashion and I think what's happened to this family is not who we are as a nation. I'm a father of kids about the same age as those two beautiful young girls and the idea that we're into plucking kids off planes in the dead of the night, it sickens me and I think it sickens a lot of Australians. That is not who we are as a country and we call on the Government to use the same intervention powers that Peter Dutton used when he wanted to intervene for those two au pairs, to do the right thing.

There is a community in regional Queensland, my home state, in Biloela. They've done the most amazingly, characteristically Australian thing by getting around this family. The community wants them to stay. The family wants to stay. The two little girls were born here. We call on Morrison, and Minister Coleman, and Minister Dutton to do the right thing, to let them stay in Australia. They've done a very cruel and cynical thing which is taking them to Christmas Island, out of public view. The issue will not go away. They cannot sweep this under the carpet and I think even people who voted for Minister Coleman, or Minister Dutton, or the Prime Minister, even Liberal voters, I think they'd be sickened by what's going on. They didn't vote

for this kind of cruelty.

JOURNALIST: How could the Government have handled this situation better from the beginning with this family?

CHALMERS: Clearly we have known for some time. Because of the good work of the community of Biloela and amazing advocates like Amanda Fredericks and others, we've known that there's been an issue here. This issue didn't just pop up in the last couple of days. It's been an issue. The community wants this family to stay, and there are good reasons for the family to stay. What the Government should have done before now, it's not too late now, is to use the same intervention powers that Peter Dutton has been willing to use in other cases, to use those intervention powers to let this family stay. They should do that sooner rather than later. The family's been put through an extraordinary ordeal. To think of those two little girls and what they have been through. They should reflect on that, do the right thing, and let them stay here.

JOURNALIST: There are claims that huge amounts of taxpayer money meant for disabled people are being used inappropriately. How serious are these allegations?

CHALMERS: Very concerning allegations about the spending of money by the National Disability Insurance Agency and by the NDIS as well. The NDIS is a proud Labor creation, created for one reason and one reason only which is to properly support Australians with disability. As much money as possible needs to go to that objective and not to other objectives. Under this Government there has been a shameful treatment of the the NDIS: cuts to the NDIS, underspends, people can't get the packages that they were promised and that they need, people can't get the support that they deserve in our community. These stories are very concerning and we need to hear a proper explanation about what's gone on here and we need to ensure that every available dollar goes towards supporting Australians with disability because that's the reason why Labor created the scheme in the first place.

JOURNALIST: New research reveals some electricity providers have pushed up prices in response to the new price caps, some by $400. What's the solution to that?

CHALMERS: Well the solution to that is not to do what the Liberals have done for six years which is to have 16 different energy policies. It just beggars belief that these characters have had 16 different policies on energy and yet they wonder why prices are going up and up and up. Angus Taylor is arguably the weakest Minister in the Cabinet - it's a very competitive field but arguably the weakest Minister in the Cabinet. We get all this bluff and all this bluster about energy prices, all this finger pointing and blame shifting and all the rest of it, and the consequence of that is that

Tasmanians and Australians have to pay more for their energy. What we need to see is a sensible economic policy. We're prepared to come to the table for that rather than all of these sort of half measures and all of this bluff and bluster, the net result of which has been higher energy costs for people around the country.

JOURNALIST: Given the polling out saying Queensland showing that the Labor Government is loosing support, is that a concern for the Party?

CHALMERS: Obviously we've never taken the next election for granted. The Palaszczuk Labor Government is a terrific State Government doing really important things for Queenslanders and their focus on jobs is the most important thing of all. They are doing an outstanding job but we don't take the outcome of the next election for granted. Queensland is very challenging electoral terrain, as we learned again in May in the Federal Election - that's true at the state level as well. But it is a great Government, well-led, with very capable Minsters getting out and about talking to real Queenslanders about real issues and I'm confident that in time as we tell our story about what we've done for jobs and the economy in Queensland that we can claw back any support that we may have lost.

JOURNALIST: So you're not concerned you'll see another Labor bloodbath at the next state election?

CHALMERS: No but obviously we're not complacent about the outcome. An LNP Government would be disastrous for Queensland. We saw under Campbell Newman the kind of slash and burn approach to the state which people so comprehensively rejected at the next available opportunity. The leader of the LNP and all the members of the LNP enthusiastically supported Campbell Newman's slash and burn approach to the state. We will be reminding Queenslanders of that, and the alternative - a Palaszczuk Labor Government - would be focussed on investing in communities, investing in jobs and listening to real people. The alternative to that is not something that Queenslanders should contemplate.

JOURNALIST: Just one more on disability spending: how important is it that that money be used to help people that [INAUDIBLE]?

CHALMERS: It's absolutely crucial that every available dollar in the NDIS is spent on getting Australians with a disability the support that they need and deserve and were promised. The entire reason why Labor created the NDIS was to properly support in our country people who have a disability and we need to see money going to that purpose and not to other purposes.

JOURNALIST: Is Federal Labor pleased that State Labor's switched its pokie policy?

CHALMERS: The pokies policy is a matter for the state colleagues. I don't spend a lot of time thinking about the Tasmania pokies policy. It's a matter for them. Obviously pokies policy has got a long and colourful history at the Federal level as well and I'm confident that colleagues in Tasmania will do the right thing for the community as always.

JOURNALIST: How is Federal Labor going to balance I guess the demands particularly in Tasmania of people in the south wanting promises but it not being an election winner?

CHALMERS: I think the most important thing is to prioritise the economics over the politics when it comes to our commitments in Tasmania and that's why we've made constructive suggestions today about projects which could be brought forward by the current Liberal Federal Government working with the current Liberal State Government. The most important thing is that we create jobs in Tasmania and around Australia and that's our highest priority. The political considerations will take care of themselves. One of the issues that we've had federally for too long now is that we've got a Government with a political strategy but not an economic policy and the results of that speak for themselves in slowing growth and stagnant wages and declining living standards.