Radio interview on ABC Wide Bay

SCOTT LAMOND [HOST]: Now you've had a week to digest the Federal Budget, it's pretty clear the target of new spending was the poorest in society, those struggling on unemployment benefits or finding it impossible to pay the rent or visit the doctor and a surplus to boot. Difficult for the Coalition to attack, but the Liberals certainly tried calling it inflationary and divisive. Senator for Queensland and Labor's Assistant Minister for Education and Regional Development, Anthony Chisholm is visiting the Wide Bay this morning and he joins me right now in the studio. Good morning.

ANTHONY CHISHOLM [ASSISTANT MINISTER]: Good morning, good to be with you and your listeners.

LAMOND: Now, for a mum or dad, a pensioner, a job seeker, a small business owner living in Flynn, Hinkler or Wide Bay where we're broadcasting to this morning, how will someone listening draw economic confidence from your government's budget?

CHISHOLM: Well, I think if you look at the path the government's been on since we came to power, we know we inherited some difficult conditions. We know people are doing it tough with the cost of living and that's been a real focus for us. We've been really careful to provide support for people doing it tough when it comes to cost of living but we've been doing that without wanting to add to the inflation challenge that so many people are facing as well. So, we don't want to make things worse. That's why when we did get an uplift in revenue, for instance, in this Budget, we banked 80 per cent of it. We didn't want to add to inflation, but where we could we've provided cost of living relief to people on low incomes. We've also got other reforms which are due to start which will be important. Cheaper childcare starts from July 1, so that will benefit a lot of families.  We've tried to use that extra money that we've had to provide cost of living relief but also do it in a place like childcare where you increase economic opportunity, so that people can get back into the workforce as well. I think we've found that right balance between the two.

LAMOND: The Reserve Bank of Australia has warned that further interest rate increases are still possible, with a former RBA Governor arguing only yesterday the low-rate era is over, leaving households feeling like Australia is heading for a recession. That must be worrying. Can your government be held responsible if the predictions are true?

CHISHOLM: Well obviously, the Reserve Bank make decisions independent of the government and that's the way it should be, but I certainly know from the October Budget that we did, from the Budget we did last week, the Treasurer and the Finance Minister have been really focused on doing what they can to provide cost of living relief without adding to inflation, and we definitely do not want to make things worse and more challenging for Australians. So, I think that in every decision that we've made, we've done it in the context of doing the right thing for the country, providing that cost of living relief and also delivering a surplus which is the first time, for a long time, that a Budget has delivered a surplus.

LAMOND: So, Labor is confident it won't be an inflationary budget. Although, it could be questioned, has this budget cut through? Because I mean I've seen a few polls yesterday suggesting that it maybe hasn't really had the impact that you would like to see, with around a third of voters saying, "Well I don't know if it's actually going to help me.” They might say, "I like the energy bill subsidies or the new Medicare spending or the talk around bulk billing, but is it really going to impact me day‑to‑day?"

CHISHOLM: Yeah look, all I can judge it on is what I've heard when I’ve been out and about, and I was at my kids' sporting game in Brisbane on the weekend. I spent the day in Bundaberg yesterday. I was at the Kepnock Gardens Aged Care Home, and I know that those workers there are really excited about getting a pay rise. What they hope is that, one, they'll be recognised for their work, and they do deserve a pay rise, but what they're also desperately hoping for is that people will go and work in that industry, because they're still really short-staffed in aged care. So, I think when you look at the context of the Budget and what we delivered, I think there are a lot of significant benefits that I think will become clear over time. For instance, fee-free TAFE. So, so many opportunities for people in Bundaberg and the wider region to engage in training. I think that's exciting for people who might have finished school last year or might be coming to the end of school this year. There are enormous opportunities to get some training and then get into the workforce given that there is a strong labour market at the moment.

LAMOND: You're hearing from Anthony Chisholm, Labor's Assistant Minister for Education and Assistant Minister for Regional Development. He is a Senator for Queensland. Now, you're in Bundaberg as mentioned. The member for Hinkler, the National’s Keith Pitt has big questions about your budget.

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KEITH PITT [FEDERAL MP FOR HINKLER]: We've seen media reports just last week that over $100 billion worth of infrastructure in the pipeline is now being reviewed. Well that is code from Labor that they will cut that funding and that expenditure. Those projects are critical. I have a guarantee in writing from Minister Catherine King that the Hinkler regional deal won't be touched and yet we see projects from that regional deal on the list. Catherine King needs to keep her promise.

[End of excerpt - grab]

LAMOND: Now Keith Pitt has highlighted really local projects like the Key Street bypass in Bundaberg, Princess Street upgrades. But the Hinkler Regional Deal, is there any threat?

CHISHOLM: I'm confident it will be delivered. Part of what this infrastructure review is doing is looking at the cost of projects. So, everyone knows that the costs of significant projects have gone up over time. What we saw from our predecessors, and it's a bit rich from Keith Pitt, that they'd often put out a press release and say, "we're going to do something" without actually getting it properly costed and working with a delivery partner, which is often the Local Council or the State Government, to actually get an accurate cost and timing of when it can be delivered. So, the previous Federal Government would put out a press release, pat themselves on the back and say, "job done”. Well, that's actually not the reality of how you deliver infrastructure. We're absolutely committed to the $120 billion investment pipeline which was in the Budget, but what we actually need is an accurate assessment of how much these projects cost and when they can be delivered. That's what we will be looking at through this process. Minister King has said she will honour the deals that were signed previously. So, we will do that, but we will do it in a way where we can be upfront with the people and explain how much things will cost and when they can be delivered in a timely manner.

LAMOND: How do you view the Hinkler Regional Deal, for instance, and what value is in it and what does it really mean?

CHISHOLM: Well, my observation of the Hinkler Regional Deal would be that it's the only regional deal that was done that actually didn't have a State Government on board. So, it seemed like it was something that Keith Pitt dreamt up, and this was probably part of our criticism on the previous government's infrastructure agreements, without actually working constructively with State and Local Governments to ensure that you had something that, one, all sides were invested in, but also could be delivered in a timely manner. That seems to be missing so much, and the Hinkler Deal is an example, but in infrastructure planning right across the country.

LAMOND: So, is it up to your government now that you're in power to repair relationships with the state to ensure that what's been promised is still delivered?

CHISHOLM: Absolutely, yeah. We will go about doing that. We've been working constructively with the states. Every state jurisdiction, Liberal and Labor, were on board with the infrastructure review, because they know, they see what is happening with costs that are impacting on significant infrastructure projects. We want to be upfront with the Australian people and we want them to have confidence in the Federal Government that we will deliver. That's what this infrastructure review is about.

LAMOND: And, Senator, you're off to the Doctor's today?

CHISHOLM: I am off to the Doctor. I am in good health but a significant part of the Budget was the boost in bulk billing, that will benefit 100,000 people in Hinkler area, so children under 16, pensioners, those on concession cards. So, we think it's a really huge boost to bulk billing. A good cost of living measure as well. But we don't want anyone who has a sick child thinking, "oh, can I or can't I afford to go to the Doctor?" This will ensure that on every occasion you can.

LAMOND: Senator Anthony Chisholm, thank you for dropping in this morning.

CHISHOLM: Thanks for your time.