Transcript - TV interview - ABC News (24), Afternoon Briefing with Greg Jennett

GREG JENNETT [HOST]: Okay well, being a sitting week, we've got today's political panel right here with us in the studio. Joining us, Nationals Senator Matt Canavan. Welcome, Matt. And fellow Queenslander, Labor Senator and Assistant Minister, Anthony Chisholm. Welcome, Anthony. Now, normally I suppose we'd start with the Government, but since its budget speech reply night tonight, Matt, you get first question. Peter Dutton has the opportunity to respond to the cost of living measures, particularly those that you haven't already given indications on JobSeeker and support payments would be one. Will you be supporting those and should you be?

MATT CANAVAN [NATIONALS SENATOR]: Well, the problem with asking me before Peter has spoken is I can't really reveal it and I don't know either.

JENNETT: It's a bit of time to think about it.

CANAVAN: Well, of course, but it's a matter for Peter. I'm certainly not going to speak for him. I do have concerns though that this has been a big spending Budget this week. In fact, the increase in net government spending is the largest it's been since the Global Financial Crisis, if you take out the COVID years. That doesn't seem to be particularly smart while we've got inflation running at 7%, I get that we need to provide some targeted relief, but this is not targeted relief. It's an extra $21 billion in spending. In the Rudd Government's GFC budget, they increased spending by $26 billion, but that was in the context of trying to fight a recession. So, why would you add this fuel onto a fire when you say you might give a few hundred dollars to someone to help them out, but if that leads to massive amounts of inflation that person won't be any better off.

JENNETT: Massive amounts of inflation. I suppose you're going to challenge that. Anthony, just how targeted are these spends? I think it's $14 billion goes in the cost of living measures.

CANAVAN: I should clarify my comments with the overall spend.

JENNETT: And that's multiple years too that we're toting up here. The economists seem divided on whether it's going to be inflationary or not, but just how targeted are they on the number of people?

ANTHONY CHISHOLM [ASSISTANT MINISTER]: Sure, I think it was a really responsible budget. I think it dealt with the here and now challenges. The number of times I've sat in the chamber and heard those opposite say about the cost of everything and how expensive it is at the moment. So, I think we've done well to target those who are doing it tough. And I think we've done that smartly because we've done it over a number of years, so it isn't going to be a big injection into the economy now. I think the support for Medicare is really important and I think that will be well received and that also has a cost of living component to it as well. The other thing I think we've done, which I think is smart, is we're starting to lay those building blocks for the future economy and the future direction we want the country to go. So, obviously big investments in clean energy on hydrogen as well and I think that's important because after COVID, people do want to start looking forward and thinking what are those opportunities of the future? And I think we've started to deal with that as well.

JENNETT: As you say, some of the spending is funnelled out over multiple years, four to be precise. Did the Government head into this with its eyes wide open in relation to the Reserve Bank and its next board meeting? It's a 50 / 50 bet, isn't it, that it might go again, in light of what's in the Budget?

CHISHOLM: I disagree with that, Greg. Obviously, the Reserve Bank make their own independent calls, but if you think back to our first Budget in October and then the one we've delivered now, at all times the Treasurer and the Finance Minister have been cognisant of the fact that they don't want to put added pressure on inflation. They were consistent in October, they've been consistent since. I think we've seen that in the Budget that they prepared this week as well. So, there's no doubt it's been a focus. We don't want to add to that pressure, but we also want to be a government that is doing what we can to give people the help that they need and there are a lot of people out there at the moment who need help.

CANAVAN: Can I just respond here though, this idea that somehow it's not front loaded is wrong. For those of you viewers playing at home, they can look this up on page 94 of the Budget paper, one I've just brought up myself, and of that $21 billion I mentioned of extra net spending the Government has agreed to this week, $13 billion of it is in this financial year or next financial year, well over half.

JENNETT: The cost of living package, which is $14...

CANAVAN: But in terms of macroeconomic sense, in terms of adding to inflation, doesn't matter if it's cost of living or if it's going to build new things. It is all that extra $13 billion over the next two years is all going to add to inflationary pressures. The Government tries to say it's fighting inflation, but it's actually massively boosting the Government’s spending. That is not helping the Reserve Bank, that is going to make Philip Lowe's job harder and it's going to mean that he'll probably have to raise interest rates further if the economy stays strong.

CHISHOLM: What Matt neglected to mention, was that part of that is actually funding programs that the previous government hadn't done on a continuing basis that we had to step in and fix, which is also why we've been looking for savings, which we've been doing diligently in October and with this Budget as well.

JENNETT: And you’ll continue to do. If we move over to the National Disability Insurance Scheme. We just heard from Bill Shorten a little earlier in the program. People now know the numbers now in aggregate, about what the Government's targeting for cost. We won't say it's not cutting, but it's containing the growth in funds. When are participants entitled to find out how those costs will be contained?

CHISHOLM: Well, I heard some of Minister Shorten's interview before, and I think he made it clear that the October review would be the substance of how it's done. Can I say, as a Senator, some of the best experiences I've had are talking to parents who have children with a disability who have benefited from the NDIS and just seeing firsthand what a life changing experience that can be. So, I certainly know that everyone in the Labor Caucus wants to ensure the NDIS is around for the long term, that it's sustainable. Those are the decisions that we're going to be making over the next couple of years to ensure that's the case.

JENNETT: That will induce some anxiety, though. Matt, I guess, among both participants and potential future entrants to the scheme. You kept an eye on this over a long period of time. What do you think of the numbers that you're hearing?

CANAVAN: Look, the scheme's got to be controlled. It's out of control at the moment. It's costing almost double what we initially predicted. There's obviously widespread reports of fraud and scams being perpetuated through the scheme and there's probably an expansion of too many people going into it now. Anthony's right, there are some people who absolutely deserve and need this support, but I very much worry that unless it's controlled, providing support to those people will be put at risk because we just won't be able to afford it. We'll bankrupt ourselves. This is growing. It's getting to a level that's double our defence spending. It's bigger than Medicare. We can't keep growing this scheme like this. It's just unfortunate the Government didn't, or when they were in Opposition, the Labor Party didn't support us when we were in Government when we were trying to do something. Every time the then Minister Linda Reynolds tried to raise these issues, they would howl down and say how evil and terrible we are. Surprise, surprise, when they've come into Government and found the difficulties of making exactly the same type of decisions we tried to do.

JENNETT: Your side has been somewhat constrained, so maybe there's potential for bipartisanship to head down this path. All right. Housing Australia Future Fund we had the spectacle today on tactical and procedural motions, I suppose, of Nationals and LNP members in your case, and Liberals voting with the Greens to delay a vote. Why?

CANAVAN: Well, I mean, we don't think this scheme should be supported, so anything to do to stop it, we'll bring it on. We'll use every tactic to make sure it does get stopped. I think this is a half-baked solution. I just heard before in the Chamber that they were trying to trumpet the fact that they'll build 30,000 homes through this scheme in five years. We have 350,000 people arriving in Australia every year at the moment. How is 6,000 homes a year going to solve the housing crisis? They’re talking like it is going to, but the math just doesn't add up for the Government. So, that's why I oppose this quite large Government scheme. It's not going to make any difference. And look, anything tactically we can do in the chamber to do that, of course I'll support it.

JENNETT: Yeah well, every little support helps, I suppose might be the argument from the Government side in light of the net migration numbers. Just on what is playing out in the Senate, Anthony Chisholm, would you have been prepared to have, the tactics suggest you would have, put this to a vote today and copped the loss, copped the defeat?

CHISHOLM: Well, we hope that wouldn't be the case, but we were certainly prepared to have the vote because we think this is urgent. But let's be clear about what happened this week. The Opposition have been opposed to this from the beginning. I understand that they've been opposed to every nation building proposal we've put before the Parliament, basically since the election. But the role of the Greens this week was disgraceful. They used every trick in the book from Tuesday through to today to delay and obscure without actually bringing this to a vote. Even this morning, when we tried to bring it on, they said we needed more time, and then by lunchtime, they've actually come in and pulled it completely.

JENNETT: Do you think they're running scared?

CHISHOLM: Well, they say that they're prepared to have the vote and vote it down, yet we saw something completely different from their actual behaviour. So, there is obviously something at play. Whether it is a lack of confidence in their Shadow Spokesperson, because they weren't consistent in how they behaved in the Senate. And the result is, we haven't made any progress on passing this bill and they teamed up with the Opposition to actually pull it by lunchtime.

JENNETT: So do you see it as mission critical that this be resolved one way or another when you are next back in the Senate, as opposed to the estimates weeks, but do you have to have it resolved in June in order to have it up and running.

CHISHOLM: First of all, it is urgent. There is a real need. It doesn't matter where you go in the country, there is a need for more housing. I think that's one of the things everyone agrees on. But we are the Government, we took this policy to the election. We are determined to implement it. It's unfortunate that, well we know where the Opposition are at, but it's unfortunate the Greens haven't been prepared to come to the table.

JENNETT: Well, it certainly looks irreconcilable from where we sit here today, but a little bit of cooling off time now before you all reconvene and deal with that and other matters, some of which we're not going to get to discuss today, but we will next time we bring you back together. Matt Canavan, Anthony Chisholm, thanks so much for joining us once again.