Transcript – Pollie-Graph with Raf Epstein – ABC Melbourne

Topics: Budget 2017-18

 

E&OE…

 

RAF EPSTEIN:

Scott Ryan’s very glad he is here for the first airing of that. He is Special Minister of State in Malcolm Turnbull’s Government. Scott, good afternoon.

 

SENATOR SCOTT RYAN:

Good afternoon Raf.

 

EPSTEIN:

Richard Di Natale is with us as well. He is the leader of the Greens, of course, in the Australian Parliament. Richard, good afternoon.

 

SENATOR RICHARD DI NATALE:

G’day Raf.

 

EPSTEIN:

I asked listeners earlier this afternoon for a bumper sticker label for the Budget. So unprompted, you didn’t know I was going to ask. Scott Ryan, someone texted me ‘Hockey horror show abandoned’ as the bumper sticker, but what’s your genuine simple message on the Budget, if you can compress it to a bumper sticker?

 

SENATOR RICHARD DI NATALE:

I’ve never been good at bumper stickers, senators are a bit more verbose. I think the Treasurer summed it up that this is about making the right choices to provide security, fairness and opportunity. Balancing those objectives.

 

EPSTEIN:

Richard Di Natale, what’s your bumper sticker?

SENATOR DI NATALE:

Young people have been screwed over.

 

EPSTEIN:

Wow.

 

SENATOR DI NATALE:

I mean, if you look at it, it doesn’t mention climate change, just basically leaving it to future generations. On higher education, huge fees now for people getting a degree. On housing they squibbed it with negative gearing and capital gains tax reform. Really, all of those are issues that affect young people. Then there’s the drug testing for people who might be on Newstart and need income support, we’re going to do compulsory drug testing. That’s a pretty scary precedent, I think a dangerous one too, to be saying to young people across the country ‘well you might not have a job through no fault of your own and now the state’s going to get involved through compulsory drug testing’.

 

EPSTEIN:

Scott Ryan, maybe we can start there. I don’t think it is compulsory, it is 5000 people in three different trial sites.

 

SENATOR RYAN:

It’s a trial of 5000 people. There will be profiling and then random sampling among that profile. The sites have not been chosen and one of the criteria for choosing the sites will be ensuring there is the availability of support services.

This is not a punitive measure. This is a measure to trial a program to ensure people don’t fall into a habit that can cause huge long-term health, personal, familial and economic consequences. It’s about providing support.

Look Richard’s made a few other sledges in his opening statement there, I’m not sure when you want me to address them.

Climate change wasn’t mentioned in the speech …

 

EPSTEIN:

Gentlemen, I will get onto climate change. Let’s just cover off on the drug testing trial. Richard, you don’t not get money, you get a cashless welfare card. You can be denied benefits if you use your addiction as an excuse for not fulfilling some of the tests we require of people. Is it worth a try?

 

SENATOR DI NATALE:

No it is absolutely not worth a try.

Firstly , if you’re selected to be on the trial it is compulsory, it is absolutely compulsory. The profiling really worries me, so what does that mean? Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are going to be selected? Are we talking about people who might have visited a drug and alcohol clinic, does that put them on the trial? But look, Raf, somebody who has worked as a drug and alcohol doctor, the worst thing you can do is say to someone, you come and seek help, often it takes months to be able to get the treatment and we’re going to mandate that you have counselling, but we’re not going to actually provide the treatment places you need. But do you think that somebody who is in a position where they have become dependent on a drug – often at that point they’ve lost their relationship, their marriage has broken up, they’ve lost their job, they might be sleeping out of a car – saying to someone in that situation, ‘what we’re going to do now is take you off income support’, that does nothing apart from further punish that person. By the time they’re in that situation, they’ve already sacrificed so much, this is just extra punishment. It’s not going to do anything to change their behaviour, all it will do is send them further into a downward spiral.

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Firstly, what will happen is you go into welfare quarantining, which means that only certain amounts of money become available so that the basic necessities of life can be provided for. Limiting the ability to make the purchases of illicit products is one step. Then you can end up on a cashless welfare card. But at the same time, as the Minister has made clear, this is about providing support. The alternative is what? To let people continue onto the welfare system and have public resources being misused.

 

SENATOR DI NATALE:

What about the pension?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

This is a trial, Richard. We have said …

 

SENATOR DI NATALE:

What about people on the pension? What about people who go to university? That’s a government service. What about when people go and see a doctor?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Richard, we have said this is a trial. I don’t understand why it is that whenever we move to tackle illicit drugs, Richard and the Greens always say there can’t be anything they would call ‘punitive’ and they ramp this fear up that we are going to target Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. That is complete, unfounded crap.

 

SENATOR DI NATALE:

You’re dealing with profiling so that is of concern. That’s a major concern.

 

EPSTEIN:

  1. There will time to put questions to Scott Ryan and Richard Di Natale.

Scott Ryan, if I can just zoom out a little bit and get some perspective on the Budget? We were told in recent years by the Coalition, healthcare spending was growing uncontrollably. Now you’re, albeit slowly, unfreezing the Medicare rebate. Extra education funding was not the answer. Now it is the answer. The debt and deficit disaster language is gone. In last year’s Budget, the income tax went down. In this year’s Budget income tax goes up. Which Budget is the real Coalition? The last three or this one?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

I wouldn’t agree with the inconsistencies you’ve outlined there.

Firstly, on the Budget itself, we inherited spending growth of over 3.5 per cent, it’s now half that. So by lowering the trajectory of growth, by reducing the rate of growth in spending that we inherited from Richard and Julia Gillard, we’ve made the Budget more sustainable. Last year, we did what we’ve done consistently whenever we’ve been in office, we’ve tried to make sure that bracket creep does not push hundreds of thousands of people on average incomes, or slightly above those, into higher income tax brackets.

We have invested in a schools funding plan, but we have also made clear that’s not just about the money and David Gonski’s report, due at the end of this year, will talk about how we are going to ensure we use that money to achieve improvements …

 

EPSTEIN:

You’re a bit late to that change in education weren’t you? Is this just the experience of Government?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

It was a combination of the fact that we’ve always talked about teacher training, what happens in the classroom and ensuring money is well spent, but, at the same time, we faced reality in the Senate. There was legislated spending in the Australian Education Act that was still going to be unfair, that wasn’t going to treat students across Australia consistently and on a needs basis. So Simon Birmingham has, I think, come up with a very comprehensive and very well-received proposal to make Commonwealth funding fair …

 

EPSTEIN:

I understand you want to talk about your policy proposals but if I can just push you on values and I guess what you stand for. Every front page in the country and quite a few conservative commentators see this as a very Labor Budget. Are you confident that people who voted for the Coalition two elections in a row, have they been voting for the same thing both times? Because it seems to very many people that the leopard’s changed its spots a lot.

 

SENATOR RYAN:

The world changes in three years too. I saw the world change a lot in six years between 2010 and 2016 as well. The deficit levy expires. We’ve brought in a Medicare Levy slight increase, consistent with what happened when Julia Gillard was PM and was working closely with the Greens, to fully fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme because you always have to defend your priorities and one of our core priorities in the Coalition, was always to bring the budget back into balance. We have faced reality by understanding that there are over $13 billion of savings that cannot get through the Senate and, quite frankly, seeing those stay on the books and not addressing the fact that that level of deficit and debt is not sustainable going forward means that we had to make some difficult choices.

 

EPSTEIN:

Richard Di Natale, do you think the Government’s values have changed?

 

SENATOR DI NATALE:

I think they’ve been forced into it. I think Scott’s right, there’s been a huge shift – not just here in Australia, but right around the world – this idea that if you continue to flog off public assets, that this sort of dog-eat-dog world where everyone is in it for themselves, where the rich just get richer and the wealth will magically trickle down to everybody else. I think we’re seeing the death of that ideology and the Liberals who have championed it, it’s the central tenet of neo-liberalism, which the Liberal Party have championed now for many, many years. We’ve argued against this for many years and we’re pleased that right around the world, people have acknowledged that we need a genuine alternative. When we proposed the bank levy many, many years ago, we were told that we were dreaming. We had the Liberals, and indeed the Labor Party, suggest it was …

 

EPSTEIN:

Can I ask you about the bank levy? I saw Adam Bandt, who speaks on this issue for you, say that was our idea. There’s a fundamental difference between your idea and the Government’s idea, isn’t there? Your idea is on the assets, the stuff the banks have sitting in their own bank accounts. This levy is different in that it is essentially a tax on transactions. It is very different, isn’t it?

 

SENATOR DI NATALE:

It’s different, but the central argument against it was that if you singled out one industry that was unfair, that the cost of the levy would be passed onto consumers. All of those arguments were used by the Coalition …

 

EPSTEIN:

[interrupts, inaudible]

 

SENATOR DI NATALE:

No they were the central arguments that were used against our proposal, and some critics have used against the Government’s proposal, were those that were singling out the banking sector and that is was going to result in costs being transferred across. We proposed that idea many, many years ago and we were told that we were dreaming. Now we are seeing the Liberals adopting it. Good on them for acknowledging it was a good policy.

 

EPSTEIN:

Ok Richard Di Natale and Scott Ryan, I do want to ask more about the bank levy but there are quite a few callers as well with their own questions. Quite a few of them want to have a quick say on drug testing.
David, you’re in Mount Eliza, what did you want to add?

 

CALLER:

Hi Raf, hi Scott and Richard. The ABC website showed a very good article today on Jacqui Lambie’s comments, which were heartfelt about the whole drugs issue, and it pointed out that politicians, just like people on Centrelink, are funded by taxpayers. So my question is, are the politicians, like in other workplaces, prepared to undergo drug tests that they’re asking the people on welfare to do, as a sign of showing leadership?

 

EPSTEIN:

Briefly if we can, Scott Ryan, good idea?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

I don’t think the comparison is valid at all. The truth is …

 

EPSTEIN:

Jacqui Lambie does.

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Jacqui Lambie can, but the reason it’s different is that this is a trial of 5000 people and it’s about providing support services. I don’t know if anyone in Parliament – I mean, I’ll pass a drug test, I can tell you that – I don’t know if everyone else would, but I’d assume so, they are illegal after all. The point is that we are not looking at people at risk, this is partly what this is about.

 

EPSTEIN:

Richard Di Natale, what do you think? It’s a common call isn’t it?

 

SENATOR DI NATALE:

There is a fair dose of hypocrisy going around with politicians singling out one group in the community. We are one Budget away from taking people on income support out and giving them a flogging. That’s the direction this Budget is heading. I personally think it is a bad idea to have anybody drug tested because we just know it doesn’t work. This is a health issue.

 

EPSTEIN:

Richard Di Natale [inaudible], they say, ‘listen in my workplace I get drug tested but why shouldn’t someone on Newstart’?

 

SENATOR DI NATALE:

There are some workplaces that do drug testing. As somebody who applies for a job, you have a choice for what you want to apply for. You’ve got no choice when you can’t find work. There is no choice. And to have the Government, a state-sanctioned project where the Government steps in and says ‘we’re going to take you and force you into a drug testing program and then, depending on the results of that, you’ll be punished in some way’, that’s been a failed experiment in many other jurisdictions. What is does do is it makes the problem worse Raf, it makes it worse.

The other thing, of course, to say with all of this is when there are treatment places available – and as I said to you, as a doctor, you’d send somebody in for rehab and they’d have to wait for six months before a bed was available. What use is it to say ‘we’re going to take your welfare payment off you, income support off you, because you’re using a substance, but we’re not going to offer you the support you need’. Ultimately when it comes to drugs, the central proposition is this, we have to recognise that it’s a health issue and not a criminal justice issue.

 

EPSTEIN:

Let’s get some traffic with Chris Miller.

 

[TRAFFIC REPORT]

Scott Ryan is with us for Pollie-graph, so too is Richard Di Natale from the Greens. Scott Ryan is part of Malcolm Turnbull’s Cabinet.

Scott Ryan, you’re accused of neglecting Melbourne, especially on infrastructure spending, and the figures appear to back up that criticism, do you have a problem?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

I don’t think so. I heard the Treasurer being interviewed on another radio station this morning, we’ve still got money set aside in the Budget for the East-West Link, whenever the Victorian Government decides to build it, because we think that’s an issue of national importance, it’s definitely an issue for anyone who lives off the red maps of the Melways in Melbourne. If you include that, the funding, I understand, is just shy of 20 per cent. So we have got money to duplicate the rail line from Geelong to Waurn Ponds, we have $100 million to look at the North-East rail line and improve the standard of that, not only for the inland rail project, but also for passengers on the way up to Wodonga on the standard gauge line. We’ve got upgrades on the Gippsland line because that is becoming a substantial commuter line and is, of course, facing congestion and age issues. On top of all of that, we have ongoing road projects, the Princess Highway and roads out of Melbourne and regional Victoria, and we’ve got the program we announced last year, which saw $3 billion – half of it federal money – released for use in regional Victoria on roads and rail, and in Melbourne on roads.

 

EPSTEIN:

Richard, do you think the Government’s giving us our fair share?

 

SENATOR DI NATALE:

I think the broader problem with the infrastructure spend is that a lot of it is sort of out in the never-never. To be fair, the money that is going to inland rail is a positive step, we’ve been arguing for that for a long time.

 

EPSTEIN:

The rail line from Melbourne to Brisbane.

 

SENATOR DI NATALE:

Unfortunately a lot of that money comes in the out years so that’s a very small spend up-front. One of the other big problems, we were expecting more infrastructure spend and I think one of the big problems that we found in the Budget was that when you, over the long term, take out the defence spending, what you see is a long-term decline in infrastructure spending. Rather than being the big infrastructure budget we anticipated, what we’ve actually seen is a decline in long-term infrastructure spending.

 

EPSTEIN:

Scott Ryan, if I can just ask again on the Coalition side of things, if you’re a Coalition voter or Coalition-supporting commentator, the amount of money the Government takes up in the economy, Government’s still going to be spending one in four dollars – government spending as a proportion of the economy – it’s going to have been one in four dollars over eight years. Is that what Coalition voters want?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Coalition voters aren’t a homogenous block. I won’t speak on behalf of commentators, Raf, I’ll leave that to you, but our voters aren’t a homogenous block.

I’ve got Coalition voters that are very big supporters of expanded government support in regional areas for infrastructure and Coalition voters who are much more constrained in their view on the role of the state.

One thing they all agree on is balancing the budget. But what we’re looking at here is that our tax to GDP ratio – so what do we collect in tax as a proportion of the whole economy – is not going above our target level of 23.9 per cent, and spending returns to 25 per cent of GDP, which is effectively, as I saw Tim Colebatch report in The Age today, it is exactly where it was at the end of the Howard government, plus the NDIS.

 

EPSTEIN:

You’re not too big compared to the economy?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

In a personal and political sense, I always look for opportunities to slim down Raf.

 

SENATOR DI NATALE:

It has probably been a tough night for Scott, as an alumni of the Institute of Public Affairs, I think he has probably had a sleepless night thinking about all the spending that’s gone on in this Budget so I’ve given him a bit of therapy before the program started Raf.

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Look, we’ve balanced the Budget and I can tell you one thing every Coalition voter wants is a balanced budget.

 

EPSTEIN:

Can I ask you about the balance actually – and again, I don’t want to get dragged down into details –but every budget someone says ‘your forecasts are courageous’, but the balancing of the Budget comes from some optimistic numbers. If I can pick on one? You’re expecting one of the fastest wage growth figures in the world, when we’ve had some of the worst wages growth in our history and you’re expecting that to happen in the next few years. Is that wildly optimistic?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

So the way the budget estimates work Raf is that the subsequent years, so 2018-19 is an estimate and 2019-20 and 2020-21 are forecasts. The subtle difference there is that because it is difficult to predict two years out, we use historical averages and that’s the way the Treasury has regularly done those. You’re looking at the long-run average. Every commentator I have seen, and we’ve been through a lot of discussions about the reliability of estimates in this place over the last decade, has said ‘that is the best way to do it’ and the prospects for world economic growth are actually looking better now than they have for the last four or five years. They are actually, particularly realistic. If you look at our forecasts for the price of export coal and iron ore, they have also been regarded as very realistic. In the end, you’ve got to make a forecast and using the long-run average is the best way to do it.

 

EPSTEIN:

Let’s just have a quick chat to Vincent, who’s in Brunswick. Vincent, what did you want to say?

 

CALLER:

Question to Scott about their so-called housing affordability measures. If you’re encouraging people to downsize, so they’re effectively selling property, so it doesn’t actually add anything on the demand side. And then, if you’re encouraging people to save up to $30,000 in their super account, if the median house price is $750,000 and the banks want a 20 per cent deposit, my maths says that’s $150,000. They’re still way away from being able to have a deposit for a house, aren’t they?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Well the first issue is, when you’re looking at downsizing – and I’ve been through this in my own family – what you’re often looking at is an elderly parent downsizing a large, family-sized home into a smaller unit that might be more appropriate for them now that their kids have left home. What you will often do is – that’s an important measure to add to liquidity and add to supply of larger family homes. It is not forcing, but it is providing an incentive …

 

EPSTEIN:

Big difference or …

 

SENATOR RYAN:

I can say, sorry, I think like with most things in the housing market, no one measure is going to solve all the challenges but each little bit counts.

I can tell you that the biggest barrier, having been through this, is if the State Government decided to jump in with the Federal Government and provide a stamp duty concession because when someone is downscaling a home, they’ve still got to provide a $30,000 or $40,000 cheque for stamp duty.

 

EPSTEIN:

Let’s not talk about that. Scott Ryan, if I can, I’m going to need to break in because I want to give Richard Di Natale a quick chance, I’ve got to get to the weather. In 20 seconds Richard Di Natale, the Government’s measures announced last night, will it help people buy a house?

 

SENATOR DI NATALE:

No because what they’re doing is putting more heat in the market and giving more tax concessions at a time when the biggest problem in the housing market is that there are tax concessions for investors in the form of negative gearing and capital gains tax discounts. If you really want to do something that’s going to make a different, you get rid of negative gearing and you abolish the capital gains tax discount. You don’t add more fuel by providing more tax concessions to baby boomers who can maximise it through super savings.

 

EPSTEIN:

Scott Ryan, Richard Di Natale, we will need to leave it there. Thank you for your time.

 

[ENDS]

Author: senatorryan

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