23 August 2014



SUBJECT/S: Budget chaos, Paul Kelly’s book

DAVID LIPSON: Thanks for your company on Saturday Agenda. Joining me now is the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary, Michelle Rowland in the Sky News Centre, thank you for your time on the program. As we just heard there the Finance Minister says Labor and the Greens are blocking some $40 billion worth of Budget savings, five billion of that are savings measures that Labor itself used to support, but now does not. Do you believe that there is a Budget emergency or a Budget crisis?

MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CITIZENSHIP AND MULTICULTURALISM: David, the first thing to note is if there is such a thing as a Budget emergency, the Minister seemed to be quite reticent to say that outright when the question was asked of him just previously. But I would point out a couple of things. Firstly, if there is a Budget emergency, then why is it the case that since coming to office this government has doubled the deficit between PEFO and MYEFO? Why is it the case that they are intent on pursuing a rolled-gold paid parental leave scheme which even their own side considers is unaffordable? And thirdly, why has this government put an end to a number of significant mechanisms that Labor put in place when we were in government, including things such as avoiding offshore loopholes which mean that some companies, multinationals, are not paying their fair share of tax? These questions need to be answered.

LIPSON: But just on the Budget measures though Labor is opposing and in particular the $5 billion worth of savings that Labor used to support. How do you explain the change in position as being anything other than political gamesmanship?

ROWLAND: Two things David. Firstly, we made responsible savings when we were in government and we set a responsible savings trajectory. Secondly, this Budget needs to be seen in its totality. I hear a lot of talk about the salesmanship of this Budget, the fact is that this Budget is a dud product. It is a Budget built on lies and is unfair. We are pursuing a course which means we are committed to ensuring these very draconian measures that will hit some of the lowest socio-economic status people in the electorate the hardest, we put an end to that and that is what we are absolutely committed to doing.

LIPSON: Just on, you say “draconian measures”, Glenn Stevens the Governor of the Reserve Bank this week said he didn’t think the Budget was all that draconian. Is he wrong?

ROWLAND: When you speak to people in the electorate David, when you speak to people who will be the hardest hit by things such as the proposed $7 co-payment, in areas such as mine where bulk-billing rates are well into the high 90s, you can understand why the community considers this Budget so unfair. That is the reality of this Budget and how it is hitting people. How it is hitting people in the western suburbs of Sydney. For example, having the potential to deter them from pursuing a university education. All these measures -

LIPSON: So Glenn Stevens is wrong?

ROWLAND: I’m telling you the electorate is right. The electorate is right when it rejects this Budget and no amount of attempted salesmanship will mean that it is fair, because it is built on lies and betrayal.

LIPSON: It is coming up to a year since the Labor Party lost government, as you in Opposition all too well know, at what point will Labor start to put forward an alternative because at this stage there’s not much sign of an alternative pathway to taking the country’s finances back into balance?

ROWLAND: A couple of points there David. Firstly, I think Chris Bowen very clearly articulated in his National Press Club address he made a short time after the Budget, and has continued to prosecute those arguments since that time, about the courses that Labor will take. And they are very values-based propositions. Firstly, the notion that we thought we’d won the arguments many years ago about university education, about equality of opportunity being open for all. It is very important to also recognise that we have been entirely consistent in our approach to this Budget ever since Budget reply and Bill Shorten’s very robust arguments at that time. You point out when will Labor put forward policies. We’ve been on a constant course of policy review and considering our position on these matters, but I think it is important to realise we are 100 days into the Budget being handed down. I can’t remember a time in Australia’s political history when a Budget has attracted so much dissent, not only in the community but also in the Parliament. This is Budget which cannot even be sold in the Parliament and I think it is our primary responsibility to make sure that these measures which are going to hit people the hardest don’t go through.

LIPSON: It is certainly a controversial Budget, no-one is denying that, but the question I am asking is when will we see some of Labor’s alternative policies, you say that there is an ongoing process of review, but surely at some point you’re going to have to start offering something? I don’t expect Labor to roll out its full Budget or its full pathway forward, fully costed, that won’t happen until the election we know that, or most likely won’t, but surely a couple of policies as the Coalition did when it was in Opposition as to what it would deliver?

ROWLAND: I take your point David, and for a start we came through the end of an election which was obviously devastating for Labor and we needed to go back to a couple of basics and look at what sort of things we will offer people in the next term. And I think a values-based proposition is the best place to start: what sort of values do we have; and from there you can build on the policies we’re going to take to the next election. I do think we need to recognise though, David, that we are not even a year into this first term and we want to go about formulating policies which are very carefully considered, not only by ourselves as the alternative government, but also by the community and by a number of other interest groups who will have their say on that. So look, I take your point, but it is something that is an ongoing process, and it starts with a values proposition, and I think we’ve got that right.

LIPSON: Okay, just specifically on one of the policies, that is the $7 co-payment, we heard the Finance Minister’s defence of that co-payment just a few minutes ago, and the real point the government keeps making is why is a $360 a year price signal for pharmaceuticals fair, when a maximum for pensioners and concession card holders a $70 price signal for doctors’ visits unfair?

ROWLAND: They’re two different things, David. You only have to look at the outcomes of the recent inquiry which has looked into this matter to find a couple of things. Firstly, that deterring people from seeking primary healthcare is actually a false economy, it’s actually counterproductive. I also note the comments from the Minister about making health sustainable. Well the question then arises why has $50 billion been cut from health in this Budget? Why is it the case that we are willing to put measures in place that will see people not take care of their health, not make sure that their chronic diseases are managed properly? This is simply a false economy which this government is seeking to pursue through this co-payment.

LIPSON: Well it is a book season, moving on, and Paul Kelly has got a new one. Julia Gillard has told him that she believed quite early in 2010 that Kevin Rudd was so deeply damaged in a mental sense that he wasn’t in the zone to fight an election campaign. Do you, from being on the inside, agree with that assessment?

ROWLAND: I haven’t read Paul Kelly’s book as a start, but also in terms of being on the inside I actually wasn’t on the inside at that time. I was a candidate in the 2010 election, and obviously wasn’t elected until later that year. So I really don’t have any remarks to offer there.

LIPSON: But, you know from what your colleagues have offered was there a sense that Kevin Rudd was depressed, and if that was the case is this one of the reasons that Labor found it so hard to explain why he had to go in exchange for Julia Gillard as Prime Minister?

ROWLAND: I’ve actually never had those discussions with my colleagues David.

LIPSON: Okay, Michelle Rowland, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary, we do appreciate your time on Saturday Agenda, thank you very much for joining us.

ROWLAND: My pleasure.