Colour head shot of Katy Gallagher, current Minister for Finance.

Senator the Hon Katy Gallagher

Minister for Finance

Television Interview - ABC Insiders

Minister for Finance
Minister for the Public Service
Minister for Women

Budget, the Women’s Economic Equality Taskforce, NDIS, petroleum resource rent tax, and the Review of the Reserve Bank

DAVID SPEERS, HOST: Katy Gallagher, welcome to the program.


SPEERS: So is this the moment? Will there be action to address women's economic inequality in this Budget?

GALLAGHER: Well, I think you saw in October the fact that we responded with investments in childcare, in PPL, in paid domestic and family violence leave, in the Respect@Work recommendations. So I think that set the signal that we are deadly serious about addressing women's inequality across the economy, but across the community more broadly. The Women's Economic Equality Taskforce, with Sam as the leader of that taskforce, has provided us with a letter outlining some of those initial priorities. They'll provide us with a report in the next month or so which finalises their work. But yeah, we're deadly serious about doing something and you know, we are going to take steps in every Budget that we're in government to address inequality across the economy.

SPEERS: Well, let's look at some of those steps and some of the recommendations that that Taskforce has made in this letter that you referenced there. Number one, the number one priority for this Budget, they say, needs to be the single parenting payment for, at the moment, for women, once their youngest child turns eight, they lose the payment. Do you agree that the bills don't stop for a single mum or a single dad, when the youngest turns eight?

GALLAGHER: Well, of course, they don't stop when they turn eight. The arrangements at the moment are that you move onto the JobSeeker payment -

SPEERS: And lose about $100 a week.

GALLAGHER: - And this is the issue that's been raised by the Women's Economic Equality Taskforce and others, and we're having a look at it. You know, we don't set up these taskforces to then not seriously consider the recommendations that they come forward with. The Budget will look to do as much as it can, within you know, the responsible fiscal environment that we are in, to deal with addressing disadvantage and inequality where we can.

SPEERS: I understand the Expenditure Review Committee is looking at lifting that cut-off age to 12. Do the bills get any cheaper once the child starts high school? You don't want high school kids starting off in poverty, do you?

GALLAGHER: Well, again, we're looking at the recommendations from the Women's Economic Equality Taskforce. I'm a member of the ERC, but I don't disclose what goes on in the ERC. We are looking at the recommendations and you know, you'll see some of those outcomes in the Budget.

SPEERS: Is it fair to say that you, Katy Gallagher, in that ERC, are pushing pretty hard to lift it right back up to the age of 16, where it used to be?

GALLAGHER: Well, as I just said, I don't talk about the ERC or what my views or any other member of the ERC's views is, you know, it's a responsible government. We get these reports, it's a collegiate approach across the ERC. We have feedback, of course, from our caucus colleagues as well. These issues, you know, they're being raised with everybody, you know, not just those members of the ERC and we're seriously looking at it. We want to ensure that within the environment we're in, you know, where we've got a range of pressures coming at us, and those pressures are increasing over the longer term, not decreasing, that we're doing what we can to address women's equality but also address disadvantage and poverty where we can.

SPEERS: Well, women over the age of 55 are now the cohort most at risk of homelessness, both of the expert panels you've commissioned and now received, have said the Commonwealth Rent Assistance must be urgently increased as well. Do you agree that soaring rents have left a lot of women in an increasingly vulnerable situation?

GALLAGHER: Well, I think absolutely you're right that the age group that you refer to - older women, women without super, I mean, this is the issue more broadly and it can't be solved in one Budget or in, actually, in one Parliament and the Women's Economic Equality Taskforce makes this point. You know, we earn less, we retire with less, we have less assets, less wealth, we earn less in lower-paid jobs. These are, this is the reality of 2023 for Australia's women, and this is the work that we have started in the Budget. It's the work we're going to continue in this Budget, and we'll continue focusing on it. And housing for women and providing some security of housing for women, particularly women in that age cohort that you referred, is a real challenge, and that's why we've got initiatives like our Housing Australia Future Fund, and some of the other measures that the Treasurer is working on with the Housing Accord to look at how we can push and increase the amount of social and affordable housing, particularly for demographic age groups like this.

SPEERS: But in terms of the rent assistance, it does sound to me like you are hinting this morning that there will be some movement in the Budget on that Commonwealth Rent Assistance.

GALLAGHER: Well, I'm saying in general, we are serious about looking at what we can do around housing. I am saying in terms of the recommendations from the Women's Economic Equality Taskforce, there were six recommendations of which those, you know, Parenting Payments Single, and Commonwealth Rent Assistance were two. We are looking at those in the, through the ERC process, haven't concluded a view and people will see the results of it on Budget night.

SPEERS: Alright, so what about JobSeeker? Let me ask you about that. You, in opposition, urged the Morrison Government to be compassionate, to ensure people could live a dignified life. Do you think those on JobSeeker are currently living a dignified life?

GALLAGHER: Well, there's certainly, you know, in terms of JobSeeker, there's no doubt that people on JobSeeker do it tough. There's no doubt about that.

SPEERS: Are they living a dignified life, to use your words?

GALLAGHER: Well, I mean, it's hard for me to pass a judgement on that, like for, you know, I'm not gonna say they live an undignified life. I am saying that there's certainly pressure and you know, it's hard to live on JobSeeker, I accept that. The challenge for government and you know, I know some on the couch, you know, don't see this as a real issue, is how we balance up the range of pressures across the Budget, and there's, you know, they're substantial and they're across almost every area, in a Budget that's been booby trapped in all of those issues that we've inherited - a trillion dollars of debt. How do we balance up all of the need and, you know, finalise the –

SPEERS: Well let's talk about that Minister, because I think the government did cost this week, what it would, what it would cost to do all of these things, including the JobSeeker, increase that's recommended, and said it would be what - $34 billion over the next four years, is that right?

GALLAGHER: I think it's in the order. Yeah, between $25 and $30 billion across those recommendations from the Economic Inclusion Advisory Committee.

SPEERS: $25 to $34 billion, what's the cost of the stage three tax cuts over the next four years?

GALLAGHER: Well, those will be updated in the Budget but you know, they're, I can't recall what they are across the forward estimates but they're, you know, they're substantial.

SPEERS: It was nearly $41 billion, according to the Treasurer in October, so it's presumably more than that now.

GALLAGHER: Well, they'll be updated in the Budget, David.

SPEERS: So it's costing more to do the stage three tax cuts than to implement all of those things.

GALLAGHER: The stage three tax cuts are legislated. They're due to come in in July next year. You know, we haven't changed our position on those. And the challenge for us is looking across the Budget as a whole, where we can make additional spending, where we can make additional savings and how we make those decisions. And it's a balancing act. There's no doubt about it. We have to balance all of these different pressures, whether it's Defence, Health, you know, all the investments in Medicare that have a cost-of-living focus, how we balance all of those and conclude those decisions.

SPEERS: Those tax cuts, those tax cuts are the right balance?

GALLAGHER: Well, we haven't changed our position on -

SPEERS: Are they the right balance?

GALLAGHER: Well, our position is those tax cuts are legislated and we haven't changed our position. My job as Finance Minister, is to look, ensure quality spending, to make some of those difficult decisions, and there are difficult decisions, I don't want to pretend to anybody that these are easy decisions, they are difficult. But how do we get that balance right? How do we address disadvantage? How do we support those that are most vulnerable? How do we provide cost of living relief within the context of the environment we're in? Now the Budget is going to get, you know, be improved in the short term. We'll see improvement in the Budget numbers in the short term, but the longer-term pressures on the Budget are increasing and we have to focus on that as well.

SPEERS: Will this Budget include any new taxes or tax increases?

GALLAGHER: Well, you'll see the results of that on Budget night. I'm not here to hand the Budget down earlier than the ninth of May.

SPEERS: Alright, there might be new taxes.

GALLAGHER: Well, you'll know we've been clear that we've got our focus on multinational tax reform, our modest changes to high balance super accounts. So you know, in that sense, the answer to your question is yes, you will see those reflected in the Budget.

SPEERS: And the petroleum resource rent tax, too?

GALLAGHER: Well, we've received the advice from Treasury, we haven't formed a concluded view on that. You know, that was work commissioned by the former government. It's been going for the last few years and you know, Treasury's view is that they think that there are improvements that could be made to the PRRT. We're considering those, we haven't formed a view about it, whether it's this Budget or this year. I think the industry's sort of well across what those modest changes might be because they've been involved in those consultations. But we haven't finalised a view on that, David.

SPEERS: Yeah, I mean, the industry is pointing out how much tax they currently pay. They point out that it's going up, their forecast is that it will go up next financial year considerably, although they haven't said, notably, how much they're now forecasting their profits to go up next financial year. Are they paying enough tax, the gas producers?

GALLAGHER: Well, in terms of the PRRT, you know, we haven't finalised a view on that. But I think from our point of view, we want to make sure that, you know, taxpayers are getting the right sort of return through that measure. And you know, that's the work that Treasury's done. They think there are some changes that could be made. There are a number of different recommendations or views put through that and we'll conclude our discussions on that in the short term.

SPEERS: Will there be new savings found in this Budget?

GALLAGHER: Yes, we are looking at savings all the time. I mean, this is something that we started in October where we had that considerable savings and reprioritisation exercise, and yes, I mean, the reality is we have to find savings as well and it's not just savings to return to Budget, it's actually finding those savings that can be reprioritised into areas of new need. That's part of the challenge as well. But, you know, we've inherited a Budget that's under a lot of stress, we've got a lot of booby traps. We've got a lot of terminating measures where you know, for example, the Digital Health Agency just loses funding on the 30th of June this year. I mean, seriously? That agency presumably needs to keep going. Same with the eSafety Commissioner in some of the funding that that agency has. No, so we're actually having to deal with that and you'll see a reasonable part of the Budget is actually addressing these terminating measures, which is essentially the dishonesty of the previous government about the state the Budget was in.

SPEERS: And when you're talking about finding savings and reprioritising that, what about the NDIS? Are we going to see much in this Budget in terms of the reboot that Bill Shorten is talking about?

GALLAGHER: Well, yeah, Bill outlined some of that at the Press Club earlier this week. I mean, I think the challenge in the NDIS is actually a matter of making sure that every dollar going in there, and it's a substantial amount of dollars now, is actually delivering the outcomes we want in supporting people with a disability to live a dignified life. And, you know, so, some of that might involve changes within the scheme, but that's, you know, he went through those at the Press Club about how we're trying to make sure you know, things like fraud, making sure that those dollars are not being spent other than for the purpose for which they were intended.

SPEERS: Finally on the Reserve Bank, Minister, the review panel, the review into the Reserve Bank, called for more monetary policy expertise around the board and new monetary policy board, indeed, the government made two new appointments to the existing board on Thursday. Do either of them have monetary policy expertise?

GALLAGHER: David, those two appointments, first rate candidates, for a start. We went through an expression of interest process. The Governor and Treasury were involved in that. That's the first time that's happened and I note the Governor in his press conference welcomed those appointments to the board. From our point of view, apart from them having incredible careers of substance, both of those appointees, we absolutely think that people with experience about working people's lives and about wages and wages' role in the economy, absolutely is important to have reflected on the board.

SPEERS: The review was quite specific about the need for monetary policy expertise to push back at the Governor and so on at board meetings. Do either of these two new appointments have monetary policy expertise?

GALLAGHER: Well, absolutely. We think that those, the credentials they bring, both from corporate Australia and from, say, the Fair Work Commission, those views and perspectives and their lengthy and highly distinguished careers, absolutely have a role in monetary policy decisions. And that, they're first-rate appointees, and we're really pleased that they've taken up the opportunity.

SPEERS: Alright, Finance Minister Katy Gallagher, we'll leave it there. Thanks so much for joining us this morning.

GALLAGHER: Thanks very much, David.

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