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

Senator the Hon Katy Gallagher

Minister for Finance

Radio interview - RN Drive

Minister for Finance
Minister for the Public Service
Minister for Women

E & OE
China trade restrictions, Budget, jobs figures, inflation, JobSeeker, stage 3 tax cuts, Budget measures for women, housing, PwC.

ANDY PARK, HOST: Katy Gallagher is the Federal Minister for Finance, Women and the Public Service. Welcome back to RN drive.


PARK: Bit to get through Minister, but I want to begin by asking you about the news that China has lifted its ban on Australian timber, what does this mean for our exporters of timber?

GALLAGHER: Well, obviously, this is really pleasing to see these trade restrictions lifted. We've been working since coming into government, really credit to Don Farrell and Penny Wong and the PM, for working to stabilise that relationship with China, you know, so that we can leave, lift these bans that have been put in place and ensure that, you know, our industries, which have had those bans in place, can see some of the opportunities that come with our relationship and our trade relationship with China.

PARK: These events seem incremental, but are they building? I mean, when will the Prime Minister be going to Beijing?

GALLAGHER: Well, I'll leave that for any announcement from the PM about his international travel schedule. But I think you've seen, you know, we've taken a national interest position, you know, representing, making sure that Australia's national interests are always represented, but seeing the benefits that come from trying to stabilise the relationship with an important trading partner like China. Senator Farrell was over in China in the last couple of weeks, having discussions, Senator Wong has been over there, so you can see the work that's been done. And you know, those discussions will keep going. And hopefully we'll see some more of those bans lifted in coming months.

PARK: Katy Gallagher, yesterday Angus Taylor used his National Press Club address to accuse Labor's Budget of failing to treat the source of inflation. Has this Budget put pressure on the Reserve Bank to lift interest rates?

GALLAGHER: Well, I don't, I must say, having gone through the Budget process, just fixing up a lot of the, you know, legacy issues that we were left from the likes of Mr. Taylor, I certainly don't take much lecturing from him. We were very clear and very careful in how we put this Budget together, it's responsible. We sought to strike the right balance about making sure we were giving cost of living relief where we could, but not adding to inflation. And I think if Angus Taylor is going to have a crack like that, he needs to be clear about what parts of the Budget, they're not going to support, like is he not going to support some of those cost of living relief for energy bills, things like that. Or, where are they going to find the money to pay for some of the things they want to do? So I must say, I thought it was a little incoherent yesterday. And we'll just continue on cleaning up the mess we inherited from them, and you know, continuing to govern in the interests of all Australians, which, you know, it is challenging at the moment. I know, people are looking for more support around, you know, what the government can do at times, but we have had to be, show restraint as well in this Budget, so that we don't add to inflation. And that's why our investments were really targeted, you know, into Medicare, into medicines, into energy bill relief, those types of things, and some small adjustments to those people living on payments as well.

PARK: Given the unemployment rate rising today. I mean, one element to the coalition's plan is to lift to the income-free area of JobSeeker, or for JobSeeker recipients from $150 to $300, to get people really into the workforce, is that a good idea?

GALLAGHER: Well, I think one of the big issues there, and you know, we're always looking for ways to ensure people can move off JobSeeker and into work. That's absolutely fundamental. You know, we want people to have good opportunities through good, secure jobs. Absolutely. But we have that income threshold now and about 75% of people on JobSeeker don't go to that income threshold. I also note, I don't think that policy idea that was announced by Mr. Dutton has been costed. You know, and the work that is, has, doesn't seem to have been done in terms of articulating that. But these are issues, I think that, you know, we already foreshadowed, that we would be looking at through the Employment White Paper is, you know, what do we do for people who've been, particularly, on JobSeeker for long periods of time, especially when we've got a jobs market like the one we've got at the moment? So we need to work out what are the reasons that are keeping people on that payment, and look at better ways to support them into employment. Income thresholds are there already, and the vast majority of people on JobSeeker aren't using them.

PARK: So in context of the government's policy decisions around the economy and inflation particularly, what do you make of these figures today, 3.7% unemployment rate, labour market shows that we've lost 4000 jobs, how do you, how are we to understand that in context of your policy decisions?

GALLAGHER: Well, I think for the first, the first point I'd make is that we have expected for some time that the unemployment rate would tick up a bit. I mean, we are at historically low unemployment right now. And it's been a very resilient and strong labour market. But as a consequence of some of the higher interest rate decisions that we've seen, combined with some of the global uncertainty, that these, this increase today is in line with the forecasts that we released in the Budget just a couple of weeks ago.

PARK: I do just want to move on. I do want to get some other stuff, if you don't mind. I do want to talk about the stage three tax cuts, the Greens costed these cuts and found they actually cost, what, $313 billion between now and 2033/2034. Is that accurate?

GALLAGHER: Look, I haven't seen, I've seen the media reports. I haven't seen the costings document, I think we were clear in Budget week that the cost across the forward estimates was in the order of $69 billion. So I haven't seen the costing document the Greens are using. But that's certainly the figure that we released during the Budget period.

PARK: So the fact that this wasn't included in the Budget papers, I mean, it was included in October, and clearly that figure has changed, why?

GALLAGHER: Well, again, I can't comment on the Greens costing that they have, because I haven't been a part of that. In terms of the figure that we announced in terms of across the forward estimates, that's largely the result of an extra year of those tax cuts coming into the forward estimates. So you would see that over time. And the reason it wasn't singled out in the Budget papers is, you know, it wasn't a new decision. There was no additional decision, Budgets reflect new decisions of government, and then forecasts are updated accordingly. So, you know, they're the figures we released across the forward estimates which, from memory, was in the order of $69 billion.

PARK: Minister, Sussan Ley has been critical of your Budget measures for women, she called it a bric-a-brac of welfare measures badged as women's policies. How do you respond to that?

GALLAGHER: Well, I just completely reject that. And it's, it seems to me, she's trying to land a, make a political point, rather than a genuine attempt to look at what was in the Budget. This was a very significant Budget for women, we did tick off a couple of recommendations that had come to us from the Women's Economic Equality Task Force and others, about dealing with some of these previous decisions around women existing on parenting payments, single, or majority of women are the single parents, I should say. So there was some extra support there because we want to improve the opportunities for women to have economic security. So I just completely reject that. We've got so many initiatives in the Budget for women in skills, in health, in training, in aged care, which are all largely feminised industries that don't, don't align with her criticism or her view. It's an important Budget for women. We have more work to do, obviously, every Budget, but this was a very central part, how we support women, it was very central to our thinking in putting the Budget together.

PARK: There's a bit of an internal push within Labor, for the government to adopt more ambitious housing policies. We've been talking about this at length this afternoon, including changes to negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions, I mean, surely this is time to start revisiting these policies. What do you think?

GALLAGHER: Well, the PM has been very clear this week that we are not doing that, that we're not taking, putting in place policies that we had in previous, you know, back in 2019, I think. We have a huge agenda in housing. Absolutely massive. It's the biggest agenda a Commonwealth Government has had for more than a decade and probably beyond that. Working with the states, national agreements, we've got our housing accord, the Housing Australia Future Fund, which we'd like to get through the Senate. We've got some of the tax changes in the Budget to encourage, build-to-rent properties. There's a whole stack of work going in, low-interest loans so we can generate more social and affordable housing. You know, this is the plan we outlined in the Budget, and that's the one we're going to deliver.

PARK: Just finally, there are doubts among legal experts as to whether the Anti-Corruption Commission could investigate the PwC scandal. There are revelations government secrets were used to help clients in Australia and the US avoid tax, are you worried about the reliance of consultants in the public service?

GALLAGHER: Well, firstly, the issue with PwC is outrageous and I think you've had plenty of people comment on that. And it seriously challenged I think, the trust that we've had to consult confidentially around policy decisions and so that's the first point, second is any person can refer any matter to the Anti-Corruption Commission. And so, you know, whether that they want to look -

PARK: Its investigation that's more important, do you think the NACC should be looking into this?

GALLAGHER: Well, I think that's a matter for them. That's the legislation that we've set up is that, you know, they consider referrals and they make decisions about what they investigate and what they don't. That's entirely, and it's entirely appropriate that they do that. On the broader point of consultants, you know, yes, I think we should be reducing our reliance on them. I've been clear about that as well. We need a public service that can do the work the Australian people expect that should be supported from time-to-time by consultants. But it shouldn't be, you know, the natural go-to place when we've got a problem, that we try and hire in external help. And so that's part of the work we're doing to rebuild and reform the public service because ultimately, they're, that's the institution that we need to protect and strengthen.

PARK: We'll have to leave it there. Federal Minister for Finance, Women and the Public Service Katy Gallagher. Appreciate your time this afternoon.

GALLAGHER: Thanks very much, Andy.

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