Senator The Hon Mitch Fifield
ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR SOCIAL SERVICES
MANAGER OF GOVERNMENT BUSINESS IN THE SENATE
Senator for Victoria
Sky News AM Agenda
With Kieran Gilbert and the Hon Dr Andrew Leigh MP
19 May 2014
E & OE
Subjects: Budget, NDIS.
This is AM Agenda thanks very much for your company. With me now we’ve got Labor frontbencher Andrew Leigh and the Liberal Party’s Mitch Fifield. Gentlemen, before we start our conversation this morning I want to play you a little on what the Victorian and New South Wales Premiers have to say, they are on the Seven Network’s Sunrise program talking about this morning’s polls. But their concerns are about a bit more than that. They say it’s about funding and that the hospital beds will be affected by July this year.
Premier Denis Napthine: We’ve had the Prime Minister say that there will be no impact on our State until after 2017, when our advice is very clear, that in six weeks’ time we’ll face significant reductions in funding for health and in concessions and possibly in education. And that’s why we need an urgent meeting between the Premiers and the Prime Minister to sort out this confusion.
Premier Mike Baird: The impact starts on the 1st of July. The equivalent here in New South Wales is over 300 hospital beds in funding disappears. And then in the longer term the Federal Government is supposed to be providing up to 40% of funding into hospitals, that’s going to cut to 14%. Well that is just not sustainable, the states can’t manage that and it’s why we’ve called the urgent meeting, we need to come together, we need to solve this, because health care is too critical across every state and territory
Before I go to Senator Fifield on that you would have seen at the bottom of your screen there that three time Formula 1 World Champion, Sir Jack Brabham has passed away, aged 88, we’ll have more reaction to that news, but Jack Brabham, Sir Jack Brabham has passed away, aged 88. Senator Fifield, to you now on what we’ve been discussing for the morning and indeed in recent days, the reaction to the Budget, but fuelled this morning by the polling numbers. What do you say to the Premiers and indeed a majority of voters surveyed in the Newspoll and Neilsen polls, that this Budget is essentially a stinker?
Well, Kieran, we were elected to make the difficult decisions and the Australian public voted for the Coalition in September last year because the previous government did have cumulative deficits of $121 billion, net debt of $191 billion, projected gross debt of $600 billion and at the moment, we’re paying, the Australian people are paying, $1 billion a month in interest. Now, the public know, and they expressed that through the ballot box last year, that that is just not sustainable. So we’ve had to make some difficult decisions but Kieran, what that sets us up for is the opportunity to make sure that we can continue to provide the social safety net that Australians expect. That’s why we’re doing this Kieran.
Senator Fifield, but if you don’t get the states, if you don’t get the states on board, how do, it doesn’t achieve anything does it? They’re opposed to it, and you’ve got, as I say, the reaction in the polls is one thing, but the Premiers are the people you’ve got to cooperate with and they’re pushing it right back, this offer to the Coalition, they’re not copping it.
Well, Kieran, I think what we’ve got to reject outright is any suggestion that the Federal Government is making cuts in health or cuts in education. We committed to the significant increases in spending over the forward estimates, before the election. And we also made it clear before the election that beyond the forward estimates the previous government had put forward a growth in spending which was not sustainable and that had not been provided for. So the rate of growth will come off, beyond the forward estimates, we’re now into the first year of the out years in this Budget, but there won’t be cuts. What there will be is a slowing of the rate of growth, but be in no doubt, expenditure will increase.
You’ve heard from your Victorian Liberal counterpart, Denis Napthine, this morning. He says they’re cuts. He’s one of many senior Coalition Liberal figures around the country who are saying they’re cuts. How do you counter that?
Well, Kieran, the previous government, beyond the then forward estimates, had pie in the sky increases which were not sustainable and which had not been provided for. What we’re doing is honouring what we took to the election and that is that spending which was there in the forward estimates. But beyond that, we’re bringing growth back to a realistic and sustainable level. Kieran, the truth is, we cannot, as a nation, continue to be in a situation where we’re paying a billion dollars a month on interest and they’re dollars that don’t got to schools, don’t go to hospitals. All they go towards is servicing debt. That’s not sustainable and we’re going to fix it.
Well, when it comes, Andrew Leigh, to this debate as to whether or not the Federal Government, or the then Opposition promised to commit to the funding that Labor had done, in those out years, beyond the forward estimates. It’s true, Tony Abbott never committed to that, did he Andrew Leigh? They’d always made it clear that their promised were only across the Budget cycle, the forward estimates.
Kieran, there’s two things. First of all, no cuts to health, no cuts to education is an unambiguous promise. Secondly, you’ve got state Premiers saying that cuts begin to flow in 43 days’ time. I think this Budget needs to pass three tests Kieran. It needs to pass the test of reducing the deficit, and it doesn’t do that, the deficit over the forward estimates is larger under this Budget than it was when the Coalition took office. It has to pass the test of keeping promises, keeping faith with the Australian people and it doesn’t do that at all. And it has to pass the test of fairness and we know from new NATSEM modelling today, that the burden is falling disproportionately on the most vulnerable who are losing income supports while those at the top are gaining a parental leave scheme and a tax cut for mining billionaires. It really is a Budget for the haves, rather than the have-nots, and for Joe Hockey to go around the country saying that a GP co-payment is just the price of a cigar or whatever he compares it to, is a real, it really sticks in the craw for so many Australians.
I know you don’t talk about opinion polls Andrew Leigh, but I’m going to tempt you today. What do you say to this number in the Nielsen poll, where 60, more than 60 per cent of people surveyed think it is unfair?
Kieran, it’s a more tempting day than most to comment on opinion polls but I do think that we need to focus on the policies themselves and on the fact that we still have a Prime Minister saying that it’s the Australian people’s hearing that’s to blame. Prime Minister, this is not the hearing of 46 million years, this is the hearing, this is the speaking of one mouth, which is saying a different thing after the election than you said before the election
Mitch Fifield, this thing about fairness has been picked up by the opinion polls, more than 60 per cent in the Nielsen poll, if you heard John Stirton say earlier, think it’s an unfair Budget. What do you say to that, particularly, I guess, in the context of the one area that was protected is the area of your responsibility, the National Disability Insurance Scheme. No cuts to that, and I’d say that a number of advocates tell me that they’re relieved about that. How did you manage to achieve that, given there are cuts across, well, basically, the rest of the Budget.
Well, Kieran I think the NDIS proves the point I was making earlier and that is, if you make difficult decisions now, you are able to ensure that you have the capacity to provide the sort of social safety net which we all want to see. Some of the difficult decisions that we have made will ensure that the NDIS is able to be fully delivered and fully funded. And that’s our commitment. Our opponents like to present economic policy and social policy as alternatives. They’re not. They’re two sides of the one coin. You can only sustain a good social policy, and things like the NDIS, if you have a good economic policy. And what underpins a good economic policy is good Budget policy. Living within your means, prioritising and making sure that those who have the capacity to pay, make a contribution. When you do that, you can then make sure that important social reforms like the NDIS can be delivered in full. And that’s what we’re going to do.
You worked for the former Treasurer Peter Costello and were around throughout that difficult period, but it was nothing like this, the reaction for the first Howard/Costello Budgets to what we’re seeing here. It’s much more visceral and the numbers against it, much more great, the majority.
Oh, Kieran, I think people’s memories probably fade over time. I remember 1996, I remember that it was a difficult time. I also remember, having worked in the Kennett Government in 1992, that that was a difficult time as well. But people elected the Coalition last year, people elected the Coalition in 1996, people elected the Coalition in Victoria in 1992, to take difficult decisions because unless government lives within its means, unless you can eliminate that trajectory of interest payments which are just good dollars after bad, going towards nothing, then you cannot sustain schools, you cannot sustain hospitals, you cannot sustain the NDIS in the future. That’s why we’re doing this.
And the point that Tony Abbot has made and Mitch Fifield makes there is as well, this was the promise that underpinned everything wasn’t it, for their election campaign, it was the big commitment to get the Budget back under control?
Kieran, people have to compare not Joe 2013 with Joe 2014, as the number Mitch reflects, would suggest, but they have to compare the books now from where the Coalition took over and they’re worse. The 2013-14 deficit is higher, the 14-15 deficit is higher, the deficit over the forwards is higher. This is the great lie of this Budget, that it, unlike 1996, it doesn’t reduce the deficit, it increases the deficit. It’s a rebalancing of spending from those who are the most vulnerable to those who have the most. It contains goodies like a parental leave scheme hidden in the contingency reserve, like increasing the non-concessional cap, for people who put more than $150,000 a year into super, that’s deeply unfair Kieran and I think if the current Prime Minister can’t do a better job of listening to the Australian people, and you may be in deep trouble.
Andrew Leigh and Senator Mitch Fifield, gentlemen, thank you both for that this morning, appreciate it.
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