ABC Afternoon Briefing – Interest Rates, Cost of Living, ICAC, Abortion, Solomon Islands, Childcare, Climate Change




Subjects: Cost of living pressures and Labor policies to ease the cost of living, Australia’s position in the world, Labor’s stance on the Solomon Islands, how Labor would repair Pacific relationships, climate change action and renewable energy investment.

GREG JENNETT, HOST: Now it would usually be time now for our political panel. Liberal MP Dave Sharma was scheduled to join us today, but has had to cancel, so we’re joined by Labor’s Peter Khalil. He holds the Melbourne seat of Wills, all MPs are of course busy in the midst of a campaign, and we know schedules are hard to manage, so appreciate you sticking with us today, Peter Khalil. Why don’t we start with interest rates and cost of living. The Government’s come out with yet another measure today. This is the deeming rate for pensioners, Labor locked on instantly. Is there no cost-of-living measure that Labor won’t just instantly mirror, as the Coalition keeps dropping more and more into this campaign?

PETER KHALIL, MEMBER FOR WILLS: G’day Greg, how are you? Good to be here with you, even though I don’t have a political opponent.

JENNETT: I’ll do my best.

KHALIL: I’m sure you will, as a good journalist. But look, the cost-of-living pressures, and I hear this in my electorate throughout the campaign, and before the campaign. Yes, mortgages are going to go up with the cash rate going up and the banks passing it on. But there have been cost-of-living pressures right throughout, in my community, well before the decision by the Reserve Bank. Whether you are a renter for example, people who are struggling with childcare costs, energy bills, these are all things that have been happening, stagnant wages, and it’s not a matter of mirroring Greg. Labor has been very forthcoming in pointing out where we would provide relief on cost-of-living pressures, cheaper childcare is one big one. The reduction in energy bills and power bills that we have announced and talked about, our investment in that and how that would work.

JENNETT: But hypothetically, you could get to a point, Peter Khalil, where the Government let’s say might get into panic mode and start dropping hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of initiatives, all borrowed money, to try and save its skin. Where is Labor’s red line on some of these cost-of-living initiatives? There doesn’t seem to have been one when you consider the Budget measures went through, that’s fuel excise, the pension bonus, low-and middle-income tax offset increase, Commonwealth senior’s health card, I mean, there’s quite a list by now.

KHALIL: Yeah, and we’ve talked about where we have relieved cost-of-living for people whether it is free TAFE, whether it’s cutting power bills, whether it’s cheaper childcare, making medicines cheaper on the PBS, these are things that we’ve announced, but I don’t accept false equivalence there. Yes, they’re a trillion dollars in debt, this government, but people will say ‘oh well, you’re just going to spend in the same way’. No we would have had much more targeted spending. We’ve been very critical of the Government’s waste; the sport rorts, the car parks, the spending that they have made which is very political, very politicised, even with respect to some of the wage subsidies and the packages during the pandemic where it was a cookie-cutter approach, a lot of money went out.

JENNETT: Sure, but you would’ve and did argue for Job Keeper to be extended for longer periods of time.

KHALIL: We argued for Job Keeper at the start and Scott Morrison was adamantly opposed to the wage subsidy and had to be dragged to it. He eventually got there when Boris Johnson did it in the UK, so that’s the fact there, that that happened. But what we said was, it should have been much more targeted so it’s much more focused on where the need is. But there were sectors that were completely left out. Like the arts and entertainment sector.

JENNETT: To which your remedy was cover them and spend more.

KHALIL: No, what I am saying to you Greg, is does anyone really think watching this, that a Labor Government in power wouldn’t have implemented a much better support package targeted properly, not just throwing the money around? We would have been very focused on where the need is and not just splurging it around. And they claim to be better economic managers. They have been wasteful and worse than that, political, primarily in their spending money around car parks that are not even going to get built and where the train station doesn’t even exist, sports rorts. There’s a whole list, an arm long, and I just don’t accept the false equivalence there.

JENNETT: Yeah ok. We heard Jim Chalmers taking up some of those arguments with Josh Frydenberg today. Can I take you to foreign relations, which I know you keep a keen eye on, and I’m not sure we have had a chance to talk in the campaign-proper so far. But the Solomons has really featured since it signed its security pact with China. We have heard lots of statements from Penny Wong and others about what the priorities should be. But what would the very first step be for an incoming Labor Government? For that country in particular. Is it a personal visit? Should it be a personal visit by the Foreign Minister, herself?

KHALIL: Well, Greg, you kind of touched on it and this has been our criticism of the Government. We are not saying that they’re entirely responsible for all of it but they’re denying any responsibility whatsoever. They haven’t done the diplomatic hard yards, the deep engagement that was necessary. They go on about the Pacific family, but they haven’t engaged in a constructive way. And what do we expect when a government cuts foreign aid by $11.8 billion over nine years? They cut aid to the Solomon Islands by 27.8%.

JENNETT: But what would a Labor Foreign Minister do right off the top?

KHALIL: Well, it’s about deeper engagement with our partners in the region, our Pacific neighbours, treating them as equal partners, as sovereign states, not a paternalistic fashion. But, also engaging with them on issues that matter to them. Obviously, climate change is one of those issues that’s an existential crisis for all of us, but certainly for our Pacific neighbours. And the treatment they got from this government was, well, woeful, with respect to those issues. But it’s also about working the multilateral approach right across the region, doing the diplomatic hard yards. I have great confidence in Penny Wong’s ability, her capacity, to be able to engage with our partners in the region and with Anthony Albanese, to work with our partners to resolve some of the issues that they’re facing.

JENNETT: But this one’s flown the coup, you’d accept that. I mean, is it conceivable that the Solomons deal, could they be persuaded to walk away from it, or revoke it? Or is that one done and dusted in your view?

KHALIL: Look, you’re raising a hypothetical. I mean, I would hope that, and again, it’s hypothetical, we don’t know, I mean the Australian people are going to decide in the election in three weeks, but if we were given a chance to govern, I am very confident in our ability to conduct a foreign policy that engages with our partners in a respectful manner, but also works on the solid, tangible issues that matter to our partners and not treat them with disdain, and that is important. We wouldn’t be in the situation we’re in if this government had actually done its job over a number of years, and it’s not a question of, “oh they should have sent the Foreign Minister last week”. No, we’re talking but years of not getting it right. And, by the way, can I just be really clear, that’s a failure of political leadership. You know, our military, our security agencies, our diplomats have done excellent work and continue to do excellent work, it’s a failure at a political level to engage, and I’ve been very partisan about this, Marise (MIA) Payne. Missing in action is basically what they’ve been.

JENNETT: I would expect nothing less from you on that score. But since you mention it – partisan politics – why don’t I take you to your own seat, very quickly and finally, Peter Khalil. Last time I saw it on the pendulum, should be pretty safe, very safe indeed. What are the Greens doing to you? Trying to cut your lunch?

KHALIL: Yeah well, you never take any vote for granted. It is about working hard for the local community, which is a great privilege to be a representative, and to serve the community, but it’s also about the national policies. You know, when I talk to people at train stations in the morning or street stalls, or door-knocking, climate change keeps coming up. The fact that it’s an existential crisis that has not gone away because of the pandemic we’ve gone through, it is still there.

JENNETT: You’re needing to project that a little louder, are you? Just because of the dynamics of the green on red competition?

KHALIL: No, no I’m telling you that these are issues people raise with me. Climate change, cost of living which we’ve discussed, also Australia’s place the world, funnily enough, you talked about it. But, you know, on climate change, it’s about real action on climate change, and I know you had the Green’s leader on before. You know, I looked at their website, I couldn’t find any detail of their policy, it said something like, you know it’s going to be up in a couple of weeks. Well, we are a couple of weeks away from the election. You know, Labor is a party that can form government, we have to take responsibility, and cost and detail our policies. We are going to be investing $20 billion in rewiring the electricity grid with renewable energy infrastructure, $3 billion in renewable manufacturing, 400 solar community batteries around the country. These are real actions that will get us to 82% renewable energy on the grid by 2030. It will transition us from fossil fuels to the renewables and unlock the potential of renewable energy and you just can’t talk about it, like some minor party, you actually have to deliver it.

JENNETT: No, fair enough. We will let you go and argue that case and your cause with the voters in Wills while also thanking you for joining us, thank you Peter Khalil.

KHALIL: Thanks, Greg.