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Interview with Deborah Knight, 2GB

24 July 2020

Interviewer: 
Deborah Knight

Subject: Economy, income tax cuts, coronavirus and climate policy

E&OE

DEB KNIGHT: Now, they've had a two week break, I've had a two week break, but we're all back - time for Question Time with Energy Minister Angus Taylor and Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Resources Joel Fitzgibbon. Fellas, great to talk.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Great to have you back, Deb.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Welcome back, Deb.

DEB KNIGHT: Yeah, good to be back with you. Lots to talk about. Now, let's start with the economy. The Treasurer delivered the very bleak economic update yesterday. He's just got up to the podium at the National Press Club as well to outline some of the measures that the Government might consider taking into the future. Tax cuts, Angus, they've got to be a possibility? They've got to be done.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, we believe in lower taxes as you know, Deb. That's a fundamental platform of the Liberal and National parties.

DEB KNIGHT: Are you going to bring forward the tax cuts?

ANGUS TAYLOR: But, look, the absolute key focus now has to be getting Australians back into work, jobs growing and getting the economy going. That positions us because it ensures that people have jobs, which of course is crucial in itself, but also means that we're in a position to deal with our heightened debt, and that needs a growing economy. So, that's the focus and that means taking away constraints on businesses. We're getting on with the job. We're a believer in low taxes and we'll continue to focus on making sure business is in a position to invest and employ.

DEB KNIGHT: And do you think that we will see, because obviously this review, this budget review, the numbers were brought down before the situation in Victoria, before we've seen the new cases in New South Wales as well, so they're quite optimistic in the sense that this six week lockdown in Victoria particularly could last for a lot longer than that. Unemployment reaching a record high of 9.25 per cent in December. The numbers could be a lot worse than what we're talking about here. Could we see, do you think, JobKeeper and JobSeeker, the tiered reduction, do you think that's coming too soon?

ANGUS TAYLOR: No, I don't think so. I mean, I think Australians understand that we had to act swiftly and decisively, and we did. But we also have to get the economy moving back to normal as quickly as we reasonably can. Clearly there are challenges in Victoria, there's no denying that, but I think it's also very clear to Australians that we have to get businesses going wherever we can, people back into work wherever we can. We've got to be careful about it, but we're also, you know - we're seeing in New South Wales - much better at managing this, at tracing, tracking, at quarantining than we were. And New South Wales is seeing the benefits of that.

DEB KNIGHT: And Joel, Labor will have to back them, any plan for tax cuts that come forward, couldn't it? I mean, you've been supportive of the government policy, you've been in lockstep in many measures, even though Jim Chalmers the Shadow Treasurer didn't hold back yesterday, having a dig saying: well, what's the plan?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: We have been supportive, Deb, despite the imperfections of the package. And mistakes will always be made when you're rolling out in a hurry, these responses to a crisis situation, whether it was the Global Financial Crisis or this current pandemic. But tax cuts are an economically efficient way to stimulate the economy. They of course put money in people's pockets, they put money in the pockets of business, and therefore-

DEB KNIGHT: Well, Labor has previously opposed income tax cuts, so you'd back it if they came through this time around?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well, you'll recall Deb, that in the early months after the last federal election we were calling upon the Government to bring forward certain stages of the tax cuts because the economy was struggling even before COVID, and we were looking to support them in an attempt to stimulate the economy. So no, we've never been opposed to tax cuts. In fact, we've been arguing for them.

DEB KNIGHT: Do you think it's childish of people like Kevin Rudd who posted a graph on Twitter yesterday comparing the nation's debt between the financial crisis when he was PM and now? I mean, really, do you need to have that sort of input? It seems a bit childish to me for Kevin Rudd to be doing that.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well, when reflecting on these things, Deb, you've got to understand that unlike the almost universal support the current Government has received from the now opposition with their pandemic response, when we were in government and doing our very best to bring the Australian economy through the Global Financial Crisis, we didn't receive the support of opposition of the day. That was disappointing then and it's disappointing now. And, I mean, we would have loved to have had the sort of support from the opposition of the day that they've had from us this time around.

DEB KNIGHT: Angus?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, let's be clear about the facts here. Net debt is a third of what it is across the average of OECD countries, which is an extraordinary position and that's only possible because of the hard work we've done over recent years to get the budget into a strong position where we could handle a crisis like this. But look, the key to managing debt now is a growing economy. Getting people back in work, businesses back investing and employing. That has to be the focus. Taking away red tape, taking away all the impediments on businesses that stop them from growing and investing. And that's our focus.

DEB KNIGHT: Now, COVID, your electorate of Hume, Angus, covers a bit of the south of Sydney and into the Southern Tablelands, including areas like Liverpool which has been declared a hotspot - concerning for you and your constituents.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Yeah, I mean, we've escaped the worst of it, but I have to say, I think the New South Wales Government is doing a good job on this and we're seeing the contrast now as to what a good job they are doing where they've been tracking the cases that we're seeing and they've been tracking them very effectively. Look, we saw a massive testing regime put into place very quickly around Picton in my electorate soon after that outbreak, and a huge amount of testing that's gone on. And I think people are taking great comfort in the way the New South Wales Government is handling that. We've got to make sure we're disciplined about this though in the coming weeks and months. That's absolutely crucial.

DEB KNIGHT: Yeah, we can't get complacent. And we can't have people like this woman, this absolute dill, Eve Black. You would have seen it. She posted on her Facebook page. We played on the Today Show. I've played the audio of it here. But coming up to the border crossing, trying to come from Victoria into New South Wales and basically getting waved through and calling COVID a ‘Scam-demic’. I mean, can you believe, Joel, that you've got people like this who think it's all a hoax, number one, and then are prepared to sort of try it on with the coppers at the border crossings?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Yeah. Deb, it's hard to know whether to be angry at her or just to feel sorry for her. I mean, and get a life woman. I just can't believe what she did. But whatever you think of her, one thing is certain, she should be feeling absolutely ashamed of herself. Sadly, it appears otherwise. She's happy to post this-

DEB KNIGHT: She's proud of it.

JOEL FITZGIBBON:  Yeah, and looks to be proud of it and that's a shock. And just very quickly, can I say on, Angus, what Angus said about the debt - the net debt was higher before we went into the pandemic than it was when they won office in 2013. That is just a fact, Angus, and you know it.

ANGUS TAYLOR: So the deficit- you know, you know, that the deficit had basically gone when the pandemic hit us. Now that put us in a position to manage this, and that's why our net debt is a third of comparable countries. Now, that's the truth of the matter. And look, you have to go back to the facts. We are in a strong position because of the hard work we've done. None of us like to have debt. I mean, we'd prefer we didn't have it, but we have what we have, and now the key is to grow the economy to make sure we've got all of those policies going into place that allow businesses to get on and invest and employ.

DEB KNIGHT: Alright. We do need to have cooperation to ensure that we can get our economy up and running, that is for sure. And we do need to have cooperation on climate policy and that's something that Anthony Albanese has kept talking about. Joel, he keeps talking about wanting to work with the Government on the issue of climate. Have you got support from your colleagues for your push to adopt the Government's medium-term emissions target yet? Have you got everyone on board?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: I believe it is evident, Deb, that there's a very important conversation going on within the Labor Party, and central to that is to find some bipartisan, a bipartisan position so we can put these silly climate wars and political opportunity behind us, and work together to get some sensible responses in place that take meaningful action on carbon emissions but do no harm to our economy and do no harm to traditional jobs in this country. That’s my focus-

DEB KNIGHT: So you're confident that Labor will adopt the Government's emissions target?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well, I'm very confident that Anthony Albanese will continue to work with me in extending that bipartisan hand. I mean, we've offered support to the same policy that the current Government has itself supported in the past but has not been able to get through their party room. That's what we are saying. We are saying let's move on this issue in a way which is positive for the Australian economy, not negative for the Australian economy.

DEB KNIGHT: There you go. Angus, in lockstep.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well there's agreement within the Coalition, there's no question about that. If we're going to have bipartisanship though, we need agreement within the Labor Party. Look, Joel has seen the light and that's fantastic. Labor took policies to the last election that were sneaky carbon taxes that were going to raise the cost of energy, and he and some of his colleagues have rightly taken the view that those policies need to be dumped and we need to have bipartisan targets. Well, we embrace that. We applaud it. Go hard Joel. Can you get all of your side onside?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: The problem is, Deb, Angus is quick to say all of that but he doesn't have a policy in place to achieve the target he is setting for himself. So what we are saying is, well, let's work together to fix that, and let's do it in a way which is good for Australian jobs.

DEB KNIGHT: Alright. Now quickly-

ANGUS TAYLOR: Oh, so, you do want a carbon tax, Joel. I mean, look, let's be clear here. If we can get a joint target. We're going to achieve our targets. We've achieved our 2020 targets, and we can do that without raising the cost of energy and that's the focus of the Government. We would dearly love Labor to embrace our policies on this.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Alright. Now, let's have a bit of fun just to end things here. We had a bit of a fun topic on the show yesterday talking about petty revenge, and some of the stories we heard were pretty funny. One woman cut her ex-husband's hair and put a smiley face on the back after he cheated on her. He didn't even realise. Now, there's a story today about a woman who is divorcing her husband of 13 years, ending the marriage because she's sick of him leaving the dishes in the sink. Is that a crime that you've committed at your place, Angus?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well Deb, there's only one thing worse than fighting over putting dishes in the dishwasher, and that's having a broken dishwasher. And we've got a broken dishwasher at home at the moment. We have had for the last week. And I have to say, this is wreaking havoc, but fortunately, we've got a few uni student kids home at the moment and-

DEB KNIGHT: Put them to work.

ANGUS TAYLOR: They’ve been put to work, but we're certainly looking forward to having the dishwasher back.

DEB KNIGHT: I bet. How about you Joel?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Deb, I was terrified you were going to ask us what is our favourite ABBA song. I'm somewhat relieved by the challenge you've set-

ANGUS TAYLOR: It was Fernando, wasn't it?

[Laughter]

JOEL FITZGIBBON: All I can say is that I packed the dishwasher before I went to bed last night, I unpacked it when I got up this morning, and I just basically do what I'm told.

DEB KNIGHT: Alright. I might ask your daughter Grace when I go into the newsroom next at Nine and see if you are as good a boy as you claim. But nonetheless-

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Will you ask her about, ask her how tidy she tends to be!

DEB KNIGHT:  [Laughs] Oh yes, Dad's revenge. Excellent. Good on you fellas. Thanks so much. We'll talk again next week.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Thanks Deb.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks Deb.

DEB KNIGHT: Angus Taylor there, and Joel Fitzgibbon.

Media contact:

Minister Taylor's office - 02 6277 7120