SENATOR THE HON KATY GALLAGHER
Minister for Finance
Minister for the Public Service
Minister for Women
Date: Monday, 18 July 2022
SARAH FERGUSON, HOST: Senator Katy Gallagher is the Minister for Finance and Government Manager in the Senate. While the Greens are open to supporting Labor's target in the Senate, they say they won't support policy that allows lucrative new fossil fuel projects to be built in Australia. Are you prepared to negotiate with the Greens on their demand for a moratorium on all new coal and gas projects in Australia?
SENATOR THE HON KATY GALLAGHER, MINISTER FOR FINANCE: Hi Sarah and thanks for having me on the show. Well, I think as the Minister for Climate Change has made clear in the last week, he is engaging with the Greens and other members of the crossbench, particularly at this point on getting the legislation – the climate change legislation – into the Parliament and incorporating any sensible suggestions into that legislation. But aside from that, I mean, of course as a government we will talk to crossbenchers, independents and Greens about all of their priority matters. It doesn't mean we will always agree with them or always be able to incorporate their idea but we are, as a government, wanting to work across the Parliament to take action on climate, which is what the Australian people voted for in May.
FERGUSON: I'm interested in your perspective as a Finance Minister, are you prepared to go along with demands from the Greens to stop high revenue mining projects when the country is, as you say, facing a $1 trillion debt?
GALLAGHER: Well, our position in terms of new projects in coal or gas or any of the new renewable energy projects, too, is that they are largely dependent on issues like financing and whether they can get financing to support them, and also the environment laws as they exist both in state and federal. There are laws around that. So those are where those matters are appropriately dealt with.
FERGUSON: They have made it pretty clear this is a red line for them, the moratorium on future projects going forward.
GALLAGHER: Yeah, well, the Greens have a number of red lines. We deal with them all the time and, again, it doesn't mean that you agree with them, there are also other voices in the Parliament and positions that the Labor Party has as a government that we will continue to stand by. We don't just – because the Greens have a red line, that doesn't mean that we as the government immediately accept it. We will have respectful engagement with them but, as I said, new energy projects are already governed by legislation and by matters in the private sector around financing and they are the determinants of whether those projects get up or not.
FERGUSON: Is this just a Finance Minister saying that she wants the revenue from those projects?
GALLAGHER: Well, this is the Finance Minister saying that we have laws in place and arrangements in place about how those matters are dealt with. The Climate Change Bill legislating our 43% reduction target is a separate matter being dealt with in a separate piece of legislation and subject to separate discussions. I have no doubt other members like the Greens and other parties, independents, will bring forward other issues. And I have no doubt that Chris Bowen will deal with those in a respectful way, as we get through this, you know, the beginnings of this new Parliament.
FERGUSON: The Treasurer said today that the government was inheriting the trickiest set of economic circumstances in living memory. I think he also used the word "confronting". You made a number of election promises on clean energy, child care, university, TAFE, do you accept now that you can't do all those things you promised?
GALLAGHER: Not at all. In fact, we would say the case has become more urgent to deliver on those key policy areas we took. And that was because we weren't – and in the election campaign, in the economic plan that Jim and I put together, it was about ensuring we weren't looking at short termism or political quick fixes to get on the other side of an election, but to actually make sensible investments into the areas that will drive the productive side of the economy and that in itself is going to be good for the budget in the long run. So, yeah, we won't see things flip overnight or, you know, there won't be a quick fix, but child care, getting people back to work if they want to work more hours, investing in skills for the jobs of the future, making sure we are doing the right thing in the care economy, particularly gendered economy of low wages where there's work value cases before the Commission now, making sure we are in a position to shape that, invest in it, is actually going to be good for the long term.
FERGUSON: You were unable to make the cuts you wanted to in relation to the pandemic payments, how much stress is that going to put on the government?
GALLAGHER: Yes, so that payment – well, it does a couple of things. One, obviously there's a public health reason behind it, we were seeing more and more people becoming unwell, needing to isolate. We want to support the measures that states and territories are taking to try to limit the transmission and ensure that as much as we can put downward pressure on the hospitals – that really is the pointy end of the pandemic at the moment. But it does come with a cost. Now, we are going to at some stage have to start seriously winding back some of this fiscal support because, you know, our budget, the Commonwealth budget is in worse shape than many of the states’ and territories’ budgets at this point if you measured them like for like. And so that comes at about, I think the estimate is in around $60 million a week. If we extend it to the end of September, that's in the order of three-quarters of a billion dollars.
FERGUSON: Does the no-one left behind mantra mean that you are going to find it hard to make cuts, any cuts that hurt?
GALLAGHER: Well, I think any cuts are always difficult. Like the easiest way is not to make - not to spend in a sense. This is the message I've been giving ministers, who obviously have a lot of great ideas, a lot of big ideas about what they would like to do. There is a savings task at hand, there is obviously an efficiency dividend built into the budget. But there's a job that we need to do on top of that and that really is about reducing some of that structural deficit that exists. And the previous government had a deficit out until 2032 and beyond, so there is a structural problem there that I and Jim and others have to deal with as a government. And those – you know, looking at those, where you would find those savings, how would you reallocate, how do you ensure the best bang for your buck, the quality spending is the one that's driving all of those decisions. So –
FERGUSON: Let me –
FERGUSON: I beg your pardon, forgive me for interrupting. I want to wrap you by asking you this: realistically, given the language used by the Treasurer today, should people be prepared for disappointment in terms of some of the promises you made?
GALLAGHER: No, we want to deliver on all of our commitments. And that's the job for me is how do we do that. How do we stage it. How do we roll that out. But the other side is how do we ensure that we are making sure every dollar spent, every dollar borrowed at the moment is actually delivering a quality outcome. So I think there will be disappointment in the sense that we can't do everything that everyone is giving us their ideas over. We can't do everything. So the job now is how do we prioritise and quality will be driving all of those decisions.
FERGUSON: Thank you very much indeed for your time this evening.
GALLAGHER: Thank you very much, Sarah.