SENATOR THE HON KATY GALLAGHER
Minister for Finance
Minister for the Public Service
Minister for Women
Date: Wednesday, 7 December 2022
PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Yesterday the Reserve Bank pushed up interest rates for the eighth time this year to 3.1%. Katy Gallagher is the Minister for Finance and for Women, and she joins us this morning. Welcome back to Breakfast.
SENATOR THE HON KATY GALLAGHER, MINISTER FOR FINANCE: Thanks for having me on Patricia.
KARVELAS: Rates have jumped from 0.1% to 3.1% in just seven months, it's been really fast - has the RBA moved too quickly?
GALLAGHER: Well, I'm not going to comment on the decisions of the Reserve Bank, they're independent. They make those decisions independently of Government and they can you know, speak to those decisions. I would say the Government believes that tackling the inflation challenge that we've got in our economy is the major priority. The Reserve Bank does that through monetary policy and then the Government works hand-in-hand in terms of our fiscal approach to make sure that we're not making their job harder. But we certainly believe that tackling and putting down, you know, getting inflation back to more of a normal range is an absolute economic priority for the country. And I totally acknowledge that this is having a big impact on households. Some of that might not have been seen yet with some of those on fixed mortgages. But we acknowledge that these are very significant increases in mortgage repayments over a relatively short period of time, you know, and that's hard. But the inflation challenge - we can't allow that to become baked in. We have to get that down because if we left it, you know, if there wasn't a response to it, that has greater economic harm over the longer term.
KARVELAS: Look, yeah, it is I think difficult for householders and a few people have pointed out renters as well because there are implications, right, so we often think about people with mortgages, but it's really a wider ramification. You talk about fixed rates. It's in the middle of next year that economists say the real trouble will happen. How worried are you that at that juncture, you know, this idea that Australia can avoid a recession might not be the case? Is a recession a real prospect?
GALLAGHER: Well, that's, you know, we released our Budget in October and the Treasury forecasts at that time, don't predict a recession. We do predict moderating growth, and that, you know, is linked to the tightening we're seeing in monetary policy and the impacts that has on household consumption. So we'll see probably a bit of that in the National Accounts today, although they're more backward looking, and we might see more of that in National Accounts to come. But you know, and I think the Reserve Bank in the Governor's note released after the meeting acknowledges, you know, there is a fair bit of uncertainty and it's a narrow path that they are seeking to find for a soft landing. So, I think the full effects of these monetary policy decisions are still to be felt, and I think the bank acknowledges that as well. But it's going to be a challenge. It is a very challenging set of circumstances that are confronting the economy at the moment, and the government's focus is dealing with the areas that we can meaningfully make a difference. So that's why you've seen a fair bit of work and chatter around how we deal with the energy price increases that we forecast in the Budget and how we try and make a meaningful difference there for business, industry and households.
KARVELAS: Well I will ask you because you've raised it so, you've gone there, energy obviously is the huge agenda item of the week and something the Government needs to sort out with the states and territories by the end of the year. Compensation looks like it will have to be paid to these big states that rely on these royalties from coal if you ask them to cap coal prices. You're the Finance Minister, you're gonna have to find quite a bit of money to pay out to the states, how much is this going to cost?
GALLAGHER: Well, the reason I went to energy, Patricia, is the fact that energy is a big part of the inflation challenge. So it makes sense that we are involved and discussing with states and territories ways that we can work together to reduce those forecast energy increases. We're having good dialogue, the Prime Minister's having those important discussions with premiers you know, if we can make a responsible and reasonable contribution to easing those energy prices then we are certainly at the table having those discussions. They are ongoing, as you would expect them to be. You know, I expect National Cabinet to make progress on Friday, but it's certainly not a blank check situation from the Commonwealth. We do acknowledge that we have a role to play just as the states and territories do as well, and that we've also got a shared interest in making sure that we manage this very, very complex and difficult problem that confronts the country.
KARVELAS: I want to change tack, if we can, and ask you some questions in your capacity as Minister for Women and turn to that other portfolio. This week, the ACT prosecutor dropped the prosecution of Bruce Lehrmann over concerns over Brittany Higgins' mental health. He has denied all allegations, but the majority of sexual assault cases don't even result in a charge, we know. Putting that particular case aside, how concerning is the state of the justice system for victims of rape and sexual assault?
GALLAGHER: I think Patricia, and I certainly won't be commenting on any individual matter at all, but I think there are absolutely clear, you know, evidence from people who go through that process, women who go through that process, that you know, there are significant challenges in following something from a complaint, reporting a complaint and seeing it through to the end and we see that in the statistics of, you know, the numbers, the low numbers of women that report matters of violence against them to the numbers that then get to the charges stage, to then to prosecution and then ultimately to conviction status. So there's you know, when I think about it as Minister for Women, you know, we do have a duty to look at our systems and processes I think, and to make sure that we are doing whatever we can to ensure that women, and it is predominantly women, feel comfortable and supported to report any act of violence against them. And I don't think we're there yet.
KARVELAS: When the DPP announced that this case - that this new trial - wouldn't go ahead, Tanya Plibersek, who used to be the Shadow Minister for Women, tweeted ‘survivors of sexual assault know that convicting perpetrators is the exception not the rule. This has to change.’ Do you agree does this have to change?
GALLAGHER: Well again, I go back to my comments and essentially what I've just said, I don't disagree with Tanya at all. I think the responsibility is, as we learn more and more about women's experience with the justice system, particularly as it relates to matters of violence and sexual violence. We have a responsibility to look at our systems and processes to see where we can make a difference to ensure that women do feel able to come forward, that they are supported through that process, that they are encouraged to report violence and that that will not cause them to be re-traumatised as they go through a process. I do believe that we have a responsibility to look at and reform where we can, acknowledging that you know, there are very important principles here around presumption of innocence and the justice system responding to the laws that are in place at the time. So I make no, I cast no aspersions, on that. But we do have a responsibility to look at what's going on because it's clearly you know, in terms of how women feel, how they feel confident about reporting violence, how they pursue that, what happens in the end - I don't think we're at a place where, you know, I don't think we've got the right balance at the moment and we have to respond to that. We made some commitments in the campaign about looking and working with states and territories about how we can fix or address some of these problems within the justice system and particularly how it relates to sexual violence cases. I know the Attorney General, you know, is, will be discussing this with his colleagues. And certainly it's been discussed at the Ministers for Women table as well.
KARVELAS: Okay, so what can you tell us about you, as Minister for Women, bringing the states and territories together for some law reform here? Is this an urgent priority, and what might that look like?
GALLAGHER: Well, it's certainly on the agenda for the Women's Ministers meeting. And I do accept that a lot of the levers are with the states and territories and that many of them are looking at how they reform their laws, in light of the experience that women are having in the criminal, in the justice system, so there's that happening, but we're also doing a whole range of other things and the Government, you know, I fundamentally believe as a Commonwealth Government, we have to be leading or providing leadership in this space. I don't think we've necessarily seen that in the last decade. So some of the other building blocks that we're putting in place that we're already doing so you know, agreeing to the National Plan that pulls everything together about how we deal with violence against women and children was important, passing legislation for family and domestic violence leave - paid family and domestic violence leave I should say - also important. We passed the Respect@Work laws in the last sitting with funding consent and respectful relationships, education in schools, which was another initiative that Tanya Plibersek in her previous role designed, so these are part of it. And part of it's about changing a culture and that where violence against women, sexual violence, domestic violence, coercive control, all of those things is so prevalent and at unacceptable levels in our community. Because you know, how we deal with that before things get to the justice system is important as well, and I strongly believe the Commonwealth should be showing leadership in that area.
KARVELAS: The ACT, Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold SC praised the bravery, grace and dignity of Brittany Higgins and asked that she be given time to heal after facing a level of personal attack that - and I'm quoting him – ‘I've never seen in over 20 years of doing this work.’ Some have said that those comments were not appropriate. What's your view?
GALLAGHER: Well, again, it's quite difficult for me to comment on an individual matter, Patricia, so perhaps if I go to a higher level, I think women in all areas of life, public life particularly, get a disproportionate amount of attention, including abuse online in particular, but not, you know, not especially online - in a whole range of areas. I think the abuse that women receive is unacceptable and I do think if you're a prominent, or have a public profile, then you are - it almost comes with that. You've experienced it, I've experienced it, people in high profile cases will experience it, and we have to deal with that as well - and the nature of the abuse because, you know, high profile, men get it as well, but the nature of the abuse towards women is also quite different from that experienced by men. So it's more, you know, threats, sexualised threats, threats about what someone will do to you - those kinds of things, which, you know, challenge all of us and make us think about what we're doing and whether it's worth it at times. And I know from discussions with a lot of my female colleagues, it's almost part of the job now. If you are high profile or you're in the public arena, that this is part of what you have to put up with. And I fundamentally disagree with that, and we have to confront that very uncomfortable reality as well.
KARVELAS: Thank you so much for joining us this morning, Minister.
GALLAGHER: Thank you very much, Patricia.
Media contact: Pat Cronan 0432 758 224 | Gallagher.Media@finance.gov.au