SENATOR THE HON KATY GALLAGHER
Minister for Finance
Minister for the Public Service
Minister for Women
Date: Thursday, 27 April 2023
ADAM SHIRLEY, HOST: Minister, a very good morning. Thanks for your time.
SENATOR THE HON KATY GALLAGHER, MINISTER FOR FINANCE: Good morning, Adam. Thanks for having me on.
SHIRLEY: $240 million to be announced by the PM for a stadium in Hobart. Any chance the ACT could get a bit of that action too?
GALLAGHER: Well, the Budget will be handed down in just over 12 days, I think. So, you know, announcements will be contained in that. I would say though, that in the last year that we've been in Government the ACT has received a number of investments from the Albanese Government that wouldn't be going to other places like Tasmania. For example, the National Security Precinct and the half a billion dollars that we've announced already ahead of the Budget into the National Institutions, plus the Public Service rebuild that we're doing at the moment. All of these are job supporting and key critical investments for our city and our town. So, I don't think those should be underestimated in terms of the economic support it provides the ACT.
SHIRLEY: You're probably well aware, though, from your Chief Minister days right through to now, how aging, crumbling actually, in some cases, sport infrastructure is here. I guess some Canberrans will be wondering aloud today, why Hobart and the AFL are the beneficiaries of this, when you could make a strong argument that Canberra needs this just as much, if not more.
GALLAGHER: Sure, and, you know, we'll work with the ACT Government over a whole range of matters. In the last fortnight I've had a really good chat with Andrew Barr about some of the areas where we could cooperate and support each other to make those good investments in Canberra. So this is ongoing work, I would say. I just don't want it, you know, I think quite often people say, "well, that city got this and that means that we have to get that", and what I guess the broader point I'm making is that government makes decisions in a whole range of areas. And we have been making decisions that have added significant investment into our city and our town, which supports the economic development of our city. So you know, these have been important, they've been very conscious decisions, prioritising the public service, which is our big employer, things like that, that are really going to drive the growth and development of Canberra over a longer period of time.
SHIRLEY: I'm interested in that mention you made of meeting with Chief Minister Andrew Barr, just in the last fortnight or so, what are the key things you and he raised as far as what Canberra and the ACT needs, and what money might be forthcoming for it?
GALLAGHER: Well, we talked about a whole range of areas. I think the, one of the issues, and I come at this from a particular perspective having been a Chief Minister, is the opportunity we have to work together that hasn't always been the case where the ACT Government's been in a position to work in partnership with the Commonwealth Government. I think because of the unique nature of my role, and the fact that we've got a Prime Minister that genuinely wants to work with states and territories in the interests of nation building, gives us a good opportunity to continue to work together. But we've done a whole range of things in the last 12 months to support Canberra, and then that dialogue is ongoing. But you know, it covered all of those obvious areas, in fact, that you're asking your listeners to message in on. So we talked about health, we talked about transport, we talked about sporting facilities, we talked about housing, there's a whole range of areas, I don't think that'll be a surprise to anybody. But the dialogue is important and looking at how we can work together in the benefits of the people of Canberra, but also use the opportunities that come from the, you know, he and I in these roles.
SHIRLEY: And might the dialogue lead to concrete plans for funding things like better affordable housing, some sort of stadium upgrade, a health system that is under strain?
GALLAGHER: Well, I mean, those, you know, those decisions haven't been taken at this point. But we've, we had a very good discussion about what those pressures and priorities are. For example, Andrew has been a long-term advocate for investment in the National Institutions because of the role they play in terms of attracting tourism and big events and people to our city and the flow-on benefits that has for all businesses across the ACT. And, you know, we have delivered that in this Budget. That comes from significant lobbying from the ACT Government and others to do the right thing by the National Institutions and you'll see that in the Budget.
SHIRLEY: There are a few things, obviously, that are pressing, including amongst, well, your own ranks too, the single parenting payments, that you're under pressure to improve and to, I guess, bolster, as well as raising the JobSeeker rate. That includes some from within your own tent such as Alicia Payne. Is it time to get on and do it, Finance Minister?
GALLAGHER: Well, again, the Budget will be handed down in 12 days, Adam, and we're in this sort of difficult period right now where people want answers about what's in the Budget, but it's just a little bit further away. I would say this has been a very challenging Budget to put together, but what you'll see in the Budget is a cost of living package that's targeted to the most vulnerable people across our country. You'll also see investments in areas for growth and opportunity, about driving economic growth and productivity. And the other part is how we managed to repair the Budget, because the trillion dollars in debt, significant structural deficits and a range of pressures coming towards us that are increasing, not decreasing. So, you know, my job is to look, and Jim Chalmer's job and the ERC's job is to look at a whole at all of the competing pressures, and people have good ideas with good suggestions and Alicia is one of those people —
SHIRLEY: How much do you listen to that, when you hear that call directly from one of your own, someone you no doubt respect and see eye-to-eye on policy often, how much does that then make you go, you know what, this has to be a priority that we that we address in this Budget?
GALLAGHER: Well, of course, we listen, but we listen across the board. I mean, that's our job, is to listen and understand all of the competing pressures and then try to balance that against some of these other presses around repairing the Budget and making sure we've got investments going into the growth of the economy. So, of course, we listen, we listen to everybody, that's our job to do that. And you'll see, I guess every Budget is a series of decisions that are made and where you try to get that balance right. Now we are acutely aware of the advocacy that's going on around JobSeeker and the single parenting payment, these aren't new pressures, they've existed for a reasonable period of time, and we are considering those.
SHIRLEY: And how badly, in a broader sense, I know you won't be able to commit or announce anything now. But how badly does the ACT need help in fixing its rental and affordable housing crisis? ABS numbers and Anglicare reports say, sadly, we are at the top of the pile in terms of how little affordable housing there is and how high our rents are.
GALLAGHER: Yeah, well, I think they're, you know, this is a national issue. And I have no doubt that when National Cabinet meets in the next couple of days, that this will be one of those matters that is considered. There is particular pressure here in the ACT, but we are seeing it across the board. And, again, in the last year you've got a Commonwealth Government that wants to engage on the issue of housing, genuinely, on social and affordable housing, in particular. We've got a Bill before the Parliament right now about getting investment into social and affordable housing, we have to increase supply because that is what will assist, over time, with rent and the rental squeeze, and we need to get that Bill through the Parliament. And we need to work with the states and territories on other ideas they have to alleviate pressure in this area. And you'll see that, that's a big difference that we've had between a government that wants to engage and genuinely sees a role for the Commonwealth in housing. We haven't had that for nearly a decade.
SHIRLEY: Lots of people struggling to pay rent in Canberra and trying to get a home will look very closely, I'm sure, at what the Budget has to try and help them out. One other matter, which I know you're aware of, and that a lot of pharmacists in this region, as well as across the country, are worried about. The policy to make PBS medications more available, I think up to 60 days’ worth in one script. Many pharmacists are saying this will actually have some unintended consequences of drug hoarding, and also making it much harder for them to turn, to break even, and even end up having to curtail their business. Do you accept that there might be some tinkering required with that policy announced officially yesterday.
GALLAGHER: Adam, well, we've been engaging with the pharmacy group over this change for some time. We want to work with pharmacy. But we also have very clear advice to government, over a number of years, almost five years since it was first announced, that there is a way to make medicines cheaper for the Australian people, significantly cheaper. And we can do it in a staged way. Targeted number of medications, primarily focused at people who are on those long-term medications that haven't changed and won't change, that will make a significant cost of living difference to their household budgets. And I think when you get that information, and it's very clear and the advice about the safety, and the implementation is very clear, governments have to respond to that. Particularly at a time when people are saying, “what can you do to help us with our cost of living pressures?” But I accept that we've – and I've been getting some feedback from pharmacies in the ACT – that we want to work with pharmacy about how that is progressed. But we also have to deal with very clear advice to government and I would say, every cent, this is certainly not a Budget saving measure at all, every cent where there's a reduction in a cost to the Budget is going back into pharmacy because we want pharmacy to play an increased role in the delivery of healthcare in this country.
SHIRLEY: The Finance Minister on many matters. Thank you for your time today. I appreciate it.
GALLAGHER: Thanks a lot for having me on, Adam.
Lisa Glenday 0403 931 209 | Gallagher.Media@finance.gov.au