Transcripts → 2024


TV Interview - Sky News

Minister for Finance
Minister for Women
Minister for the Public Service
Senator for the ACT


Date: Thursday, 18 April 2024

ABS Labour Force figures; International Monetary Fund Fiscal Monitor; Budget; HECS-HELP; Lehrmann Defamation Decision.

KIERAN GILBERT, HOST:  Let’s go live now to the Finance Minister, Katy Gallagher. Minister thanks for your time. This unemployment rate today, obviously, you never want to see people losing their jobs. But do you - is it a bit of a two-edged sword in the sense that the stronger and more resilient labour market probably means we don't see rate cuts until later?

SENATOR THE HON KATY GALLAGHER, MINISTER FOR FINANCE: Thanks for having me on Kieran. Good to see you. Look, the numbers today show that the Australian economy, the jobs market, the labour market is extremely resilient. So, we've still got an unemployment rate with a three in front of it, which is very low by historical standards. We've seen some softening in the last month but that was off a record jobs creation in February. And you know, it's in line with expectations as we've seen the crunch of interest rates and growth slow, that we would expect to see a small uptick in unemployment. But again, I think anyone who's been watching the labour market for any length of time will realise just how resilient and strong our labour market remains.

GILBERT: Yeah, it does indeed.  What are the implications though for the Budget specifically out of these numbers? Does it also mean a boost for the Budget bottom line, the fact that the labour market continues to be so strong?

GALLAGHER: Well, certainly, you know, the labour market has been, the strength of the labour market has been one of the reasons that we've been, we've seen, you know, the revenue upgrades that we've been seeing. It's certainly a big component of that, along with, of course, our commodity prices. And as we're seeing commodity prices decrease. I mean, the fact that our labour market remains strong is not only good for anyone who's working or who wants a job. It also has an impact, a positive impact on the Budget, which is good because we've got a lot of calls, as you know, on the Budget, and you know, getting the Budget into good shape, which we've been doing over the past two years has been an important part of our economic plan.

GILBERT: Well, the IMF Fiscal Monitor has Australia up at ranked second now, in terms of the strength of the Budget bottom line, I guess there's a bit of vindication you would feel as a finance minister for that. But it came with a bit of a warning as well, that if China falters, countries like ours need to keep that in mind. Is that still part of your mindset heading into the Budget next month?

GALLAGHER: Absolutely. I mean, I think the global conditions, economic conditions are very uncertain. There's a lot of instability there. You've drawn attention to China, quite rightly. Obviously, there's the events in the Middle East, a war in Europe. All of these have impacts and consequences that we have to be mindful of. And we are, of course, mindful of them as we're making those final decisions. So that's part of it. Part of it, the rest of it are decisions about what the decision we control here locally about how to manage the Budget, as you say the IMF Fiscal Monitor has had good news for us overnight. Saying that, you know, we are and our decisions have strengthened the Budget we’re second. I think last year we were 14th, so that shows that the work we've been doing to find savings, to repair the Budget, to lower debt, to bank the revenue when the upgrades have come in, has been an important part of strengthening our budget and getting it ready, you know, should we need to again, use that budget to make sure we're supporting the Australian economy and, you know, that's part of our thinking from 18 months ago, it remains the same today.

GILBERT: The Greens are also saying that Labor needs to look at things like student debt, a pausing of indexation of student debt. Is that something you're open to given as you say that the buffer, the bottom line is stronger? It's going to put more heat on you to help people with cost of living. Is that student debt issue something that's on your radar?

GALLAGHER: Well, when the budget is released in May, you'll see that cost of living is the main priority, the main focus just as it is about looking at areas for future growth and the Future Made in Australia, as the PM and Treasurer have been outlining. We've had the University Review that's been handed to Government. We're working through those recommendations, and they had a number of recommendations about how to make HECS a bit simpler and fairer, indexation was part of that, and we're certainly considering it, seriously. I mean, the Minister for Education has been doing enormous amount of work in this regard. And I think that's why you see the calls that we're getting from the crossbench about it, because the Minister has been working on this and talking with stakeholders about it.

GILBERT: On another matter this week, we saw Justice Lee he brought a degree of resolution on Monday when he concluded that Bruce Lehrmann did rape Brittany Higgins, there's still obviously ongoing questions for the Commonwealth though. Justice Lee also found that Ms. Higgins made false representations in her personal injury claim and dismissed any notion of a cover up, a political cover up, that mishandled her initial assault complaint. Your department paid her $2.4 million Brittany Higgins, should some of that be paid back?

GALLAGHER: Well, the agreement between the Commonwealth and Ms. Higgins was made in accordance with procedures that have existed for some time about significant legal matters. They're actually signed off by the Attorney General, but they're handled in accordance with cases that have been heard and resolved over many many years. So, nothing is unusual about that. I'm not privy to it. I wasn't a decision maker in it. I had no role in it. But that agreement had been finalised between the Commonwealth and Ms. Higgins in accordance with those rules, Kieran.

GILBERT: Okay. We speak to the former Supreme Court Judge Anthony Whealy a lot on the show. He said that the National Anti-Corruption Commission should review the payout because of what Justice Lee found around Ms. Higgins untruths. Would you welcome the NACC reviewing the payment?

GALLAGHER: Well, I think that's entirely a matter for the NACC. I mean, I've seen media comments that members of the Opposition have referred that matter to the NACC, but what the NACC chooses to look into and investigate is a matter entirely for the NACC.

GILBERT: I just want to refresh for our viewers a little of this criticism and parliamentary discourse that happened around the time of this issue. Let's have a quick look at this involving Penny Wong in the Senate.

CLIP OF SENATOR PENNY WONG: What has been reported today, which reflects the handling of the serious allegation, a serious crime of rape, as a political problem.

CLIP OF SENATOR GALLAGHER: Just for your information, I don't think you should hide behind Ms. Higgins by refusing to answer these questions. 

CLIP OF SENATOR PENNY WONG: Why has this Minister so failed to meet her own standard? Why is she continuing the cover up?

GILBERT:  Now, Peter Dutton said this week Linda Reynolds has been vindicated by Justice Lee's judgment, there was no evidence of a cover up, a political cover up that Network 10 reported, that Labor you and your colleagues pursued. Do you have any regrets now about how Linda Reynolds and Fiona Brown were targeted by Labor? 

GALLAGHER: Kieran, I think a lot has been said about this case over a number of years and I don't intend to contribute much more to that. I mean, I've answered a lot of questions about this myself in the Parliament. So, in that sense, I'd refer you to those answers that I've given. But I would also point out that that decision that was handed down on Monday found out that a young woman in her workplace was raped, in a Minister's office, and I think it would be very unusual if people had not asked questions about that when that occurred.

GILBERT: Peter Dutton has said that off the back of the judgment, people should be issuing a full apology to Linda Reynolds for the fact that her reputation has been tarnished. Would you consider that? Will you apologise?

GALLAGHER: Kieran, I asked reasonable questions of the Minister whose office was involved in what has been found to be a rape against an employee within that office. And I have nothing further to add on that.

GILBERT: Finance Minister, Katy Gallagher I appreciate your time. Talk to you soon. 

GALLAGHER: Thanks very much, Kieran.


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