Transcripts → 2024


Press Conference - Parliament House

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


Date: Wednesday, 15 May 2024

Labor’s Budget; delivering for Canberra; public service; infrastructure; ACT public housing debt; Independent candidates.

SENATOR THE HON KATY GALLAGHER, MINISTER FOR FINANCE: I’m here with my colleagues, Federal ACT representatives Andrew Leigh, David Smith, Alicia Payne. We’re really pleased to be here the morning after the night before of the Budget with a very strong investment in Canberra. Obviously, the Budget as a whole had a focus on cost-of-living without adding to inflation, but also had an eye on the future and seizing the opportunities that are coming with the transformation to Net Zero economies through the Future Made In Australia. There’s a lot of investment in Canberra. We’ve gone for many years under the former government not being recognised, either for our role as the nation’s capital or as a city on our own. And this budget deals with that, continues the work we’ve done in the previous two budgets, there’s investment in jobs, in supporting households with cost-of-living and our role as the nation’s capital through infrastructure investments. So it’s a very positive budget for Canberra and I’m going to hand to my colleagues now to focus on a couple of the key initiatives.

THE HON DR ANDREW LEIGH MP, MEMBER FOR FENNER: Well, thanks very much Katy. And this is a budget that delivers for all Australians, but a budget that really looks after Canberra. And one of the reasons for that is you’ve got the extraordinary Katy Gallagher, former ACT Chief Minister and Minister for Finance, sitting around the Expenditure Review Committee table, the Cabinet table, making decisions that don’t leave Canberra out. We saw in the Liberals’ last budget, the ACT get just one fifth of our fair share of infrastructure spending. This budget does right by the people of Canberra. One of the important aspects of the Budget is that every Canberra taxpayer gets a tax cut. That tax cut is a bigger tax cut than they would have received for four out of five Canberra taxpayers. We want Canberrans to earn more and to keep more of what they earn. And these tax cuts that’ll flow from 1 July are fairer, more efficient and will do more for the ACT economy than they would have done before we rejigged them. I’ll hand now to my colleague Alicia Payne to say a few words about other aspects of the Budget for Canberra.

ALICIA PAYNE MP, MEMBER FOR CANBERRA: Thanks very much, Andrew. It’s wonderful to be here this morning with my ACT Labor colleagues and particularly Finance Minister Katy Gallagher, who has worked so incredibly hard to deliver this fantastic budget over many, many months. Canberra does have a dual role. We are the nation’s capital. We are a city that belongs to all Australians, but we are also a community that has the same challenges and opportunities as other communities. And I’m very proud that this is a budget that recognises both of those aspects of our city and invests in both of them. Whether it’s investing in the AIS and getting that back to world-class standard to investing in the Canberra Symphony Orchestra and helping them to be sustainable, to the new Centre of Excellence at CIT in Electric Vehicle Maintenance – which is already a world-leading centre of training there, but our federal government is getting behind that – to investing in our light rail. Our government is one that recognises the needs of Canberrans and also the importance that we have as the nation’s capital. The funding of the AIS has been something that is well overdue and I’m so proud that our government is doing it to help our athletes to get up to standard and that we’re keeping that centre right here in Canberra where it belongs. And I’ll hand over to my colleague David Smith.

DAVID SMITH MP, MEMBER FOR BEAN: Thanks, Alicia. We often forget that there are issues at work right across Australia that have particular effects on our electorates. I guess one of the areas that sort of us received representations on, was providing relief to younger Canberrans who do accrue substantial HECS-HELP debts. And so the representations they made were successful. More than 50,000 Canberrans will benefit from the fee relief that they’ll get to HECS-HELP. And that includes more than 15,000 in Bean. We might be a bit further away from the university campuses, but there are plenty of Beanites who go to engage at the ANU, the University of Canberra and when the UNSW is up, will be going to UNSW as well too. It’s great to see an investment in key professions and occupations that we know we have a shortage in by investing in ensuring that nurses and teaching students are actually getting support. We’re doing that and doing those important prac placements which actually allows them to be job-ready and that’s a substantial improvement. Not just right across Australia, but particularly or areas of shortage we know we have here in Canberra.

JOURNALIST: Thanks very much to all of you for your time this morning. Are you satisfied with where the Budget’s landed, and in particular for the ACT, what do you think are sort of the major wins?

GALLAGHER: Well, it’s a really positive budget for the country, so yes I am pleased. I mean, budgets are you know thousands of decisions made over many, many months that try to strike the right balance. We’ve said you know, there’s a lot of calls on the Budget. A lot of ideas that you know, it wasn’t the right time or we couldn’t find room for. But where we’ve landed is a responsible budget that tries to deal with those short-term pressures around cost-of-living without adding to inflation, but doesn’t I guess take our eye off the future. And we have such a great opportunity as the global transition to our economies happens, to seize some of that opportunity. So, there’s a lot in this budget. If you look at it, the Future Made In Australia, the cost-of-living relief, the housing package, the investments in the care economy, in Medicare, and looking at how we can drive gender equality as well. So, you know, paying super on PPL. People have wanted that for decades, private sector has been paying it – some – since the 90s. You know, it’s time that the government was able to make those investments too. So, we’ve done all that.

In terms of Canberra, you know, I think most of us – all of us here, the four of us – know, when we sat on the Opposition benches, Canberra didn’t get a fair go. It was ridiculed. It was demeaned by the government. The Canberra bubble and all that. It was ignored as a city in its own right. And it was ignored as the nation’s capital. And we’re making that right. We started in the first two budgets, the investments that my colleagues have outlined you know, are specific to the ACT. Our focus on rebuilding the Public Service is incredibly important to the nation’s capital. It’s our big employer. So much of our private sector activity hangs off having a strong, independent and enduring Public Service. And that’s – you know, we’ve made responsible and cost-efficient investments in that. You know, shaving off some of the costs of the expensive external labour hire and all those other arrangements that were put in place to make sure we’ve got strong policy capability and delivery capability in the Public Service. And that’s really important to Canberra too.

JOURNALIST: The ACT is set to get a minimum of 1200 new homes over the next five years. You would know really well from your time serving the city that it is a really difficult place to find housing if you are low income. There is a shortfall of about 3000 public houses. Have you done enough for this and what will you continue to do?

GALLAGHER: Well, housing is a huge part of the Budget. I can't think of another federal government who has ever leaned in to putting as much effort in housing as the Albanese government is. And you know, yes, we'd all wish we could fix it overnight. Unfortunately, this has been an area that, again, was neglected for a decade under the former government. We've come in. We've started making the investments to turn this ship around. And we continue to work with the States and Territories on it. But it will take a little bit of time. But I've already seen – and talking with Yvette Berry and others – you know, there's housing being constructed now, the effort’s going in Canberra, there's new developments coming forward. And we stand ready to assist the ACT Government in any way we can. That's why one of the parts of the housing package is to deal with those sort of infrastructure, enabling works that allow land release to happen faster, so that we can get more houses built. But I think any which way you come at housing, the Commonwealth is at the table.

JOURNALIST: There were calls for the public housing debt here in the ACT, the $82 million, to be waived. One of those calls came from Senator David Pocock. He's described the Budget as underwhelming. That public housing debt was waived for Tasmania, South Australia. Why wasn't it done, or why isn't it being done, for the ACT?

GALLAGHER: So, that wasn't a decision in this budget. You're right. Because we're coming at housing nationally with a range of different interventions, and Canberra gets its fair entitlement to that. So, we are focusing on supply, we are focusing on providing money to the States and Territories so that they can get their house in order and deliver the housing that we need. There are always a range of asks in a budget. We can't deliver all of them, not in a responsible way. We've got to show restraint. We've got to get our budget back on track. We're doing all that and you know, then we come to the what's possible, what's affordable. And you'll see that reflected in a very substantial housing package of which Canberra will get its fair share.

JOURNALIST: Is waiving the public housing debt something that might happen in the future, is that completely off the table?

GALLAGHER: Well, it's not off the table, but there's always a lot on the table. I guess that’s the way you’d say that. You know, there's no shortage of calls from the community sector, from the ACT Government, whether it be about extra investments or about waiving debt. I mean, we work in partnership with the ACT Government. That's something, again, that during my time as Chief Minister, we never got when we had a Coalition government in. They weren't interested in talking with us or working with us. We are there at the table with the ACT government working out what's the best deal for Canberra.

JOURNALIST: Just on the public service and the move away from consultants and contractors – how many more permanent APS jobs will be created and over what time period are those jobs anticipated to be filled?

GALLAGHER: So, well, I mean – departments will now, once the Budget bill’s passed, will go and start recruiting to those jobs. But you know, it's in the order of 12,000 jobs that will be supported through investments in this budget. The vast majority of that goes to frontline agencies. And of course you know, 62 per cent of public servants are outside the ACT, but we have a big footprint. And so some of those jobs, a lot of those jobs, will be in Canberra. And we're trying to shift the balance here. I mean, we know under the Coalition government, they had this fake number that they said this is the size of the public service. It wasn't anywhere near that size. It was much bigger. They had a shadow workforce that was off the books. What we're trying to do is take that shadow workforce; where we can, make them public servants; make us accountable and publish those details in the Budget. We've converted about 9,000 roles from labour hire and contractors into permanent jobs. That's good for the community. Because we're seeing the benefit of that – you know, all these cases in Veterans’ Affairs that have now been allocated. Veterans are now getting access to their pensions and compensation that they weren't getting. I mean, it makes a real difference to people's lives.

JOURNALIST: [indistinct] increase in the Public Service, even more than last year, which the Coalition has already labelled as wasteful. And the Budget has made it very clear that this is pitched at the service delivery jobs which will actually interact with everyday Australians. Is that what you're counting on? Are you confident that you can make services better in the next year or so and have Australians back you up on this increase?

GALLAGHER: Absolutely. And you know I mean, it's not surprising that the party of Robodebt says that investment in the public service is wasteful. That was a government that pursued 400,000 citizens of this country for money they did not owe. That had consequences. Often, in some cases, ending people's lives. It is no surprise to me that they continue on this path where they – it's lazy and it's not right. And when we came to government, we had 41,000 veterans who had their claims unallocated. We had a million visa application backlog. You couldn't get a passport in 50 days. In Services Australia, you were lucky if you had your phone call answered if you waited all day on the phone. We are changing that. And we there is a responsibility on government to provide services to people in a way that they expect, with respect and with efficiency. And so we've got to hold them to account on this rubbish that you don't need public servants to deliver services to the people of Australia. It's just not right and look what we inherited from them. You know, that the party of Robodebt should have no credibility on the public service.

JOURNALIST: Senator Pocock’s also raised concerns that the ACT is getting almost 20 per cent less than our per capita share of infrastructure funding in this budget. Has the ACT been short-changed when it comes to infrastructure?

GALLAGHER: No, and that's wrong as well. If you look at the investments we're making in light rail, in road infrastructure, in the AIS, and in our national security precinct that is underway – including the car park that's almost finished – you will see that there isn't probably a city in the country that is getting the focus that we're getting, or the infrastructure investment.

JOURNALIST: Do you think that there was enough support for mental health related services particularly for the ACT there's a lot of demand across the nation for mental health services. The ACT is no exception. Was there enough in the Budget for it?

GALLAGHER: I think there's always more you can do in health. It's an area where I think there almost is no limit in terms of demand and investment that could be made. We've tried to make a real difference. There's a new service that will be run, particularly dealing with people who aren't able to access services in their own you know cities, regions, rural areas. So, digital, online. That will allow us to shift resources into people who need more intense support. So, there's a piece of work underway that will continue led by Mark Butler in mental health. But I think this is a good first step but we recognise this as a significant area of pressure. As is the call on the Budget for health, in a general sense.

JOURNALIST: The Chief Minister was disappointed there wasn't targeted funding for ACT programs, the active travel plan in particular. Why not?

GALLAGHER: So we've announced an active travel program. There's $100 million that we put in the Budget. And the ACT government will be able to access some of that funding, like everywhere else. And they will get their fair share. This is, again, a big difference between our government and the former government. We don't penalise people for living in Canberra. We see them like every other Australian and that program applies across the board. I've had some pretty positive feedback from the Chief Minister as well. So I think overall, he sees the balance that we're trying to make. It's the same balancing decisions that he'll have to make in his budget as well.

JOURNALIST: On the Audit of Employment you've committed to – what financial year will that be for and what do you expect it to show? I imagine you want it to be below that $20 billion, that 54,000 workforce, where should it be?

GALLAGHER: Yeah, that's right. Well, we would be, I mean part of doing the second Audit of Employment – and let's just remember, the first one was done because when we, I, got into this job, I asked how much the public service is done by external labour. And nobody could tell me. Nobody across the public service. So, we did the first audit. That really set the baseline. And now the second audit will start, will go in next financial year. So, look over that complete financial year and see what data that we can pull. And yeah, it's about holding agencies to account as well, because once the budgets are done, the agencies and departments make their decisions about how to live within their budgets. We want to make sure that they – and we know they are, in a general sense, but we want to get an accurate data on the balance or the rebalance that's happening across the public service – and we would report that. And yes, I would hope to see a pretty significant reduction on that shadow workforce we inherited.

JOURNALIST: Alicia, hi. To grab a comment from yourself, maybe an individual comment from each of the others as well. You've obviously very recently done an inquiry into the significance of the nation's capital. We've got some infrastructure funding already. Do you think that this sets a good platform for that, or do you think there's still a lot more that needs to be done?

PAYNE: Yes. Well, I was very pleased, having just released the report into Fostering the Significance of the Nation’s Capital, that our government has invested in both aspects of our city, around this sort of nation's capital aspects. Including – we had a recommendation on investing into the AIS to restore it to a world-class standard. And the government have invested in that, based on the recommendations of the independent review that the government commissioned into that. Which, of course the first finding was, the first recommendation was for it to remain in Canberra, which we accepted and we're now investing into that. So, I think this is a – as I say, I couldn't be prouder of our government and the way that we are invested in our city and recognising the importance of our city and the needs of Canberrans. Part of that AIS announcement too is additional funding for master planning of the Bruce precinct, which is around making that whole area somewhere that Canberrans will want to go and visit and building on the infrastructure there.

JOURNALIST: I was about to say, Dave, I wouldn't mind maybe getting a couple questions for yourself as well. Climate 200 have announced a bunch of federal electorates that they're looking at. Bean is one of the two Labor ones that they're looking at. Are you nervous about your spot come the next federal election next year?

SMITH: Look, I'm not nervous about being part of the government that’s doing the most on record in terms of renewable energy. The amount of projects that we had approved last year. And I think you know, a key part of a Future Made In Australia is the opportunity to become a renewable energy superpower. So that's the real opportunity. I think one of the challenges for us is about how part of a Future Made In Australia is a future made in the ACT too. So, I think we're a government that's delivering on integrity, we’re a government that’s delivering on action on climate change. So, I'm convinced I'm part of a team that is trying to meet the key challenges that we need to meet.

JOURNALIST: We saw a lot of Teals get up at the last federal election. Do you think that there is an appetite for independents, particularly in the ACT?

SMITH: Look, I think there's an opportunity and an interest in hearing views from a whole range of candidates from time to time. That's part of our democratic process. But I think the great thing that you can see from this Canberra federal team is that we're delivering for Canberra, and whether that be in the public school infrastructure that we announced in the last couple of weeks, whether it be in the broader announcements through the Budget, the support for our national cultural institutions, or for the AIS. I think it's quite a stark difference between what the story was like before the 2022 election. And you've got a team that's committed to ensuring that Canberrans get their fair share, just on

JOURNALIST: Just on Climate 200 looking at Bean as one of the two Labor seats, do you have a particular view on that?

SMITH: My view is my job is to effectively work for the people of Bean. That’s every constituent. And we're delivering a budget that does that. So, that's what drives me every day. Whether groups of other stakeholders want to take different approaches is up to them. My direction is driven by the people of Bean.