Transcripts → 2024


Radio interview - ABC Canberra

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


Date: Wednesday, 15 May 2024

Labor’s Budget; cheaper power bills; benefits for Canberra; Public Service.

ADAM SHIRLEY, HOST: Stay in maths, it’s important, especially on a day like today. Someone who is across the maths of a certain thing called the Federal Budget is the Finance Minister, Minister for Women and Minister for the Public Service, Katy Gallagher. She’s quite a busy person this morning, along with the Prime Minister and the Treasurer, but I managed to catch her just before AM finished, the Finance Minister that is, to talk about the dollars and cents the Federal Budget has just handed out, has just tried to save and where their priorities actually lie. I spoke with economist Peter Martin about the Budget about half an hour ago, on your $300 energy rebate, he had this to say.

GRAB [PETER MARTIN]: I think quick and dirty is the reason. The person who matters to Chalmers is not you or me, not the person who’s getting the rebate, but the Governor of the Reserve Bank.

SHIRLEY: Finance Minister, is that who you primarily have in mind with this budget measure?

SENATOR THE HON KATY GALLAGHER, MINISTER FOR FINANCE: Well, no I wouldn’t agree with that. I think what we’re trying to do is take a bit of sting out of those energy bills. Last year, we did it in a way that provided it to concession card holders. But we recognise those pressures, the cost-of-living pressures, really, are experienced up and down the income scale. And this was an effective way of providing that cost-of-living relief without adding to the inflation challenge. And you know, it’s I guess a fine balancing act that we’re trying to play with. You know, making sure we can deal with cost-of-living pressures for people, because they’re real and people are under the pump, but with our eye on the inflation issue as well. And this is an effective way, it worked last year, to provide that relief and you know not increase the inflation challenge.

SHIRLEY: I suppose though, people are wondering – and maybe those who are very rich as well as very poor – why is it that someone on $500,000 will get the same energy rebate as someone on $50,000?

GALLAGHER: Well I mean, when you get out of the concession card – you know, essentially, people who get concessions on their energy bill already – the best and most efficient way to deliver this relief is in a broad-based way. So, that’s the decision we’ve taken. It recognises that there’s a lot of people – and you go to the extreme ends – there’s a lot of people across Australia, millions of households who don’t qualify in either of those categories who are doing it tough. And this is the most efficient way to provide some relief to them.

SHIRLEY: Is it the Treasury calculation, yours and that of the Treasurer, that this is the best chance you have of moderating inflation whilst giving some relief which will then hopefully lead to interest rate cuts?

GALLAGHER: Well, it’s certainly the advice of Treasury and the advice to the government when we were putting the government together, that this is a way that you can put downward pressure on inflation and provide cost-of-living relief. Yes, that is the advice to government and that’s the decision we took.

SHIRLEY: So, when you look at what other measures people were hoping for, I wonder about women’s safety, frontline protections, I think about other energy costs or support that they are facing right now – why did you rule out some things to add some extra federal money to?

GALLAGHER: Well, in the Budget we have put quite a bit of money, billions of dollars, into addressing women’s safety. We’ve put money into the community legal centres before their agreement expires, we’re putting money into housing. I mean, a budget can’t do everything in one year.

SHIRLEY: No, of course.

GALLAGHER: And so it is a balancing act, as you know Adam, of a range of decisions and a range of pressures. One of the things we’ve had to show is restraint and so part of the Budget, particularly in the net spending, is really unavoidable pressures, things that we have to do, and then the cost-of-living package, whilst we try and find room to provide support in other areas. And women’s safety is absolutely one of those areas.

SHIRLEY: Most of those frontline services, you’re talking the Domestic Violence Crisis Service locally, other services that provide emergency accommodation – they, at this point, can’t see anything additional for them. Is that the case and how do you explain that?

GALLAGHER: Well, many of those frontline services are funded by the State and Territory governments. So, in terms of the areas that we – and we work with State and Territory governments – and in the last couple of budgets, we’ve made sure that where we are a funding partner, we’re indexing those arrangements. I think in last year’s budget, one of the single biggest measures was making sure we are indexing community organisations who are providing services to the community, which was a very significant investment. But there is always more to do, Adam. And we will continue to work with women’s – and actually First Ministers, because this is actually on the National Cabinet agenda now – to look at how and where we can provide a constructive role. One of the areas we did fund in the Budget is this review of perpetrator research so that we can – and you know that’s one of the issues that we’ve been talking about in the last month as a country – and I think that’s going to be a really useful piece of work to help direct you know future investments. Because people I think are a bit tired of it always being dealing with it at the end of violence, rather than trying to stop violence occurring in the first place.

SHIRLEY: The Finance Minister amongst her responsibilities, Katy Gallagher, is our guest on Breakfast. My name’s Adam Shirley. Last night as well, Finance Minister, you forecast – I think it’s probably a billion dollars in savings – continuing to reduce consultancy, contractor work for the government. Labour hire. And trying to grow the Public Service. Roughly how many jobs will be created in the Public Service?

GALLAGHER: Look, I think the numbers that the paper, the Canberra Times is publishing today, are pretty accurate. So it’s about an additional 12,000 jobs that’ll go you know across a number of agencies and across a number of years.

SHIRLEY: Most of them in Canberra and the Canberra region? Knowing that there are other areas where public service jobs exist?

GALLAGHER: Yeah, that’s right. So, 62 per cent of the Public Service is outside the ACT, but that does mean that for a small place like ours, you know, to have 38 per cent of Commonwealth Public Service – it is the biggest employer in town. So, there would be you know substantial investment through those jobs in Canberra. And we’re really pleased with that because we know, when you attack the Public Service – as we’ve seen under Coalition governments – that has a consequential economic impact on the private sector here in Canberra. But it’s a bigger story that we’re trying to tell here, which is, you know, we have to have a Public Service that’s resourced to do the job Australians expect. That job’s getting harder, it’s getting more difficult, it’s getting more complex. And to believe that you can do that without adding staff to help you deliver it is just you know a completely unreasonable argument. So, it’s a lot of investment. We’re trying to reduce our reliance on contractors, consultants and labour hire. There’s about 9,000 jobs that have been converted from external labour into permanent public service jobs. And, most importantly, we’re seeing improvements in the delivery of services. Whether it be waits to get – you know, chat to somebody at Services Australia, whether it’s about getting your pension if you were in the armed forces and you’re a veteran, in all of these areas we’re seeing big improvements in service standards.

SHIRLEY: As you said, budgets are about choices. You can’t do everything for everyone. Significant funding to refurbish the AIS and the precinct and look into the future reno or building of the stadium there – but no funding for a convention centre or other key infrastructure at least now. Why not?

GALLAGHER: Well, I think you answered that at the outset, which is a budget can do a lot of things but it can’t do everything. We’ll continue to work with the Chief Minister and his team on you know what comes next for Canberra. There’s always a list. We think the investment in the AIS is really important. It’s going to be great for not only the nation’s capital, but that side of town. And you know, there’s no shortage of other projects. I mean there’s light rail, there’s the convention centre, there’s the stadium, there’s the theatre centre, there’s the hospital rebuild. I mean, these are all the infrastructure projects that I’m talking to the Chief Minister about and will continue to do so.

SHIRLEY: And to conclude I guess for this region, the roads, the footpaths, the active travel, which is I guess on a neighbourhood level – but it sounds like the Chief Minister was a bit let down there wasn’t more funding for that area of things. Why not?

GALLAGHER: Well, the Budget does have a new program around active travel and it’ll be open for State and Territory governments to apply for that funding. So we’re not at the decision point yet, but we’re certainly making the investment.

SHIRLEY: That’s the Finance Minister of Australia and ACT Senator Katy Gallagher on this year’s Federal Budget.