Fri, 22 Sep 2023 - 16:24



Shadow Minister for Science and the Arts

Shadow Minister for Government Services and the Digital Economy

Manager of Opposition Business in the House




22 SEP 2023


TOM CONNELL: Joining me now is Shadow Government Services Minister Paul Fletcher. Thanks for your time. A lot of talk from your side of politics already. Well, Labor didn't do much to achieve this, but respected economist Chris Richardson says your side didn't either. Basically, this is inflation and good prices for things that we sell.

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, the facts are that this surplus is a consequence of extraordinary increases in the price of key commodities like natural gas, iron ore, coal due to a range of factors, including obviously global instability and Treasury having forecast much lower figures for those commodities then were actually achieved. It's also a consequence of the fact that when we got through the pandemic and exited with an unemployment rate of 3.9%, that reflected very good management by the then Morrison Liberal government. And when you've got low unemployment, that means higher tax revenues, it also means lower social services payments. So a couple of factors there where Labour's been very lucky, to inherit good management from the previous Morrison Liberal national government and also very lucky with commodity prices. The real test for Labor is whether they can continue to deliver these kinds of outcomes or whether this is really just a one off. I think it's very, very likely that in fact they've just been lucky and they don't really have a plan to manage the economy going forward.

TOM CONNELL: When you say the test is that they can keep doing it, I mean, you weren't on track to keep doing it because you've got a tax to GDP cap of 23.9%, which you like talking about. And the spending trajectory under the Coalition was going to be well higher than that. And indeed that blew out during Covid and it wasn't brought back to pre-COVID levels.

PAUL FLETCHER: Hang on. No, so let let's look at the historical 

TOM CONNELL: What part of that's inaccurate?

PAUL FLETCHER: No, Let's look at the historical record. We inherited a big deficit when we came to government in 2013. We systematically narrowed that year after year. Great work by Mathias Cormann, by treasurers including Joe Hockey, Josh Frydenberg and Scott Morrison and of course then we hit 2019, hit the pandemic in 2020. And of course, there was a remarkable increase in spending to deal with those unprecedented circumstances.

TOM CONNELL: Yeah but that didn't get brought back. If you look at the last budget handed down by the Coalition, that stays well above 23.9% and pre-COVID levels that was in your last budget.

PAUL FLETCHER: The point I make is look at our track record. We came to government with a huge deficit. We steadily narrowed that until we got to balance. We then hit by the biggest exogenous shock that our economy had seen since World War Two that did produce unprecedented spending. And that is but I might say spending that is less than labor was almost every week pressing us to engage in 

TOM CONNELL: Sure. But that spending and the metric you like to talk about on the tax side, 23.9% got up to 26 and was still in the high 25 when you left office after Covid and wasn't coming back down to 23.9. So when you were back, if you were going to stay in power, the point is unless you got these magical improvements to the budget which Labor are getting now, you too would have been handing down deficits.

PAUL FLETCHER: I think the Australian people can look at the track records over decades of the Liberal and National parties on the one hand and Labor on the other. And what you see is that one side of politics cares about fiscal discipline. That's been our consistent track record, including over the last nine years in government. And Labor has a consistent practise of spending more than comes in and looking to always increase taxes because they never demonstrate discipline on the spending side. And I very confidently predict that we are seeing exactly the same pattern from this government. Let's wait and see what the next year brings and the next year after that. But we're going to be seeing a lack of discipline and higher taxes on Australians.

TOM CONNELL: Want to get your thoughts quickly on the Covid inquiry. Labor says a Royal Commission would have been too long. We need something back sooner. Reaction to that?

PAUL FLETCHER: I think Australians would rightly be very cynical and frankly disgusted by what Prime Minister Albanese has done here. He specifically excluded his mates. The Labor premiers. Daniel Andrews in particular, responsible for one of the biggest restrictions on personal liberties seen anywhere in the world. Those things ought to be investigated. Of course, it makes sense to have a proper and comprehensive investigation of what happened, but what this looks like is an exercise in once more engaging in political point scoring against the former Morrison government which did a very good job in getting Australia through challenging circumstances. Were we perfect? Of course not. But there is no rule book for this. We're certainly up to have our record examined. But the idea that you carve out the state governments and particularly the Labor state governments, this is a cynical, nakedly political exercise. Australians will rightly be disgusted.

TOM CONNELL: All right. And just finally, the Coalition's gearing up for a big fight on Labour's new misinformation Bill. How much similarity, though, is there between that bill and the one that was introduced when you were minister? So this was new disinformation laws during Covid, giving ACMA new powers to hold tech companies to account for allowing misinformation. That's basically what the path Labor's going down, isn't it?

PAUL FLETCHER: Let's be clear, we didn't introduce a bill and we never would have introduced this bill. This bill is fundamentally wrong in so many ways. An incredibly wide definition of misinformation. A series of carve outs for statements by academics or government officials. Those automatically can't be misinformation, and it gives the Australian Communications and Media Authority wide powers. Can I say, as a former Communications minister, I do not support this bill. It is deeply misconceived. Our spokesman, David Coleman, has been doing an excellent job in explaining the weaknesses of it. The Coalition has root and branch opposed to it. Labor should rip this bill up.

TOM CONNELL: So you didn't, I'm just trying to clarify where you're at. You didn't introduce one but your press release says you are announcing new legislation to provide ACMA with new powers around misinformation.

PAUL FLETCHER: That's right, and had we stayed in government, we would have gone through and developed legislation that made sense. This legislation makes no sense. It gives very wide powers to the ACMA.It has a whole range of carve-outs for statements by government officials and academics while frankly putting a government department into the position of making judgements and statements by ordinary people. It's very troubling. Labor has not got the balance here right at all.
They've completely stuffed this up and we are root and branch opposed to it.

TOM CONNELL: Paul Fletcher, thanks for your time.