SUBJECTS: Federal Budget, Budget impact on the Upper Hunter, Government cuts, drought funding, Hunter infrastructure projects overlooked.
JESS ROUSE: Last night Treasurer Josh Frydenberg handed down the Budget. We caught up with New England MP Barnaby Joyce this morning and now we are going to catch up with Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon who says the Budget isn’t just a statement about the Commonwealth accounts but a statement of the Government’s values and this budget pretty much shows their main priority is getting re-elected in May. Joel joins me on the line this morning. Good morning, how are you doing Joel?
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FORESTRY AND SHADOW MINISTER FOR RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: Very good, great to be with you Jess.
ROUSE: Now what does this Budget say about the current Government Joel?
FITZGIBBON: It says that is has an eye on the election day. It wants people to believe it’s changed its view of the world but what’s important is what it’s done in the last five budgets cutting health funding, education funding, skills funding et cetera leaving low income earners languishing at the bottom of the pile but now wants us to believe that it is offering something different but the numbers in the Budget tell a different story. It hasn’t restored funding fully to any of those areas of investment and therefore doesn’t really see – I mean it’s not thinking of the future of our country and investing in people.
ROUSE: Now the big ticket item that I think stood out to every Australian last night was the tax relief, that $1000 around about that you’ll get back at tax time. Is that something Labor would be putting forward or maybe doing one better?
FITZGIBBON: Most of it is Labor’s policy. We have committed to these tax cuts for some time and we are not unhappy that the government has now embraced our policy although it’s still ignoring people largely under $40,000 each year and they are the people who need it most and it’s disgraceful the way they have punished unemployed people in the budget. They have this one off energy supplement which is funny in itself because they abolished it and we opposed the abolition of it and now they say they are bringing it back and giving it to low income earners and pensioners et cetera but they are excluding the unemployed as if every person who is unemployed deserves to be punished and we know there are many sorts of unemployed people and many of those aren’t unemployed though any fault of their own so that’s very disappointing but they have matched most of our tax cuts and of course our focus has always been on the lower and the middle whereas as you will recall, the government has been focused on high income earners and big corporations. Remember when they were going to give a $17 billion tax cuts to the four biggest banks in this country.
ROUSE: The $75 and about $125 if you’re a couple to go toward power bills that makes a little tiny dent but let’s be honest power bills are continuing to go up. $75 bucks isn’t going to make a massive difference when it comes to energy, climate change there really wasn’t much said last night.
FITZGIBBON: And a one-off small hand out won’t go astray but the real way of fixing energy prices is to drive them down rather than to sit back and allow them to continue to rise and this Government has had 13 or 14 energy policies in the last six years and no wonder we have investment uncertainty and therefore no wonder we have continuing rises in energy prices.
ROUSE: Among the things we were looking out for, looking at the Upper Hunter from last night’s budget was any sort of funding or anything to help our drought affected farmers. $6.3 billion for drought support was announced last night also an emergency natural disaster relief fund which is also a good thing.
FITZGIBBON: Some of the emergency relief fund announcements for North West Queensland, in particular, are good and we support them, we welcome them. But this drought money, this $6 billion, again is a pea and thimble trick. The Government likes to put a headline number on these drought assistance programs. What that number, of course, represents is the capital value of all the concessional loans that are on offer, if they were all loaned. And history tells us these loans haven’t been taken up. It is like me saying to you I’ll give you a $100,000 loan, the interest in fact helps my budget bottom line, but I count the $100,000 as a giveaway in the budget. It is just misleading and it is very disappointing that the Government uses drought affected farmers in that way. And many farmers have told me, the last thing we need is more debt, more loans, it is not the solution to our problems. The real solution Jess, is long-term thinking and planning on drought resilience, something this Government still refuses to partake in.
ROUSE: And in terms of specific funding for projects in the Hunter Valley and the Upper Hunter, really there wasn’t an awful lot last night. We saw some funding for the M1 at Raymond Terrace, doesn’t affect us too much here in the Upper Hunter. There is funding as well for the route between Tenterfield and Newcastle. But in terms of things like the Singleton Bypass, Glendale Interchange, there was really nothing mentioned.
FITZGIBBON: Very disappointing Jess. I mean, Glendale Interchange, not that relevant to people in the Upper Hunter but very unusual that the 11 councils in the region unanimously identified the Glendale Interchange as priority number one. But the Singleton Bypass has been on the books for so long. It is, from my perspective, the most critical infrastructure project in the Upper Hunter and of course it has been overlooked again. Labor has committed $250 million to the project, we have got the Muswellbrook Bypass funded thanks to efforts at the state government level. I just don’t understand why Singleton was overlooked once again, and I don’t understand what we need to do to get this Government to sit up and realise this really important project for the Upper Hunter.
ROUSE: Lastly Joel, headed into the Federal Election in May, can we trust Labor more than the current government when it comes to the Budget?
FITZGIBBON: Well you can trust Labor more, because over the last five or six years the current Government has demonstrated consistently that it cannot be believed on its Budget projections, the surplus last night is wafer thin, based on heroic assumptions. Labor has done the hard yards, we have made some difficult decisions on tax, denying people some tax offset offerings we don’t believe are economically efficient nor necessarily deserved. We are going to use that money to keep the economy strong, to invest back in health and education and skills. The things that really matter for our future.
ROUSE: Hunter MP, Joel Fitzgibbon, a pleasure as always, thank you for joining us.
FITZGIBBON: Thank you Jess.