Jennifer Westacott interview on The Today Show with Deborah Knight

03 April 2019

Event Jennifer Westacott interview on The Today Show with Deborah Knight

Speaker Jennifer Westacott

Date Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Topics Budget 2019 and Newstart



Deborah Knight, host: Well, a return to surplus, massive tax cuts and help for small business - they are just some of the big announcements in Josh Frydenberg's first budget as Treasurer. And he is praying it won't be his last with the federal election, of course, set to be announced possibly as soon as Sunday. So, for some reaction, I'm joined now by Jennifer Westacott from the Business Council of Australia and Cassandra Goldie from the Australian Council of Social Service. Good morning to you both. 

Jennifer Westacott, chief executive Business Council of Australia: Good morning.

Cassandra Goldie, chief executive Australian Council of Social Service: Good morning. 

Deborah: You were lucky enough to be in the lock-up, what a wonderful thing that is - hours and hours of pouring over the documents. 

Jennifer: Exactly.

Deborah: But first off Cassandra to you, the Treasurer insists that bringing forward personal tax cuts will actually benefit those on low incomes. You disagree, why?

Cassandra: Well, the people who are on the lowest incomes are people who are unable to get any paid work - they are on Newstart. I mean it's a travesty that this budget didn't do anything to lift up the incomes finally of people who are on Newstart after 25 years. If you're on a modest income, yes $50,000.

Deborah: It's still money in the pocket.

Cassandra: It is. It's about $20 a week. But I think, the large scale tax package, the billions spent on that and what we haven't done. Nothing on dental. I mean, for people on really tight budgets what you're really worried about is can I afford to get my teeth fixed? Can I afford to go to the doctor? What about childcare and of course aged care? Too big a gap. So, we are very worried about what this budget is doing, is it's sending money out the door, short term really, in terms of cash in your hand and then we're not securing the revenue we're going need for big essential services. And I don't think that's what the community is really looking - is that guarantee that you don't have to worry about will you be able to pay for, sometimes, big costs. If you can't get your teeth done well that's really tough. And that's in the wealthiest country in the world now that we've got people who can't even afford to get their teeth fixed. 

Deborah: I mean, it's all good and well to talk about a surplus but when you've got a household budget that's in deficit there are big concerns there. Jennifer, what's the issue for you, because I know that there is a real lack of structural reform in here. Is that your biggest concern?

Jennifer: Look, I think, on the whole this is a good budget - it's responsible. It's great to see us getting back into surplus. I mean, you know, it really matters. People sort of think, does it matter? It matters enormously. 

Deborah: Will it be delivered though?

Jennifer: Well, that's up to the discipline of whoever wins the election. But you know, the sort of things that Cassandra is talking about, trying to do any of that while you are, kind of, constantly in deficit is almost impossible. There's some great spending on infrastructure out in regional communities. People are crying out for it.

Deborah: Will it create jobs?

Jennifer: Look you know, you go out to western Sydney at the moment - I was out there a couple of weeks ago at the new airport, the amount of work that gets created off the back of those huge projects. In Townsville where they are building the stadium, the amount of contract work. Don't underestimate how much this flows through to job creation. And look, I hear Cassandra on the very, very low income but I'm very disappointed that Newstart once again has been kicked down the road. These are very, very disadvantaged people. But, you know, we shouldn't underestimate that for someone earning $45,000 to get a tax cut, I mean it is money in their pocket. Wages are sluggish, we've got to do a lot more structural work in the economy to get wages up, but, you know, I think we can't underestimate that people in those low and moderate incomes - they need a break.

Deborah: It's money that counts.

Cassandra: Look it is money that counts but the choices we're making here. The tax package overall, when it's all in place, the people who are really getting the most money are people on higher incomes. If you're on $200,000, you're going to get about $200 per week. When it's all in place. This is one of the biggest tax cut packages we've seen. This was a choice, Jennifer. We could have absolutely lifted Newstart. You know, all of us have agreed, that is where...if you're talking about tough, tough lives, that's really the group of people that are most affected by that. 

Jennifer: But they shouldn't underestimate...

Cassandra: And the people on modest incomes, as I say, go out there and ask people what they really wanted when we talk about, for example, aged care and the number of people who are trying to get their parents’ home care packages - just 10,000 in this budget? The gap is actually 100,000 today, let alone the outcome of the royal commission [crosstalk].

Jennifer: When we talk to people out in the regions, you know, they just say they can't make ends meet, you know, people who are working. I agree with Cassandra about the Newstart stuff and that we should be doing more on dental. But you know, I don't think we should underestimate putting money into people's pockets - doing that big structural reform of removing those tax brackets. These are incentive sucking tax brackets. You know, people feel like they are getting ahead and then they get a big tax bill. But don't forget someone earning $200,000 is going to pay $56,000 in tax. We still have a very progressive tax system.

Deborah: And it's framed within the election so they'll have to vote for the government to get it. So we'll wait and see obviously within that document too. Thank you so much for joining us this morning Cassandra and Jennifer.



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