Event Jennifer Westacott interview with Michael Rowland, ABC News Breakfast
Speaker Jennifer Westacott
Date Wednesday, 3 April 2019
Topics Budget 2019 and Newstart
Michael Rowland, ABC News Breakfast, host: For more reaction now on Josh Frydenberg’s first budget we’re joined here at Parliament House by Cassandra Goldie, she’s the head of the Australian Council of Social Service and Jennifer Westacott, the head of the Business Council of Australia. Welcome to both of you. Talking lots about headlines this morning so I'm asking you firstly, both of you, your respective headlines out of this budget. Cassandra Goldie, starting with you?
Cassandra Goldie, chief executive, Australian Council of Social Service: Well, it’s a budget that’s turned its back on people on the lowest incomes in the country, and with the scale of this tax cut package, the largest we've seen for almost two decades, we're really worried what it is going to mean for cuts to essential services into the future. We have got big gaps in our services. Dental care – nothing there. A drop in the ocean on aged-care. Drop in the ocean on mental health when really, these big gaps in service system. So, we're very worried. For people on $200,000 plus, in the end they're going to get a fair bit at this tax cut package. We made a choice here. We're worried what it will mean both for people on lower incomes, nothing on Newstart. I mean, Michael, extraordinary, a travesty.
Michael: Okay, I want to talk about that a little bit later, but I will just get your headline, Jennifer?
Jennifer Westacott, chief executive, Business Council: I think basically it is a good budget. I think it’s responsible. I think people underestimate the importance of getting back into surplus. The sorts of thing that Cassandra’s talking about, you can't do that if you’re in endless deficits. You just cannot get ahead. The tax cuts are huge reform. Money in the pockets of low and moderate income earners. People earning $50,000, you know, those people are paying bills, they’re working hard. We have got to remember that we still have a progressive tax system. Someone earning $200,000 after the tax cut will be paying $56,000 in tax. Huge infrastructure spend, that is a massive job creator in regional Australia. Good stuff for small business. I'm disappointed, as is Cassandra about Newstart, but I think when you look at the balance of the budget, it’s got a fair bit of pro-growth which you need to pay for the sorts of things that Cassandra is talking about, which I agree with. But it's also giving back in some relief. And there's some good skills stuff, the 80,000 apprenticeships. Finally talking about VET. Gosh, how long have I been coming on this show talking about VET!
Michael: A long time.
Jennifer: You know, on all, on the average pretty good.
Michael: Okay let's talk about Newstart in a budget with surpluses of $45 billion over four years, how odd is it that okay we've got tax cuts for low to middle income earners and extra tax relief for high income tax earners. How odd is it that not a single dime has been offered to increase the miserably low, in many people’s eyes including John Howard, Arthur Sinodinos, Newstart level, Cassandra?
Cassandra: Well, it’s extraordinary, isn’t it. I mean, we’ve got, as I say in the end, with this tax cut package for people on the wealthiest incomes are going to get about $200 per week extra and not a cent. And even that token $75 one-off payment for people on the pension, they excluded people on Newstart. I mean, it’s just really mean and nasty and I think extremely out of touch with where an overwhelming community and expert view is here. We are, quite rightly, very unhappy about it. We're very angry about it. We know all the people I've spent time with over these years, talking to them about it. We've got people going without food, Michael, in a very wealthy country, and we are deliberately choosing to do that. There are 110,000 single parents on this payment. We have got one in four people with a disability or a sickness. This idea that, you know, if you're on Newstart, you're lazy. It’s completely out of touch with the reality. We could have afforded to do it. There's no but to this. It should have been done and we should all, I think for people who are going to get the tax cut, who don't really need that money, why don't you say – keep my tax cut and let's give it to people who really need it on Newstart.
Michael: It's not good enough, is it Jennifer?
Jennifer: I think that it's important that we don't pit Australians against one another. The Newstart stuff is just something that has to get done and, you know, Cassandra and I have been as one on this. It's really very hard for people to get back into the labour market if you are so disadvantaged, you're so struggling and you can't pay the rent and you become homeless. You can't buy the clothes and you can't keep well. The other point Michael, that I think everyone keeps forgetting about Newstart, is that people think it is temporary – 60 per cent of people on Newstart have been on it for two years, 28,000 Australians have been on Newstart for 10 years. That tells you something is really wrong with the way we're not, in addition to the payment, the way we're helping disadvantaged job seekers get back into the workforce. So, I don’t understand why we just keep kicking, both parties actually, have just kicked the can down the road on this and I think they've got to understand that for someone who is making these choices every day, it's very difficult. But I don't want us to be pitting Australians against one another. I want to see those middle income people get a break because they're paying their electricity bills, they're struggling. They feel like they're working and they're not getting ahead. These crippling tax brackets that just suck the incentive out of people. But I want to see the most disadvantaged people get ahead as well.
Michael: Okay, we're just about out of time, do you see any hope of Newstart being addressed, perhaps in the context of an election campaign, Cassandra Goldie?
Cassandra: Well, you know Michael, in the end, communities win. The community is led on marriage equality, they’re leading on climate change action and they will lead on finally tackling poverty in this country and I want the politicians to hear that if you aren't getting on board, you're out of touch. And overwhelmingly, the broad consensus is there to do it. It will happen. It's a travesty that it didn't happen last night.
Michael: Cassandra Goldie, Jennifer Westacott, thank you both for joining us this morning.
Jennifer: Thanks very much.