SUBJECT | Budget & Migration | 9 May 2023
Patricia Karvelas: Dan Tehan is the Shadow Minister for Immigration, welcome back to the program.
Dan Tehan: Pleasure to be with you, Patricia.
Karvelas: The government will officially record the first surplus in 15 years. It's a pretty significant moment, I think, for the country. Is it the moment you lose the claim of being the better economic managers?
Tehan: No, it's not, because it's based on higher taxes, and what we're going to see ultimately is bigger spending as well over the forward estimates. So, it's a one-off budget surplus based on the highest tax type that this nation has seen since 2008, when Wayne Swan was Treasurer. So what we're seeing is a traditional Labor budget. You're going to be taxed like you've never been taxed before and we're going to see spending in the out years which will see the budget plummet back into deficit again.
Karvelas: But, either way, in 15 years, the first surplus, something that in your decade in power your government didn't achieve.
Tehan: So, what we were on track to do was to have sustainable surpluses. You'll remember before the pandemic, we put the budget back into balance and then we were forecasting sustainable surpluses. What we're seeing here is a one off, due to tax receipts, the likes of which this nation hasn't seen since 2008, when Wayne Swan, the Labor Treasurer, was last in office. And what we're seen is one off and then the budget plummeting back into deficit.
Karvelas: You give the Government no credit for delivering tonight's surplus?
Tehan: What I would give them credit for is if there was ongoing budget surpluses, if there was a plan to deal with inflation, and if there was a plan to deal with the net overseas migration numbers that are going to hit 715,000, which are going to put pressure on housing, pressure on rents, are going to put pressure on hospital waiting lists, on surgery numbers, and which are going to put pressure on interest rates. That's what we need is a plan to deal with all those things, inflation and this surge in net overseas migration.
Karvelas: We know there'll be a significant boost to migration over the next two years before it slows again. There's been some commentary from your party of a big Australia by stealth, but the Government says they're not aiming for a big Australia. What's your evidence that this is a big Australia when actually the numbers, if you look at the forecast, do go down again?
Tehan: Well, the evidence is 715,000 over the next two years. And just to give your listeners a sense of that, Shane Oliver, the AMP economist, has said that that will require an extra 200,000 houses to be built and there is no sign of that. For your listeners who are sitting in congestion at the moment, whether it be driving over the West Gate Bridge or in other parts in other cities, they'll be sitting there saying, well, where's the plan to deal with the infrastructure that's required? And actually what we're going to see in this budget is infrastructure spending delayed. So, you're not going to see it improve, you're going to see delayed. They're going to say, where is the plan to deal with the pressure this is going to put on our health services right across the country, which are already under severe pressure.
Karvelas: All of those questions are absolutely relevant. But in terms of migration numbers, economist Chris Richardson says if we didn't have this level of migration, we would be in a recession. Do you accept that?
Tehan: What I would say is, that what the government needs to be doing is bringing in young skilled workers to deal with the workforce shortages that we currently have. That is not happening. We're still…
Karvelas: Okay. But the numbers of migrants coming Dan Tehan is clearly helping our economy at a time of great difficulty. We would be in a recession without them.
Tehan: No, Patricia, what all the experts say is if you bring in young, skilled workers to address workforce shortages, that helps your economy. If you just bring in 715,000 people without a plan, not addressing those skills workforce short…
Karvelas: Well some of them are skilled, are you suggesting they're all unskilled?
Tehan: You ask the government how many of them are skilled and what professions they're going to. They have no idea. All they've said is they’re going to bring in 715,000 people with no plan to do it.
Karvelas: I want to go back to the concept. Do you accept, though, that migrants are helping us avoid a recession in this country?
Tehan: So, I'll go back to what I said, Patricia. You bring in young, skilled workers that are addressing workforce shortages, that helps your economy. If you bring in 715,000 people without a plan, it doesn’t, it’s actually a negative to your economy…
Karvelas: So Chris Richardson's wrong?
Tehan: No, I'm not saying Chris Richardson’s wrong, I'm just saying that a blanket statement like that actually needs to be defined because when you look at what the Productivity Commission has said and others, it's the type of migrants that bring coming into a nation which helps build a sustainable economy. What Labor's doing is putting pressure on our economy in the longer term, on housing, on rents, on our health services, on congestion, which we're going to suffer for over the coming years.
Karvelas: On Thursday, Peter Dutton will offer his budget reply. What does he need to do here? Does this need to be a significant offering from him?
Tehan: Well, what he'll do is offer an alternative to this big taxing, big spending approach that...
Karvelas: Are we going to get a good, big policy announcement?
Tehan: Look, I'll leave that up to the Leader of the Opposition…
Karvelas: Does he need to be, cause you’ve talked about, let let me just explain to our listeners to why this matters, you’ve been concerned about what the Liberal brand is offering and the way to rebuild, is this a moment?
Tehan: Well we had a moment when he gave his last budget in reply, where he did offer an alternative policy when it came about allowing pensioners to be able to work without it impacting upon them. And that was actually a policy which was adopted by the Government. So I'm sure that Peter Dutton will have some alternatives that he'll be offering up, again, but I'll let him…
Karvelas: But is it important to offer, I mean as a, as a concept to offer something significant at this point?
Tehan: As a concept, oppositions need to be offering an alternative, and you've got to be doing the policy work to make sure that you can offer that alternative. Absolutely. That's what you've got to do…
Karvelas: What's the danger if you don't? I mean, this is the thing you're being currently criticised for being the ‘Noalition’ I know this is a political term by the Prime Minister, but either way it appears to be gaining some traction. Does that worry you?
Tehan: Look, I think it's really important that we do the policy work and everyone's doing that and we've got a process in place and it's just vital that by the end of the year, beginning of next year, that we're starting to offer those alternative policies so people know the clear distinction. But I think what we're going to be able to get on Thursday night is a very clear distinction because we won't be going after a big taxing, big spending, big Australia agenda. That won't be our approach.
Karvelas: There's a lot of cost of living relief in this budget. It is very much targeted at largely welfare recipients. That's what we know so far. Your colleague Angus Taylor described it as dividing Australia on AM, is it really dividing Australia to target your assistance to the most vulnerable?
Tehan: Well, the most important thing is, is to provide cost of living relief across the board. So now, obviously, to those who need it the most you want to be providing, but you need to be providing it across the board.
Karvelas: But if there's an inflation crisis, you can't be giving it to the middle class. You need to be targeted, don’t you?
Tehan: That's absolutely right, and that's why the plan has to attack inflation, because one off payments will be a very short term measure in addressing these pressures. What you need is to be able to provide sustainable relief. And that comes from an inflation plan. And that's what Angus has been arguing for a long, long time now, that the government needs a plan to deal with inflation, because if you do that, that is the most sustainable way that you will deal with these cost of living pressures.
Karvelas: Would the Coalition really consider voting against an increase to the unemployment benefit? Now that would look rather cruel wouldn’t it?
Tehan: We have to see the whole budget. We've got to consider it. I mean, all we've seen is speculation. We don't know whether the speculation is right or not. There was talk, there was speculation for older people on unemployment benefits...
Karvelas: Let me help you with something that's not speculation, which is single parents. They will see a boost officially announced, not speculation. Will you support it? Do you think you should support it?
Tehan: It is speculation because we haven’t seen….
Karvelas: No it’s not, the prime minister announced it yesterday.
Tehan: Well the prime minister also said over in the United Kingdom that those who will be eligible for the FTA visas will start at the end of May, now, we understand that that's not the case. So let's see….
Karvelas: I can assure you, single mothers, single parents, I should say, they're largely mothers, but they are parents, there are some men on that payment, too, that they will get a boost. Do you think that's fair enough?
Tehan: Okay, Patricia, but the prime minister also said that we're going to see a $275 cut to our power bills, right, and now he won’t even say those words…
Karvelas: You are avoiding my question Dan Tehan.
Tehan: …because I want to be able to see it in the budget. I know that, you know, we should be able to take the prime minister at his word. And there's been a lot of speculation around this budget, but I'm just giving you two occasions where it, sadly and I wish it wasn't so, where he said something and now it's not the case, so let's wait and see what's in the budget tonight.
Karvelas: What's happening to the Liberal Party in Victoria? Does it need a federal intervention?
Tehan: What the Liberal Party needs to do is focus on the Andrews Government. I mean, it's corrupt. We've seen that from the corruption hearings. It's going broke. We’ve seen that from the figures there. The congestion is terrible….
Karvelas: Should there be a place for people like Moira Deeming in the party?
Tehan: Look, what the Victorian opposition needs to do is just focus on the Andrews Government. The Andrews Government…
Karvelas: Answer my question, Moira Deeming, is there a place for her in the party?
Tehan: I'm answering your question Patricia…
Karvelas: No you’re not.
Tehan: Patricia, I am. These are matters for the state opposition. But I say to them, focus on the rotten government in Victoria, because it's rotten to the core when it comes to corruption, congestion, there are serious, serious health issues right across the board, the roads are crumbling, you look at something like the Westgate Freeway, the upgrade there with the tunnel….
Karvelas: You’ve avoided my question, so let me ask another one. There's going to be a byelection in Stuart Robert’s seat of Fadden, what's the test there? Given all the stuff you’ve been saying should there be a swing to the Liberal Party?
Tehan: Well, the test always is to win the seat. And so…
Karvelas: Is any win a win, or do you need to actually increase that margin?
Tehan: The test is to win the seat, but there's another important test to it as well, and that is we've got to make sure that we get a good candidate, a good local candidate…
Karvelas: Should it be a woman?
Tehan:… should be able to present the electorate well. Ultimately that'll be up to the LNP in the seat, but we want a really good local candidate who…
Karvelas: Do you say local because Roshena Campbell was not local in the Aston byelection and you think it was a problem?
Tehan: No. I've always thought that the best thing you can do is get good local candidates. Now there will be some times when they can't occur and what happened in Aston was that we had a very short period of time and Roshena Campbell was an outstanding candidate. And it's a real shame that we're not seeing her in the federal parliament because she would have made a significant contribution…
Karvelas: So any win’s a win in Fadden?
Tehan: Any win’s a win. As you know, I'm a mad Richmond supporter and if we had won by one point or 100 points on Saturday afternoon, I would have been very happy. So you take the win. But the most important thing is you get good people and good candidates into the parliament that you know are going to make a real contribution to a Coalition government in the future.
Karvelas: Dan Tehan, thank you.