DEBORAH KNIGHT, HOST: Now they've had a two week break, I've had a two week break. We're all back time for Question Time with the Energy Minister, Angus Taylor, and Shadow Minister of Agriculture and Resources, Joel Fitzgibbon. Fellas, great to talk.
ANGUS TAYLOR, MINISTER FOR ENERGY AND EMISSIONS REDUCTION: Great to have you back.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: Welcome back, Deb.
KNIGHT: Good to be back with you. Lots to talk about. Now let's start with the economy. The Treasurer delivered the very bleak economic update yesterday. He's just got up to the podium at the National Press Club as well to outline some of the measures that the government might consider taking into the future. Tax cuts, Angus, they've got to be a possibility, they've got to be done.
ANGUS TAYLOR, MINISTER FOR ENERGY AND EMISSIONS REDUCTION: Well, we believe in lower taxes, as you know, Deb. That's a fundamental platform of the Liberal and National Parties
KNIGHT: Are you going to bring forward the tax cuts?
TAYLOR: The absolute key focus now has to be getting Australians back into work, jobs growing and getting the economy going. That positions us because it ensures that people have jobs, which of course is crucial in itself, but also means that we're in a position to deal with our heightened debt, and that needs a growing economy. So that's the focus and that means taking away constraints on businesses. We're getting on with the job. We are a believer in low taxes, and we'll continue to focus on making sure business is in a position to invest and employ.
KNIGHT: And do you think that we will see, because obviously this review - this budget review, the numbers were brought down before the situation in Victoria before we've seen the new cases in New South Wales as well. So, they're quite optimistic in the sense that the six week lockdown in Victoria particularly could last for a lot longer than that. Unemployment reaching a record high of 9.25 per cent in December. The numbers could be a lot worse than what we're talking about here. Could we see - do you think JobKeeper and JobSeeker, the tiered reduction, do you think that's coming too soon?
TAYLOR: Well, no, I don't think so. I mean, I think Australians understand that we had to act swiftly and decisively, and we did but we also have to get the economy moving back to normal as quickly as we reasonably can. And clearly there are challenges in Victoria. There's no denying that. But I think it's also very clear to Australians that we have to get businesses going wherever we can, people back into work wherever we can. We've got to be careful about it. But we're also, you know, we're seeing in New South Wales much better at managing this tracing tracking at quarantining than we were and New South Wales is seeing the benefits of that.
KNIGHT: And Joel, Labor will have to back them any plan for tax cuts to come forward couldn't you? I mean, you've been supportive of the government policy. You've been in lockstep in many measures, even though Jim Chalmers, the shadow Treasurer, didn't hold back yesterday having a dig saying "well what's the plan?"
FITZGIBBON: We have been supportive, Deb, despite the imperfections of the package, and mistakes will always be made when you're rolling out in a hurry. These responses to crisis situations, whether it was the Global Financial Crisis or or this current pandemic. But tax cuts are an economically efficient way to stimulate the economy. They, of course, put money in people's pockets, they put money in the pockets of business.
KNIGHT: Well, Labor has previously opposed income tax cuts. So you'd back it if they came through this time round?
FITZGIBBON: While you'd recall, Deb, that in the early months after the federal election we were calling upon the government to bring forward certain stages of the tax cuts because the economy was struggling even before COVID and we were looking to support them in an attempt to stimulate the economy. So, no we've never been opposed to tax cuts. In fact, we've been arguing for them.
KNIGHT: Do you think it's childish of people like Kevin Rudd who posted a graph on Twitter yesterday comparing the nation'd debt between the financial crisis when he was PM and now? I mean, really, do you need to have that sort of imput? It seems a bit a bit childish to me for Kevin Rudd to be doing that.
FITZGIBBON: Well, when reflecting on these things that you've got to understand that unlike the almost universal support the current government has received from the now Opposition with their pandemic response. When we were in government and doing our very best to bring the Australian economy through the Global Financial Crisis, we didn't receive the support of the Opposition of the day. That was disappointing; that's disappointing now. And, I mean, we would have loved to have had the sort of support from the Opposition of the day that they've had from us this time around.
TAYLOR: Well, I mean, let's be clear about the facts here. Net debt is a third of what it is across the average of OECD countries which is an extraordinary position and that's only possible because of the hard work we've done over recent years to get the budget into a strong position where we could handle a crisis like this. But look, the key to managing debt now is a growing economy. People back in work, businesses back investing and employing, that has to be the focus. Taking away red tape, taking away all the impediments on businesses that stopped them from growing and investing. And that's our focus.
KNIGHT: Now COVID, your electorate of Hume, Angus, covers a bit of the south of Sydney and into the Southern Tablelands, including areas like Liverpool, which has been declared a hotspot, concerning for you and your constituents.
TAYLOR: Yeah, I mean, we've escaped the worst of it. But I have to say I think the New South Wales government is doing a good job on this. And we're seeing the contrast now as to what a good job they are doing, where they've been tracking the cases that we're seeing, and they've been tracking them very effectively. We saw a massive testing regime put into place very quickly around Picton in the my electorate soon after that outbreak and a huge amount of testing that's gone on. And, you know, I think people are taking great comfort on the way the New South Wales Government is handling that we've got to make sure we're disciplined about this though coming in the coming weeks and months. That's absolutely crucial.
KNIGHT: Yeah we can't get complacent and we can't have people like this woman, this absolute dill, Eve Black. You would have it, she posted on her Facebook page. We played on the Today Show – I've played the audio of it here – but coming up to the border crossing trying to come from Victoria into New South Wales and basically getting waved through and calling COVID a scam-demic. And I mean, can you believe, Joel, that you've got people like this who think it's all a hoax, number one, and then are prepared to sort of tried on with the coppers of the border crossings?
FITZGIBBON: Yeah, Deb, but it's hard to that whether to be angry at her or just feel sorry for her. I mean, get a life woman. I just can't believe what she did. But whatever have you think of her, one thing is certain. she should be feeling absolutely ashamed of herself. Sadly, it appears otherwise, she's happy to post this today.
KNIGHT: She's proud of it.
FITZGIBBON: Yeah, looks to be proud of it. And that's a shocker. Just very quickly. Can I say on what Angus said about debt. The debt – the net debt was higher before we went into the pandemic then it was when they won office in 2013. That is just a fact, Angus, and you know it...
TAYLOR:...So the deficit, you know, you know that the deficit had basically gone when the pandemic hit us. Now that put us in a position to manage this. And that's why our net debt is a third of comparable countries. That's the truth of the matter. And look, you have to go back to the facts, we are in a strong position because of the hard work we've done. None of us like to have debt and we would prefer we didn't have it, but we have what we have. And now the key is to grow the economy, to make sure we've got all of those policies going into place that allow businesses to get on and invest and employ.
KNIGHT: We do need to have cooperation to ensure that we can get our economy up and running, that is for sure. And we do need to have cooperation on climate policy. And that's something that Anthony Albanese kept talking about. Joel keeps talking about wanting to work with the government on the issue of climate. Have you got support from your colleagues for your push to adopt the government's medium term emissions target yet? Have you got everyone on board?
FITZGIBBON: I believe it is evident, Deb, that there is a very important conversation going on within the Labor Party. And central to that is to find some a bipartisan position so we can put these silly climate wars and political opportunity behind us and work together to get some sensible responses in place that take meaningful action on carbon emissions but do no harm to our economy, and do no harm traditional jobs in this country...
KNIGHT: ...Are you confident that Labor will adopt the government's emissions target?
FITZGIBBON: Well I'm very confident that Anthony Albanese will continue to work with me in extending that bipartisan hand. I mean, we've offered to support the same policy that the current government has itself supported in the past, but has not been able to get through their party room. That's what we are saying. We are saying let's move on this issue in a way which is positive for the Australian economy, not negative for the Australian economy.
KNIGHT: There you go. Angus, in lockstep?
TAYLOR: Well is there agreement within the coalition? There's no question about that. If we're going to have bipartisanship though, we need agreement within the Labor Party. Look, Joel has seen the light and that's fantastic. Labor took policies to the last election that were sneaky carbon taxes that were going to raise the cost of energy, and he and some of his colleagues have rightly taken the view that those policies need to be dumped and we need to have bipartisan targets. Well, we embrace that. We applaud it. Go hard, Joel. Can you, can you get all of your side on side?
FITZGIBBON: The problem is Deb, Angus is quick to say all of that, but he doesn't have a policy in place to achieve the target he is setting for himself. So what we're saying is, well, let's work together to fix that. Let's do it in a way which is a good for Australian jobs.
KNIGHT: Alright, Now quickly...
TAYLOR: ...so you do want a carbon tax, Joel? I mean look, let's be clear here. If we can get a joint target, we're going to achieve our targets. We've achieved our 2020 targets. And we can do that without raising the cost of energy. And that's the focus of the government. We would we would dearly love Labor to embrace our policies on this.
KNIGHT: All right now let's have a bit of fun just to end things here. We had a bit of a fun topic on the show yesterday talking about petty revenge and some of the stories we heard were pretty funny. One woman cut her ex-husbands hair and put a smiley face on the back after he cheated on her. He didn't even realise. Now there's a story today about a woman who is divorcing her husband of 13 years, ending the marriage because she's sick of him leaving the dishes in the sink. Is that a crime that you've committed at your place, Angus?
TAYLOR: Well Deb, there's only one thing worse than fighting over putting dishes in the dishwasher and that's having a broken dishwasher. And we've got a broken dishwasher at home at the moment we have had for the last week. And I have to say this is wreaking havoc. But fortunately we've got a few uni student kids home at the moment and...
KNIGHT: ...Put them to work
TAYLOR: They've been put to work, but we're certainly looking forward to having the dishwasher back.
KNIGHT: I bet. How about you Joel?
FITZGIBBON: Deb, I was terrified you're going to ask us what is our favorite ABBA song. I'm not relieved by the challenge you've set. All I can say is that I packed the dishwasher before I went to bed last night, I unpacked it when I got up this morning and I just basically do what I'm told.
KNIGHT: Alright, I might ask your daughter Grace when I go into the newsroom next at nine and see if you are as good a boy as you claim but nonetheless...
FITZGIBBON: ...Well you ask her how tidy she can be.
KNIGHT: Yes, dad's revenge. Excellent. Good on you fellas. Thanks so much. We'll talk again next week.
FITZGIBBON: Thanks Deb.