Television Interview with Natalie Barr – Sunrise – Friday 3 November 2023

SUBJECTS: Cost-of-living; Medicare bulkbilling; Rental assistance; Cheaper medicines; Cheaper Child Care; Fee-Free TAFE

NATALIE BARR: The Prime Minister has ruled out hand‑outs for struggling Australian households despite the cost‑of‑living remaining too high.

Anthony Albanese admits the issue is the number one pressure for families, but he won’t commit to a big cash splash ahead of the next election. He says extra relief will only make inflation worse. It comes as the Reserve Bank is tipped to lift interest rates yet again next week.

Let’s bring in Education Minister Jason Clare and Deputy Opposition Leader Sussan Ley. Good morning to both of you.

BARR: Jason, petrol prices are soaring, another interest rate hike is on the cards. Is it time to consider further cost‑of‑living relief beyond what was budgeted in May?

JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: G’day, Nat. Aussies are doing it tough, that’s the truth. We did more this week to make it easier for millions of Aussies to go and see the doctor for free. We did more last month with a big increase, the biggest increase in rental assistance for Aussies struggling to pay the rent in 30 years. The month before that we cut the cost of some medicines by 50 per cent. The month before that we were able to cut the cost of childcare by 13 per cent.

They’re all good things and inflation is coming down, wages are coming up. But this is not an area where it’s set and forget. We’ve always got to work here to make sure that we can help Aussies with the cost‑of‑living.

BARR: Sussan, do you think that’s good enough?

LEY: Well, Nat, I’m bewildered. It’s 530 days since the Prime Minister came to office and only yesterday he announced that cost‑of‑living would be his number one priority. Really? I think he’s out of touch. I mean has he been spending too much time in his Prime Ministerial jet? Is he just not up to it? Because right now Australians are being smashed, smashed by interest rate rises, rent rises, electricity rises, grocery price rises, fuel price rises, only to see a Prime Minister who says effectively, throwing up his hands, “There’s nothing more we can do to help you”. 

So I don’t know, Jason, do you think Australians are being left behind? Because that was the promise your Prime Minister made, that no one would be left behind when he came into office 530 days ago.

This is tough. You’re absolutely right. I agree with Jason on that point, Nat, it’s really tough for Australians out there right now.

BARR: Sussan, just this week the International Monetary Fund is trying to get governments, both Federal and State, to stop spending money on infrastructure projects, saying that is fuelling inflation and we’re going to have more interest rate rises. So wouldn’t extra public money, extra public help fuel inflation too?

LEY: Well it doesn’t have to. Domestic spending doesn’t have to fuel inflation. You take fuel, it’s a cost that’s built into everything. So if the price comes down for fuel, it comes down across the board.

But you’re right, Nat, the IMF has actually warned Australia, “Stop spending money”.  Jason says inflation’s coming down. I don’t think so. All of the experts are saying we’ve got another rate rise coming our way next week and possibly one after that. This is huge for mortgage holders, and they’re really anxious in the lead‑up to Christmas, and now you’ve got international agencies effectively pointing to this government and its management of the economy. And none of it is looking after hard‑working Australians who are casting around for help right now and feeling that they have a government that doesn’t understand what their life is like.

BARR: Exactly. Jason, we are being warned of more interest rate rises. People are hurting. Could you cut the fuel excise?

CLARE: The point I’d make is Australians deserve better than just the carping and the negativity that you get from Sussan and Peter Dutton and the Opposition here. Yes, people are doing it tough. We should be working together here to help.

BARR: They need something. So could you do that?

CLARE: That is not something the Government is considering at the moment. But as I said, there are a number of measures that we’ve taken already. The actions that we’ve taken have helped to cut the cost of childcare. They’ve meant that electricity bills are a lot lower than they otherwise would be. Cutting the cost of medicine, helping to make sure that people can go to the doctor for free.

BARR: They’re so high though, Jason.

CLARE: This is all important to know, right, making sure that people can do a course at TAFE for free as well. All of that is happening right now.

But I just say, with these big issues that effect everybody in the country, they expect the Labor Party and the Liberal Party to try to work together here. With almost everything I just mentioned the Liberal Party voted no. And when you ask Sussan what’s a good idea that you could come up with, you get radio silence. The Liberal Party are good at saying no but when coming up with ideas, they’re about as useful as a chocolate teacup.

LEY: We’ve got plenty of ideas. The first one is manage the economy properly.

CLARE: What would you do, Sussan? What would you do?

BARR: Okay.

LEY: Well the government’s energy policy and industrial relations policy —

CLARE: We brought the budget back into surplus after the massive deficits ‑‑

LEY: They’re huge factors, Jason.

CLARE: ‑‑ that we had under you.

LEY: But I’m here fighting for ordinary Australians, Nat. I’m not here having a political to and fro, I want ordinary Australians ‑‑

CLARE: And what are you doing, Sussan? You know, that’s just political rhetoric. That is just political rhetoric.

LEY: No, it’s not. No, it’s not. It’s being in touch.

CLARE: What are you doing? What are your ideas?

LEY: It’s called being in touch with your community.

CLARE: See? Nothing. All you get is avoidance.

BARR: Okay, I think you’ve both had your say. Thank you. See you next week.