28 March 2022


SUBJECTS: Passing of Senator Kimberly Kitching; Budget 2022; Peter Dutton.   

 Let's bring in now live in the studio, the Shadow Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones. A lot of emotion on display in the Senate on a rare day when the whole order of business focusing on one thing, that being the condolences for the late Senator Kimberley Kitching. Quite extraordinary scenes we've seen, not just today, but the last couple of weeks.

STEPHEN JONES, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: It really was. Very pleased that the parties were able to bring the Senate back a day early to deal with this important business and you hear some of the best speeches during one of those condolence motions. Tragic. And some beautiful things were said on all sides of the house. Yeah, it was a pretty special moment.

GILBERT: Richo earlier in the program, I spoke to him. He thinks that Anthony Albanese should deliver some sort of response, whether it be Jenny Macklin coming in to look at party culture, whatever, to just deal with what Labor previously has been taking the moral high ground on parliamentary culture. Why doesn't Anthony Albanese do something like that?

JONES: Look, I think Anthony dealt with that in the conference he had this morning so I'll leave his words to speak for themselves. I've said this to you the other day here Kieran. People aren't coming up to me in the Dapto Mall and saying, what about this? They are talking to me about cost of living issues. And I'm not trying to dismiss the, you know, the grief, the concern that people have but outside of this building, it's not the thing that people are talking about.

GILBERT: On the cost-of-living issues, as if the government does cut the fuel excise and you win the election, is that a bit of a time bomb? You're going to have to remove it? That relief?

JONES: It's a limited time thing. You know, there's some speculation about going as high as 20 cents a litre. Of course, that money's got to come from somewhere and the money that is raised through the fuel excise is used to build roads and repair roads around the country.

GILBERT: Surely you won't begrudge motorists getting some relief.

JONES: Of course not. There's a reason that the Prime Minister, even in the budget he's proposing tomorrow, isn't going to make it a permanent cut. There's a reason that he's not going to make it a permanent cut because that would be devastating for the budget.

GILBERT: When you look at the other element of this, this balancing act that I spoke to the Treasurer about yesterday, the risk is putting more fuel into an inflationary environment. That's the challenge, isn't it? So if you back him on this, as I said, you could well be in office in five, six, seven weeks from now and deal with the likelihood of rate rises.

JONES: We're going to obviously look at each of the measures on them on their merit. Are they permanent? Are they temporary? Are they well measured, well targeted? We fully expect the prime minister to come in tomorrow and start spending money like a drunken sailor. It'll be all driven by the politics. It'll be about short term political recovery, not long term economic recovery and support. Look on cost of living, the thing that most meaningfully can be done in there is to be looking at those big, lumpy expenses like childcare, for example. We've got a plan to deal with childcare. I'd like to see the budget also focusing on aged care and the crisis in aged care. We've had a discussion this week around housing, housing prices going up if interest rates go up as well. That means household budgets are going to be stretched even further. So what we want to see tomorrow's budget be about is not the short term political issues, but those long term challenges that don't have a quick fix but absolutely need a government focused on them. And I'd throw into that the skill shortages as well I mean, boardrooms all around the country are saying skill shortages. It's a crisis. It's inhibiting our ability to bounce back.

GILBERT: On a more short-term matter though. Labor committed free rapid antigen tests across the board, it now looks like you're watering down that commitment. Is that a backflip?

JONES: It was the right response to the issue at the time. People couldn't get a RAT test for love nor money, but their employers or the law was requiring them to have one. It was the right response at that point in time. Now, thankfully, with high levels of vaccination and the triple dose, it seems at this point in time, want to touch every bit of wood in the forest, that now we might be emerging out of the crisis situation. I hope that's true, but we were pushing the government for the right response at the right point in time. If we are there again, then obviously having these sorts of tests available to people will be critical. 

GILBERT: Just finally, I asked Anthony Albanese this question, I think it's something that will get asked in different ways, but he’s had the Treasurer, Shadow Treasurer up there and would be Treasurer, if you win. And I asked him the question about the security question, you know, with defence, homeland and home affairs and so on. Does he need to firm that sort of thing up, given what an uncertain world we live in to say, OK, this will be our Defence Minister? This will be our Home Affairs Minister?

JONES: Can the prime minister say that? I'm delighted you've asked this question, because it assumes that Peter Dutton is going to win his seat. And I've got to say I've had a lot to do with Ali France, who's running against him in the seat of Dickson and I reckon she's got the goods. I reckon Peter Dutton's in with the fight of his life, and I don't think that the Prime Minister can say with any certainty "Peter Dutton's going to be my Defence Minister if I win the next election." I think that’s taking the people of Dickson for granted. I like Ali France in that contest. She won’t be the Defence Minister but she will be the next member for Dickson.

GILBERT: Nice distraction, yeah, by pointing to Peter Dutton?

JONES: Believe me, it's a hot tip.