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Source: Australian Minister for Housing and Assistant Treasurer

Chris Kenny:

Let’s take up some of those issues with the Assistant Treasurer, Michael Sukkar, who joins us live from Canberra. Thanks for joining us, Michael. We’ll come to childcare as a separate issue in a moment but what do you make of this attack – we heard it from Anthony Albanese in Question Time today – that somehow the Budget doesn’t do enough for women? Has identity politics now got to be driven through the Federal Budget every year?

Minister Sukkar:

I think that the Leader of the Opposition and the Shadow Treasurer have been flailing around today, they have obviously gone down that path. They’ve also quite bizarrely criticised the Government for putting an emphasis on younger workers and getting them back into the workforce through our hiring credit which really focusses on 16 to 35 year olds. So I think that they’re struggling and in the interim they’ve taken quite a strange path. As the PM said in Question Time today, I think that it’s quite belittling to suggest that women aren’t as invested in the health of small and medium businesses and tax cuts and prosperity for the economy more broadly. Let’s remember that over the last six to eight months the eight out of ten workers who work in the private sector have really copped the major brunt of the pandemic and what we announced last night was a suite of measures to assist those businesses to invest, to commit to their workforces and to grow their workforces and women are just as invested in that as men.

Chris Kenny:

It seems to me that a lot of the critics – and it includes Labor now – are being very sexist in the way that they frame this stuff. They look at the data and they say that more women are in childcare or teaching and more men are in construction and more men have small businesses and they say that therefore it’s sexist.  Whereas if the measures themselves are gender-blind, the whole idea is that women should be able to move into any sector of the economy that they like?

Minister Sukkar:

Yeah, Chris, look as I said, I think that the Opposition Leader and Shadow Treasurer have put in a woeful effort today. They’ve been flailing around on these issues. I don’t think that there’s any credibility that can be given to the claims that they’ve been making. They’ve made similar criticisms in my own portfolio, Chris, with respect to a range of measures – whether it’s the HomeBuilder program or the expansion of the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme – and they get whacked down pretty quickly when tradeswomen Australia come out for example and say, ‘well, sure, we’re a small part of the industry but don’t discount women as being an important part of the construction industry as well’. So I think that they are really struggling and they’ve had quite bizarre criticisms today, quite frankly.

Chris Kenny:

I think that politically they’re going to be on a winner with childcare though. I think Anthony Albanese is flagging free childcare for a lot of Australians, tomorrow night. Now obviously you’re spending more money on childcare than ever before, there was a lot of free childcare rolled-out temporarily during the pandemic. Don’t you think politically this is a battle that’s pretty much been lost? There’s an expectation now on government just to massively increase childcare until it’s available to all – certainly for those at modest income levels – at no charge, no cost?

Minister Sukkar:

Well look, the Leader of the Opposition doesn’t need to do what a Budget needs to do and a Budget needs to hang together. It needs to provide a credible plan to get people back into work and as I said, to enliven the area of the economy that has suffered the most which is the private sector and that’s what our Budget does, that’s what the suite of measures that we’ve put in place last night does. Whether it’s loss carry-back, whether it’s instant expensing of assets, whether it’s tax cuts for $11 million Australians – it all hangs together. I can understand an Opposition that is struggling to find line and length in criticising the Budget, will try to pick the eyes of it but the Budget, it all hangs together and to the extent that the Leader of the Opposition throws a few morsels out here and there, it doesn’t mean anything. Obviously, being the Opposition Leader, he’s able to do that but a Budget has to provide a credible, long-term plan to get the economy back on two feet and that’s what our Budget does, that’s what we’ll deliver and Australians have seen a track record of delivery in that respect.

Chris Kenny:

I think that one of the alarming things in the Budget is just consolidating what’s happening with immigration in this country and that is that it’s effectively stopping for a couple of years and that puts a big hand-break, of course, on our population growth. That’s going to probably help housing affordability and the like so maybe your measures in housing aren’t that warranted but shouldn’t we be more innovative? Shouldn’t we be looking to do more to try and maintain at least some decent level of immigration? Bringing people through quarantine or testing? Why do we have to assume that we have to close off our borders completely?

Minister Sukkar:

Well I think, Chris, that it’s always prudent and a hallmark of, certainly when the Prime Minister was Treasurer and now with Josh Frydenberg as Treasurer, we are cautious in our assumptions and the net overseas migration levels being where they’re projected to be is not by design by the Government, it’s not a policy of the Government, it’s a consequence of the pandemic and I think that we have to be realistic about these things. Sure, there’s a silver lining to every big, dark cloud and there will be, I’m sure, some great opportunities for first home buyers as there are a result of decisions from this Government with HomeBuilder or expanding the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme. But I think, Chris, it’s better to err on the side of caution. I think that the big mistake that we saw during the glory years of Rudd and Gillard was widely optimistic assumptions. To do that in relation to population growth as it relates to net overseas migration, I think wouldn’t be right. So we’re taking a cautious approach but don’t mistake that, Chris, for being a deliberate decision or design of the Government, I think that it’s just an acceptance of what could happen and what is more likely than not to happen as a result of the pandemic with the lack of free movement…interrupted.

Chris Kenny:

Maybe there’s an opportunity there? Given the chaos in other parts of the world, maybe our good performance in controlling the pandemic allows us to bring in more immigrants with their skills and their investments, all they have to do is two weeks quarantine?

Minister Sukkar:

Well again, Chris, that’s an assumption of the Budget, it’s not a policy design. So there’s absolutely upside potential and if we were able to achieve that…interrupted.

Chris Kenny:

Indeed, let’s get cracking on it. I can knock-up the ad campaign already. Get out of Covid-ridden Europe and North America and bring your money to Australia.

Minister Sukkar:

Well I think that the National Cabinet will, I’m sure, heed some of the wishes of the Prime Minister over time but with respect to quarantine arrangements and maximising the quarantine which will then maximise the number of people that we’re able to bring through, there are some constraints there that we are grappling with in particularly states around the country. It’s an ongoing issue to deal with and there is no doubt, Chris, upside potential but we’re very cautious in the assumptions that we place in the Budget.

Chris Kenny:

Michael, thanks for joining us. Good on you, Chris. Thanks so much.

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