Monte Irvine: I've been joined on the phone now by New South Wales Labor Senator Tim Ayres. Good morning, Senator, how are you this morning?
Tim Ayres: Good morning. Good morning to your listeners.
Monte Irvine: Did you have a good weekend?
Tim Ayres: Yeah, I’d describe it as a mixed weekend. The sad news I have to report is that the very much loved family dog died over the weekend. Clancy, the family dog passed away. So I gotta say it was a pretty sad weekend in my household. But, here I am back in Canberra. It’s back to school. The sitting fortnight about to begin.
Monte Irvine: Now this sitting fortnight, there's a lot of speculation about the government reintroducing the housing bill that got rejected by the Senate, in the Senate, mainly opposition from the Greens, saying I think the Greens argument for it is they wanted rent freezes and things like that. There is some speculation amongst some parts of the media that introducing this bill and, again rejected by the Senate, could be a trigger for a double dissolution election. Is there plans to change the legislation? Or are the government actually hoping to take this as a double dissolution election?
Tim Ayres: Well, let's take this from the beginning, Monte. The Housing Fund is a policy that we took to the last election. People in Australia voted for Labor and the Albanese Government. We are a government that does what it says it was going to do. We got popular support for this proposal. It will build 30,000 homes over the course of the next five years. It is a fund whose income will be used to build new housing. We have housing shortages all over Australia, big towns and little towns. Everywhere there are significant challenges in terms of housing. You would think it would be something that the Parliament would vote for.
The Liberals and Nationals are voting against it because they say no to every proposition that has been advanced. There is a relentlessly negative approach from them. And the Greens political party voted against it just a few weeks ago, as well. Now, it's good policy. I understand if you're in the Greens, political party, you might argue for more. But what they are doing here is throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Because they are arguing for more, what they are achieving is precisely zero new housing. And that's while all these queues get longer.
It's a shocking position really that in an effort to try and play legislative chicken with the government in the Senate, they are holding up housing for ordinary Australians in the suburbs and in the region. It's a very short term, hyper partisan approach to this important piece of policy. Now, it is true that if a bill is rejected twice in the Senate, it creates a trigger for a government to potentially call a double dissolution election. And I think the Prime Minister's made it very clear that the government is going to continue on the course that it’s on. We said we were going to build more homes for Australians. And that's what we're going to do.
Monte Irvine: So potentially, the Prime Minister could use this as a double dissolution trigger, which would dissolve all of the Senate and as well as the Lower House, take us to an early election. Could it also be used at the same time to potentially have the vote on The Voice?
Tim Ayres: I think those two things are quite disconnected, Monte. The Prime Minister’s said that a vote on the referendum on the Voice to Parliament will occur in the last part of this year. It's not something that I would think would happen at the same time as any potential election. We're not due to go to an election until 2025. The best thing to ensure that there's not a double dissolution election or a trigger for a double dissolution election is to vote for the bill. It's the right thing to do. That's what the government wants to see here; let us get on with the job of building more homes. There's real practical challenges here. A very difficult housing market, there are constraints in the supply chain. Enormous challenges in terms of rising prices in the supply chain for housing and also constraints in terms of the labour market for housing.
Your listeners will know, if they're trying to build a home in Tamworth, it's a challenge to get tradies and builders in. This is a challenge right around Australia. So, let's get on with the job. Now, if the Greens political party or others in the community want to argue for more, that's a good thing. No problem. Let's engage in those issues. But the position that that party is adopting now and the position of the Liberals and Nationals means that that work hasn't started. The fund hasn't started. It should have been adopted before the House and Senate rose for the winter break in June. It should have been in position for this financial year. Instead, because of the delays that have been created here and the sort of hyper partisan, inside-baseball-Canberra stuff that the Greens and Liberals are exercising here, well, it's been delayed again. That means ordinary Australians who need a home are missing out on homes. That's what's really going on. And we're determined to press on. The Prime Minister has been very clear about that. And we should get on with it and deliver more homes for Australians.
Monte Irvine: The next thing, on the economy. Last week, it was announced that the Australian Government, the budget is looking at having a close to $20 billion surplus. Where do you think that surplus should be spent?
Tim Ayres: The surplus that was announced in the budget, there's been an upward revision of the amount of that surplus. The Treasurer’s been reporting on that and been very transparent about that. That surplus is a result of really strong fiscal discipline. Cutting back wasteful spending, cutting back more of the rorted grant programs, treating taxpayer money as public money that should be spent in the public interest. And taking a disciplined approach in a fiscal environment where there's a trillion dollars in debt and very significant inflationary pressures on ordinary Australians. The government's approach here, the Treasurer has been really clear, is to be very fiscally prudent. And the reason for that is because the government's been very clear, we want to make sure that the government is playing its part in putting downward pressure on inflation. That's what we'll continue to do.
There's a big set of fiscal challenges here, and the way that the government deals with it has an impact on the lives of ordinary Australians. Engaging in a ‘cash splash’ would put upward pressure on inflation. Inflation and the rising cost-of-living for households, well, that has its most difficult effect, it causes the most pain for low-income Australians. The government is very aware of that and is approaching spending decisions with a very high degree of caution. We're investing in the things that need to be invested in to lift Australia's productive capacity, we're delivering on the promises that we made during the election, but this is a government that's going to be very focused on fiscal management and making sure that we're keeping downward pressure on inflation.
Monte Irvine: When I asked Barnaby Joyce the question about the surplus, he suggested that $15 billion of it should go on our debt to foreign lenders, and $5 billion be used to invest in infrastructure, looking at the Inland Rail, Dungowan Dam and the likes. Do you suggest that? Are you somewhat on the same page there? Or how would you like to see it split up?
Tim Ayres: I wouldn't pay much attention to what characters from the previous government say about fiscal management. [Indistinct] the Liberals and Nationals left Australia with a trillion dollars in debt. Most of it accrued over the almost 10 years of their government. No government in Australia history has done more damage to the fiscal position of the Commonwealth than the Abbott-Joyce, Turnbull-Joyce, Morrison-Joyce, Morrison-McCormack series of governments. Jim Chalmers and Anthony Albanese will be really focused on good fiscal management. And people will have seen in the last budget that overwhelmingly, where there was a capacity to bank, to pay down debt accrued by the last government, that's the approach that was followed. There were some measures taken that were targeted at putting downward pressure on the cost-of-living, including making sure we put downward pressure on electricity, gas and coal prices, measures which were opposed by the Liberals and Nationals. Those measures have had a real impact on reducing inflation for Australians. And I think we're starting to see some encouraging data in terms of the rising cost-of-living. It is still very difficult for households out there, facing escalating bills, particularly grocery bills, and housing costs. But we are making, as a government, steady progress. And we won't be taking too much advice from Barnaby Joyce.
Monte Irvine: So, sitting week this week, or sitting fortnight starts today, what's your plan for the rest of the day?
Tim Ayres: There is a significant amount of legislation working its way through the Senate today. I've got some responsibilities to work on that in the chamber. So, I'm walking straight out of this discussion Monte into our briefing about those issues, and then it's going to be a very long day and I think a very long week. It's good to be back in Canberra, working on all these sorts of issues.
My only other regret, I think we began with my sad story about my weekend. My only other regret about the weekend is that I wasn't in Tamworth, on Friday night, it sounds like it was an absolute ripper at Scully Park with my team, the Rabbitohs and the Tigers playing would have been would have been an absolute ripper. And I'm very jealous of, what did you say, 10,400 people attended that game? It's fantastic. It's great for rugby league. And I'm very sorry I missed it.
Monte Irvine: No worries. So, thank you so much for your time. Enjoy your sitting week and I'll talk to you next Monday.
Tim Ayres: Good on you, Monte. Catch you next week.