Anika Wells on 4BC with Scott Emerson


SUBJECTS: Mid-year budget update; unemployment/wages forecasts; Coalition economic mismanagement; UK free trade deal.

 It’s coming up to 25 to five now for the last time for this year, we're going to have our own version of Question Time. On Drive. With Labor's member for Lilley Anika Wells and the LNP Member for Ryan, Julian Simmons. Anika, how are you today?

ANIKA WELLS, MEMBER FOR LILLEY: I am well, for the last time this year, Scott. How are you?

EMERSON: I'm very well. Julian?

JULIAN SIMMONDS, MEMBER FOR RYAN:Good mate. Getting into the Christmas spirit already. 

EMERSON: Alright. We’ll come to Anika first, before we get to you and your Christmas spirit, Julian. Anika the federal government yesterday released its mid-year budget update. And look, the numbers. Well, a big improvement, the deficit down below $100 billion down to 99 billion. But a lot of the headlines were talking about also this $16 billion in well, the money's been spent, but they haven't acknowledged what it's going to be spent on? Is this going to be the Coalition's war chest heading into the next federal election? 

WELLS: Well what else do you call $16 billion dollars of decisions taken, but not announced, but a secret slush fund, Scott? And it shows that despite all of the rolling scandals this term. From sports rorts, to commuter car park rorts to the Community Safety rorts, to the fresh ones that have come out this week. And you would have seen my seat of Lilley has been wrapped up in that. They have learned nothing about waste or corruption or rorting. And we have a trillion dollars in debt now. Deficits as far the eye can see. And just complete mismanagement with $16 billion freshly decided upon to do the same in months to come.

EMERSON: Well you say mismanagement. But the deficit has come down, it’s under $99 billion. The unemployment rate - down to 4.6%. So I don't know if it's mismanagement. I can understand the $16 billion has a big question mark over where it's going to be spent. Julian Simmons. I mean, on that that point that Anika makes about the $16 billion. Why hasn't the government announced where the money is being spent? You can understand why people say, ‘Well, is this going to be just a bit of pork that's going to be thrown around ahead of the next federal election?’.

SIMMONDS: Yeah, look, I take your point. But the good news out of the economic update was jobs. More jobs, the unemployment rate falling, economic growth increasing. I wouldn't get too excited about that particular dollar figure. Because it also includes, as well as decisions taken not announced, that also includes decisions taken and announced where there's commercial in confidence around what those costs are. So it includes all the vaccines and includes the boosters and includes the hotel quarantine facilities. So the idea that it's sitting there as a slush fund just simply isn't correct. And the other point I wanted to make Scott is that we spoke last week about where our respective leaders were going to kick off their campaigns in Queensland. And I make the point that Albanese went first to Lilley and Morrison went first to Ryan. So I can only take it the leadership are avid listeners of this segment and have taken our advice from last week.

EMERSON: Well, or they're both worried about those two seats. I guess that could be the other thing. What about that Anika Wells? Is Labor worried about your seat? Is your seat…I know the margin’s pretty slim.

WELLS: 1229 votes Scott. It’s pretty slim.

EMERSON: It is very slim there. And that's why well, why Anthony Albanese went there wasn't it? He's worried about that? And then he, then he went up to Longman, I think one that the Coalition is worried about. 

WELLS: And Lilley is lucky enough to have the Brisbane Airport. So I see everybody coming and going on their way to and from Brisbane. And I was lucky enough to get a text from the boss at 6:30am Monday morning. Because he was running ahead of schedule, because things were moving so smoothly at the airport. And we caught up. After months and months not being able to do so. So that was good I think. As someone like me, I'm up at 5am with the twins anyway. So we were all well hours into our day by that point. Can we just return…I'm sorry, to go back to business though.  Because you know, the figures out yesterday are important. The government has made 55 different forecasts about wages growth in their time in office. And on 52 of those occasions wages growth has fallen short of what they said it would be. So when Julian talks about these amazing forecasts, let's sort of judge them on the actual merits. Because 52 out of 55 is not a very good scorecard.

EMERSON: Well, Anika Wells I think I recall that Wayne Swan… didn't he promise a surplus every budget he brought down and never delivered one in all the time he was treasurer. So both sides…

SIMMONDS: You can’t argue about 366,000 jobs created in November that just shows the economic plan is working. That's real people, real jobs created, real people in work.

WELLS: The treasurer also said that once the unemployment rate had a four in front of it, that was his cue to start bringing the debt and deficit back under control. And there was not a skerrick of that in yesterday's forecast. There was $16 billion of election rorting set aside. 

SIMMONDS: But that's just not true. That 16 billion is for vaccines and booster shots and quarantine facilities. So is that…are you arguing that that is unnecessary? Right?

WELLS: Just tell us what you paid Pfizer then? 

SIMMONDS: I'm sorry. I mean, look, I mean, there's certainly, there's certainly some of that funding. Certainly decisions taken not announced. But the claim that it all is, when when it also includes the vaccine and quarantine facilities, just shows you how far Labor will go to stretch the truth in order to, in order to make the facts suit their politics. When it's simply not the case.

EMERSON: Now, I'm talking to Anika Wells, the Labor member for Lilley. And the LNP Member for Ryan, Julian Simmons. Now today, Australia has signed a free trade deal with the UK. Is that good news? I mean, look, this is something we've been trying to do since Brexit happened. Let's start with you, Julian Simmonds. Obviously Dan Tehan has been working pretty hard on this. So a good result?

SIMMONDS: Well, we have been trying to do this since Brexit. But it's important to keep in mind that we're the first ones to do it. So we're the first ones that UK have signed an FTA. And it's the most significant and wide-ranging FTA that we have, other than with New Zealand. That's going to save Australians 200 million in the hip in the hip pocket on British goods. So this is good news for Australian families looking to reduce their costs of living. And it's good news also for Australians traveling over to the UK who get a bit of extra time on their working holiday visas as well.

EMERSON: What about you, Anika Wells? Is Labor backing this trade deal?

WELLS: In principle, yes. We welcome free trade to boost jobs and economic productivity. And obviously, the big part of our recovery is going to have to come from opening up new avenues for trade. For our producers and our exporters and our employers. And you know, my electorate of Lilley has a proud history of manufacturing. With places like Arnott’s, we have Arnotts and Golden Circle. So we want to see these trade flows strong and further developed. But we've got to go through the parliamentary process. There’s a committee process now where we look at things like labour market testing. And we make sure that everybody, the interests of Australian workers and businesses, farmers, everybody's looked after.

EMERSON: Now all right. 

SIMMONDS: Sounds like a bob each way.

EMERSON: Well, look, these are going to be the kind of debates. So here's a question for you, both of you here. Because if I look at the next year, well, obviously we've got a federal election. We don't know when that will be. Could be March. Could be May. We're talking a lot here today about the economic outcomes. And we had the mid-year economic and fiscal outlook released yesterday. How important will be economics to the next election, as opposed to say, the experiences like the cost of living, the wage growth? First off to you, Anika?

WELLS: Well, I think something that has always, the Liberal Party has always said is a strength of their party, is their strong economic management. I'm sure Julian will vehemently agree there. But I really think that has been put under the ruler and blown up this term. When you look at the decisions that they have made, how far the deficit hat gone up, how far debt has gone up. You know, nearly a trillion dollars in debt now. With nothing to show for it. I really think that principle of economic management, isn't there for them anymore. So that, you know, they traditionally talk about waste and mismanagement. It's them now, after nine years that have waste and mismanagement. So I think it's an interesting proposition, whether or not if we are debating the economy, whether or not people still believe them when they say that.

EMERSON: And Julian, what do you think is going to be the driving force behind the next election?

SIMMONDS: Well, of course, it will be important. People want to know that their job is secure so they can provide for their family. But listen to what Anika just said. You know, the spending of the last two years and nothing to show for it. Well, we've had a global pandemic. And what we've got to show for it is not, we haven't seen the mass unemployment that we've seen in other countries. People been able to get keep their job. This money has supported small businesses. It’s supported people in their homes. This is money that's gone directly into Australian’s pocket. And because of that, we have… we are supercharging the economic recovery out of COVID. And we've been able to get through the sacrifice of the last two years. I think Australians, when I hear that message from Labor, will go well hang on. I know the Coalition was there for us when we were going through these tough times over the last two years. They made sure that the spending was appropriate to support our jobs, to support our small businesses. And they're going to trust us to lead the economic recovery coming out of it. 

WELLS: Yeah but I think that when Australians look at the $12 billion…was it north of that? Of JobKeeper payments. $27 billion worth of JobKeeper payments went to businesses whose turnover either increased or did not decline as much as required. $27 billion worth of waste. I think when they think about the road ahead and what the recovery looks like. And whether there's money or not to fund important infrastructure programs, they're going to say I want that $27 billion to have gone into there. 

SIMMONDS: That was money into small businesses. Money into small businesses is never a bad idea. It’s about supporting individuals and supporting businesses to keep them going. And I don't know why it is that Labor hates supporting small business. 

WELLS: That's not. Julian. That's not the nuance. It's whose turnover increased, or whose turnover did not decline as much as required, as much as the guidelines. 

SIMMONDS: These are businesses that needed that. These businesses needed the economic security to keep their workers on. If they didn't have the JobKeeper payment they would have sacked people right? Now it’s turned out better than what they thought. But they still needed those payments to keep people in jobs.

WELLS: Labor suggested the JobKeeper program. Nobody disputes the JobKeeper program.

SIMMONDS: Oh, but now you’re criticising. Bob each way right?

WELLS: {inaudible} that Josh Frydenberg allowed, after Treasury told him this was happening. He allowed for months to continue to go to businesses whose turnover was increasing. Isn't that a waste of taxpayer’s money?

SIMMONDS: We support it. We don't support it. Just a bob each way.

EMERSON: Well, hold that energy, that passion there. Because we'll get you back in 2022. Both of you, for an election year. But Labor's Member for Lilley Anika Wells and the LNP member for Ryan Julian Simmons. Thanks for joining us this year for our Drive’s version of Question Time. And we look forward to having you back on the show in 2022.

SIMMONDS: On a positive note, Merry Christmas.

WELLS: Yeah. Hopefully we get together in the one room.

EMERSON: Hopefully that will be the case. Alright guys, again, both of you, have a great Christmas.