MARIUS BENSON: Well as we've been reporting, the Federal Government is set to announce new savings and revenue measures today to keep it on track for a slim surplus in this financial year. But as Labor struggles to deal with declining economic fortunes, its political stocks are rising a bit, with a new opinion poll today showing it closing the gap on the Coalition. Tony Abbott is falling further behind Julia Gillard as preferred Prime Minister. To look at those issues, I'm joined now by the Trade Minister Craig Emerson. Craig Emerson, good morning.
CRAIG EMERSON: And good morning to you, Marius.
BENSON: Now, 'why the rush?' is one of the questions about MYEFO which is coming out today. It's meant to be a mid-year economic and fiscal outlook report, and it is substantially short of the mid-year. And the suggestion from the Opposition is you're getting the numbers out now because the numbers are getting worse rapidly.
EMERSON: It's ironic, isn't it? Last year on the fourth of November the Opposition was saying – complaining – that we didn't have MYEFO out. Now that we've got MYEFO coming out today they're complaining about that, too. What we do know is that they will simply whinge and complain. They're a very, very negative outfit, and they don't have any alternatives. We've got a positive program. We are returning the Budget to surplus – as we said we would. There is more challenge in that because of the write-down in revenues. We will rise to that challenge. The Budget will return to surplus, and it will stay there.
BENSON: We'll put the Opposition aside; is the reason for bringing it out early that the numbers are getting tougher and tougher; it's becoming harder and harder to project that surplus?
EMERSON: We will achieve the surplus – and it's not a matter of one week or another in terms of the timing of MYEFO. For goodness' sake, if that's the story of the day from the Opposition's perspective it shows how little they have left. And what we will do is return the Budget to surplus. We will keep the Budget in surplus. That's important because we've already been in the situation where the Reserve Bank cash rate's gone down from six and three-quarter per cent to three and a quarter per cent. For a mortgage-holder with a $300,000 mortgage, that's a saving of $4,500 a year. I would have thought that would be regarded as a good thing – and indeed it is.
BENSON: A bit of pain being distributed today, with $4 billion in revenue-gathering or service cuts. And you are targeting, by all accounts, particularly non-Australians: visa buyers and such.
EMERSON: Well, I'm not going to confirm figures – because we don't have very long to wait for that – but be assured that this is a Labor Government and the MYEFO will reflect Labor values. We'll make sure that everyday working Australians continue to benefit from our economic policies through those reductions in interest rates. We'll make sure that Australia remains one of few countries that's Triple A-rated by all three ratings agencies. And it has gone up the world rankings, Marius, to 12th largest economy on earth from 15th since this Government has come into office. That's as a result of good economic decisions – we'll continue to make them.
BENSON: Can I ask you about some other numbers that are around today: that's the Nielsen poll numbers that are in the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and the Fin Review today. Why do you think – the biggest move has been in the personal standing of Julia Gillard – why do you think that's changed in the last up to four weeks?
EMERSON: As you know, I'm not an analyst of polls. I'd prefer probably to look at the trend situation – and that is, we've got a Prime Minister who makes the tough decisions, has the courage to make them, and people are appreciating that she is doing the right thing by the country.
BENSON: Can you narrow it down a bit? Because that is the view you always put of the Prime Minister. But something appears to have changed. What do you think's changed, particularly in the last couple of weeks?
EMERSON: I really should leave that to the analysts – obviously, people in that capacity point to the Prime Minister's speech. But I think another very important consideration here is that this carbon price scare campaign of the Coalition's has fallen to the ground. The sky's still up there, but the campaign has fallen to the ground. And that has been reflected in an appreciation by the Australian people that this was a decision that needed to be made. It was not popular, but it is receding because people have accepted that Tony Abbott … if you look at his ratings, they're collapsing because all he's got left is this relentless and destructive negativity. The Prime Minister, with the positive program, acting in the national interest; and then an Opposition Leader whose only response to anything seems to be 'no'. Well, this carping criticism is taking a toll on his standing.
BENSON: Just quickly: Kevin Rudd has been much more prominent, much more active, much more audible. He's on the front page of The Australian today getting a rock star reception at a Chinese community event. What's he up to?
EMERSON: Well, Kevin's doing what he wants to do in the community. And what the Prime Minister is doing is making the decisions that are needed. The Prime Minister … [inaudible]
BENSON: But what's the logic of Kevin Rudd's actions? How do you read it?
EMERSON: I'm not Kevin's minder. What I'm saying is we've got a great Prime Minister, as reflected yet again in this trend situation where Labor is becoming more and more competitive by the day. And the fact is, and I wrote this in November of last year, Labor will be extremely competitive at the next election under Julia Gillard's leadership. The contrast is with an Opposition which has only one word left in its repertoire, and that word is 'no'.
BENSON: Craig Emerson, many thanks.
EMERSON: Thank you, Marius.
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