Politics with Michelle Grattan: Jim Chalmers says Australians will be better off next year

It’s been a difficult year for the economy, and the year ahead also is looking challenging. Treasurer Jim Chalmers, overseer of the government’s economic policy, joins us on the podcast to talk about the latest budget numbers, interest rates, changes to the Reserve Bank board, Australia’s debt, cost of living measures and more.

On 2024, Chalmers expects Australians to be better off this time next year:

That’s certainly the expectation.[…] If you look at the forecasts in the mid-year budget update, the Treasury expects inflation to moderate further, they expect wages to grow, and we expect annual real wages growth as well.

The budget update, released this week, projects a tiny $1.1 billion deficit for this financial year. This is likely in the May budget to turn into the government’s second surplus in a row. Chalmers explains why he won’t make that call just yet:

I’m careful. I’m cautious. The Treasury takes a deliberately conservative view of revenue, and that’s a good thing. There are good reasons to do that. We are very, very close to a second surplus, but we’re not there yet.

With many families struggling with their grocery bills, the Senate recently set up a committee to investigate potential price gouging by supermarket chains. Chalmers strongly supports the inquiry:

I support it completely because more transparency when it comes to the sorts of prices which have such a deep impact on family budgets, the more transparency the better as far as I’m concerned. And so I think this is a really important inquiry and that’s why we voted for it. The supermarkets obviously shouldn’t be above having their pricing strategies held up to the light.

On stage 3 tax cuts Chalmers, while reiterating no change in policy, says he enjoys the engagement the debate brings:

I don’t shy away from a public conversation about the priorities that people want to see in the budget. I know that those tax cuts are contested. I know that there’s a range of views about them […] My position is that when people are engaged and they’ve got a view about economic policies and budget priorities, that’s generally a good thing.

That’s all from our Politics podcast for 2023. Thank you for listening. We’ll be back with more interviews in 2024. In the meantime, best wishes from Michelle Grattan and producer Ben Roper.

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