KARL STEFANOVIC, TODAY SHOW HOST: Minister for Aged Care and Sport, Anika Wells and editor in chief of Stellar and Body and Soul magazine, Sarrah Le Marquand can join us now. Nice to see you, ladies.
Appreciate your time. Anika to you first. Here's a little music for you to start things off today. That's a bit of Cruel Sea from the Underground Night Club in Brisbane, circa 1992, and it was the honeymoon is over, are you worried the honeymoon is over, Anika?
ANIKA WELLS, MINISTER FOR AGED CARE AND SPORT: Well, I was seven then, so I wasn't in that nightclub with you.
STEFANOVIC: Come on.
WELLS: I'm also the aged care Minister, so we went straight into an awful winter wave, so I don't think I've had that experience. But is it good, Karl, to finally have a government who's being honest with you about how things actually are?
STEFANOVIC: You might have done a little bit more in the budget to prepare us for the bad times ahead, though, right?
WELLS: That's exactly what this budget does. It doesn't gild the lily. It doesn't give you a sugar hit. It tells you that things are really tough, we acknowledge that, but that the only way out of it is to be responsible about it.
STEFANOVIC: I don't know. It just kind of did nothing.
WELLS: The budget consolidated all of our election commitments. There's $3.9 billion in the budget for aged care, as someone who looks after people who rely upon aged care and the workers that is $3.9 billion that has been desperately, desperately needed. And that's what we're getting done.
STEFANOVIC: Where are you going to find the workers.
WELLS: In aged care? Yeah, I'm pulling every lever. I'm trying. I'm knocking on every door. There is no silver bullet. You would hope that if there was a silver bullet, the person in my position would have pulled it by now.
It's going to take a number of different things – immigration, education, training, training, opportunities for people and pay rises, which, you know, we put in a submission for. And we're hoping to hear good news from the Fair Work Commission over summer.
STEFANOVIC: Let's see what happens there. Sarrah, are you worried at the moment?
SARRAH LE MARQUAND: Yes, very, very worried. An even playing Cruel Sea on loop is not going to make up for it. Has it helped, though? A little.
STEFANOVIC: Thank you.
LE MARQUAND: Because we woke up to a lot of bad news. The honeymoon definitely is over.
As I always said during the pandemic, you know who would be Prime Minister? Who would be in government? Careful what you wish for, Scott Morrison. I think the same is going to apply to Anthony Albanese and the ALP for the next few years.
Look, these are really dire figures, you know, not to dwell too much on the really dark news, but for the average consumer we're looking at a spike of 50 per cent in our electricity bills over the next 18 months to two years. There is no way that the average household can afford that. And we didn't see anything yet. We haven't heard anything. We're getting assurances.
Look, I think, Anika, like I said, I don't envy your job or the job of anyone in the government at the moment but if the best we're hearing is that we're being honest with you, there's some comfort in that but it's not changing anything in our bills.
STEFANOVIC: But then to Anika, you can't go and promise people in an election campaign that bill is going to be $275 cheaper under your government when that can't happen.
WELLS: Well, that is a great example of why being honest is important, because the previous government knew about the spiraling costs of energy. They knew before the election, and they chose not to tell any of us about it, us included.
STEFANOVIC: Well, you didn't know it was going to happen.
WELLS: They certainly didn't tell us. They changed the law to hide the information that they were receiving.
STEFANOVIC: Are you conceding this morning, and I think it's fine given what's happening around the world, the labor bill of $275 cheaper for energy it's just not going to happen.
It's just, it's a furphy.
WELLS: But that promise was for 2025, we’re in 2022. I think it's a good example of things being really uncertain right now, people finding it really difficult and us really, genuinely trying our best to clean up the mess and be honest about the difficulty of the challenge ahead.
STEFANOVIC: I understand all that. But you can say that that's a that's a broken election promise this morning.
WELLS: I do not, because like I said, that commitment was about getting there by 2025 and we're in 2022.
STEFANOVIC: Do you have any hope at all of getting there by 2025? I mean, I don't know how that's going to happen when it's going up by 50%.
WELLS: Well, we're talking about how uncertain things are and with things like the war in Ukraine and the uncertainty that we're facing around the globe. I think uncertainty is what's happening both across the world and in people's kitchen, at people's kitchen tables.
People are feeling really uncertain about it. So I think. What I can assure you as a new member of the government, we're doing our best. We're being honest and we're being responsible.
STEFANOVIC: Okay. Flood victims eligible for emergency payments as well. We learned this morning they'll have to have the funds taxed as income because the federal government failed to make an exemption.
Can you clear that up for us this morning?
WELLS: Yes. So firstly, I don't want to contribute destructively to any people who are still facing the floods around the country and northern Victoria or North West New South Wales as they watch you on their TVs this morning.
It's a really awful time for people and we've got so many flood victims now in Australia. The hits just keep on coming. The flood payments are much needed. I saw that in February when my community got hit.
Unfortunately, these are the usual tax arrangements for them. Same with the previous government. But I think the difference here is that we are getting more payments out more quickly to more people and we're doing that because we are working with the States, not picking fights with them, which is what the previous government did over things as important as flood payments.
STEFANOVIC: You’re still going to tax them though.
WELLS: These are the usual arrangements that every government has applied.
STEFANOVIC: Okay, Sarrah, what do you think about that? I mean, small business owners, farmers, they're all affected, getting tax credits of up to $75,000 and then you know.
LE MARQUAND: It's not a good look. And the fine print is really that there is a right to give an exemption. And the opposition have been very quick to capitalize on this already.
We may see this brought up in Peter Dutton's budget reply tonight, but certainly the Deputy Opposition Leader has said we always made a point of it being exempt. So the fact is that that decision hasn't been made.
So it does look bad and I think to the average punter, it just looks like you're giving money with one hand and taking it with the other.