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Federal Election: Josh Frydneberg slammed for 'pathetic' tactic in debate

Treasurers debate
The two men hoping to steer the economonic future of the country. (Source: ABC News)

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and his Labor opponent, Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers, have gone head-to-head in a debate on Wednesday as both men vie for control over the nation's economy.

Neither candidate promised anything new in terms of policy in the debate but the clash included some revealing moments.

Chalmers opened remarks at the National Press Club by saying Australians should rue a "wasted decade of lost opportunity" under the Coalition as the national debt heads towards $1 trillion.

If Labor were to win government on May 21, he promised an economy "powered by cleaner and cheaper energy and responsible investments in skills and industries".

The alternative, he said, was "another three years of dysfunction, and waste, and rorts, and mistakes, and buck-passing which have made it that much harder for Australians to get ahead."

In his opening remarks, the incumbent treasurer lauded the Government's fiscal response during the Covid pandemic, saying unemployment could have hit 15 per cent.

"And I'm proud and pleased to stand before you today and say the unemployment rate is not 15 per cent. The unemployment rate is not 5.7 per cent as it was under Labor, but the unemployment rate today is at its equal lowest in 48 years, at just 4 per cent," Frydenberg said.

He argued the Government had introduced effective measures to tackle the cost of living and laid out "a long-term plan to create more jobs by backing our regions as the new frontiers of economic growth".

"It's a plan that's working," he said.

Key moments from treasurer debate

"They know their numbers but what did they throw on the table today which was new or different? The answer, alas, not terribly much at all," reacted ABC journalist Greg Jennett following the debate. "Certainly few surprises."

ABC's political editor Andrew Probyn called the affair "hardly revelatory".

Here's how it went down.

Both leaders baulk at boost to skilled migration

Business leaders have been calling for the government to expand skilled migration to address labor shortages but neither party seems prepared to heed the message.

When pressed on the issue, Chalmers said Labor preferred to focus on boosting skills and childcare access rather than increasing immigration numbers.

"I think this is one of the defining issues in the economy. We're up for a sensible conversation about the optimal migration mix as we emerge from the pandemic," he said.

"But bringing people in even in sensible ways should never be a substitute for training people for opportunities as well."

"Our issue that we have with the Government is they’ve spent a long time hacking away at training and skills and TAFE in our economy and now all of a sudden, the chickens are coming home to roost."

"We have a policy for fee-free TAFE, more than 400,000 places. That's part of the story, but also child care is part of the story here. If we want a bigger workforce, we need to make it more attractive and easier for people to earn more and work more if they want to."

Frydenberg said "you won't see from us cheap political opportunism when it comes to skilled workers", but added his government had no plans to raise immigration and argued the tight labor market was good for young people coming into the workforce.

Josh Frydenberg slammed for 'pathetic' tactic in debate

The Government has tried to paint Labor leader Anthony Albanese as a risky bet because he has never held the Treasurer portfolio and handed down a national budget.

After a journalist pointed out a number of high profile former PMs and world leaders who had also never handed down a national budget prior to taking the top job, Labor's Shadow Treasurer called the government's tactic "rubbish".

"Now the two things you need if you want to pitch up for a fourth term is the ability to defend your record and a plan for the future, and they have neither of those things," he said.

"And that's why we get this pathetic point-scoring about Anthony," Chalmers said.

Cleaner energy an 'incredible opportunity' for economy

On the topic of renewable energy, Frydenberg pointed to his time as Environment Minister and defended the Government's credentials, saying it was best placed to ensure an orderly transition to cleaner energy that won't see power bills inflate.

“The key here is to get the transition right," he said.

“Our focus is about a proper transition, ensuring dispatchable power like gas, bringing in more renewables into the system, having back-up storage like pumped hydro and Snowy 2.0, all of which hopefully will smooth that transition."

Renewable energy in rural Australia. Nyngan Solar Plant is one of the largest solar farms in Australia
Renewable energy in rural Australia. (Source: Getty)

Chalmers countered by saying the opportunity was being squandered by the current government.

"Getting cleaner and cheaper energy into the system is Australia's biggest opportunity over the next decade or two and I think Australians are angry that we have been stuffing around with this for a decade now," Chalmers said.

"Probably the most important opportunity that we have as a country and as an economy is to grab this thing, because if we get that cleaner and cheaper energy, we will unlock tens of billions of dollars in investment.

"We will create hundreds of thousands of jobs and we'll make energy cheaper, all the way from pensioners to working families to businesses as well.

"If we miss this opportunity, we should hang our heads in shame, but that is what has been happening."

Chalmers attacks treasurer over tax 'lie'

One of the more pointed moments of the debate came when Chalmers called out Frydenberg for advancing a mistruth about Federal Labor.

The Treasurer claimed that had Labor won the 2019 election, it would have been the highest taxing government.

"It is a very different approach between us and the Labor Party and the Australian people need to know it," Frydenberg said.

"We are prepared for the discipline of a tax-to-GDP cap at 23.9 per cent. They are not," he said.

"They took to the last election $387 billion of higher taxes, something that Jim said at the time he was proud and pleased of, yet now they're trying to hide and not reveal what their true intentions are."

Source: AAP
Chalmers accused the Liiberal Party of a perennial 'lie'. (Source: AAP)

"Well, the Treasurer has just lied to you," Chalmers shot back.

"In every way that you measure tax in the budget, this Government has taxed more than the last Labor Government, that's just a fact," he said.

"They have taxed more in total, they have taxed more as a share of GDP, they have taxed more per person and they have taxed more adjusted for inflation. So that's a lie.

"And we need to call it out when we see it. It's one of those big furphies that gets dragged out in election campaigns in particular. This tax cap that Josh talks about - 23.9 per cent. In the history of this nation, that tax cap has been breached four times. Every single time was a Liberal Government. Every single time."

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