Breaking Politics with Tim Lester - Transcript

Andrew Leigh MP
Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister
Member for Fraser
14 May 2013

TOPICS:                The Budget.

Tim Lester:         Andrew Leigh, Senator Fiona Nash, welcome into the Breaking Politics studio - on budget day, which makes it a fascinating one. This morning we’re told that the government will outline in tonight’s budget ten year plans for big spending programs: Gonski and NDIS. Andrew Leigh, can we really honestly forecast ten years out, meaningfully, given that revenue forecasts went awry in a year?

Andrew Leigh: Tim I think it’s important to have that big picture, long-term thinking. And Treasury actually has a track record of doing that. The Intergenerational Report, which was produced under the Coalition, looked decades ahead. Our view is that with big and important reforms, like the schools reforms and DisabilityCare – which is so sorely needed by families whose child has a disability, people who are watching this program that were awake in the middle of last night caring for an adult child with a disability. Those people want DisabilityCare, and they want to know that it will last and so this is about outlining the saves we will make, and hopefully saves that Mr Abbott will come on board and support.

Tim Lester:         But Fiona Nash, surely big social objectives like deserve long-term planning, so wouldn’t the Coalition at least support the principle of taking big-ticket plans out to ten years?

Fiona Nash:        Well I think that’s one of the criticisms of the Labor government, that there hasn’t been any vision. There hasn’t been any look to the future of the nation and how we want to look since they’ve been in government. And it must be a little frustrating for Andrew, with his economic credentials, watching his government make a mess of it. The things is that people out there in our communities just simply don’t believe Wayne Swan any more. His forecasts from one budget to the next have fallen over, what he said in last year’s budget hasn’t come to pass, he’s predicted surpluses and now we’ve got a $17 billion black hole. So for him to now say ‘I have this ten year plan and everybody believe me I’m going to lead you to the promised land’, it’s a bit of a stretch and people are just really questioning whether or not he has the ability to deliver it, and whether or not he’s actually telling the truth. It just seems like a last minute opportunity to convince the Australian people that he has some vision for the future.

Tim Lester:         Credibility problem with the Treasury, you say. What about the philosophy though of ten year planning in our budget? Good, bad or indifferent?

Fiona Nash:        Well it depends obviously on the cycles, what’s coming up in the future, you can’t have a crystal ball. It’s obviously admirable to look towards the future, right, for the nation, where do we want to be in ten years. For those big ticket items, how are we going to get there? Unfortunately for the Treasurer, nobody believes a word he says anymore, because everything that he has said has turned out not to be true.

Tim Lester:         Just before we return to Andrew Leigh, do you think – given you support the idea but not the person delivering it, or the record of the person delivering it – do you think the Coalition will back these longer term plans? Or do you think they’ll say uh uh, it’s got Wayne Swan’s fingerprints, we don’t want to be near it.

Fiona Nash:        We’re going to have to look at the budget tonight and see what the government’s actually going to deliver. There’s no way you can make any commentary now about what post the budget until we’ve seen it. So we’re going to very carefully and methodically work through what the budget has, what the government brings us this evening, and then we’ll make decisions on that basis.

Tim Lester:         Is it fair for the Coalition to say we’re not going to commit these plans til we’ve looked right through them, we can’t talk about the philosophy of ten year plans. And indeed to say they want to leave their hard-nosed budgeting for the election campaign, when they get the budget numbers then?

Andrew Leigh: Tim, I was actually a bit worried, listening to what Fiona had to say. I’m sure she, as I, have spoken to people with disabilities in the electorate, but then what I heard from Fiona just now when you asked her whether she’d support the long-term DisabilityCare reform was wait and see.

Fiona Nash:        No, no I didn’t – to be fair, I said how that would be funded, we’d wait and see what the budget is. Of course we support those principles, absolutely.

Andrew Leigh: It is one thing to support DisabilityCare, it is another thing to say how you’ll pay for it.

Fiona Nash:        There are different ways for paying for things, yours will not be the only way. We don’t have to sign up now to the way you say you’re going to pay for it, when we haven’t even seen the budget. That would just be ridiculous.

Andrew Leigh: What you need to do, if you back a big reform, is to say how you’ll manage to pay for it. The Coalition are starting $50 to $70 billion behind, not my figure, Joe Hockey and Andrew Robb’s figure. Beginning from that starting point, they have to make massive cuts, and that’s before they even get to the point of thinking about how they’ll pay for DisabilityCare. Words are cheap, but if Mr Abbott decides that his top priority is a tax cut for big miners, and a tax cut for big polluters – two things he’s locked into – and he is going to oppose the responsible Labor savings measures that will set up DisabilityCare for the next decade, then that is a scary future for people with disabilities.

Tim Lester:         There is a disconnect here a bit in that the Coalition’s position, Fiona Nash, in that you are saying that we support these worthy projects – certainly disability insurance as one. Support for it, but we’re not going to tell you how we’re going to fund it, we don’t know the numbers and we don’t want to base any numbers on tonight’s budget, and we’ve got to wait until the election campaign two weeks out from when we get to vote. That’s a bit of a leap of faith for voters to assess all of that in such a crammed time before the election isn’t it?

Fiona Nash:        I don’t think so at all, I think they want the Coalition to be sensible about how we’re going to plan for the future for the economy. Now they can trust that, to the current Labor government, that has continually told the Australian people that economically certain things were going to happen, we saw that in the budget last year for Wayne Swan and clearly, clearly what he predicted has been incorrect. So I just think it’s sensible that we take a very pragmatic view. We in the Coalition make sure that we have a very clear view of the base we’re working off economically before we go and say to the Australian people this is how we’re going to fund what we’re going to do. I think that’s actually what the Australian people expect of us. No one wants to run in half-cocked and say ‘yes we’re going to do this or we’re going to do that’. They actually want the contrasted view of the Coalition of a measured, well-though out approach to managing the economy, which they’re not seeing from Julia Gillard and the Labor government.

Tim Lester:         Andrew Leigh, doesn’t Fiona Nash have a point in as much as she says the long term plan is great, but when you’ve got a Treasurer who’s just sworn black and blue that he’s going to deliver a surplus, black and blue, time and time again, did not – and now he’s going to come back and promise another surplus and a ten year plan, who is going to believe it?

Andrew Leigh: Tim, I think that everybody understands the high Australian dollar has a big impact on government revenues. The Australian economy is performing strongly – we’ve gone from the 15th largest to the 12th largest economy in the world over the last 6 years. We’ve got debt to GDP of 10%, well below most other countries.

Tim Lester:         But can we forgive Wayne Swan the mistakes?

Andrew Leigh: We’ve taken a hit to revenue and Wayne Swan has been honest enough to talk to the Australian people about the implications of that hit to revenue, and what it means to how we’ll pay for important reforms. Mr Abbott and M Hockey seem to hiding their policies in the top drawer, and I think Australian people are entitled to say if these policies were really so good for households, would they be sitting in that top drawer, or would they be out in the open? There are swingeing cuts that the Coalition will have to put into place to if it is to pay for the promises it has signed on to. This gold-plated parental leave, you know that is a $5billion plus scheme. If you’re committed to that, if you’re committed to the tax cuts for big miners and big polluters, then you’re going to have to make bigger cuts: not just the hit to low-income earners on superannuation, not just taking away the schoolkids bonus, but tax rises, pension cuts, cuts to major social expenditures that people rely. We’ve seen this with past Coalition governments, we’ve seen this with the Newman government in Queensland, where a commission of audit has acted to hide some cuts which have seen nurses, police officers, teachers losing their job. That’s a scary future. The Australian people, if they’re going to vote for it, ought to at least be given the dignity of seeing those choices, those trade-offs, put forward by major parties. Not at a minute before the election, but months in advance so they can be properly debated. And this in the Coalition’s interests as well. Good policy rarely comes out of a smoke-filled backroom with two or three blokes gathered around a table. Policy improves by being put into the public air. The Coalition’s policies would be better if they were to put them out, have that public debate, talk about the things they’re going to cut, be honest, come clean with the Australian people.

Tim Lester:         Well in fairness to Tony Abbott, there is some policy out, there’s probably not the costings back it that you’d like to see in its place in a detailed budget, but the policy is at least partly out there. I’d like to ask you both before we close is to nominate a year in which you think we ought to be back to surplus, if the road back to surplus is going to be a credible one. Cast aside your views of Wayne Swan for a moment and just say which year in the forward plans ought we see a black number on the bottom line of the budget and go ‘yeah that’s fair enough, I believe that we can do that’. You first, Fiona Nash?

Fiona Nash:        Well I think that if the Labor government had done a decent job of managing the economy since 2007 that year should be this year.

Tim Lester:         Right – that’s in a perfect world. From the world we now sit in, the position we now enjoy or don’t enjoy, where do you believe we should arrive at a surplus if it is to be a credible one?

Fiona Nash:        Look I’m not an economist, I can’t give you a 2015, 16 or 17 date. I just know that the Australian people want a government that’s going to start managing the economy properly, because there is no confidence out in the communities. Andrew talks about all the headlines figures of how well as a nation we’re going, I don’t think the Labor government is spending enough time walking up and down the main streets – particularly in regional communities – because what they want is some confidence back. They don’t have it under this government and they are looking for someone, a grown up, to run the economy, run the country properly, so they can get on and do business and get on with their lives in the way that they want to.

Tim Lester:         Ok, you’ve chosen not to nominate a year from where we stand. Andrew Leigh, will you nominate a year? You are an economist, by the way, so  you don’t get the get out of jail card.

Andrew Leigh: Tim we’re filming this eleven hours before Wayne Swan will bring down the budget, let’s let the Treasurer bring down the detailed budget figures in eleven hours’ time. I’d encourage people to tune in, I’m sure Wayne will deliver a strong speech there. And he will level with the Australian people what we’ll do, and how we’ll pay for it. The question then is whether on Thursday night Mr Abbott will do the same thing, whether he will talk about the trade-offs and how he will pay for things as well.

Tim Lester:         Fascinating couple of days ahead, and great to have you both regulars here to chew the fat over it. Andrew Leigh, Fiona Nash, thanks for coming to Breaking Politics.

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