ABC Lateline - 30 August 2013

I appeared on ABC Lateline with host Emma Alberici and Liberal frontbencher Christopher Pyne to discuss the Coalition's hide-and-seek game with their policies, how their announced policies will disproportionately benefit the top 1%, naval bases and Labor's plan to invest in productivity through infrastructure and education.

A transcript (thanks to Lateline) is over the fold.


EMMA ALBERICI, PRESENTER: Back to the election campaign and our Friday Forum. Joining me from Canberra is Labor MP Andrew Leigh, Opposition spokesman for education Christopher Pyne is in our Adelaide studio.

Welcome to you both, gentlemen.


CHRISTOPHER PYNE, OPPN EDUCATION SPOKESMAN: Good evening Emma, good evening Andrew.

EMMA ALBERICI: Andrew Leigh, let me start with you. You're an economist by background. Shouldn't you have known better than to be releasing Parliamentary Budget Office advice you knew to be out-dated and not an accurate reflection of current Coalition intentions?

ANDREW LEIGH: Well, Emma, all costings are based on assumptions behind them. You can change those assumptions and you get different costing results. What I used in having one of the Opposition policies costed - a policy that would do tremendous damage to my own electors - was what I thought was the most reasonable set of assumptions based on what was out there in the public domain.

Now of course you can make the results differ if you use unreasonable assumptions, for example, it now looks as though in the case of raising superannuation taxes on low-income workers, the Coalition want to, rather than using the reasonable assumption that that starts on the first of July next year, make the much more unreasonable assumption that it's retrospective. But if they're using these unreasonable assumptions then we need to see the detail.

If you go to the Parliamentary Budget Office website you'll see requests for 46 Labor costings, you'll see a bunch of Greens costings there, you'll see no Liberal party costings.

It's almost as though what the Coalition are doing in this campaign is trying to make the Greens party look respectable in terms of their economic management and their willingness to stand up to public scrutiny.

EMMA ALBERICI: Christopher Pyne, reasonable, these costing analyses by Labor? Of your policies?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, Emma, what we've seen and no amount of trying to gild the Lily by Andrew Leigh will detract from the fact that what we've seen is Labor tried to get away with one lie too many in this election campaign by claiming yesterday a $10 billion black hole in the Coalition's savings measures that were announced on Wednesday.

And tried to cloak that lie in the clothes of the department of finance, Treasury and the Parliamentary Budget Office and in the most unprecedented action that I've ever seen in eight elections that I've been running for Sturt, the heads of the Treasury, Finance and the Parliamentary Budget Office specifically repudiated and humiliated the Prime Minister and said that they would not be used for base political reasons with one of Labor's scare campaigns and lies in this campaign.

And all day today Labor's been trying to create a smokescreen about how this is something to do with the Coalition's costings. This issue is about the credibility of a Prime Minister who has lied and scared the electorate for the last four weeks. It's about credibility, it's about trust. That is the only issue that we're discussing in terms of this complete fiasco in which Kevin Rudd now has egg on both his faces.

EMMA ALBERICI: Andrew Leigh, first Kevin Rudd continued to repeat the $70 billion figure when it's been fact-checked exhaustively and found to be comprehensively wrong. Now this so-called $10 billion black hole has been entirely discounted by three of the country's most senior members of the public service. This does present a credibility problem for Labor, doesn't it?

ANDREW LEIGH: I disagree with that statement, Emma. What the heads of Treasury and Finance have said is no more and no less than the exercise of costings depends on its assumptions.

EMMA ALBERICI: No, they actually did say it was in appropriate for the Government to have claimed that the Parliamentary Budget Office had costed the policy of any other political party.

ANDREW LEIGH: Well, certainly what we have done is done our best attempt at letting the Australian people know what the Coalition's policies will cost.

EMMA ALBERICI: But it wasn't what you purported it to be, you'd have to admit.

ANDREW LEIGH: We have used the best information that's out there and the most reasonable assumptions to have a go at working out what the Coalition's policies will cost. If they're making unreasonable assumptions, if they're thinking about retrospective taxation, if they're thinking about getting into firing public servants within weeks, then they need to come clear and say that, Emma.

I don't want to be having this costing debate. I would rather be discussing the kind of future that Christopher and I want to build for our kids. This is an anodyne debate, not one we should be having but we're forced into this position because the Coalition has a massive black hole.

Whether it's the $30 billion that Saul Eslake says or the $70 billion Andrew Robb and Joe Hockey were saying...

EMMA ALBERICI: That was quite some time ago and as I just pointed out, it's been exhaustively fact-checked.

Mr Pyne, Joe Hockey has said publicly that the Coalition has 200 policies fully costed. If that's the case, why won't you reveal that information to the public? Already we know half a million Australians have already cast their votes and they weren't privy to information that would have helped them make that very critical decision.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: It's a perfectly fair question, Emma. The truth is that by mid next week, all of our policies will have been released. Now, as you would know in every election campaign there are upwards of over 200 policies released and we have over the last four weeks, with our policies, released savings measures and on Wednesday brought that together at the National Press Club and Joe Hockey released $31 billion worth of savings, but by mid to late next week of course all our policies will have been published...

EMMA ALBERICI: Excuse me for interrupting but when you say "mid to late next week", is it going to be Wednesday, Thursday or Friday?

EMMA ALBERICI: Tony Abbott said today that by mid next week you could expect all of the Coalition's policies to be announced and therefore you could get a Budget bottom line.

EMMA ALBERICI: Can you tell us which day?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: No, of course I can't tell you which day because I'm not privy to that particular piece of information but I can tell you that all the policies will be released by mid next week and you can then expect a Budget bottom line.

But we won't do what Labor did in 2007 under Kevin Rudd and 2010 under Julia Gillard and that is release our entire costings document at 5pm the night before the election.

And honestly, with Kevin Rudd having hit the wall so badly today over this humiliating issue to do with the there are $10 billion, I'm starting to wonder whether the Labor party wished they'd kept Julia Gillard as the Prime Minister.

They might have actually had a better run in the election rather than the faintly hysterical Kevin Rudd that we witnessed today at his press conference in Perth where even one of the people the fainted after having to leave his press conference because it was so hysterical and long-winded and faintly boring.

EMMA ALBERICI: Andrew Leigh, I'll give you a chance to respond.

ANDREW LEIGH: This isn't a game. We're not playing hide the costing. This isn't a pea and thimble trick in which the Labor Party says, "We've done our best to cost your policy based on reasonable assumptions," and you say, "Ah ha. No, we've made other assumptions. We won't tell you what the assumptions are but we come up to a different answer."

That is a crazy game do be engaging in and what it means is that ultimately there are cuts being hidden from the Australian people. We know the Coalition has a set of policies which are disproportionately going to advantage the top one per cent.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: You don't really believe this rubbish!

ANDREW LEIGH: Absolutely, Christopher. Let me talk you through some of the rubbish you're proposing.

You're proposing to give the private health insurance rebate back to millionaires and billionaires to pay them $75,000 when they have a child and to get rid of the mining tax and you're paying for that by raising the superannuation taxes on low-income workers, by taking away the school kids bonus from kids in their first day of school and by potentially driving the country into a downturn as we've seen in the UK and in Queensland when you cut too hard you cost jobs.

So you're going to benefit the top one per cent with your policies but the bottom 99 per cent are going to pay for it. It would just be nice if you were clear with the Australian people about exactly how it's going to add up.

EMMA ALBERICI: Christopher Pyne...

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: I think it's sad Andrew, honestly I think it's sad that you genuinely - if you genuinely believe that complete tripe you're spouting on national television, I think it's particularly sad and you really need to get out in the real world and actually read what's going on in the real world rather than tell bald-faced lies on national television about somebody else's policies.

ANDREW LEIGH: Which of those was a lie, Christopher? Where did I mischaracterise one of your policies? The top one per cent have done very well over the last 30 years. Their income share has doubled. They don't need $75,000 to have a baby. We don't need to restore the private health insurance rebate to billionaires and we certainly don't need a huge tax cut for Gina Rinehart and Clive Palmer paid for by taking my money from kids on their first day of school.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: You've been caught red-handed lying about the Coalition's costings in the last two days and you're still doing it. If you wanted to be honest you'd remind the audience that 1.7 per cent of women in the workforce earn more than $100,000 a year so in fact 98 per cent of women earn less than $100,000 a year in the workforce and as a consequence, they are the biggest winners from a paid parental leave scheme that treats them like adults and says if you're on holiday you should be paid your full wage, if you're on long service leave you get your full wage and if you go and have a baby you'll get your full wage for 26 weeks so that you can spend that time nurturing your child and knowing you can still pay your bills.

It is remarkable to me that Labor is opposed to one of the most significant social and economic reforms that has been proposed in this country. I actually think you would like to propose it yourself but now embarrassed that the Coalition's proposed it, have to diss it when your heart's not really in it.

EMMA ALBERICI: Christopher Pyne, I'm interested to know your view on The Economist magazine's editorial coming up this weekend. They're barracking for Kevin Rudd in this election. How big a blow is that for the Coalition?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: It's not a blow at all. In a free country, in a democracy like ours, newspaper editorials or magazine editorials can plumb for which ever political party they want and if The Economist wants to support Kevin Rudd, well, good luck to them.

ANDREW LEIGH: The Economist certainly noted the use of market-based mechanism to deal with carbon pollution and quickly poo-pooed Direct Action and, as you'd expect from a magazine with that title...

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Obviously the Economist doesn't care about people lying before elections.

ANDREW LEIGH: They noted the benefits to Australia of the rapid fiscal stimulus which saw us avoid recession. The alternative to that fiscal stimulus would have been the kind of sluggish growth that we've seen elsewhere in the world. That's what we would have got if we had a Coalition Government in place when the global downturn hit.

So it's appropriate that The Economist magazine recognises our strong economic policies and of course it would be remiss of me not to mention that internationally it's been Labor Treasurers who've gotten the Euro Money magazine award for world's best Finance Minister.

EMMA ALBERICI: Andrew Leigh...

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well I'm sure that the average voter in Australia is really sitting there in their lounge room tonight thinking how important it is that the Euro Money magazine gives awards to Australian treasurers or the view of the Economist.

EMMA ALBERICI: I know you'd like to talk amongst yourselves but I would like to get a couple of questions in here.


EMMA ALBERICI: Andrew Leigh, a number of announcements from Labor this week did seem like policy on the run at a time when Defence spending is being cut, tell us how does it make sense to spend six billion dollars on moving the Garden Island naval base from Sydney to Brisbane? How is that a priority given the current state of the Budget?

ANDREW LEIGH: Emma, we know Garden Island faces some challenges and there's - in terms of our strategic posture, the Government's view is that it makes sense to have a look at options based out of Queensland.

EMMA ALBERICI: But the Defence White Paper in May thought it was too expensive. What's changed?

ANDREW LEIGH: We're certainly looking at various options here and recognising that Australia's Defence posture always has to be adjusting. There's going to be a variety of views on these sorts of issues but exactly where we structure our naval bases is absolutely vital.

I think if you look at the strategic situation for Australia, our naval forces are probably the most important part of our military posture and so having them located in the right bases is really vital. We want to be able to help out in the region. We've been doing a good deal of stabilising operations in places like the Solomon Islands and then we also want to have the capacity to respond to international challenges. For those reasons, the Government thinks that these - the basing out of Queensland makes some sense.

EMMA ALBERICI: Christopher Pyne, this seems to have come as a surprise to the Liberal Premier, Barry O'Farrell?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Absolutely, Emma. If we just review the week very quickly, we've had five lovely Kevin Rudd slightly hysterical thought bubbles.

On Monday he announced $115 billion for a very fast train.

On Tuesday he announced he was moving Garden Island from Sydney to Brisbane without consultation with anybody.

On Wednesday he announced a crack down on foreign investment which his Minister for Agriculture said he hasn't discussed with anyone at all.

On Thursday he said he was bringing forward two naval supply vessels two years with non-existent billions of dollars.

And on Friday he was repudiated by the department of Treasury, the department of finance and Parliamentary Budget Office for telling bald-faced lies about had Coalition's costings.

So Kevin Rudd has not had a very good week and the Garden Island one was a real doozy. That's on top of the Northern Territory company tax cut to 20 cents in the dollar which was, again, not discussed with anyone so when he came back to Prime Ministership, Kevin Rudd said he was a new Kevin Rudd, he was going to be consultative and have Cabinet government and all we've seen is the old Kevin Rudd treating people poorly, whether it's the make-up artist Lily Fontana or the hostess on the VIP jets, announcing policies on the run, thought bubbles, no consultation, all money pushed out past the forward estimates.

Frankly, the Australian public are sick of it. They want adults running the Government and have their chance next Saturday to make that choice.

EMMA ALBERICI: Andrew Leigh?

ANDREW LEIGH: Certainly the two parties will be presenting very different visions to Australia on seventh September. The Coalition are clearly planning savage austerity. We know from estimates that John Quiggen has done that for every $10 billion they take out of the economy, the unemployment rate is going to rise half a per cent and we know the impact that that sort of a slump would have on the jobs and the life prospects of Australians leaving school.

Our view is that with an economy moving out of the mining investment boom, it's appropriate to invest in schools, to fund the Better Schools package for six years not four years and demand states don't withdraw money from schools. To continue investing in universities and of course to build the national broadband network.

Mr Abbott talks about being an infrastructure Prime Minister but it's Labor willing to spend on rail, it's Labor willing to take fibre to the home. Done lot of door-knocking and I'm yet to find anyone on my door-knocks who would prefer the fibre stopped in the cable down the street rather than coming all the way to their home.

Australians want the 21st century investments and want to be sure those trades training centres are going to stay in our schools. They want to be sure we're going to expand university places as the demand goes up and that we're going to continue to invest in the underpinnings of prosperity not simply regard productivity as being a case of cutting back wages and conditions and going back to the old WorkChoices model. That's not the solution for building prosperity in the 21st century. Productivity is about skills, education and infrastructure and that's what Labor will deliver.

EMMA ALBERICI: We're running out of time.

Christopher Pyne, notwithstanding a major mishap by Tony Abbott this last week of the campaign, it looks like he will be the Prime Minister in just a little over a week's time. Apart from getting rid of the carbon tax and the mining tax, tell us how will Australians notice a difference in your first 100 days in Government? What will be the most telling change?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, Emma, of course we will abolish the mining tax and the carbon tax which will help reduce electricity prices and secure people's jobs. We'll immediately move to genuinely protect our borders and stop the people smugglers from filling our humanitarian intake of refugees by bringing back temporary protection visas, turning back the boats where it's safe to do so and having rigorous off-shore processing.

EMMA ALBERICI: I guess I'm asking you how it will feel different for Australians in the first 100 days rather than these things which might not necessarily reap rewards for you in the first 100 days.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: I think it will feel different because people are sick to death of watching the television news and seeing unauthorised boats arriving, captained by people smugglers and losing control of our borders. You might dismiss that as not very important but I actually think out in the electorate, talking to people, they want their electricity prices down, they want to get rid of the carbon tax, they want their jobs to be secured, they want to have some faith in the economic management of the country and after the debacle of the last 24 hours, with the Prime Minister verballing the departments of finance, Treasury and the PBO, I think that's the last straw and they do want our borders to be protected. You might not think that is a big change but for most mums and dads who are trying to pay their mortgages and pay their bills, just knowing they can do that and that our borders will be protected will be a very big change.

EMMA ALBERICI: Thank you both, gentlemen, for coming in this evening.

ANDREW LEIGH: Thanks Emma.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: It's a great pleasure.

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