SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER
SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMPETITION
MEMBER FOR FRASER
‘BREAKING POLITICS’ WITH CHRIS HAMMER
MONDAY, 3 FEBRUARY 2014
SUBJECT/S: Industry assistance, National Party infighting, unions, childcare affordability
CHRIS HAMMER: Just when should the Federal Government put its hand in its pocket, pull out some tax payers' money and help a struggling business or industry? Well, in recent months, the Federal Government has shown that it's not inclined to do that, refusing to give additional support first to Holden, and then the fruit processor SPC Ardmona. But now, the Agriculture Minister and National Party Member, Barnaby Joyce wants the Federal Government to provide up to $7 billion in drought assistance to struggling farmers in QLD and northern NSW. Well, to discuss this issue of government support. I'm joined by Andrew Leigh, the Member for Fraser here in the ACT, a Labor member and a former professor of Economics. Andrew, you'd support the Government's stance on Holden and SPC wouldn't you? Because it is good economics isn't it?
ANDREW LEIGH: Chris, I think under this government you've seen jobs going left, right and centre. You saw with Holden the goading of the company to leave and that terrible loss of jobs that I think is going to hit South Australia hard. You saw with SPC, Barnaby Joyce unable to persuade his colleagues to give $25 million to the company and yet here he is today in a sort of standard Barnaby Joyce style, going a full court of press on the media about what he's going to be talking about in Cabinet today. If he can't get $25 million for SPC, it's difficult to see how he's going to persuade his colleagues to get $7 billion, but you know Barnaby being Barnaby this is an issue where he's going to run around the country and talk about his...
HAMMER: So are you suggesting this is a bit of political showmanship by Barnaby Joyce to distance himself and the Nationals from the hardline economics that he thinks that Cabinet will pursue?
LEIGH: Absolutely. I mean, you're seeing really interesting dynamics within the National Party with Barnaby Joyce having moved to the lower house. This is somebody who crossed the floor to vote against the Coalition on more than a dozen occasions over the last Parliament, and who very much sees himself as a personal brand. The Abbott Government's...
HAMMER: And an aspiring leader. Do you think that that's what this is all about?
LEIGH: Oh, I think that's inevitable and anybody who watched Warren Truss leave the chamber during Barnaby Joyce's first speech would be aware of the tensions inherent there. But I think it also speaks to what are clearly the incentives within the National Party. So, when they knock off a loyal leader who's been committed to the Coalition and replace him with somebody who's very much a one man band, they'll show again that the Nationals have moved away from the style they had under Tim Fischer and Mark Vaile of very much being part of the Coalition to fragmenting. You saw that over the GrainCorp decision and I think you're seeing this today. It is very strange Chris to go out into the press and talk about what you're going to be saying in Cabinet.
HAMMER: OK, what about the issue itself? I mean, the drought is not imagined. It is severe and having a severe impact on those farms and graziers in those areas. Should the Federal Government be giving more assistance to those farmers?
LEIGH: Providing smart drought assistance makes sense. It's important that that's done in a way that supports good farmers rather than just in a manner that props up those who've made mistakes in the way in which they run their farms. That's a principle that ought to be applied to industry assistance across the board. Certainly that was always Labor's focus when we were in government - to make sure that we didn't generate perverse incentives in how we provided drought assistance.
HAMMER: Now moving to another issue - Tony Abbott appears to be moving towards having a Royal Commission into trade union corruption. Does Labor have anything to fear from such a Royal Commission?
LEIGH: Chris, while we were in government we tripled penalties for union wrongdoing and increased transparency reforms.
HAMMER: You also abolished the ABBC as well.
LEIGH: Well the Building and Construction Commission...
HAMMER: Sorry, the ABCC.
LEIGH: The ABCC wouldn't have addressed the concerns that are being raised today around corruption. I mean these are allegations, which if they're true, are abhorrent and ought to be dealt with by the police. I'm concerned that the government is more concerned about bashing hard working unionists who are fighting for better pay and conditions than it is on dealing with the abhorrent problem of corruption, which I think is a fairly small scale issue. You're seeing Minister Abetz, for example, attacking SPC workers who, as I understand it, earn less than $50,000 a year for being overpaid. That's pretty rich coming from somebody who's earning over $300,000.
HAMMER: Well if these are isolated incidents of corruption amongst union officials, what do you have to fear from a Royal Commission because surely even if, as you say, the government wants to embark on a campaign of bashing unions, a properly constituted Royal Commission with transparent terms of reference and, one assumes, a senior Australian judge or former judge, it's not going to be open to political manipulation is it?
LEIGH: I think the exercise is a distraction Chris. It's a distraction from the fact that a government which talked a lot about jobs before the election looks like it's going to fall short of its million jobs target on its own projections and has seen jobs go, whether that's in the public service and the city that I represent, or in Holden or potentially in other companies as well. This is a government which wants to distract from the conversation about jobs by attacking unionists, the vast majority of whom work every day to make workplaces safer. It's after all the union movement that's responsible for getting us the eight hour day, for seeing annual leave guaranteed, for seeing better pay and conditions for Australian workers.
HAMMER: Does the Labor Party need to distance itself more from the trade union movement?
LEIGH: I don't believe so Chris. I mean we take advice right across the board. I'm frequently speaking to business leaders, to people in the community sector. I think what's important is you take good advice wherever it comes from, you don't just take it from a narrow sector. You see for example the government's...
HAMMER: The Labor Party receives more than advice from the union movement though.
LEIGH: I assume you're referring to donations which are made in elections. Those donations come to different political parties. It's not just the Labor Party that receives donations from the union movement. And...
HAMMER: And control of a certain amount of preselections too.
LEIGH: Well the union movement contributes to the democratic processes within the Labor Party. It doesn't have a lock on any particular preselections and certainly what we see within the Labor Party is a party that's willing to listen to interests right across the board. It's in contrast, Chris, to the Government's Commission of Audit, entirely dominated by big business. No voice there from the community sector, from the union movement, from the disability sector. The Abbott Government is listening to the few at the expense of the many.
HAMMER: Now, I understand you have some concerns that the Government may be moving towards cutting back on childcare support. What are your concerns here?
LEIGH: As Kate Ellis pointed out yesterday, the government's release of a report on childcare costs which only focused on the costs of childcare before government rebates is deeply misleading. We know that under the Howard government the costs of childcare, after taking account of government rebates, rose faster than inflation. We know that under Labor, the cost of childcare after government rebates rose slower than inflation. That's because we invested in the sector in a range of different ways, not only increasing the rebate from 30 per cent to 50 per cent, but also investing in the quality of early childhood, recognising it's not just babysitting, it's fundamental education. The Coalition is, I think, softening up the ground for attacks - for a reduction in the childcare rebate. And we're already seeing them slash other programs, such as a $5 million program which would work with local governments to increase childcare availability.
HAMMER: So explain to me, I don't quite understand, how does putting out a report that shows that childcare costs are increasing quite rapidly - how does that soften the ground to cut support for childcare?
LEIGH: Well Minister Ley is talking about the childcare system as though the rebates don't exist. But the rebates are absolutely fundamental to what goes in early childhood. They've seen, for example, a family on $75,000 paying 8 per cent of their income on childcare, compared to 12 per cent under the Howard Government. They've made childcare more accessible, while other reforms by the Labor Government made sure that we raised the standards in early childhood centres. If Minister Ley is going to keep on bringing out misleading reports like this, I think Australians will begin to ask' what's her real agenda?' Is it just cuts, cuts, cuts as we're seeing under this government?
HAMMER: OK, Andrew Leigh, thank you very much for joining us today.
LEIGH: Thank you Chris.
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