MONDAY, 4 APRIL 2016
SUBJECT/S: North Queensland Taskforce; Labor’s positive plans for the economy; saving Medicare
JACQUIE MACKAY: Joining me now is Shadow Assistant Treasurer and Shadow Minister for Competition, Dr Andrew Leigh. Good morning Dr Leigh.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Thanks Jacquie, lovely to be here.
MACKAY: Now you've been campaigning against the effects test and how that might hit regional consumers, we'll talk a little bit about that in just a moment. But you're visiting too as part of Labor's North Queensland Taskforce so what exactly will you be doing today in Rocky and Gladstone?
LEIGH: Well I'll be here with Lisa Neaton, our terrific Capricornia candidate talking with local businesses about some of the issues facing the economic development of this wonderful part of the world and also discussing issues such as housing affordability and also cost of living which I know are important to many local residents. It's the same story wherever you go in Australia. People are saying that they're concerned about the fall in living standards in Australia over recent years and worried that we've got a Government that is out of touch with the concerns of ordinary Australians. Always there to back in the multinationals but not necessarily there for Australian families.
MACKAY: And when it comes to things like competition, one of the things that we've been seeing an enormous increase in is the cost of electricity. What can be done about that?
LEIGH: Well you've got to make sure you've got a competitive market and you've got to ensure that you've got new supply coming on. There will be a role that coal plays over the future but we also need to make sure that we've got gas and renewables there as part of the energy mix. If we've got our head in the sand on renewable energy then we'll miss the opportunity to generate the jobs that are there as the world makes that important transition.
MACKAY: And the North Queensland Taskforce, what's Labor's policy position when it comes to North Queensland projects?
LEIGH: Led by Jan McLucas, our Senator based in Cairns, we're keen to make sure that North Queensland gets its fair share of infrastructure spending. It's vitally important that we make sure that we've also got fast and affordable broadband. I know a big issue for Lisa is ensuring that the quality of the broadband here is better than what we have at the moment. Malcolm Turnbull oversaw a doubling in the cost of the National Broadband Network and yet failed to reach the targets he set when he was Communications Minister. That matters particularly in a place like Rockhampton where the National Broadband Network is your link into the world and where the opportunities of online education and e-health are only going to be realised if you've got superfast broadband that lets you have a video conference that is like watching a television rather than some sort of jumpy Skype picture which doesn't allow you to take full advantage of e-health and e-education.
MACKAY: The Turnbull Government is really pushing innovation, science and technology. What would the Labor position be on increasing those aspects and trying to improve the jobs that are coming for the new generation of these really technological children that we have in our life?
LEIGH: We've certainly got to be looking for the technological opportunities. One of the things that has long concerned me is the rise in inequality that we've seen in Australia. And you can think of inequality as being a race between technology and education. Technology is going to jump ahead in leaps and bounds and we should encourage that and encourage opportunities for startup entrepreneurs. But if education stagnates then the gap between rich and poor widens. One of the issues that I know Lisa is particularly passionate about is making sure Rockhampton is a hub for education, that the quality of the Primary Schools, the Secondary Schools and the post-school sector are as good as they can be. We've got to make sure too that people are getting an education that is flexible and adaptable. Because frankly a lot of the kids who are leaving school now will end their careers doing jobs who haven't even been invented yet. So you don't want to put people into educational silos, you want to make sure they have a great literacy and numeracy base, an ability to engage with diverse teams and a willingness to pick up new skills along the way. The cuts we've seen to schools over the course over the last few years under the Abbott and Turnbull Governments have really challenged the potential for Australia to take advantage of all that innovation has to offer.
MACKAY: And talking about cuts to schools, we heard from the Treasurer Scott Morrison this morning about Labor's budget plans and he says that basically Labor is going to increase income tax; that that's their only solution to the problems that we have. This is a little of what he had to say this morning.
SCOTT MORRISON, TREASURER: You can't promise money that's not there. Every time you hear Bill Shorten say something over the next three months, understand what it means is higher taxes because that's how he pays for it. Every time you see Bill Shorten's lips moving over the next three months or however long it is until the next election, there is one consequence, the taxes will go up or the deficit will get bigger. That is the only way that he can afford to pay for anything and that is by increasing taxes. We're not about increasing taxes, whether it's increasing investment taxes like they want to do or increasing other taxes. We want the tax burden moderated for Australians, particularly for businesses that are out there employing people that we need to drive our jobs.
MACKAY: Treasurer Scott Morrison speaking on AM just half an hour or so ago. This morning I am speaking to the Shadow Assistant Treasurer Dr Andrew Leigh who is in Rockhampton and Gladstone today. So what's your response to those claims from Scott Morrison?
LEIGH: It's extraordinary chutzpah from a man who went to the COAG meeting on Friday with a plan for double taxation and who has presided over the tax to GDP share rising under this Government. Labor's plans include important savings, we wouldn't go ahead with the Government's subsidies for polluters scheme that they call direct action, we wouldn't spend over a hundred million dollars on a plebiscite for marriage equality. We think Parliamentarians should just do their job and go in the Parliament and vote. We wouldn't restore the baby bonus which was scrapped with bipartisan support but now Malcolm Turnbull has done a deal with the National Party to attempt to bring it back. Alongside that, Labor has identified around a hundred billion dollars of measures that add to the budget bottom line. They haven't been universally popular measures, but they have been responsible measures that we've had carefully costed by the Parliamentary Budget Office. Things like changing cigarette excise, fair taxation of multinationals, reining in superannuation tax concessions and bringing back the excesses in negative gearing and capital gains tax discount that have acted to provide more support to property speculators than first home buyers. We've put over 50 policies on the table over the course of this election in turn because Bill Shorten, Chris Bowen and Labor's economic team believe that a responsible opposition needs to come up with its own ideas not simply criticise the Government. I love it when I hear Scott Morrison bagging Labor: it gives me a chance to talk about our positive plan. But I'd prefer to be in a nation in which the Treasurer was actually out there putting his ideas on the table rather than just criticising others.
MACKAY: So he says Governments have to live within their means. Are you sure that Labor can find the savings that you claim that you're going to be able to find for us to be able to live in our means and not add to the deficit?
LEIGH: Absolutely confident. We've had our policies costed by the Parliamentary Budget Office which means we're able to ensure that we support needs based funding for schools. We're able to ensure that we provide hospitals and the funding that they need to reduce waiting times. We've got a new report from the Australian Medical Association showing that wait times for elective surgery and emergency departments are beginning to blow out. That shouldn't be happening as affluent as ours. It shouldn't be beyond our wit to provide our kids with the schools they need to compete with the jobs they need to compete for the jobs of the future and the hospitals that all of us deserve so we're not left waiting for surgery that we need.
MACKAY: What specifically does Labor have in mind for Central Queensland?
LEIGH: We certainly believe that it's important that our infrastructure, particularly the National Broadband Network, is rolled out here. All our plans for schools will ensure that schools in Central Queensland will get the resources they need to deliver in an increasingly global economy. We've got Australian test scores slipping backwards over the course of the last decade and that's a real concern for anyone who wants their kids to get into jobs that are better than the ones that they themselves do. We all have aspirations for our kids to go further than we did but the only way that you can achieve those aspirations is by having a school system that really delivers for all Australian students. Labor can do that because we've got the carefully funded policies. The Coalition is just looking at cuts, cuts, cuts. Looking for people to blame, looking for ways of taking money away from States, it is families that will pay for that. It is families that will suffer if we don't get the schools and hospitals that Australia needs. We'll stand up for Medicare, the Coalition are spending too much time standing up for multinationals and that's not the Australian way.
MACKAY: Dr Andrew Leigh is with us this morning, and he'll be in Rockhampton and Gladstone later today. Thanks so much for coming in this morning and as the Shadow Assistant Treasurer and Shadow Minister for Competition I'm sure you'll have a very busy election campaign ahead.
LEIGH: Absolutely. Thanks so much.