SKY NEWS AM AGENDA
MONDAY, 20 MARCH 2017
SUBJECT/S: Competition policy; Newspoll; National energy crisis; Turnbull’s support for penalty rate cuts.
KIERAN GILBERT: With me now is the Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Andrew Leigh. Thanks very much for your time. You've copped some criticism for a piece you wrote last week in relation to the five faceless investors in top 20 Australian companies. The critique of your piece is basically that it's wrong in the sense that these custodian firms only have the power to hold shares, not have voting rates or anything of that sort. Were you wrong to suggest that these faceless investors behind the scenes control the firms?
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Kieran, I've made a mistake and I've owned up to that already. But what we were doing here is looking at the ways in which uncompetitive markets can hurt consumers. It's a part of work I've been doing for years since taking on the competition portfolio. I think it's absolutely critical in Australia that we keep on lifting up rocks and having a look at instances in which consumers aren't getting the best deal because of uncompetitive markets.
GILBERT: Sorry so you have admitted that that was a wrong extension in your argument to make in terms of these custodian firms?
LEIGH: Yes, I have. And certainly I own up to that error but I won't accept that we shouldn't be looking at common ownership. The real problem that we were trying to get at here is that if the same big investor has a stake in two competing firms they might prefer those firms to collude than to compete. That means the customers are getting a worse deal because the people who are putting the money into the firms have an incentive to support an oligopoly.
GILBERT: Are you going to revise that argument now given it is nowhere near as big a problem as you advocated or argued?
LEIGH: We were looking at legal owners and you need clearly to look through that to the beneficial owners of the firms. There has been research in the United States that has suggested that banking consumers get a worse deal when there's overlapping ownership. I believe in Australia that issue of common ownership could indeed be a big challenge to competitive markets. Labor wants consumers to get a great deal and doing research of this kind is part of us trying to ensure that consumers are always put front and centre of competition policy.
GILBERT: Credit for admitting a mistake when it happens because we all make one from time to time. Let's move onto the issue of the Newspoll today and your reflections on that because it shows that as I put it to David Crowe before, the Prime Minister is off the canvas so to speak?
LEIGH: I think the Prime Minister has now gotten to the stage where because his test is Newspolls, his news announcements are based around Newspolls. So we saw last week the man from Snowy River announcement timed just before the Newspoll. The only problem with that announcement is that it turns out to be 4000 times smaller than it was announced: not a $2 billion spend but a $500,000 feasibility study which would only have any impact on power prices down the track.
GILBERT: But if he didn't do the study you'd be bagging him for that wouldn't you, you've got to do a feasibility with something of that magnitude.
LEIGH: Let's put this into perspective, Kieran. This is a Prime Minister who has walked away from an emissions intensity scheme, a scheme that would save households $200 on their power bills and would bring down our carbon emissions. A Prime Minister that used to say he wouldn't lead a party as committed to action on climate change as he was but is now sent that off into the ether. The Prime Minister who isn't willing to back Labor's call for a national interests test on future gas developments, another plan which would help bring on gas supply.
GILBERT: I want to ask you finally, we're pretty tight for time today given the other commitments this morning but in relation to the penalty rates issue Craig Laundy has done research which shows that the unions have done several deals with fast food companies, big retailers and so on they've undercut that no worst off test which should be covered in union arrangements - no worse off than the award. He's found several agreements which are in fact worse off than the award, this undercuts your argument against the fair work commission decision doesn't it?
LEIGH: Kieran it's just a ridiculous claim. Under the fair work rules, there is a 'better off overall' test in which enterprise bargains are only allowable if they make workers better off under the agreement.
GILBERT: But these deals breach those apparently?
LEIGH: In that case they're deals which don't abide by the rules. We did have another set of rules. We had the Work Choices rules - which Malcolm Turnbull voted for - which didn't have a better off overall test. And so for Malcolm Turnbull suddenly to say that he's standing up for workers being better off overall under penalty deals stands in the face of what he did in the Parliament. Labor stands for a better off overall test. Of course workers and bosses can come to a better deal, but we need a bedrock of penalty rates and the Government is trying to takeaway that bedrock with no compensation.
GILBERT: Andrew Leigh, appreciate your time.
LEIGH: Thank you, Kieran.