WEDNESDAY, 7 SEPTEMBER 2016
SUBJECT/S: G20 meeting; Growth targets; Trade policy; Superannuation; Sam Dastyari.
MARIUS BENSON: Andrew Leigh can I begin by asking you about the G20 meeting which has concluded in China. The message was the same from the G20 leaders; free trade is good, more free trade is better. But that seems to ignore a couple of things. One is that the same message has not been matched by the promised growth for some years. And the other is there has been a shift in world opinion, you can see it with Donald Trump, you can see it with Brexit, you can see it with Pauline Hanson advocating protectionist measures here. But that protectionist view, that change in world opinion ignored by world leaders. Is that a problem?
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Marius, you've gone to one of the biggest concerns about where the global economy is going which is that we need to confront those protectionist views head on. In recent years we've seen trade barriers come down around the world and that's put thousands of dollars into the pockets of the typical Australian household and benefited people around the world. But the rise of protectionism does demand that we have a strong social safety net. I've always thought that you can't be a free trader unless you're also committed to a strong social safety net because trade adds to the total pie but the benefits don't flow evenly. We need to make sure that we have the fairness measures in place in order to make trade work.
BENSON: Was the message from the G20 the appropriate one or does it ignore issues that are important?
LEIGH: I think the G20 is again struggling to deal with a world in which there are many challenges to free trade and in which growth is lagging. You go back to 2014, and the Abbott-Hockey Government back then promised us an additional 2 percentage points of growth. I recently had a look at how we're tracking on that. Compared to the expectations back then, we've got 2.5 per cent less growth. So against the 2014 target, Australia is falling well short on that growth measure. On trade, we know global trade volumes have been flat lining in recent years and that multilateral trade liberalisation – getting all the countries around the table – is really the best way of doing it rather than these press conference deals in which you go and get together with one country and strike a preferential arrangement.
BENSON: Can I come back home to superannuation because the Treasurer Scott Morrison is today going to set out the details of the Government's changes to superannuation. Basically, to trim back tax breaks for wealthy superannuates which Labor broadly backs although today it's not expected to go to one particular issue which is the $500,000 cap on non-concessional contributions. It's a complex area, but broadly are you in lock-step with Scott Morrison or not?
LEIGH: We've got a couple of concerns about what the Government has done. In particular the retrospectivity and we've proposed a way of achieving the same budget savings but without putting in place measures that are retrospective. As you know of course Marius, Labor has led this debate. We had our own policy out more than a year ago and that was attacked at the time by Scott Morrison. I'm pleased that he has come around to recognise that our superannuation tax breaks aren't fair. Just to give one example, somebody in the top 1 per cent gets two and a half times the value of the age pension from those tax breaks. If a package which is broadly agreed between the parties goes through, then they would get not two and a half times the pension but twice the pension – still pretty generous.
BENSON: Can I leave superannuation there and go to the least favourite topic for Labor at the moment which is Sam Dastyari, your fellow frontbencher. He gave a long account yesterday of his travails in terms of getting a loan from a Chinese source. There was a long explanation that left many questions unanswered. At the end of the Sam Dastyari explanation, did you have it clear in your mind why he solicited a loan from a Chinese company and how he did so?
LEIGH: Sam acknowledged it to be a mistake, Marius. I think that we do have to have some notion in politics that it's possible for someone to make a mistake, to apologise and to move on. If we have a one strike and you're out rule in politics we're going to lose a lot of talent, including talented people like Sam.
BENSON: But there are three strikes, there's the loan, there's the wine bottles, there's more loan suggestions.
LEIGH: I don't think there's any suggestion that Sam has broken the rules here. Indeed these issues came to light because he complied with the rules and –
BENSON: Bad rules though by Labor estimate?
LEIGH: We certainly think the rules could be improved. But if you're assessing someone's behaviour you have to do so against the rules that were in place at the time. And Sam's complied appropriately with those rules.
BENSON: Will he survive on the frontbench?
LEIGH: I believe he should. I think he has got a lot to contribute to the party and I think he's somebody who is very thoughtful and articulate. Somebody who is able to inject a bit of fun into politics and that's something that Australian politics can do with more.
BENSON: Andrew Leigh, thank you very much.
LEIGH: Thank you, Marius.