PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
MONDAY, 8 FEBRUARY 2016
SUBJECT/S: GST; Labor’s fair plans for tax reform; asylum seekers.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Good morning everyone. Ever since the notion of raising the GST has been put on the table, Labor has been saying it is a bad idea. We have made absolutely clear this isn't going to be good for growth. We’ve pointed out that the Australian economy fell backwards when we first introduced the GST, and that the Japanese economy went into recession after they raised theirs. We've also said it's bad for inequality.
It's a sad day when Malcolm Turnbull is more inclined to listen to his own backbenchers that to Australian families. There are now signs that Malcolm Turnbull might be walking away from GST; though who knows given that Arthur Sinodinos seems to be walking in the other direction. The fact is that when he talks about being agile and innovative, the Prime Minister seems to be at his most agile and innovative when he is ducking and weaving around the tax debate.
This is a Government that has lost more ministers that it has had concrete tax ideas. Increasingly, Australians are wondering: what does this Prime Minister really stand for? He says he is serious about climate change but has taken on Tony Abbott's climate policies. He said that he believed in a free vote for marriage equality, and now he’s taken on Tony Abbott's idea of a plebiscite. He said that he was keen for economic leadership, but we haven't seen economic leadership. Instead what we've seen is the junking of a white paper process which began in 2013 and has cost the Australian taxpayers $600,000 in advertising alone; cost community and business groups probably millions of dollars in putting together the 800 submissions for the Tax White Paper. That methodical process of a white paper has been completely junked in favour of focus groups and discussions with worried backbenchers.
By contrast, Labor has got a very clear plan which involves making savings in the area of the Emissions Reduction Fund; not going ahead with an expensive plebiscite on marriage equality; not reinstating the Baby Bonus; fair taxation on multinationals; reigning in the unfair and unsustainable superannuation tax concessions; making changes to cigarette excise. Because of that, we are able to make announcements that go to the long term funding of needs-based school funding. Now, as a result of Malcolm Turnbull's flip-flopping, it is very unclear how the Government is going to deal with the fiscal challenges the States are facing; how this government can pay for needs-based school funding. That is a direct result of the $80 billion of cuts to schools and hospitals which happened under Tony Abbott and which Malcolm Turnbull seems to have absolutely no answer. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: So this is good news that there is no GST?
LEIGH: What would be good news is if Malcolm Turnbull unequivocally ruled out the GST but let's face it: he’s been flip-flopping on this question over the last few months. You couldn't be sure, even if he said one thing on the GST, that he wouldn't flip-flop back. Australians don't want a GST. The only safe thing to do at the next election is vote Labor.
JOURNALIST: And what was going to be a pretty central platform for Labor's election campaign was "we won't have a GST" (inaudible)
LEIGH: Labor will be arguing the next election based on our policy merits. We've got over 50 positive ideas out there. There will be more to come over the coming months. We want an ideas-focussed election but ones that are focused around policies that are fair for Australian families and the GST manifestly wasn’t that.
LEIGH: Labor is absolutely serious about the fiscal task here. We don't engage in the sort of haphazard approach that the Government does of floating thought-bubbles and then asking backbenchers to shoot down the ones they don’t like. Instead, we're engaged in a methodical process which, in the case of the policies we've already announced, has involved deep and extensive consultation. Not flip-flopping, not throwing careful work that's been done out the window as the Government has done, but carefully engaging with the business community, with the community sector and with Australian families about the policies that are best for them.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of the negative gearing stories?
LEIGH: Labor has said that this is an area we're looking at as well. We've been absolutely clear though that any changes we were to make on negative gearing would be focused on housing affordability and wouldn't hurt existing investors. That's certainly an area we've had on our radar as well.
JOURNALIST: Do you agree with several statements Premiers have made about the 257 people due to be sent to Nauru being kept here?
LEIGH: This is clearly an awful situation, to watch what these families and their children are going through. One of the problems has been that under this Government, processing times have blown out to 455 days. Labor has said we’d do things differently: we would work with third countries to make sure resettlement happened faster; that requires calm and methodical diplomatic efforts behind the scenes to resettle the people on Manus and Nauru. We've said we'd have a Children's Commissioner, we'd double the refugee intake, we'd give an addition $450 million to the UNHCR to enable regional resettlement. All of the things are stark difference between Labor and the Coalition on the issue of asylum seekers. No more questions? Thanks everyone.
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