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Breaking Politics – Monday, 14 April

In my usual media spot on Mondays with the Liberal’s Andrew Laming and Breaking Politics host, Chris Hammer, topics up for debate were the spectre of raising the pension age to 70 and flagged federal budget cuts to the CSIRO. Here’s the full transcript:



SUBJECT/S: Joe Hockey’s budget and cuts; Age Pension, CSIRO, the ABC and SBS; Superannuation and inequality; Unfair PPL Scheme, Trade and Foreign investment

CHRIS HAMMER: Well the budget is now less than a month away and Treasurer, Joe Hockey, is talking tough. His given the clearest signal yet that he intends to raise the pension age to 70, but perhaps not in this term of government. Joining me to discuss that and other matters, budgetary and otherwise, I’m joined by Andrew Leigh, the Federal Labor member for Fraser here in the ACT, and Andrew Laming, the Liberal member for Bowman in Queensland. Good morning. Andrew Laming, let me start with you. Should the pension age be raised to 70?

ANDREW LAMING: Well, obviously the pension age is already changing from 65 to 67 over the next decade and Andrew Leigh has long made that very important point that with longevity in Australia that period between retirement and expected length of life only continues to increase. So this is a debate that brave politicians will continue to have. I think that the pace at which it’s increasing, a couple of years per decade, is thoroughly reasonable and of course we’ve also got the life expectancy figures to back those calculations.

HAMMER: Whatever the merits of the policy though, this isn’t going to be a quick fix for the budget, is it, because we’re looking at so many years into the future?

LAMING: That’s correct. So, already these increases through to 2023 are continuing at a trajectory on from that date, obviously only helps the budget in the 2020s. It doesn’t help the budget right now.

HAMMER: Andrew Leigh, raising the pension to 70, is it a good idea, an inevitable idea?

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Well it was an idea ruled out Chris the day before the election by the Prime Minister who said ‘no changes to pensions’.

HAMMER: But I think he was referring to this term of government. If he goes to the next election saying ‘this is what we intend to do’, well that would be fine, wouldn’t it?

LEIGH: He certainly didn’t make that clear in his unequivocal statement the day before the election Chris. But the impact of this is that a scheme which was set up to avoid poverty among the elderly is now looking at being changed in a way that would increase poverty among the elderly. Andrew is right when he says that average life expectancy is rising but the other fact to bear in mind is that workers in manual jobs like check-out operators and cleaners find it tough to work till 70 and workers in those occupations will die on average six years younger than the most affluent Australians. So on life expectancy, there’s a big gap between most and least affluent and I’m really scared about what this broken promise will do to the most vulnerable Australians.

Continue reading ‘Breaking Politics – Monday, 14 April’ »

Age pension under attack – Network Ten interview – Monday, 14 April 2014

I appeared on Network Ten’s breakfast show, Wake Up, this morning to discuss Joe Hockey’s anticipated budget attack on pensions. Here’s the transcript:








SUBJECT/S: Age pension and the budget; Tony Abbott’s paid parental leave scheme; and CSIRO cuts.

NATARSHA BELLING: To talk more, we are joined this morning by Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Andrew Leigh. Good morning Andrew, thanks for joining us this morning.

ANDREW LEIGH: Morning, Tarsh.

BELLING: Now, in regards to Mr Hockey’s statement he claims that his generation will have to work longer because there will be serious future budgetary stresses from an ageing population. So is this something the Government needs to do?

LEIGH: Well Tarsh, the Government has said very clearly before the election there would be no cuts to pensions, so this would be a breach of that promise, and I think a very unfair one. We established the pension over a hundred years ago to deal with poverty among seniors, and to address it now in a way that increases poverty among seniors doesn’t seem smart or fair.

JAMES MATHISON: You talk about smart and fair but the reality is that the population is ageing. What are you guys proposing that would be an appropriate age or an appropriate way to combat the fact that our population is getting older?

LEIGH: We did two big things in government James. We raised the pension by the largest amount since its introduction, then we phased in a rise from 65 to 67 and that will be phased in between 2017 and 2023. To go as far as 70, as your vox pop illustrated, there’s a bunch of people whose bodies really struggle to get them to 70 in jobs like cleaning and check out operators. But on top of that, we know that low income Australians die about six years earlier than high income Australians, so they’ll enjoy the pension for fewer years.

Continue reading ‘Age pension under attack – Network Ten interview – Monday, 14 April 2014’ »

Newsradio interview transcript – 11 April, 2014

This morning I spoke to Marius Benson about what Treasurer Joe Hockey has signalled; a further increase in the pension age and more means testing of welfare.




SUBJECT/S: Tony Abbott’s broken promise on the Age Pension; Free trade agreements; Unemployment; WA Senate; Australian Labor Party.

MARIUS BENSON, PRESENTER: Andrew Leigh, good morning.


BENSON: The economic outlook, certainly the employment outlook, did brighten noticeably yesterday.

LEIGH: Marius, there’s two ways of bringing down the unemployment rate. You can either have a whole lot of people find jobs or you can have a whole lot of people cease looking for jobs. Economists call the latter the ‘discouraged worker effect’ and given that the participation rate went down yesterday I think what we’re seeing is mostly people giving up unfortunately, rather than people moving from unemployment into employment.

BENSON: The unemployment figures are more complex than they look on the surface, but it did seem to cheer, at least, the Australian dollar. But everything connects, the dollar rose yesterday that makes life harder for our exporters who were thinking life might get easier as the result of a couple of free trade agreements over the past week or so. How important do you think those free trade agreements are when you look at the dollar going up a couple of cents?

LEIGH: A multilateral free trade agreement always beats a bilateral free trade agreement, so we’re in the world of the second-best once we’re striking country-to-country deals. This one seems to have attracted an unusual amount of criticism from agricultural groups: the National Farmer’s Federation saying that it falls short of the mark, cane growers saying that it’s a kick in the guts, Cattle Council disappointed, the Australia Pork Limited describing it as ‘a missed opportunity’. So that’s a surprising amount of critique from the agricultural sector about a deal which is principally on agriculture for Australian exporters.

Continue reading ‘Newsradio interview transcript – 11 April, 2014’ »

Pre-budget discussion on ABC NewsRadio – Monday, 31 March

As the Treasurer receives the final report of the Commission of Audit – a document set to guide the drafting of the Abbott Government’s first budget – I spoke this morning to the ABC’s Marius Benson about secrecy surrounding cuts expected in the upcoming May budget. Listen to the NewsRadio podcast here.

National Press Club address – Australian Egalitarianism Under Threat – Thursday, 27 March 2014

Addressing the National Press Club, I talked about a generation of rising inequality, how the Abbott Government’s policies will affect inequality and the importance of maintaining Australia’s egalitarian ethos (download audio; iTunes podcast):


Battlers and Billionaires: Australian Egalitarianism Under Threat*

National Press Club Address



In 2002, two bombs exploded in Bali nightclubs, killing and injuring hundreds of people. At the local hospital, there was a shortage of painkillers. Graeme Southwick, an Australian doctor on duty, asked patients to assess their own pain levels. He kept being told by patients in the ‘Australian’ ward that they were okay – the person next to them was suffering more.

Coming across this account, historian John Hirst was reminded of the description of injured Australians in Gallipoli nearly a century earlier. He quotes the official war historian Charles Bean, who describes the suffering and then says, ‘Yet the men never showed better than in these difficulties. The lightly hurt were full of thought for the severely wounded.’

Even in the midst of their own pain, the first instinct of many Australians was to think of those worse off than themselves.

Continue reading ‘National Press Club address – Australian Egalitarianism Under Threat – Thursday, 27 March 2014’ »

Sky AM Agenda – 24 March 2014

On Sky AM Agenda, I joined Liberal MP Steve Ciobo and host Kieran Gilbert to discuss Labor’s win in the South Australian election, the Abbott Government’s attempt to fiddle the jobs forecasts and Paul Howes’ rumoured resignation as AWU head.

TRANSCRIPT – Talking Politics with 2CC Breakfast – Wednesday, 12 March

This morning I spoke with 2CC’s Mark Parton about revelations that Prime Miniter Tony Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey ignored John Howard and Peter Costello’s advice to keep Treasury Secretary, Martin Parkinson. I discuss the decision and affirm the great work of the public service.



SUBJECT/S: Martin Parkinson and the Australian Public Service; Tasmanian election and jobs.

MARK PARTON: I don’t think Andrew Leigh is going to be reinventing himself any time soon; driving a taxi or working in a bakery. He is these days the Federal Member for Fraser in Federal Parliament with the ALP. He is on the line right now. Morning Andrew.

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: G’day Mark. It is my third career. I was a lawyer for a while. I was a professor for a while -

PARTON: Yes it is. I’d forgotten about that -

LEIGH: And we haven’t even gone into my fruit picking and newspaper delivery days -

PARTON: You talk about people who’ve had to reinvent themselves. Let’s talk about Martin Parkinson, the Treasury Secretary, because we learnt some fascinating things in this story in the last 24 hours. The Abbott Government apparently defied the advice of a couple of learned gentlemen on the right side of politics, in John Howard and Peter Costello. It is our understanding that they recommended Martin Parkinson should stay on as Treasury Secretary but for some reasons Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey said, ‘No, you don’t know what you’re talking about.’

LEIGH: I think it was real a mistake of the Coalition to fire Martin Parkinson. Remember there’s a story from the last recession where basically the only two people who are still around in senior economic policy making a couple of years ago were Ken Henry and Martin Parkinson. The only two people who had been through a recession, and now there’s just Martin. I’ve argued personally to Joe Hockey that from his own self-interest he’d be well served to keep someone like Martin Parkinson who has faithfully served both sides. So it’s this sort of vindictiveness that I think saw the Government come in and immediately get rid of four agency heads. We didn’t do it in 2007. We hadn’t appointed most of the secretaries but we took the view that public servants basically work hard for which ever government is in power and the sort of partisan firings are not wise in the long run.

Continue reading ‘TRANSCRIPT – Talking Politics with 2CC Breakfast – Wednesday, 12 March’ »

Breaking Politics – Transcript – Monday, 10 March 2014

At the start of the week I spoke with Fairfax Media’s Breaking Politics host Chris Hammer and Andrew Laming about what’s making news, including speculation the still secret Audit Commission report has recommended making it harder for Australians to be eligible for the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card. Here’s the full transcript:



SUBJECT/S: Pension age; Commonwealth Seniors Health Card; Relaxing media laws.

HOST CHRIS HAMMER: At just what age should Australians be able to retire and what age would they be able to access the old age pension? At the moment that age is 65 but in a few time, by 2023 it will rise to 67. Now there’s speculation the Government may raise it again to 70. Joining me to discuss that and other issues, in the studio is the Shadow Assistant Treasurer and Labor member for Fraser in the ACT, Andrew Leigh and from Brisbane, the member for Bowman, Andrew Laming.

Andrew Laming, good to see you. Where are you this morning?

ANDREW LAMING: Well I’m down at my local quarry where I was hoping to show off a vigorous economy but at the moment there are no customers, so you’d just have to trust me.

HAMMER: Okay, very well. To the topic at hand, Andrew Laming can the Government defend or should the Government even be looking at raising the pension age to 70?

LAMING: Well Chris, we’re certainly looking over a decade ahead now, so it’s pretty hard to predict what living standards and expectations will look like then. But I think it’s important that the Government, given the history of the pension age, continues to debate about where an appropriate age setting should be. I’m glad that’s not a topic too hard to the Coalition to discuss and look ultimately we are, as a health expert I know, slightly fitter and slightly better able to contribute to the economy and Andrew Leigh would admit, that the longer keep people in the workforce the better it is for Australia’s long term future.

HAMMER: Andrew Leigh, we are living longer. It does make sense?

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMPETITION: I certainly agree on the importance of participation Chris. But you’ve got to remember there are two key ages. There’s the age that people can access their super which is 60 and the age people get the pension which will eventually be 67. The Government is only focusing on the latter of those ages and that’s of course the time at which manual workers get their pension. And so, to say to manual workers, ‘look you’re going to now have to wait ten years longer than more affluent people who’ve got money in superannuation’ and doing that in an environment where you know that manual workers, sometimes their bodies just give out, say if you’re a bricklayer. We also know that low-income Australians die younger. So, it doesn’t seem particularly fair to be pushing out the pension age for people who do hard physical labour and who in many cases die at younger ages.

Continue reading ‘Breaking Politics – Transcript – Monday, 10 March 2014’ »

Youth Connections

I spoke in parliament today about the Youth Connections program, delivered in the ACT by Anglicare, which faces the prospect of cuts this year.

Youth Connections, 3 March 2014

I rise today to applaud Youth Connections, a national youth education program which is delivered in my electorate by Anglicare and to urge the federal government to continue to fund it. At this stage it is uncertain whether there will be funds beyond this year for the Youth Connections youth education program to continue. Youth Connections is designed to keep young people engaged in high school. It offers a flexible service which keeps them in school and on the road to meaningful and decently-paid work.

Take the story of Alice. When Alice moved with her family to Canberra at the age of 12 she found it difficult to make friends at school. She was bullied severely and eventually stopped going to school. Suffering from depression, she started taking harmful drugs, ran away from home and fell pregnant. She found safe shelter in a refuge. Faced with the prospect of becoming a young mother, Alice sought help from Youth Connections. She joined the program, and they provided essential baby items, helped to transport her to medical appointments and—after the birth of her daughter—assisted with domestic violence issues and court proceedings.

Continue reading ‘Youth Connections’ »

Breaking Politics – Monday, 3 March 2014

This morning I joined Fairfax Media host Chris Hammer and Liberal MP Andrew Laming for a wide-ranging discussion including the importance of keeping Qantas in Australian hands, protecting the Great Barrier Reef and concerns about the potential harm of winding back racial vilification laws.




SUBJECT/S: Qantas Sales Act and jobs; ‘Green Army’ and jobs; Great Barrier Reef and tourism jobs; Offshore processing of asylum seekers; Repeal of hate speech laws.

CHRIS HAMMER: Well, the big political story of the day is undoubtedly Qantas with Cabinet meeting to decide on what assistance if any the Government can give it. Joining me to discuss this issue and others in Andrew Laming, the Liberal Member for Bowman in Queensland and Andrew Leigh, Assistant Shadow Treasurer and Labor Member for Fraser in the ACT. Gentlemen, there seems to be a standoff here. You’ve got the Government saying it doesn’t want to give a debt guarantee for Qantas. You’ve got Labor saying it doesn’t want to relax the Qantas Sales Act at least as far as foreign ownership’s concerned. Andrew Laming, can you see any way through this impasse?

ANDREW LAMING: Well, these are options that are being considered today by Cabinet. I must admit that I sense that Qantas must be feeling positively manhandled by political commentators at the moment. We’ve had every imaginable recipe for their survival. But in the end the affairs rest in the hands of the company itself. They’ve got to find that balance to look after shareholders, staff and customers and I’m just hoping that can be done as seamlessly and painlessly as possible and those options are in the hands of Cabinet effectively.

HAMMER: Is there any qualitative difference between Qantas and the carmakers? With the car markers most Australians weren’t buying Fords and Holdens, they were buying imported Hyundais. It’s the same with holidays and going overseas. They’re just buying tickets on price. Should the Government be intervening to help Qantas?

LAMING: Well, certainly airlines are a more internationalised sector, so that means if we wish to retain some of sense of Australian identity, then we’re going to have to look at every competitive advantage for Qantas in an open market, not unfair support. But in the end these are decisions for the company. They have to look after their own affairs and the more we interfere, even if we think it’s benign, may just prolong the inevitable. We need the company making long term decisions for their survival.

HAMMER: What’s the inevitable?

LAMING: Well, the inevitable is increasing competition. The inevitable is getting rid of the carbon tax here in Australia which costs Qantas $106 million last year. These are things that we can do to improve things immediately for the immediate survival of Qantas as John Borghetti at Virgin pointed out just recently.

HAMMER: Andrew Leigh, Labor has suggested giving Qantas a debt guarantee but that seems to be off the table. Tony Abbott’s ruled that out. On the Qantas Sales Act is there room to move there from Labor’s point of view?

ANDREW LEIGH: Chris, we’re in this strange situation at the moment where Qantas has asked for a debt guarantee and the Government has now said no after having given very clear indications that it would provide such a guarantee with the four-part test laid out with Joe Hockey in December. Qantas hasn’t asked for a change to the Qantas Sale Act and yet the Government is pushing that as its number one solution. So, it really does seem to me that when it comes to saving the Flying Kangaroo the Government is flying chicken. It’s not doing what the company is asking for and is instead pursuing a route which, if it were successful, would see us lose our national carrier. We would effectively see Qantas become a foreign owned airline.

Continue reading ‘Breaking Politics – Monday, 3 March 2014’ »

Investment, Education and Fairness

I spoke in parliament on the government’s failure to turn a G20 growth aspiration into a clear plan for prosperity.

MPI – G20, 26 February 2014

I congratulate the Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development on his decade-old diggings, but I am happy to assure the House that I, like all members on this side, do not support a GP tax. The aspiration set by the Treasurer for an additional 0.4 per cent growth per year over the next five years is a perfectly reasonable aspiration, and nobody in this parliament would disagree with it, but an aspiration is not a plan.

There are two very clear plans for growth on offer in this parliament. This side of the parliament believes that growth is driven by investment, by education and by fairness. That side of the parliament believes it is driven by cuts, cuts and cuts—cutting infrastructure, cutting services and cutting wages.

Continue reading ‘Investment, Education and Fairness’ »

Jobs, Growth and Productivity

I spoke in parliament about the economic challenges facing the government, around jobs, growth and productivity.


26 FEBRUARY, 2014

In these bills the government is requesting that parliament approve additional expenditure of around $14.8 billion, which largely reflects the government’s decisions outlined in the 2013-14 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook.

Let me say from the outset that the Opposition do not oppose the passage of the three appropriations bills we are debating in the parliament today. Without denying this bill being read a second time, I move:

That all the words after “That” be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

“whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading the House notes that:

(1) the Government repeatedly stated before the election ‘that if debt is the problem, more debt is not the answer’;

(2) the 2013-14 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook showed a $17 billion blow-out in the 2013-14 budget deficit, which at the time represented a $167 million budget blow-out per day since the Government took office;

(3) 60 per cent of the predicted budget blow-out in 2013-14 was due to the decisions of the Government alone;

(4) the Government has sought to pave the way for deep cuts to the federal budget by deliberately blowing out the budget and establishing its Commission of Audit; and

(5) these cuts would be another example of this Government saying one thing before the election, and doing the complete opposite after it.”

What we have continually seen from this government is that they do one thing after the election having said the complete opposite before the election. We have a litany of examples: the Renewable Energy Target, jobs, taxation, cuts to health and education, and this particular case—the budget.


We had a lot of slogans from the Coalition prior to the election and we still hear them today. There is one that I would like to bring up—the slogan: ‘If debt is the problem, more debt is not the answer’. If more debt was not the answer, why did the government do a deal with the Greens to legislate for unlimited debt? And what about the issue of this budget emergency? We heard, saw and read an awful lot about that from the coalition prior to the election, but when we actually saw the Abbott government’s MYEFO last year, the first budget document to be published under the new government, we saw a nearly $17-billion budget blow-out for 2013-14, more than a 50 per cent increase in the budget deficit, 60 per cent of which was due to decisions of this government. And that blow-out, with a deficit of $30 billion to $47 billion, represented a huge amount every day—$160 million per day.

The component of the budget deficit that did not represent increased expenditure was as a result, largely, of changes in assumptions. We learned yesterday morning from the Secretary of the Department of Finance, David Tune, when he spoke to Senate estimates, that the estimates in MYEFO had dropped the former Labor government’s fiscal rules which limited real spending growth. Mr Tune confirmed to Senate estimates that this change in assumptions increased MYEFO’s projections for the size of the budget debt over the decade to 2023-24.

Continue reading ‘Jobs, Growth and Productivity’ »

BREAKING POLITICS – Monday, 24 February 2014

Breaking Politics host, Chris Hammer, invited me and regular sparring partner Liberal MP Andrew Laming into the Fairfax Media studio to discuss this morning’s news.  Today’s agenda includes worrying reports that the Abbott Government may weaken legislation requiring companies to report on the gender of employees and progress of workplace gender equality measures.




SUBJECT/S: Manus Island; Cambodia and the Refugee Resettlement Agreement; G20 growth target and multinational profit shifting; Qantas future and jobs; Company gender reporting.

CHRIS HAMMER: One week after an Iranian asylum seeker died on Manus Island the story is still front page news. That’s largely because of Saturday, Border Protection Minister Scott Morrison that he had been misinformed and in turn had misinformed the public about what had happened last Monday night on Manus Island. Well, to discuss that and other issues, I’m joined by Andrew Leigh, the Labor Member for Fraser in the ACT and also Assistant Shadow Treasurer and Andrew Laming, the Liberal Member for Bowman in Brisbane.

Andrew Laming, to you first, it now seems highly likely that the Iranian asylum seeker died within the detention centre on Manus Island. Doesn’t that make his death wholly the responsibility of the Australian Government?

ANDREW LAMING: If that information’s correct it’s extremely alarming. Everyone would regret this occurrence from last week. Look, Scott Morrison’s a star minister. He’s provided information as soon as he reliably could. They’ll try and work out why he was potentially given incorrect information. Everyone will want absolute safety for those that are detained on Manus. I’m confident that that centre can achieve that and continue to be an important part of our border protection.

HAMMER: So, you’d concede that it is the Australian Government’s responsibility, the death in a sense -

LAMING: We’ll be a key player in getting to the bottom of that matter. And we are obviously responsible because we hire the contractors who run that camp.

Continue reading ‘BREAKING POLITICS – Monday, 24 February 2014’ »

DOORSTOP TRANSCRIPT – Monday 24 February, 2014

Joining a cycle of doorstops at Parliament House this morning, I spoke to reporters about the Group 20 Financial Ministers Communique that commits leaders to boosting GDP. Ultimately the success of the G20 in Australia will be judged around tangible results including job creation.




SUBJECT/S: G20 growth target; multinational profit shifting and tax; Manus Island; Craig Thomson; Sydney’s second airport

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER AND SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMPETITION: We’ve seen the headline recommendation coming out of the weekend G20 meetings as being a two per cent growth boost. Now, no one can object to that. Two per cent more growth is of course a good thing. But, an aspiration is not a plan. And from Joe Hockey, what we’re getting is hints of a set of policies that are going to cut into growth at the same time that he aspires to more growth. If I came out here and told you that I’d like my running times to be two per cent faster, but I was going to sell my jogging shoes and sack my jogging partner, you’d have reason to doubt me. So, when Joe Hockey tells you that he’s going to boost Australia’s growth rate but he’s not going to build the NBN, not build urban rail, hacking into school funding and Trades Training Centres – and potentially demand driven universities – Australians have a right to ask ‘well, how serious are you are you about this growth target?’

The other thing we saw out of the G20 was a proposal to move on multinational profit-shifting. It’s essentially the same proposal that Wayne Swan and David Bradbury took to last year’s G20. But three-quarters of a billion dollars has been dropped from it because the Government wasn’t willing to go hard on multinational profit-shifting. So that’s $700 million, around the cost of a new hospital, which has got to be made up for in service cuts or tax increases. The Government is walking away from good moves on multinational profit shifting and they’re walking back on transparency of multinational tax paid, which has really got to leave you asking the question, ‘how serious are they about making sure that all companies pay their fair share of tax?’

Continue reading ‘DOORSTOP TRANSCRIPT – Monday 24 February, 2014’ »

Hockey must advance a crack down on global tax avoidance – Inside Canberra – 21 February

E-newsletter Inside Canberra has published my piece on the importance of reforming the international tax system. The context is the meeting of finance ministers and central bankers from the G20 grouping of nations gathering in Sydney. International tax avoidance is a key agenda item.
International tax rules are not keeping pace with changes in the digital age and the realities of doing business in our globalised world. Rapid and dramatic shifts in global economic activity, driven largely by e-commerce, pose very real and significant risks to Australia’s corporate tax base and the tax bases of countries right around the world.
Multinational companies can take advantage of slow-moving tax laws by shifting profits to low-tax countries. This is particularly true for digital companies that don’t sell physical goods. This has obvious implications for tax revenue: companies avoiding their fair share of tax mean higher taxes or reduced services for you and me. Equally important, however, is the disadvantage incurred by local businesses which lack either the savvy or the scale to implement these complex taxation avoidance schemes.

Ideas and Engagement: The Western Australian Economic Story

I’m speaking today to a business breakfast in Perth, on the theme of innovation in the Western Australian economic story.

Ideas and Engagement: The Western Australian Economic Story*

Andrew Leigh MP
Shadow Assistant Treasurer

Business Breakfast, Perth
21 February 2014

I acknowledge the Whadjuk Nyoongar people, the traditional owners of the lands on which we meet, my federal colleague Alannah MacTiernan, Western Australian Shadow Treasurer Ben Wyatt and Shadow Minister for Planning and Finance Rita Saffioti. My thanks to the Perth Writers’ Festival for flying me over to the left coast.

It’s a pleasure to have the chance to speak with you today.

When I was in my mid-twenties, I had the chance to work for the late Western Australian Senator Peter Cook. He was then the Shadow Minister for Trade – a perfect portfolio for a Western Australian.

Peter taught me a great deal about politics, and about Western Australia. I enjoyed travelling with him through places like Kalgoorlie, Karratha and Carnarvon, talking with mine workers and farmers, local business leaders and politicians.

Peter was an instinctive internationalist. He took the view that you couldn’t be a social democrat without believing in an open Australia – and you couldn’t believe in openness without a proper social safety net. He was a yachtsman, with a yen for open waters.

Continue reading ‘Ideas and Engagement: The Western Australian Economic Story’ »

OPINION – Government jobs target looks off target – Wednesday, 19 February 2014

The business of being in Opposition is to hold the Government to account. The Guardian today published my piece on the Prime Minister’s jobs target.


Unemployment: Abbott needs 1,007,000 more jobs to keep his promise

One of the great inkblot tests of modern politics is how you think about unemployment. While progressives tend to think in terms of social forces, those on the right are more likely to see unemployment as a personal failing.

You can hear echoes of this view from conservative politicians. Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews has announced he will be ‘reining in welfare’, while Abbott Government backbencher Ken O’Dowd has argued that welfare recipients ‘don’t care about the community, they care about themselves and how they can screw the system’.

To see the oddity of blaming the victim, you only have to take the argument to its logical conclusion. Since the Abbott Government was elected, more than 7000 jobs have been lost. Is this because we’ve seen a surge in laziness among Australians? Did the millions who lost their jobs worldwide in the global financial crisis just decide to put their feet up? Was the Great Depression the result of a historic collapse in the work ethic?

Realising that unemployment is driven more by the macro-economy than morality is important because it brings the focus back to where it should be. As Clinton strategist James Carville put it, ‘It’s the economy, stupid’.

Continue reading ‘OPINION – Government jobs target looks off target – Wednesday, 19 February 2014’ »

Breaking Politics – Transcript – Monday, 17 February 2014

Today I joined Chris Hammer, host of Fairfax Media’s Breaking Politics, for a wide-ranging discussion about this morning’s news including the upcoming meeting of G20 finance ministers in Sydney. Labor hopes Joe Hockey will use the meeting to tackle multinational profit shifting in order to maintain Australia’s tax base.



SUBJECT/S: Fairfax-Nielsen poll; unemployment; farmers’ assistance; G20 Finance Ministers; IMF report and the economy.

CHRIS HAMMER: By any measure last week was not a good one for the Government. On Monday Toyota announced it was going to no longer going to make cars in Australia and by Thursday unemployment figures were out showing that the jobless rate at increased to six per cent, the highest rate in a decade. And yet when Nielson polled voters between Thursday and Saturday last week the results were very good for the Government. On the two-party preferred vote, the Government is leading 52 to 48 per cent, that’s the Government up four point, the Opposition down four points from last November. And perhaps most worrying of all for the Labor Party, Bill Shorten’s approval rating is down a full 11 per cent to 40 per cent. To discuss the poll and other matters, I’m joined by Andrew Leigh, the Shadow Assistant Treasurer and Member for Fraser in the ACT.

Andrew, why is Labor not doing better in the polls?

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Chris, I would expect the polls to jump around like a healthy ECG for the best part of the next three years. I’d say that political discourse wouldn’t be damaged if we are to leave the polls on page 17 where they belong. That’s an argument I’ll make when Labor’s up and when Labor’s down in the polls. Fundamentally we need to be concerned about economic figures, such as the jobs figures. These new job figures that have come out not only show that unemployment is at an 11 year low, but also show that the participation rate is at an eight year-low. So, many people are giving up looking for work and the loss in the full-time jobs has just been staggering: one every three minutes since the Government came to office and I think, leaving many Australians saying ‘this is a Government without a plan for jobs creation’ in the wake of some significant manufacturing job losses.

Continue reading ‘Breaking Politics – Transcript – Monday, 17 February 2014’ »

SPEECH – Labor’s stimulus – Thursday, 13 February

Today I delivered a speech in the House defending Labor’s stimulus measures which saved Australian jobs over the course of the Global Financial Crisis and allowed the Australian economy to emerge relatively unscathed.



DR ANDREW LEIGH (Fraser):  I thought I might begin my contribution with a couple of important numbers. One is the figure on the total amount that will be saved as a result of the passage of this bill, the Tax Bonus for Working Australians Repeal Bill 2013.

Mr Chris Bowen:  How many million?

Dr LEIGH:  ‘How many million?’ says the former and I hope future Treasurer of Australia, the member for a McMahon. The answer is not even one million; $250,000 will be saved by this bill which is taking up so much of the House’s time—a figure around the salary of a member of the House of Representatives, or a little more than that. Other numbers are relevant to the debate. One of those numbers would be the total deficits over four years before the member for North Sydney became the Treasurer and the total four year deficits afterwards. Before the member for North Sydney became the Treasurer, the total for deficits over four years in the pre-election fiscal and economic outlook was $54.6 billion; afterwards, under the Treasurer’s first budget update, $122.7 billion.

Continue reading ‘SPEECH – Labor’s stimulus – Thursday, 13 February’ »

Radio National Drive interview – Tuesday, 11 February 2014

This evening, I joined host Waleed Aly and NSW Senator Arthur Sinodinos for a discussion about the implications of the death of car manufacturing in Australia and the Assistant Treasurer’s attempt to windback Labor’s consumer-centred Future of Financial Advice (FOFA) reforms. Here’s a podcast.

MEDIA RELEASE – Abbott wrecking ball strikes the ATO – Saturday, 8 February 2104

This morning I issued a media release expressing concern about a big round of redundancies at the ATO, as the Government slashes public service jobs at an extraordinary rate.


News that the Australian Tax Office (ATO) has offered 500 voluntary redundancies in its effort to slash 900 positions represents a broken promise that jobs would be shed only by natural attrition.
The Abbott Government promised cuts to the Australian Public Service (APS) solely through natural attrition. It’s a lie. Redundancies are now in full flow.

Transcript of Breaking Politics – 3 Feb 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…

Continue reading ‘Transcript of Breaking Politics – 3 Feb 2014’ »

SKY AM Agenda – Transcript – Monday 27 January

On 27 Jan, I joined host Kieran Gilbert and Liberal Senator Mitch Fifield to discuss the evidence against Work for the Dole, the possible sell-off of the National Disability Insurance Agency, Australian of the Year Adam Goodes and speculation about the next Governor General. A transcript is over the fold.

Continue reading ‘SKY AM Agenda – Transcript – Monday 27 January’ »

MEDIA RELEASE – Abbott Government axes public valuation office – Friday 24 January, 2014

The Abbott Government confirmed today that it is closing the Australian Valuation Office in June. I have responded with a media release highlighting that this is a Government continually chipping away at the public service, outsourcing public services without concern for the implications for jobs, especially in regional Australia.







The Abbott Government’s decision to axe the Australian Valuation Office jeopardises the jobs and livelihoods of almost 200 people across Canberra, Sydney, and Melbourne and in remote and regional cities.

The decision smacks of an ideological preoccupation with cutting government services without regard to their effectiveness.

The 104 year-old AVO, located in the Australian Taxation Office, has been doing an effective job. While the government refers to a projected loss in the future, it fails to point out that the AVO has consistently run a profit.

At the same time that the Minister for Social Services has announced a review of welfare spending, the Government is axing the office that conducts compliance valuations for Centrelink.

Continue reading ‘MEDIA RELEASE – Abbott Government axes public valuation office – Friday 24 January, 2014’ »

MEDIA RELEASE – Job cuts as ATO office close, 17 December 2013

Today I issued a media release regarding the news that two ATO offices will close, potentially resulting in hundreds of job cuts.






The Tax Commissioner’s announcement that over 600 jobs are at risk due to the closure of tax offices in Hurstville and Southport is a cruel blow to families ahead of Christmas, said Shadow Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh.

The head of the Australian Tax Office, Chris Jordan AO, announced the job cuts in an email to Australian Tax Office employees today. The ATO’s Hurstville office in Sydney employs around 540 people and the Southport office on the Gold Coast employs 90.

“The Member for Banks, David Coleman, needs to explain why he hasn’t been able to stand up for his community and instead will stand idly by while over 500 jobs are lost in his electorate,” Dr Leigh said.

“Mr Coleman’s protestations in the media that ‘the ATO is an important employer in Hurstville and we need to maintain jobs in the local community’ have obviously drawn little support from his colleagues,” Dr Leigh said.

“Similarly, the Member for Moncrieff, Steven Ciobo, needs to explain to his electorate why he hasn’t been able to stop these job cuts” Dr Leigh said.

“Mr Ciobo’s position as Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer didn’t seem to carry much influence when it came to looking after jobs in his own electorate.”

“The Abbott Government must explain to these Sydney and Gold Coast workers why they should lose their jobs just so mining billionaires can get a tax cut.”


Coalition wrong on public service savaging

My letter to the Australian Financial Review published today is in response to Treasurer Joe Hockey’s claim that Labor hid public service staff cuts.

Australian Financial Review

Letter to the Editor

21 November 2103

If you were to list the qualities of Treasurer Joe Hockey, it’s unlikely that ‘attention to detail’ would feature high on the list. So the Treasurer’s claim of a ‘secret Labor plan’ to cut public service jobs (“The real scope of Labor’s deceit coming to light’, AFR, 20 November) should raise an eyebrow or two.

Before the election, Mr Hockey was claiming that Labor had left Australia with a bloated public service. Misleadingly, he alleged that the public service had grown by 20,000, when in fact the real figure was closer to 8,000. In terms of public servants per head of population, our public service is about the same size today as it was in 2007.

Yet now that he is in office, Mr Hockey has changed his tune, implausibly claiming that Labor’s 2.25 per cent efficiency dividend (saving $1.8 billion) would have cost more jobs than his own policy to directly get rid of 12,000 jobs (projected to save $5.2 billion).

Labor has consistently said before the election that the Coalition’s pledge to cut 12,000 jobs was savage and short sighted, particularly when coupled with the Coalition’s promise to raise the efficiency dividend to 2.5 per cent.

Labor’s efficiency dividend approach targets non-staff savings first, focusing instead on areas such as travel and procurement. The Coalition approach takes the power away from the hands of senior public service managers, and instead demands forced redundancies.

Australia needs a little less hyperventilating hyperbole from its Treasurer. It’s time he stopped blaming others and started taking responsibility for his actions. He could start by saying that he was wrong about public service numbers, and formally dumping his pledge to cut 12,000 jobs.

(The AFR published an abridged version)

Labor’s legacy & broken Coalition promises

I delivered a speech in the House of Representatives today – what’s called an ‘Address in Reply’ in response to the Government’s opening speech – exploring Labor’s strong economic and policy legacy. I  urged the ALP to remain the party of big  ideas and one underpinned by key principles of fairness, inclusion and equality and I lamented the Abbott Government’s early and disappointing broken promises. Here’s the full text thanks to Hansard.

Can I congratulate the members for Bass and Corangamite on the passion with which they have delivered their first speeches and hope that they will serve their constituencies with the same energy and passion as their predecessors did.

I want to begin my remarks today with the stories of two constituents of mine: Carol and Denise. Denise has a 21-year-old son, Tim, with Down syndrome. She regularly has to prove his eligibility for a modest Centrelink payment and work within a system that has not been working for her and has not been working for Tim. Tim’s chromosomes are not going to change, but the old system required her to prove that. DisabilityCare will change that.

Then there is 48-year-old Carol, who works as a cleaner. Despite working on Sundays to earn some overtime she still earns less than $37,000 a year. Carol is not alone. A lot of low-income workers in cleaning, aged care, retail and hospitality are not full time and they are predominantly women. The removal of the low-income superannuation contribution will affect 3.6 million Australians and two-thirds of them are women. All of them, like Carol, work hard to make ends meet. They are the mothers who work part time because they are looking after young children. For them, saving for later in life is not a tax strategy.

DisabilityCare and the low-income superannuation contribution demonstrate how Labor take the initiative to defend those who are doing it tough. Labor are the party of ideas and we are the party of reform, the party with the courage to make the big decisions when they are needed. As the opposition leader said at this year’s Fraser lecture:

‘We’re the dreamers, doers and fighters.

‘We have ideas, and … we’re prepared to fight to make them a reality.’

I agree. Only the Labor Party is prepared to fight for a fair go for all and shoulder the responsibility for reform. Only Labor knows that reform must balance economic imperatives with social need and hope. I am sorry to say that that is in stark contrast to the approach of the Abbott government. We have already seen how quick they are to protect sympathetic vested interests and how much quicker they are to slug those doing it tough.

The Treasurer would have you believe that drastic action has to be taken because of the economic legacy left by Labor. Over the next few weeks we are doubtless going to hear, time and time again, what a terrible state the economy is in. Before the Treasurer attempts to airbrush recent history, let’s take a sober and sensible look at the economy that the government have inherited and what they have done with it so far. That look has to recognise the simple, fundamental truth. The government have inherited economic statistics and public finances that are better than those of almost any country in the developed world.

Continue reading ‘Labor’s legacy & broken Coalition promises’ »

Media Release – Voluntary redundancies represent a broken promise – 6 November 2013


Gai Brodtmann

Andrew Leigh

Kate Lundy

6 November 2013


Member for Canberra Gai Brodtmann, Member for Fraser Andrew Leigh and Senator for the ACT Kate Lundy have called on ACT Liberal Senator Zed Seselja to admit that he has broken his natural attrition promise.

The three say that Senator Seselja’s pre-election promise that planned public service job cuts would be made through natural attrition alone is looking increasingly feeble, with the Canberra Times reporting this week that several departments have already offered post-election redundancies.

Senator Zed Seselja repeated throughout the 2013 election campaign that the Coalition would only cut jobs from the public service through natural attrition, not through redundancies:

Continue reading ‘Media Release – Voluntary redundancies represent a broken promise – 6 November 2013’ »

Unfair changes to superannuation – The Canberra Times – 31 October

I write in today’s Canberra Times about the Abbott Government’s planned changes to Labor’s Low-Income Superannuation Scheme.

OPINION – A superannuation blow for low-income earners

The Canberra Times

Thursday 31 October 2013

Canberra resident Carol is 48 years old. She works as a cleaner, toiling on Sundays to earn some overtime. She earns less than $37,000 a year.

It would be blow to her if Labor’s Low Income Super Contribution Scheme was axed by Tony Abbott as planned.

“They’re just grabbing from everywhere, to make themselves look better, but it’s only a short term fix, like a band-aid,” she says.   “A lot of the cleaners aren’t on great wages, and they aren’t full-time.”

In his victory speech on election night, Mr Abbott reminded us that good government is one that governs for all Australians including what he called ‘forgotten families’. “We will not leave anyone behind”.

So it’s very disappointing that his government still wants to scrap a measure that sees low-income Australians pay less tax. Axing the Low Income Superannuation Contribution will hit 3.6 million low-income workers, of which nearly two-thirds are women.

Superannuation policy must be more equitable. One of the policies to achieve this – championed by Bill Shorten – is the Low-Income Superannuation Contribution. The policy introduced last year and recommended by the Henry Tax review cuts contributions tax to zero for workers earning up to $37,000 and puts the money into their super instead.

Continue reading ‘Unfair changes to superannuation – The Canberra Times – 31 October’ »

Media Release – Coalition costings confirm speed and severity of PS cuts

Yesterday, my federal ACT colleagues and I issued a media release condemning the Abbott Government’s plan to cut public service job at an extraordinary speed in coming months.

20 October 2013


Federal Labor representatives in the ACT say Coalition policy costings provided on Friday would send a chill up the spine of Canberra public servants.

The Parliamentary Budget Office Post-election Report confirms details of the Abbott Government’s plans affecting the Australian Public Service (APS).

The APS will be reduced by 6,000 staff in the nine months to June 2014. That’s one public service job lost every single hour until the end of the financial year. A further 6,000 jobs will go in the two years after that.

Four agencies are exempt from the cuts – Australian Customs, Australian Federal Police, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and Australian Secret Intelligence Service. Only serving military and reservists are exempt in Defence.

“This confirms that thousands of public servants in the Defence Department in Canberra face uncertainty,” said Gai Brodtmann.

Continue reading ‘Media Release – Coalition costings confirm speed and severity of PS cuts’ »