Funding a tax clinic for Canberra - Transcript, Doorstop

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
DOORSTOP
CANBERRA
THURSDAY, 9 MAY 2019

Subjects: Labor’s plans to help vulnerable individuals and small businesses with their tax, and strengthen the volunteering culture among tax students and professionals.

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Thank you everyone for coming along today to The University of Canberra. My name is Andrew Leigh, the Shadow Assistant Treasurer and Federal Member for Fenner.

We are here today to announce that if elected, a Shorten Labor Government would give $150,000 in ongoing funding to establish a tax clinic right here at the University of Canberra. We know that deep-pocketed billionaires like Clive Palmer can access an armada of accountants when it comes to navigating the tax system, but for many vulnerable Australians and small businesses, tax means late nights and worries about whether you've got it wrong. Too many Australians are struggling to try and sort out their tax affairs. Tax clinics have worked effectively in the United States where the low income tax clinic model is a proven success. At Curtin University, a tax clinic has been operating for a number of years now, serving vulnerable taxpayers and small businesses.

And that’s why a Labor Government has announced that if elected, we wouldn't just trial tax clinics - we'd put them in place. Ten tax clinics across the country and right here at the University of Canberra a tax clinic which would look to serve not just the ACT, but the region. We’ve even spoken about the possibility of the UC tax clinic taking to the road aboard a bus that the University of Canberra has used in the past to engage in outreach allied health care provision. So tax clinics are a great innovation for University of Canberra and they're also great for the outlying population, ensuring people have access to that first rate advice. They're going to be vital too as we look to build a culture of giving back within the tax profession. In law, we've got community legal centres where many law students will spend some time during their training. Many doctors will have an opportunity to engage in pro bono work. But we haven’t been quite as good in the past when it comes to tax and providing opportunities for tax professionals and tax students to put their altruistic urges into action. Tax clinics will do that. They’ll work with local tax practitioners and they’ll ensure that we build that culture of giving back among tax professionals.

I'll hand over now to Maree Sainsbury to say a few words about the University of Canberra tax clinic and also to Josh, who is a law student here, and then I'll remark on one other issue.

MAREE SAINSBURY, EXECUTIVE DEAN OF BUSINESS, GOVERNMENT AND LAW AT THE UNIVERSITY OF CANBERRA: Thank you. My name’s Maree Sainsbury and I’m the Executive Dean of the faculty of Business, Government and Law. The University of Canberra welcomes this funding initiative. It’s going to greatly assist us in setting up a tax clinic program to enable some pro bono legal advice for the more vulnerable members of our community, including individuals and small businesses. The University of Canberra also greatly values work integrated learning opportunities for its students. A tax clinic would sit nicely along some other initiatives that are already existing - so for example, we have the Mill House Ventures Clinic program, where students work with practitioners to provide business support to social enterprises. We also have the Small Business Legal Advice Clinic in conjunction with Legal Aid ACT. This clinic would allow students from accounting and law disciplines to be working with the profession, so practising accountants, to be providing real life advice to real clients. These opportunities are really invaluable to students providing access to those real life scenarios that you can't really replicate in a classroom. And as Andrew noted, we also think it's really important to be demonstrating the value of pro bono work and we want to be producing graduates that have that as one of their core values. As the University of Canberra, an important part of our role is to serve Canberra and the region and we think it's really important to involve our students as part of that. So I'll hand you over to Josh now, for his experience.

STUDENT: Thanks, Maree. Yeah, my name’s Josh. I’m in my final year of the Bachelor of Law studies. I've been lucky enough to work both with Mill House and the small business clinic and can attest to some of the great work that is being done there. It's really useful for, yes, some of the more vulnerable people in the community to have access to these legal services and it's been a really good experience for me too to have some practical learning and be exposed a bunch of different problems. And also having guidance and being able to those problems. That’s all from me.

LEIGH: Terrific. Thanks, Josh. And this of course comes off the back of what’s been a very tough six years for Canberra under the Coalition. We’ve seen the public service deciminated, money ripped out of schools and hospitals, 4000 tax office jobs have gone. Under the Coalition, it's been dark days for Canberra. A Shorten Labor Government would change that, by uncapping university places, by taking the arbitrary public service staffing cap off. We've made targeted announcements around funding Light Rail Stage Two, redevelopment of the Holt District Playing Fields in Kippax. Yesterday we made an announcement about investing in bike paths. Today's announcement follows on for another announcement last week about providing funding to the University of Canberra for an Indigenous entrepreneurship program. Labor sees a vibrant future for Canberra under a Shorten Labor Government. Today's announcement is just another part of that. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: I suppose, how was this facility identified as being eligible for funding?

LEIGH: The University of Canberra came to us and talked about the important work that they saw they were able to do in the ACT and the region. I think one of the things that particularly stood out was their willingness to engage with the most vulnerable taxpayers. The tax clinics are at their best when they're reaching underserved people who would never even think of being able to afford a tax accountant, those who struggle with their taxes and who frankly find it harder to deal with the Tax Office that's lost 4000 staff. So they made a very powerful pitch to us and that's why we were keen to add them to the list of other institutions that are establishing tax clinics on an ongoing basis – Curtin University, James Cook University and the University of Tasmania among them.

JOURNALIST: The Chief Minister noted yesterday at the announcement for footpaths and cycle paths that the gap between Federal Labor and the current government in terms of promising funding in Canberra is around about half a billion dollars now. Is this in your opinion further, a further example of how Labor is delivering for Canberra?

LEIGH: Yes, it's not a gap – it’s a gulf. You look at infrastructure spending alone. When I was first elected in 2010, one of my top priorities was securing federal funding for the Majura Parkway. Federal Labor funded that on a 50-50 basis, $144 million dollars of federal funding. There's been no infrastructure spending coming close to that under the Coalition, but our announcement of $200 million for Light Rail Stage Two does again reflect federal Labor's willingness to invest in Canberra. I'll be going from here to Franklin where I'll be making an announcement about providing additional resources for play based early learning facilities. We know play is so important for young children, for their brain development, for physical development. And Labor's announcements of additional funding for early learning playgroups in Franklin again represents our commitment to building a stronger, fairer Canberra.

JOURNALIST: How long will the – so that’s $150,000 annually? It that for a certain number, like four years or just ongoing?

LEIGH: It’s ongoing funding. You make a really important point because after we announced our 10 tax clinics would be funded on an ongoing basis last year, the Coalition in a ham-fisted attempt to play catch up said ‘oh we'll have a tax clinic policy too’. But when you look at the fine print, you'll see that theirs isn’t for ongoing funding and it isn't $150,000 a year. They're offering $100,000 as a one-off grant, as though no one's ever tried tax clinics before. This is a proven model. We know it works. We want to fund them on an ongoing basis so the university can build up capacity in tax clinics, here and in the other institutions we’ve chosen.

JOURNALIST: I just have a question for Maree. Can I just ask, is this something, this kind of clinic something you’ve been lobbying governments - either ACT or federal - for for some time and failing that, is that why you then pitched to Labor?

SAINSBURY: Yes, we have been sort of seeking resources to support all our clinical programs and I think this is a fantastic opportunity, as Andrew says, to have some secure ongoing funding because they are expensive to provide. This type of funding makes all the difference between being able to do it and not being able to do it.

JOURNALIST: How will it work? Is it a matter of somebody vulnerable, Canberran, bringing in their box of receipts?

SAINSBURY: Yes, so we'll be having it – we’ll have students in the clinic or out in the accounting firms in the region that will be sitting down, supervised by professional accountants, actually providing real life help and assistance to those clients. Because that's what they need. They need that practical, hands on help.

JOURNALIST: And is that, I suppose, a great way for the students to put into practice what they learn?

SAINSBURY: It's just invaluable. Until you're faced with a real life client sitting in front of you asking real life questions, you can't really appreciate what you learned in the classroom. And it's also those extra skills that you need in providing advice and assistance to a client that the theory doesn't help you with, those sort of generic interpersonal skills that you can't learn in any other way.

JOURNALIST: What would be the criteria for somebody, on a low and middle income? Is it, you know, generally people from – it might be somebody who's on a really low income, maybe just above the poverty line, through to-

SAINSBURY: Yeah, I think we want to be flexible with the criteria. We want to be as broadly helpful as we can within the scope of what the funding is provided for.

JOURNALIST: Awesome, thank you.

LEIGH: Thanks everyone. I appreciate it.

ENDS

Authorised by Noah Carroll ALP Canberra.


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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | Andrew.Leigh.MP@aph.gov.au | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.