Getting the budget right starts with fairness - Breaking Politics

As the countdown to the Abbott Government's second budget shortens, I joined Chris Hammer on Breaking Politics to talk about Labor's alternative approach to their cuts and unfairness. Here's the transcript:





SUBJECT/S: National security; Budget savings

CHRIS HAMMER: Andrew Leigh is the Labor MP for Fraser here in Canberra, he's also the Shadow Assistant Treasurer. Andrew Leigh, good morning.

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Good morning, Chris, how are you?

HAMMER: I’m well. Where are you?

LEIGH: I'm just in Braddon in the Northside of Canberra, a part of Canberra that's really turning into hipsterville. The rapid transformation of this area is fabulous, lots of new apartments, great cafes – anyone visiting Canberra should come by and have a coffee here.

HAMMER: Ok, now the issue of the day is national security and terrorism. The Prime Minister has issued a statement saying that bad people are playing Australians for "mugs", there's been too much benefit of the doubt about borders, for residency, for citizenship and Centrelink. What do you make of these comments and, if you like, moving the emphasis to national security?

LEIGH: Labor doesn't play politics with national security, these are bipartisan issues. For example, in…

HAMMER: Let me interrupt you there, you say Labor doesn't play politics with national security. Do you suspect that the Prime Minister is?

LEIGH: No, I'm just making it absolutely clear that this is a bipartisan issue. Last year on the question of the character test for the immigration system, Labor supported the Government's changes. Certainly, there are serious threats. The national security alert level is now at High. The horrific events that we've seen in Copenhagen, the Charlie Hebdo massacre and the events in Martin Place do highlight the very real concerns that exist in this area. So any proposals the Government puts forward, we will look at seriously and in good faith.

HAMMER: Is there anything that Labor would have the political courage to oppose?

LEIGH: It's not about political courage, Chris. It's about making the decisions that are right for Australia. We will carefully scrutinise these measures as we did with measures put forward last year. We have a range of internal processes, we'll draw on the expertise right across the party to make sure we make the right call for Australia. 

HAMMER: We saw last week a terror plot in Sydney foiled not by police or security agencies but by someone informing on the two men who were alleged to be planning this terror attack. Is there a danger if we clamp down too much, say on people entertaining radical thoughts, that they may become so marginalised that they don't do the right thing in the future like whoever this informant in Sydney was? Is that a danger?

LEIGH: Chris, you certainly raise the point which various security agency people have made to me: that a significant number of terrorist plots have been foiled by moderate Muslims. What's really important is that in our response we are absolutely firm in our determination to crack down on wrong doers, but at the same time recognise that the difference that it must have is to those who are seeking to break the law, and that none of our approaches should be based on religion. Moderate Muslims have added strongly to the Australian character and even in a narrow national security sense, Australia must keep them onside.

HAMMER: Are you saying you don't think the Prime Minister is driven by politics in this? Christine Milne says we've got a Prime Minister who is so desperate he's trying to press the terror button, press the fear button, the anxiety, the difference, the division button in an attempt to shore up his own position. So you think Christine Milne is utterly wrong on this issue?

LEIGH: Christine Milne can answer for herself, Chris. I'm just being absolutely clear that I think there are important national issues at play and that the Shorten Opposition – and if we're fortunate enough to form Government, the Shorten Government – would put Australia's interests first when it comes to dealing with national security. We worked in a bipartisan manner with the Government on these issues, as on a range of other issues and that's what the Australian people expect of an Opposition.

HAMMER: There's a number of other significant political issues emerging not least than the budget plus such intergenerational issues as tax reform, health spending, education spending. On the weekend the Shadow treasurer, Chris Bowen, signalled that Labor may revisit taxation of superannuation. Can you explain what Labor is considering here?

LEIGH: Let's start with what the Government did when it came to office. It gave money back to people with more than $2 million in their superannuation accounts and it took away money for people earning less than $37,000 a year. That's this Government's priority. It’s a Government which is happy to cut the wages of the cleaners that clean their offices while at the same time giving billions of dollars back to multinationals. Labor's view is we need to take a fairer approach and that this Government has constantly been looking to give the most to those that have the most. I mean, even King John kept the money onshore.

HAMMER: So is Labor saying that in any consideration of budget repair in the long term, the revenue side of the budget needs to be attended to as well as cutting spending?

LEIGH: Chris, we're saying that fairness would be at the heart of a Shorten Government. And that making sure we're making decisions in the long run interests of all Australians is absolutely vital. One of the things about this Government is that they don't seem to have any idea what a level playing field looks like. These folks would think that Mt Everest was a level playing field. They don't have a natural sense of the Australian principle of egalitarianism – a principle that says we need to make sure that budgetary decisions are fair right across the board. You don't see that from a Government that takes money away from superannuation tax concessions, away from those at the bottom, while giving them to those at the top. You don't see that from a Government that is giving a billion dollars back to offshore multinationals like James Hardie. These aren't egalitarian Australia decisions. These are narrow decisions driven by a partisan self-interest, and after making them we have the Prime Minster today saying that the real problem last year was that he didn't talk enough to his backbenchers about them. That's not the problem as far as most Australians are concerned, it is the very decisions themselves.

HAMMER: Ok Andrew Leigh, thanks for your time today.

LEIGH: Thank you, Chris.


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