PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
FRIDAY, 5 JUNE 2015
SUBJECT/S: Abbott Government gutting tax transparency; Economic outlook; Climate inaction; Monis letter
SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER ANDREW LEIGH: Good morning everyone and thanks for coming out on another gorgeous Canberra winter's day. In 2013 the Labor government helped change the laws to make sure that the tax office would publish information of the total income and tax paid by Australia's largest firms. What counts in this place is not what you say about tax transparency but what you actually do. Joe Hockey has had his fair share of big talk – in fact he's even said that firms that didn't say their fair share were thieves. But in 2013 he voted against Labor's tax transparency laws and now he's trying to wind them back still further. Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey don't want you to know how much tax big companies are paying. They want to stand on the side of keeping tax a secret rather than on the side of openness and transparency. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: My reading of the exemptions though is that it's only exempting some companies from having to disclose their total incomes, aren't they? That's what the draft changes involve?
LEIGH: It's a rollback. These are laws that ought to apply to every big firm.
JOURNALIST: But it's a partial rollback.
LEIGH: What is important about these laws is that they say that if you have turnover over $100 million, then your total income and your tax paid need to be public. I see no reason why there ought to be carve-outs for that.
JOURNALIST: Australia's been dubbed the 'free rider' in relation to climate change by Kofi Annan. Are we doing enough? Obviously we saw the UN climate meeting overnight, a lot of questions asked to Australia about whether we would actually meet our emissions targets. Do you think we are doing enough or are we the 'free riders' of the world?
LEIGH: Australia is the advanced country with the highest emissions per head and we're the only one going backward on tackling climate change. Australians have long known that the Abbott Government are climate villains. Now we're hearing it from Kofi Annan, the respected former UN Secretary-General.
JOURNALIST: Greg Hunt was very defensive this morning when asked about this. He said that to characterise it as an attack by other countries was wrong. Do you think we are an embarrassment on the national stage?
LEIGH: Absolutely. Australia's doesn't have a credible plan to tackle carbon pollution. We've moved from a sensible emissions trading scheme to a 'pay the polluters' scheme that no sensible economist thinks can meet those emissions targets.
JOURNALIST: Tony Abbott says that you're planning to bring back the carbon tax, is that correct?
LEIGH: Labor has said that we're committed to a market-based mechanism for tackling climate change and the details of that will be announced closer to the election.
JOURNALIST: Every time that Labor raises a question on the figures – about the economy – you're accused of talking it down. Do you think, as an economist, that the economy is struggling?
LEIGH: We've seen successive falls over the last four quarters in one measure of Australian living standards – real net national disposable income per capita. That's an important metric and you've got experts like Saul Eslake pointing to the importance of that fall. We've got an annualised growth figure which is below what the budget papers are factoring in. So yes, I worry when I see Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey just sitting back and saying that they've got a beautiful set of numbers on their hands. They ought to be deeply concerned about the fact that they took office with an unemployment figure with a five in front of it and now it has a six in front of it, and the fact that the growth figures aren't matching their own projections.
JOURNALIST: How concerned should we be by the most recent economic figures?
LEIGH: We need to have a government that's making investments in the long-term productive future of Australia. We're seeing declines in infrastructure spending relative to where we had it under Labor. We've got the cuts to health and education and a government that's not willing to tackle questions like innovation, as Bill Shorten did in his Budget Reply by laying out a plan to get more science, engineering, technology and maths graduates, in order to build the foundations for future prosperity.
JOURNALIST: Is the Budget going to fix the numbers, like Joe Hockey says?
LEIGH: All the Budget seems to be doing is attacking low and middle-income Australians. We know that nine out of ten of the poorest households lose money under the Budget, according to carefully carried-out NATSEM modelling. Because they're households that spend all of their income, this is going to have a big negative impact on household consumption in Australia and that could flow through to economic lassitude. By contrast, Labor's sensible plans to tackle high-end superannuation and multinational profit shifting are plans that can add to the Budget bottom line by more than $20 billion over the next decade without detracting from productive capacity of the economy.
JOURNALIST: How serious is Labor when it says you need to recall Attorney-General's Department officials to give evidence about this letter from Man Haron Monis? How hard will you pursue this?
LEIGH: As Tony Burke said yesterday, this is as serious as it gets. I understand Mark Dreyfus will be making some comments on it later today. For my part, I found it deeply concerning that Julie Bishop waited for so long in order to make this admission to the Parliament. That she thought it was more important to be shooting videos in the corridors than coming in and telling Parliament that she hadn't been accurate the first time.
JOURNALIST: What is suspicious about that timing?
LEIGH: Mark Dreyfus will go into further details about Labor's concerns later today.
JOURNALIST: You're not suggesting that they gamed the system somehow because it was no longer possible to interview that Attorney-General's Department official in their absence.
LEIGH: Labor's concern is that the Government were extremely slow to correct the record. We had George Brandis reading poetry in Senate Estimates rather than immediately saying that the statements that had been given by Julie Bishop to the House of Representatives weren't accurate.
No more questions? Thanks everyone.
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