Is the Government running up the white flag on the tax white paper? - Doorstop, Sydney





SUBJECT/S: Government confusion over tax white paper; Revenue and spending; Women in politics.

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Thanks for coming along today. It's been reported that the tax white paper process is in jeopardy. This is a tax white paper which was announced before the 2013 federal election, and one that Tony Abbott promised would produce concrete policy proposals by 2016. There have been 18 people in the Treasury working on it, and five more in the Minister's office. There have been millions of dollars spent by business, community sector groups and the Treasury itself in preparing the tax white paper, and the Government has so far spent $650,000 publicising it. The suggestion that this tax white paper could be completely junked in a 'captain's call' from Malcolm Turnbull will be extraordinarily disappointing for the many Australians who participated in good faith in this tax white paper process.

I also want to make a couple of remarks about reports on the China Free Trade Agreement today. For all Malcolm Turnbull's statements about bipartisanship, he seems to have fallen disappointingly short when it comes to the China Free Trade Agreement. Labor's concerns about the China FTA are not around the trade portions of this agreement. This is, after all, an agreement that Labor helped to negotiate. All we're calling for is for proper labour market testing for projects over $150 million, making sure that we have proper safety and skills safeguards, and that we see foreign investment increasing Australian jobs and boosting wages – not reducing jobs and driving down wages. Happy to take any questions.

JOURNALIST: Scott Morrison says Government spending is at 26 per cent of GDP – is the Abbott-Turnbull Government one of the biggest-spending in Australia's post-war history?

LEIGH: Certainly we've got Government spending up compared to where the secretaries of Treasury and Finance said it would be in the last financial year. In the last financial year the budget deficit was projected to be $24 billion; we saw that blow out in one of the Government's budget updates and then blow out still further to be $38 billion. The reason for that wasn't a difference in taxes in the last financial year. It was a difference in spending. Government spending is up by almost a full percentage point compared to where it was projected to be by the secretaries of Treasury and Finance at the election. It does show the inconsistency of this Government, that they seem to be unable to accept that the increase in spending has occurred entirely as a result of their policy decisions.

JOURNALIST: The new Treasurer said that Australia has a spending problem not a revenue problem, so does that mean Australians should brace themselves for more cuts?

LEIGH: If Scott Morrison is in charge, you can be pretty confident that it's going to mean more cuts. This is a man whose main focus, when he had the Social Services portfolio, was to cut the pension. In fact, he was aiming to get the pension down to half of its projected level by the middle of the century. Cuts, cuts and more cuts are disastrous in a country like Australia where our social safety net is amongst the best targeted in the world. So cuts hurt the most vulnerable more than they would in any other country. We don't need ad hoc cuts from Scott Morrison and Malcolm Turnbull. We need a considered, long-term plan for the future that builds our skills in innovation and education, as you saw with Bill Shorten's higher education announcement this week.

JOURNALIST: Is there any room for reining in spending at all? We've all got to live within our means, so if so, what sorts of things would Labor propose?

LEIGH: Labor has made clear that we're up for sensible savings decisions, and we've supported a range of Government savings measures – even some that were cast in a way we wouldn't have put them forwards ourselves. In the area of tax expenditures, we've put forward a superannuation tax plan which tackles the fastest-growing tax expenditure in the budget and returns $14 billion to the budget bottom line over the next decade. The Government's tax white paper in fact wanted to start a conversation about superannuation tax concessions, but it's a conversation that Tony Abbott shut down and Malcolm Turnbull seems to have now kicked off into the bushes with this astonishing news, this extraordinary leak out of Treasury suggesting the whole tax white paper process might have turned from a white paper into a white elephant.

JOURNALIST: Scott Morrison did say today that it is business as usual for the white paper – are you reassured by that?

LEIGH: We need a clear statement from this Government that it intends to continue the engagement with business and that those 800 people who've made submissions to the tax white paper will have their ideas properly considered. What we don't need is tax reform that goes back to Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison's favourite idea of just whacking up the GST by 50 per cent. Frankly, that's not tax reform. That's just a tax rise.

JOURNALIST: So what do you think the Government is trying to achieve if they do delay the tax white paper? Is it to put the GST back on the agenda or make it more of a priority in the paper?

LEIGH: I think all that they have achieved so far is to put in jeopardy the good faith of the many community sector groups and businesses that have been working with the Treasury on the tax white paper process. People don't expect that when a Prime Minister changes, suddenly all of that good work will be jettisoned. They expect that their ideas will be carefully considered and now we have the Government running up the white flag on its tax white paper.

JOURNALIST: On another issue, last night Peta Credlin put sexism in politics back on the agenda. Do you think that is a real problem?

LEIGH: I think both sides of politics can always do more to improve the number of women in Parliament and to improve the environment for women in Parliament. I would like to see the Coalition following Labor's lead in getting half of our MPs being women in the next decade. It's really important that we have a Parliament that looks like Australia. I welcome the fact that there's now five women in Cabinet. It’s still short of when Labor was last in office but a significant increase on where we were. That's going to be a marker that Australians will be watching in the future.

No more questions? Thanks very much everyone.



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