Labor will tackle the challenges facing the Sunshine Coast - Transcript

TUESDAY, 17 MAY 2016

SUBJECT/S: Infrastructure in Australia and the Sunshine Coast; Education funding; Government delay on backpacker tax; Federal Budget.

ANNIE GAFFNEY, PRESENTER: I'd say this is one of the most forgotten regions in Australia.

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Thanks, Annie. Certainly not forgotten by me. My grandparents Roly and Jean Stebbins moved up here from Victoria in the 1980s, so I've been a regular visitor here until my grandfather passed away a couple of years ago.

GAFFNEY: It's lovely to hear you have got such a nice family connection with the Coast. Nonetheless, our Mayor just recently spoke about the fact that all parties had ignored this area for so long and that was becoming a bit of a joke. You know, we have the fifth largest Council area in Australia. We have, you know, the second fastest growing region in South-East Queensland and the ninth largest city in Australia and yet we don’t have the funding that we need so desperately in infrastructure and public transport.

[inaudible] a safe conservative area, it's fair to say and Labor has perhaps over the years taken that for granted and said it's an area it can't chip into. In terms of Labor's promise to the people of the Sunshine Coast, what would you say that would be if you were granted Government on July 2nd, what would you commit to doing for the people of the Sunshine Coast?

LEIGH: I'd certainly agree with your Mayor that the LNP has forgotten the Sunshine Coast and have taken the people of the Sunshine Coast for granted. The great thing you get with Bill, is a candidate who is willing to fight for the Sunshine Coast and who would never take any vote for granted.

GAFFNEY: So you're talking about Bill Gissane, the Labor candidate for Fisher?

LEIGH: Bill Gissane, the Labor candidate who is sitting right next to me now. Bill is somebody who will certainly be arguing for better funding for every school on the Sunshine Coast. Labor's plan to make sure every kid - whether they are in a Government school, a Catholic school, or an independent school - has access to the needs-based funding they need in an increasingly technologically-driven economy, which is a critical building block of prosperity for the Sunshine Coast.

GAFFNEY: When the Mayor spoke recently, he listed a number of items we desperately need to continue to grow and have a satisfactory lifestyle here on the Coast for the people who live here. One of those things was the expansion of the Sunshine Coast Airport. So, we need about $450 million to get that happening. Is there going to be any kind of commitment - as one of our major transport corridors in and out of the Coast for global visitors and for interstate visitors alike - to that airport project?

LEIGH: I'd love to see the Sunshine Coast Airport growing. I think making the most of airports like this one is really important for Australia, because our bigger airports are increasingly becoming too congested. If we can encourage people to fly in internationally into the Sunshine Coast, then as soon as they step off the plane they will get a sense of what an extraordinary country they have come into. They won't feel as though they are just surrounded by travelers, they'll feel as though they have flown straight into paradise. 

GAFFNEY: But a commitment to getting that expansion happening?

LEIGH: It's certainly on our radar, as is our infrastructure across the country. The thing you've seen since 2013 is a 20 per cent fall in public infrastructure investment since the Abbott-Turnbull Government came to office. Labor's been very critical of the Government for ripping a further $1 billion out of infrastructure spending in the last Budget and not announcing a single new project. Not here, not anywhere across the country.

GAFFNEY: Queensland's really missed out because of the Government's refusal to recycle - as the Coalition Government calls it - its public assets. We seem to have been punished for that stance here in Queensland. For instance, not only the airport expansion but very much what we need here is the duplication of the North Coast Rail Line coming from Brisbane to the Sunshine Coast. A single line track. It's not good enough in the 21st century, so what's Labor's plan? You talk about infrastructure and you know talk is easy - but actually getting it done and putting money into those projects, what are you going to do about it?

LEIGH: You saw the largest increase in infrastructure investment under the former Labor Government that we had in our history. Huge increase in spending on roads and rail, making sure we do things based on cost-benefit studies rather than pork barreling. We have got the third lowest population density of any country in the world, Annie, so our ability to make mistakes in infrastructure if we use pork barrels is bigger than any country. Labor wants an expanded role for Infrastructure Australia. What Bill Shorten has referred to as a 'Concrete Bank', which allows us to make decisions here in the Sunshine Coast and across Australia based on what the experts tell us has the best pay-off. We know we need to invest more in rail across the country because as our roads get more and more congested, it's important to get freight and passengers onto rail lines where we can. But Tony Abbott's ideological opposition to rail really set us back and Malcolm Turnbull frankly hasn't put dollars in, he's just produced a bunch of selfies on trains.

GAFFNEY: Well, he does like to catch trains though, does like to support the public transport system?

LEIGH: It would also be lovely if also as a politician, he was willing to fund urban and public transport. He has been willing to put a few dollars into feasibility studies, but nothing into actual projects that really matter for Australia because congestion times are going up and up. Many of your listeners will have the experience, Annie, of just spending too long sitting in their cars. Time that's not making us more productive, not adding to the economic output of the country, but also not adding to the social output because it is taking time away from friends and family. Cutting congestion is a huge priority for Labor.

GAFFNEY: A quarter to nine, and Dr Andrew Leigh, the Shadow Assistant Treasury spokesperson is in our studio with us for the next five or so minutes times. Do you have a question for him on ABC Sunshine Coast?

Dr Andrew Leigh, I wanted to talk to you about the backpacker tax. Neither the Coalition or Labor seem to have a very firm position on this at the moment. From the 1st of July, we know major industries on the Coast - in the agriculture sector like strawberries, ginger pineapples - all of these farmers are telling us that they are already taking calls from overseas travelers who are intending on coming here on a backpacking holiday. To work on some of our farms and provide some of that much needed labour for those operators who are saying, "we are not going to come if you are going to charge us this backpacker tax, we've heard it's coming, what can you tell us?" Now, neither Labor nor the Government seems clear on this. We are hearing there may be a change of heart on it. What is Labor's official stance on the backpacker’s tax for the future? Is it going to stay, or is it going to go?

LEIGH: We have been urging the Government to drop the backpacker tax. We've been making exactly the same point you've been making, Annie, that this is potentially going to wreak havoc through our agricultural sector by discouraging people from coming. As you have pointed out, there are lead times on people coming to Australia, so there's already backpackers sitting overseas wondering if they will do a working holiday in Britain, in Canada, or in Australia and they are now looking at the fact the Australian Government wants to charge a 32.5 per cent tax rate from the first dollar of earning. That makes Australia a whole lot less attractive for backpackers and then has flow-on effects right throughout the economy.

GAFFNEY: So is Labor committing to removing the backpacker tax should it gain government?

LEIGH: This is a tax we don't believe should be instituted in the first place. We've been calling on the Government to drop it. We've been very clear this has been very badly thought through. No consultation with industry, with agriculture, with farmers, before the backpacker’s tax was put in place. Even today, we've got mixed signals coming out of the Government as to whether they are going to drop the tax. But damage has surely already been done for backpackers that have already decided to pick another country than ours. 

GAFFNEY: Alright. Tim is in Dickie Beach and wants to ask a question about a potential Labor Government credentials - when you are looking after the finances of the country. Tim, good morning. What's your specific question for Dr Andrew Leigh?

CALLER (TIM): Just a historical perspective and that is it appears to me that Labor, as progressives, like to get things going, I guess, so spend a lot of money in most cases. As far as I can remember they have spent a lot more money than what is in the bank. So, blows a lot of money and then basically hand the government back to the Liberals with $50, $60, $100 billion worth of debt. They pay it off and then we go on this cycle again. So, how is it going to be different? How are we going to make sure we can afford what we are going to be doing?

LEIGH: Tim, it's a great question. The story of the last decade is a story of a Global Financial Crisis - the worst world downturn since the Great Depression. A Labor Government decided that if we didn't step in to bolster the economy, hundreds of thousands of people would lose their jobs. Almost every advanced country around the world took on some debt in order to save those jobs and the tens of thousands of small businesses and Australia was no exception. But since then, we had a Coalition Government that promised that the Budget would be in surplus in their first year and every year after that. Instead, they have managed to increase the deficit. They are taxing at a higher rate than under Labor and debt has blown out under the Abbott-Turnbull Government to the tune of $5,000 per Australian. Labor is willing to make tough decisions. We have put on the table billions of dollars of savings in areas like cigarette excise, taxing multinati onals and ending the negative gearing and Capital Gains Tax breaks that have favoured property speculators over first home buyers. All of those decisions have been criticised, but all of them are important in order to be able to pay for the services we need and to bring the Budget back into surplus. 

GAFFNEY: Alright, we'll need to move on at 8:50. I hope that answered your query, Tim. Claire is in Maroochydore and wanted to ask a question as well about the Labor candidate for Fairfax. Claire, good morning.

CALLER (CLAIRE): Hi Annie, I just wondered now that Clive Palmer isn't running, Ted O'Brien - his posters are everywhere yet again - and I haven't heard anything about the Labor candidate and I'm really hoping we can get a little bit more information about this candidate this time around? Because really it will just be a two-horse race but barely that, I think.

LEIGH: Claire, we have a great Labor candidate in Scott Anderson. He is a 28-year-old with a wiser head on his shoulders than I had when I was that age. He is a father of two young children, both of who have had issues in the health care system. So he has experienced firsthand the importance of having a well-funded hospital system. I know he has got a passionate commitment to the Sunshine Coast and to making a difference. Scott will make a fantastic member for Fairfax if he is given the opportunity by the voters. Sure, he is going to be outspent in the electorate which is why you will probably see more LNP posters up than Labor posters. But seek him out, I know he'd love to hear from you.

GAFFNEY: It's 8:52 on ABC Sunshine Coast. Dr Andrew Leigh is our guest just for a couple more minutes, if you've got a quick question for him. Dr Leigh, I just wanted to put a quick question to you on behalf of Type 1 Diabetes sufferers. Apparently the Coalition yesterday announced that they would commit to continuous glucose monitors for up to 4,000 Australian children who suffer from this terrible disease. It means constant finger prick tests, and you know, very much an anxious night for Mums and the children that have this disease because they require monitoring. They can go into a diabetic coma and even pass away in their sleep if that monitoring is not done correctly. Will Labor commit to bipartisan support of these monitors for 4,000 Australian children that have Type-1 Diabetes?

LEIGH: It's certainly something that strikes me as sensible, Annie. I haven't had the chance to speak with our health spokesperson Catherine King, but I know how stressful this can be for families of children who are diabetic. And indeed, I was speaking to an adult diabetes sufferer today who was talking about the frustrations this brings to adults as well. We haven't been good enough in terms of helping to monitor diabetes and the stress to the children and to their parents is considerable.

GAFFNEY: Let's get to that $20 billion black hole in the costing of the proposal to increase the tobacco excise that the LNP says that Labor has just not done its homework on. What is your response to the continuous mention of that figure - a $20 billion black hole sounds pretty significant?

LEIGH: Annie, let's be clear on what happened. We got our tobacco costing done by the Parliamentary Budget Office, which is the independent costings body used by the Opposition. Used by us as Opposition, used by the LNP when they were in Opposition. Its costings are of equal status to the Treasury. Not lower, equal according to the Charter of Budget Honesty. We've done the right thing, we've used the standard assumptions that have been used in costing changes to cigarette excise, which assumes a doubling of the quit rate as a result of increasing the cigarette excise. Now, the Coalition have done their numbers through Treasury. It appears they have asked Treasury to apply different assumptions. We'll certainly be looking in the future as to what has been done by the Coalition in order to produce different numbers and our costings for tobacco excise will be updated as we come to the election. Some of our costing numbers will go up , some will go down. We will adhere to the rules of the game to using the independent Parliamentary Budget Office all the way through.

GAFFNEY: Dr Andrew Leigh, thanks for being our guest this morning here on ABC Sunshine Coast.

LEIGH: Thanks, Annie.


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