WEDNESDAY, 17 FEBRUARY 2016
SUBJECT/S: Labor’s positive plans for the sharing economy; negative gearing; GST; retirement of WA Labor MPs; population growth.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Thanks very much to Sam and the COMMUNE team for having us here, and to Ruby from SheSays for giving us some insights into the important work that they are doing to make sure that the innovative start-up economy includes as many women as possible. Labor believes that the sharing economy offers great potential for tackling some of our big challenges, including creating more jobs and dealing with issues like congestion and housing affordability. That is why we engaged in extensive consultations last year, talking to Australians about the principles that should guide the sharing economy. Labor's principles include the notion that sharing economy firms should play by the rules, and should pay their fair share of tax. Labor understands that the sharing economy offers great potential for creating new jobs, but that we have got to be careful too that the new technologies do not leave people behind. It is only Labor that will ensure that an innovative economy protects workers as well as making sure capital owners do well.
Just before handing over to Tanya, I want to make a couple of comments about Scott Morrison's address to the National Press Club today. We know that the Abbott-Turnbull Government has lost more ministers that it has had positive tax ideas; 14 more to be exact. All signs are pointing to Scott Morrison's address to the Press Club being just another Joe Hockey-style lecture on Australians living beyond their means. Here are a few facts that Scott Morrison probably won't share with the Australian people when he is at the Press Club: 80 per cent of his return to surplus by 2021 is based on bracket creep. He is unlikely to say that half of the benefits of negative gearing go to the top tenth, or that two-thirds of the benefits of the capital gains tax go to the top tenth. I'd be pretty surprised if Scott Morrison acknowledges that inequality in Australia is at a 75-year high, and that growth has been downgraded successively since the Abbott-Turnbull Government came to office. Australia needs the economic leadership that Malcolm Turnbull promised when he toppled Tony Abbott, but so far we've seen precious little of it. I'll hand over now to Tanya.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks everyone, and thanks particularly to Sam for having us here today. When I speak to the young people who are here today, they are doing jobs I couldn't have imagined ten years ago. The one thing we know for certain is that in ten years’ time or twenty years’ time, our young people will be doing jobs we can’t imagine today. That is why it is so very important that we get a few of our basics right. Of course we have to get the principles around the sharing economy right, as Andrew has said. We need to get investment in school education right, because we know that the kids who are going to pre-school now, and the kids who are starting in primary school, for them coding will be as important as literacy and numeracy. We also need to get right our National Broadband Network. We’ve got a Prime Minister who has had one job as Communications Minister, and that was getting the NBN right. Instead we have got a second-rate NBN that is slower and more expensive than what Labor proposed. We are very focussed on making sure our kids are prepared for the jobs of the future through our school education system, and that the biggest piece of infrastructure that we will build as a nation in coming years is not the second-rate slower and more expensive NBN that Malcolm Turnbull has promised.
I also want to add a few comments on negative gearing, as Andrew has done. This continues to be, obviously, a discussion in the Australian community, and I'm very pleased that it is being discussed around kitchen breakfast tables and around the water cooler at work. What we know for sure is that negative gearing has disproportionately benefited the highest income earners. Scott Morrison has been out there for months talking up a new tax; a GST on all of the areas that weren't previously taxed - a GST on food and other essentials of life - or a 15 per cent GST in the areas that are already taxed. Either way, he has been talking up a massive tax increase. It is a little bit rich now for Scott Morrison to be saying he is not interested in the revenue part of the equation, and it is all about spending cuts. We saw the sort of spending cuts this Government wanted to make in the 2014 Budget. In fact, those spending cuts are still being pursued by the Government. There’s $80 billion of cuts from health and education. We can't invest in the future productivity of our country if we don't invest in our education system. The $30 billion cut from schools across Australia affects not just the ability of individual kids to do those jobs of the future, but our whole future prosperity as a nation if we don't invest in making sure that we can continue to have high educational standards across Australia. Any questions?
JOURNALIST: Labor's three sitting MPs in WA are all stepping down at the next election. Is the branch in trouble?
PLIBERSEK: Not at all. We will very much miss Melissa Parke, Alannah MacTiernan and Gary Gray, but each one of them has made a long commitment to public life in Australia. It is impossible for people to stay forever, but these people have more than done their fair share for the Labor Party, and most importantly for their constituents and the people of Western Australia. We are looking forward to renewal, to new members of Parliament from WA, but of course we will miss our colleagues.
JOURNALIST: We've heard a lot about renewal from each of those that are stepping out. Is there any sense that they perhaps have been pushed rather than jumping ship?
PLIBERSEK: No, not at all. It is a really tough life being a federal MP from WA, flying to Canberra 20-something weeks a year, always jet-lagged; making that flight first to Sydney usually and then on to Perth. I mean, hours and hours of your life spent high above the countryside. It is a very difficult thing to ask someone to do for years at a time, and these three have made a substantial contribution. Alannah, of course, was for many years a state MP and a state Minister as well. It is impossible to ask people to do this sort of work forever, and that sort of travel in particular, so we understand. We'll miss them, but we understand.
JOURNALIST: One of those MPs, Gary Gray, has backed calls for changes in the Senate voting system. Is this Labor's stance?
PLIBERSEK: We are still discussing the proposals that the Government might put forward. We have seen the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters make some recommendations. We are examining those recommendations and considering what the Government might put forward. This is an area where we need to look at very small votes for micro parties seeing people elected to the Senate and whether that is in fact reflecting the views of the electors appropriately. It is something we need to make a considered and thoughtful response to.
JOURNALIST: On first glance it appears that if this shake-up does happen, Labor and the Greens will have the overwhelming balance of power in the upper house. Is that an attractive prospect?
PLIBERSEK: I don't think you can make a decision based on the electoral politics of today or tomorrow. You have to have system that has integrity over time.
JOURNALIST: Just with a bit of a curveball, Bob Carr yesterday came out talking about immigration rates, saying that they are vastly over-ambitious and they need to be cut back by up to half. Do you support that view?
PLIBERSEK: I think a lot of people who live in our major cities are really feeling the pressures of increased population in those cities. But, when we look around the world, there are very densely populated cities where people live very successfully because they have got great urban infrastructure in those cities. I don't think the problem is the number of people; I think the problem is our infrastructure hasn't kept up with population growth. We need to make sure we have got great public transport, and that needs to be planned and built now - not years after the population has increased. We need to make sure that we've got great urban design where people can socialise outdoors, use green open space, and have a good quality of life. We need to make sure our building codes reflect the fact that people are living closer to one another, and make sure we have got good sound insulation, good common spaces in developments. It is, in my view, not so much the number of people but the way that we live in our cities and also the way, of course, that we share our resources. Australia is a very dry continent, we need to make sure we are energy and water efficient; and as our population increases, we continue to be more efficient in the use of our resources.
JOURNALIST: He seemed to shudder at the thought of people having to live in what he called 'Hong Kong-style towers'. Is that such an unattractive prospect, and would it, as he said, erode some of Australia’s great values?
PLIBERSEK: I think there are plenty of people who love living in a densely populated area as long as the urban design is good. We are in the heart of Sydney today, the biggest city in the country. We are in an area that is very densely populated, and I think one of the things people love about Erskineville, Newtown, the inner city of Sydney generally, is you can go out at any time of day or night and get cup of coffee, or pick up a litre of milk, you know your neighbours, there are terrific local services, public transport, restaurants and so on. If you have a good quality of life because of the services that are offered to you, a lot of people love living in densely populated areas. But it really depends a lot on getting urban design right and thinking ahead to what kind of city we want to live in, what kind of community relationship we want to support. Thanks everyone.
MEDIA CONTACT: DAN DORAN 0427 464 350 (TANYA PLIBERSEK)
JENNIFER RAYNER 0428 214 856 (ANDREW LEIGH)