Labor will work in the national interest - Sky AM Agenda




MONDAY, 11 JULY 2016

SUBJECT/S: Budget equity; Corporate tax cuts; Marriage equality; Federal election result; Gough Whitlam’s 100th birthday.

KIERAN GIBERT: With me now, Labor frontbencher Andrew Leigh. Good morning to you. The results are now done, I want to ask you first of all about this message from both leaders yesterday about the need to have a more constructive Parliament It seems very much in the national interest to do that and to have that. Particularly where the budget is right now. How do you make that sit with your message yesterday that the Labor Party has a mandate as well in some respects after the election?

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: We absolutely do Kieran. As you well know, what a mandate means is that you need to after the election what you said you'd do beforehand. The Prime Minister's mandate for example means that he has pledged before the election but no one will pay more to go to a GP. He now needs to deliver on that after the election. 

GILBERT: But how do you make this stick together in terms of saying we're going to be more constructive, it's going to be in the national interest yet everyone is holding to their pre-election positions. 

LEIGH: That's what the mandate theory says, Kieran. That you ought to do afterwards what you said you'd do before. It's a novel concept, it certainly wasn't something that the Abbott/Turnbull Government proceeded with but it's absolutely something that Labor will continue with. We'll stand up for Medicare but we'll also work constructively with the Government on fair budget repair. We've put on the table a range of reforms. Our vocational education reforms for example make a difference to the budget bottom line over the decade while also helping students.

GILBERT: But are you willing to compromise with the Government as well? As opposed to saying OK this is our idea, take it or leave it. Is Labor willing to compromise if the Government does in terms of that effort on budget repair?

LEIGH: We certainly did in the last Parliament and will continue to do in this one. We supported over $100 billion in Government savings including many that were not put together in a way in which Labor would have put them together. We won't compromise on our values. We firmly believe as do most economists that the bigger growth dividend comes from investing in schools not from delivering company tax cuts. Indeed you saw that over the weekend with the chair of Telstra, the 5th biggest company in Australia, John Mullan, saying that he didn't think it was the right time to be putting more cash back into corporate coffers. 

GILBERT: Would you compromise over some extent on that? You said you would back tax cuts for businesses up to $2 million turnover. Do you think there's room to compromise further, up to $10 million turnover or $50 million turnover because largely they would be Australian companies wouldn't they?

LEIGH: Kieran we've just had this shot across the bows from S&P. If you're going to take that seriously you need to look at measures which are going to add to the budget bottom line. S&P has been very clear that the Government needs to not only look at cutting spending but also at raising revenue and that's the thing that Scott Morrison has been so stubborn about. We're keen to work with him in putting together a balanced package but make sure that Australia returns the budget to surplus but without hurting the most vulnerable.

GILBERT: But do you accept that it's a message from the electorate as well by splintering into the various minor parties and independents. Because Labor's primary vote was second lowest in its history. This is a message as much to the Liberal Coalition as it is to the Labor Party isn't it in terms of trying to rebuild the faith of the electorate?

LEIGH: We're all here to work in the national interest. I was put into Parliament by 140,000 voters who want me to be there in order to make a difference for their lives in order to make their lives a little easier. When we work together across the Parliament we do what the founders of Australia intended, we work in the national interest. I'll always be doing that, you'll see Bill Shorten doing that in his dealings on whole range of issues. We need to move quicker on tackling climate change. We need to let same-sex couples marry as soon as possible without a divisive debate and we need to move on and make sure we're investing in schools because a great education system is what a more technological society demands.

GILBERT: OK on one of those points on same-sex marriage you alluded to. Without a divisive debate, it doesn't have to be a toxic debate, it can be a respectful debate can't it? And if there aren't the numbers for a parliamentary vote surely Labor will support the idea of a plebiscite if it means that it could be legalised by the end of the year potentially?

LEIGH: Kieran I think that we should just get on and do our jobs. Parliamentarians in Britain and New Zealand under conservative leadership voted same-sex marriage – 

GILBERT: There's not going to be the numbers for a parliamentary vote, we know that now.

LEIGH: There are the numbers for a parliamentary vote. I don't think you're right about that.

GILBERT: The 76 members of the Coalition I think will preclude that from happening. They've got a majority most likely.

LEIGH: You're making a more technical point, you're not saying that there isn't parliamentary support for marriage equality. You're saying that there are supporters of marriage equality in the Parliament who are going to block Parliament doing its job. That's a very strange way to behave, we've just been talking about the importance of Parliamentarians working together...

GILBERT: We're talking about mandates. They've won the election and if they don't support a Parliamentary vote as part of their agreement within their Coalition, surely Labor would not stand in the way of a referendum which would deal with this once and for all?

LEIGH: Kieran we believe a referendum would be divisive. We believe there would be increased calls to mental health helplines for young people just as we saw in the Irish referendum. In the ACT there's about 30 same-sex couples that were married when it was legal in the ACT for a brief 5 day window. For couples like Emily and Ellie, they've been waiting nearly 3 years now for the right to tie the knot for good. I don't think that we should pussyfoot around. We should just get on with it.

GILBERT: We'll see how the debate unfolds. Just going back to something we were talking about in terms of the tax cuts. I know that you're making the economic argument about the impact on growth but in terms of compromise again and the spirit of compromise to start this Parliament. If the Government pushes ahead with the tax cuts, are you willing to agree and move up the threshold in terms of turnover? Given you supported the tax cuts for small business to $2 million -  is Labor opposed to say $10 million or $50 million - as I say, these are Australian companies that we're talking about?

LEIGH: Kieran, it'll be a decision for Shadow Cabinet, but I've told you before the strong view of Australian's top economists. The Economic Society of Australia did a survey of their members and two out of three believe that spending on schools gives you more of a growth pay-off than company tax cuts. If our fifth-biggest company doesn't believe it's a good idea, if we have a Budget challenge with S&P - I'm just not sure this is the right time to be giving big cheques to companies.

GILBERT: But the economic team of the Labor party is keen to be constructive?

LEIGH: As always.

GILBERT: And try and found as much common ground as possible? Because this is not now a matter of well-intro the future. We've been given a few years by the ratings agencies - get your act together or your credit rating will be downgraded.

LEIGH: That's absolutely right and so we need to look at ways of closing the gap between revenue and spending. Let's be absolutely clear: a company tax cut goes in the opposite direction.

GILBERT: Okay. What about Labor's performance? There's been a lot said of how Bill Shorten out-campaigned the Prime Minister, he had a very good campaign, but you didn't win. Is there a sense now that the euphoria of the better-than-expected result turns into disappointment that you remain in Opposition for another three years most likely?

LEIGH: Kieran, it's always disappointing to be in Opposition - to be in a position where you can't deliver on the policies that you most believe in. But Bill Shorten was trying to pull off something that hadn't been done in 85 years - not since 1931 had a first-term Federal Government been unseated. For him to have come so close - to get half the vote in Australia - is an extraordinary achievement and one in which Bill ought to be proud and the whole Labor team is proud.

GILBERT: Are there an "what-ifs"? Particularly when you look at Victoria, the swing nation-wide was over 4 per cent, in Victoria it was 1.5 per cent, and a lot has been said of that CFA dispute there - is there a sense of what-if, if that wasn't part of the political equation in that state?

LEIGH: Smart political parties are always assessing their campaigns. I think you're absolutely right to be asking those questions. There will be careful analysis of all the of the ways in which we could have done better, but I think if you look at the totality of the campaign that Labor's ability to keep the conversation on the issues that are most important to us, about our ability to argue for positive policies, and stare-down the scare campaigns. I mean, it had been basically a full generation that people had said you can't talk about negative gearing, it's just the third rail of Australian politics. Bill Shorten and Chris Bowen didn't do that. We put positive policies on the table and the scare campaign didn't scare us off. So I think that's an important lesson.

GILBERT: One of the Labor icons, legends, who brought your party back from the wilderness Gough Whitlam - today would have been his 100th birthday. Obviously a time to reflect on his contribution to the Labor Party, but more broadly to the nation. Your thoughts today on what would have been Gough's 100th birthday?

LEIGH: It is an extraordinary moment just to think about what Gough brought to the nation. Not only economic reform, but social reform. A sense that Australia wasn't a little country, but a serious middle power. A gravitas in the Parliament, and an ability to hold our head to all on the world stage. Gough's 100th - what would have been his 100th birthday - will be acknowledged today at Old Parliament House with the launch of a new collection of speeches that were given on his passing, a moment to recognise the mark that he made on our Parliament.

GILBERT: What can modern Labor learn from that legacy? Obviously we talk about his legacy in terms of social policy and education and so on and health, but the economic management was always the point of weakness that was always criticised - but in terms of the positive lessons to be learned, what are they from the Whitlam Government and the Whitlam leadership?

LEIGH: Be ambitious and think big. I mean, I look at Malcolm Turnbull who has been elected essentially on no mandate whatsoever. It is very unclear what it is that Malcolm Turnbull stood. As Andrew Hastie pointed out: what had the Government to offer a family of five? We don't have that problem on our side of  politics. We argued for a hundred positive policies - we pushed the envelope on whole range of areas, from housing affordability to same-sex marriage to superannuation. We need to be the party of reform, change and ideas because that is the Labor legacy in Australia.

GILBERT: Andrew Leigh, appreciate your time this morning.

LEIGH: Thanks, Kieran.

GILBERT: And congratulations on your re-election.

LEIGH: Thank you.


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