Australians rarely have much sympathy for public servants. But as I outline in this piece for the Canberra Times, they're real people and are facing real challenges because of the Abbott Government's public service cuts.
Public service recruitment freeze keeps Canberra locked in uncertainty, Canberra Times, 19 January
At one of my regular mobile offices in Gungahlin, I met a young couple – let’s call them Jess and Dan. Jess struck me as the kind of person employers are always crying out for: bright, well-spoken, professional, passionate about her work.
Like a third of all Canberrans, Jess works for a federal government department. She has three degrees and has volunteered overseas, as well as having years of experience in the public service which she gained by working on short-term contracts. She’s obviously seen as a great asset to her current agency, because in October last year her bosses ruled her eligible for a permanent position.
Unfortunately for Jess, that news came on the same day that the Abbott Government declared a total hiring freeze across the public service. Federal public servants are always amongst the first to be sacrificed when Liberal governments are looking to make savings, and the current Government has proven itself no exception. Having said they would axe 12,000 jobs, the Abbott Government is cutting 16,500 positions from the public service over the next few years. The Government has put a hiring freeze in place as a way to get to that target.
Despite being pinged for this last year, Joe Hockey has repeated wrong claims about how much tax Australians have to pay. Let's set the record straight on this.
ANOTHER HOCKEY CLAIM UP IN SMOKE
Treasurer Joe Hockey has resorted to outright mistruths in an effort to sell his unfair budget.
In an interview with Melbourne’s 3AW radio, Mr Hockey falsely claimed that Australians are paying “nearly 50 cents in the dollar” in tax.
Based on that incorrect figure, he went on to claim that: “Australians spend the first six months of the year working for the Government.”
These claims are false, as Mr Hockey well knows.
Australia’s top marginal tax rate of 45 per cent takes effect only when a person’s annual earnings exceed $180,000. In 2011-12, the most recent year for which tax statistics are available, just 293,540 Australians earned above that threshold.
On the first AM Agenda of the year, I joined Kieran Gilbert to talk about the government's latest backflip on Medicare and the sustainability of health spending in the long term. Here's the transcript:
SKY AM AGENDA
MONDAY, 19 JANUARY 2015
SUBJECT/S: Abbott Government’s cuts to Medicare; Queensland state election; Joint Strike Fighter espionage; Bali Nine executions
KIERAN GILBERT: Welcome to the program Assistant Education Minister Simon Birmingham and Shadow Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh. Gentlemen, good morning. Senator Birmingham, first of all I want to get your thoughts on this leak yesterday in the Sunday Telegraph. Samantha Maiden is reporting that Peter Dutton, the former health Minister, and Joe Hockey argued against reducing the rebate for GPs for shorter consultations. That didn't go ahead anyway as we know, that was due to start today. But the fact that we're seeing leaks from the Expenditure Review committee, that very senior portion of the Cabinet, has got to be a big worry to start the new year?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM, ASSISTANT EDUCATION MINISTER: Good morning, Kieran. Look, I'm not terribly worried nor interested in unsourced leaks, whether they're accurate or not, who knows. What I'm more interested in is, and what the Government is more interested in, is getting the policy settings right. Sussan Ley as the new Health Minister is going to go out and consult extensively with the health sector, with the medical profession to try to ensure we can come up with the right policy that delivers sustainability for Medicare in the long term. We want to ensure we can secure Medicare's future in a way that recognises that those who can afford to make a contribution to their healthcare should be making a greater contribution. It is hard; let's understand that this policy, as with so many measures the Government is pursuing at present, is all about getting the budget back under control. It’s about ensuring our economic settings and our fiscal settings and our budgetary settings are sustainable for the long haul.
GILBERT: Do you accept that the approach to this point has been a bit below average, to put it mildly, in terms of the efforts to reform Medicare? There's been two backflips in two months when it comes to your approach to reforming Medicare.
Following on from my opinion piece in the Herald Sun about the sharing economy, I joined Ross Stevenson on Melbourne's 3AW to talk about how services like Uber are changing established industries. Here's the transcript:
MONDAY, 19 JANUARY 2015
SUBJECT/S: sharing economy
ROSS STEVENSON: As we've been discussing this morning, there's an interesting article by the Shadow Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh, Member for Fraser, in the Herald Sun about Uber and the sharing economy. It's described as a ride-sharing service – I think that's quite deliberately chosen so that they don't use the word 'taxi' – and Andrew Leigh thinks it’s a great idea. Andrew, good morning to you.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Good morning Ross, how are you?
STEVENSON: Good. I think John and I have both used Uber, as you have, from time to time. There are two Ubers though. It varies from state to state, I assume, but there are two Ubers in Melbourne. One of them is a VHA car, that is to say, someone who already has a licence that they've paid the government for. The other one, UberX, is someone who hasn't paid the government a cent. I know you think it's a good idea, but is it fair on taxi drivers who've paid half a million bucks for licence?
LEIGH: It's an incredibly tough area, I think, to try and get this regulation right, Ross. I certainly wasn't aiming to step in there with a final solution. But I do think that increasingly, smartphones are changing the way in which we travel, and I think services like Uber and Lyft are ultimately going to be here to stay. So the question for governments is whether they just stand back and say that the old regulations are perfectly fine, or whether they say that maybe we need to react to what's going on. For example, Uber does its own checks, but they're not the government checks and they don't have access to all of the government databases.
With the new Assistant Treasurer flagging plans to change the rules governing default super funds, I joined Marius Benson on ABC NewsRadio to explain why industry funds are a good bet. Here's the transcript:
MONDAY, 19 JANUARY 2015
SUBJECT/S: Industry superannuation funds; global economic outlook.
MARIUS BENSON: Andrew Leigh, do you believe it's a legitimate exercise for the Government to review the role of union officials on super boards?
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Marius, I think the Government ought to be most focused on making sure that the retirement security of Australians is assured. Rather than playing political games, they ought to be focusing on the returns. Now, the last time I looked at the numbers, the industry super funds were returning an average of seven per cent a year, retail super funds were returning an average of six per cent a year. So why the Government thinks that it ought to be a top priority to shift the playing field towards retail funds is beyond me. An extra one per cent a year translates into potentially tens of thousands of dollars more in retirement savings for workers. That's the goal the Government ought to be focused on.
BENSON: So are you saying those union officials on the boards are doing a better job, getting a better return than other board members in areas where union officials aren't represented?
LEIGH: I don't think it's about particular individuals. I think there is a benefit to having a diversity of experiences on a board, and certainly I think union officials have a place, as do business experts. But on the practical matter, if you're trying to tip the playing field towards the retail funds and deliberately skew away from the industry funds then the effect of that is to tip towards the lower-performing part of the sector. I'd really love to see the Treasurer and the Assistant Treasurer be less focused on what's good for their mates and more focused on what's good for all Australians in ensuring security in retirement.
There's been a lot said about how 'sharing economy' services like Uber benefit young, tech-savvy consumers. But I think there can be real benefits for all Australians, as I explore in this piece for the Melbourne Herald Sun.
Get the rules right and it will pay us all to share, Herald Sun, 19 January
Recently, I caught up with my brother and his partner for dinner. It was one of those busy nights, with clouds looming, when you can be left waiting for a taxi for ages. So I did what millions of people around the world are now doing every day. I tapped on the Uber app on my phone, and within minutes a car had appeared.
The driver was a migrant who’d been in Australia for a couple of decades. He’d worked as a taxi driver previously, but told me he preferred being an Uber driver since he got a bigger slice of the fare, and had the flexibility to take a break in the afternoon to pick up his kids from school.
As we chatted, it struck me that much of the talk about the rise of new ‘sharing economy’ services has focused on how these make life better for a small group of hipsters and tech-savvy Silicon Valley types.
Yesterday the new Assistant Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, indicated that the government is working on yet another round of cuts for the upcoming May budget. Don't these people have any other ideas for managing the budget?
ABBOTT GOVERNMENT’S ANSWER TO EVERYTHING: JUST CUT
The Abbott Government has today confirmed that its only economic strategy is to cut and keep cutting.
New Assistant Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has flagged a fresh round of cuts in the upcoming May Budget.
His comments come just a month after Treasurer Joe Hockey promised the Government wouldn’t keep cutting.
The Abbott Government’s first Budget ripped $80 billion from schools and hospitals, $23 billion from pensions, $5 billion from universities and $3 billion from Medicare.
With the news today that ANZ has thrown its support behind Labor's Future of Financial Advice reforms, the Abbott Government is looking increasingly isolated in its attempts to water down consumer protections.
CONSUMER GROUPS, BANKS AND THE SENATE SUPPORT FOFA - WILL ABBOTT?
One of Australia’s largest banks has added its voice to the chorus of support for Labor’s Future of Financial Advice reforms, proving the Abbott Government’s plans to water them down go too far.
In a submission to the Senate Economics Committee, the ANZ bank has stated:
“ANZ believes the current regulatory framework, including the recent Future of Finance Advice changes, will improve the quality of advice and has put in place a framework to protect consumers from poor advice.”
- ANZ Submission to Scrutiny of Financial Advice inquiry
In backing Labor’s reforms, the bank joins many other major organisations which have warned that rolling back the FoFA package will put Australians’ retirement savings at risk.
Canberrans and progressives around Australia were saddened last week to hear of the passing of Kep Enderby. In a piece for CityNews, I've reflected on the significance of his life and contribution.
Vale Kep Enderby, CityNews, 12 January
Jonathan Swift once said that ‘vision is the art of seeing the invisible’.
The ability to see through the fog of the present to the clarity of tomorrow exemplifies the great progressives of our time. From early on in his life and legal career it was clear that Keppel (Kep) Enderby was something of a master in this art.
Initially drawn to a young and burgeoning Canberra in the early 1960s to lecture in Law at Australia’s new National University, Kep wasted no time making his presence felt in the Bush Capital. By 1970 he had secured Labor pre-selection for the Australian Capital Territory electorate, and entered Parliament that same year.
My parents knew him through a mutual friend, and recall him as a whirlwind of ideas. Apparently, I stayed at his home in 1972. (It was a few months before I was born, so my memory is a little hazy.)
When then Attorney-General Lionel Murphy was appointed to the High Court in February 1975, Enderby went to Gough Whitlam with a forceful case for replacing him in the role. In an exchange characteristic of the period, Enderby went down to the Prime Minister’s office and told him: ‘oh come off it, I think I deserve it’. To which Whitlam reportedly replied: ‘all right, you bastard’.
PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
FRIDAY, 9 JANUARY 2015
SUBJECT/S: Coalition campaign to raise the GST; foreign fighters; Kep Enderby
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Well the worst-kept secret in Australia is now out in the open, with Andrew Robb firmly declaring that he's in the camp for increasing the GST. This is, of course, a campaign which has been running as a guerrilla campaign for the first part of the year. Dan Tehan, Dean Smith, Ian McDonald – these are just some of the many members in the Coalition party room who want to increase the GST. With issues like this you've got to look to history. Labor introduced Medicare, so you should always think that we're looking for ways to expand and improve it. The Coalition introduced the GST, so you should always suspect that they'll be looking for ways to increase it. But fundamentally, expanding the GST would be bad for Australian families. And while Tony Abbott might appreciate Andrew Robb's effort today, Australian families aren't going to appreciate having GST put on their school fees, their healthcare costs and their fresh food. Happy to take questions.