The Abbott Government's super blind spot, Business Spectator, 3 September
Joint op-ed with Bernie Ripoll MP
People sometimes ask why those of us in the Labor Party are such strong advocates for evidence-based policymaking. The reason, of course, is that without drawing on evidence, personal prejudices can quickly come to guide public policy, paving the way for blind spots to cloud the view of what needs to be done.
The Abbott Government is letting just such a blind spot block out good evidence when it comes to changing the governance arrangements for Australia’s industry super funds.
The Government is proposing to end more than two decades of successful joint governance by employer and employee-nominated fund directors and instead force boards to take on both an independent chair and one-third independent directors.
THURSDAY, 3 SEPTEMBER 2015
SUBJECT/S: State of the Australian economy; Superannuation; Government backflip on Bank Deposits Levy
STUART BOCKING: Labor's Shadow Assistant Treasurer is Andrew Leigh and he's on the line now, good morning.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Good morning Stuart.
BOCKING: What's your take from the figures yesterday, those GDP figures, what we've seen with the value of the dollar and of course, the market volatility over the past week or so?
LEIGH: Stuart, we're in an economic transition with the investment phase of the mining boom phasing down and subtracting from growth. What we need is a Government with a clear plan for what comes after the mining boom. For mine, that would involve heavy investment in technology and engineering jobs, making sure that we're creating jobs in renewables rather than attacking the solar and wind sectors, and making sure that we've got significant investment in long-term growth. What I worry is that Joe Hockey is much keener on finding excuses than finding solutions. Last time the growth figures came out he was all focused on the quarterly numbers because that's what made him look good in the international comparison. Now he wants us to look at the annual numbers because that's what makes him look good.
BOCKING: In fairness, governments are always at that – you'd be doing exactly the same thing and have in the past when you were in government. You're always going to look for the numbers that do seem most appealing. I think one of the difficulties many people have is accepting that countries like the US, countries like Greece have a better rate of economic growth than we do.
LEIGH: That's absolutely a concern for me, Stuart. And you can take simple numbers that we know should be going in one direction and see that they're going the other. The unemployment rate should be going down, instead it is now at a 13-year high. Consumer sentiment should be getting better, but instead it's 11 per cent down from where it was at the election. Growth ought to be getting better but instead growth is waning. The deficit ought to be falling – Mr Abbott said that would be his number one test of economic credibility – but the deficit has doubled in just the last 12 months. So the numbers that should be going up are going down, and the numbers that should be going down are going up.
THURSDAY, 3 SEPTEMBER 2015
SUBJECT/S: State of the Australian economy.
MARIUS BENSON: Andrew Leigh, the Government and some substantial economists this morning are saying things aren't that good but at least the economy isn't heading into recession. Do you agree we're not heading into recession?
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Marius, I think responsible alternative governments are very, very careful in their language around that sort of thing. Yesterday's numbers are a significant cause for concern. We were told that the election of an Abbott Government would be like a shot of adrenalin to the Australian economy but instead we've got figures which are only positive because of a significant increase in government spending.
BENSON: But the Government says at least we're growing; look at Canada, look at Brazil, look at those other resources-reliant economies that are in recession.
LEIGH: They're casting around for comparisons. Last quarter Joe Hockey was doing his comparisons based on quarterly numbers; now he's doing them on annual numbers. The fact is, Marius, we've got unemployment at a 13-year high, consumer sentiment 11 per cent below where it was at the election, we've had the budget deficit doubled just in the last 12 months and we've got taxes and spending rising, contrary to what the Abbott Liberals told us before the election, that they would be a lower taxing government.
ARE BELCONNEN DELAYS A SIGN OF MORE PAIN ON THE WAY?
The Abbott Government has let another week go by without word on the future of the Department of Immigration in Belconnen.
Instead of announcing a decision on this drawn-out procurement process, this week Public Service Minister Eric Abetz floated the idea of slashing the Australian Public Service even further.
RADIO NATIONAL DRIVE
TUESDAY, 25 AUGUST 2015
SUBJECT/S: Share market turmoil; Income tax; Industry assistance to BlueScope Steel; Australian involvement in Syria.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Markets have been on a rollercoaster today, recovering slightly after heavy falls yesterday and in early trading. The Australian share market's benchmark ASX 200 has jumped 2.7 per cent, defying further steep falls in China and across Asia. Shadow Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh joins me now. Hi, welcome back.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: G'day Patricia, good to be with you.
KARVELAS: Have share markets bottomed out? What do you think?
LEIGH: Share markets are notoriously tough to forecast, Patricia. But certainly we've seen some huge falls over the last few days. We've seen this 8 per cent fall from the Shanghai Composite, the Nikkei in Japan is down 4 per cent, European stocks are down about 4 per cent. The Australian stock market yesterday fell back down to where it was in 2013. So these are pretty troubling developments and certainly speak to some of the concerns in the global economy. The first of those is the Chinese stock market and the devaluation there, and the second is the end of very low interest rates in the United States, which investors know is coming.
SKY AM AGENDA
MONDAY, 24 AUGUST 2015
SUBJECT/S: Taxation reform; China free-trade agreement; NDIS; Canning by-election
KIERAN GILBERT: This is AM Agenda. Thanks for your company this Monday. With me now is the Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Andrew Leigh, and in Melbourne we've got the Assistant Social Services Minister, Mitch Fifield. Thanks for your time gentlemen. Mitch Fifield, first to you: more calls for tax cuts from the Treasurer but how are they going to be paid for? He's got the idea but not necessarily the solution here.
MITCH FIFIELD, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR SOCIAL SERVICES: Kieran, as you know we are for lower and simpler and fairer taxation in Australia. We've demonstrated that with the abolition of the carbon tax and the mining tax. We will have more to say in the future about personal income tax through the taxation white paper process. But we're not hearing any talk from the other side about how to reduce Australia's levels of taxation. Labor still want to bring back the carbon tax, they want to call it a different name, they want to call it an ETS. So I think the people of Australia really have two competing visions when it comes to taxation.
GILBERT: But I guess the question is, Senator Fifield, how do you fund this when it would run into the billions to bring the Australian marginal tax rate down to, say, a nation's like New Zealand for example.
FIFIELD: Kieran, I'm not here today to announce a Coalition taxation policy. We have the tax white paper process which is there for a reason. It's meant to gain views from the Australian community and Australian business as to how they think our taxation system can be more competitive. There are a number of stages to that tax white paper process and we will have more to say about personal income tax as part of the process.
GILBERT: Well it's a starting point I guess. Andrew Leigh, the point is that compared to other nations our marginal tax rates are not competitive, are they?
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Well Kieran, if you look at what they call the tax wedge across the OECD, Australia is below average for income taxes. Our total tax take puts us in the bottom handful of countries in the advanced world.
We should always be trying to craft a better income tax system but if the average Australian had a dollar for every time they were promised tax cuts from Joe Hockey, they'd be as rich as he is.
The simple fact is, Joe Hockey is all hot air and no action when it comes to tax reform. Labor has announced our multinational tax plan and our superannuation plan. These are tax reforms that make a difference to the budget bottom line but are also fair and sustainable.Read more
Joe Hockey's tax disclosure wind-back is a 'reform' nobody asked for, The Guardian, 21 August
This week’s Parliamentary sittings began with the tabling of a Senate report into how some big companies are dodging their tax bills. The report found that billions of dollars are draining offshore through holes in the tax system. It called for better tax transparency to hold companies accountable for shirking their fair share.
Asked on ABC radio what the government was doing about the problem, Treasurer Joe Hockey pointed out that a law requiring the tax office to disclose the tax paid by large firms was about to come into effect. What he didn’t say was that he was about to gut that law.
The Parliamentary week has ended with the Abbott Government introducing a bill to help some of Australia’s biggest companies keep their tax dealings secret. This means we’ll never know just how much dodging they may be getting away with. Far from backing better transparency, the Abbott Government is actually working to shield huge firms from any public scrutiny.
The Coalition’s bill is designed to eviscerate transparency laws Labor put in place in 2013. Labor’s laws require the Australian Tax Office to publish information about the income and tax paid by companies earning more than $100 million.
IT’S OFFICIAL – GOVERNMENT’S TOP TAX PRIORITY IS GUTTING TRANSPARENCY
The Abbott Government has today shown that its top priority on tax is helping big companies keep secret how much they really pay.
In the very same week a major Senate report has called for better tax transparency, the Abbott Government has introduced legislation to gut Australia’s existing tax transparency laws.
This morning, Assistant Treasurer Josh Frydenberg will table a bill that will roll back Labor’s transparency rules, introduced in 2013.
These laws require the Australian Tax Office to publish information about the income and tax paid by companies earning over $100 million a year.
Joe Hockey was spruiking these very rules on ABC Radio just three days ago when arguing against the need for better transparency.
ABBOTT’S CUTS LEAD CSIRO TO SELL THE FARM – LITERALLY
Australia’s premier research agency has been forced to turn property developer to make up for the Abbott Government’s deep funding cuts.
Today, the CSIRO announced it is seeking approval to re-develop a major tract of land in Canberra that has previously been used for agricultural research.
The agency has asked the National Capital Authority to re-zone the Ginninderra Field Station Site on the Barton Highway as 'Urban Area' in the next amendment to the National Capital Plan, due out next year. This would allow CSIRO to sell or build on the site for commercial development.
CSIRO would not need to sell off its assets if the Abbott Government hadn’t slashed $115 million from its funding in the 2014 Budget.
RADIO NATIONAL DRIVE
TUESDAY, 18 AUGUST 2015
SUBJECT/S: Marriage equality; Dyson Heydon; EPBC Act.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: We're joined in our Parliament House studio by Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Dr Andrew Leigh – hi Andrew.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: G'day Patricia.
KARVELAS: And the New South Wales Liberal Senator Arthur Sinodinos. Hi Arthur.
ARTHUR SINODINOS, SENATOR FOR NEW SOUTH WALES: Hi Patricia.
KARVELAS: Let's start with you, Arthur Sinodinos: why do frontbenchers need the riot act read to them? What's going wrong?
SINODINOS: Because last week we had a process of discussion in the party room on same-sex marriage which came to a disposition, which later became a decision, about a process for allowing the people to have a vote on this in the next Parliament. So then what happened afterwards is that various frontbenchers were out there, before there'd been a Cabinet discussion, giving their view about the form in which this consultation of the people should occur. What the Prime Minister was indicating, I think, in the party room today was that this is not the appropriate way to go about it and with the Canning by-election coming our way very soon, we need to make sure we are speaking with one voice and restoring Cabinet government so we can get on with focusing on the things that matter most to the people of Australia.
KARVELAS: But I've got to ask, Arthur Sinodinos, is there a position? You don't really have one yet – there’s only a sort of half position.
SINODINOS: The undertaking the Prime Minister gave to the party room was to come back with a process after consulting the Cabinet, and bring it to the party room in the next little while. I think that means, probably, when we're next sitting again.