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Kep Enderby: a builder of better times

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’. 

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Raising the GST is the Coalition's worst-kept secret

E&OE TRANSCRIPT

DOORSTOP INTERVIEW

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.

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Robb blows the whistle on GST

First it was the WA Liberal Premier. Then it was a bunch of backbenchers. Now one of the Abbott Government's most senior Cabinet Ministers is calling for an increase in the GST. Looks like Tony Abbott's first broken promise for 2015 isn't far away.

 MEDIA RELEASE

ROBB BLOWS THE WHISTLE ON GST

The worst kept secret in Australia has been blown today, with senior Cabinet Minister Andrew Robb publically calling for the GST to be added to fresh food, health and education.

Minister Robb has today outed himself in The Australian Financial Review as the ringleader of the campaign within the Liberal Party to increase the GST.

This isn’t a guerrilla campaign being run by Liberal MPs – Australians now know the Liberal Party’s campaign to increase the GST goes right to the Cabinet table.

The Liberal Party has been running an orchestrated campaign to increase the GST for weeks now.

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Smoothing the way for the sharing economy

Following my op-ed in today's Daily Tele about the opportunities and benefits of the sharing economy, I joined Simon Marnie on ABC 702 Sydney to talk about how my colleagues and I in parliaments around Australia might tackle the regulatory issues raised by services like Uber and AirBnB. Here's the transcript:

E&OE TRANSCRIPT

RADIO INTERVIEW

ABC 702 SYDNEY

TUESDAY, 6 JANUARY 2015

SUBJECT/S: opportunities in the sharing economy; cost of living

SIMON MARNIE: It's called the sharing economy. Basically, it's making an extra buck from what you already have: renting out a spare room, giving a ride to someone heading in your direction. But not everyone is a fan, mainly because of the legislative and regulatory sides that come into it. Federal MP Andrew Leigh reckons that the sharing economy could not only ease the cost of living, but could even make things like home ownership easier for Australians. He joins me on the line, good morning to you.

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Good morning Simon, how are you?

MARNIE: I'm well. Now, I must say that I've been using UberX and I've been quite impressed with its ease and with its inexpensive nature. But it is, at its heart, still an illegal thing, isn't it?

LEIGH: That's right. Illegal for drivers, as I understand it, in most situations. The only exception that I know of in Australia right now is that the South Australian Government is allowing hire car drivers to pick up passengers using Uber Black. So that's once they've passed the regular hire car checks. 

MARNIE: So with your background in economics, why have you got such high hopes for services like this and the idea of the sharing economy?

LEIGH: Well Simon, if you think about the two big challenges for an extraordinary city like Sydney, high on your list would have to be housing affordability. The average house used to be three times median incomes, now it's seven times median incomes. And commuting times would be the other one, with the roads gridlocked as you've been speaking about this morning. The potential, I think, to make better use of our housing stock through services like AirBnB is really important. We've got nine million unused bedrooms in Australia at the moment, and yet we've got this housing affordability crisis going on. We've got gridlock choking the streets of our major cities, and yet potentially there's these ways of linking up people who need a ride with people who have a spare seat. 

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A GST on fresh food? No thanks

With more Liberal MPs out promoting the idea of slapping the GST on fresh food, I joined Chris Mac on 2CC Canberra to talk about why the government shouldn't break its promise on changing this tax. Here's the transcript:

E&OE TRANSCRIPT

RADIO INTERVIEW

2CC CANBERRA

TUESDAY, 6 JANUARY 2015

SUBJECT/S: Liberals’ plans to put GST on fresh food

CHRIS MAC: Well, Dan Tehan, the federal member for the seat of Wannon has launched into a little bit of kite-flying, I think you'd have to say, on behalf of his Coalition colleagues. That was to suggest that it was time to look at the GST and look at either increasing its rate or broadening its base. Currently the GST doesn't apply to fresh food, doesn't apply to much of the education area, nor does it apply to health care. It's these areas where the base may well be broadened and you and I could be paying a whole lot more, 10 per cent more, for a whole lot of things. Andrew Leigh is the Shadow Assistant Treasurer in the federal Opposition. He's also the federal Member for Fraser here in the ACT and he joins us on the line. Andrew Leigh, a very good morning to you.

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Good morning to you, Chris.

MAC: Well, let's have a look at this. It's an interesting one, and you know that I'll ask you the question about what you'd do in a moment. But here we have Dan Tehan getting the kite out and giving it a bit of a fly on the GST.

LEIGH: It's pretty extraordinary stuff, isn't it Chris? I mean, this is a government that came to office after saying more than 30 times that they wouldn't increase the GST, and now they're sending out their Committee Chairs and junior ministers to float increases to the GST. Josh Frydenberg, I noticed, is out there too, and you just feel that with this Government, keeping promises is something for other people. They're above the whole business of keeping promises and having said something more than 30 times before the election doesn't mean they won't break that promise now.

MAC: Alright. When you look at this situation, the Prime Minister and Greg Hunt, the Environment Minister, and others in the government have all trumpeted the Treasury modelling which suggested the repeal of the carbon tax was going to save the average family some $550 or $10 or $11 a week. But if you put the GST on fresh food, on education - schoolbooks and other items related to education for kids and tertiary students - and also on services in the healthcare sector, what would that mean in terms of increased costs to regular Australians?

LEIGH: Well certainly, my back-of-the-envelope calculation says that you get a bigger price effect than the carbon price did. And of course with the carbon price you got the benefit of a cleaner environment. We saw the biggest drop in carbon emissions in a quarter of a century after the carbon price was put in place. But with this, Australians will be thinking, well, why should I be paying 10 per cent more for my apples, why should I be paying 10 per cent more for private school fees, why should I be paying 10 per cent more for health costs? Those will be huge concerns for Australians who are struggling under cost of living pressures.

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Nine million empty bedrooms a waste

As someone who is interested in how we can make more efficient use of existing assets and help families with their cost of living, I'm excited by the potential posed by the emerging 'sharing economy'. In this op-ed for the Daily Telegraph, I've explained how I reckon services like AirBnB can help make a difference.

Nine million empty bedrooms a waste, Daily Telegraph, Tuesday 6 January

How many bedrooms would you say are going spare right now across Australia? How many perfectly good rooms are being used for storing disused dumb-bells and dusty DVDs?

The latest Census says the answer is about nine million more than one for every three Australians.

That's nine million spare rooms which could be put to productive use if only there was some way to match people who own rooms with people who'd like to stay in them.

As it turns out, there is. AirBnB is one of a host of new "sharing economy'' services linking people who own stuff they're not using with those willing to pay to do so.

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Squash this GST broken promise now

The new year has barely got going and already there's more Liberals coming out of the woodwork calling for the GST to be added to fresh food and other basic necessities. Joe Hockey needs to knock this on the head right now.

MEDIA RELEASE

SQUASH THIS GST BROKEN PROMISE NOW

Australians who had hoped the Abbott Government’s year of broken promises were behind them must be dismayed to see it gearing up for a whopper on the GST.

When WA Liberal Premier Colin Barnett called for GST to be added to fresh food in December, Abbott Government ministers pointedly refused to rule it out.

Senior Victorian Liberal Dan Tehan has loudly added his support to slugging families with more GST at the checkout but wants to go further – he wants to include a GST on school education, university education, healthcare and financial advice.

According to Mr Tehan, this would represent a $21.6 billion increase in the GST – around $1,000 for every Australian man, woman and child. 

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The economic case for renewable energy

In today's Canberra Times, I've got an opinion piece explaining why even Liberals like Tony Abbott should value renewable energy for its contribution to jobs, investment and the economy.

The economic case for renewable energy, Canberra TimesFriday 26 December

As a progressive, I've always believed that a clean environment is an intrinsic good - not a means to some other end, but the end in itself. But the more I see of the Abbott government's approach to environmental policy, the more it becomes apparent that they do not share this view. Instead, they adopt the instrumentalist approach of seeing things as having value only if they boost GDP. The intrinsic value of fresh air, clean rivers and flourishing forests simply doesn't fit with the far right worldview.

Yet as it happens, there's also a strong instrumental case to be made for taking action that will protect our environment. Transitioning to renewable energy isn't just good for our quality of life, it's also good for economic growth

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No hiding the fact that not-for-profits want the charities commission

I've been campaigning all year against the government's plans to scrap the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission. A new report from the government's consultations with charities shows I'm definitely not alone in thinking the commission offers the best model for helping charities and protecting Australians from scammers.

MEDIA RELEASE

NO HIDING THE FACT THAT NOT-FOR-PROFITS WANT THE CHARITIES COMMISSION

In a report dumped out days before Christmas, Australia’s charities have yet again shown that they value the model of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission.

The report from the Abbott Government’s consultations with over 300 charities clearly shows they back transparency, independent regulation and a public charities register – everything the charities commission provides.

The government plans to scrap the commission. Yet the report shows many not-for-profits were critical of its plan to return charity rulings to the Australian Tax Office and require charities to self-report on their finances.

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Tackling tax dodges is a problem of will, not power

I've got an op-ed in today's Business Spectator on why Joe Hockey shouldn't walk away from his promise to fairly tax multinational firms. It doesn't seem a big ask to make sure all companies pay their fair share.

Tackling tax dodges is a problem of will, not power, Business Spectator, 22 December

It’s rare to see stories about tax taking up the front pages of some of Australia’s biggest newspapers.

But then again, it is thankfully also rare to see a Treasurer slash almost $4 billion from foreign aid while simultaneously giving hundreds of millions of dollars back to multinational firms.

That’s what Joe Hockey did in his 2014 mid-year budget update by backing down on a promise made in November 2013, just after last year’s election.

Back then, the freshly-minted Treasurer promised to come up with a targeted rule stopping companies artificially shrinking their tax bills by loading up on debt and then claiming deductions for the interest paid.

We know this is a problem because Treasury and the Australian Tax Office told us so during Labor’s comprehensive crackdown on multinational tax in 2013. 

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | Andrew.Leigh.MP@aph.gov.au | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.