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.



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:





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:





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.


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.



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.



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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Gifts for the top, pain for the bottom in the Abbott Government's mini-budget





SUBJECT/S: Mini-Budget; Tony Abbott’s Christmas gift to multinationals; Cabinet reshuffle; Trade Unions Royal Commission; Andrew Crook

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: We've now got six days til Christmas, and it's very clear the Abbott Government's giveaways are for those at the top, not those at the bottom. They're trying to re-gift their GP tax - wrapping it up and hoping the Australian people won't notice - and they've still got their cuts to pensions, to health and education. Yet at the same time, in Monday's mini-budget Joe Hockey broke a promise to get tax back from multinational firms. He said very clearly in last year's mini-budget that he would fairly tax multinationals with a targeted anti-avoidance measure. But on Monday he broke that promise. Why is it that under this Government, the only presents are for those at the top, and all the pain is felt by those at the bottom? I think it's very clear that with only five sitting weeks left until the next Budget, this Budget already stinks worse than a plate of prawns left out in the Christmas sun. Australians are seeing the lack of consumer confidence that has come from a Treasurer talking down the economy, and behaving more like a Shadow Treasurer in drag than like someone who is responsible for a $1.6 trillion economy. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: What do you make of the Cabinet reshuffle, and do you think Arthur Sinodinos has a place in the Government?

LEIGH: Well it's been 272 days now since Australia had a full-time Assistant Treasurer. I think it's clearly showing through Joe Hockey's many gaffes that Australia needs a full-time Assistant Treasurer. But you don't envy the Prime Minister, because there's plenty more ministers who have been naughty than nice. 

JOURNALIST: Do you think there should be more women in the Abbott Cabinet?

LEIGH: I think Australians would like to see a Cabinet that reflects the diversity of Australia. Simply having one woman in Cabinet puts us well back from where we've been in the last generation.

JOURNALIST: Who do you believe should be Assistant Treasurer?

LEIGH: Well that's a decision to be made by the Government, but you wouldn't exactly say that they're spoiled for choice.

JOURNALIST: Do you see this as a sign that the Government is in trouble? We've seen policy backflips in recent weeks, and now rumours of a reshuffle - is this a case of the Government trying to clear the slate and start next year better off in the polls?

LEIGH: I think this Government is in more trouble than a Santa Claus impersonator stuck down a chimney. It's got all kinds of strife going on, with ministers who think that there's a link between abortion and breast cancer, a Prime Minister who wants to campaign on knights and dames, and with a Treasurer who thinks it's ok to smoke cigars while handing down the most unfair Budget in political history. This is a Government that needs a fundamental reboot - not of its strategy, but out of office.

JOURNALIST: On another issue, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has been cleared of any wrongdoing in the Interim Report of the Trade Union Commission - is that welcome to the ALP?

LEIGH: This is a political Royal Commission set up by the Abbott Government. I'm not going to be providing any commentary on it. 

JOURNALIST: Speaking of charges and possible arrests, Andrew Crook - Clive Palmer's chief media adviser - appears to have been detained by Queensland Police. That's a pretty extraordinary turn of events, don't you think?

LEIGH: There's a general principle that parliamentarians shouldn't comment on matters that are before the courts or could come before the courts, and this matter certainly seems to be in that category. Thanks everyone.



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Hard choices and budget savings - 2CC interview

Balancing the budget involves hard choices. As I explained to Mark Parton in this interview with Radio 2CC ahead of the mid-year budget update, my party will always support fair budget savings. But by the same token, we will fight budget decisions which fail the fairness test. Here's the transcript:





SUBJECT/S: Joe Hockey’s mini-budget 

MARK PARTON: Treasurer Joe Hockey is going to have a shocker of a day today. He's expected to reveal revenue has taken a further hit of just over $6.2 billion in just over six months. Things that are out of his control but he knows he's going to get smashed for it. So if we had a budget emergency at Budget time, we've got a potential catastrophe now. Mr Hockey will deliver his mid-year economic update today and there are reports of forecasts of $379 billion in receipts, that follows figures of $389 billion in May. So it's down substantially and many of the experts are saying that deficits over the period will more than double to $100 billion. There's little hope of economic improvement without radical action.

Andrew Leigh is waiting in the wings; Andrew's specialty is economics so he knows how to assess figures much better than you and I. He's about to suggest to us that Joe Hockey is a fool – I'm assuming he is – he's about to slam the Treasurer for failing to reign the deficit in and tell us how diabolically bad it is. But I just don't know that you can have it both ways because for years Andrew has been telling us that there is no budget emergency and that running a deficit isn't a bad thing. It certainly wasn't when Labor was doing it, it was fine. I had many conversations with Andrew, during which he compared our deficit to a home loan and basically said it was nothing to worry about. Unless the other mob is in power, and then it's a disaster. I'm sick of the theatre. Andrew Leigh is the Shadow Assistant Treasurer and the Member for Fraser – morning Andrew.


[Introductory banter]

PARTON: Budget deficits will almost double to $100 billion over the next four years – is this a budget emergency?

LEIGH: Well Mark, it's certainly a problem for the nation if Joe Hockey keeps on giving money back to multinationals, keeps on giving money to people with more than $2 million in their superannuation accounts, and wants to give $50,000 to millionaire families to have a child.

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