With the Abbott Government scoping out selling the Treasury and John Gorton buildings, I took to the op-ed page of the Canberra Times to explain why that's a bad idea on several scores.
When governments sell out, Canberra Times, 17 February 2015
Sometimes a policy announcement provides a little window into the heart of a government. Last Friday's announcement that the Abbott Government is thinking about selling off the Treasury and Finance Buildings is revealing – and not in a good way.
Let's start with the basics. A well-run government needs a strong public service. In most countries, the central agencies are located close to the parliament, to ensure that the legislature stays in touch with the executive. In Australia, departments such as Foreign Affairs, Prime Minister’s, Treasury and Finance are located within walking distance of Parliament House. Pay a visit to Ottawa, London, Paris or Washington and you’ll see a similar arrangement.
As the countdown to the Abbott Government's second budget shortens, I joined Chris Hammer on Breaking Politics to talk about Labor's alternative approach to their cuts and unfairness. Here's the transcript:
FAIRFAX BREAKING POLITICS
MONDAY, 16 FEBRUARY 2015
SUBJECT/S: National security; Budget savings
CHRIS HAMMER: Andrew Leigh is the Labor MP for Fraser here in Canberra, he's also the Shadow Assistant Treasurer. Andrew Leigh, good morning.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Good morning, Chris, how are you?
HAMMER: I’m well. Where are you?
LEIGH: I'm just in Braddon in the Northside of Canberra, a part of Canberra that's really turning into hipsterville. The rapid transformation of this area is fabulous, lots of new apartments, great cafes – anyone visiting Canberra should come by and have a coffee here.
HAMMER: Ok, now the issue of the day is national security and terrorism. The Prime Minister has issued a statement saying that bad people are playing Australians for "mugs", there's been too much benefit of the doubt about borders, for residency, for citizenship and Centrelink. What do you make of these comments and, if you like, moving the emphasis to national security?
LEIGH: Labor doesn't play politics with national security, these are bipartisan issues. For example, in…
HAMMER: Let me interrupt you there, you say Labor doesn't play politics with national security. Do you suspect that the Prime Minister is?
LEIGH: No, I'm just making it absolutely clear that this is a bipartisan issue. Last year on the question of the character test for the immigration system, Labor supported the Government's changes. Certainly, there are serious threats. The national security alert level is now at High. The horrific events that we've seen in Copenhagen, the Charlie Hebdo massacre and the events in Martin Place do highlight the very real concerns that exist in this area. So any proposals the Government puts forward, we will look at seriously and in good faith.
There's a great deal of uncertainty in the global economy right now. On ABC NewsRadio, I joined Marius Benson to talk about why it's important that Australia's government addresses this uncertainty, rather than adding to it. Here's the transcript:
THURSDAY, 12 FEBRUARY 2015
SUBJECT/S: Economic summit proposal; Global economic outlook
MARIUS BENSON: Andrew Leigh, there's been a call for a summit on Australia's economic future. That call has been backed, in part, by Tony Abbott but it came from Clive Palmer and also Rupert Murdoch. Echoes of Bob Hawke there – are you in favour of a summit?
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Marius, Labor is always happy to talk economics. But you've got to worry when you hear calls for bipartisanship, because let's face it: expecting bipartisanship from Tony Abbott is like expecting humility from Malcolm Turnbull. He turned down the opportunity to be involved in the multi-party committee on climate change when Labor was in government, and he turned down the opportunity to be part of the tax forum. If this is a conversation about how we deal with the challenges of the future, including things like climate change and inequality, then we're happy to be part of that conversation. But if it's just a fig leaf to cover cuts to the most vulnerable, then Labor isn't going to support measures which harm the Australian social contract.
International tax has been in the news again with allegations a major bank has been helping wealthy individuals dodge their tax obligations. I joined Stuart Bocking to talk about what we can do to prevent this; here's the transcript:
TUESDAY, 10 FEBRUARY 2015
SUBJECT/S: HSBC banking leaks; multinational profit shifting; Tony Abbott’s cuts to pensions; 2015 budget
STUART BOCKING: There's been interesting reports today about HSBC's international banking arm, which detail a whole heap of secret accounts which have been operated by all sorts of people including A-listers like Christian Slater, Joan Collins, Phil Collins, and the motorcycle ace Valentino Rossi. A number of high-profile Australians have been caught up in this as well, including Elle McPherson and also the late Kerry Packer. Now, there's no suggestion that any of them have broken the law, but the Australian tax Office is now probing the Swiss bank accounts of 261 Australians as new details emerge of what is the biggest leak in banking history. Dr Andrew Leigh is the Shadow Assistant Treasurer and he's on the line. Dr Leigh, good morning.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Good morning Stuart, how are you?
BOCKING: I'm well. It isn't illegal to have an offshore bank account, is it?
LEIGH: No, that's right. It's just illegal not to notify the Australian tax office.
BOCKING: So this is quite extraordinary because they're saying there's potentially an additional $30 million which is owed to the nation's coffers.
LEIGH: That's right. Certainly this new Common Reporting Standard which developed countries around the world have agreed to implement is going to make it much harder for firms and individuals to hide information, as seems to have happened in this case. But what has concerned me is that the Abbott Government is implementing that Common Reporting Standard a year later than most other advanced countries, meaning there's an extra year that people are able to exploit loopholes like this.
The new Minister for Social Services has signaled a welcome change of tack on the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission. But instead of putting off plans to scrap the commission indefinitely, it would be better to just walk away from the idea altogether.
SHIFT ON ACNC WELCOME BUT CHARITIES NEED CERTAINTY
Labor welcomes Scott Morrison’s announcement that he will not make scrapping the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission a priority in his new Social Services portfolio. But if he is really listening to the charities sector, he should walk away from his predecessor’s plan to abolish it altogether.
The Abbott Government had previously committed to axing the commission, which was set up by Labor in 2012 to protect Australians from scammers and streamline charity regulation.
Under former Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews, Australia’s charities endured months of uncertainty as the minister pushed through a Senate inquiry and endless consultations on what should replace the commission.
The Senate's inquiry into corporate tax avoidance in Australia is underway, with public submissions closing this week. Reading through the responses, it's really clear that we need better tax transparency right now.
TAX INQUIRY SUBMISSIONS BACK NEED FOR MORE TRANSPARENCY
The Senate’s inquiry into corporate tax avoidance has underlined the need for greater tax transparency in Australia, with one in three submissions backing the public release of more information on how much tax companies really pay.
On top of the submissions directly supporting better transparency, a further one in three have raised concerns about incorrect and confusing information on corporate tax payments circulating in the public domain.
The inquiry was established by Labor in the wake of growing global concern about multinational profit shifting in recent years.
The first Breaking Politics show of the year was a big one, as Andrew Laming and I thrashed out the lessons parties should be taking from the weekend's remarkable result in Queensland. Here's the transcript:
FAIRFAX BREAKING POLITICS
MONDAY, 2 FEBRUARY 2015
SUBJECT/S: Abbott Government leadership ructions; Queensland election; Labor’s positive plan for 2015
CHRIS HAMMER: We're joined now in the studio by Andrew Leigh, the Shadow Assistant Treasurer and Member for Fraser here in the ACT, and Andrew Laming, a Queensland federal Liberal MP from the seat of Bowman. Good morning to you both. Andrew Laming, to you first: the Queensland election result, how much do you think that was affected by federal issues and federal politics?
ANDREW LAMING, MEMBER FOR BOWMAN: Well Chris, you'll be surprised to hear me say: very little. The reason was Campbell Newman was such a towering figure, and overwhelmingly this result was all about whether you liked him or not, his tone and his style. Obviously asset sales became a significant issue due to a really big union campaign. So while we may have national thoughts about the relative leaders, Tony Abbott didn't play a big role in Queensland. Certainly he didn't come up during the campaign, and secondly people were firmly focused on Campbell Newman's three years in government.
CHRIS HAMMER: Ok, so in that case the federal government doesn't have to change anything, does it? Because that was just all Queensland?
LAMING: Well there are still important portents from the Queensland election. First of all, we've seen that significant social policy changes or restructures aren't going to be bought easily by the electorate in the name of fixing Labor's debt. There's general agreement, I think, that we need to do that. But in Queensland for the first time we've actually got a Queensland Labor government having to wear the debt of the Labor predecessor just three years earlier. That's historically quite a new thing post-John Howard, to see Labor sorting out Labor debt. It'll be very interesting viewing.
HAMMER: Given what's happened in Queensland and what happened in Victoria in November – two first-term governments kicked out of office – do you now fear that the federal government could be a one-term government? Is that a real fear?
LAMING: Look, it's not a direct correlation but clearly Australians are not going to hold onto governments simply because they've only had one term. I mean, two very different situations here: the Victorian state government was just plain terrible, whereas Campbell Newman was, if anything, just too ambitious. Australians, and Queenslanders certainly, like governments that are seen but not heard. They don't want governments making massive structural reforms unless they're absolutely convinced of them. Clearly, both at the state and federal level we haven't achieved that. That narrative hasn't been right. I've said this before: on Budget Night last year I had to go and check, as a medical specialist, to see if Medicare was truly unsustainable because no-one had been saying it prior to the budget. That wasn't the right language to get budget changes through.
HAMMER: Ok, so what has the federal government got wrong and what does it need to get right?
LAMING: Well it firstly needs to be pointed out that we're having this discussion two years out from an election. That's when you want to have the discussion. Not, as Labor did, three months out. Secondly, we obviously have great economic credentials, voters know that and they'll always vote for a Coalition government when the economy is at stake. But ultimately, Coalition governments are voted out when they get their social policy in a muddle. They've got to get their social policy right to stay elected. They're not at the moment. The mistake we have made is to presume that Australians will brook massive social policy changes simply because of a Labor government's failures in a previous term. In Queensland that simply did not wash.
It's always good to speak with 2CC's Mark Parton about the news of the day - here's the transcript from today's chat:
THURSDAY, 29 JANUARY 2015
SUBJECT/S: Abbott Government’s unfair policy agenda; Multinational profit shifting; Benefits of the sharing economy
MARK PARTON: Andrew Leigh is the Federal Member for Fraser and there's a couple of things we wanted to catch up with him about. He's on the line now, g'day Andrew.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: G'day Mark, how are you?
PARTON: Excellent. I think maybe you need to lay off the Prime Minister. I think maybe you need to tone it down, give him some space because I'm worried for you guys, Andrew, that if enough Liberal people believe that they're not a hope in Hades of winning the election with him there, that they will dump him in ALP fashion, a la Rudd and Gillard. But he may be your best asset, maybe you should leave him be?
LEIGH: Well Mark, I'm much more concerned about the set of policies than who's occupying that chair. Let's face it: if the Coalition makes a shift to Scott Morrison or Julie Bishop or Malcolm Turnbull, they're still going to have a set of policies that take from the most vulnerable to give to the most affluent.
PARTON: But Andrew, in reality you know that if there was a shift of leadership, unless it was to Scott Morrison – and wow, god help 'em then – the whole voter mood would change in terms of their perception of the Coalition. Because that's what happens, isn't it?
LEIGH: I'm not sure that's right, Mark. If there was a change in the fundamental philosophy of the Government, then that would be true. But so long as you've got a government that wants to make university degrees more expensive, wants to stop people going to the doctor and thinks that it's okay to put young people out in the streets for six months if they lose their job, then that's going to be a government that is out of touch with Australian values, no matter who is at the helm.
Following new reports about alleged multinational profit shifting out of Australia, I joined Richard Glover on ABC 702 Sydney to talk about what governments can do to tackle this global challenge. Here's the transcript:
ABC 702 SYDNEY
WEDNESDAY, 28 JANUARY 2015
SUBJECT/S: multinational profit shifting; opportunities in the sharing economy
RICHARD GLOVER: The iPhone maker Apple has seen sales surge over the three months to December. Revenue jumped almost 30 per cent in that period to USD$76.4 billion. It was much higher than analysts had forecast; they thought it might come in at a lazy $58 billion. Quarterly net profit came in at US$18 billion. Now, I guess the question in some Australians' minds might be: we all applaud success, but how much tax will they pay in a country like Australia on this record profit? For instance, Apple paid just $80 million in Australian tax last year, despite making more than $6 billion in local revenue, according to accounts with a corporate regulator. Andrew Leigh is the Shadow Assistant Treasurer and he joins us on the line – Andrew, good afternoon.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Good afternoon Richard.
GLOVER: You've been concerned about this for some time?
LEIGH: Absolutely. I think the issue of multinational tax is one of the central challenges of our age. In part, that's because the movement of profits around the world is becoming easier as a result of globalisation and technological change. If you think of the old-fashioned manufacturing firms that produced widgets, they had a permanent establishment in the place where their biggest factory was. But that's just not true if you're an intellectual property firm, as three of the five biggest companies in the world now are. It's increasingly easy for firms to move profits around. Labor has taken the view that we need a set of laws that keep pace and which maintain government revenue at a time when some firms are trying to do the wrong thing.
As the Abbott Government gets down to work on their second budget, ministers like Josh Frydenberg are already talking about making new and deeper cuts. But they wouldn't need to do that if they hadn't said 'no' to real and significant sources of revenue, as I explain in this op-ed for The Australian.
When you're in a hole, stop digging, The Australian, 27 January
As Australians continue to rage about the unfairness of the Abbott Government’s first budget, Treasurer Joe Hockey is preparing to hand down his second one in just four months’ time.
His new Assistant Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, has flagged that spending may again be slashed in the 2015-16 fiscal plan. He seems determined to prove that this government’s entire economic strategy can fit into one four-letter word: cuts.
Then again, that’s about the nicest four-letter word Australians have been using to describe the government’s economic strategy.
Australians who have watched the government rip $80 billion from schools and hospitals, $23 billion from pensions, $11 billion from foreign aid, $5 billion from universities and $3 billion from Medicare in its first year alone will rightfully be worried about where Mr Frydenberg’s fresh round of cuts will come from.