Media Release - Abbott breaks promises, Seselja makes excuses

Andrew Leigh, Gai Brodtmann and Senator Kate Lundy have condemned the Abbott Government’s first budget as an attack on Canberra that Liberal Senator Zed Seselja has failed to stop.

The Abbott Government will cut 16,500 jobs from the Australian Public Service, with over 7000 of those jobs slated to go in the next financial year.

This is an even bigger cut than the Coalition promised. It demonstrates that Senator Seselja is a limp defender of Canberra.  


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Hockey's left us with broken eggs but not an omelette in sight - Published in The Guardian

In her terrific book Dirt Cheap, the late Elisabeth Wynhausen decided to take leave from her journalism job and try life as a low-wage worker. In one job, Wynhausen moved to a country town and worked packing eggs. She earned near minimum wage in a job that started at 6am, left her body aching at the end of the day, and where the smell from the nearby chook sheds was constant. Three weeks in, the manager, a millionaire several times over, came to tell the workers they were losing their jobs.

I thought of Wynhausen's story again last night as I looked at the budget papers.


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A budget for cigar-chomping plutocrats - Breaking Politics transcript

MONDAY, 12 MAY 2014

SUBJECT/S:  Budget to axe or privatise Commonwealth agencies; Deficit levy.

CHRIS HAMMER: Well, the federal budget is now just one day away and you have to wonder what's left to announce, so comprehensively has features of it been leaked during the past week or more. Joining me to discuss it is Andrew Leigh, the member for Fraser here in the ACT, the Labor member.  


HAMMER: Also Shadow Assistant Treasurer. So a big week for you. And from Brisbane, Andrew Laming, the Federal Member for Bowman. Andrew Leigh to you first, the stories in the papers today are about cutting or merging government agencies and depending on which paper you believe, somewhere between 50 and 70 government agencies are going to be either abolished or merged. If that's delivering the same services with greater efficiencies, surely that's something to be supported. 

LEIGH: That's a big ‘if’ Chris. We look at the Preventative Health Agency, an agency which is investing and making sure that we reduce of rates of obesity, rates of smoking – including cigar smoking – and other preventable health conditions. We look at Indigenous Business Australia which is aiming to increase the number of entrepreneurs in the Indigenous community. These are just some of the agencies that are on the chopping block with no clear plans to replace them. Then there's the expert agencies. [This is] a government that thinks it doesn't need experts to provide advice on climate change. Now we've seen the National Water Commission being cut into and corporate advisory groups which provide vital advice to governments on markets. You just let it all rip, guided only by your big business donors and your gut. Good governments take advice from great experts and they draw-in a wide range of views which is why these bodies were established.

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Federal cuts to hurt South Australian charities

Minister for Business Services and Consumers Gail Gago today called on the Abbott Government to abandon its plans to axe the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC).

Ms Gago today joined Federal Shadow Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh and Uniting Communities Chief Executive Simon Schrapel to highlight the potential of the ACNC to cut red tape and support the work of local charities.

“Charities need a nationally consistent approach, which is why the ACNC is so important,” she said.

“The charities commission strengthens organisations that work with some of our most vulnerable citizens.


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Abbott Government intends to scrap it but SA should support the charities commission

Six years ago, as he was taking on the job of Anglicare CEO, former premier Lynn Arnold said that the job of the charity should be ‘‘to empower and leave alive the spirit of aspiration in people’’.

It’s a simple line that perfectly sums up the valuable work being done in not-for-profits across Australia.

Lynn Arnold may be an exceptional leader, but his decision to devote a significant stage of his post-political career to charitable work shows something that is common in South Australians – a commitment to a vibrant community sector.

To ensure that this sector remains strong, Federal Labor in 2012 established the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission.

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Shoppers at risk of paying twice as much for groceries

Federal Labor urges the Abbott Government to act on new research claiming supermarkets are not complying with a national unit pricing code and are therefore hurting consumers.

It’s up to the Government to verify the research and enforce unit pricing so consumers can get the benefit of competition.

Unit pricing involves retailers providing a price per unit measurement on the price tag, for example – dollars per kilogram – in addition to the sale price.

Under the code, unit pricing information must be prominent and legible, in close proximity to the selling price and unambiguous. 

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Senate inquiry shows lack of support for regressive ACNC repeal



No support for Government’s regressive ACNC repeal

Public submissions to the Senate inquiry into the abolition of the Australian Charities and Not for Profits Commission (ACNC) have been clear in sending a message to the Abbott Government not to scrap the Commission.

In March, the Senate referred the ACNC (Repeal) (No. 1) Bill 2014 to the Senate Economics Legislation Committee for inquiry and report. Submissions closed on Friday with a range of organisations including The Shepherd Centre, Australian Women’s Health Network and Associated Christian Schools having their say about the important role the Commission has played for the sector.

Organisations have labelled the repeal legislation a backward step and criticized the lack of consultation with the sector about the changes.

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Media Release - Canberra concerned by Racial Discrimination Act changes - Wednesday 30 April






Members of Canberra’s multicultural community are concerned by the Abbott Government’s plans to weaken the Racial Discrimination Act, ACT MLA Chris Bourke said today.

Dr Bourke was speaking after attending the Canberra Multicultural Community Forum last night where a range of community leaders condemned the Government’s proposed watering-down of the Racial Discrimination Act.

“Giving a green light to racial abuse will have dire consequences for our country and people targeted including increased mental and other health issues,” Dr Bourke said.

The forum also heard from Dr Helen Watchirs, the ACT Human Rights and Discrimination Commissioner; Australian National University law professor Simon Rice; and Mr Rod Little, chair of the ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elected Body.

“Protection against racist hate speech is fundamental to Australia’s success as a multicultural nation,” said Dr Andrew Leigh, who was among the 50 Canberrans at last night’s forum.

“If the Government bothered to properly consult with the community, as the Opposition is doing, then it might come to appreciate the lasting damage that racism has on many individuals and why these proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act are so abhorrent,” said Shadow Minister for Citizenship and Multiculturalism, Michelle Rowland.

Ms Rowland encouraged people to tell  the Abbott Government what they think of the proposed changes by sending a submission to Submissions close today.

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SKY AM AGENDA - Transcript - Monday, 7 April 2014

This morning I joined host Keiran Gilbert and Liberal MP, Mitch Fifield, for an analysis of the WA senate election re-run and the possibility of new trade and defence deals with Japan.




SUBJECT/S: WA Senate election; Free trade and security discussions with Japan; Clive Palmer and campaign financing; ALP reform.

KIERAN GILBERT: With me on the program this morning, the Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Andrew Leigh and also the Assistant Minister for Social Services, Mitch Fifield. Gentleman, good morning to you both. Mitch Fifield, first to you on this Japanese arrangement, obviously the free trade agreement looking good and the Prime Minister hopeful but he's also looking to secure closer defence ties. This comes just a couple of days out from his visit to Beijing, there could be a few sensitivities to smooth out when he arrives in China, just a couple of days from now?

MITCH FIFIELD: Well Kieran, in 2007 John Howard entered into a security agreement with Japan, a statement that we were looking to have closer defence relationship. What the Prime Minister is working on is building upon that. We’re looking to enter a closer relationship in defence, science and material. Australia is very supportive of Japan adopting a more normal security posture. They have been an exemplary international citizen for the past 50 years so I think what we’re seeing is just a natural evolution.

GILBERT: Andrew Leigh, is it fair enough for the PM to be pursuing this? He is going to be the first foreign leader to address a security council meeting of the Japanese security council. Is that going too far in your view or is what Mitch Fifield and the Prime Minster saying correct, can you nurture one friendship while not alienating someone else?

ANDREW LEIGH: Mitch I think reflects the fact that much of this is bipartisan policy Kieran, and certainly the security ties were something worked on during the Labor time as indeed was the trade deal. I remember visiting Tokyo last year and in senior government meetings pushing the case for a trade deal. We need to be careful on both fronts. Labor won’t be backing a trade deal at all costs and in the area of security, we need to make sure that we’re sensitive to the impacts on our Chinese friends. I think Rory Medcalf’s piece this morning was good on this in terms of recognising that Australia needs to be playing a sophisticated game in Asia.

GILBERT: Mitch Fifield, I’ve just received a text message from a colleague in the same hotel as Andrew Robb, the Trade Minister, apparently a grin ear to ear. He said there will an announcement of significance later today. It sounds like they might have got there after all.

FIFIELD: Well, I guess we’ll have to look very closely at the Prime Minister’s body language later today but free trade is a good thing. We have complementary assets and resources Australia and Japan. We are a good provider of agricultural and resource products to Japan. They are a good supplier of cars and high technology to Australia. So, we know that Andrew Robb only enters into agreements that are in the national interest. He’s had a pretty good strike rate as Trade Minister so far. Let’s wait and see what they day holds.

GILBERT: Andrew Leigh, as an economist yourself, if the Japanese do compromise and halve the beef tariff which currently sits at 38.5%. If they halved it to 19% that would make a big difference. This FTA some estimates suggest could be worth $40 billion to Australia over the next decade.

LEIGH: Lower trade barriers are clearly good for Australia Kieran, and an as economist you wouldn't expect me to argue anything different. The thing we need to make sure though is that Australian jobs are looked after. We need to be wary about things like investor-state dispute clauses which would allow private firms to take the Australian government to court and we need to make sure the totality of the agreement is good and fits within a multilateral architecture. Bilateral agreements are always second best to actually doing a broad, worldwide trade deal.

GILBERT: Let’s take a break and when we come back let’s take a look at the wash-up of the WA Senate rerun. Stay with us on AM Agenda this morning, thanks for your company.

GILBERT: This is AM Agenda, thanks for your company. With me this morning Andrew Leigh and Senator Mitch Fifield. Senator Fifield the WA Senate re-run, not a great result for either of the major parties, in fact when you combine the primary votes of the two big parties its under 60% of the overall vote over there in the west. Is this a longer term trend that we're seeing here, that people are being attracted to the minor parties more and more?

FIFIELD: The weekend was a by-election and the result for the Government was pretty typical of by-election results, in fact it was a little better than the average. We've still got a lot of pre-poll and postal votes to count so we will see what the final result is. But look, I think we've got to recognise that the Coalition received the largest vote of any party at the election in Western Australia. We have 12 of the 15 seats. There is no doubt that there is a message from western Australia, that they want the carbon tax gone and they want the mining tax gone. Labor can take no comfort from this particular result. They had a swing against them. This is the second bi-election since the general election that the Opposition have had a swing against them. This is unprecedented.

LEIGH: Well the swing against Labor was smaller than the swing against the Liberal Party in Western Australia, Kieran.

GILBERT: But as Senator Fifield says, normally in by-elections oppositions get swings to them, not away from them. Something is going wrong here isn't it?

LEIGH: But this is no ordinary by-election. I mean this is unprecedented and one of the challenges we always knew we were going to face was that low voter turnout. I'm still pretty confident that we'll get Louise Pratt over the line. She’s a good friend and a great senator and I think the below the line votes will favour Louise, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed there.

GILBERT: Well in terms of her counterpart, perched on number one on the Senate ticket didn't help her cause too much did he, by bagging her basically a few months ago?

LEIGH: As I understand it, Joe Bullock's apologised for those comments. They certainly weren't helpful, you’re right about that.

GILBERT: Now let’s go to Senator Fifield again on this senate re-run because if you look at the Palmer Party it shows money works doesn't it? Advertising, you might bag him as much as you like for spending so much money, but the advertising obviously worked.

FIFIELD: I think everyone who works in full-time politics knows that name ID for candidates or also name ID for political parties is important, and there is a pretty high correlation between that and the propensity of people to vote for you. It looks like Mr Palmer spent more than the combined ALP and Coalition advertising budget, so obviously if you have got the capacity to raise a profile that puts you in a better position to get votes. But, Kieran look, from where we stand we are going to be treating the new senate with respect. We will work with the new senate, but in return we expect that the new senate will respect the mandate that the Coalition received at the September election.

GILBERT: In hindsight do you think that it was smart for the Prime Minister to criticise Clive Palmer, saying he was buying seats? Now you've got to work with him and very closely to get your agenda through.

FIFIELD: Well look, elections are a contestable environment and all candidates put their best foot forward and spruiked themselves. The election has concluded but we don't yet know the result. It may be a couple of weeks before we know the final position as to whether Linda Reynolds is successful, I hope she is. The election is essentially over now and we look to the new senate, we will be working constructively with the new senate to get the repeal of the carbon tax and to get the repeal of the mining tax. There’s still an opportunity for the Australian Labor Party to come on board and heed the words of Mark Bishop who basically says that the ALP is talking Martian to Western Australian voters.

GILBERT: Ok, well let’s get Andrew's response but also I want to ask you, you can respond to Mitch Fifield on that, but also in terms of spending it does seems a bit hypocritical if major parties criticise Palmer for spending so much, which was obviously effective getting more than 12% of the primary vote when Labor and the Liberal Party for years have spent a lot of money on election campaigns.

LEIGH: And the great irony of this of course Kieran is that Tony Abbott was quite happy to take Clive Palmer’s millions when it was the Liberal-National Party spending that money in Queensland. It's only now that Mr Palmer is spending the money on himself that suddenly Mr Abbott is concerned about the corrosive effects of money on politics. It’s an issue that Australia will face with rising inequality. You see this is in the US with the Koch brothers increasingly having a highly influential role in the US Republican Party.

GILBERT: Now finally on the Labor reforms, obviously something needs to be done. Senator Fifield mentioned Mark Bishop, but the Opposition leader was going to give a speech today, he can't for family reasons. But he’s saying that you shouldn't have to be a member of a union to be a member of the ALP, and also wanting to extend the leadership reforms in terms of electing leaders that we have seen federally to the state level. Your thoughts, does that go far enough?

LEIGH: The big story of Australian democracy has been progressives wanting to expand the franchise against conservative opposition. I think we have to do that in our own party too Kieran. We were a party that used to command one in a hundred Australian adults [as members]. Now we get around one in three hundred. That collapse is common across the main parties. We’ve led the other parties in allowing our members to select the leader. I think opening up the party to small business people will be important too, and perhaps we ought to think about things like for example, using party member preselections where the membership is strong but when membership falls below a certain threshold, perhaps looking to community primaries. All of those things ought to be on the table.

GILBERT: Andrew Leigh, Mitch Fifield, thank you gentlemen we're out of time.

LEIGH: Thanks Kieran, thanks Mitch.

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THE BOLT REPORT - Transcript - Sunday, 6 April 2014










Subjects: WA Senate election, the Federal Budget and speeches by Glenn Stevens and Martin Parkinson; the Age Pension; Taxing multinationals; DisabilityCare; Gonksi; and Tony Abbott's Paid Parental Leave scheme.

HOST ANDREW BOLT: Tony Abbott may have dodged a bullet in yesterday's re-run Senate election in Western Australia. Both the Liberals and Labor did have swings against them, with support going instead to the big winners - the Greens and Clive Palmer's party. The Nationals are just about finished. Result? Well, it's early days in the counting but the signs are no change from the original result last year. The Liberals get three seats, Labor and the Greens one each, and the last going to Palmer. But that third Liberal seat may yet go to Labor. Joining me is Andrew Leigh, the Opposition's assistant treasury spokesman. Andrew, thank you for your time.


BOLT: There have been three elections since you've lost last year's federal election - the by-election for Kevin Rudd's seat, the Tasmanian state election and now this Senate vote. Labor went backwards each time. Why is that? And what must change?

LEIGH: Well, Andrew, as I read the results in Western Australia at the moment, we're seeing swings away from both the Liberal Party and the Labor Party. A slightly bigger swing away from the Liberal Party than from Labor. I'm still confident we'll get both Joe Bullock and Louise Pratt up, because I think they would both make excellent senators. And, you know, we have a challenge in rebuilding the party, but I'm really optimistic under Bill Shorten we'll be able to do that.

BOLT: But the fact that the vote’s gone down each time, you don't read a warning sign in that?

LEIGH: This is a very unusual by-election, Andrew. This - we've never really had a re-run of a Senate election and turn-out was always going to be a challenge. I think we've seen, possibly, the Liberal Party not getting a third Senator. If that happened, that would be the first time that happened in a quarter of a century. But we'll see as counting proceeds.

BOLT: How much do you blame yesterday's result on your lead Senate candidate, Joe Bullock, who voters learned last week had attacked his running mate, Louise Pratt, for being a lesbian of the left, and told a meeting that the working class can't trust Labor?

LEIGH: I think Joe is a passionate warrior for the Labor cause. He is somebody who has had the interests of working people close to his heart throughout his career. So, I think this was an issue fought mostly over Tony Abbott's secret cuts rather than over particular personalities of certain candidates.

BOLT: Well, this is the gentleman in you talking, of course, Andrew, but I tell you what, if Tony Abbott had said that about a lesbian candidate, Labor would have had his guts for garters as a homophobe. How come you’re so - is Labor going to do any of this to Bullock?

LEIGH: Andrew, I'm not sure that there's great value in raking over issues that have been covered a lot in the media over the course of this week. These are two strong Labor candidates who are united in their view that Tony Abbott shouldn't be allowed to do the same slash and burn nationwide that Colin Barnett’s done in Western Australia. You know, that cutting back of investment in the productive potential of the nation really worries me.

BOLT: Can we talk about the nation's finances? Treasury Secretary Martin Parkinson warned this week that a decade from now we'll each earn on average $13,000 a year less than what was once expected. Now, we're just not getting richer as fast as we used to. Now, you're a former economics professor. How much trouble are we in?

LEIGH: Andrew, I think it's important to look at these things from an international perspective. Australia over the last half-decade has fared very, very well. Coming through with an economy that's about a sixth larger than it was at the start of the global financial crisis, keeping unemployment below 6% right through the Labor period, and having net debt levels which were around a tenth of our GDP, well below the average for most developed countries. So on the fundamentals, we're very strong. But, of course, we need to keep on reforming and I thought the point of Martin Parkinson's speech was how important it is to keep on investing in productivity, making sure that we're open, that we're investing in skills and education and in infrastructure.

BOLT: Well, one problem that Martin Parkinson did point out - we're getting older as a country. And he warns that pensions will go up over the decade by nearly $40 billion a year. I mean, that's clearly unaffordable. Do we need to raise the pension age again to, say, 70?

LEIGH: Andrew, it's a good question and it does get raised from time to time. My concern is that the pension was put in place to reduce poverty among older Australians and I'm worried by any proposal that sees the pension do less to reduce poverty among older Australians. We know that for people in jobs like the ones that you or I do, that the physical condition of your body may not matter too much. But if you're a blue-collar worker, then the idea of saying that, "Well, white-collar workers can get their super at age 60. You have to wait until age 70. Keep on working as a cleaner or a factory hand ‘til 70", seems pretty rough to me. And again, we know that-

BOLT: But still, it’s a - $40 billion is a lot, Andrew. I mean, you've got to say, "We just can't afford that," I would have thought.

LEIGH: Well, Andrew, government is all about values and priorities and the question is do you want to stop Australians on the verge of poverty from accessing the pension so you can put in place a parental leave scheme that gives $75,000 to affluent women who have a baby? I think you called it welfarism in your critique of the government's parental leave scheme, and I think you're right. I don't think that is a good use of public finances.

BOLT: Well, another problem that Parkinson identified, there's a massive spending boom under the Rudd government, particularly, that still hasn't been wound back and the Reserve Bank Governor Glenn Stevens this week agreed that the money just isn't there to pay for the promises, the hand-outs, from the - offered at the last election. Have a listen to Glenn Stevens this week.

GLENN STEVENS, RESERVE BANK GOVERNOR: Put very simply, there are things that we want to do, good things that we want to do as a society, things that we voted for, that are not fully funded by the taxes we'll be paying over the medium term.

BOLT: Is Glenn Stevens right? Are those promises not paid for?

LEIGH: We laid out very clearly, Andrew, in the - our Budgets and then confirmed by the pre-election outlook from the secretaries of Treasury and Finance where the money would be coming from and how the Budget would return to surplus in 2016/17. It doesn't get a lot of play, but Joe Hockey’s actually managed to double the deficit since coming to office. Through a series of decisions like giving $9 billion to the Reserve Bank, that they didn’t ask for, going soft on multinationals, which means that they're allowing them to exploit loopholes to avoid tax, and that's to the tune of nearly a billion dollars.

BOLT: But that’s – that’s right, Andrew. Or, well, that's your argument. But I want to go back to this. Glenn Stevens and Martin Parkinson are talking about an explosion in spending under Labor. They say the promises are not paid for that were made in the election. That includes big ones that you had - the NDIS and the Gonski reforms. Who's right? You said that they were paid for. You just heard Glenn Stevens say they weren't.

LEIGH: Well, Andrew, if you cut into the revenue base, as the government has done since coming to office, then things like DisabilityCare and schools are then placed in jeopardy. But under Labor, we showed not only a return to surplus by 2016/17, but we also showed 10-year projections as to how our schools reform and DisabilityCare were paid for.

BOLT: But these guys are saying – these guys are saying the money isn't there for all that. That’s what I’m saying. They're saying you had the ageing population, you’ve got the fall in productivity growth, you’ve got this explosion in spending. Something has got to give. The tax base is eroding. And you guys went to the last election promising huge new welfare schemes that these guys say aren't paid for.

LEIGH: Well, Andrew, I don't think I would call DisabilityCare, a scheme that makes sure that someone with a profound disability gets to have more than one shower a week, a welfare scheme. It seems like that ought to be a right of being an Australian. And what-

BOLT: We're with you, Andrew. We're with you. No-one is arguing that good things need to be done for people in need.

LEIGH: Right.

BOLT: What I am saying is that you've gone to the last election promising huge spending. The money isn't there. You're hearing it from the nation's senior economics officials.

LEIGH: Well, Andrew, what they're responding to is the reality of a government which is already hacking into the revenue base, giving money back to multinationals, getting rid of mining tax and the carbon price, the effect of which is to take billions of dollars out of the public's finances. And the point that Martin and Glenn are making is that once you have done that, then you do face a fiscal challenge. And I think the right thing in that environment is to say, “Well, maybe we ought to be asking multinationals to pay a little bit more tax by closing out loopholes that allow them to use debt instruments to avoid tax. And maybe the Prime Minister ought to re-think his gold-plated, diamond-encrusted parental leave scheme that gives the most to those who have the most.”

BOLT: Andrew, look, on that one I do agree with you.

LEIGH: These are the-

BOLT: But I just think maybe Labor needs to talk about bigger spending cuts too. But look, I really thank you for coming on.

LEIGH: Thank you, Andrew, I appreciate it.

BOLT: Coming up – the West Australian election. Labor does badly, but Liberals – well, we’re not sure. The panel is next.

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