666 ABC CANBERRA
MONDAY, 9 NOVEMBER 2015
SUBJECT/S: Christmas Island; Liberals’ plan to raise the GST
PHILIP CLARK: Parliament is back and I have Andrew Leigh, Labor member for Fraser, and Zed Seselja, Liberal Senator for the ACT, joining us now. Good morning gents. You're looking forward to it, can't wait, Andrew?
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: It just doesn't get better than this, Philip. We have the nation’s leaders coming to this great city in order to make this country better.
CLARK: Exactly right. Can we talk first about Christmas Island, there is some pretty disturbing news this morning about what's going on there. Is this sustainable into the future, what do you think, Andrew?
LEIGH: I'm really concerned about what's coming out this morning, Philip. It's not obvious what has happened but it does again point to the need for better transparency for Australia's detention facilities. Labor has called for more openness and for better access by third parties to detention centres. We believe, for example, that there ought to be a Children's Commissioner in place who has an independent remit to look at issues in Australia's detention centres.
CLARK: I mean, I don't want to say you guys started this but I mean Labor and the Coalition have been pretty much marching to the same tune on this.
LEIGH: I disagree entirely, Philip.
CLARK: Zed, this isn't sustainable into the future is it? This degree of secrecy and clearly this degree of disruption that's going on?
ZED SESELJA, SENATOR FOR THE ACT: Well look, I'm certainly concerned about the reports we've had overnight, obviously. There is a death reported and obviously there needs to be a proper investigation into how that death occurred, a coronial inquest. And obviously we're hearing other reports now of disturbance at Christmas Island and that's obviously a concern. I'm sure the Immigration Minister will have more to say on just what is going on and how order is being restored. But obviously it is always very, very concerning when we see a tragedy. We don't know what the circumstances are of this death but we need to get to the bottom of that and also find out what else is going on in the centre.
CLARK: Wouldn't it all be improved, from all points of view, if there was greater access and greater transparency and people can go there and easily report on these matters? That's not the case at the moment, Zed?
SESELJA: Well look, obviously in the overall policy, particularly when it comes to the tactics used and all that sort of thing, I think there has been a need to not necessarily be sharing all the information with people smugglers. I think that was the principles underpinning Operation Sovereign Borders. I think that if you look at how Operation Sovereign Borders has played out in terms of stopping the flow of illegal arrivals and stopping the deaths at sea, I think that has been a success so obviously when it comes to –
CLARK: It has been a success because it scares the living daylights out of people. I mean it's a deterrent.
SESALJA: It's an effective deterrent and I don't think we should underestimate the importance of that deterrent when we had over a thousand people drowning trying to get here because there wasn't a deterrent in place. And of course there were people languishing in refugee camps overseas who couldn't get a place because there were people that had more means.
CLARK: Andrew, is there a need for this sort of secrecy, not only on Christmas Island but on Nauru and on Manus Island as well?
LEIGH: Philip, I don't believe so. I think the ‘on water matters’ excuse has been used too often by this Government to clamp down on what ought to be a more open approach. But I also want to push back too on your suggestion that the two parties are in lock step. Labor would double the annual refugee intake; we'd give $150 million to the UNHCR –
CLARK: The point I was making is that under Kevin Rudd's leadership, you know, the declaration was made that nobody who arrives by boat will ever settle in Australia. It was Labor's decision to have offshore detention wasn't it?
LEIGH: Yes, you're right about that. But you were suggesting that across the board on refugee policy, the two parties were the same and I'm saying if one party – Labor – is proposing to double the refugee intake, put in place a Children's Commissioner, give extra money to the UNHCR to assist with resettlement out of Manus and Nauru and provide greater transparency, then there are real differences between the parties.
SESELJA: Well the biggest difference is that under Labor we had thousands of people coming illegally and thousands of people dying. And that stopped under the Coalition so that is a significant difference.
CLARK: Putting it to one side, granting that; Zed, do you acknowledge that there is the possibility that human rights abuses are taking place in these institutions which are being done in our name and we don't know about it?
SESELJA: Well, there are all sorts of oversights on that. But I would say this: if there are those claims, and for time to time we do hear those claims, they are very concerning to me and they should be very concerning to the Government. They do need to be thoroughly investigated. Not all claims are correct, but where there are credible claims of that nature then I agree with you, Phil, they should be properly investigated because they certainly shouldn't be happening in our name.
CLARK: Alright, can we turn to this GST debate? Long-time Canberra watchers will say we've heard all this before a million times. How determined is the Government this time, Zed?
SESELJA: Well look, I think it remains to be seen. There is a discussion going on and those of us on the backbench in the Coalition want to be part of that discussion and we will be. And obviously, there has been a big debate in this country about tax reform. I am open to the debate. I'm not saying I'm backing what the prescription is yet because we don't have a prescription, that's still being worked through not just by Scott Morrison and Malcolm Turnbull but many others to try and get the right tax mix. Now, no one would argue that we've got it right at the moment, there are a number of things we could be doing better. I would say a couple of things though, Philip, from my perspective and I think this is a view shared by many in the Coalition party room. We want to make sure that if there is to be any change to the GST, that is not just about more tax, but it's about a more efficient tax that allows people to have a lot more of their own money, from income tax for instance, in their own pockets.
CLARK: Ok. Andrew Leigh, is it possible to compensate people if you increase the GST? Is it possible to compensate them fairly?
LEIGH: In principle, Philip. But would you really expect that the Government which has brought down the most unfair budget in the post-war period is going to do that? You have a range of Coalition backbenchers saying that a raise in the GST shouldn't increase the tax share and that's effectively saying that you shouldn't be increasing payments at the bottom end. This is, after all, a Government that is trying to cut payments to low income households. So the idea that low income households would be looked after under a GST rise is laughable.
CLARK: One of the problems, isn't it, is that if you do increase the GST it does have a disproportionate impact on low income people who don't pay much tax anyway and probably can't be compensated through the tax system?
LEIGH: Well that's right. The NATSEM modelling last week suggested that a 15 per cent GST would cost an extra 3 per cent for the top but 7 per cent for the bottom. That’s more than twice the size of the effect. And Philip, if you look at the big challenges for Australia: consumer confidence, inequality, housing affordability, the GST isn't the answer to any of those. Japan went into recession after it raised its GST and at a time when inequality is at a 75 year high, would you really want to raise a tax which has a disproportionally negative impact on the bottom?
SESELJA: Just on that Philip, I mean lower income taxes are good on the economy. So if we're seriously talking about lowering income taxes, that encourages workforce participation, it gives reward for effort and that has got to be a good thing.
LEIGH: Lower expenditure taxes are good for the economy too.
CLARK: Alright gentlemen, good to talk. Thank you Andrew Leigh, Labor member for Fraser and Zed Seselja, the Liberal Senator for the ACT.
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