ABC CANBERRA DRIVE
WEDNESDAY, 5 SEPTEMBER 2018
SUBJECT: Pension age.
JAMIE TRAVERS, HOST: Dr Andrew Leigh is the Shadow Assistant Treasurer and Member for Fenner and he's with me now. Good afternoon.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Good afternoon, Jamie. Great to be with you.
TRAVERS: What did you make of the PM's announcement this morning?
LEIGH: Look, it’s terrific — if you can believe it. But let’s face it – this is a bloke who was Treasurer for a thousand days and every day he wanted to increase the pension age to 70. He supported five Liberal budgets that increased the pension age to 70. He is really willing to say absolutely anything right now in a desperate attempt to hang on to the job that he slid into.
TRAVERS: Well he's now today announced that it's going to come to 67. I mean, surely that's a win for you? You've been promoting and spruiking for that policy for the last years.
LEIGH: We simply argued, as you said in your introduction, that it doesn't make sense to ask brikkies and nurses to be working through to 70. For some people in white collar occupations, they want to work long careers and good luck to them, but to say that our basic safety net isn’t available until you are 70 we thought was absolutely wrong. It would give us the oldest pension age in the world and that’s just not appropriate, particularly in an environment in which we know that low income Australians on average die six years younger than high income Australians.
TRAVERS: Labor did previously increase the pension age.
LEIGH: Alongside increasing the pension itself by the biggest amount in its 100 year history. We increased the pension from 25 per cent to 27.7 per cent of average weekly earnings. That pulled one million pensioners out of poverty and in the context of that historic increase in the pension, we thought it was appropriate to raise the pension age to 67. But then for the Liberals to turn around and say ‘well, if you think it’s ok to go to 67, you must support every other pension increase, you must support it going to 100’ – that’s a ludicrous argument.
TRAVERS: If you look at life expectancy rates in Australia, they're now in the 80s for both men and women. Should the retirement age not reflect increased life expectancy rates?
LEIGH: Jamie, I think it's important to distinguish between the point at which people choose to retire and the point at which the government safety net cuts in. I think the government safety net is there for people who don't have a lot of private super. You can access your superannuation from age 60, but for people who don't have those private retirement savings, they're reliant on the age pension. They’re often people who work in backbreaking jobs and to ask somebody who is working in a really tough job - with a bung shoulder, their back’s gone, perhaps they’re suffering from stress - to push right through to 70 I think is utterly unreasonable. But that’s what Scott Morrison has supported in five budgets during his 1000 days as Treasurer and what he’d do again if he would get re-elected.
TRAVERS: With increased life expectancy - and you're talking there about physical labour jobs, such as brickies and nurses - could an answer to that be increased training for people so they can reskill and go into a different line of work?
LEIGH: I'm not sure that reskilling is always the answer. I think about a bloke who came into my office who went through his various health problems from a lifetime of doing hard work – he had a sore back, a shoulder injury - and he was really struggling to keep going in manual work. And he was just in his early 60s. I could never look that bloke in the eye and say ‘look, I think it's right for you to work through until you’re 70’. So it’s appropriate that we have those safety nets in place, particularly for people who are working in tough blue collar jobs.
TRAVERS: Did you not think that the potential funding for reskilling could be something to look at?
LEIGH: Labor strongly supports reskilling. That’s why we’ve always opposed the Coalition’s attempts to put in place big business tax cuts and rip money out of our schools, apprenticeships and universities. We believe we need to boost school funding, we need to increase the number of apprentices. We have a policy to put in place demand driven entrance and take the caps off university places to send 200,000 more kids to university. But none of that means that we ought to at the same time increase the pension age, as Scott Morrison has argued for throughout his time in government.
TRAVERS: So would you rule out ever moving the retirement age?
LEIGH: We think it’s right for society what we have right now. You've got to recognise, Jamie, the mix of retirement ages. Some people may work right through to their 80s or 90s. That's their choice and often that's the kind of jobs that they find themselves in. But where should the safety net cut in? I believe the answer of 67 is right, particularly at a stage where you've got the superannuation preservation age still being at 60.
TRAVERS: Andrew Leigh is the Labor Shadow Assistant Treasurer is here on ABC Radio. He's also the Member for Fenner at 13 minutes past 5. You've been quite passionate in your defence of the number 67. If polls are anything to go by, the odds are by this time next year you could be the Assistant Treasurer, not just the Shadow Assistant Treasurer. Can you see any circumstances in which Labor would change the retirement age?
LEIGH: No, I can’t. And that is something that has been debated up hill and down dale. We’ve been having this debate since the 2014 budget. That was the budget in which Tony Abbott said not only did he want to raise the retirement age, but he wants to change pension indexation. So no longer would pensioners get to share in the productivity gains in the economy. Their pensions would be indexed only to prices, not to wages. The Coalition’s been wanting to rip away the energy supplement from older Australians and they've consistently been putting in place policies that attack older Australians - that make it harder for them to travel overseas, make it harder for them to get access to the pension. So there’s been a whole succession of cuts to older Australians’ entitlements and they’ve been supported – and sometimes championed – by Scott Morrison. For him to suddenly turn around and pretend he's a friend to older Australians, belies his track record over recent years.
TRAVERS: I just want to take you back to the original question. Hand on heart, Andrew Leigh, 67 is the number that Labor will be sticking with?
LEIGH: Same answer. I’ve answered that question last time and it’s the same answer this time. Yes, 67.
TRAVERS: Well, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. If you've got a view, you can share it with me. Dr Andrew Leigh, Labor Shadow Assistant Treasurer and Member for Fenner, is here. Andrew, most economists I speak to say that the number one issue for Australia is its ageing population. How are we going to pay for that?
LEIGH: We’ve got to make sure we've got a strong tax system in order to fund the services that Australians demand. We’ve argued consistently against the big business tax cut, because we simply think it is unaffordable. We’ve argued against giving a handout to the top end of town because again we think that that's not something that Australia should be doing at a time when debt has doubled under the Liberals. We’ve seen debt per person go from $9000 for every one of your listeners to $21,000 under the Liberals. We don't think in that environment we ought to be giving big tax breaks to multinationals. And when Labor looked to close multinational tax loopholes, the Coalition attacked us. We've been arguing for a fairer tax system, one in which we make sure that we give the tax relief to people who need it at the middle income distribution, not to those who don't need it. Not to those with seven or eight figure incomes.
TRAVERS: Dr Andrew Leigh, thank you so much for your time today.
LEIGH: Thanks so much, Jamie.
Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.