ABC 24, CAPITAL HILL
PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
TUESDAY, 8 MARCH 2016
SUBJECT/S: Tax reform, Labor’s economic leadership, chaos in the Coalition, moving the budget for pure partisan politics, double dissolution.
GREG JENNETT: Labor's Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Andrew Leigh, joins us now.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Good afternoon, Greg.
JENNETT: Good afternoon. Looking at the calendar and the constitution seems an odd way to be governing but that's the situation we find ourselves in at the moment. Does an early budget seem likely to you?
LEIGH: It seems now like a live option, Greg, and that is just adding one more piece of chaos to what has been a terribly scrappy start to the year for the Government. The budget process, as you well know, is one which involves a range of different interest groups with each of them having their time to feed in over an agreed timetable. Then within the departments of Treasury and Finance - I've spent time seconded in the Department of Treasury - the Budget process is a huge machine. To now say to everyone working on that process you have to move not for economic reasons but for partisan politics just seems crazy.
JENNETT: Can they respond to that in your experience, having done a bit of work around there? Can they actually meet a deadline of a week earlier?
LEIGH: I'm sure they can, but the question is will the quality of economic advice be as good as it would be if the Government stuck to the timetable we have had for the last 20 years. The answer to that is surely: no.
JENNETT: And politically, would it be a fully formed budget, or because the Government may be moving off very, very quickly soon after into an election campaign, would you expect something more in the nature of just an economic statement?
LEIGH: Well, it would effectively just be an economic campaign launch statement, which seems entirely at odds with what we were promised when Malcolm Turnbull toppled Tony Abbott. We were told we would get economic leadership; that there would be an injection of confidence. We haven't seen any of that under this Prime Minister. If anything, we've more chaos and dysfunction on economic leadership.
JENNETT: There are questions that George Williams pondered there with us around timing; as I said, the calendar, the Constitution, the Budget are all sort of colliding here. Passing of supply bills - let's take it as a given that Labor would pass them - would you engage in filibuster and delay?
LEIGH: Labor doesn't block supply. Particular parliamentary tactics will be something for our parliamentary leadership team. But we are clear that there is only one party in Australian politics that has blocked supply and that is the Liberal Party, not the Labor Party.
JENNETT: But tactically, there couldn't be too much to play with here if the Parliament was going to be dissolved on the 11th of May, and that's the last day in which a double dissolution can be. Are you guaranteeing that passage would occur by that date?
LEIGH: Greg, we're in unchartered waters. Let's be clear: we don't have to be in this situation. This is the tail wagging the dog; this is partisan politics driving the economics. It ought to be the case that the Turnbull Government can do what Malcolm Turnbull said when he won the leadership and run the full term, and deliver a Budget when it is expected. As I said, 20 years since we last moved the Budget, and the 1996 budget was moved because it came shortly after the election, not before. This is unprecedented to shift the Budget around for purely partisan reasons.
JENNETT: Could there be an economic dividend to going later, let's say we were looking at an August budget for the newly elected Government? We're seeing, for instance, signs that iron ore prices might have hit rock bottom and might come back. A later budget would allow a Government to factor in perhaps a more accurate outlook for commodity prices.
LEIGH: Well, if you are forecasting something six months in advance then obviously if you wait six months you'll do a better job of estimating it. But really, what the Government should be doing is trying to just focus on governing. This is Scott Morrison being a bit like Wile E. Coyote - running around after Labor with a botched consultant’s report and now going back to his ACME bag of tricks to see what else he can pull out. What we don't have is the clear, considered vision for how we address technological change, how we boost growth and productivity, and how we deal with challenges like inequality and social disconnectedness in the population.
JENNETT: And just finally, a Newspoll today says Labor is at 50-50. Your leader Bill Shorten is behind as better Prime Minister. Can he make up ground in what could be an 8-week campaign?
LEIGH: What Bill Shorten has done is he has been out there with ideas – in the great Labor tradition of leading the policy conversation. Bill is serious about housing affordability, about making sure we have better schools, about reining in some of our unfair and unsustainable tax concessions. Labor right now is about as far from a small target strategy as you can imagine. As a policy wonk, I love it.
JENNETT: Alright. It looks like it might be game on before too long anyway. Andrew Leigh, for your thoughts today, thanks so much.
LEIGH: Thanks, Greg.
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