TUESDAY, 24 MAY 2016
SUBJECT/S: Labor’s positive plans to address inequality
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: I am pleased to be here at Dandenong Market supporting Julian Hill, someone I have known for the best part of 20 years, and someone whom I believe will make a fabulous contribution to the Australian Parliament as the Labor member for Bruce. He comes to federal politics with a wealth of experience in local politics and policy making. And he is passionate about inequality, one of the central issues for Australia. The gap between the richest and poorest has been rising for a generation. That's why Jenny Macklin's Growing Together report focuses on inequality. It's why Brendan O'Connor is fighting to protect penalty rates. It's why Kate Ellis is campaigning for needs-based school funding. It's why Catherine King is championing Medicare. Bill Shorten's team want to tackle inequality - Malcolm Turnbull wants to give a tax cut to the top 1 per cent, and let multinationals exploit loopholes in our tax code.
In the context of the markets, Labor is particularly keen to think about how we can address inequality, to make sure the most disadvantaged in the community aren't left behind. One of the things that we've seen in recent years is consumer rip-offs targeted at migrant communities. Being ripped off by dodgy shonks is bad for anyone. But when it happens to somebody who is on a comfortable income it's annoying; when it happens to a minimum wage migrant it can be life destroying. So last week I announced Labor's policy, which requires the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to prioritise investigations involving migrant rip-offs and we'll ramp up the penalties. So if you're ripping off disadvantaged consumers, you'll be punished hardest.
JULIAN HILL, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR BRUCE: It's a parallel with what exists in criminal law, that if you pick on people who are disadvantaged or vulnerable then you deserve a harsher penalty in parts of criminal law. This of course, also then has a deterrent effect over time because scammers and particularly big companies that unfortunately would price the cost of the fine and just see it as a "cost of doing business" that it raises the penalty for them and creates a deterrent effect.
Just to add one point, on inequality I think that we've heard in the last couple of decades on the progressive side of politics is the language around 'social justice' and that's the language that we've tended to use. I worry increasingly that that language is too soft and that we really need to talk more starkly about the notions of 'inequality' and 'poverty' and call them for what they are. It's stark, it's indefensible, and it's growing. It's true we're not as bad as many countries, but the trajectory is wrong and that's then where we need to think about a range of policy responses. So the negative gearing and Capital Gains Tax discount reforms are critical because they are structural reforms that start to tilt the budget and the tax system back in favour of ordinary people. Needs-based funding for schools is critical, where we're actually pushing money to the students th at need it most and that's critical over time. Even things like the National Broadband Network - critical infrastructure for every household in our view. Then there's the reforms Andrew has talked about - they're almost a new frontier of policy. I don't think either party has thought in that coherent a way before around the impact of markets and competition on fuelling inequality. We hear about banks and supermarkets and fuel retailers, mobile phone companies, the things the big industries are concentrated more than the others.
LEIGH: Often being poor constrains your ability to shop around. If you have limited English skills, then it's harder to find the best deal. If you don't have good access to the internet, it's tricky to search out the best services. If you don't have a car, it's hard to get to the cheapest store. So competition really matters particularly for low and middle income voters. We have to make sure the market works for them.
HILL: In our area, over the last 12 months, I've done a lot of doorknocking. I've been out and in the community and hear far more than you'd wish from people of stories of scams. Door-to-door salesmen selling electricity and locking people into contracts which they then don't have the legal or commercial understand to realise they cannot get out of. Even real estate agents locking people into exclusive dealing contracts before people realise the commission being charged is outrageous. These are real issues in Dandenong and Noble Park in particular.
LEIGH: Thanks very much.
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