MONDAY, 23 JULY 2018
SUBJECTS: Braddon and Longman by-elections; Superannuation; Regional migration; Politicisation of Treasury.
TOM CONNELL: Joining me now in the studio is Labor frontbencher, Andrew Leigh. Thanks for your time.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Pleasure, Tom. Great to be with you.
CONNELL: I know you just love talking about the polls, it was an interesting one with Anthony Albanese and Bill Shorten, is this the most pressure Bill Shorten has been in since the last election maybe?
LEIGH: The job of an Opposition Leader is probably the highest pressure job in politics, Tom. You’re both the central critic of the Government and also the alternative Prime Minister. Bill has done that remarkably well over the last five years, bringing together the Labor team, putting out positive policies. He'll be leading us to the next election and he'll be the next Prime Minister.
CONNELL: Interesting to note that there have been a lot of visits from Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten I think even more from Bill Shorten in Longman. Now I know we're talking about local by-elections and the candidate but there has to be some impact and some judgement on the two leaders out of these results after the weekend?
LEIGH: These are tough races for us in Braddon and Longman. Longman has gone to the Coalition six out of the last eight elections. Braddon tends to move from Coalition to Labor and certainly the last Tasmanian state election suggests we have a tough fight on our hands.
CONNELL: It's interesting though with Longman, people are saying One Nations might help deliver it back to the LNP via preferences. Their vote seemingly has surged. You'd feel like it was a failure if more people are looking at the One Nation and nodding their heads than the Labor ones wouldn't you?
LEIGH: It's a simple fact that One Nation will garner a certain share of the vote and if One Nation had preferenced the Coalition last time around then the Coalition would have held that seat. So no doubt it's tough, but what I can say is that we've got the best candidate in the field. Susan Lamb is an extraordinarily passionate, engaged member of the community. She is somebody with a deep interest in a range of policies and the people of Longman need to know that if they vote for Susan Lamb they're more likely to get quality healthcare services, if they don't, the big banks are more likely to get a big tax cut.
CONNELL: We'll see what the voters make of it. Speaking of the banks, another damning report on super, this one that APRA was effectively warned about excessive fees eight years ago and failed to really act. This applies to banks and retail funds. Is there a solution here that you could have a cap on super fees? Bring in a cap so that really these sort of stories don't happen?
LEIGH: I'm not sure how well a cap would work, Tom but I do think we need to get those fees down. You look at other countries where they've managed to reduce fees to closer to half a per cent than one per cent.
CONNELL: We're very high compared to the rest of the world aren't we?
LEIGH: We are, that's absolutely right. You certainly look at the difference between industry funds and retail funds. One of the reason that industry funds so consistently out perform their retail counterparts is that they tend to have lower fees. We don't need these attacks on the industry sector as we've gotten from the Turnbull Government. We need to be working to get fees down right across the sector.
CONNELL: There's a cap coming up on private health insurance companies, this is a much bigger pot of money that probably affects a lot more. Would that be a consideration? You could figure out an amount where companies are still going to make money but go beyond that, it's excessive.
LEIGH: What we did through the MySuper reforms was to make sure that we had strong default plans. Part of that is making sure that they're low fee options. I'd always encourage people to think about options such as index funds which have tended to perform as well or better than actively managed funds - which is why you've seen such a large shift of money particularly in the US but also here moving from active to passive. ‘Set and forget’ seems to be one of the best ways of investing.
CONNELL: Another big problem with super is employers underpaying, this one I always find a bit baffling because super you've got this three month window which you can pay for super and it can be ad hoc, they can pay you know in one big lump sum two months in or a few different ones. Wouldn't it make sense to pay super at that rate of 9 per cent or whatever people get at the same time weekly or fortnightly as a pay check then you can know if you're getting underpaid or not.
LEIGH: Absolutely. Single Touch Payroll at the ATO has been important in this. I think we ought to roll that out more and I don't think we ought to be taking a soft touch with employers that don't pay superannuation.
CONNELL: Do you need to make this universal and compulsory across the board?
LEIGH: You need to make sure that you're taking a tough line on it. The Turnbull Government a couple of months ago suggested an amnesty for employers who hadn't paid superannuation going back a quarter of a century. Employers that aren't paying superannuation are engaged in wage theft, pure and simple.
CONNELL: The best thing to do though surely is to have each individual knowing their own super and whether that's coming inappropriately or not. It's just so hard to check right now for a lot of people.
LEIGH: Absolutely, we need to make sure that it's easy to check, we need to make sure that employers make it straight forward to pay. Single Touch Payroll has worked for small employers and making sure that system is expanded I think is absolutely vital.
CONNELL: I wanted to touch on interesting comments by Brendan O'Connor on immigration. Get workers out to the regions he says, it's a message a lot of people would agree with. It has been tried before under Julia Gillard, can you actually make it happen though?
LEIGH: The immigration points system gives some advantages to workers that go to the regions. Brendan is speaking as a former Immigration Minister, someone who understands the nuances of these debates, that it's not just about the total intake but also about the skills of the people we take and where they end up working. We have many regions in Australia crying out for skilled workers. One of the reasons that now more than half of all doctors in Australia are overseas born is that we've focused on attracting that particular set of skills to Australia.
CONNELL: Can you do it via a compulsory element or is it incentives? It's hard to force someone to go and live in a region, right?
LEIGH: The point system is a natural way of achieving this, I think that has been quite effective. In the end, Tom, people will go where the jobs are. Making sure that we have appropriate labour mobility programs is vital.
CONNELL: I want to ask you about Phil Gaetjens finally, he has come out and done an interview today where he said he is about policy not politics. Labor has not been impressed with his appointment given his past as a Liberal staffer, will you wait and see how he performs and what he does before passing judgement?
LEIGH: He is certainly someone who has spent more time working in Liberal Party Offices than he has working as a public servant. I do think that a job such as heading Treasury or heading the Productivity Commission should be done by an eminent, well-respected public servant.
CONNELL: But will you give him that opportunity to develop a track record before passing judgement?
LEIGH: I don't think we have any choice on that. But we are concerned that the Coalition has been politicising Treasury, using it much more as a Liberal Party dirt unit than the eminent institution that it has traditionally been.
CONNELL: That's a big thing to say when you could be working with them in a year?
LEIGH: The way in which Scott Morrison has used Treasury, that he has politicised Treasury, has been nothing short of disgraceful. Don't forget that this is the party which for the first time since Federation fired the head of Treasury upon winning office.
CONNELL: Andrew Leigh, thanks for your time.
LEIGH: Thank you, Tom.
Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.