Condolence motion for the Hon. Gough Whitlam, AC, QC
House of Representatives
28 October 2014
GK Chesterton once said that "Tradition means giving a vote to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead."
Progressives are at our best when our reforms draw out the golden threads of history.
The notion that society is a contract between the past, the present, and unborn generations is as powerful a guide for progressives as it is for the other side of politics.
No-one better understood the value of tradition than Gough Whitlam.
When Prime Minister McMahon set the date for the 1972 election as December 2, Whitlam noted that it was the anniversary of the 1805 Battle of Austerlitz, when Napoleon defeated the Russian and Austrian armies. It was, he said, "a date on which a crushing defeat was administered to a coalition - another ramshackle, reactionary coalition".
Following word that the Abbott Government is going ahead with plans to increase the fuel excise tax, I joined David Speers on Sky PM Agenda to explain why Labor can't support yet another regressive move which will hit to poorest hardest.
SKY PM AGENDA
TUESDAY, 28 OCTOBER 2014
SUBJECT/S: fuel excise tax slug; Tony Abbott’s plans to raise the GST; Rupert Murdoch’s comments on inequality
DAVID SPEERS: Well the main political story here in Canberra today has been the Government's surprise announcement that it's going to go ahead with an increase in fuel excise even though it's been unable to get this through Parliament. How's it doing it? Well it's changing the tariff. It then has 12 months in which it needs to legislate that. So for 12 months it can collect the higher tax – it will go up from 38.1 to 38.6 cents, half a cent a litre. It will cost, the Government says, the typical family using about 50 litres of fuel a week only 40 cents a week in additional cost. Over time, of course, that will go up. Labor is still opposed to the increase in the fuel excise, however it's done. Joining me now is the Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Andrew Leigh. Thank you for your time.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Pleasure David.
SPEERS: Why is this such a bad idea, to put up fuel excise by a tiny amount?
LEIGH: Well it's another measure that hits the poor the most, David. We've had a big rise in inequality over the last generation, the most regressive budget we've ever seen brought down, which smashes the poor while including giveaways to the most affluent. And now another measure which we know will hit those on the lowest incomes the hardest, because in fact Joe Hockey is wrong when he says the poor don't drive. If you look at fuel as a share of income, it's six per cent of disposable income for the poorest fifth, and just two per cent for the top fifth. So an increase in fuel taxes is a regressive tax and that deeply concerns us.
Tony Abbott has announced that he wants to radically alter the relationship between the federal government and Australia's states and territories. In response, I held a press conference outlining why Labor will never back proposals which alter the egalitarian character of our federation.
PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
MONDAY, 27 OCTOBER 2014
SUBJECT/S: Tony Abbott’s plan to increase the GST; boat turnbacks; Abbott Government inaction on Ebola; flawed Direct Action climate plan
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Over the weekend we saw Tony Abbott give a speech on federalism in which he resorted to coded language rather than being straight up with Australians. He talked about increasing the indirect tax burden and raising states' revenue capacity. Let's be honest: when you talk about indirect taxes, you're talking about wine taxes, fuel taxes, car taxes and the GST. What Tony Abbott wants to do ought to cause the hairs on the back of Australians' necks to stand up. Because after bringing down the most regressive budget in Australian history, he now wants to raise the GST. Mr Abbott very clearly wants to engage in the same sort of cheap politics that he did last year. He wants to pretend to Australians that he can deliver better services and not put in place tax increases. But federalism isn't a magic pudding. To the extent that Mr Abbott is promising more payments to one state, that's got to involve taking away from other states. Federalism is a fundamentally egalitarian institution, and Labor is going to work to prevent more unfair cuts being put in place through the excuse of a federalism review. Happy to take questions.
The Abbott Government is holding it's second Red Tape Repeal Day this week. But don't believe their hype - if it's anything like the first one back in May, their changes won't amount to much.
Red tape ritual doesn't help, The Australian, 27 October
This week the Abbott government will hold its second red tape repeal day. Since the first one just six months ago, it has passed more than 690 regulations. But then, defining red tape is a little bit like defining art — people know it when they see it, and they often see it very differently.
When the government held its first repeal day, parliamentary secretary Josh Frydenberg crowed about liberating Australians from thousands of items of costly and unnecessary regulation. On closer inspection, that included 39 individual amendments changing the term “electronic mail” to “email”, and several hundred amendments adjusting spelling, grammar and punctuation. It also encompassed the repeal of business obstacles such as the Dried Fruits Export Charges Act 1927, the Lighthouses Act 1949 and the Nitrogenous Fertilizers Subsidy Act 1969.
ON the day that Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane announced his government would slash the Renewable Energy Target by 40 per cent, I joined Waleed Aly on Radio National's Drive program to defend this important environmental and economic initiative.
RN DRIVE WITH WALEED ALY
WEDNESDAY, 22 OCTOBER 2014
WALEED ALY: You know when you've just given birth to a newborn baby, or your partner has, and you cradle it, and you look at it lovingly this way that says there's nothing more beautiful in the world than this at the moment, or indeed henceforth there will never be anything quite so beautiful? Well, I think today Greg Hunt had exactly that moment as the Environment Minister, when he was gazing adoringly at a 5.1 per cent drop in electricity prices. It's a beautiful set of numbers, Paul Keating might have said, and here he is talking about it in Question Time.
GREG HUNT: At 11 am today the Australian Bureau of Statistics announced the largest quarterly fall in electricity prices in Australian history. The largest quarterly fall in the 34 years of records from which statistics had been kept. And so it is likely that it isn't just a 34 year record, it's likely that it's a record which stretches back to the Second World War. Maybe stretches back further.
ALY: So is that just a payoff from axing the carbon tax? We'll ask our regular number gazers. Josh Frydenberg joins us as Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, and Shadow Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh. Gentlemen, welcome again.
JOSH FRYDENBERG, PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY TO THE PRIME MINISTER: Nice to be with you, Waleed and Andrew.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Good to be here, Waleed.
One of the fun parts of this job is getting to contribute a regular column to The Chronicle. Here's my latest...
Flower power, The Chronicle, 7 October
In 1637, Dutch tulip mania was at its peak. In that year, a single bulb could trade for 10 times the average wage. History records a bulb exchanged for 12 acres of land. One unfortunate sailor was jailed when he mistook a tulip bulb for an onion and ate it.
As an economist, I can’t help thinking of this story when I walk through Floriade each year. While the Dutch tulip bubble burst after a few years, Floriade is now in its 27th year. But the same intensely coloured flower that drew speculators to part with fortunes centuries ago now draws over 400,000 people to Canberra to enjoy the Southern Hemisphere’s biggest spring festival.
The Senate Estimates process always throws up interesting tidbits. Last night we found out just how much the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission saves charities each year by streamlining their regulatory and reporting requirements.
CHARITIES COMMISSION SAVES NOT-FOR-PROFITS MILLIONS
The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission is saving Australian charities $120 million a year by reducing compliance costs, according to evidence given in Estimates.
During last night’s Senate Economics Committee hearings, Charities Commissioner Susan Pascoe confirmed that her organisation cuts red tape for charities, freeing up millions of donor dollars.
Ms Pascoe gave evidence that the commission achieves this by offering a one-stop-shop for registration and reporting, as well as providing a framework for harmonising charity laws across Australia.
In memorialising Gough Whitlam, I think it's important to reflect on his economic legacy as well as his political and social policy ones. In an interview for The Australian's website, I explored the key economic achievements of the Whitlam years; here's the transcript.
WEDNESDAY, 22 OCTOBER 2014
SUBJECT/S: Gough Whitlam’s economic legacy
JACKSON HEWETT: Shadow Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh joins us now to reflect on the economic legacy of the Whitlam Government. Andrew Leigh - one of that government's first economic decisions was to reduce tariffs, what was the impact of that?
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: That 1973 tariff cut laid the groundwork for the 1988 and 1991 tariff cuts brought in by the Hawke Government. What was striking about the 1973 tariff cut is that it was so different from the bipartisan consensus on protectionism that had existed for many decades. That notion of protectionism all round, of McEwenism, really was costing Australian industry in a way that was hurting consumers but also stopping our firms from being internationally competitive. So it was a breath of fresh air, it shocked a lot of people, and it did a lot of good for the economy.
Whether it is balancing the budget or dealing with international crises like Ebola, governing is about priorities. On this week's Breaking Politics, I joined Chris Hammer and Andrew Laming to talk about how the government continues to pursue the wrong ones.
FAIRFAX BREAKING POLITICS
MONDAY, 20 OCTOBER 2014
SUBJECT/S: Dams; Australian involvement in Iraq; Ebola; Mathias Cormann’s inappropriate remarks
CHRIS HAMMER: We're joined now by Labor's Andrew Leigh and the Liberals’ Andrew Laming – good morning gentlemen. Andrew Laming – to you first, does Australia need more dams?
ANDREW LAMING, MEMBER FOR BOWMAN: It certainly does need more dams and that's the evidence from the last few years of significant weather events. Certainly in Queensland they'd be looking at flood mitigation arrangements and the use of dams, and if you look at Tasmania it's a similar story. As Barnaby Joyce said, water is money and water in a dam is a bank.
HAMMER: So the purpose of the dams is to make existing irrigation schemes more drought resistant? Or is it to open up new areas, do you think?
LAMING: Well both of those. Typically dams smooth out water availability in the context of an unstable climate.
HAMMER: Andrew Leigh, does Labor support more and better dams?
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: I'm a little concerned, Chris. This report seems to be overplaying what can be achieved. It suggests that we can achieve – with a single policy – flood mitigation, drought proofing and providing power. But of course, if you want to use a dam to prevent floods, then it needs to be empty. If you want to use it to protect from drought, then it needs to be full. If you want to use it for power, it has to be constantly flowing. Barnaby Joyce, as usual, is claiming an awful lot from what his policy can achieve.
As Parliament gets underway for another two weeks of sittings, I joined Sky's AM Agenda to talk about Australia's relationship with Indonesia under new President Joko Widodo and Australian commandos getting the green light to begin training missions in Iraq.
SKY AM AGENDA
MONDAY, 20 OCTOBER 2014
SUBJECT/S: burqa ban at Parliament House; inauguration of Joko Widodo; Australian commandos authorised to enter Iraq; Mathias Cormann’s remarks.
KIERAN GILBERT: This is AM Agenda, thanks for your company. This morning we've got the Shadow Assistant treasurer Andrew Leigh and Liberal Senator Zed Seselja – good morning. The burqa ban has finally been overturned, the Speaker has agreed to the Prime Minister's request. Not much of a surprise but they took their time didn't they?
ZED SESELJA, SENATOR FOR THE ACT: It's not a surprise and these were interim measures. I think they've landed in a better place in terms of the arrangements. I think what's most important is that we have proper security arrangements in Parliament House. That shouldn't be about religion, it should be about ensuring that we can protect key buildings and key assets and if that involves people having to be identified then we need to take the best security advice on that. So I think we've landed in a good place. If there are adjustments needed down the track I suppose they can be looked at but they were interim measures and it seems now we're in a firmer place.
GILBERT: That all sounds fairly reasonable?
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: I think Zed has hit the nail on the head there, Kieran. I'm just wondering why it took the Government so long to make this back-down. We wrote to them on the day these measures were introduced two weeks ago and said that they were ill-considered. You know, you've even got someone like George Christensen, who has fairly extreme views within his party but who didn't support this ban on the burqa. Sending people wearing burqas up into the kids gallery I think was just entirely...