THURSDAY, 10 AUGUST 2017
SUBJECT: Marriage Equality
EMMA ALBERICI: Andrew Leigh is Shadow Assistant Treasurer and Shadow Minister for Competition and Productivity. He joins me from Canberra. Bill Shorten has made it clear that Labor hopes to push fiercely for the yes side of this issue on same-sex marriage. What form will that campaign actually take?
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: It's great to be with you Emma. I think the push that we will make for this is a simple case that we didn't want to be here, we didn't want to be achieving same-sex marriage in this way. But given that we have this postal survey, Labor will participate in the process. But it's so unnecessary. We didn't have a postal survey for the last 20 changes to the Marriage Act, there was no postal survey to put in place the Racial Discrimination Act or the Sex Discrimination Act. Tony Abbott didn't offer the Australian people the chance of a postal survey when he set about breaking promises on health and education. It will be divisive, it will hurt families. We held a roundtable earlier this week with many gay and lesbian families talking about the harm that they anticipate will come. We have already heard allegations of polygamy and bestiality which will hurt kids in school yards and hurt families.
ALBERICI: Sorry to interrupt but the question was what form your campaign will actually take. Let me rephrase the question, presumably there will be posters, rallies, letterbox drops, special events that give you the opportunity to present and broadcast your case. How much will you spend supporting the LGBTI community in this way?
LEIGH: We certainly haven't figured out the full parameters of the campaign.
ALBERICI: You are the Shadow Assistant Treasurer, you have got to have put some money aside, it is not cheap exercise to campaign publicly?
LEIGH: Marriage equality groups have been anticipating this outcome, not because they wanted it but because they knew -
ALBERICI: Hold on a minute. Labor, Bill Shorten has staked his reputation on this, very forcefully in the Parliament. It wasn't a bit of grandstanding, was it? There will be something behind this in terms of campaigning isn't there?
LEIGH: Absolutely we'll campaign on it. I don't have a dollar figure for you tonight but we will certainly be arguing that Australians should in the first instance get on the electoral roll and then make sure that they vote yes. We will be running that campaign in all corners of Australia and also trying to make sure that people are brought into this postal survey who might otherwise be missed. We are worried that a postal survey run by the Bureau of Statistics which saw the crashing of the Census website on Census night last year could well have a lot of problems. For remote Australians, for silent electors, for Australians living overseas. We'll make sure it's as inclusive as possible but we didn't need to be here, Emma.Read more
PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
THURSDAY, 10 AUGUST 2017
SUBJECTS: Labor’s Access to Justice for small business legislation passes the Senate; Morrison runs from banks Royal Commission; Godwin Grech MkII.
CHRIS BOWEN, SHADOW TREASURER: Thanks for coming, ladies and gentlemen. We have a few issues to cover this morning. Firstly the Labor party is very pleased that the Senate has passed our access to justice policy. This is a policy which gives small business a chance to get a fair go in court against big business. The Labor party believes in proper policy development and leading the way in the policy debate. And as the government is paralysed like kangaroos in the headlights – unable to deal with marriage equality, unable to deal with energy prices - Labor continues to lead the policy debate. We’re doing so on equality in the tax system through our very substantial announcements and doing so when it comes to small business and competition policy as well. I congratulate Andrew and Katy Gallagher on seeing the Senate adopt Labor’s policy and we call the government to recognise good policy and recognise the will of the Senate and adopt this good policy in the House of Representatives as well. In a moment I’ll ask Andrew to add to those remarks.
There are two other issues I want to cover before I open it up to questions. Earlier this week in the parliament, the Treasurer said all options were on the table when it came to banking misconduct. Today, he took the biggest and best option off the table. The policy couldn’t last from Monday to Thursday, when the Treasurer ruled out a Royal Commission into the banks. I think the Australian people understand that the banking sector needs a Royal Commission. How much more evidence does the government need? How much more evidence does this Treasurer need, a Treasurer hopelessly out of his depth. The fact of the matter is the banking and financial system in Australia needs a Royal Commission and it appears only Labor will deliver one. Unfortunately, that means Australia will have to wait longer for it, until we’re in government, but we’ve been very clear on our policy. The Liberal Party has slipped around on this issue, the Treasurer saying all options are on the table and this morning taking the biggest and best option off the table.
Finally, earlier today, the Prime Minister and the Minister for Workplace Relations held a press conference. At that press conference, some remarkable things were said. Some very regrettable things were said. Now this was a desperate, shrill and grubby attack on behalf of Malcolm Turnbull and Michaelia Cash on the Leader of the Opposition. For the Prime Minister and for Minister Cash to say these things in relation to Government legislation, in relation to the Leader of the Opposition was remarkable.
This was Malcolm Turnbull’s updated Godwin Grech moment.
It was a grubby and desperate attempt to divert attention from the government’s failing agenda, the fact that the government is flailing around on marriage equality. The fact that the Government has no answer on energy prices, the fact that the Government is squibbing on a banking Royal Commission. They go the low road and attack Australia’s alternative Prime Minister in this fashion says a whole lot more about Malcolm Turnbull than it does about Bill Shorten. Malcolm Turnbull should apologise to Bill Shorten and do so before Question Time. For him to launch this attack shows that he is simply more than willing to engage in grubby politics. Let me remind Malcolm Turnbull that the government in which he was a member spent $50 million of taxpayers money on a Royal Commission into trade unions which made not on adverse finding against Bill Shorten. If he wants to go down this road, he can. Labor chooses to lead the policy debate and go the high road. Malcolm Turnbull chooses to go the low road. He should hang his head in shame. His comments this morning at the press conference were un-prime ministerial, unbecoming and not befitting the office he holds. He should reflect on his approach to the office he holds. He should reflect that he is the Prime Minister for all Australians. He has a job to do, a big job to do. Australia faces big challenges and opportunities and the Prime Minster is failing those challenges and opportunities. Instead he engages in a personal smear against a man who devoted his working life to improving the working conditions of Australians. Well I think Australians are seeing through Malcolm Turnbull’s disgusting smear campaign against Bill Shorten and as I said, it says more about Malcolm Turnbull that it does about Bill Shorten and Malcolm Turnbull is the one who has serious questions to answer about his conduct at that press conference earlier today.
I’m going to ask Andrew to add to my remarks and then we’ll take your questions.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Thanks very much, Chris. At the last election, Labor took forward a policy to provide access to justice for small businesses. It’s part of our concern that too many Australian markets are concentrated, that in more than half of Australian industries, the big four have a disproportionate market share. Access to justice provides an avenue through which a small business can challenge anti-competitive conduct by the big end of town. It allows a small business at the start of the case to go to the federal court to apply for a "no adverse costs" order, meaning that if they lose the action, then they won’t be bankrupted by the other side’s legal fees. It doesn’t allow vexatious cases to go ahead, but where an action is in the public interest - where it can help boost competition and assist consumers - then these no adverse cost orders can be critical. Meaning that if they lose the action then they won't be bankrupted by the other side’s legal fees. It doesn't allow vexation cases to go ahead but where an action is in the public interest, where it can help boost competition and assist consumers, then these no adverse costs orders can be critical.
I want to pay tribute to Katy Gallagher, Labor’s Shadow Small Business spokesperson and her predecessor Michelle Rowland for the work we’ve done together on developing this policy. We took it to the 2016 election and the Senate just voted for it, voted resoundingly for it by 36 to 22. The Senate has upheld Labor’s Access To Justice policy. That result has since been welcomed by the small business ombudsman Kate Carnell who said that this is an important step in providing a more level playing field for small business.
So the choice now for Malcolm Turnbull is simple: does he want to stand on the side of multinationals and monopolies or does he want to support Australian small businesses? 93% per cent of Australian businesses are small businesses, Labor stands up for them with our Access to Justice policy. The Senate today has stood up for Australian small business but will Malcolm Turnbull have the gumption to bring the vote on in the House? Will he be willing to bring the Access to Justice Bill to the House as he should to allow members like George Christiansen to decide whether they want to back small space business or whether they just want to support the status quo and the big end of town. This Bill must now be returned to the House so the House can vote on it and so for the sake of Australian small businesses, they can get the Access to Justice policy that will help level the playing field in Australia.Read more
KATY GALLAGHER, SHADOW MINISTER FOR SMALL BUSINESS AND FINANCIAL SERVICES
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER
TIME TO BACK THE LITTLE GUYS
The Senate today passed Labor’s access to justice policy, which will help small businesses take cases of anti-competitive behaviour to court.
Currently, small businesses are less likely to take up private litigation against anti-competitive behaviour.
This is because big businesses have deep pockets and armies of lawyers, so the risk of small businesses being bankrupted by legal fees is a significant disincentive to taking action against anti-competitive conduct.
But this bill will allow a small business request a ‘no adverse costs order’ early in a court case. If the judge decides that the case is in the public interest, the small business will not have the risk of paying the other side’s costs if they lose.Read more
A Postcode Should Not Shape A Person's Destiny
HuffPost, 9 August 2017
The late historian John Hirst once told me that if you took a time machine back to the 1800s, the streets of Sydney would remind you more of Charles Dickens’ London than modern-day Australia. Landless labourers slept rough on the streets, while affluent landowners wore top hats and were saluted by police officers.
Australia wasn’t just more unequal, it was more static. The child of a labourer expected to be a labourer. The son of a lawyer looked to follow in his father’s footsteps. Going back centuries, surnames like Baker, Smith and Cook are a reminder of how little mobility there used to be among our European ancestors. Your surname was your job, and your parents’ job, and their parents’ job.
As Australia became more equal in the post-war decades, we probably became more mobile. Finishing school and attending university no longer depended on having rich parents. We became a society based more on merit than the luck of birth. In the 1950s and 1960s, economic growth boosted middle incomes more than top incomes – and spread opportunity through society.
But over the past generation, we have seen the opposite trend. Since the mid-1970s, real wages have grown by 72 percent for the top tenth of workers, but by just 23 percent for the bottom tenth. If child care workers and cleaners had received the same wage gains as financiers and solicitors, they would be around $16,000 a year better off.
Rising inequality has direct costs. An economy that benefits only the fortunate few isn’t just unfair – it’s likely to be unhappy and unstable too. But inequality also risks harming social mobility; making it harder for a bright child from modest circumstances to make it to the middle class.
This pattern, dubbed ‘The Great Gatsby Curve’ by economist Alan Krueger, shows up across countries. The most equal nations – such as Denmark and Norway – are also extremely mobile. The most unequal countries – such as Chile and Peru – are scarily immobile. Children are far more likely to move from rags to riches in nations that have a smaller gap between rich and poor. The same pattern shows up across cities in the United States: equality and mobility go together.Read more
Young Social Entrepreneurs
The Chronicle, 1 August 2017
One of the most inspiring things that I do as a local MP is host breakfast for young social entrepreneurs.
Sunny Forsyth, Neha Pathak and Tristan Skinner work with Abundant Water, which distributes water filters in developing nations such as East Timor. Through Raize the Roof, Lincoln and Danielle Dal Cortivo are supporting seriously ill children in the ACT and orphaned children in Botswana.
Hannah Wandel leads Country to Canberra, providing mentoring support to young women in rural Australia. Francesca Maclean started Fifty50 to promote gender equity in science and engineering. Maddeline Mooney is exploring the need for a new body that looks at mental wellbeing in the deaf community.Read more
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER
ED HUSIC, SHADOW MINISTER FOR THE DIGITAL ECONOMY
ERROR 404: RESPONSIBLE GOVERNMENT NOT FOUND
Another day, another article on IT outages at the Australian Tax Office.
The ATO is trying as hard as it can, but it’s been left struggling thanks to staffing cuts by the Coalition. Just last week we read reports that the Turnbull Government is planning to continue with its cuts over the next three years, climbing to almost $30 million in cutbacks.
Australians deserve better than this Pushme Pullyu of a policy. Labor has repeatedly called for an investigation into these interruptions, but Malcolm Turnbull has team have done nothing to reassure the public. He needs to step up and ensure the Tax Office has the support it needs to do its job.
Labor has constantly asked the agency designed to help digital transformation is doing to help the ATO. They've always said nothing. Now that they have been shamed into acting, the test is whether they will improve things.
WEDNESDAY, 2 AUGUST 2017
MONDAY, 31 JULY 2017
SUBJECTS: Labor’s plan for a fairer tax system for all Australians.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Andrew Leigh is the Shadow Assistant Treasurer, he is part of Bill Shorten's team. Good morning.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Good morning Raf, how are you?
EPSTEIN: How many trusts will pay more tax because of this?
LEIGH: Something in the order of around 300,000 trusts, affecting only around 2 per cent of taxpayers. This is dealing with the issue of income-splitting, which is a trick by which high income professionals have been able to use multiple tax-free thresholds. Where a regular wage earner gets to have their one tax-free threshold, there has been increasingly this practice of income-splitting which has meant that people have been able to use adult children and sometimes the tax-free thresholds of their parents to pay less tax than regular PAYG taxpayers.
EPSTEIN: I guess the obvious question is how do you know you're hitting income splitters and not genuine small businesses?
LEIGH: Because that's exactly the way the policy is designed, Raf. There has been some speculation around taxing trusts as companies. We looked at that, but we thought that that would have exactly the sort of unintended results that you're talking about there. What we've done is build on work that John Howard put in place in 1980 as Treasurer. He changed the rules at that stage and so that for people trying to distribute money to children, those children would then pay the top marginal tax rate. We haven't said that people will pay the top marginal tax rates for distributions to mature age beneficiaries, we've said instead it would be a 30 per cent tax rate. But it does go to exactly that same issue of income-splitting.
EPSTEIN: How do you know you're not going to hit people? There might be someone distributing to people in the trust and they’re not at that 30 per cent, they're a genuine part of a small business you might hit them?
LEIGH: Well Raf, if you're an employee of a small business then the regular arrangements continue, you're unaffected by this. But if passive income is being distributed through a discretionary trust, then you pay a 30 per cent tax rate on that. If you look at who is getting the benefit of trusts, they're heavily skewed to the top end, the richest fifth of Australians have almost all of the wealth that is held in discretionary trusts. This is about making sure that our system is fair, that you don't have what Bill Shorten has correctly called a two class tax system in which one set of taxpayers simply have a single tax-free threshold while another set of taxpayers get to make use of the tax-free thresholds of their family members.Read more
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
CHRIS BOWEN, SHADOW TREASURER
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER
A FAIRER TAX SYSTEM FOR ALL AUSTRALIANS
Today Labor is announcing new plans to improve our tax system so that it is fair for all Australians.
A Shorten Labor Government will introduce a standard minimum 30 per cent tax rate for discretionary trust distributions to mature beneficiaries (people over the age of 18).
Labor’s policy will tackle the use of income splitting to minimse tax – making the tax system fairer and improving the budget bottom line.
Australia currently has a two-class tax system. While most people pay the tax that they owe through normal PAYG arrangements, the system includes generous subsidies and loopholes which allow some wealthier people to minimise their tax.
Wealthy individuals are much more likely to benefit from a trust than low and middle income earners. The average amount of money held in private trusts by the wealthiest 20 per cent of households is $123,000, while for the next wealthiest quintile it is just $4,000.
Individuals and businesses use trusts for a range of legitimate reasons, such as asset protection and business succession. But in some cases, trusts are used solely for tax minimisation.
Discretionary trusts allow for trust income to be distributed on an entirely discretionary basis. This means distributions can be artificially split between different people in lower tax brackets so that the tax paid on the overall amount is much less than it would otherwise be.
While artificial income splitting is completely legal, that doesn’t mean it is fair.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER
ED HUSIC, SHADOW MINISTER FOR THE DIGITAL ECONOMY
CUTS NO SOLUTION TO TAX OFFICE OUTAGES
The Turnbull Government is planning to keep cutting the Tax Office at a time when they are struggling to stay online.
Despite repeated outages, there are reports today that the Turnbull Government is planning to continue with its cuts over the next three years, climbing to almost $30 million.
This is madness.
The Turnbull Government needs to support our public servants and come clean on the rolling outages, which have disrupted so many Australians’ tax time.
Labor has repeatedly called for an investigation into these interruptions, but Malcolm Turnbull has team have done nothing to reassure the public.
The Turnbull Government hasn’t explained how the current staff will be able to cope with the on-going disruption of outages during tax time 2017 – not to mention the disruption to tax agents and the general public.Read more
MIND THE INEQUALITY GAP, MR MORRISON
The Reserve Bank Governor has confirmed what many Australians already know – that inequality is indeed increasing.
Dr Lowe told an event organised by the Australian Business Economists that inequality "grew quite a lot in the 1980s and the 1990s and it has risen a little bit just recently… It has become more pronounced in the past few years because of the of the rise in assets prices and people that own those assets have seen their wealth go up".
The facts tell a clear story. Since the mid-1970s, earnings have risen three times as fast for the top tenth of Australians as for the bottom tenth. The labour share in the economy is at a four-decade low, and the home ownership rate is at a six-decade low.
Labor will tackle inequality through fair tax reforms, needs-based school funding and defending universal health care. The Turnbull Government prefers to prevaricate and procrastinate.
Since they came to office, the Abbott and Turnbull Governments have proposed slowing the rate of pension increases, cutting the income support bonus, and removing consumer protections from the financial advice market.
They have reduced the pay of the men and women who clean their offices, and just delivered a $16,400 tax cut to those with million-dollar incomes.
As the saying goes, when you’re in a hole, stop digging. Scott Morrison needs to admit that his claims about falling inequality are bunkum, and join the constructive conversation about building a more equal Australia.
WEDNESDAY, 26 JULY 2017