What can New Zealand and Australia learn from each another about reducing inequality? - Speech, Auckland
EQUALISING THE ANTIPODES: WHAT CAN NEW ZEALAND AND AUSTRALIA LEARN FROM EACH ANOTHER ABOUT REDUCING INEQUALITY?
PRESBYTERIAN SUPPORT NORTHERN SEMINAR SERIES ON CHILD WELLBEING
THURSDAY, 5 APRIL 2018
I acknowledge the Māori people, the traditional owners of the lands on which we meet, and thank our hosts, Presbyterian Support Northern, for inviting me to deliver these lectures.
In Eleanor Catton’s Booker Prize winning novel, The Luminaries, Crosbie Wells is writing back to his brother in 1854, explaining why he plans never to return to England. Naturally, he starts with the weather in Dunedin ‘The sun is bright on the hills and on the water and I can bear the briskness very well’. But then he turns to social class. ‘You see in New Zealand every man has left his former life behind and every man is equal in his own way. Of course the flockmasters in Otago are barons here just as they were barons in the Scottish Highlands but for men like me there is a chance to rise… It is not uncommon for men to tip their hats to one another in the street regardless of their station. The frontier I think makes brothers of us all’.
Ironically, it was in England that I first became interested in New Zealand inequality. Working with the late Sir Tony Atkinson, we began to explore long-run taxation statistics to ask whether the historical trends in inequality in Australia and New Zealand matched the myths. Was it true, as one 19th century gold-digger had written home to England, that ‘Rank and title have no charms in the Antipodes’?Read more
Do Lower Company Tax Rates Create Jobs?
inequality.org, 4 April 2018
As Australia’s conservative government tried to legislate a cut in the company tax rate for large firms, the Business Council of Australia stepped up to help. Attempting to persuade minor party representatives in the Senate, the lobby group circulated a letter signed by ten CEOs. They pledged that if the corporate tax rate was cut, then they would ‘commit to invest more in Australia which will lead to employing more Australians and therefore stronger wage growth as the tax cut takes effect’.
Unfortunately for the Business Council of Australia, someone in their organisation then leaked the first draft. In the original version of the letter, CEOs would have pledged to create more jobs, to avoid the offshoring of jobs, to increase wages, and to pay their taxes. But they baulked, and the Business Council ended up putting a red line through these stronger promises.
To make matters worse, it was also revealed that the Business Council of Australia had conducted a confidential survey of its CEOs. Asked what they would do with the money from a corporate rate cut, only one in six corporate bosses said they would spend it on employment or wages. Upon seeing the results, the Council decided not to release them to the public. Again, they were leaked.Read more
TUESDAY, 27 MARCH 2018
SUBJECT: Dividend imputation reform, Malcolm Turnbull’s $65 billion handout to big business.
ROSS GREENWOOD: Dr Andrew Leigh is on the line right now. Many thanks for your time, Andrew.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: My pleasure, Ross. Always great to be speaking with you.
GREENWOOD: Alright now. I said before that you've got to protect your own people, the low income earners, the pensioners, these types of people. What caused the change in heart? Because at the time there appeared to be no changing of the policy from your leadership team?
LEIGH: Ross, I think good policy making is about listening as much as it is about talking. We've heard the message from people about the concerns and the impact on pensioners. What we've said is that every pensioner will be able to benefit from cash refunds as well as allowees - people receiving parenting payment, Newstart and sickness allowance. It is a mark of the extent to which this particular tax concession goes to the wealthiest that this change takes about a quarter of the people who were originally affected out but still maintains 95 per cent of the revenue.
GREENWOOD: Okay. Does it mean you have to be a little careful also to watch the equity or fairness of this? Let's say for example, a person has worked all their life to become a self-funded retiree, they are not receiving a pension so they're just outside the threshold, the cut off around about $800,000 for a couple in assets outside their family home. That couple if you look at policy right now would probably give them an income on or around or even less than the aged pension for a couple, do you have to be a little careful to balance up the fairness of this system?
LEIGH: The advice that I've got on this is if you look at who is benefiting from the current system of cash refunds, 95 per cent of the imputation credits going to people over 65 are going to the wealthiest fifth of the population. This is a tax concession which is unique to Australia, no other country has it. And it's very heavily skewed to the most affluent.Read more
PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
WEDNESDAY, 28 MARCH 2018
SUBJECTS: Malcolm Turnbull’s $65 billion handout for big business, expulsion of Russian diplomats.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Thanks very much for being here this morning. My name is Andrew Leigh, Shadow Assistant Treasurer. We've seen today news that the Government has appears to have fallen short in the Senate in its attempt to give Australia's biggest businesses a massive corporate tax cut. This would be a corporate tax cut which the Government has tried to justify at every turn.
There is one simple number to illustrate why they have failed and that's four out of five.
Four out of five Australians oppose giving money to big businesses and taking money away from schools. A Business Council of Australia secret survey revealed this week that four out of five CEOs say that if they got a big business tax cut they wouldn't spend it on wages. That accords with the evidence which we have from Australia and the United States. You look at companies that pay less company tax – that have a lower effective rate of company tax – they tend to have lower rates of job growth, not a higher rate of job growth as the Government would lead you to believe. That's true in Australia by my own research, it's true in the United States by research conducted last year. So this argument that this big business tax cut is just what the economy needs to kickstart growth is at odds with the evidence.
Indeed, it's at odds with the evidence that the Government brought down in the 2016 budget when they announced this unaffordable corporate tax giveaway. Their own estimates there suggested that a big business tax funded by increasing income taxes on middle Australia (a point the Government very rarely likes to admit), would only add 0.1 per cent to household income growth - a benefit that would flow in the 2030s.
The Government tells us it is incredibly urgent to cut the big business tax rate but you can see the lie of that in their own schedule which would have the big business tax cut coming in mid-2026. If it's so urgent it's pretty hard to see why they'd have a 25 per cent rate cutting in in mid-2026.Read more
TUESDAY, 27 MARCH 2018
SUBJECT: Dividend imputation reform.
GARETH PARKER: My first guest on the program, he’s the Shadow Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh. Andrew, good morning.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Good morning, Gareth. How are you?
PARKER: I’m well, thanks. What has changed?
LEIGH: We’ve said from today that every pensioner will be able to benefit from cash refunds. Gareth, we’ve done this because we’ve always said we’d look after pensioners and because we want to make sure that Malcolm Turnbull has no longer any reason to be opposing this change. The notion of cash refunds just isn’t sustainable at a time when we’re looking to fund schools, to fund hospitals, to put important money into infrastructure in Western Australia. So this protects pensioners and allowance recipients from the change and sees that the cash refund change will only apply to those who aren’t on the pension and aren’t receiving allowances.
PARKER: So, if you’re pensioner or a part pensioner, nothing will change?
LEIGH: That’s correct.
PARKER: The big question then is what about who are self-funded superannuants, self-funded retirees?
LEIGH: Gareth, this doesn’t change the integrity of our policy, which is to say that Australia is the only country in the world that has a system of cash refunds for dividend imputation. The only country in the world that says that the Tax Office ought to be writing cheques out to people rather than assessing how much tax you ought to pay. That’s not an arrangement that would apply to most of your listeners. Most of your listeners would be thinking to themselves ‘how much do I owe the Tax Office at the end of the year?’. At a time when we have gross debt crashing through the half a trillion dollar mark, I don’t think it’s fair and I don’t think it’s good for growth to keep this tax loophole open.Read more
SUKKAR’S SOUND AND FURY SIGNIFIES NOTHING
Another day, another mistruth from a Turnbull Government Minister on Labor’s proposed changes to dividend imputation.
Michael Sukkar has told Sky News:
It will be very tough for Labor, come the next election, to say to now-self-funded retirees “we’re going to tax you more”.
Yes, Michael - it will be very tough because it is patently untrue.
From the moment Labor announced our policy to close loopholes allowing large cash refunds to people who do not pay tax, we’ve said no one will pay one cent more in tax.Read more
ABC RN DRIVE
MONDAY, 26 MARCH 2018
SUBJECTS: Dividend imputation reform, Malcolm Turnbull’s $65 billion handout for big business, cricket.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: All signs seem to point to pensioners being given an exemption from Labor’s plan to scrap tax refunds given to some shareholders on dividends. The Opposition has been under attack from the Government since announcing the policy for the effect it would have on retirees, though it’s so far ruled out any changes. But in an apparent change of heart, Labor is shaping up to exempt 200,000 plus part pensioners and 14,000 full pensioners from the policy. Andrew Leigh is the Shadow Assistant Treasurer, welcome to the program.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Thanks, Patricia. Great to be with you.
KARVELAS: So how are you going to protect pensioners from the adverse effects of this imputation tax policy? What are you looking to do?
LEIGH: Patricia, the first thing to do is just to take a step back and look at what we’ve announced with this policy. This is a policy which is designed to curtail a uniquely Australian tax concession, which has turned the Tax Office into an ATM for multimillionaires. We have the unusual situation of people with many millions of dollars in their superannuation accounts receiving cheques from the Tax Office. Now most of your listeners driving home will be in the position where they think at the end of the year ‘how much tax am I going to pay’. But this cash refundability, introduced in 2000 at the peak of the first mining boom, is a system which is not only inequitable but doing nothing for growth in Australia. So that’s why we’ve announced this policy, to bring some integrity back to the imputation.Read more
MONDAY, 26 MARCH 2018
Coming up to Easter, my three little boys are looking forward to one of their favourite parts of the celebration—Easter eggs.
I, on the other hand, prefer the other kind of Easter egg—the inside jokes and hints left by writers in films and games.
If you look hard enough, you can find them in real life, like that 2004 moment when reality TV star turned US President Donald Trump presented an Emmy to TV star turned gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon.Read more
ABC NEWS 24
MONDAY, 26 MARCH 2018
SUBJECTS: Dividend imputation reform; Research showing Australian firms that pay less tax create fewer jobs
GREG JENNETT: Andrew Leigh, the Treasurer Scott Morrison is saying that Labor didn't think through its $11 billion imputation credits policy. In view of the fact Labor is now looking at changing it, that's fair enough that criticism isn't it?
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Greg, we've got strong support for the policy from a range of expert groups who pointed out that this tax concession is unique to Australia. The Tax Office wasn't set up to be an ATM for multimillionaires. We need to make sure that our tax concessions are closed down if they’re not adding to economic growth, yet are detracting from egalitarianism.
JENNETT: Even if it's 200,000 plus pensioners?
LEIGH: We've always been the party standing up for pensioners. We campaigned strongly against the Government's attempt to index the pension to prices rather than wages. We argued strongly against raising the pension age to 70 which would have given us the highest pension age in the world.
JENNETT: So would you try and carve pensioners out so you can continue with what you say is good treatment of pensioners?
LEIGH: Labor will always stand up for pensioners. Pensioners will always be better off under a Labor Government.
JENNETT: How might that be done in this case? Could it be done by putting a cap on the amount of cash refund that goes back to a shareholder or a complete exemption, which would you favour?
LEIGH: Greg, let's focus mainly on the policy here - because this is a policy which has great policy merit. The notion of dividend imputation was to avoid double taxation but it was never to have the tax office cutting cheques to multimillionaires.
JENNETT: Yes but there would have been people who were effectively paying tax twice wouldn't you say if they were pensioners and recipients if they were cut off from receiving this cash dividend?
LEIGH: Greg what you have in this situation isn't even single taxation of company profits. Company taxes are paid and then handed back in cash to retirees. For most of your viewers, they will be in a situation where they think about how much tax they pay. They don't think of the Tax Office as being a body that cuts them an annual cheque. This is a highly regressive tax loophole, one which is doing very little for economic growth and which is unique in the world. At that stage, you've got to ask yourself is this really the best way of spending taxpayer dollars.Read more
SKY NEWS AM AGENDA
MONDAY, 26 MARCH 2018
SUBJECTS: Dividend imputation reform; Research showing Australian firms that pay less tax create fewer jobs.
KIERAN GILBERT: Welcome back to the program, with me now is Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Andrew Leigh. Thanks so much for your time. You don't go into polls too much but in terms of Labor's policy on the dividend credit, scrapping that refund, 50 per cent are opposed to it but it hasn't really shown up in the primary votes, is that surprising?
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: You're right, Kieran. We didn't set the standard of 30 Newspolls, that's the Prime Minister's standard but he's now just one Newspoll away from failing to meet it. And of course the reason for that is clear in the way the economy is performing. You've got an economy which has seen corporate profits grow 32 per cent and wages grow just 4 per cent. So with corporate profits growing eight times as fast as wages what does Malcolm Turnbull want to do? Give big business a company tax cut and cut penalty rates.
GILBERT: You've done some analysis on that and we'll get to that in a moment, but typically on this dividend credit refund which Labor is going to scrap when it get to the point where it actually gets to the point of being a cash refund. Fifty per cent are opposed to the idea, you've got a bit of work to do convincing people that this is the right cause of action.
LEIGH: The Tax Office shouldn't be an ATM for multimillionaires. This is a unique Australian tax loophole. One which was put in place in 2000, and that doesn't sit with the spirit of dividend imputation which is to avoid double taxation. But the notion that Paul Keating had in 1987 was never that the tax office would sit there writing cheques for people with many millions of dollars.Read more