ABC NEWS WEEKEND BREAKFAST
SATURDAY, 9 FEBRUARY 2019
SUBJECTS: Banking Royal Commission, closing unsustainable tax loopholes, Tim Wilson’s abuse of parliament, Kerryn Phelps’ amendments.
JOHANNA NICHOLSON: To discuss this and more we're joined now by Andrew Leigh, who's the Shadow Assistant Treasurer and federal Member for Fenner. Thanks so much for your time this morning. Let's start with the banking royal commission. Labor has indicated that it will accept all of the recommendations at least in principle and look at implementing those recommendations from the Royal Commission. If Labor goes ahead and bans bank payments to brokers, won't that save the banks a lot of money? And are you concerned about that?
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Johanna, this is an important report. It was hard hitting, but not as hard hitting as some had anticipated - after all, bank shares rose on the announcement of the Hayne Royal Commission report. So Labor believes it’s appropriate to implement it in full, including the recommendations around mortgage brokers. They can play an important role in the industry, but they need to be acting for the customer and the point that a royal commissioner made was that too often they seem to be acting for the lender rather than for the borrower. But it's so true to form that the Coalition, even with this royal commission report, is unable to say that they'll go ahead and implement it. Already they're looking at how they can back in the special interests rather than the interest of all Australians.
NICHOLSON: Well the Government has indicated that it's taking a cautious approach in regards to brokers. They are still - saying that they will ensure that brokers act in the best interests of their clients, but will allow banks to fund the broker costs upfront while banning trailing commissions. Do you think that taking a cautious approach to these recommendations is a good idea?
LEIGH: What the Liberals call cautious, the rest of Australia calls backing in the big end of town. This is the government that voted 26 times against the banking royal commission, that fought against the Future of Financial Advice reforms that the last Labor government put in place, that had things like a best interest test for financial advisors. It's no surprise here that they're not taking the interests of regular Australians, not listening to the recommendations the Royal Commission. Labor believes it's absolutely vital we implement the royal commission because the economy needs a strong banking sector. Living standards have stagnated under this government. Wage growth is lousy, business investment is down and debt - household debt and government debt - are up significantly. In that environment, we've got to make sure that our financial sector is running as strongly as possible and that's why Labor supports the Hayne royal commission findings - as distinct from the approach the Government's taking.
NICHOLSON: Let's now talk about the franking credit inquiry which continues. If Labor is so sure of its policy on scrapping refundable franking credits, then don't you think it's okay to put it to a committee and have the questions asked by retirees and others? If you think it's such a good idea, won't it stand up to that investigation?
LEIGH: Labor is confident with our policy. This is a tax break that no other country in the world has, a tax refund for people who don't pay any tax, where more than half the benefits go to people with more than two and a half million dollars in their superannuation accounts. We've carved out pensioners. We've had extensive consultation with experts. It's extraordinary the government would use taxpayer money to inquire into an Opposition policy. We're seeing now that the Wilson family is benefiting personally out of this inquiry. There’s allegations that confidential elector data may have been shared with a private firm and in reverse that shareholder details may have been shared with Tim Wilson. Tim Wilson has to step down. His position is utterly untenable in this inquiry and we've referred to the Federal Police these allegations that confidential elector data might have been shared with Geoff Wilson, who's running a campaign in the interests of his own firm against Labor's important reform.
NICHOLSON: What about in Parliament in the coming weeks - do you have any intention to pursue this further and do you have the support of the Greens and the crossbench to pursue this, in particular Tim Wilson, further?
LEIGH: We'll certainly be pursuing this issue in all forums. Australians don't want their tax dollars spent on parliamentary inquiries which are designed to direct donations to the Liberal Party. Don't forget - they’re handing out Liberal Party forms in these forums, promoting their fundraisers. Australians don't want parliamentary inquiries that then see their confidential elector data, protected by law - it's a criminal offence to disclose elector data - then shared with private firms-
NICHOLSON: There are Australians though that have been turning up to the committee genuinely angry about Labor's policy.
LEIGH: No one likes having a tax concession taken away if they've been personally benefiting from it. But I think many people recognise it's just not sustainable to spend more every year sending tax cheques to multimillionaires than we spend on public schools. Australia's debt has gone up massively under the Liberals and if we’re to extend early childhood to 3 year olds, if we’re to invest in toy libraries as Labor’s announced today, if we build the roads and the rail networks we need, then we've got to close unsustainable tax loopholes like this unique franking credit loophole. It doesn't exist anywhere else in the world. If it was such a great tax measure, you've got to ask yourself: why does no other country do things this way?
NICHOLSON: Now the medical transfers bill is due to face Parliament this year. Does Labor stand by that bill as it stands or will you be pursuing compromises or adjustments to that bill?
LEIGH: Our firm principle is that we should be listening to the doctors, that we should ensure that if somebody needs a medical transfer that the assumption is that that will happen, but that ultimately there's a backstop role for the minister. The minister can refuse a medical transfer based on security advice. That's the approach we have consistently taken. That's the approach we'll be pursuing in the Parliament. When I’m out there speaking with constituents on street stalls, that’s the approach that they believe is appropriate. Let's get people off Manus and Nauru - there shouldn't be people still languishing there five years on. Peter Dutton only has himself to blame for failing to tackle this issue earlier.
NICHOLSON: There have been security concerns raised about this bill. Is Bill Shorten seeking further security advice on this and doesn't that indicate that he's not quite sure about it yet?
LEIGH: Bill Shorten's been visiting victims of natural disaster in Townsville and Huonville this week. He's been working extraordinarily hard and he’ll accept those security briefings. But what's important about this is that we ensure that the Minister has the security role to say no to any individual transfer, but that the onus is on the minister to say no. The assumption is that if the doctors say someone needs to be transferred, they are transferred. And again, this pickle is one of the Government's own making. They should've been working with other countries on third country resettlement. They should have taken up New Zealand's offer to move people off Manus and Nauru. People should not be languishing in these facilities at all, but at the very least if they need medical attention, then the assumption should be that they come to Australia with a backstop that if the minister has an adverse security clearance they can say no in those circumstances.
NICHOLSON: But if Bill Shorten hasn't had that security briefing yet - as you say, he's been visiting flood ravaged areas - then is he quite ready for it to face Parliament yet and give a verdict on it?
LEIGH: Bill will get the appropriate security briefings. If he hasn't had them already, he’ll be getting them very soon. But we've had extensive discussions with experts around this and our fundamental principles are those that are shared by the vast majority of Australians. Let's get people off Manus and Nauru and let's get them off now if they sick. If there's a security concern, of course we’ll hear that. The Government this week was taking ASIO advice and giving it to the press. That's not the approach that a responsible government who cares about national security should be taking. It tells you everything about the Morrison Government that they're happy to leak ASIO advice to the press rather than to take a calm, considered bipartisan approach to this important issue.
NICHOLSON: Shadow Assistant Treasurer and federal Member for Fenner Andrew Leigh, thanks for your time this morning.
LEIGH: Thank you, Johanna.
Authorised by Noah Carroll ALP Canberra.