MONDAY, 2 MAY 2016
SUBJECTS: Turnbull Government's plan for the election, not the economy; Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison hope Australians have collective amnesia; Labor’s plan for the economy and tax; superannuation; multinational tax; company tax cuts; income tax cuts; infrastructure
CHRIS BOWEN, SHADOW TREASURER: Thanks everybody. After more than six months of telling the Australian people that they had an economics plan, Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison are now telling us they’ll get around to announcing the economic plan tomorrow night. They haven’t had a plan. They had a plan to knock off Tony Abbott, but they had little idea about what to do next. We’ve seen six months of thought bubbles, half-baked ideas, policies which have lasted less than 24 hours, and now, Scott Morrison expects the Australian people to believe that he’s got it all together for tomorrow night.
Tomorrow night’s Budget will be an election document, not an economic document. Tomorrow night’s Budget is an attempted alibi for the last three years.
Tomorrow night Malcom Turnbull and Scott Morrison will try and convince the Australian people that, actually, the last three years didn't happen. That their attacks on schools and hospitals will be reversed. That their attacks on the retirement incomes of low income earners will somehow be reversed. Tomorrow night, Scott Morrison will ask to be trusted on all the things that Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull, Joe Hockey and he have attacked over the last three years.
The Australian people will see through this cynical ploy. The Australian people have watched for the last three years. The Australian people have watched Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull attack there cost of living. They've watched the chaos and dysfunction of the last six months, a Prime Minister who has a Treasurer who is simply not up to the job of being the economic Minister of a G20 economy.
The Labor party on the other hand has lead the policy debate. Tomorrow night we will see Scott Morrison proudly announce policies he has attacked for years. Tomorrow night will see Scott Morrison announce changes to high income superannuation, which he said was an attack on the retirement incomes of all Australians he said he’d never do. Tomorrow night he’ll announce increase in the tobacco excise, which the Liberals attacked. Tomorrow night, they’ll announce some sort of multinational tax policy, potentially very similar to the one which they said would destroy jobs when Bill Shorten, Andrew Leigh and I announced it last February – last February, not February 2016; February 2015.
Again, if Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison want to run an election campaign based on a debate on Labor’s policy, we’re all for it. We’re all for it because our policies have stood the test. We haven’t had to announce policies and walk away from them 24 hours later. We haven’t announced bold reforms to federation and then been humiliated before the end of the week. What we’ve done, what our economic team have done – what I, Tony Burke, Andrew Leigh, and Jim Chalmers have done – is lay out sensible policies which have been thought through and which have lead the debate. Tomorrow night we will see Scott Morrison reduced to adopting some of those policies and running scare campaigns on the ones that he can’t find the courage to adopt.
On the weekend, of course, we continue to lead the policy debate announcing the next stage of our tax transparency measures.
I’m going to ask the Shadow Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh just to say a few brief remarks about those, and then we’re happy to take your questions.
ANDREW LEIGH SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Thanks very much Chris. We know - as a result of Labor’s transparency measures – that one in four Australian companies pay no tax. And according to our tax commissioner, Chris Jordan, the Australian tax system is under fire from multinationals. You’d think Malcolm Turnbull would take that seriously. Malcolm Turnbull is such a ditherer when it comes to doing anything for low income Australians. When it comes to fighting for the big end of town, he is quicker out of the box than Usain Bolt. He has been out there opposing sensible Labor measures in order to improve transparency and make multinationals pay their fair share. In the parliament and outside parliament, fear-mongering against Labor's $7 billion plan that closes debt deduction loopholes and improves our ability to pay for the schools and hospitals that Australians demand.
The measures we are announcing today go to the core issue of tax transparency. Labor proposes to bring down the threshold of tax transparency for large private firms from $200 million, where it was set by a dodgy deal between the Liberals and the Greens last year, back down to $100 million.
We also believe there need to be tougher penalties. Under Malcolm Turnbull's laws, a big firm that doesn't file its country-by-country accounts, pays a maximum fine of $5,400. That is a smaller fine than you get for streaking across the SCG. Labor believes that we need to take a serious approach to multinationals who don't play by the rules. We are proposing a fifty-fold increase on that penalty - to $270,000, and triggering an automatic audit if firms don't do the right thing.
Third, we are proposing a register of the beneficial ownership of Australian companies and trusts, so we have clear transparency as to who owns what. This is work that flows out of the 2014 G20 meetings - work on which the Australian government has been terrible slow. So if you want a party that's going to be tough on Medicare, well that will be the Liberals. If you want a party that is going to be tough on multinationals, that's the Labor party.
We’re happy to take your questions.
JOURNALIST: Mr Bowen, you said this will be an election fought on Labor’s policies, last year in his Budget reply address, Mr Shorten set an aspiration of cutting company tax rate for small business to 25 per cent over the lifetime of this parliament, if there’s something in this budget similar to that will Labor support that even though you’ve said no company tax cuts?
BOWEN: Well last year Bill outlined an approach in which he said we’re prepared to be bipartisan with the Government if a proper proposal came forward, now we’ve made it clear that we don’t see with all the Budget pressures, with all the cuts to health and education, the case for corporate tax cuts for large companies in this Budget. As it relates to other initiatives, we will wait and see the detail. Let me make this clear; where the Government adopts Labor’s policy agenda we will back them. Where they have adopted our policies, of course we will support that. I noticed that the Treasurer even as late as this morning, wouldn’t confirm speculation about his policies. In fairness, if he won’t confirm the speculation, I won’t confirm Labor’s position on the policies, we’ll wait and see the detail.
JOURNALIST: Does that remain a policy aspiration for Labor?
BOWEN: Well everyone would like to see tax lower than higher, of course everyone would like to see that, but it’s about values and priorities. And when you’ve got a Budget deficit that has doubled under this government’s watch, you’ve got the AAA credit rating under pressure, you’ve got cuts to health and education, you’ve got this Government saying, in the past, that aged pension has to be cut. It’s about priorities, we have a different set of priorities.
JOURNALIST: The Government looks like it’s going to give some relief to bracket creep around the $80,000 mark – is that something that Labor will back in by the end of the week?
BOWEN: Again, we’ll wait and see. The Treasurer has gotten himself in all sorts of bother about whether $80,000 is the average wage or not. The fact of the matter is the vast majority of Australian’s miss out on a tax cut which cut in at $80,000. We will wait and see the detail. We will have a proper and thorough consideration through our expenditure review committee process of any proposals from the government, and we will judge it on its policy merits.
JOURNALIST: What do you see under an incoming [inaudible] how many people will miss out on it?
BOWEN: The median income in Australia is about $64,000 and the average income of all wage earners is about $60,000. About 75 per cent of income earners would miss out on a tax cut which came in at $80,000. The Treasure appears unaware of that.
JOURNALIST: If you are trying to attack bracket creep, those people would be approaching the $80,000 to go into a new bracket anyway, so...
BOWEN: Well the Treasurer has launched a moral crusade on bracket creep in the past, he said there would be a big sweeping tax cuts – I'll remind you of that. Now it appears that we might get more akin to the famous ‘milkshake and hamburger’ tax cuts, we will wait and see.
I mean you know with due respect if you asked us to respond in detail to every policy of the government, we would have responded by now to increases in the GST, big corporate tax cuts, personal income tax – big cuts, changes to, we're never ever changing the superannuation tax treatment, these have all been positions the Government has advanced over the last six months and of course including state income tax cuts, state income taxes – all of which have evaporated. Tomorrow night we might actually see a little bit of detail, a little bit of concrete policy and we will respond to those when we see them.
JOURNALIST: Have you been seriously contemplating giving back income tax cuts given people are being given a real cut in fuel prices and things?
BOWEN: It's the government which is allegedly proposing this, we will wait and see the details. And Phil I can't let it go without commenting on your blues tie, and it's a very fine tie and I couldn't resist wearing my Giants tie today in celebration of our massive win over the Hawks yesterday.
JOURNALIST: Could you see Labor passing any type of tax cut by the end of the week?
BOWEN: Well, you know Scott Morrison couldn't answer questions this morning about the legislative approach, when they've put the legislation in. We've made our position clear on the appropriations and supply as you would expect as the responsible Opposition. Again, if Scott Morrison can't outline a process, we'll wait and see the process before responding in detail.
JOURNALIST: Would you support increased spending in the Immigration budget considering the uncertainty over Manus Island?
BOWEN: Well, the Immigration budget, in fairness, is normally set based on need, in terms of the costs of running on and offshore detention. It's not based on anything other than what the Department of Immigration advises they need to run the system. I would trust and hope that is the situation and the government's approach [inaudible] this.
JOURNALIST: In terms of infrastructure, just lastly, the government is saying $5 billion will go to infrastructure in the Budget, some of that for seats in your area. Surely infrastructure is a good thing?
BOWEN: We had the launch of a major cities policy last week which was a joke. It was a pale imitation of Labor's policy, when we were told that $10 million was going to fix the problem. Now we're told we need this massive injection funds including some projects which the Victorian State Government funded last week. This is an area we have set the agenda.
We announced an infrastructure funding package last year. Innovative measures, including improvements to the operation and independence of Infrastructure Australia. These are areas where we have outlined detailed policies and Malcolm Turnbull is paying desperate catch up.