MONDAY, 20 MAY 2019
SUBJECT: The federal election results.
JOURNALIST: Andrew Leigh did say that throughout the campaign, Fenner constituents were talking to him about climate change, about house prices and wages, schools and hospital funding and public service cuts. So I asked him how he intends to prosecute all of the views of his constituents from opposition.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Forcefully. We thought it was going to be 1983, it turned out to be 1980 and it's a reminder that the moments for progressive change come along fairly rarely, which is perhaps why the conservative side of politics has been in office more of the post-war period than the progressive side. The burden on those arguing change is always higher and it's the Labor Party that's the party of reform and change. So we took an ambitious package to the electorate, carefully costed, stacked up, work done.
We had been a united team - we are a united team - around those set of policies, but we were asking for change and I think there was a push back towards the status quo from a Government that really didn't have much of an agenda of its own so chose to make the election a referendum about Labor's positive plan. And a Government that chose to run some pretty atrocious scare campaigns - those black signs and black trucks by the side of the road certainly didn't affect Canberrans, but that kind of nasty negative lying campaigning had an impact in the rest of the country.
JOURNALIST: I mean, it worked. They won. But when you talk there about that broad agenda, certainly Labor put that out a long time in advance. You've spent a lot of time talking about it, particularly some of those proposed economic reforms around taxation. As Assistant Shadow Treasurer, clearly you were a key voice in advocating that change as well. Did Labor make a mistake in taking some of those policies to this election?
LEIGH: I think we made the hard decisions. I was working a lot on our multinational tax policies and Australians are pretty outraged when they see firms like Google and Facebook making billions of dollars in Australia but only paying tens of millions of dollars a tax. Only one party this election had an approach that would have dealt with the shifting of profits offshore by big multinationals.
JOURNALIST: That wasn't the only piece of taxation that you took to the public though, of course and the franking credit rebate issue was red hot, ran red hot right throughout even here in Canberra. Deep red ACT and we were seeing here now on our talkback lines and on our text lines people, self-declared Labor voters, who were saying ‘I don't understand why they are doing this, this could cost them the election’. Do you think it did in the end?
LEIGH: Well, I think it certainly had an impact. But again, we were looking to be a reformist government. You’re not able to invest in public schools and hospitals, to have a plan to expand Medicare to seniors dental, to make sure we reduce those elective and emergency surgery waiting times without having the resources able to do it. Without being able to very clearly say to Australians ‘this is where the money is coming from’. We were met though by a ferocious scare campaign from a prime minister who was an ad man before he went into Parliament and was able to focus firepower on us without being troubled by the burden that normally falls on a political party of having ideas for the future. This is a Government that's been re-elected essentially on a blank slate. We will be facing off against a bunch of ministers who have much less experience in their portfolios than the Labor frontbench team. So while we've fallen short in the election, we're not falling back from that positive vision of shaping the nation that Labor has always stood for.
JOURNALIST: On exactly that subject, Andrew Leigh - of course, re-elected at the weekend as the MP for Fenner - when you say we're not stepping back from that, we have been and we are a united team and a united team around these policy proposals, is Labor going to keep its proposals on negative gearing, franking credit rebates for example?
LEIGH: Well, we'll make those decisions collectively and working through the appropriate processes. The other team might like to just put ideas up at the last minute, as Scott Morrison did with his plan for 10,000 first home buyers on the Sunday before the election. Instead, the way Labor works as we go through our proper processes, shadow cabinet, expenditure review committee and the rest, and we'll consider all policies through that lens.
JOURNALIST: Do you think it's possible from a political point of view for Labor to continue to prosecute these policies after the weekend?
LEIGH: We’ll certainly be taking to the next election some of the policies we took to this election and doubtless we won't be taking others, and we'll make that decision collectively as we come back together as a caucus. I'm very keen though to make sure that all Labor supporters know that Labor is not suddenly going to jettison the mantle of reform. Politics isn't Coke and Pepsi. There is in Australia a reforming party in the Labor Party, that has brought about much of the big change that the nation has seen. We're not going to stop being that party of big ideas. The nation demands an answer to climate change. People want to turn our schools around, to make sure that we don't see test scores declining every time the international tests come along. People are concerned about young people being able to get into the housing market. Those challenges don't go away, Anna, because of an election result.
JOURNALIST: They don’t. But for all of those concerns and we were certainly hearing them here as well, Labor has been unable on this occasion to convince the electorate at large that you have the right answers. So do you think that this was a case of Labor not having the right policies in place and being judged on that account or did you not do a good enough job selling them?
LEIGH: We had a range of policies that I felt really resonated. So I was working on positive policies in the small business space for example, around making sure that our independent mechanics had access to the data they need to fix modern cars and that our local hotels aren't being done over by the big multinational booking platforms. Those policies resonated very strongly. We took the Australian Investment Guarantee to the business community and many business groups spoke warmly of that. And I know for those business groups that are affected by the government's emissions safeguards mechanism, they welcomed Labor's announcement that we would let them meet it with international credits.
JOURNALIST: Is this part of the problem, Andrew Leigh? I mean we've just in the course of this conversation which has lasted not even 10 minutes, we've rattled through everything from taxation reform proposals to climate change to education to health issues. Was that part of the issue for Labor, that it was a very big message possibly a confusing message for the electorate?
LEIGH: Anna, we certainly took a lot of policies to the election. But I suppose I'd put to you, what's the alternative? Does Labor effectively say to the Australian people ‘we know there's a lot of things that need to be fixed, but it's not our job to fix a bunch of them - we’ll just leave that to another generation, we’ll kick the can down the road’. That's not who we are. We did take a lot of big ideas to the electorate. Many of them resonated. We'll obviously need to work through how we craft our message and the substance of that message. But what I would say to Labor's supporters and there are - this town is a majority Labor town as it did demonstrated on the weekend's result with fantastic support for Katy Gallagher, Dave Smith and Alicia Payne. Those Labor supporters need to know that the work of reform will continue being done by the Labor team, whoever we select as leader, however we end up comprising our frontbench. We are the party of big ideas in Australia, we’re the party that built Medicare, we’re the party that built universal superannuation. We're the party that has been willing to oversee serious action on climate change. That mantle is what is one we're willing to to continue with it.
JOURNALIST: That’s Andrew Leigh, of course re-elected on the weekend.