On 29 July, I spoke with host Kieran Gilbert and Liberal Senator Mitch Fifield to discuss the government's responsible economic management, the Opposition's refusal to submit policies for costing, and the whether opinion polls have any value.
TOPICS: Budget challenges, Coalition costings, election date
Note: Due to time constraints, contributions from Mitch Fifield have not been transcribed.
Kieran Gilbert: This is AM Agenda, thanks very much for your company. With me now, Liberal frontbencher Senator Mitch Fifield and Labor MP, Andrew Leigh. Good morning to you both. Andrew, I want to start with you, with this pre-election economic statement. The cabinet meets today; Mr Bowen has reiterated the government’s commitment to return to surplus in 2016-17. If you are to do that, given the various reports about revenue write-downs, further revenue write-downs, even since the May budget, you really do have that balancing act between making cuts which could hurt growth and staying on that trajectory for a credible path to return to surplus.
Andrew Leigh: It’s a challenging time for the economy Kieran, you’re absolutely right about that, and we’re seeing the transition from that huge investment period in the mining boom which involved so many jobs in the construction phase, and now to a production phase where the amount of stuff we dig out of the ground and ship overseas will probably even go up, but the amount of jobs decreases because you’ve got a lot of the construction done. But with the dollar having come down a bit, that’s I think given manufacturers a bit of breathing space, and we’ll be looking to craft a set of policies that allow for that transition.
Kieran Gilbert: But in terms of making cuts so close to an election, that’s the difficult political balancing act here isn’t it?
Andrew Leigh: We’ll make responsible savings as we have in the past Kieran. I think you would have seen in the past things like means testing the private health insurance rebate, phasing out the old dependent spouse tax offset which paid people not to work…
Kieran Gilbert: The fringe benefits tax changes…
Andrew Leigh: I was just about to say the fringe benefit tax changes.
Kieran Gilbert: Which where there was quite a backlash is the point isn’t there?
Andrew Leigh: But I mean these are never easy decisions Kieran. I’ve just picked three that were opposed by the Coalition, but ultimately the reason that you make these savings is because we have to make sure that the tax system is serving people as well as it can, and a broadly based tax system makes sure we all pay our way. I just don’t think the FBT loophole was sustainable.
Kieran Gilbert: Andrew Leigh, Joe Hockey told me on this program on Friday that the Coalition will provide fully costed policies. He has said that they’ve been in consultation with the budget, parliamentary budget office, state governments where necessary. They’ve had full consultation on their costings. He did raise some concerns about the government’s pre-election statement and the subsequent pre-election fiscal outlook from Treasury. That’s fair enough isn’t it, given that he has said, regardless, he will have fully costed, transparent policies out there well in time for the election?
Andrew Leigh: Kieran, I’ll believe it when I see it. I think this is absolutely vital that we have a discussion about our contested set of policies. You will see Labor’s in the budgets and in the budget updates, and you’ll see us making hard decisions. To put some facts in response to what Mitch said, we have managed to cut real government spending, something the Howard government never did. But you’ve also seen from the Coalition now, a backing away from an earlier promise to put out their policies when the Pre-Election Fiscal Outlook was released. That’s worrying because at the last election, we saw the Coalition just do costings based on a team of accountants who were later fined for professional misconduct. So, given the $11 billion hole in the Coalition’s costings last time, given that they themselves have said they’re $70 billion back, we know they have to put in place some pretty stringent cuts just to pay for their, for example, tax cuts to big miners and big polluters. So we need from the Coalition now, more than ever, a commitment to transparency, we need them to come clear with policies. We still don’t have a health policy or an education policy from the Coalition, and we need them to do a little bit less bashing of senior public servants and a little bit more creative policy making. Because frankly, policy is generally made best in the open light of public gaze, rather than in back rooms, and then thrown out at two minutes to the election.
Kieran Gilbert: Andrew Leigh, I know that, and our viewers who watch this program regularly, would know that you don’t engage on the opinion polls. You never have throughout the years that you and I have discussed, you know, have been on this program, but you look at the polling in the last couple of days and Labor’s primary vote at 40. When does it become a predictable quantity in your view? Or do they not have any predictable worth at all?
Andrew Leigh: Kieran, you’d be completely right to slap me around the face with your iPad if the moment the polls started turning for Labor, I started saying you can believe them when I’d been saying the opposite previously.
Kieran Gilbert: No violence. There’s no violence on AM Agenda.
Andrew Leigh: Well that’s nice to hear. That’s good, but you know, I don’t rate the polls because I think they distract us from the sort of policy issues that Mitch and I care about a great deal. I do think if the Coalition’s keen on an early election, one way of advancing their cause would be to bring on their policies. If you want an early election, then bring out your health policy, bring out your education policy and bring your cuts out of witness protection.
Kieran Gilbert: Well I think both of you won’t have to wait too much longer on both those fronts, the election date or the policies. Andrew Leigh and Senator Fifield, thanks so much as always. Good to see you.
Andrew Leigh: Thanks Kieran, thanks Mitch.
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