Breaking Politics with Tim Lester - 12 August 2013

I spoke with Tim Lester on Breaking Politics today. A transcript is below.



12 AUGUST 2013


Subjects: Election campaign, First debate, NBN, Costings, Peter Beattie.

TIM LESTER: Andrew Leigh, welcome into Breaking Politics.


TIM LESTER: How’s the campaign going?

ANDREW LEIGH: I’m loving it. I was out in Amaroo, in my electorate, yesterday – door-knocking, talking to people about the National Broadband Network. One bloke said he’d just gotten it hooked up, and he was enjoying using it to have better conversations with relatives overseas. Gotta say Tim, no-one came up to me and said “the real problem with the National Broadband Network is they’ve brought the fibre all the way to my home, and I wish they’d stopped it in the cabinet down the street,” but maybe Mr Turnbull meets people like that when he doorknocks.

TIM LESTER: Funny guy. Now all of the evidence is that at least nationally Labor, not by a lot perhaps, but is losing this campaign. Do you get any of that sense in the electorate?

ANDREW LEIGH: I don’t Tim. I get a real sense of optimism, and I don’t think - even in the electorate of Fraser, people are overly focused on polls. They’re thinking about the way in which the campaign will affect them. They’re judging parties based on policies – our carefully thought out education policy, Mr Abbott’s eleventh hour conversion to say “well I’ll have what he’s having.” Our record of investing in health, and Mr Abbott’s record of taking a billion dollars out of the health care system when he was health minister. So they’re the sort of fundamental issues my electors seem to be talking about.

TIM LESTER: Last night, Prime Minister Rudd took notes into the first of the major campaign debates, which seems like a pretty straight up and down contravention of rule number 15 if you go through the rules and check them out. What do you think happened there?

ANDREW LEIGH: Tim, I have no idea what goes on in these sort of debate rules, it's a kind of arcane insiders game - but I do think that the debate saw Mr Rudd clearly lay out the challenge for Australia at a time when the economy's in transition, with the number of jobs that the mining boom created in construction now starting to taper down. You've seen our forecasts for unemployment ticking up a bit, and that means important investments in education need to be sustained if we're to manage the transition into a more services, manufacturing based economy. You saw that positive story coming through from Mr Rudd; little more than the sort of slogans you've seen right through the campaign from Mr Abbott.

TIM LESTER: Mr Rudd also tried to suggest that the Coalition in government might change the GST. He suggested also, that the Coalition was 70 billion dollars awry in terms of its costings, both of which Tony Abbott says are absolute fantasy. Don't we have to accept Mr Abbott at his word on both of those things?

ANDREW LEIGH: Well Mr Abbott and his front bench team have been clear that they're reviewing the GST. Now Tim, why do you review the GST, if not to think about raising the rate or broadening the base? Or is he seriously suggesting his reason for doing the review is to change the name, or to bring it down? I mean, let's be honest, he's doing the review with an eye to raising it in the future. Why else would you do that review? On the Coalition's costings gap, $70 billion is Mr Hockey and Mr Robb's figure and if they want to debunk it, the way to do it is to bring their policies out of witness protection. Mr Robb repeatedly says that he's got nearly 50 policies sitting in his desk drawer. He says they've got covers, you know that's lovely they've done those cute little laminated covers for them, but if they're so good for the Australian people, why are they in Mr Robb's desk drawer rather than out in the open?

TIM LESTER: Well they've got a cover to say we haven't seen the Pre-election Fiscal and Economic Outlook, the PEFO document we expect to see tomorrow. So until now it's fair to say until they've got those numbers and can digest them, why would they put out all their policies with a bottom line costing?

ANDREW LEIGH: But they've had a series of treasury updates Tim - and as Martin Parkinson, secretary of the Treasury has said, the numbers in those Treasury updates are produced using the same methodology that tomorrow's PEFO numbers were produced by. I mean the original idea that the Coalition talked about in 2010 was that the first year after the election would be consolidation, second year would be policy development, and then the third year they would be out there selling their costed policies. But here we are now, four weeks to an election with a huge costings gap in the Coalition. $70 billion means $7000 for every Australian household in either reduced services or higher taxes. The Coalition's got to come clean, tell us what they're hiding, be honest about the cuts they'll make.

TIM LESTER: Be reasonable, when would it be fair from here to expect the Coalition to have a full costing of their policies with a bottom line?

ANDREW LEIGH: Tim, I think if this had been Labor in opposition, everyone would have expected to see that six months ago. So certainly, the costed policies cannot come soon enough. Mr Abbott can't do this sort of airy hand waving "oh I've already identified savings". I mean last week he's referred to savings that he has already spent. I've sat down and gone through his savings, they total $13 billion - the same amount as his tax cut to big miners and big polluters. He doesn't have savings to spare. His company tax cut, announced last week - $5 billion policy, is an unfunded policy. That's a serious challenge for the Australian people.

TIM LESTER: He does though, have a reasonable case when he says "well we want to introduce policies so they can each be discussed and considered, spaced out over an election campaign" so inevitably costings will tend to get pushed towards the back end of an election campaign won't they?

ANDREW LEIGH: But I think Tim, that's a serious problem at a time when we've had big revenue write-downs and when the choices for politicians are tougher than ever before. I mean when you talk about 2007 with the rivers of gold coming from the Mining Boom Mark I, maybe this costings debate wasn't as apposite as it is today. But right now, you have a situation in which budgets are tight, in which tough choices have to be made. If Mr Abbott's not willing to back tough choices like means-testing the private health insurance rebate, or saying to people who want an FBT tax break "show us a bit of evidence you're using the car for business use" then he has to find other savings. It's really important that he comes through and does that for the health of our democracy. Good policy isn't produced in smoke filled back rooms, it's produced in discussion in public and the Coalition's policies will actually end up being better policies the more public debate they're exposed to.

TIM LESTER: Do you welcome the return to politics and the introduction to Federal politics of former Queensland premier Peter Beattie, and do you think he might be a future Labor leader at a Federal level?

ANDREW LEIGH: We've got a leader, and I don't think he's going anywhere Tim. Certainly Mr Beattie though, is a man whose track record should be welcomed. Under him, Queensland's unemployment rate halved. Under Campbell Newman, Queensland's unemployment rate is going back up and that's because of policy choices. Peter Beattie chose to make Queensland ‘the Smart State’, to invest in education and technology infrastructure. Federal Labor's doing just the same, but the Coalition want to take a leaf from the current Queensland premier's playbook. They want to put in place a commission of cuts. They want to put in place significant cuts to public services but they're not going to level with the Australian people before the election about what they'll be. Do you think Campbell Newman would have been as popular at the last election if he'd told the people of Queensland he was going to get rid of teachers, fire fighters, nurses, police officers? I don't think so.

TIM LESTER: Andrew Leigh, we're grateful for your time today.

ANDREW LEIGH: Thank you Tim.

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.