Doorstop interview transcript - 14 November 2013

During a doorstop interview with press gallery journalists this morning I urged the Abbott Government to justify to the Australian people why an increase in the debt cap from $300 billion to $500 billion is needed. I also acknowledged the extraordinary contribution of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd who last night announced his retirement from politics.


ANDREW LEIGH: Since it’s the first time in this new parliament doing doors, I feel as though I should acknowledge Peter Veness, whose ghost seems to still haunt politicians around this spot here. We saw the Prime Minister on 7.30 last night, very clearly saying why he needed $500 billion as the debt cap. It was because he wanted to avoid parliamentary scrutiny. There’s nothing more than that for the Government in this. They don’t need a $500 billion cap. Simply, they want it because they don’t believe that they should go back to the Parliament. It speaks to the arrogance of this Government and it speaks also to their secrecy, their unwillingness to release a budget update.

You know when the Prime Minister’s pressed because he starts to mislead the House. Yesterday when he was pressed on the issue of the debt cap, he misled the House twice. First of all saying that the Liberal Party had never voted against an increase in the debt caps and of course they had. And then saying that Labor had released the MYEFO budget update in December. Which of course we never did. The Prime Minister, if he needs $500 billion for his debt cap he needs to tell us precisely why by releasing the budget update which I suspect will tell us about the deterioration of the public finances, perhaps due to things like backtracking on cracking down on multinationals’ profit-shifting and also giving a big tax cut to mining billionaires, who I understand will be well represented in the parliament today.

JOURNALIST: Just in regards to the debt ceiling, is Labor playing a dangerous game given we’ve got the deadline of mid-December for this decision to be made?

LEIGH: Labor has been absolutely clear that we will support an increase in the debt cap to $400 billion. That will be plenty to keep the Government going now and indeed right up to peak debt which let’s not forget is projected to happen after the next election. So, if any party is playing political games here, it is the Liberal Party.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible] has indicated that there may have to be deeper cuts in the Budget in order to keep the debt below that ceiling. Would you own those cuts?|

LEIGH: That strikes me as a nonsensical argument David. We’re talking about peak debt in 2016-17 for which there would be a $30 billion buffer and Joe Hockey is saying he wants to make cuts in 2013-14. Frankly what Joe Hockey is about is he wants to tank the 2013-14 Budget because he wants that to be Labor’s Budget and he wants his books to look better in future years. But he's the Treasurer who took over a quarter of the way into the season. He's got to own the result in the finals. 

JOURNALIST: Will Labor agree to have a confidential briefing with Treasury on it?

LEIGH:  We're always happy to take briefings but fundamentally this is about releasing a regular budget update which would normally be released around this time. When we wanted to raise the debt cap by a mere $50 billion, a quarter of what Mr Abbott and Mr Hockey want to raise it by, Mr Abbott went on 2GB and said you need the ‘strongest possible arguments’ for doing that. Well that argument comes back to him, four times as strongly now. We were looking for an increase in the debt cap detailed in the Budget brought down weeks earlier. Mr Hockey and Mr Abbott have released no paperwork on why they want this increase. What other Australian would go to the bank and say, 'I'd basically like you to double my credit limit but I won't give you a single piece of paper to show you why?

JOURNALIST: Are you going to miss Kevin Rudd?

LEIGH: I will. Mr Rudd has made a great contribution to the Parliament and to the nation. I think on the world stage he strode it in the great traditions of Doc Evatt and Gareth Evans. Somebody extraordinarily knowledgeable about foreign aid. I remember an aid forum in my own electorate which was just packed out and where Kevin's performance was a tour de force. And of course the Apology, Paid Parental Leave and finally getting rid of WorkChoices, these are achievements that will stand the test of time.

JOURNALIST: Wasn't he a very divisive character for the Labor Party and could he cost more than he brought to the job? 

LEIGH: Mr Rudd was a fine Prime Minister and a great Foreign Minister, somebody who has given his all to public life and somebody whose [shown] passion for making Australia better…

JOURNALIST: You don't think there'd be people popping champagne corks last night?

LEIGH: I think people who have served in the role of Prime Minister have the right to decide when they will leave Parliament and when they will move to the next chapter of public life. And, in Mr Rudd's case, that will involve many important contributions in Australia and overseas.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it was the right time?

LEIGH: I think the timing is always a matter for the individual. If it was the right time for Kevin Rudd then it was the right time. Thanks folks.

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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.