ABC NEWS 24 Interview - Thursday 6 February 2014

This afternoon I joined ABC News 24 host, Greg Jennett, to discuss a speech at the Lowy Institute delivered by Treasurer Joe Hockey today. Mr Hockey used the occassion to again trot out platitudes about the end of  ‘age of entitlement’ but showed he had no economic plan except cuts that will disproportionately hurt low and middle income Australians. Here's the transcript:



SUBJECT/S: Ford jobs; Entitlements; G20.

GREG JENNETT: Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Andrew Leigh, has been listening to that [Joe Hockey’s] speech. He joins me now.


JENNETT: Thanks for coming in. Let's start first of all with the issue of Ford. Closures were announced or an intention of them last year. This will come as an extra blow to workers there?

LEIGH: As I understand it, we haven't had a formal announcement yet but certainly we’ve had some pretty dark days for jobs under this government, whether they’re Holden jobs that the Government goaded to leave or some of the other manufacturing jobs we've seen put in jeopardy by the Government's decisions around SPC. So, it would be a concern and I think adds to uncertainty about Australia's employment position at a time where clearly the Government is going to struggle to meet its own jobs target.

JENNETT: Was there enough flexibility within the package that the negotiated around that time last year to roll with these sort of developments and make sure that the workers are retrained and protected in some way?

LEIGH: Absolutely. The Gillard Government's focus was always on making sure that we provided smart industry assistance that was focused on workers, and made sure that the workers skilled up because automotive production is more technologically demanding now than it’s ever been before.

JENNETT: OK, well let's go to the speech now. As I say, Australia is about the ascendancy in the G20 and the theme of that Joe Hockey speech today seemed to be about Australia leading by example on the fiscal front. He is trying to build a continuity in messages domestically and internationally. That’s fair enough, isn't it?

LEIGH: I think ‘age of entitlement’ is a lovely slogan and you've got to give the Government that, they do very well on Madison Avenue type slogans. But he does struggle in execution. Before coming to office, Joe Hockey would rail against modest means testing such as of the private health insurance rebate. When we made some minor changes to the Baby Bonus once, I remember Joe Hockey comparing them to China's one-child policy.

JENNETT: But it's pretty clear there is a strong intention to follow through, not just to reduce this to what you would call a slogan. That's what Commission of Audit is all about, isn't it?

LEIGH: Well, I think the real message is,when Joe Hockey talks about the age of entitlement comes to an end, he is talking about the bottom and the middle, not the top. In fact, for the top there is a new age for entitlement just around the corner, in the form of scrapping the carbon price, getting rid of the mining tax, a huge tax cut to mining billionaires and putting in place a parental leave scheme that would pay some of the most affluent families $75 000 when they had a baby. If that's not ‘age of entitlement’, I don't know what is.

JENNETT: But is it not the case that the rest of the world would do well to follow the Australian example, even if not through the May budget process, generally our fiscal position is in better shape than so many others of those developed countries at the G20?

LEIGH: It is absolutely right that Australia's fiscal numbers are good by developed countries' standards. Our debt levels about a tenth of GDP, where many of other countries have 100% or more of GDP. But the choices need to be made in a way which ensures that the burden is evenly shared. When you've got a government that is taking away money from kids on their first day of school so they can give it to some of the richest mining billionaires in the world, that strikes me as being out of touch with Australian values.

JENNETT: What about which the other purposes of the G20 which are of course to solve global problems, multi-national tax arrangements by big corporates, is that something you would expect Joe Hockey to be leading on in Sydney?

LEIGH: It is an important issue and it's one we’ve heard the Government talking about. This is an agenda started very much by Wayne Swan and particularly David Bradbury in office, dealing with the tax shifting by multinational companies. But while the Government has again talked a big game, we've only seen watering down of the reforms. There are reports they’re going to water down Labor's transparency reforms which would see large companies publish their tax paid, so we could see whether they were paying tax. And the removal of a $700 million loophole closing that Labor had which again means that’s $700 million that has to be made up by low and middle-income families…

JENNETT: Alright. We'll get to watch how that plays out at the later G20 finance ministers' meeting later this month, but for now, Shadow Assistant Andrew Leigh, thanks for coming in.

LEIGH: Thank you Greg.

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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.