Breaking Politics - Transcript - Monday, 17 February 2014

Today I joined Chris Hammer, host of Fairfax Media's Breaking Politics, for a wide-ranging discussion about this morning's news including the upcoming meeting of G20 finance ministers in Sydney. Labor hopes Joe Hockey will use the meeting to tackle multinational profit shifting in order to maintain Australia's tax base.


SUBJECT/S: Fairfax-Nielsen poll; unemployment; farmers’ assistance; G20 Finance Ministers; IMF report and the economy.

CHRIS HAMMER: By any measure last week was not a good one for the Government. On Monday Toyota announced it was going to no longer going to make cars in Australia and by Thursday unemployment figures were out showing that the jobless rate at increased to six per cent, the highest rate in a decade. And yet when Nielson polled voters between Thursday and Saturday last week the results were very good for the Government. On the two-party preferred vote, the Government is leading 52 to 48 per cent, that's the Government up four point, the Opposition down four points from last November. And perhaps most worrying of all for the Labor Party, Bill Shorten's approval rating is down a full 11 per cent to 40 per cent. To discuss the poll and other matters, I'm joined by Andrew Leigh, the Shadow Assistant Treasurer and Member for Fraser in the ACT.

Andrew, why is Labor not doing better in the polls?

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Chris, I would expect the polls to jump around like a healthy ECG for the best part of the next three years. I'd say that political discourse wouldn't be damaged if we are to leave the polls on page 17 where they belong. That's an argument I'll make when Labor's up and when Labor's down in the polls. Fundamentally we need to be concerned about economic figures, such as the jobs figures. These new job figures that have come out not only show that unemployment is at an 11 year low, but also show that the participation rate is at an eight year-low. So, many people are giving up looking for work and the loss in the full-time jobs has just been staggering: one every three minutes since the Government came to office and I think, leaving many Australians saying 'this is a Government without a plan for jobs creation' in the wake of some significant manufacturing job losses.

HAMMER: And yet the tough line as expressed by Treasurer Joe Hockey, that narrative does seem to be appealing to voters in giving the Government a tick.

LEIGH: I think what voters want from Mr Hockey is a sense that he has a long run vision for Australia. That he has a sense of where the jobs of the future are coming from and that he is willing to make the smart investments to get there. Scrapping a mining tax and putting your head in the sand on climate change aren't smart investments. Going back to copper, the great technological breakthrough of the early 20th century to deliver your broadband, well that's not a smart investment either, as your viewers will know when they watch guests on bad broadband connecting into Breaking Politics.

HAMMER: Why is Bill Shorten's approval rating dropped so much? Is that because of his association with the trade union movement?

LEIGH: I'd expect you'd see these figures going up and down over the next few years –

HAMMER: An eleven-point drop, that's not a usual statistical shift is it?

LEIGH: You'll see these numbers moving around. Certainly from Labor's side, we're not resiling from the fact that we will be fighting for better paying jobs and more of them for Australians. We don't believe that the road to prosperity for Australia is through lowering wages and cutting penalty rates. We think it's through a high-skill and high wage approach where people are paid appropriately because they are among the most talented workers in the world. That means you've got to get into education. You've got to trades training, you've got to get the schools system humming. You've got to make sure that everyone who wants to get to university can get there and that the vocational training system is linked into employers. That's the secret to prosperity Chris.

HAMMER: Okay. Now, Tony Abbott's been out and about on the weekend visiting flood affected areas. Does the Government need to move more quickly in giving assistance to drought-hit farmers?

LEIGH: It would have been good to see a farm household assistance bill in the Parliament last week. The House of Representatives as essentially been presented with no substantive legislation by the Government at the moment. We were debating a Bill to do with the fiscal stimulus whose total impact on the budget was $250,000.

HAMMER: So, what should the Government be announcing for drought assistance?

LEIGH: Labor's happy to work with the Government on constructing an appropriate package. The Farm Finance package that we put through in Government provided smart assistance. You've obviously got to make sure that what you're doing is helping out people in the times of need while also encouraging farmers to do what they can to plan for lean times. Our reforms aimed to get that balance right under Joel Fitzgibbon.

HAMMER: Now, the Government says farmers deserve Government assistance because they've been hit by a natural disaster which affects an otherwise viable business. Could not the same case be made for manufacturing? It's been hit, if you like, by an unusual disaster in the high Australian dollar.

LEIGH: The view that Labor took was that targeted assistance can sometimes be appropriate. We don't argue that it ought to be the norm. It's a special case. But in the instance of manufacturing, that perfect storm of a high Australian dollar for a number of years and the benefits that manufacturing brings right through the automotive components stream did argue the case for some targeted assistance there. But what you need is collaborative work across party lines and what you're getting instead is Barnaby Joyce floating thought bubbles on front-pages of papers. I mean he was out on the front pages of the paper when we spoke a fortnight ago, floating a $7 billion assistance package. This simply just leaves people with a sense of uncertainty. In the same way as the thought-bubbles around Qantas are leaving the airline industry with a sense of they're just not quite sure where the Government is coming from. Do the hard work, speak collaboratively with the Opposition and we'll back in good policy.

HAMMER: Now the G20 Finance Ministers are meeting in Sydney this week. The IMF has come out with a report saying that Government debt isn't necessarily a brake on growth. Does Joe Hockey need to step back a little bit from an obsession with debt and getting the budget deficit under control?

LEIGH: The G20 Finance Ministers meeting in Sydney is a once-in-a-decade opportunity. So, it’s a great chance to showcase Australia at our best. I'd like to see Mr Hockey talking about the optimistic picture for the Australian economy recognising as the IMF has that government debt of a tenth of GDP is in no way a brake on growth. Also, recognising as Christine Lagarde has done, a conservative head of a conservative institution, has sent a message to our conservative Prime Minister that a price on carbon pollution is a smart way of dealing with dangerous climate change. Finance ministers around the world are scratching their heads that Australia would move away from the effective, economical way of dealing with climate change through a carbon price to an ineffective, expensive strategy. And, they'll also be coming here to hear about strategies to deal with multinational profit shifting, something that Labor, through David Bradbury, really tackled in office but which the Coalition has begun to crab-walk away from.

HAMMER: Okay. You mention that Joe Hockey should be delivering an optimistic message about the Australian economy. The last week with manufacturing businesses closing, the whole debate about SPC Ardmona, there is a fairly grim look at the Australian economy. Do you think that's accurate or do you think there actually is a promising near-future for the economy?

LEIGH: It's a good question Chris. I'm concerned about the labour market but I'm optimistic about Australia's macroeconomic position. I think our location in the Asian time zone at this period of history is a great strength for us. I think the debt that we have, albeit that has been blown out since the Coalition came to office, is manageable and was an appropriate response to the global financial crisis. And I think trash-talking the economy by a Treasurer is ultimately risky. As Ross Gittins has pointed out, treasurers have the ability to affect consumer and business confidence and they shouldn’t want to drive it down unnecessarily.

HAMMER: Okay. Andrew Leigh, thanks very much for your time.

LEIGH: Thank you Chris.


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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.