THE BOLT REPORT - Transcript - Sunday, 6 April 2014










Subjects: WA Senate election, the Federal Budget and speeches by Glenn Stevens and Martin Parkinson; the Age Pension; Taxing multinationals; DisabilityCare; Gonksi; and Tony Abbott's Paid Parental Leave scheme.

HOST ANDREW BOLT: Tony Abbott may have dodged a bullet in yesterday's re-run Senate election in Western Australia. Both the Liberals and Labor did have swings against them, with support going instead to the big winners - the Greens and Clive Palmer's party. The Nationals are just about finished. Result? Well, it's early days in the counting but the signs are no change from the original result last year. The Liberals get three seats, Labor and the Greens one each, and the last going to Palmer. But that third Liberal seat may yet go to Labor. Joining me is Andrew Leigh, the Opposition's assistant treasury spokesman. Andrew, thank you for your time.


BOLT: There have been three elections since you've lost last year's federal election - the by-election for Kevin Rudd's seat, the Tasmanian state election and now this Senate vote. Labor went backwards each time. Why is that? And what must change?

LEIGH: Well, Andrew, as I read the results in Western Australia at the moment, we're seeing swings away from both the Liberal Party and the Labor Party. A slightly bigger swing away from the Liberal Party than from Labor. I'm still confident we'll get both Joe Bullock and Louise Pratt up, because I think they would both make excellent senators. And, you know, we have a challenge in rebuilding the party, but I'm really optimistic under Bill Shorten we'll be able to do that.

BOLT: But the fact that the vote’s gone down each time, you don't read a warning sign in that?

LEIGH: This is a very unusual by-election, Andrew. This - we've never really had a re-run of a Senate election and turn-out was always going to be a challenge. I think we've seen, possibly, the Liberal Party not getting a third Senator. If that happened, that would be the first time that happened in a quarter of a century. But we'll see as counting proceeds.

BOLT: How much do you blame yesterday's result on your lead Senate candidate, Joe Bullock, who voters learned last week had attacked his running mate, Louise Pratt, for being a lesbian of the left, and told a meeting that the working class can't trust Labor?

LEIGH: I think Joe is a passionate warrior for the Labor cause. He is somebody who has had the interests of working people close to his heart throughout his career. So, I think this was an issue fought mostly over Tony Abbott's secret cuts rather than over particular personalities of certain candidates.

BOLT: Well, this is the gentleman in you talking, of course, Andrew, but I tell you what, if Tony Abbott had said that about a lesbian candidate, Labor would have had his guts for garters as a homophobe. How come you’re so - is Labor going to do any of this to Bullock?

LEIGH: Andrew, I'm not sure that there's great value in raking over issues that have been covered a lot in the media over the course of this week. These are two strong Labor candidates who are united in their view that Tony Abbott shouldn't be allowed to do the same slash and burn nationwide that Colin Barnett’s done in Western Australia. You know, that cutting back of investment in the productive potential of the nation really worries me.

BOLT: Can we talk about the nation's finances? Treasury Secretary Martin Parkinson warned this week that a decade from now we'll each earn on average $13,000 a year less than what was once expected. Now, we're just not getting richer as fast as we used to. Now, you're a former economics professor. How much trouble are we in?

LEIGH: Andrew, I think it's important to look at these things from an international perspective. Australia over the last half-decade has fared very, very well. Coming through with an economy that's about a sixth larger than it was at the start of the global financial crisis, keeping unemployment below 6% right through the Labor period, and having net debt levels which were around a tenth of our GDP, well below the average for most developed countries. So on the fundamentals, we're very strong. But, of course, we need to keep on reforming and I thought the point of Martin Parkinson's speech was how important it is to keep on investing in productivity, making sure that we're open, that we're investing in skills and education and in infrastructure.

BOLT: Well, one problem that Martin Parkinson did point out - we're getting older as a country. And he warns that pensions will go up over the decade by nearly $40 billion a year. I mean, that's clearly unaffordable. Do we need to raise the pension age again to, say, 70?

LEIGH: Andrew, it's a good question and it does get raised from time to time. My concern is that the pension was put in place to reduce poverty among older Australians and I'm worried by any proposal that sees the pension do less to reduce poverty among older Australians. We know that for people in jobs like the ones that you or I do, that the physical condition of your body may not matter too much. But if you're a blue-collar worker, then the idea of saying that, "Well, white-collar workers can get their super at age 60. You have to wait until age 70. Keep on working as a cleaner or a factory hand ‘til 70", seems pretty rough to me. And again, we know that-

BOLT: But still, it’s a - $40 billion is a lot, Andrew. I mean, you've got to say, "We just can't afford that," I would have thought.

LEIGH: Well, Andrew, government is all about values and priorities and the question is do you want to stop Australians on the verge of poverty from accessing the pension so you can put in place a parental leave scheme that gives $75,000 to affluent women who have a baby? I think you called it welfarism in your critique of the government's parental leave scheme, and I think you're right. I don't think that is a good use of public finances.

BOLT: Well, another problem that Parkinson identified, there's a massive spending boom under the Rudd government, particularly, that still hasn't been wound back and the Reserve Bank Governor Glenn Stevens this week agreed that the money just isn't there to pay for the promises, the hand-outs, from the - offered at the last election. Have a listen to Glenn Stevens this week.

GLENN STEVENS, RESERVE BANK GOVERNOR: Put very simply, there are things that we want to do, good things that we want to do as a society, things that we voted for, that are not fully funded by the taxes we'll be paying over the medium term.

BOLT: Is Glenn Stevens right? Are those promises not paid for?

LEIGH: We laid out very clearly, Andrew, in the - our Budgets and then confirmed by the pre-election outlook from the secretaries of Treasury and Finance where the money would be coming from and how the Budget would return to surplus in 2016/17. It doesn't get a lot of play, but Joe Hockey’s actually managed to double the deficit since coming to office. Through a series of decisions like giving $9 billion to the Reserve Bank, that they didn’t ask for, going soft on multinationals, which means that they're allowing them to exploit loopholes to avoid tax, and that's to the tune of nearly a billion dollars.

BOLT: But that’s – that’s right, Andrew. Or, well, that's your argument. But I want to go back to this. Glenn Stevens and Martin Parkinson are talking about an explosion in spending under Labor. They say the promises are not paid for that were made in the election. That includes big ones that you had - the NDIS and the Gonski reforms. Who's right? You said that they were paid for. You just heard Glenn Stevens say they weren't.

LEIGH: Well, Andrew, if you cut into the revenue base, as the government has done since coming to office, then things like DisabilityCare and schools are then placed in jeopardy. But under Labor, we showed not only a return to surplus by 2016/17, but we also showed 10-year projections as to how our schools reform and DisabilityCare were paid for.

BOLT: But these guys are saying – these guys are saying the money isn't there for all that. That’s what I’m saying. They're saying you had the ageing population, you’ve got the fall in productivity growth, you’ve got this explosion in spending. Something has got to give. The tax base is eroding. And you guys went to the last election promising huge new welfare schemes that these guys say aren't paid for.

LEIGH: Well, Andrew, I don't think I would call DisabilityCare, a scheme that makes sure that someone with a profound disability gets to have more than one shower a week, a welfare scheme. It seems like that ought to be a right of being an Australian. And what-

BOLT: We're with you, Andrew. We're with you. No-one is arguing that good things need to be done for people in need.

LEIGH: Right.

BOLT: What I am saying is that you've gone to the last election promising huge spending. The money isn't there. You're hearing it from the nation's senior economics officials.

LEIGH: Well, Andrew, what they're responding to is the reality of a government which is already hacking into the revenue base, giving money back to multinationals, getting rid of mining tax and the carbon price, the effect of which is to take billions of dollars out of the public's finances. And the point that Martin and Glenn are making is that once you have done that, then you do face a fiscal challenge. And I think the right thing in that environment is to say, “Well, maybe we ought to be asking multinationals to pay a little bit more tax by closing out loopholes that allow them to use debt instruments to avoid tax. And maybe the Prime Minister ought to re-think his gold-plated, diamond-encrusted parental leave scheme that gives the most to those who have the most.”

BOLT: Andrew, look, on that one I do agree with you.

LEIGH: These are the-

BOLT: But I just think maybe Labor needs to talk about bigger spending cuts too. But look, I really thank you for coming on.

LEIGH: Thank you, Andrew, I appreciate it.

BOLT: Coming up – the West Australian election. Labor does badly, but Liberals – well, we’re not sure. The panel is next.


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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.