6PR MONEYNEWS WITH KARALEE KATSAMBANIS
MONDAY, 22 MAY 2023
SUBJECTS: Designated complaints function at the ACCC, Treasury evaluation unit, and funding for ACNC.
KARALEE KATSAMBANIS (HOST): And welcome back to Money News, 133 8882 or you can send me a text 0487 999 882, as I said at the top of the show. I am delighted to be joined now by Dr Andrew Leigh who is Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury with some great new initiatives that he has introduced. Dr Leigh, good evening.
ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR COMPETITION, CHARITIES AND TREASURY ANDREW LEIGH: Good evening, Karalee, great to be with you and your listeners.
KATSAMBANIS: It is lovely. We've had you on the show a couple of times since last year. So it's always great to touch base with you. Now, one of the things that I really wanted to have you talk about is you have ‑ well, you have introduced a Designed Complaints function that's going to be introduced to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, better known as the ACCC. It's going to make it easier for consumer and small business groups, which you know there are a lot here in Western Australia, who lodge complaints about systemic issues. So can you just tell us why you have decided to introduce this?
LEIGH: Well, Karalee, this is really a pro‑consumer measure that makes sure that those peak bodies, the peak consumer groups and peak small business groups, are able to bring major issues to the competition watchdog's concern. So that might be concerns about how energy retailers are behaving, how airlines are behaving, or other companies in the economy. And if they see a systemic pattern that's a real problem they're able to bring a designated complaint, and then the competition watchdog has to come back and say how they have dealt with it. So it recognises the powerful role that these peak consumer and small business groups play in WA and across the nation in taking up those concerns and making sure they're appropriately dealt with.
KATSAMBANIS: And I would imagine, look, given us here in Western Australia, probably our biggest thing is as I said, we're probably not in the energy regulation as such but I would imagine with airlines, with Qantas, with Virgin, with other players, if there are delays here in Western Australia, you know, we're so far away from the eastern states that would probably be one of the things that this unit would deal with?
LEIGH: Absolutely. Now, Western Australians are travellers and traders, and so making sure that airlines are behaving properly is a really important issue, possibly more than people in other parts of the country. This ensures that consumers get a fair deal and that the competition watchdog is listening closely to those peak groups.
KATSAMBANIS: Let me ask you, because you hold many roles in your portfolio - you're Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury. Another area that I wanted you to have a chat about is an evaluation unit that's being funded in Treasury to sort of help save money and identify policies that actually work. What's this for? I think it's going to be around about $10 million?
LEIGH: That's right, Karalee. Before you put a new drug out on the market you've got to make sure it works. You've got to evaluate it properly and test it. But we don't do that very well with policies. Often policies are rolled out, and we saw this a lot during the former government, without proper evaluation to figure out how well it works.
The Albanese government wants to make sure that taxpayers are getting the best value for money, so that involves doing more testing of policies, making sure we've refined them and they're really hitting the mark. So an evaluation unit is going to work right across the government ‑ that might be tax policies, that might be spending policies, it might be regulation ‑ ensuring that those policies are working as intended and where they're not, we've got savings for the budget, and where they are, we're able to expand the policy. It's just simple, practical, good policy‑making.
KATSAMBANIS: It is. Some of our listeners might actually think though: but hang on a second, before a federal government puts out a policy, no matter who's in power, shouldn't a lot of this have been workshopped beforehand? Before a policy is rolled out and then maybe six months down the track something's not working then it's pulled. Shouldn't, before it goes out to market this actually be tested?
LEIGH: Yeah. I mean, certainly you have your theoretical discussions about how it might work. But let me give you one of my favourite Western Australian examples of where good evidence makes a difference. This is on the idea of robo babies or infant simulators. And the notion was if you have a robo baby that pretends to cry and pretends to need to be fed and you give that to teenage girls for a week, they'll be less likely to become teenage mothers. But it turned out that when that experiment was done in Western Australia, getting the robo babies made girls more likely to become teen mums. The policy backfired and caused the opposite effect that we expected. So it's only when you get policies out in the field, you test them rigorously, you can figure out what's working and what's not.
KATSAMBANIS: Well, from robo babies, I guess we'd better go and look at another part of your portfolio: the charity regulator. Now, as I said, we had a great talk about the federal Budget last week, we had a live studio panel, and, of course, you get to be able to implement a lot of this stuff. The charity regulator, now that's getting some funding and there's also going to be some legal changes to enable it to be more transparent. Explain more how that's going to work?
LEIGH: Yes, that's right. Since we've come to office, we've ended the Liberals’ war on charities. We've aimed to engage with the charitable sector. Now, the head of the charities commission is now Sue Woodward, and she’s well respected right across the sector. And the Albanese Government is keen to ensure that there's more transparency around the sector.
A part of that is making sure that where there is a public interest, that the charities regulator is able to let people know whether it's conducting inquiries. Now, this might be a high profile charity scandal, where right now the charities commission really isn't able to say anything; it's hamstrung in its ability to keep the public updated. Now we'll be able to offer more information in exceptional circumstances where the public interest warrants it.
I think that's good for charities because no charity wants scandals to be rolling unchecked, and no charity wants a regulator which can't speak out and keep the public apprised.
KATSAMBANIS: Now, Dr Leigh, I had the pleasure of getting to know you in my other role, and I know how hard you worked when you were in opposition prior to becoming the Minister. I probably should have segued this before my last question ‑ from robo babies to one of your babies: multi‑national tax measures. You were red hot on this from word go, and there are going to be some ‑ some new measures that are being put in place?
LEIGH: That's right. We're implementing an international agreement which has set a floor under company tax. So for too long, Karalee, as you know, there has been this race to the bottom on company tax around the world, with some countries just getting rid of company tax altogether. That then means that there's more pressure placed on countries like Australia that derive revenue from the company tax. What this international agreement does is it says the race stops at 15%. And so if a country isn't applying a 15% minimum tax rate then other countries can put in top‑up taxes. That ensures that we save the company tax for the long‑term. If we didn't do that, then individuals would have to pay more. So this is about securing the tax base, and it also ensures a level playing field between multinationals and smaller firms.
KATSAMBANIS: And it allows Australia to apply a top‑up tax on a resident multi‑national parent or subsidiary company where the group's income is taxed below 15% overseas?
LEIGH: That's right. And so what these domestic minimum top‑up taxes ensure is that tax is paid here in Australia if it should have been paid overseas. So we're working with other countries. The business sector has been extensively consulted on this, and they understand the importance of saving the company tax. We recognise that Western Australian firms pay considerable amounts of company tax, and those significant corporate taxpayers don't want to see a race to the bottom elsewhere because they understand the value that the company tax has in terms of paying for services such as ports, bridges, roads, airports, that are so critical to keep the Western Australian and Australian economies humming.
KATSAMBANIS: A last couple of questions before I let you go this evening because I know that you've got a very busy time in Canberra. Now, this is music to my ears and I think to a lot of our listeners because we do get a lot of correspondence about this, but the Australian Bureau of Statistics, from last week's federal Budget, it has received funding to improve some of its data collection and also IT security, and we know that this is a red-hot issue with Australians at the moment.
LEIGH: Yes. It’s important the Australian Bureau of Statistics gets the resources it needs. The infrastructure that was put in place to measure inflation was put in place way back in 1993, and so that's running an old system that can't be patched and we need to modernise and update it. Under the former government, the Bureau of Statistics's budget had a significant forecast funding fall. We've addressed that on the issue of inflation to make sure they've got the resources they need, and also to put out a full monthly inflation measure. That's important in a time of high inflation because if you can't measure inflation properly, it's harder to get it under control.
KATSAMBANIS: Alright, and before I let you go back to Parliament, I have to say, Dr Andrew Leigh, for 366 days you have been Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury. The year and one day has whizzed by so quickly. Tell me, how have you found your role?
LEIGH: It's been great. I got into politics in order to make a difference, Karalee, and it’s easier to do that from government than the opposition benches. I've been really proud to be working in a government that's put in place cheaper medicines and cheaper childcare, which will benefit 111,000 families across Western Australia from 1 July. A government that's taken decisive action on the health risks of vaping; and it's put in place a National Anti‑Corruption Commission.
In Question Time, I sit next to Patrick Gorman, the Member for Perth, and he was reminding me of the Mount Lawley Bowling Club who got dudded by the sports rorts scandal. That's the kind of thing we never want to see happen again. And a National Anti‑Corruption Commission puts a bit of honesty and rigour back in politics.
KATSAMBANIS: And I guess one of the things that you'd be most proud of is the multinational tax measures?
LEIGH: Absolutely. We're acting to make sure the tax system is fairer and we've got that level playing field right across the system. But I'm proud too of the engagement with Western Australia. We're in government in large part because of the support that Western Australians gave to our federal colleagues 366 days ago. The Prime Minister has visited Western Australia 12 times and held a Cabinet meeting in Port Hedland. Western Australia is very much at the heart of our thinking about how the government should go forward as an internationally engaged government to make the most of our trading opportunities in the region and working on issues like reconciliation that I know are close to the heart of great Western Australians like Ken Wyatt.
KATSAMBANIS: Minister, thank you very much indeed for your time this evening on Money News here on 6PR as part of the Nine Radio Network.
LEIGH: A real pleasure. Thanks for the conversation, Karalee.
KATSAMBANIS: And there we go. That is Dr Andrew Leigh who is Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury. He has a lot in his portfolio. He always makes time for us.