ABC BRISBANE BREAKFAST WITH CRAIG ZONCA AND LORETTA RYAN
WEDNESDAY, 12 JULY 2023
SUBJECTS: Charity town halls, Government’s goal to double philanthropy, Speech to Australian Economists Conference, Bank branch closures.
CRAIG ZONCA (HOST): The Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury, Andrew Leigh is joining us. Guess what, he has literally just run into the studio this morning. In your running gear, Andrew Leigh, good morning to you.
ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT, COMPETITION, CHARITIES, AND TREASURY ANDREW LEIGH: Good morning, great to be with you.
LORETTA RYAN (HOST): Where have you run to and from?
LEIGH: Just along the beautiful South Bank. I’ve been going for a run with a bloke called Wayne Spies. Wayne just broke the masters world record for a race called Comrades, which is an 87‑kilometre race in South Africa, and he's currently training to take a shot at the over 50 marathon world record.
LEIGH: Amazingly quick runner. We were running at Andrew pace, not Wayne pace.
ZONCA: And is that what you do, if you're visiting a particular city, will you go for a run to experience early mornings, say like you have in Brisbane today?
LEIGH: Absolutely. Like, if you get off a plane and you go into the hotel, you don't have any sense as to where you are, but if you go for a run in the city, I feel you just sort of ground yourself a little better, and Brisbane is such a beautiful spot to run. There's nowhere else I know in Australia where you can go for a morning run and watch rock climbers.
ZONCA: On the Kangaroo Point Cliffs?
LEIGH: Go past the pool, it's a very special spot to be running along the Brisbane River.
RYAN: Did you see a few maroon jerseys out there today?
LEIGH: Absolutely, good lot of them.
ZONCA: You're here in Brisbane for a couple of things today. One is talking charities, the other is facing up to a massive conference that's happening with economists, and good morning to all the economists from around the country that are gathering here in our fair city.
On the charity front, there is this goal to double philanthropy by 2030 that your government has set, Andrew Leigh. How are you going to achieve it, because right now charities are saying they are facing unprecedented demand?
LEIGH: Charities are under huge pressure, and one of the challenges is that people are less likely to give, to volunteer, to donate and participate. That's not just a trend of the last few years, it's been going on for the last generation. We've seen Australians less likely to attend a religious service, less likely to play an organised sport, less likely to volunteer and less likely to give.
So as the Assistant Minister for Charities, I'm working not just on a narrow charities regulation agenda, but on the broad agenda of turning Australia into less of a country of "me" and more of a country of "we"; trying to build back some of that civic ethos, and work with charities in order to build a more connected Australia.
RYAN: Yeah, but how do you do that if people are struggling, and they can't give as much as they'd like to?
LEIGH: Part of it is about getting the tax settings right, so we've tasked the Productivity Commission to do a once‑in‑a‑generation review of philanthropy, and they'll be reporting with a draft report this year and a final report next year.
I've also been working with organisations like Kids in Philanthropy, talking to some of the foundations and high net worth donors about the work that they do. We know that when you give to others you don't just help them, you help yourself. There's a thing called the "helper's high", and a series of lovely experiments show that on days when we help others we end up feeling better about ourselves. And while people are feeling a lot of cost‑of‑living pressure right now, there's often opportunities to be able to help the most vulnerable, whether that's donating in support of a CEO Sleep Out or assisting some of the great charities around the country.
ZONCA: And are you just talking about cash as far as donations are concerned, or about the real need to boost volunteer numbers right across the country right now?
LEIGH: Oh, definitely both. See, you look at a great Brisbane charity such as Orange Sky Laundry.
LEIGH: Now, they work really well with their volunteers, they’re data driven, and making sure that they're helping people who are homeless not only to wash their clothes but also putting out those six orange chairs, and boosting the conversation, which makes people who have been marginalised by society feel as though they're part of the community.
RYAN: And you're right, things like GIVIT, for example, now, I used them just on the weekend because I'm getting new stuff, getting some old stuff out, gave a couple of lounges, and you're right how it makes you feel really good, because you see who it's going to; they tell you. In my case it was someone who had been through a house fire, and they needed a lounge. And so you're right, so it's giving material things that we can do as well if we can.
LEIGH: Oh, look, what Juliette has done with GIVIT is just remarkable. It's an organisation which really ensures that so many of those items we'd like to donate don't go into landfill but go to those who need it. And building to make sure that they're engaging very quickly in the disaster context. So there's a lot of charity innovation here in Brisbane. I'm keen to learn from that as the Assistant Minister for Charities, but also to bring charities together.
We held a forum in Perth yesterday, and one of the terrific things about it was we weren't just talking about government policies, we could also see charities connecting in the room. A woman who was running a charity for Indigenous people with disabilities to play basketball was looking for donations and a bloke from Rotary stepped up at the back of the room and said, "I reckon our Rotary club could help sponsor you."
So sometimes when you bring charities together, it's not just a sort of hub and spoke model, it's all of those organisations being able to network with one another.
ZONCA: So that's one part of your visit to Brisbane today. Andrew Leigh with you, the Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury. You'll also be fronting up to speak with economists from around the country. What will your message be to them in the room?
LEIGH: We've got a panel which will follow the Reserve Bank Governor's lunchtime address, and one of the issues that I'll be speaking about at that panel is the way in which increasingly the market concentration has meant that monetary policy doesn't work as well as we'd want it to.
There's a couple of new studies that say that when firms have very large profits, when they've got what's called big “markups" then they’re less sensitive to monetary policy, which means rates need to go higher in order to get the intended effect.
I'm also the Assistant Minister for Competition. We've been doing a lot to try and get market dynamism in the economy, and this is one other argument as to why we need good competitive markets, not lazy monopolies.
ZONCA: Well, just on that, because I see some of the major banks are fronting up to a Parliamentary Committee today talking about, even the interest rates they put on their savings account, particularly the Big 4 who aren't necessarily offering as much as some of the smaller banks. Do you see that there is enough competition say in the banking sector right now?
LEIGH: I think we'd always do with more competition, and many sectors across the economy are dominated by a couple of big firms. What's important for customers in banking is that if you feel you're not getting a good enough deal you go walking down the street. It doesn't just help your pocketbook; it also ensures that you put that little bit more competitive pressure on to the banks.
ZONCA: Yeah, but more and more banks are closing, certainly closing their branches, we've seen that in Southeast Queensland.
LEIGH: We're seeing branch closures right across the country. That's been a decades‑long trend as people are moving to online banking, and it does place pressure on particularly older Australians who feel less comfortable with online banking.
It was an issue I was raising with the big banks' CEOs a couple of years bank as a member of the House Economics Committee, and you can see just that shrinking of the footprint. Sometimes the local post office provides a place where people can do their banking, but increasingly we are finding a portion of people who are feeling as though they're unbanked because the local branch has closed and they're not comfortable shifting online.
RYAN: Well, post offices are in trouble as well though, aren't they; they're closing?
LEIGH: Yes, that's right, and then in regional towns, where you don't have the population centres holding up, it can be a big challenge for all of those sorts of services, you know, it runs right across government and commercial services.
Again, if you've got a larger population, you can support more competition, and so, you know, we do see a little bit more of that in larger cities than we do in regional towns where competition can be less, and people end up paying more as a result.
ZONCA: You mentioned Philip Lowe, the Reserve Bank Governor. He will also be speaking to this group of economists here today. Do you know who will be the next Governor quite yet, Andrew Leigh?
LEIGH: That will be a decision for Treasurer Jim Chalmers, and I imagine he'll be making that before too long.
ZONCA: Okay, we'll wait to see the result of that. Thanks so much for running quite literally into the studio this morning.
LEIGH: Real pleasure, thank you for having me.
ZONCA: Andrew Leigh, the Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury in Brisbane today.