ABC Canberra Drive with Ross Solly Thursday 13 June - Transcript


SUBJECTS: Reducing poker machines in ACT clubs, more than half a million full-time jobs created under the Albanese Labor Government, political donation reforms, inflation, cost-of-living help, PwC scandal

ROSS SOLLY, HOST: Andrew Leigh is the Member for Fenner and joins us on the program. We were going to talk ‑ we are going to talk about unemployment figures. Good afternoon to you, Dr Leigh.

ASSISTANT MINISTER ANDREW LEIGH: Good afternoon, Ross, great to be with you.

SOLLY: And you as well. Can I just ask you, though, what your view is on the role of clubs and poker machines in a community like the ACT?  You've lived in this community for a long, long time. Do they play a valuable role, the clubs, and do you share their concerns that if you remove all the pokies that the clubs will no longer exist as we know it?

LEIGH: We know from surveys done by gambling research organisations that a significant share of people who gamble regularly on the pokies are at risk of gambling harm. We know that the typical pokies player is spending around $1,000 a month and that when the pokies were closed down during COVID that you didn't see that gambling move across to other sources. So, the evidence on gambling harm is quite real.

I do think that the ACT Government's proposal to take 500 poker machines out every four years, bringing the numbers down considerably, is the right one.

I'd really commend Marisa Paterson's move to have the Molonglo Valley stay pokie-free and to have a ‘club of the future’ which is not dependent on poker machine revenue in the Molonglo Valley.

SOLLY: So who picks up the slack, though, Andrew Leigh? As the ClubsACT is now saying, they provide a lot of funding for sports teams and for a lot of other facilities in the community. I mean, who's going to pick up the slack if the clubs aren't doing it?

LEIGH: That's right, we've got to keep our clubs alive. I'm a strong believer in social capital, as you are too, Ross, and clubs do act as community focal points, as well as the money they give to good activities.

The ACT Government is working to allow clubs to unlock their land. They're talking about build-to-rent projects, aged care, and the Community Clubs Diversification Team that the ACT Government would set up if it was re‑elected, aims to provide a sustainable funding base for clubs which isn't reliant on pokies into the future.

That's the right way to go. We want to phase down pokies, but we want to keep the clubs thriving.

SOLLY: On the unemployment figures, Andrew Leigh, out today, not much of a change, 4 per cent now. It was 4.1 before, I think, and there's probably a margin of error there. But where does that leave us? The Reserve Bank meeting next week, of course, if you were ‑ and I'm not going to ask you to try and influence the Reserve Bank, but would you see any reason for them to change their current direction?

LEIGH: The labour economist in me has to pinch myself every time we get an unemployment figure like this. Four per cent in historical terms is truly a remarkable figure. I honestly never thought in my lifetime we would see such a sustained run of full employment in Australia.

You've got to remember that under the former government, unemployment averaged 5.6 per cent. We've created around almost 900,000 jobs since we came to office, more than half a million of those full‑time.

So it's a really important result in terms of using Australia's people productively, which is really what low unemployment is all about.

SOLLY: So when you pinch yourself because of the unemployment figure do you also pinch yourself with the question of why is it then that so many people, if our unemployment rate is so low for such a long time, why is it that so many people are struggling to put food on the tabling and struggling to meet their basic household costs every week?

LEIGH: We know we've had significant inflation, and that's been a big challenge that we're dealing with. You know, the reason that every ACT household will get a $300 energy bill rebate on 1 July, why every ACT taxpayer gets a tax cut on 1 July is because we made decisions in our last budget to deal with those cost‑of‑living pressures.

We've also been focussed on changing industrial laws so Australian workers earn more. We're unapologetic about arguing for a rise in the minimum wage and the ability of workers to work collectively in order to raise wages. So we're seeing these real wage increases coming through as well, meaning Australians earn more and get to keep more of what they earn.

SOLLY: Again though, do you think the Reserve Bank will have any reason to change its current direction given that the unemployment figures stayed around the 4 per cent mark?

LEIGH: They'll make their own independent decisions but the Treasury analysis from the last budget suggested that our measures would take three-quarters of a percentage point off inflation this year and half a percentage point off inflation next year.

So that's aiming to work in tandem with the Reserve Bank. Both of us are focussed on fighting inflation, getting the cost‑of‑living pressures down.

Inflation had a 6 in front of it when we came to office, it's got a 3 in front of it now. As you know the target band requires that it have a 2 in front of it. We're moving in that direction which is heartening for all of us.

SOLLY: Right. Just on another couple of issues. The South Australian Government is going to ‑ or is hoping to ban all political donations. Do you think that's a good move, Andrew Leigh, and would you like to see other governments, including the Federal Government and federal political parties, go down that path?

LEIGH: Making sure that we have good electoral laws has been a hallmark of what Labor's done. Bob Hawke imposed the strong disclosure rules we have at the moment, they were later watered down by John Howard.

Having Peter Malinauskas working to get big money out of politics is in accord with what we're doing federally, with another great South Australian, Don Farrell, leading the conversation about how we can reduce the role of big money influence in politics.

SOLLY: Is it realistic to ban all political donations do you think?

LEIGH: We've had to balance the implied constitutional right to political communication, which has come up to the High Court on a number of occasions, with the need to get big money out of politics.

It doesn't mean we can't impose reasonable limits based on community expectations and move in order to reduce the role of big money in politics.

SOLLY: Just one other issue before I let you go, Dr Leigh. I'm sure you would have pored over the Senate inquiry yesterday, the Senate report into PwC and other consultants here. It is a big issue here in the ACT, of course. There's a growing clamour for PwC to reveal all the people involved in the decisions that were made and the decision to go down the path it went. Do you support that call? And do you support a big shake-up for the way that consultants are used and the amount of information that is made public about the role of consultants here in the ACT?

LEIGH: Getting on top of the blowout in consultants and contractors that occurred under the former government really was a big priority for us when we came to office. So we got rid of that arbitrary staffing cap. That's meant that we've had more than 8,000 public servants now doing work that was previously outsourced, and as you know, Ross, costing the taxpayer more.

We've saved $4 billion by reducing the public service spending on consultants, contractors and labour hire and the work that Deb O'Neill and her colleagues have done has been really important in terms of holding PwC to account.

We've acted swiftly in response to the PwC matter. This report makes 12 important recommendations. We'll work through that carefully.

SOLLY: Are you comfortable with the naming-and-shaming approach, though? Getting all the names of everyone at PwC who were involved in the decisions that were taken and the information that was passed on?

LEIGH: Look, I understand the reasonable debate that's been had on this. Some people are saying that those who were more junior shouldn't have their names revealed, it should just be the partners. Others say that everyone who had access to the information should be named.

SOLLY: What does Dr Andrew Leigh think about it? Where do you sit on this?

LEIGH: Well, as a government, we'll come forward, Ross, with a response to the report.

SOLLY: You don't have an opinion yourself?

LEIGH: Well, we'll have a government response to that. The report's come down from Deb O'Neill. It's a really important piece of work. You know, it goes to an area where I've been doing a lot of work --


LEIGH: Around multinational tax reform --

SOLLY: Exactly.

LEIGH: As you know, Ross, the leaking of this secret information, the misuse of the confidential consultation process has been of deep concern and does mean that we have needed to take steps with how PwC engages in multinational tax reform, how it engages in its consulting and contracting with the government.

Now, we've moved swiftly on that. These are additional important recommendations. The Government will respond in a considered fashion.

SOLLY: That's why I thought you might have a firm opinion on this, Dr Leigh, given that you have been at the coalface, you have been part of this. You have been running around trying to build the bridges again. Do you think there is any benefit at all in naming the PwC people who were ‑ I know you're going to tell me the government's going to make a decision, but what is Dr Andrew Leigh's position on this?

LEIGH: Yeah, look, I can see both sides of this, Ross. We'll have a government position for you, but we've taken ‑‑

SOLLY: What's your position, Andrew Leigh? Come on.

LEIGH: We've taken a whole range of steps on the PwC, Ross. We've increased penalties for promoting tax avoidance, we've extended whistleblower protection for people making disclosures to the Tax Practitioners Board, we've improved the tax secrecy rules, and we've also increased the funding for the Tax Practitioners Board.

So, there's been a series of government responses to other aspects of the PwC scandal. I know you're going to one particular aspect of it, Ross, and you'll be disappointed to know that as a member of the government, my view is that we should make a considered collective decision and come forward on that.

SOLLY: And do you now think that the inquiry was a good idea, and do you think that it's done worthwhile work here?

LEIGH: Absolutely, and a real credit to Deb O'Neill, she's been tenacious on this, focused on the issue from day one. She's a real asset to the Senate.

SOLLY: All right. Dr Andrew Leigh, good to speak with you this afternoon, thank you.

LEIGH: A real pleasure, Ross, thank you.

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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.