Announcing Labor's policy of free tax clinics - Transcript, 6PR





SUBJECTS: Labor’s plans to fund free tax clinics, Labor’s commitment to a National Integrity Commission, levelling the playing field for first home buyers.

OLIVER PETERSON: Shadow Treasurer Andrew Leigh, good afternoon.

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Good afternoon, Olly. How are you?

PETERSON: Very well. What brings you to Perth?

LEIGH: I'm here to announce a Labor policy of free tax clinics, building on some great work that Annette Morgan and her team’s been doing at Curtin University. They’re providing tax help for low income individuals who are often struggling with disputes with the tax office or complicated tax affairs. It’s a great way of helping people who are really not sure how to make their way through the tax system get the help they need. Millionaires and multinationals can afford to pay high priced accountants, but for many low income people caught up in problems with tax, they don't know where else to turn.

PETERSON: Alright, so this is basically subsidizing I suppose tax availability or advice, a service that will be provided to Curtin University. And how much money would a Labor Government commit to these services?

LEIGH: We've made a significant commitment right across the country. We’re looking at $4 million over the next four years. The Curtin University pilot will be extended and then we'll look at another nine universities to roll it out in. When I was a law student, I volunteered at Redfern Legal Centre and the ACT Welfare Rights Legal Centre. There’s a strong culture of pro bono volunteering in law. There's not quite as much of that through accountancy - I don't think because tax accountants are stingy, but just because we haven't given them the opportunity to give back to the community. That’s one of the great things about this model.

PETERSON: Around $5 million, is that the headline figure I read, Andrew Leigh?

LEIGH: It will be about $4 million over the next four years. So yes, a significant commitment to make sure the model works.

PETERSON: Okay. Talking of tax, you've had an Aussie Home Loans boss John Symond today hit out of the negative gearing policy of the Labor Party, indicating that if it was to go ahead it would effectively be a hand grenade that it would push up interest rates and unemployment and impact superannuation funds. A big blow from John Symond towards that policy, Andrew Leigh.

LEIGH: John Symond’s had a variety of different views on negative gearing. He was saying before the 2016 election negative gearing need to be looked at. He was saying that it was important to have reform. Then after the election he said that he didn't didn't support reform. The fact is that Treasury's own analysis shows that this will only have a moderate impact on prices. It's about making sure that young people can get the housing market and that we don't have a system that is constantly rigged against younger generations, biased in favour of someone buying their tenth home and against someone buying their first home.

PETERSON: A moderate impact on the house prices at the moment though when the market, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne, is cooling. Do you think you might have missed the boat with this policy, Dr Leigh?

LEIGH: Not in the least, Olly. We've really committed to making sure young people can break into the housing market. Homeownership rate in Australia is in the lowest third of the advanced world. It's the lowest in Australia that it's been in 60 years. We need to be a country of homeowners, not a country in which a fortunate few get to buy a bunch of investment properties and everybody else is stuck in the rental market whether they like it or not.

PETERSON: Alright. John Symond says this could push Australia into a recession. That’s a word certainly that - if you are an incoming Labor Government was to face a recession, you certainly wouldn't want that on your hands.

LEIGH: John Symond in 2014 was saying “negative gearing is a great tax break, but needs a total overhaul to make it fairer. First homebuyers have no hope of getting into homeownership these days unless they are helped by their families.” That’s John Symond in 2014. So the fact is that he's had a variety of views on this, but when you look to the experts, you look to the Grattan Institute, Saul Eslake, Chris Richardson, you look to the people who have carefully analyzed the problems of the housing market, nobody thinks the homeownership rate back up again without doing something about negative gearing and the capital gains tax discount. They are uniquely generous tax concessions for housing investors which biases the system against first home buyers.

PETERSON: My guest is the Shadow Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh. He's in Perth for some free tax clinics, a policy being announced by the Labor Opposition today. Are you feeling a little more confident as you tour around Perth? If you look at those latest Newspoll, it’s about a 10 per cent lead now you have over the government and particularly here. Some analysis in the West Australian newspaper today indicates that up to five Liberal held seats in the lower house - and high profile Liberals as well, Christian Porter, Michael Keenan, Ken Wyatt, Steven Irons and Andrew Hastie - are on the chopping block. Are you feeling confident as you move around town?

LEIGH: Olly, what gives me confidence is we've got great policies. Being back in Perth - it’s only my second visit here this year, but many of my colleagues have been here way more often than that and our policies are being received very well. We've got great candidates - Hannah Beazley, the Labor candidate for Swan and I were announcing the tax clinics policy today - and we've got a united team. I mean, all of this infighting that's occurring now, whether it's Josh Frydenberg having a go at Christopher Pyne or Steve Ciobo having a go at Eric Abetz. The government really is is it is making the Addams Family look like The Brady Bunch.

PETERSON: Well, disunity is death, as they say in politics. Now, as you say, these public slanging matches, particularly between senior ministers, Josh Frydenberg and Christopher Pyne, it doesn't really help a government who is trailing in the polls at the moment.

LEIGH: No one wants their politicians to be fighting among themselves or worrying about what they get. What they want is a government that's focused on the needs of Australians and that's why with Bill Shorten we've been focused on making sure we have a set of reforms to make Australia fairer. We've said we will achieve the economic trifecta of paying down debt faster than the Liberals, delivering more generous personal income tax cuts to most Australians and making sure we get that money to schools and hospitals that your listeners know is desperately needed.

PETERSON: Alright. The Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, your boss, has once again stepped up his push for that national anti-corruption watchdog, writing obviously to the prime minister looking for bipartisan support to set it up. Could this be achieved before we go to an election?

LEIGH: I think it has to be, Olly. I mean, trust in politicians is low and falling, and if we're to turn that around we really need to make sure that we've got the integrity measures in place that exist at the state level. Bill Shorten first made this proposal in January of this year, wrote to former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, wrote again to Scott Morrison when he became the current Liberal prime minister and now has said very clearly that he would be willing to work in a process to make sure we get National Integrity Commission. I don’t know why people like Christopher Pyne are ruling this out. It's just a matter of having the integrity measures in place that ensure that we get the absolute highest standards of public governance.

PETERSON: Alright. Who do you think this would oversee and are there any examples in particularly we've seen in Australia over the last 12 to 24 months that would it catch the eye, I suppose, of a national corporate regulator?

LEIGH: I don't think corruption is running rampant in the federal government, but I do think that these integrity measures are important to have in place. You know, we have the banking Royal Commission. Many people said ‘oh, there's nothing to worry about there, just a couple of bad apples’. Scott Morrison voted against that 26 times, had to be dragged kicking and screaming to it and only supported it after the big banks called for it. I hope it doesn't have to be the same way with the National Integrity Commission. I hope that Scott Morrison is able to take the national leadership that's required to say ‘well, I was against this initially, but I'm going to change my position because I recognise the Australian people demand it’.

PETERSON: Andrew Leigh, I really appreciate your time. Thank you very much.

LEIGH: Thanks Olly.


Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.

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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.