FRIDAY, 5 APRIL 2019
SUBJECT: The Budget.
LEON BYNER: The Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Dr Andrew Leigh. Andrew, thanks for coming on today.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Pleasure, Leon.
BYNER: I want to, I want to start with a pretty obvious question and that is that you guys, if you get elected, are going to continue with the budget repair levy. Correct?
LEIGH: Indeed. We think certainly at a time when the Liberals have doubled the debt it’s important for us to have the same top tax rate that Tony Abbott had back in 2014 – when debt was half of what it is now.
BYNER: So you would contest that this budget repair levy is important because the budget is not properly in control?
LEIGH: Well, the Liberals have doubled debt and they did that at a time not when we were facing the greatest crisis since the Great Depression, but in much more benign economic circumstances. They doubled debt, Leon, because they weren't able to properly manage the nation’s finances rather than because an external crisis was threatening us.
BYNER: All right. The reason I'm asking that is because last night Bill Shorten says ‘whatever the Liberals have offered in tax cuts’ we’ll match it’. And in fact down at the lower end you've increased it somewhat.
LEIGH: That's right.
BYNER: So you've done that and that spend is, how much is that worth? Just put a figure on it.
LEIGH: So, the-
BYNER: All the tax cuts.
LEIGH: Well, the tax cuts that Coalition announced is some hundred and fifty billion, but much of that is off in the never-never. That tax plan that is flowing-
BYNER: I want to know, put a figure on your, the cost of your tax cuts.
LEIGH: So the tax cuts we’re supporting, which will flow immediately, they’re in the order of a couple of billion dollars a year. And that’s targeted at the majority of your listeners, Leon. About 10 million Australians earning less than $125,000-
BYNER: Sure, sure.
LEIGH: -will get bigger tax cuts under us.
BYNER: Alright, so.
LEIGH: The Liberals forgot people earning less than $40,000 in their tax cut. We’ll put them back in.
BYNER: So, you've got a couple of billion plus for the tax cuts and on top of that you've got a very significant promise that if you are a cancer patient and you need any kind of surgery or imaging done and that's important, you will be able to do it through Medicare which is worth another $2.3 billion. I guess the point I'm making is this - if the budget repair levy is so important because as you say the budget is in terms of our debt much bigger than one would like, but we still have the money to spend to give tax cuts and make a major investment in this $2.3 billion for cancer patients. How do we reconcile that?
LEIGH: By closing tax loopholes, Leon. Particularly for multinationals. They’ve been able to get away with exploiting some extraordinary loopholes that now see two-fifths of multinational profits channelled through places like the Cayman Islands and the Bahamas. We see hyper-rich Australians now getting a tax break for flying to these places to check on their investments. So, Labor's got an ambitious plan to crack down-
BYNER: How much – I was going to ask you about this tax haven issue, because whilst the Tax Office has been able to claw back about $5 billion, I think that's the figure I last saw, you're obviously believing there's a lot more. What are you, what are you hoping for? Is there a number in your head that you reckon you're going to claw back by being stricter on these tax havens?
LEIGH: Over the decade, our plans to crack down on tax loopholes raises billions of dollars, along with the other plans that we've announced. I do believe that these things are a package, Leon. If we won government, we’d also look to work with other countries. There’s some ambitious work being done by the OECD and the G20 on multinational tax avoidance, but Australia’s not really part of that any longer. We’ve dropped off that key steering committee spearheading the work. I want us to play a leadership role on that. While big multinational firms are using tax loopholes that can't be used by a typical Adelaide small business, that's just not fair for Australia. So we’ll play an activist role there. We'll make sure that big firms are paying their fair share of tax and that's how we're able to invest in addressing cancer. Half of us are going to end up with a cancer diagnosis by the age of 85 and half of those who are cancer patients pay more than $5000 in out of pocket costs over the course of their treatment.
BYNER: If you win government, when will this start?
LEIGH: We’ll be going ahead as soon as we can. We think that that's vital to get out-of-pocket costs down. I was just with Bill Shorten and Catherine King, our Shadow Health Minister, at Canberra Hospital speaking with Sarah, a patient there. She’s in her early 40s, she’s been a cancer patient for more than half her life. She’s had to have 72 MRI scans, which aren't covered by Medicare. She said that the cancer hasn't just hit her body – it’s also hit her wallet.
BYNER: All right.
LEIGH: She’s had family members chipping in to pay for the MRIs. It’s just not fair, Leon.
BYNER: Tell me, by how much do you think - as we do elections in three year terms, so I kind of like to stick to the tenure of the job because you never know what's going to happen in three years’ time, sometimes even three months. But how much do you reckon you're going to claw back the debt by if you get into government?
LEIGH: We’ll do better than the government. We've been very clear that we're going to beat them in terms of our surpluses over the four years and over the ten years. We’ll have those exact figures out before the election, but be in no doubt that our fiscal position will be better than theirs. Our position on hospitals and schools will be better than theirs. Our income tax cuts for anyone earning under $125,000 will be better than theirs. We made hard decisions to get to that position, but because of the hard decisions we made around tax loopholes, we’re able to make those key promises.
BYNER: All right. Can you give me an overall ballpark number, and I'm not going to make you stick to it to the dollar, but just as an idea you surely going to have to expect higher tax revenue coming in from all sorts of sources. By how much do you expect that to grow in order to achieve what you want to achieve?
LEIGH: Well, in the case of multinationals, that’s certainly right. I think they’re getting off scot free and I think many multinationals-
BYNER: Can you give me a figure?
LEIGH: For multinationals-
BYNER: You surely must expect that what you're going to get in Treasury is more than what the Liberals are going to get if they were re-elected. So I'm just asking how much extra do you think you're going to get.
LEIGH: I mean, Leon, they’ve been absolutely hopeless on multination tax avoidance so I would think that we would be getting at least hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars more over the course of our first term in government from multinational tax avoidance-
BYNER: Are you sure of that? Because when you do these things, when you do these things you get these projections that often go one, two, three terms away and that's just crazy because the public think in terms of three years. That's when you come back and ask to reapply for the job of being in government. So, there's no general figure you can give me where your input, your tax input you get, are going to be more than what the previous governments were. You believe they will be, but you're not sure how much.
LEIGH: Leon, we’ll have our precise fiscals at the start of the election campaign. We need to-
BYNER: [laughter] That could be in a couple days!
LEIGH: [laughter] It could be indeed and we’ll move quickly on that. But Leon, you need long term planning, so I think decade-long forecasts are important. As to your specific question over three years, I’ve told you confidently multinationals will pay hundreds of millions of dollars more and that will help fund what we’re doing with our cancer plan.
BYNER: All right. Dr Andrew Leigh, thank you.
Authorised by Noah Carroll ALP Canberra.