While I was in Hobart with my colleague Lisa Singh, I heard firsthand from lots of Tasmanians about the negative impact changes to the GST distribution would have in their state. So I held a press conference calling on Tasmania's Liberal representatives to stand up for their state and fight Tony Abbott on this; here's the transcript.
TUESDAY, 4 NOVEMBER 2014
HOBART, PARLIAMENT HOUSE
SUBJECT/S: GST distribution; Tony Abbott’s unfair budget; ADF pay deal; polls
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Thanks everyone for coming along. We've been down here today speaking with local community groups about their concerns around Tony Abbott's unfair cuts to Tasmania. Tony Abbott was in Tasmania recently to speak to the Tasmanian Liberals. He says he wants a mature and sensible debate about tax, but he didn't talk to them about his GST plans and how they will adversely affect Tasmania. The simple fact is that the GST is not a magic pudding. If Tony Abbott wants to give more GST to one state, that means other states will get less or the base of the rate of the GST will have to go up. So Tony Abbott needs to be clear with Tasmanians that not only are his $80 billion of health and education cuts hurting this state, but if he wants to give more GST money to one state then that's going to mean less for others. There's a lot of noise being made by certain Liberal members from Western Australia, but by contrast we see the Tasmanian Liberals being completely silent in Canberra, like little lambs cowering in the corner. Will Hodgman is doing nothing to stand up to Tony Abbott on the issue of the GST.
I wanted to make one other quick comment too, and then happy to take questions.
On the Government's ADF pay deal, the Government has overseen a pay deal for ADF personnel that will see them getting a real pay cut. This is, in my view, the biggest scandal since the Fine Cotton Affair. Men and women in the defence forces put themselves on the line and they shouldn't have to fight the Abbott Government for a fair deal on pay. They deserve a real pay increase. Stuart Robert, the junior Defence Minister, said while he was in opposition that a real pay cut would have been outrageous. We should apply the same standard to the real pay cut that the Abbott Government is now putting on the table.
I might hand over now to my colleagues to say a couple of words and then happy to take questions.
LISA SINGH, SENATOR FOR TASMANIA: Thank you, Andrew. I'm delighted to have Andrew Leigh, our Shadow Assistant Treasurer, in Hobart with us today. We have been participating in an inequality forum where we heard from many members of the welfare sector, community groups and individuals about the effects of the Abbott Government's federal budget on Tasmania, as well as any changes that might come about to the GST. What we know from listening to them is that whether it's the federal budget or changes to the GST, these things will hurt Tasmania. The uncertainty that has been created regarding the GST is also hurting Tasmania. Why is that the case? Because Tasmania, unlike other states, has a larger number of socio-economically disadvantaged groups. That means we'll be hardest hit by changes to the GST. That is why we are fighting very hard in the federal parliament to ensure the unfair budget measures and changes to the GST do not go through. Labor stands for equality, we stand for compassion. We do not stand for the inequality and lack of a fair go that are [inaudible]. Andrew Leigh knows a lot about this through his research and the book 'Battlers & Billionaires' which he wrote, and he's spoken extensively on the issues of equality and egalitarianism. These are very much part of the Labor party. We have been talking very strongly today on the need for those values to also be part of Australian society, but that is not what we are seeing coming out of the Abbott government.
JOURNALIST: Will Hodgman has said that banging your fists on the table doesn't get you anywhere; what should Tasmanian Liberal MPs be doing?
SINGH: Will Hodgman should be standing up for Tasmania. He should be taking the issues Tony Abbott is raising about the GST to Canberra and saying that Tasmania cannot afford to have any changes to our GST. But we just continue to hear silence from Will Hodgman, as we do from the Liberal Senators. I mean, will they actually stand up for this state? Their silence is absolutely deafening and it certainly doesn't do anything for business confidence or community confidence in this government or the federal government. I might now allow Scott to make a few further comments.
SCOTT BACON, SHADOW TASMANIAN TREASURER: I'd like to briefly agree with what Andrew and Lisa have said, not only about the Liberal members of the government that aren't standing up for Tasmania in Canberra, but also about Will Hodgman and the state government. They've been rolled, obviously, on school chaplains already – if they can't stand up for Tasmania on that issue then what hope do they have of standing up for Tasmania on the GST? We'd like to see Will Hodgman and the Liberal Government be more vocal on this, and we'd like their federal Liberal colleagues to stand up for Tasmania as well. So I'd like to thank Andrew Leigh for coming to Tasmania to stand up for this state, and for joining with Senator Singh and I today. We think this is a key issue for Tasmania and the Labor party is going to stand up for what's in the best interests of Tasmania.
JOURNALIST: Just on health funding, at a national level there's a Senate select committee taking hearing in Launceston today. Have you done any modelling or what can you see happening to Tasmania if we keep losing an extra $27 million a year?
LEIGH: Health and education are absolutely fundamental services for Australians. But what we've seen from Mr Abbott is promises before the election not to cut, then being broken after the election. We know that Mr Abbott's $7 GP tax is going to put more pressure on hospitals because Australians won't go to the doctor, they'll go to the emergency room instead. Then you've got the $80 billion being ripped out of states' budgets. This is grim news for Australians from a government which seems, at every turn, to back billionaires over battlers and making life harder for Tasmanians.
JOURNALIST: Is it a bit of a false economy, I guess, to say you're going to improve the system by cutting in one area, but then not re-investing it into others?
LEIGH: Absolutely. What's deeply disappointing to me is that the Abbott Government isn't listening to the experts on this. They're very clearly saying that it is important to invest in primary healthcare, and that investments in health benefit not only the individual, but also the whole community if we're healthier as a nation.
JOURNALIST: We heard from the Prime Minister today that the pay decision with the defence forces could actually be generous compared with what the rest of the public service might be in for. What would you suggest to public servants who might be going into pay negotiations?
LEIGH: This is a tough time for many Australians on the job and pay front. We've seen falls in real wages, and now we're seeing an increase in unemployment. The Abbott Government promised before the election that they'd be governing for everyone, but at every turn the beneficiaries seem to be the top end of town. So if you've got more than $2 million in your super account, then you've got a tax break on your super from Tony Abbott. If you're a multinational shifting profits offshore, well there's $1.1 billion of extra tax breaks that Tony Abbott has given to you. But if you're a pensioner struggling to make ends meet or someone with a disability, then life's just gotten harder under the Abbott Government.
JOURNALIST: Given the dire financial circumstances though, shouldn't public servants be tightening their belts?
LEIGH: The decision that the Abbott Government has made has been to say ‘no’ to many sensible sources of revenue. So they've given a mining tax break to some of the wealthiest people in the world. They've got rid of the carbon price, which had not only led to the biggest fall in emissions in 24 years, but was also a source of revenue for the federal budget. Even if the parliament had just rubber stamped the federal budget, the deficit would have been bigger, not smaller, from the state of the books when the Abbott Government took office.
JOURNALIST: So would you encourage public servants to strike if they're not happy?
LEIGH: People will make their own industrial decisions. But certainly the Abbott Government should keep its promises to public servants. I'm worried that we're seeing the same pattern both in Canberra and in Tasmania. Governments that come to office promising to look after the public service, but then end up breaking their pledges and sacking public servants.
JOURNALIST: Should they be moving to country areas to find work?
LEIGH: The public service employment model needs to best serve the interests of all Australians. What we're seeing from Coalition governments is the use of public servants as pork-barrelling pawns, placing people in locations in order to win votes rather than because that's the best way of delivering public services.
JOURNALIST: Are you disappointed that you haven't appeared on the preferred Labor leader list, according to the new polls out?
LEIGH: It's pleasing for me to see Labor united behind Bill Shorten; I'm sure the Coalition would wish that was the case for them as well. There is a Melbourne Cup field of people that Australians would like to see lead the Liberal Party, and let's face it, Tony Abbott has not been the Liberal Party favourite for many years. Thanks everyone.
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