Coalition acting like opposition in exile -Transcript, AM Agenda





SUBJECTS: Labor’s positive policies for the economy, Tony Abbott and Warringah, Labor’s plan to level the playing field for first home buyers, Coalition resignations, political parenting.

KIERAN GILBERT:  Joining us now is the Shadow Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh. Andrew Leigh, thanks so much for your time.


GILBERT: Well, no secrets as to what the government's main argument will be not just this week, but after the budget and right up until the election in May.

LEIGH: Well, their main argument will be that they're not Labor. That seems to be their entire focus these days.

GILBERT: But it's on economic management, isn't that - that’s the key. They're pinning everything on that.

LEIGH: But it's such a negative proposal. I mean, that's the striking thing to me about this summer, Kieran - the government has become so much more negative. They're acting essentially like an opposition in exile. You understand why people like Kelly O'Dwyer and Michael Keenan and Nigel Scullion say ‘well, I could stick at this job if it had to do with developing good positive policies for the nation but when I'm being asked every morning to get up and just attack Bill Shorten, that's not governing’. Labor will go into the next election are able to deliver more resources for our schools and hospitals, more generous personal income tax cuts for most Australians and pay down debt faster because we've made those hard policy decisions united behind Bill Shorten.

LAURA JAYES: Now I take it that is a commitment from you that Labor will not be running any negative campaigning - we’ll see no negative campaign ads during the election proper and none between now and May, is that right?

LEIGH: Laura, we’ll point out the shortcomings of the government - as many Coalition members have pointed out the shortcomings of the government itself. But there's been no Opposition which has gone to an election in my lifetime with as many positive policies as we are. I’m a bit of a policy nerd, as you know, and so it's just a delight to see Bill Shorten last week announcing our hydrogen plan. On a more modest level, I announced that a Labor Government would ban unfair contract terms to help out small business, a measure that was welcomed by a range of small business groups and yet described as a stunt by one of the government ministers. I mean this is the stage they've gotten to, that even when we put out good sensible policies their first thought isn't ‘how do we make Australia better?’ but ‘how do we attack Labor?’.

GILBERT: But is it a bit rich, is it hypocritical of you and Mr Shorten to kick up a stink about them running a scare campaign when really Labor ran one hell of a scare campaign of the last election with Medicare?

LEIGH: This is a scary government for many Australians who are seeing services cut and taxes going up-

GILBERT: Is it hypocritical - I mean, people judge politicians on that and whether or not they're consistent. If you're going to run one form of political argument, why can't the government?

LEIGH: We’ll run the most positive idea-packed campaign that Australia has ever seen. We'll be talking about policies around the National Broadband Network, around disability, my own area around competition policy and making sure our tax system fairly taxes multinationals who've been getting away with too much for too long. We will go to the Australian people with a fully fledged plan as to how a Shorten Labor Government would make Australia better. People can be pretty proud of that, I think. 

JAYES: Andrew, what do you think of Zali Steggall? Do you think she can beat Tony Abbott in Warringah and, if you do think she can, will Labor even bother running a candidate there?

LEIGH: Absolutely. Dean Harris is a great local bloke. He's a small business owner, somebody who's known what it's like to do it tough. I'll be up there campaigning with him because I think Dean would make a fabulous Member for Warringah. But Zali’s a formidable Australian, both on the sporting field and also in her legal career, and she's been pointing out as many others that while Tony Abbott's electorate voted yes for same sex marriage in strong numbers, he himself abstained from the vote. While Australians want action on climate change, Tony Abbott has been one of the strongest blockers to Australia acting and one of the reasons why Australia’s emissions are going up and our energy prices are going up. 

GILBERT: So it's very unlikely then, given what you mentioned there, that you would - Labor unlikely to win Warringah. Almost impossible.

LEIGH: You've got to say it's a long shot, but Dean is in for a fight-

GILBERT: A miracle, it’d take for him to win, but he - Labor will then obviously direct preferences to Zali Steggall?

LEIGH: We haven't decided that formally, but certainly I'd hope that Warringah sees somebody other than Tony Abbott representing them at the next election. I think Mr Abbott's time in politics is past its use-by date.

GILBERT: You’d be wrong to underestimate him, though. He’s won nine times in that particular seat.

LEIGH: Look, absolutely. He clearly wants to be re-elected, but I think Tony Abbott's skills could be better used for the long term interests of Australia in a whole range of other areas. 

JAYES:  Zali Steggall is opposed to Labor’s changes to negative gearing, as was Kerryn Phelps. Does this have any kind of factoring in your thinking?

LEIGH: These are policies we took to the last election, as you know Laura, policies which we believe are fundamentally important.

JAYES: We’re talking about another election now, is there going to be any changes there at all, given Kerryn Phelps - she’s a strong independent - Zali Steggall - there are concerns around this policy.

LEIGH: We’ll certainly listen to a whole range of voices, but ultimately we've heard voices from the Reserve Bank to the OECD to the IMF, the Grattan Institute to a range of economic experts have talked about the importance of rebalancing our tax system to make sure it's not giving bigger tax concessions to someone buying their seventh home than someone buying their first time home. We have a home ownership rate now at a 60 year low. We're in the bottom third of the OECD for home ownership. We’ve got to get to a stage now in Australia, Laura, where young Australians of modest means can afford to buy a house. Labor believes that through grandfathered reforms, which won't affect any existing investors, we’re able to slowly tilt the playing field-

GILBERT: But grandfathered for how long, that’s the question. How long are you-

LEIGH: Permanently.

GILBERT: Sorry, the question should have been worded in the sense of when will the policy start?

LEIGH: It certainly depends on when we have the election take place and we’ll work out all of those timings-

GILBERT: So it won’t be this year. There won't be enough time to get it done by July 1 of this year?

LEIGH: Kieran, people will have precise start dates by the time they go to the polls. We need to have a look at how the budget situation is shaping up. We need to see how this fits in with a range of other circumstances. We’ve got the budget itself coming down before-

GILBERT: In April, election May and you think it's realistic you could have this introduced by July 1?

LEIGH: We'll be clear with the Australian people on the particulars around the start date, but people need have no doubt about the specifics of our policy. We've been very clear about that. We defended it at the last last election where we got a strong swing towards us. We were attacked at the by-elections on these campaigns and we saw swings towards Labor in a succession of by-elections. So, we're confident in the rigour of the policy and we're confident that will make Australia a better place with a higher level of home ownership. 

JAYES: Andrew, we’ve seen a number of retirements from the Coalition side of politics. Kelly O’Dwyer and both Michael Keenan cute family reasons. You’re a politician with a young family - do you get where they’re coming from?

LEIGH: Absolutely, Laura, and I also get that as somebody who's representing the national capital I've got a better than most. I'm able to go home from parliament and sometimes read bedtime stories to my kids, to be around them when they wake up in the morning and I think that gives an air of normalcy to a parliamentary sittings life. I certainly wish Kelly O’Dwyer and Jon, and Michael Keenan and his wife all the best with their futures. Also, though I do think that this is setting some sort of a marker for how senior members of the coalition regard the path of the Morrison Government, a government which stands against so much and for so little.

GILBERT: But in a fundamental sense - this is a human decision as well, in the sense that Kelly O'Dwyer wants to have another child, Michael Keenan’s got young boys. You have to put the political boot in, but at a human level, you can understand what what they're going through.

LEIGH: Absolutely, and all of us make these tradeoffs. We juggle with help of family and friends. My extraordinary wife Gweneth is the only reason I’m able to survive in politics, but my parents also come in and help out, as do neighbours and friends. All of us build that village around us, and I think I’m a better politician for having kids and for the opportunity to see a bit of the ridiculous, to think more long term, to have something of a sense of humour in circumstances where the going might get tough.

GILBERT: We all need a sense of humour. Thank you, Andrew Leigh. We'll talk to you.

LEIGH: Absolute pleasure.


Authorised by Noah Carrol, 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.