SKY NEWS AM AGENDA
MONDAY, 18 JUNE 2018
SUBJECTS: Dividend imputation reform, Income tax cuts.
KIERAN GILBERT: With me now, the Shadow Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh. Thanks very much for your time. The Labor Party, a spokesperson has advised or pointed out this morning that the individual author within Treasury of this report which has questioned Labor’s numbers is a former staffer of Mitch Fifield and Kelly O’Dwyer and a former Vice President of the Young Liberals Student Association. The point though that Angus Taylor has made and others have made, Simon Birmingham, is that this has been ticked off by senior levels of Treasury. So is Labor really impugning the reputation of the Treasury in this?
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Kieran, you’ve got to take a step back and recognise how Labor does our costings. We do them through the Parliamentary Budget Office, which is an equal status coster to the Treasury. And the whole purpose of the Charter of Budget Honesty, in setting up the Parliamentary Budget Office, is we wouldn’t have the kind of debacle we’re seeing from the Coalition today. Our policies have been costed by a body which has an equal status to the Treasury. To spend taxpayer money attacking Labor policies is a terrible waste. Why aren’t they spending resources working out how to scrap the tampon tax? This should be paid for Liberal Party funds if they want to attack Labor policies.
GILBERT: Is it fair – first of all, let’s go back to the original question about Labor pointing out to me this morning that that author, the individual author within Treasury, was a former Coalition staffer. Does that really matter given, as Mr Taylor pointed out before the break, that that would have been ticked off by senior members, would have been approved by senior members of Treasury.
LEIGH: Whoever wrote the report, it’s a waste of money. The resources of Treasury should not be used to attack the Opposition.
GILBERT: But do you think it’s appropriate to impugn Treasury as part of all that?
LEIGH: I’m not impugning Treasury, I’m impugning the Treasurer.
GILBERT: But Labor suggesting, pointing out that it was a former Coalition staffer, does that really matter?
LEIGH: Kieran, what matters is that this was a waste of public money, using government departments to attack the Opposition. Our policy has been costed. Our numbers are rock solid. They are backed by the independent Parliamentary Budget Office. The Government needs to abide by the Charter of Budget Honesty-
GILBERT: But if it doesn’t matter, why would Labor put that out there this morning? Point that out that it’s a Coalition staffer? Because we know that there are Labor staffers as well in Treasury and elsewhere. Why would Labor be pointing that out if they did not want to impugn or question Treasury’s credibility?
LEIGH: Kieran, I have no idea. You need to go to that person who made that assertion. But the point I’m making is that this is a waste of Treasury resources. There are big challenges facing-
GILBERT: But Treasury numbers can be believed?
LEIGH: The Parliamentary Budget Office has costed our policies. They’re the only body that has all of the assumptions that we’ve put to them. We have a number back from them. The Government needs to respect the Charter of Budget Honesty, acknowledge the-
GILBERT: Well, you should release the Budget Office number then?
LEIGH: We’ve released the same level of detail the Government releases when it brings down its budget. This is frankly the sort of shenanigans you expect from a Government that’s lost its way, that’s internally divided, that’s run out of an economic agenda and resorted to attacking the Labor Party.
GILBERT: But if you want people to believe your number, surely it’s time now to release the whole thing? You’re saying, you’ve given different assumptions to PBO,t eh Parliamentary Budget Office, vis a vis this Treasury report – it’s time, isn’t it, to clear it up? Because $10 million, that’s not a small number.
LEIGH: Kieran, you didn’t sit down the day after the Budget with the Treasurer and say ‘you’ve got to release every executive memorandum related to every single number in the Budget’.
GILBERT: But they’ve pointed out a $10 billion black hole in the Budget.
LEIGH: There is no black hole. There is a Parliamentary Budget Office costing. We have released the same level of detail as the Government releases in its budget. The Government has engaged in partisan shenanigans-
GILBERT: Are we meant to believe you on faith that it’s not a $10 billion hole?
LEIGH: This isn’t on faith-
GILBERT: You’ve got one report versus the other.
LEIGH: No, you’re completely wrong about that. What you’ve got here is the Parliamentary Budget Office giving you Labor’s credible number. That is as credible as every number in the Budget.
GILBERT: But another number is $10 billion less than that?
LEIGH: The Treasury number is based on what the Government is making its own assumptions on and it’s a waste of taxpayer money. If they want to use some of their foreign political donations that go to the Liberal party to spend on Liberal Party attack ads and Liberal Party research, then they should go ahead and do that. But not using Government-
GILBERT: Isn’t it appropriate that you test all policies within the debate?
LEIGH: No, absolutely not. The Government-
GILBERT: Labor used to do it as well.
LEIGH: This is a completely inappropriate use of taxpayer funds. If they are seriously considering getting rid of this unusual loophole - a tax loophole which is unique to Australia, doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world – then they ought to use the resources of Treasury to look at that-
GILBERT: Did Labor look at the behavioural reaction from investors?
LEIGH: Yes, of course Treasury looks at that Kieran. This is a beat up-
GILBERT: Treasury did, but did you?
LEIGH: The Parliamentary Budget Office costing, which has been released by us, looks at those behavioural results. Now the Government should not be costing policies it has no intention of proceeding with. If this Government actually had an economic agenda, then they’d be looking at reducing climate emissions, they’d be looking at dealing with the challenges in our region, they’d be looking at some of the consequences of a trade war, they’d be looking at the underemployment problem we’ve got in Australia. Big economic questions-
GILBERT: But looking at the behavioural change from your dividend imputation policy, have you been cautious enough? Have you been conservative enough? Surely if you’re going to change that, people are going to change where they put their investments.
LEIGH: Kieran, you’re like a dog with a bone today. This is a Parliamentary Budget Office costing that we have produced. They have equal status to the Treasury. They’ve looked at all of these behavioural impacts. Let’s respect the Charter of Budget Honesty, respect the status of the Parliamentary Budget Office. The Government can use Treasury to focus on looking at its own policies, not as its own sort of Liberal Party dirt unit, which is what they seem to be doing today.
GILBERT: Something tells me you’re going to have to release some more detail, though, in terms of just saying ‘trust us, the assumptions are different’. When you’ve got a $10 billion discrepancy, I know you’re saying it’s a different report, it’s not on your policy, but there is a $10 billion discrepancy. I think there needs to be more information provided, to allay people’s concerns. It’s not like it’s $100 million – we’re talking $1 billion over the forward estimates, $10 billion over the decade.
LEIGH: Kieran, you’re applying double standards. You didn’t sit down with the Treasurer the day after the Budget and say ‘give us every executive memorandum on which this is based’. What we do with the Budget is we look at the numbers that Treasury brings down and we understand those numbers have been subject to careful analysis, taking into account behavioural impacts. That’s exactly the level of detail Labor has given you through the Parliamentary Budget Office with our costing of removing this very unusual loophole whose benefits flow overwhelmingly to multimillionaires.
GILBERT: On the income tax cut plan, will Labor back the plan through and not stand in the way of the first phase of tax cuts as of July the first?
LEIGH: The July the first tax cuts should flow and in fact they should be more generous.
GILBERT: So you won’t block them?
LEIGH: What was amazing about the Government was to see them in the House of Representatives voting against a more generous tax cut for 10 million Australians. Bill Shorten’s committed to a bigger, better and fairer tax cut. This whole sort of ‘if you don’t vote for the six year plan, I’ll take my bat and ball and go home’ approach, that’s just childish. The Government needs to deliver those income tax cuts on July 1-
GILBERT: So you won’t stand in the way on that?
LEIGH: The Government needs to split the bill, deliver that more generous personal income tax cut on July 1.
GILBERT: The Government won’t split the bill, so will Labor then relent?
LEIGH: You’re giving me an assumption that the Government won’t yield. But in fact, the Government-
GILBERT: They’ve said it again this morning several times.
LEIGH: And they’ll continue to say they won’t yield until finally they do. We’ve seen this on high end superannuation tax concessions, where for a long period they said everything was fine and then finally realised that they needed to make changes. Once they’ve exhausted all the other options, they’ll take the sensible path.
GILBERT: Andrew Leigh, thanks so much as always.
LEIGH: Thanks, Kieran.
Authorised by Noah Carroll ALP Canberra