MONDAY, 25 FEBRUARY 2019
SUBJECTS: Newspoll; Wage growth; Hayne Royal Commission; Climate change policy.
KIERAN GILBERT: With me now is Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Andrew Leigh. Andrew thanks very much for your time. Is it your view - and I know you’re not someone who comments on polls fortnight to fortnight but in the broad sense, is the issue of border protection and boats not a first order issue for most people that cost of living as Simon Benson put it before, the hip pocket remains the most decisive matter ahead of the election.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Sure does, Kieran. For many Australians, the fact is that everything is going up except their wages. They're feeling a squeeze on the household budget caused by rising energy prices, caused by the fact that the Government's been unable to put in place a serious energy policy. The Government don’t have a single policy that will boost wages. Unlike Labor who will immediately restore penalty rates and make sure that we're having proper workplace bargaining. And the Government at the same time has been focused on their internal infighting on working out who's Prime Minister, who's Treasurer, rather than setting the policy levers that are absolutely essential to get business humming again. We need to get productivity growth up and really see the economy fulfilling its true potential.
JAYES: You keep on saying that Labor has a plan to lift wages and the government does it. But what are you actually proposing outside of restoring penalty rates? This is only for one subsection of workers. And in terms of what you're doing there, isn't that essentially a government subsidy which artificially increases wages? It doesn't actually do anything you know across the board in terms of doing that in an economic sense, if you know what I mean.
LEIGH: Laura there are hundreds of thousands of people who rely on penalty rates and so boosting penalty rates will boost their incomes and put money straight back into the economy – because workers on penalty rates tend to spend their whole pay check. But you're right there's more we've got to do. We've got to get apprenticeships going. We're going to get more students doing better at school through our $14 billion of public school investment and more students going to university through the additional 200,000 university places that will come from uncapping university places. Our FutureAsia plan will make sure that we're engaging with Asia at a board level, at a school level. And the policies we're pursuing in my own competition space will be vital to spiring productivity. For example, today we've announced a policy of post-merger reviews where the competition watchdog will assess mergers afterwards to make sure that they've had the intended impact on productivity and prices and wages. We passed through Parliament last week our Access to Justice policy, which gives a fair deal to small business in taking on anti-competitive conduct.
GILBERT: On a fair deal, the announcement you are going to make today as well or that the Opposition Leader will in terms of a pool of funds to compensate victims of banking misconduct, how will that work and have you put aside enough in terms of I think it was $320 million over four years for financial counsellors for example.
LEIGH: That's right, Kieran. So we've said that we'll ask the banks to pay for this additional investment into financial counsellors. It'll take the number of financial counsellors in Australia from 500 to 1000. And our estimate is that that will mean an additional 125,000 people who are served. The Hayne royal commission talked about the importance of getting appropriate financial advice. I’ve met with many of these financial counsellors in my own electorate and across Australia and I know firsthand the fabulous work that they do. Alongside that, Labor's going to be investing in tax clinics in universities, making sure that low income Australians and small businesses have the advice they need in order to make sure they're complying with their taxes. Labor called for this royal commission in 2016. Scott Morrison fought against it, said it was a popular stunt, regrettable, and voted against it 26 times.
JAYES: Doesn't this have the potential to be a stunt as well, because the banks could very well just pass this cost onto customers? How do you stop the big banks from doing such a thing?
LEIGH: Laura, when Scott Morrison put in place a banking levy nearly 40 times the size of what we're proposing today he said that would fall on shareholders. Now I see no reason that this wouldn't also have the same impact. But I don't think anyone who's met with a financial counsellor would think that this is some kind of a stunt. Those people do vital work. They're working on the smell of an oily rag right now in an environment in which we know thanks to the Hayne Royal Commission that there are serious problems in our financial sector. People need that quality unbiased advice to get out of debt, to crack the crisis that they're facing of having debts racked up on multiple credit cards, worried about losing their home or their car. These financial counsellors do amazing work. Labor will boost financial counsellors and put more Australians back in charge of their finances.
GILBERT: When you look at, on another matter now the Prime Minister spoke to us earlier. On the climate fund, they've changed the name but the same approach of direct action approach. $2 billion dollar top up over the next 10 years. Do you welcome the fact that the government has reinforced its approach to dealing with this issue of climate change, which you have argued very strongly about?
LEIGH: New name, same failed approach. I mean, Scott Morrison a decade ago was telling us that an emissions trading scheme was ‘inevitable’. That was back when Malcolm Turnbull was the leader of the party. But now Morrison’s become leader, thanks only to votes from climate change denialists, he somehow thinks that it was just a coincidence that January was the hottest month on record in Australia. We have to deal with climate change. We know now that if the world temperature goes over two degrees, 99 per cent of the coral reefs will be lost and we will see the melting of the Arctic ice, we'll see a 10 centimetre sea level rises, which would be economically and environmentally catastrophic. But yet Australia is almost unique in the world in having had our emissions rising since 2004.
GILBERT: But the cost of a 45 per cent reduction in emissions which is Labor's approach. Do you accept that modelling of Brian Fisher released last week which suggests it's going to cost hundreds of millions of dollars? I think the figure was about $450 million over the next decade?
LEIGH: We don't.
GILBERT: A billion dollars I should say sorry.
LEIGH: Many of the experts have looked at this say that the real costs come from unchecked climate change, from not doing anything about it and sticking your head in the sand.
JAYES: So you’re very critical of this climate solutions fund, the rebadged emissions reduction fund is saying Labor's going to scrap it if it wins the election?
LEIGH: We would obviously have a look at it. But we've always been sceptical, as indeed has Treasury. Treasury says that a third of the projects would have happened anyway and the effective cost of carbon abatement is $80 a tonne, which is way higher than most other ways of reducing carbon emissions. We need to get serious about this, and if we're elected a Shorten Labor government will sit down with the Coalition and in the first instance put back on the table the National Energy Guarantee: their own plan which they claimed would reduce household power prices by hundreds of dollars a year. If they’re still obstreperous, if they're still maintaining their climate change denialism, then we’ll push ahead with a 10 billion dollar investment in the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, with providing subsidies to households to install batteries, with a huge investment in hydrogen technologies.
GILBERT: But the fundamental mechanism that you'll take now to the election is the National Energy Guarantee as put by Josh Frydenberg.
LEIGH: It’s a policy backed by Josh Frydenberg and Scott Morrison when they were in charge of it as Energy Minister and Treasurer respectively. But we're under no illusions that that's going to be easy to get through. We need to have backup plans. The emissions reduction fund - a slush fund for polluters - has been shown not to reduce carbon emissions. Why else would carbon emissions have been rising under this Government since 2014?
JAYES: A slush fund for polluters isn't exactly a ringing endorsement. Dr Leigh, thanks so much for your time this morning.