SKY AM AGENDA
MONDAY, 18 MAY 2015
SUBJECT/S: Budget 2015; paid parental leave; Renewable Energy Target; iron ore inquiry
KIERAN GILBERT: This is AM Agenda. With me now the Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Andrew Leigh and the Assistant Social Services Minister, Mitch Fifield. Gentlemen, good morning to you. Senator Fifield first to you on the polling: I know you don't want to get into too much commentary but I guess it's got to feel a lot better this year than it did last year in terms of how this has been received, the second Hockey budget?
ASSISTANT SOCIAL SERVICES MINISTER MITCH FIFIELD: Kieran, we've been working to a plan to get the budget back on a path to being on balance, to creating an environment that's conducive to growth and the creation of jobs. It would probably be fair to say that the plan we have is better understood at this point than it might have been at the same time last year, but we're focused on that plan, on delivering it. You're right, we will leave it to others to commentate on the polls but I think you'll find that all of my colleagues are out this week and the weeks ahead, explaining the good news that is in the budget; the good news for small business, the good news for families.
GILBERT: And the Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Mr Leigh, famously – or infamously as far as I'm concerned – never comments on the polls at all. But this budget comparison, it's pretty stark and I guess it's understandable given that this is a much more generous budget than last year.
SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER ANDREW LEIGH: Kieran, I do appreciate that my unwillingness to commentate on polls is an enduring source of frustration for a Monday morning regular. But I do think that the number that really counts is not the polling number but the 80,000 mums who are finding out that they won't be eligible for parental leave under the Government's policies. This is a budget which still has so much of the unfairness from the last one but doubles the deficit. Not on Labor's numbers, but on the Government's own number, the deficit has doubled over the course of the year. And it lacks that plan to invest in the future which is why Bill Shorten spent so much time on Thursday night laying out an alternative Labor plan for investing in the future.
GILBERT: Without funding it though?
LEIGH: No, we've outlined $20 billion of savings and that's around 15 times what our plan to get more students in science, technology, engineering and maths, and our plan to allow every Australian school student the chance to learn coding, would cost.
GILBERT: Just explain to me, why didn't the Opposition Leader put forward some new savings or at least concede to some new Government savings on Thursday night when you knew that this would be the focus of criticism?
LEIGH: Kieran, we made a deliberate decision with our savings in the multinational tax package and the high end superannuation reforms to have them out well in advance than the budget. So the Government, if it so chose, could take them up and use them in its own numbers. We're here not for our own partisan ends but in order to make the country better. I was frankly surprised that the Government didn't put in place our $2 billion multinational tax package, instead offering just a measly $30 million package.
GILBERT: Alright, Senator Fifield, your reaction to a couple of the points made there by Andrew Leigh? I guess that the sticking point for the Government over the last few days has been the paid parental leave scheme. You work in this area alongside the Minister, Scott Morrison, he called it a rort and said he was referring to the scheme and not the individuals using it. But it's been, in the words of Arthur Sinodinos, a bit unfortunate the use of language around this particular change.
FIFIELD: Well Kieran, the important thing is to not to be focused on language but to be focused on the policy itself. That is, if someone has an employer-provided paid parental leave scheme that is more generous than the Government's scheme, that's what people will get. If an employer-provided scheme is less generous than the Government scheme, then the Government scheme can top that up. Look, this is an equity measure but it is also one of the ways that we will seek to fund our childcare policy. And I think the childcare policy that Scott Morrison put forward has been universally embraced. The difficulty here though, is that the Labor Party is saying in principle, that you know, they think our childcare policy is not too bad, but they're not prepared to join with us in identifying the savings. We have identified the savings, the Labor Party need to get on board. Say: we support childcare but we also support the savings needed to do what the Government's put forward.
GILBERT: Senator, let's move on to some other issues. The Renewable Energy Target (RET) compromise, it looks like there could be one secured as early as today and I think the sector will be relieved to hear that.
FIFIELD: Kieran, we've always been willing to work with, and have been working with, all parties in the sector but also we've been extremely willing to work with the Opposition. The important thing is we have the certainty that we can secure the jobs in the renewable energy sector, that we can secure ongoing investment in the renewable energy sector but also importantly not do things which are detrimental to energy prices. So they're the three objectives that we have been pursuing. We've been trying to work with the Opposition and at times they've worked with us and at times, they haven't. Let's see if together we can reach an agreement.
GILBERT: This would be some bipartisanship – much needed according to those in the sector. Andrew Leigh, probably taken a bit too long though?
LEIGH: Indeed, Kieran. The ideal thing here would of course have been if the Coalition had stuck to its word. They said before the election that they were making no changes to the RET and the sector believed that. Then after the election they threw everything up in the air and we saw a collapse in renewables investment. We had the sector coming to Labor saying that, in their view, it was better for us to settle on a lower figure than have investment collapse for lack of certainty. These 33,000 gigawatt hours is a reasonable number, but, it wasn't reasonable then to go straight into a review process and have that happen every two years. That doesn't provide certainty to the sector. So Labor's pleased at reports that suggest those two-year reviews are off the table, and we will continue to also oppose the inclusion of the burning of native wood as part of the RET. We don't think that most Australians would support that.
GILBERT: Now the Minister referred to, and this is repeated criticism of Labor, that you're willing to say that you're supporting various measures that cost money but not those that cost money. There is a suggestion Labor will compromise on the pension changes, is that the case?
LEIGH: Kieran, we'll work through those proposals and announce our position in due course. But, we're well ahead of the curve in terms of savings. I certainly don't remember in the last Parliament, the Opposition putting forward over $20 billion worth of savings as Labor has done with the multinational tax package and high end superannuation.
GILBERT: But you would recognise that this is a structural change that needs to happen in terms of sustainability of the pension?
LEIGH: I think you have to contrast superannuation tax expenditures which Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey now say they won't touch at all despite having included them in their tax White Paper. Despite having called for submissions from the sector, they now say they won't touch them. They're growing extremely fast, the fastest area of growth in the budget. Our pension, by contrast, is forecast to be about the same share of the economy in mid-century than it is now. It's one of the most sustainable pensions in the world.
GILBERT: Senator Fifield, this is a point made not just by Labor and Andrew Leigh but by the industry itself. It's quite bemused that the Government is treating the superannuation tax question as a separate issue to that of the pension when obviously in our tax and transfer system, you would think should both be on the table. Whereas it seems, the Government is treating them like silos right now.
FIFIELD: Well Kieran, we've always made clear that we're not going to entertain any changes to superannuation that would be detrimental. But Andrew has at least been upfront here, that Labor's answer to most situations is revenue measures. Whether it be superannuation measures, whether it be multinationals – it's always a revenue answer. What we think is you need to look at both sides of the ledger, you need to look at spending measures as well. Labor did indicate after, or in fact before the budget, a generally positive disposition towards our pension changes. They should move from a generally positive disposition to generally supporting them, to actually committing that they will make sure that Labor Senators will have their bums on the seats on the right hand side of the President's chair to support the pension changes. It's a little disturbing actually, that it looks like the Australian Greens on this subject have been more responsible than the Australian Labor Party. Labor need to step back into the position of being an alternative Government, and that means taking part in these debates and doing the responsible thing.
GILBERT: We've only got a minute left, I want to get both of your thoughts on the iron ore inquiry, this suggestion pushed by Nick Xenophon. It looks like the Prime Minister is open to it, Mitch Fifield, some in the Cabinet not convinced like Andrew Robb and the Industry Minister Ian McFarlane?
FIFIELD: Kieran, look, we're not the sort of Government that is going to seek to intervene in markets or to unnecessarily tame the animal spirits. There is, I think, an appropriate role for Parliamentary committees to establish facts. But there is a big difference between a bad Parliamentary inquiry and a good Parliamentary inquiry. A bad Parliamentary inquiry will have a partisan chair seeking to use it for partisan purposes, to use it as a vehicle for stunts and bad terms of reference to boot. Good Parliamentary inquiries are the Parliament at its best, seeking to establish facts and to examine issues. I don't think we'd have anything to fear from a good Parliamentary inquiry.
GILBERT: Just quickly to you Andrew?
LEIGH: As Shadow Competition Minister I take the old fashioned view that Parliament ought to write the competition laws and leave it to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to administer them. What concerns me here is the potential threats to investment, if the government's rhetoric gets out of hand. If an inquiry goes ahead, Labor will participate in it but I do worry on another important economic issue, Joe Hockey again seems to have been rolled by his colleagues. I've racked my brains to think about another Treasurer who has had less influence on his colleagues than Joe Hockey and I'm really struggling to come up with one, Kieran.
GILBERT: Alright Senator Fifield and Andrew Leigh, gentlemen, we're out of time.
LEIGH: Thanks, Kieran. Thanks Mitch.
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