Government spendathon is just about the election - Transcript, ABC Radio Canberra


SUBJECT: Budget 2021.

ADAM SHIRLEY, HOST: Let's get the take of Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury and Labor Member for Fenner, Dr Andrew Leigh. He's with us now on ABC Radio Canberra. Dr Leigh, thank you for your time.


SHIRLEY: Lots more money for aged care, childcare and other vulnerable people in society. Do you endorse a number of these spending measures from the Government?

LEIGH: Adam, what this budget fails to do is to tackle some of the really big problems that exist in areas like aged care. We know that the Royal Commission recommended that there be 24/7 registered nurse cover in aged care homes and the budget fails to deliver it. We know that there is a crisis in family violence, but we're supposed to believe that the Government that axed the Family Court is now going to address it.

SHIRLEY: Well they've put over $1 billion towards domestic violence and support services, so is that not directly addressing some of these issues that have been raised?

LEIGH: Those additional expenditures should be welcomed, but don't forget that the axing of the Family Court was specifically recommended against by family violence groups. We know that the vaccination of the Australian population is critical to opening up the economy, and the Government's badly bungled the vaccine rollout and quarantine, which jeopardises sectors like international education, which you were speaking about before with Zed. We know that climate change is one of the core issues facing Australia, and yet the Government still won't even commit to net zero emissions by 2050, a target that every state and territory and every credible business group had already signed up to.

SHIRLEY: You might will have heard, as well, the Chief Minister applauding, thanking the Commonwealth for largely funding a number of infrastructure projects that the ACT highlighted and asked for. How much of a tick does the Federal Government and local advocacy by government representatives get for doing that?

LEIGH: I think it's beaut that the ACT hasn't been left out of the infrastructure spend, as has happened in past budgets-

SHIRLEY: -So, was that a tick to Senators Zed Seselja in highlighting those issues within cabinet corridors?

LEIGH: Well, there was a decision that the Government made to fund projects in every state and territory, and you can see in their budget papers, they specifically have their map and obviously they wanted to make sure that Canberra wasn't left out of that. I'm pleased that they are supporting light rail stage 2. The Liberals, of course opposed light rail and now to be funding light rail stage 2A is important. Let's continue complimenting the Government, Adam. I think their decision to scrap the $450 a month threshold for superannuation contributions is good. We took that to the last election. We'll be supporting it. Scrapping the public service staffing cap is well overdue. That's caused a blow-out in expenditure on consultants and contractors and a cut to the productive capacity of the public service. It's a policy which was wrongheaded from day one. Labor's campaigned against it and we're pleased to see the Government's finally backing away from it.

SHIRLEY: There is a key measure within the budget, as well, which is carried over from last year, really, and that is the various stages of tax cuts. I want to ask you about the stage three one slated for 2024, a single flat tax rate on every dollar earned between $45,000 and $100,000. Some economists have argued that's giving more of a tax return to the rich. Does Labor oppose or support that stage of the tax cuts?

LEIGH: Adam, you're certainly right that those tax changes have the effect you've described. We'll be making-

SHIRLEY: -Well, some economists. That's not my read, because I'm not an economist nor an expert on it.

LEIGH: We'll be making our announcements on what we do on those tax changes as we come to the next election. There's been quite significant parameter variations in terms of the budget bottom line, even leading into this budget. The previous budget had iron ore price at $55. It's now $200. The changes in unemployment and growth have affected the budget bottom line as well, so we'll be making our decisions as we come into the next election guided by Labor values and guided by where the budget is at the time.

SHIRLEY: As an associate professor and economist yourself, do you see merit to that tax measure and it going through for people on those levels of income?

LEIGH: I should be clear, I did have to hand back the professorship at the ANU when I entered Parliament because potentially there could have created a Section 44 issue and see me ruled out of eligibility for parliament-

SHIRLEY: I guess I'm getting to your knowledge and previous work, though, in these areas that would give you an informed view on whether this is an important tax reform and a deserved one for those people. 

LEIGH: We're always going to be keen on getting taxes down on low- and middle-income earners. The challenge with this one is the distributional impact which is quite significant, and the Government doesn't have a plan to pay back debt. We've got a Liberal Party, which campaigned around a $315 billion 'Labor Debt Bombshell', as they described it, now seeing gross debt go towards $1 trillion, more than triple the levels that they were screaming about. There’s no plan to ever deliver those 'Back in Black' mugs that they had printed and then smashed. We do need to be looking at budget repair long term. I'm keen to look at issues like multinational taxation, where I think the Government has dropped the ball. Increasingly Australians just aren't willing to put up with situations like Netflix getting more than a billion dollars of earnings out of Australians yet paying hardly any corporate income tax. We've got to look at issues like that.

SHIRLEY: Andrew Leigh is the Member for Fenner and he's Shadow Assistant Treasurer for the Labor Party. Adam Shirley with you at 9:26, continue to take your thoughts. I'll get to them soon on 0467-922-666 and the phone number, 1-300-681-666. To one of the issues are discussed with Minister Seselja, would you, Andrew Leigh, change any element of the funding to the fossil fuel industry or money for carbon capture and storage, and instead use it to fund solar and wind power projects?

LEIGH: Certainly, carbon capture and storage hasn't developed the sort of breakthroughs that its advocates had hoped for. We need to do more in modernising our electricity grid. You were talking before about stability of renewables. One way of achieving that, alongside batteries is better linkages between states and territories. If you link up electricity grids, then you're able to have solar power flowing from a sunny part of Australia to a shady part of Australia. You're also able to provide greater reliability. That's something that's missing from the budget. A clean energy investment was a core feature of Joe Biden's $2 trillion infrastructure plan for the United States, and you really see the contrast here, Adam, with what the Government's done. This is a spendathon to get the Government through the next election, rather than a plan to set Australia up to be a more productive, cleaner, greener nation. 

SHIRLEY: To that essence of how Australia gets its energy, do you and the Labor Party support further funding to the gas industry?

LEIGH: Gas will play a firming role, but I don't think it ought to be a chief energy source. We need to be moving towards net zero emissions. If we don't do that not only does the climate suffer but Australia's exports could suffer. The Europeans are now talking about border adjustments, so-called carbon tariffs. We need to be moving quickly because we're the advanced country that is most directly affected by climate change. Anthony Albanese has been speaking frequently about climate change. It was a core feature of his budget reply speech last year, and I'm sure you'll be hearing more about that from Anthony in the days to come.

SHIRLEY: We are short of time. Andrew Leigh, thank you for your time and your reaction so far to the budget and what it means for this region. 

LEIGH: Pleasure, Adam. Thanks. 

SHIRLEY: That is Andrew Leigh, Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury for the Labor Party and Member for Fenner.


Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.

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  • Andrew Leigh
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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.