2CC CANBERRA LIVE WITH LEON DELANEY
MONDAY, 26 JULY 2021
SUBJECTS: Labor’s announcements on tax and an anti-corruption commission; Scott Morrison’s failures on policy, wages, waste and vaccines; multinational tax avoidance; Labor’s plans for a more equitable Australia; return of parliament.
LEON DELANEY, HOST: Dr Andrew Leigh, good afternoon.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: Good afternoon Leon. Following that last conversation, I just hit up Google to find out the origins of your name. It turned out Leon of Sparta in the fifth century BC was the first Leon.
DELANEY: Goodness gracious me!
LEIGH: What a proud lineage you have there, mate.
DELANEY: Not even French! I remember Leonides was the king at the battle known as the Battle of the 300, immortalized by the film of the same name, 300, so yes, he was King Leonides, but Leon, there you go, I didn't know that.
LEIGH: There you go.
DELANEY: I wouldn't thought that you had much better things to do with your time, and more important things, than googling my name, but I am very, very flattered.
LEIGH: I'm just a fast googler, that's all. Look, we've made this announcement today, Leon, because we think it's important the next election is not fought over scare campaigns, but over the Government's mishandling of quarantines and vaccinations and failure to provide sufficient support to Australians.
DELANEY: Alright, so does that mean there won't be any Mediscare repeat this time around, the Labor Party won't be playing scare campaign tactics of their own with empty, you know, suggestions that the Government is going to abolish Medicare or something like that?
LEIGH: Look, if you don't want a Medscare campaign then don't set up a commission to privatize the Medicare payment system. The Coalition brought that one on themselves, and I think their continued attempts to hack into Medicare speak for themselves. That's the scariness. Our announcement today reflects a decision of the Caucus to not move to repeal the so-called stage three tax cuts and to leave negative gearing capital gains tax arrangements alone. These things are not the way we would have made them had we been in charge for the last eight years, but it's important for Australians to have that level of certainty at very uncertain times.
DELANEY: All right. There's a couple of different things there. Of course, obviously, the negative gearing proposal and the capital gains exemption proposal were things that went to the last election. You lost the election. Those were two of the policies that many people believed cost you that election. Why has it taken more than two years to acknowledge that?
LEIGH: The budget's been in significant flux, if you look at what's been happening to the budget over the last few years. Just after the last election, the Coalition were printing Back in Black mugs, claiming they were going to deliver surpluses as far as the eye can see. Now we've got deficits as far as the eye can see. Responsible parties wait until close to the election to make these sort of fiscal decisions. I'm still anticipating the Government will probably throw the election off into next year given how much they've bungled the vaccine rollout, but we're ready to go anytime the election's called with a strong set of positive policies around improved access to early childhood education, around investment in skills and education, around making sure that we have mRNA vaccine production right here in Australia. If Labor had had our way, we would have been signing up to five or six vaccine deals in the middle of last year, which is what most advanced countries were doing-
DELANEY: -Coulda, woulda, shoulda.
LEIGH: -now we’re coming dead last in the OECD for the vaccine rollout.
DELANEY: Now, there was a lot of speculation that perhaps the federal government might choose to go to an early election in the second half of this year. Obviously, the outbreak of the Delta variant across Australia has probably put paid to any suggestion that that might happen, so I think now it is more likely to be next year. It's got to happen before the end of May next year, though, doesn't it?
LEIGH: Yes. Again, I would anticipate Scott Morrison will kick it off into the long grass because Australians are getting the measure of the man: somebody who isn't willing to act on climate change, who brings down a budget with real wages going backwards, somebody who promised three years ago to introduce a national integrity commission but has squibbed it, and instead has given us sports rorts, carpark rorts, regional rorts, huge wastes of Australian taxpayer money.
DELANEY: Actually, thinking of the carparkrorts, how come we're building a train stop at Mitchell and Well Station Drive and we didn't get one of those carpork rots?
LEIGH: Well, not many electorates got one of the car parks. I think they promised 47 of them and built two of them. The fact was it was really an election strategy rather than a transport strategy. The Government is simply not interested in good public policy. People are starting to realise that Scott Morrison is there for the announcement. He's not there for the follow up. The scandalous waste that we saw out of sports rorts, money being taken away from Canberra clubs who'd put in applications which exceeded the Sports Australia cut off, groups such as Belconnen Tennis Club, then missing out, neighbourhood oval lighting upgrades which were highly rated by Sports Australia being refused because they didn't suit the political concerns of Bridget McKenzie and Scott Morrison.
DELANEY: Raking over old coals now, aren't we?
LEIGH: These are things that have happened since the last election. Australians are going to be voting on them. We announced today an anti-corruption commission. We announced a lot of the details of that. It'll be like a standing Royal Commission. It will go hard on this sort of corruption. Since the Liberals said they wanted to introduce one in 2018, you can be a bit a bit your bottom dollar that ours will be looking back to at least that period.
DELANEY: OK, so if the Labor Party's now abandoned its policy on negative gearing, and it's abandoned its policy on the capital gains tax exemptions, and it's abandoned its policy on the franking credits, and it's now going to support the tax cuts for high-income earners, why should anybody vote for the Labor Party, because that's what the Government's going to do anyway? They'll just vote for the Government.
LEIGH: We've announced a raft of policies: policies to deal with the crisis in aged care, a national reconstruction fund, Jobs and Skills Australia, the rewiring the nation project, which will ensure that we can tackle climate change. We've got policies for more affordable housing through the Australian Housing Future Fund, and we will have more policies as we go into the next election around issues such as mental health, around jobs, around support for universities. This is a time in which we need to be ambitious for the future, but a responsible opposition also needs to recognize that we're up against a pretty effective scare campaigner in Scott Morrison. He's not very good at actually running a country, but he's very good at running a scare campaign.
DELANEY: So if you now support the tax cuts, the income tax cuts for high-income Australians, there's no difference between you and the Government on that, but the question arises, that's coming at a cost of $137 billion to the budget bottom line. How are you then, if you should be lucky enough to be elected to government, how are you then going to pay off the COVID debt?
LEIGH: One of the things we need to do is get multinational tax right. At the moments there are too many multinational firms that are routing profits through tax havens. About two-fifths of multinational profits now go through places like the Caymans and the Bahamas. That means that those firms aren't paying the share of tax that a local Canberra small business would have to pay. There's been work done in the OECD and G20 around this, but Labor will be announcing specific policies that'll add to the budget bottom line and ensure that we get a level playing field between those big multinationals and Australian businesses.
DELANEY: Okay, so phase three of the tax cuts as legislated already, you don't have to do anything to make it happen. It's going to happen automatically. What's been announced today is you just won't reverse it if you happen to get elected. That means there's going to be the same marginal rate from very low on the scale all the way up to $200,000. Is it right that low-income people are paying the same marginal rate as high-income people, and is that something that is not equitable?
LEIGH: That's the enacted tax schedules. As you said, Leon, these aren't proposals from the Government: this is what has already gone through the parliament. If you wanted a different position, you would need to be taking tax changes to the income tax scales to the next election and Anthony Albanese has announced that Labor won't be doing that. We're aiming to be a government which has the ambition for policy reform that Australia demands. Now, you look back to John Curtin and World War Two. He didn't just say 'oh, let's get the place back the way it was in 1939.' He sought to do much better, with full employment and with improving housing accessibility. They're the goals that Labor will be setting. Anthony Albanese has said there will be a full employment white paper brought down by a future Labor government to look at how to deal with challenges of underemployment, how to make sure there's more jobs, and that those jobs actually pay a good wage. The idea that real wages will fall in future years ought to be an abomination to anyone who cares about productivity and a fair economy, but that's what the Government's saying.
DELANEY: Again, the parliament's back again next week, and we've been told that parliament will be operating under lockdown conditions, no members of the public in the public gallery. Will there be restrictions on politicians that come to Canberra from elsewhere in Australia? Will they be allowed to circulate in the Canberra community, or will they be required to keep to themselves?
LEIGH: That'll be determined by ACT Health. I know many of my parliamentary colleagues are in town already because they needed to quarantine for 14 days. Some, indeed, didn't go back to their home electorates and have been just working here. Even when the conditions aren't formally in place, I know my parliamentary colleagues are very conscious of the impact on the ACT community. You know, they're tending to do things like getting takeaway food rather than going out to restaurants. It's going to be a different parliament. There will be many fewer people in the chamber. There's going to be fewer parliamentary staff working in the building next week than there are this week, heavy constraints on people not bringing staff into town. There's a lot of work being done to make sure that Parliament can function effectively and safely next week.
DELANEY: Even you and your fellow local members, you'll be going, you know, from being in the community, going to parliament, making contact with people that have come from elsewhere and then coming back to your home every night and being part of the community. Is that the case?
LEIGH: That's right, but we will be engaging with members who are either coming from jurisdictions where there isn't COVID, or if they're coming from places where there is COVID they will have self-isolated for 14 days. I also hope that parliamentarians have been quick to get the jab if they're eligible. I'm fully vaccinated now, although I'm disappointed there's only 13 per cent of Australians who've had that opportunity. I think that many of my parliamentary colleagues will have gotten the jab. There's a few that are spreading misinformation - George Christiansen, I'm looking at you - but many have had-
DELANEY: -I'm sure he's listening to my program.
LEIGH: Let's hope so, Leon. Let's hope that he can get a bit of a slap down from a government that seems too willing to tolerate this sort of misinformation on Facebook. The fact is that the vaccine is highly effective. We need all Australians getting it. The fact is we need more vaccine here in Australia. For just $1 billion last July, Scott Morrison could have had enough Pfizer to vaccinate every Australian adult. That's the cost of the lockdowns in Sydney for just a single week.
DELANEY: It's extraordinary times. Thanks very much for chatting with us today.
LEIGH: Real pleasure, Leon. Thank you.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra