ABC NEWS BREAKFAST
THURSDAY, 31 MARCH 2016
SUBJECT/S: Malcolm Turnbull’s crazy plan for state income taxes; Labor’s savings proposals; protecting hospitals from the Coalition’s $57 billion in funding cuts; saving Medicare
DEL IRANI, PRESENTER: Andrew Leigh is the Shadow Assistant Treasurer and joins us now. Good morning, Andrew Leigh.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Good morning, Del.
IRANI: What is Labor's view on this proposal by the Government to make those changes to income tax essentially allowing the states to set their own rates in the long term?
LEIGH: Our view, Del, is it is unfair and unnecessary. It is odd when Scott Morrison was talking about the dangers of bracket creep a couple of weeks ago no-one realised that the thing he actually thought with bracket creep was that it wasn't happening fast enough. This is a case of bracket jump, in which Australians would be pushed up into higher tax brackets, a fact which the Treasurer seemed unaware of yesterday until the Prime Minister corrected him on it. In which you'd end up with a whole lot of different tax rates right across the country.
IRANI: Yes, but rising costs in the health care system are an ongoing issue. Do you agree that a radical change is required?
LEIGH: Certainly Australian hospitals are struggling to cope with the $57 billion that the Coalition has pulled out of those hospitals since it came to office. The impact of that showed up in the Australian Medical Association's Public Hospital Report Card which showed that waiting times for elective surgery and emergencies have already begun blowing out. We do need to do something about that. The question is whether the solution is a fair one, such as the $100 billion of savings that Labor has put on the table, or whether it is another wacky thought balloon being floated by the clown show that seems to be masquerading as a government at the moment.
IRANI: OK, so you are talking about putting forward a fair solution. What would be Labor's alternative to this proposal?
LEIGH: Labor has put a range of ideas on the table in order to pay for the hospital funding that Australia need. We would increase the cigarette excise which would raise revenue but also decrease the share of smokers in Australia. We would fairly tax multinationals, closing loopholes that should not have been there. We would rein in the unfair and unsustainable superannuation tax breaks. In the long run, we look to curtail negative gearing except for new homes.
IRANI: On a bit of a different note, the Greens have come up with an idea to get rid of the Private Healthcare Rebate. Do you agree with that? Do you think it is time to get rid of that?
LEIGH: No, we don't. Certainly in office, we did means test it. You will remember, Del, we had quite a barny with the Coalition where they said it was class warfare. Malcolm Turnbull said this when he was Leader of the Opposition when Kevin Rudd was means testing the Private Health Insurance Rebate. But means testing was absolutely the right thing to do, because it was one of the fastest growing tax breaks in the budget. We brought the growth of that rebate back under control, and that is one of the responsible decisions we made in office. For many years the Coalition has said they wanted to get rid of the means test in the Private Health Insurance Rebate.
IRANI: Andrew Leigh, when is Labor going to formally announce their plans to improve or change the health care system?
LEIGH: We are committed to the National Efficient Price mechanism - an approach the Abbott-Turnbull Government scrapped on coming to office - and which makes sure that we drive reform through the healthcare system. You can't simply hand out money to states and to hospitals without making sure you are also driving reform. The National Efficient Price is a good way of achieving that. You have seen from our Health spokesperson Catherine King a strong defence of Medicare, and one of the big questions in this election will be which side of politics is committed to keeping Medicare, and which side of politics wants to chip away at Medicare at every turn. The Liberals will tell you they love Medicare, but then in every action they are looking at trying to squeeze down Medicare even further.
IRANI: Actually, as Sussan Ley is announcing some changes to Medicare this morning, namely creating a fund where people with chronic illnesses will be able to visit one GP. Have you had a chance to look at those proposals yet?
LEIGH: I haven't seen the details of that. Certainly happy to scrutinise those, but you've got to look at it in the broad context: $57 billion ripped out of hospitals. We have been having a fight for saving Medicare for much of the term of this Parliament against a Coalition that wanted to put in place a GP tax. We have still got the Coalition's plans to increase the cost of pathology and we have still got those heavy cuts to hospitals hanging over the heads of the states. A band-aid isn't much help if you've got a crater wound.
IRANI: Andrew Leigh, thank you for your time this morning.
LEIGH: Thank you, Del.