FRIDAY, 15 MAY 2015
SUBJECT/S: Labor’s Budget alternative; small business tax cut; paid parental leave
MARIUS BENSON: Andrew Leigh, one of the centrepieces of Bill Shorten's policy speech last night was a 5 per cent cut to tax on small business. He's proposing working with the government to achieve that cut, to cut the company tax for small business from 30 per cent to 25 per cent. He said to Tony Abbott: let's work together. A bit disingenuous, isn't it? This is not a government of national unity; oppositions don't get to join the Government at the Cabinet table to work out economic policy.
SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER ANDREW LEIGH: Marius, I believe Australians very much want their parliamentarians to work together. We always have to be putting the national interest before partisan interest. What Bill Shorten did yesterday was to reach across the table in the Parliament and say to Tony Abbott that if he, too, believes in giving small businesses a better deal, then Labor is happy to work together to try and boost growth in that vital sector of the economy.
BENSON: Has Labor ever invited the Opposition, when it has been in government, to join it at the Cabinet table to work out policy like that?
LEIGH: We've certainly cooperated with the Coalition on a range of things. Whether they're in Government and we're in Opposition, or the other way around.
BENSON: What would a 5 per cent cut to the company tax on small business cost?
LEIGH: We'll work through the costings with the government. Certainly that'd be an important matter to be considered.
BENSON: But it's your policy proposal, what would it cost?
LEIGH: We know that, for example, the government's proposed 1.5 per cent cut costs in the order of around $1 billion a year. But what's important here, Marius, is that we work together to try and boost growth. We know the transition from the mining boom is putting a lot of pressure on the economy. Unemployment forecasts in the latest budget are troublingly high; the highest in 14 years. So what we need is that measure of bipartisanship in order to try and make sure we have the jobs of the future in small business and also in areas like innovation, which Bill talked about as well.
BENSON: But things have to be affordable and if you haven't worked out the cost, is it a serious policy exercise to be proposing things without costings? Because it's delightfully irresponsible for an opposition – you're in the position of backing all spending measures and opposing all savings measures and not worrying about the bottom line.
LEIGH: Marius, I think it was incredibly responsible last night for Bill Shorten to reach out and allow Tony Abbott to be a partner in this important reform. He isn't saying that this is something we will do instead of the Government. He's saying we're keen to work with the Government in this term of parliament in order to make this reform a reality. Imagine across Australia, there's a lot of people in small businesses today thinking that they would very much like Labor and the Coalition to be able to work together in order to allow them to grow their businesses faster. That's exactly what Bill Shorten was talking about last night.
BENSON: Some of the other proposals obviously involved big costs too: 3 per cent of GDP to be devoted to research and development. Also 100,000 students to be relieved of their HECS fees in areas like maths and engineering. Is there a bottom line? Are there any numbers worked out with these?
LEIGH: When Bill Shorten is talking about the amount of Australia's GDP devoted to research and development, he's talking about what business spends as well as what the government spends. In terms of the specific proposal around encouraging more people to do science, technology, engineering and maths, that is costed in – the whole package – at $350 million. So that's an affordable package, it's certainly a much smaller spend than the significant savings measures in multinational taxation and superannuation that Labor has already put on the table.
BENSON: One of the issues that has caught a lot of attention in Budget Week is the paid parental leave changes proposed by the government and the talk of 'double dipping' between private firm offers of paid parental leave and public service offers, and the general federal government offer. Mathias Cormann and Josh Frydenberg have said they enjoyed the benefit of both those schemes – private and public – do you believe they are rightly accused of being 'rorters'?
LEIGH: I think the government is completely wrong when it refers to anyone as rorters. You're right that there is certainly a degree of behaviour in this that would make some Australian parents raise their eyebrows. The notion that we say to Australian workers who have foregone wage increases in order to get a better parental leave deal that they would now have that ripped away is a terrible one. It sends exactly the wrong message to parents. Government ought to be saying to parents: this is an incredibly important time in your life, congratulations on the new bub, take the time off you want with the family. Rather than putting so much pressure on to families at a time when – as a parent – I know there's plenty of pressure around already.
BENSON: Andrew Leigh, thank you very much.
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