ABC NEWS BREAKFAST
SATURDAY, 9 JUNE 2018
SUBJECTS: Economic growth figures; Labor’s plan for a bigger, better and fairer tax cut; Indigenous treaty; gender quotas.
HOST: We are speaking now with Andrew Leigh, the Shadow Assistant Treasurer. Thank you so much for your time this morning.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Pleasure. Great to be with you.
HOST: Are these economists right? Is it as good as it gets?
LEIGH: You have to look at the fragility around the numbers. The household savings rate is now at a 10-year low, wages growth is as slow as a dead duck, and we're seeing some softness in the housing market. That suggests that what households have been doing in some cases is reducing their savings in order to spend. Not spending because they have more in their wallet, but choosing to put less in the bank and spend more down the mall.
HOST: This was positive news. The Government was running that case this week - Australia's economy growing at the fastest annual pace in almost two two years. Does this strengthen the government's budget plan, given that they were largely banking on positive economic conditions and that seems to be what we're seeing here?
LEIGH: It is worth breaking down where the growth is coming from. We've had profits growing six times faster than wages. In that environment, with inequality at a 75-year high, you would think the right thing to do is supporting penalty rates for workers, to be delivering a middle income tax cut right now, and not proceeding with the idea of corporate tax cuts for the big end of town. The government's very focused on this corporate tax cut, despite the fact there is little evidence that it's going to spur growth. Labor believes that we can give a more generous income tax cut to 10 million Australians. Our plan would leave 10 million Australians up to $400 a year better off. That's what the economy needs right now.
HOST: On the issue of tax, in the budget we saw the government put forward a three-stage plan. Labor has indicated that it will support stage one, but not necessarily all of the plans, stage two and three. Has the news this week about that economic growth changed Labor's stance at all?
LEIGH: It has increased our level of scepticism about stage three. We've got evidence now that three-quarters of the benefits of that late stage tax cut go to men. We know that a household in Bellevue Hill gets three times as much as a household in Lakemba. A household in Toorak gets three times as much as a household in St Albans. So, that late stage tax cut really is very regressive, and Labor's view is we need more detail. Let's get on right now and deliver 10 million Australians a more generous tax cut. I was flabbergasted when the Liberals voted against our plan for a bigger, better, fairer tax cut in Parliament. They ought to be supporting middle Australia at a time when wages growth is absolutely lousy, as Stephen Koukoulas has pointed out.
HOST: Although the government has basically said all or nothing with their three-stage tax plan. Would you rather all or would you rather nothing? Would you sacrifice that stage one that Labor seems to be supporting in terms of the three stages? Would you sacrifice stage one?
LEIGH: I think Scott Morrison will stamp his foot, run around, have his little tanty, but ultimately he will realise that it's possible to split the tax bill. It is possible to provide middle Australia with a reasonable tax cut, and that late stage tax plan deserves significantly more scrutiny than it's had so far. The Grattan Institute says it will make the Australian tax system more regressive. That's not what we need at a time when we've seen wages growing three times as fast for the top 10th as for the bottom 10th, where we have got so much wealth moving from the battlers to the billionaires. Labor is sceptical that we really need to be giving the most to those who have the most.
HOST: So you would still be looking for a split from the government?
LEIGH: It's the only sensible thing to do. Let's get on and split the bill. In the end, I have confidence that Scott Morrison, once he's tried all other alternatives will come around and do the other thing. That is what we saw on superannuation tax concessions, for example. Ultimately, once they have exhausted all the other options, they will do the right thing.
HOST: I want to move to another issue now. There have been steps taken by some states and territories this week to move towards treaties with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples this week. Would you like to see a federal treaty?
LEIGH: It is an issue we have been talking about since the 1830s, 1840s. Every other Commonwealth country has a treaty with their Indigenous peoples. It does remind you of that great Abraham Lincoln line: ‘a house divided against itself cannot stand’. We’re a nation with a history of displacing the Indigenous population. If you look at the number of Indigenous Australians who were here at the start of white settlement, the numbers had been decreased by two-thirds by Federation. So, we've got a lot to do on that healing journey. Bill Shorten has said Labor's willing to engage constructively with Indigenous Australians, to respect the Uluru Statement from the Heart, to look at options that help us heal and grow forward as a nation. The scare campaigns - we saw them during John Howard's time when he said apologising to the Stolen Generation would cause all kinds of untold misery to fall upon Australia. That turned out to be false. Apologising to the Stolen Generations was a great healing moment for Australia.
HOST: Sorry, was that a yes, you would like to see a federal treaty?
LEIGH: I think we need to continue that conversation. There's no clear answer as to what a Makarrata would look like, but we ought to be open to having these sensible conversations We oughtn't be frightened of them as a nation.
HOST: It has been 30 years since a promise of a nationwide treaty was made in the same place that people gathered this week, at Barunga in the Northern Territory. That was by the Labor Prime Minister at the time, Bob Hawke. Is anything different today? Is anything different?
LEIGH: We've had the Closing the Gap targets put in place by the Rudd Government and we've seen the statement this year that clearly the majority of those gaps aren't closing. We have had the apology to the Stolen Generations which was an important moment. But we need to continue that process of national healing. The work that the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation did during the 1990s, those quite conversations in suburban and regional and remote communities, they were a really important pathway to healing and we need to continue that as a nation. Working on the practical matters of education and employment, but also dealing with matters of the heart that are fundamental to who we are as a nation.
HOST: Finally, Andrew Leigh, you have been talking this week about gender equality and the value of work. There have been discussions raised about gender equality in your own line of work, in federal politics. Is enough being done in your area of work?
LEIGH: Well, it depends on which side of the Parliament you look at it. If you look at the Labor caucus, we're now at 48 per cent women. We're almost at parity. If you look at the Coalition, they are going backwards. They are close on one in five women. Indeed, they have just a couple of women on their Coalition frontbench. That's partly because Labor's made decisions going right back to the 1990s, to put in place quotas to ensure that we get talented women into the party. We make better decisions as a result of that. We will get rid of the tampon tax partly as a result of having a frontbench which is more representative of the Australian public.
HOST: One thing that people have often against quotas is the question of merit, whether people are pushed beyond what they are qualified for. That has certainly been a discussion over the last few weeks in regards to women on boards and whether women have been pushed ahead of men who may have been more qualified than them. Is that a problem with quotas? What is your take on that?
LEIGH: Certainly hasn't been an issue in our Parliament. I don't think anyone would argue that the average quality of Labor's women is any lower than the average quality of Labor's men. Indeed, you can't look at the Coalition frontbench and say, ‘well, there's not a woman in Australia who could outperform that lot’. You look at corporate boards and now we have a situation where there are more top Australian companies run by men called John than there are run by women. I don't think there is such a dearth of management talent among the majority of the Australian population - that is Australian women - that we couldn't do a little better on that score. I reckon some of those companies could actually find themselves more profitable if they looked more to the management talent of Australian women.
HOST: Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Andrew Leigh, we have to leave it there. Thanks for your time.
Authorised by Noah Carroll ALP Canberra