MONDAY, 18 FEBRUARY 2019
SUBJECTS: Labor’s plans to help small business, upholding competition laws, petrol prices, Medivac bill.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Good morning. My name is Andrew Leigh, the Shadow Assistant Treasurer. Three years ago, Labor announced our Access to Justice for small business policy. It’s a policy that makes sure small business can take on the big end of town in competition litigation. Australia doesn't have enough private litigation upholding our competition laws. One of the reasons for that is that small business are scared about the prospect of being bankrupted by the other side’s legal costs. Labor's Access to Justice for small business policy has been welcomed by COSBOA, who say access to justice is a huge issue. It's been welcomed by the Small Business Ombudsman, herself a former Liberal chief minister, who has said that it's important to level the playing field between small business and big business. It’s also been welcomed by a range of Nationals - Barnaby Joyce, Keith Pitt, Andrew Broad and Llew O’Brien have said that they support Labor's access to justice for small business policy.
And yet Scott Morrison and the Liberals have been fighting against access to justice for small business for years now. They voted against it in the Senate as recently as Thursday night, they voted against our bill, when we brought it to the other place. And they have fought hard against small business, just as the Liberals fought hard against the banking royal commission. Let's not forget, Scott Morrison is the guy who voted against the Banking Royal Commission 26 times and only backed it after the big banks said they wanted a royal commission. Labor’s always been the party of small business. We've got a policy of data sharing for independent mechanics that ensures that they have the data they need to fix cars and stay in business. We've supported a mandatory code for auto dealers, levelling the imbalance that exists between the multinational manufacturers and the franchise operators that sell new cars. At the next election, small and big business will face the time same tax rates regardless of who wins. But under Labor, small business - and big business for that matter - will have access to the Australian Investment Guarantee, allowing more rapid depreciation of new purchases.
So Labor will continue to fight for small business and Scott Morrison will continue to fight for his own political survival. If he backs Labor's access to small business amendment in the House today, he'll do not because he believes in it but because he's a desperate prime minister who is desperate to avoid Nationals crossing the floor against him. Scott Morrison is so desperate he will do anything for his political survival, even support small business against his DNA, against his desire to always backing millionaires, multinationals and monopolists over Aussie small businesses and consumers. Labor will fight for small business, as we've done with our access to justice for small business amendment. If it passes the House today, it will be a great day for Australian small business. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: What’s the detail for this access to justice?
LEIGH: Access to justice for small business allows small business at the start of a court case to seek a no adverse cost order. That will mean if they lose, they'll pay their own legal bills, but they won't be bankrupted by the QC bills on the other side. We know from talking to small business experts that this is what has put off a lot of small businesses from upholding our competition laws. We'll see more enforcement of our small business and it's a great credit to those who've been advocating this policy for many years. To Michelle Rowland, who helped develop in 2016. Labor will continue to fight for our competition laws to be rigorously upheld and for our small business to have the same opportunities as big business.
JOURNALIST: Do you have any comments about petrol pricing and gouging that seems to be happening all the time and nobody’s doing anything about it?
LEIGH: We do know that we're seeing significant problems in the petrol market. There was an important piece of research done by David Byrne and Nick de Roos looking at the Perth petrol market, that uncovered evidence of tacit collusion in that market. Many people thought when the petrol pricing apps came in that they’d be a boom for consumers. Now they are for some consumers, but big data also enables petrol companies to engage in tacit collusion. We need to get rid of that. We need to get rid of the systematic price cycles over the week that have meant the prices are too high at times when customers are most likely would be filling up.
JOURNALIST: What will the Labor party do if they get elected about to stop this tacit collusion you see?
LEIGH: Labor, if we’re elected, will give a market studies power to the competition watchdog. We’ll double their litigation budget and we’ll increase the penalties for competition rip offs. Labor will ensure that we don't have unfair contract terms, that unfair contract terms aren't just unenforceable, but they are actively illegal. Labor will always be the party upholding our competition laws. Don't forget, the Trade Practices Act was a Whitlam act. The criminalisation of cartels was done by the last Labor government. The competition reforms the early 1990s which turbo charged productivity growth were a Hawke and Keating achievement. So if we form government at the next election, Labor under Bill Shorten will be ferocious in upholding our competition laws, including in making sure Australian drivers get a better deal at the bowser.
JOURNALIST: [inaudible] Rudd Government, nothing seemed to happen. We’re still waiting.
LEIGH: Labor will continue to make sure that our competition laws are updated and modernized. I spoke last year the Australian National University about the influence of Chicago School thinking eroding the notion that large firms may be too inclined to throw their weight around. Labor will take market concentration seriously. We will ensure that our competition laws are working for all Australians. We have too many mergers in Australia and too few start-ups, too many whales and too few minnows.
JOURNALIST: If Labor could prove there was tacit collusion [inaudible] does that mean jail time or major fines [inaudible]
LEIGH: Enforcing the competition laws will always be a process for the competition watchdog. It is an appropriate separation of responsibilities there. But we do want to make sure the competition watchdog has the power it needs. It's called for a market studies power. Only Labor will deliver. It’s called for tough penalties. Only Labor will deliver. It knows it can do more with ramped up litigation budget and only Labor will boost the litigation budget for the competition watchdog, so it can go after anti-competitive conduct in the petrol market and wherever it finds it.
JOURNALIST: One last question – what about the ISPOS poll, which has come out and said Morrison is closing the gap between Labor and Liberal?
LEIGH: I haven’t commented on polls in my nearly nine years in politics. I have no intention of starting now. And indeed, when I was an academic at the Australian National University, I wrote a series of papers looking at the problems inherent in polls. We’ll be focused on the big issues, like the ones we've talked about today, and of course making sure we get up the disability royal commission. That we make sure that we implement the Hayne Royal Commission findings straight away, to invest in our schools and hospitals, to pay down debt faster and deliver income tax cuts twice the size for 10 million Australians than they would receive under the Coalition.
JOURNALIST: Do you think taxpayers are aware of the cost of detention centres if they start up again? $1.7 [inaudible]
LEIGH: There’s absolutely no reason why the bill passed through the House last week would have any impact on asylum seeker arrivals. It is expressly constructed to be confined to those who are already in Manus and Nauru. It should have no impact on people’s decision to come to Australia. Shayne Neumann, Bill Shorten and others have been absolutely clear - do not get on a boat to come to Australia.
Authorised by Noah Carroll ALP Canberra