Living standards have fallen in Australia, let's worry about the big issues - ABC RN Breakfast





MONDAY, 25 JULY 2016

SUBJECT/S: Shadow Ministerial reshuffle; Effects test; Superannuation.

ELLEN FANNING: Andrew Leigh is the Shadow Assistant Treasurer and the Shadow Minister for Competition for Productivity, for Charities and Non-profits and for Trade in Services. Quite a long title. Andrew Leigh welcome back to breakfast. Congratulations on your reelection and your many appointments.


FANNING: I made a point of using your full title there because you've been given an extra two and a half portfolios but you've been kicked off the official list of 30 Shadow Ministers and you've taken a $40,000 pay cut to boot. Is that the price you pay for independence in the Labor caucus?

LEIGH: Ellen, frankly the last thing we need to be worrying about in Australia right now is whether someone slipped from the top 1 per cent of the income distribution to the top 2 per cent. There are familes in Australia right now who are struggling to afford to buy Christmas presents for their kids, struggling to afford to be able to afford to get to the dentist. There are people that slept homeless last night. Let's not worry about people in the top couple of percent of the income distribution. We're doing just fine.

FANNING: This is about whether or not Labor recognises merit and puts merit ahead of factional power plays; whose turn it is, personality and that sort of grubbiness. Is it worth remaining independent to be on the sharp end of that?

LEIGH: I was preselected as an independent as my predecessor before me, Bob McMullan had been. Frankly I have the opportunity to serve in a Labor frontbench, something I couldn't have imagined having the opportunity to do when I was a kid at 15. I feel extraordinarily fortunate to have the opportunity to be in Federal Parliament  and more so still to be on Bill Shorten's front bench. So I have no sense of disappointment about this.

FANNING: You're barely there. One anonymous source told Phil Coorey in the Financial Review before the reshuffle that you should be gratefully still in the ministry, you've only got one vote. So barely there in a sense.

LEIGH: Ellen all of us in federal politics are in some sense lucky. I wrote a book last year called The Luck of Politics in which I talked about the fact that for everyone who is preselected there are probably 100 people who could have done the job and would have loved to do it. You don't sit around in this job saying woe is me, you sit around saying gosh it is extraordinarily fortunate to have the opportunity to serve your local community in the Federal Parliament. I've had that chance for a third term now and the chance for a second term to serve on the front bench. I feel lucky.

FANNING: Let me just play you a little bit of Bill Shorten, commending you at the ACT Labor Conference on the weekend.

BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Andrew is a person of tremendous intellect. He has written more books than Tom Clancy. But it's the efforts that people don't see, the policy work, the analysis, the good advice that he offers me that makes him such an important and future contributor to the Labor cause and a vital member of our frontbench. 

FANNING: But see forgive me for persisting on this, we will move on. But as more and more Australians are put off by the two major parties you have someone who is vital according to the leader and yet he loses out in a factional power play. I mean how could you possibly argue that Labor puts merit ahead of party politics?

LEIGH: It's just not worth worrying about who gets paid what when we're talking about the top of the income distribution we have more serious issues to be talking  about this morning. Forgive me for me trying to tell you how to do your job but there are people who are at the bottom of the income distribution doing it tough today. Living standards have fallen in Australia, let's worry about the big issues.

FANNING: You've said all that. So you're happy to see Kim Carr more valued than you are, that's OK?

LEIGH: I'm very happy to see Kim Carr on the frontbench and I'm honoured to have the opportunity to serve. The only emotion with which I entered Parliament House today was one of gratitude. Only a bit over a thousand people have had the chance to serve in the House of Representatives and far fewer than that to serve on the frontbench. I'm in a lucky position, that's the only way I see this.

FANNING: One of the suite of things you're taking care of as Shadow Minister  is competition. Last week the productivity commission draft agriculture report criticised the Government's plan for an effects test. Now you oppose an effects test saying Turnbull has sold out consumers to appease the National Party. You've no doubt seen, The Australian today quotes ACCC Chairman Rod Sims and this is what he said, "there's no doubt the Nations are strongly in favour of an effects test but a lot on the Liberal side of politics as well. This is rational policy". He says framing it as giving into the Nationals is just not right, we want competition, everyone should want competition we don't want large companies preventing competition. Is Rod Sims wrong?

LEIGH: I respect Rod but I do think he is wrong in this instance. He takes a different position from his predecessor. If you look back over the competition reviews in the last couple of decades, 10 out of 12 have recommended against an effects test. When it came to Cabinet last year Malcolm Turnbull argued against it, Mathias Cormann, George Brandis. They did so for the same reasons that the Business Council of Australia and other important retailers have done so which is the concern that it could become a lawyer's picnic. That something like cheap milk and uniform grocery prices could be threat under an effects test. I don't want regional Australians to be paying more for their groceries because supermarket chains are uncertain about whether they can open a new store or maintain uniform pricing.

FANNING: On superannuation you've called for an independent inquiry into the Government's $500,000 cap on the lifetime after tax contributions people can make to their super accounts. Now the claim is by some that that is retrospective and therefore it is unfair. There is no indication at all that our inquiry will happen. So if the Government eases up on that half a million dollar cap, will you support that?

LEIGH: We'll have to see what they put forward, Ellen. My view is that we do need an independent inquiry because there has been a range of credible people who have said that these measures are retrospective. The Government claims they are not but many of their own party room disagree. It's not just George Christensen who is saying that he would cross the floor on this, I believe other members of the Coalition party room would cross the floor if these bills were presented to the Parliament in their current form.

FANNING: Forgive me, realpolitik whether you get the additional funds to be a Shadow Cabinet member or whether or not you're looking at superannuation, realpolitik rules the day. There's not going to be an inquiry if they ease up on that cap on the way that has been described to let people tip in inheritance monies or monies after divorce or such like. Are you inclined to support that?

LEIGH: Well we're inclined to support sensible measures that rein in the excesses in superannuation tax breaks. Labor began this debate last year when we put our proposals on the table and we've been constructive in working with the Government. But you'll forgive me if I'm not willing to commit Labor to a position that the Coalition can't commit its own party room to. 

FANNING: Sorry you've been on record as saying that you'll accept workable and fair changes. Does a tweaking of that half million cap make the system more workable and fair?

LEIGH: It's a question of how you change it. Certainly we're keen to make sure that we rein in the excesses in superannuation tax breaks. Our plans weren't dumped on the Australian people at the last moment like the Coalitions were. They were out there for more than a year in advance of the election. That's how you've got to do economic reform in Australia. You've got to have your ideas out well in advance so people can dissect them, consider them debate them. The best of economic reform in Australia is in the nature of a conversation rather than demanding that the Australian people agree to your point of view. Australians are smart on economics, they want to understand the issues they want to engage with them. I've done townhall meetings all around Australia over the course of the election campaign. And one of the big things that came out for me in that was the sense of people wanting to be part of a conversation on economics. We need to make sure we do that with superannuation.

FANNING: Dr Andrew Leigh thank you for coming into the studio.

LEIGH: Thanks, Ellen.



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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.