Responsible budgeting - ABC NewsRadio





SUBJECT/S: Budget; Wayne Swan.

STEVE CHASE: Andrew Leigh, good morning.


CHASE: Do you have any sympathy for Mr Hockey's predicament, his deficit problem, given the prevailing circumstances? We've just heard from Deloitte Access Economics that we've got weak wages growth, we've got poor company profits and all this is undermining the Government's budget plans and we could be headed for a recession?

LEIGH: Steve, I think the Deloitte report paints a concerning picture about the Australian economy. They speak about the U.S. doing a little better than expected, China doing a little worse than expected. But they also make very clear that despite Eric Abetz's claims, wages growth is the lowest it's been in a decade. These are challenging circumstances, but of course, Peter Costello faced an Asian financial crisis and Wayne Swan faced a global financial crisis so, Joe Hockey ought to be able to deal with iron ore prices coming back now to where they were in 2008.

CHASE: Well how is Labor going to contribute to meeting that challenge you've outlined there. Are you going to help the Government in this time of crisis?

LEIGH: We certainly will be. We've put on the table a plan to fairly tax multinationals that returns $7 billion to the budget bottom line over 10 years. We've been leading the debate about superannuation tax concessions. We think it's vital that an Opposition is engaged with these sorts of debates rather than just sniping from the sidelines as we saw for the last few years. If the Government wants to take our multinational tax policy I'm happy to sit down and work it through with them and then we'll vote for it in the Parliament. That would certainly help return the budget to surplus a little speedier than Joe Hockey's so-called quality trajectory. 

CHASE: These are fine words, but when was the last time you actually sat down with members of the Government to work through these issues as you've outlined there?

LEIGH: The offer is there, Steve, my door is always open, as it Chris Bowen's and Bill Shorten's to engage on these issues. We voted for over $20 billion of Government savings measures, including measures that were framed in a way that we wouldn't have put them to the Parliament, and where we felt a responsible Opposition should support the savings measures. Of course, we haven't supported things like cutting the pension and most Australians wouldn't either. We didn't support a GP tax and most Australians didn't either. You've got to make fair and reasonable decisions, and no good Opposition worth its salt ought to be a rubber stamp for the Government.

CHASE: Speaking of fair and reasonable decisions, the Government has also made the point in the past that you went the last election with a number of measures which you've now opposed or reversed your position in the Senate. Is that something you'll revisit? 

LEIGH: Well if you're thinking about measures for example, around research and development, we took that position because we were reinvesting the money and boosting the productive capacity of Australian industry. If you're talking about measures around universities, we did that because we were reinvesting the money in schools. But where this Government is ripping money out of schools and hospitals to the tune of $80 billion, you can see the states screaming about that last week at the Premiers conference, then this is a real concern to Labor. We've now got confidence really starting to drop significantly, the Westpac Melbourne Institute survey recently has confidence sliding to one of the worst figures that they've recorded since 1975 and this is in part, they say, because of the uncertainty around the budget that the Government has generated.

CHASE: Now on another matter, Wayne Swan sits with you on the Labor side of politics, he was a former treasurer, there are reports this morning that he wants another term in Parliament. That hasn't been greeted we're told, by much joy in Queensland, instead he should get out. It's very unusual for a Government treasurer in a defeated Government to hang around, would you like to see Wayne Swan go into the next Parliament?

LEIGH: It's unusual here, Steve. But it wouldn't be unusual in a country like Britain or the United States. One of the things that has often troubled me about Australia is that we don't make sufficiently good use of the talents of people in the former leadership group and Wayne Swan, certainly to me, has been somebody who has offered me a great deal of advice. I think both sides of politics in Australia are too quick to cast aside former leaders rather than to recognise the wisdom that can be gained from those who've in Wayne's case, taken us through the global financial crisis and ended up as one of only two Australians as rated Euromoney's Finance Minister of the year.

CHASE: But very quickly, of course it's a double edged sword isn't it that he may do the things that you've been talking about? He's there as a reminder of his performance in the last Government, that he never did deliver a surplus according to the Government and there's speculation that he might want have another go at instilling another Labor leader.

LEIGH: Wayne Swan's record on economic reform is significant. He's somebody that saw through the Henry Tax Review and brought a range of recommendations out of that, including tripling the tax free threshold and taking a million people out of filing tax returns this year. Those million people have Wayne Swan to thank for the fact that they have a day to themselves rather than a day filling in the tax returns. Had it been the Coalition in power then that reform wouldn't have happened and that's just one of many measures that he helped shepherd through in the last Parliament.

CHASE: Andrew Leigh, thank you.

LEIGH: Thank you.



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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.