Sky AM Agenda - 14 June 2014





SUBJECT/S: The Abbott Government’s unfair budget; Climate change; McClure Review; Changes to the social safety net.  

DAVID LIPSON: Joining me now here in the Canberra studio the shadow assistant treasurer Andrew Leigh, thank you for your time.


LIPSON: We just heard from the finance minister on the repeal of the carbon tax. He says he’s cautiously optimistic that this will pass through the Senate. What do you think will happen in the Senate?

LEIGH: I’m no political predictor, I think that’s a mugs game, but I’m deeply concerned that the government’s now pursuing this strategy. We’ve just had the hottest summer on record, the hottest Australian year on record, we’ve had record breaking temperatures on the east coast and we’ve seen that total emissions have now had their biggest fall in a quarter of a century as a result of putting a price on carbon. So this is a policy which is working, which has reduced electricity emissions by 11 per cent since it came into effect which is doing so while providing household assistance through increased allowances and tax cuts –

LIPSON: But it’s only reduced emissions by about 0.1 per cent in total, isn’t that the – 

LEIGH: We had new figures out yesterday David which showed 2013 reduction of 0.8 per cent. Now, that’s nearly one percent, if we can get one per cent on an annualised basis we would comfortably meet the 5 per cent emissions reduction target by 2020. Biggest fall in a quarter of a century, and doing its best work of course in the electricity sector, as you’d expect because it’s a carbon price that covers only about two thirds of the economy. Mr Abbott wants to describe the fuel excise as a carbon tax I hear, but let’s face it; we have a mechanism that’s in place. If Mr Abbott wants to take his weathervane and point it back towards an emissions trading scheme, Australia would be the better for it.

LIPSON: Even President Obama though conceded in talks with Tony Abbott at the White House that the Prime Minster does have a mandate to get rid of the carbon tax. So, you know, you’re accusing the government of breaking promises on the budget but here you want them to break a promise on the repeal of the carbon tax.

LEIGH: Well we also have a mandate David to argue strongly for the most effective and efficient way of reducing carbon pollution. Tony Abbott can’t run around the country like some sort of a dictator saying that because he got 53 per cent of the two-party vote therefore he can do whatever he likes and standing on our side is every serious climate scientist and every serious economist. Barack Obama’s number one aim was to put a price on carbon. Asked recently in an interview with Thomas Friedman what’s the number one thing he’d still like to do, he said ‘put a price on carbon’.

LIPSON: But he wasn’t able to do it and that’s why he has imposed this other curbing of emissions. He wasn’t able to get a price on carbon through Congress.

LEIGH: That true, but one of the parts of the Obama package if you look carefully at it, is encouraging carbon pricing schemes at the state level. California, a state bigger than Australia, is putting in place a carbon price as are around 30 countries around the world, including communist China. It’s ironic that while the Liberal Party here are running away from it, nominally communist China is moving towards a market based mechanism.

LIPSON: Are you pleased then that energy efficiency is now on the formal agenda of the G20?

LEIGH: I think energy efficiency is fine. I’d really like though to see on the agenda climate change, and the most effective way to deal with it. I think the reason that this government has argued so strongly behind the scenes to other countries to keep climate change off the G20 agenda is because they’re isolated in running away from it. A recent survey looked at 60 major countries around the globe and what they’re doing to combat climate change. It found that two countries are backsliding, Japan because they’re shutting down nuclear reactors in the wake of Fukushima, we can probably defend that, and Australia because Mr Abbott, who once supported carbon pricing, has now decided for political reasons, to oppose it. But we don’t have time to muck around on this. We’ve got extreme weather events happening, we’ve got a system that is working to reduce emissions, we need to stick with it.

LIPSON: This week Joe Hockey, in his speech on fairness in Australia, said that the average Australian worker, be they a cleaner, a plumber or a teacher is working over one month full time each year to pay for the welfare of another Australian and he asked the question is that fair? Do you think it’s fair?

LEIGH: What Joe Hockey is describing is the fact that during our lives we play different roles so Joe Hockey wants to split Australians into leaners and lifters. You and I David, when we were at school, were apparently ‘leaners’ because we were benefiting from government funded schools and in our retirement we may well be what Mr Hockey called ‘leaners’ as well. Certainly my grandfather, who left school at 14 and worked as a boilermaker, would according to Mr Hockey be a ‘leaner’. But –

LIPSON: The leaners that he’s talking about though, he was quite specific, and it’s more to do with those on welfare that are actually able to work. Those that aren’t working that could be encouraged back into work or those that are only working a certain amount and could be encouraged to work more.

LEIGH: Well, that’s not what the figures you’ve talked about. The figures you’ve talked about refer to the totality of the Australian welfare state, a relatively small and targeted welfare state. Mr Hockey seems to think that people who care for a child with a disability are ‘leaners’. A mum who walks out on an abusive relationship, taking her young children with her and receives a modest family support is a ‘leaner’.

LIPSON: He didn’t say that, to be fair to him, I mean you’re putting that imposition on his words. He did not actually make those comparisons. 

LEIGH: He was very clear that half of Australians were dependant on government payments and that we needed to discourage ‘leaners’. It seems to me –

LIPSON: But he said those at different parts of the speech as well.

LEIGH: I think this is pretty clearly Mr Hockey’s Mitt Romney moment. Remember when Mitt Romney said that 47 per cent of Americans were dependant on government and would never vote for him. I think Joe Hockey’s on the ropes because so many Australians are saying this isn’t just a budget that increases the deficit, not just one that breaks promises, but also one that breaks the Australian social contract. It’s fundamentally unfair. 

LIPSON: On welfare, do you support a simplification of the system? This is something that Ken Henry recommended should happen in 2009 to the then Labor Government. It wasn’t take on board, it looks like Patrick McClure is going to recommend something very similar, is that something Labor would support? If we just separate reductions, or potential for reductions in welfare payments, do you support a simplification of the system to make it more efficient?

LEIGH: We’re always open to ideas and on simplification for example Labor took a million people out of the tax filing system. But I am worried when ideas like this come from a government which has such a terrible track record in terms of looking after the most vulnerable. The poorest single parents will lose one dollar in ten out of their wallets and purses as a result of this budget. The most affluent will gain a parental leave scheme that’s pays $50,000 to people to have a child. At the same time as the government says that everyone has to bear the burden, they’re pushing up one of the superannuation contribution thresholds from $150,000 to $180,000, which will benefit chiefly people on multi-million dollar incomes. So this is a government that I think that needs to be judged by its track record and if you’re a young person, if you’re a pensioner, if you’re somebody who’s with a disability, then the track record is not good at all.

LIPSON: Should the NDIS be formally linked with the carer payment and the disability support pension? Reports today suggest that that’s what the McClure review will recommend.

LEIGH: I think we need to move very carefully and with a great degree of consultation. One of the things that marked Labor putting in place DisabilityCare was that we worked right across the spectrum with disability groups, with states and territories. It’s why in the end Mr Abbott and Mr Hockey had no choice but to come on board, although Mr Hockey was pretty sceptical of DisabilityCare.                     

LIPSON: But potentially you’d support that?

LEIGH: It will be a matter that Jenny Macklin will address but I think that the government needs to engage in much better consultation then they’ve done so far David.

LIPSON: Andrew Leigh, we’ll have to leave it there, thanks for your time.

LEIGH: Thank you David.

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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.