SKY NEWSDAY WITH TOM CONNELL
TUESDAY, 24 OCTOBER 2023
SUBJECTS: Doubling philanthropy; superannuation bequests; the legislated purpose of superannuation; artificial intelligence.
TOM CONNELL (HOST): Welcome back. Well, Australians are known as the people that give relatively generously. The Labor Government thinks that could be more so, there is an aim to double our philanthropy by the year 2030. Joining me live is Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury Andrew Leigh on that very topic. So, a meeting today around that because we have the goals and then we have how we get there. How are you going to get there? What's the aim here? Is it just give generously or is it about tax incentives? What can you do here?
ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR CHARITIES, COMPETITION, TREASURY AND EMPLOYMENT ANDREW LEIGH: Well, Tom, we're aiming to boost giving right across the spectrum, everywhere from Kids in Philanthropy to workplace giving, to boosting giving by high net worth individuals. We've got a Productivity Commission review, a once-in-a-generation opportunity to look at the philanthropy settings. What's great is to have in the Parliament today a whole range of generous foundations, donors and charities talking about how we can work together to address some of Australia's most pressing social problems. It's about building community, it's about connecting people. I spoke today about the fact that an Australia without charities would be an Australia without community sport, without the arts, without the support for the disadvantaged and the environment. Charities do so much remarkable work in the community. And the government's aim to double philanthropy by 2030 aims to give them resources to do even more.
CONNELL: Number one thing charities generally need is cash. Number two is, I'd say time, volunteers, people. Our own company actually gives us one day a year to volunteer, which is fully paid day. Is that something you can encourage with companies, whether it be for tax purposes or something else? Because a lot of workers out there and they've got different skills. Not so much myself, but I'm sure charities would appreciate more time and people volunteering as well.
LEIGH: I wouldn't undersell yourself, Tom. I imagine there's plenty of charities who would like to engage more with the media and would love your advice as to how to do it. And one of the things about that is that we're encouraging organisations to think about not only getting their employees out on a Friday in order to paint a fence, but to use their expertise. The online volunteer matching engines and the work of Volunteering Australia really is about how to match up an accountant with an organisation that needs accounting skills.
CONNELL: You sort of think to yourself, I'll get away from my day job and get my hands dirty. But actually, they'd say your fence painting is fine, you spooned out some good soup, but our books need a bit of attention.
LEIGH: Exactly. Or in your case, how do we do communication better? Many professionals have skills that can be well used by the charity sector. The law profession has probably been the best of this, but a lot of what we're trying to do with charities is to get that expertise and alongside that, have the workplace giving. Most of us are in a workplace that has a workplace giving programme, but relatively few of us use it.
CONNELL: Yeah, all right. Well, you know, if there's someone out there that thinks I'm of use, I'd be flattered. There's a push from one of your former colleagues, Kristina Kenneally, to be bold in response to these changes to superannuation. At the moment, if you die and there's a bequest in your super to a charity, it gets taxed at 17%. If it's to a person, it doesn't. It's a pretty simple change to make. Did you hear that pitch from her today? You open to it?
LEIGH: I did indeed. Kristina is a good friend and, of course, a former Sky host, so we all take her seriously. Her pitch is one that Philanthropy Australia has been making for a long time. The government hasn't ruled it out. Our main focus, though, on superannuation, Tom, is making sure that superannuation is sustainable.
CONNELL: But just on the charity element. We'll get to the sustainability in a mean this is revenue for the government. I guess that's the only reason not to do it. But it's not taxed otherwise. It strikes me it's just a sort of red tape change that will help you get your goal as Charities Minister.
LEIGH: Well, right now our focus is on legislating the purpose of superannuation. We need to make sure that superannuation isn't being used in order to pull money out. The former Coalition government allowed people to pull out a couple of $10,000 lumps from their superannuation. We know much of that went to gambling. We know that somebody who pulled out $10,000 when they were young made themselves $120,000 worse off in retirement. So, that's the aim of the legislated purpose of super. To stop this craziness of super for homes, making yourself poorer in retirement. And really to focus on the sustainability of superannuation.
CONNELL: On Kristina’s suggestion, what did you say to her? I'll take it to Cabinet, submit it to Cabinet. However the process goes when you're not inside it. Have you pledged for something a bit more than we got your feedback before?
LEIGH: We haven't ruled it out, but the Productivity Commission inquiry really is where we're at in terms of thinking through the right settings.
CONNELL: What about the tax changes? You've obviously put some forward already. Is that it on super, on tax changes, or is it sort of look at it again down the track, depending on what sort of effect they have?
LEIGH: All we have planned at this stage is changes that affect just half a percent of superannuants. People affected have balances over $3 million. They'll continue to receive a tax concession, just not as generous a tax concession as they received in the past. That's about making the system sustainable.
CONNELL: And the next thing might be user pays within super and aged care. That seems like there's a fair bit of chatter about that that could be used in some way.
LEIGH: We don't have future plans to change super. We've announced this change. It's an important one. The legislated purpose of super is what Stephen Jones and Jim Chalmers will be bringing to the Parliament next.
CONNELL: You would have been attuned to that conversation and it's been sort of floated by the Aged Care Minister around. It's a big, potentially expensive new item for the government or an increasing one, and tapping into super might be an option.
LEIGH: There's a whole range of ideas floating around on superannuation, Tom. It's a perennial in Australia. As one of my colleagues once put it, once you've been around in politics for a long time, everything comes down to ‘they should teach it in school’ or ‘they should spend super on it’. So, you can expect it to be part of a whole range of conversations. But I've told you our priorities for now. That legislated purpose of super and the change affecting the top 0.5%.
CONNELL: Now, we spoke a little while ago about the potential for the end of mankind, which is a lovely cheery topic to delve through. You wrote a book on it a couple of years ago and you said the biggest issue then was artificial intelligence. And it sort of feels as though you were ahead of the curve a bit. Bit. Because recently that's been all this recent talk and I guess progression of AI, are you more or less concerned around this being the demise of mankind?
LEIGH: Well, there's no other technology, Tom, where when you ask the experts working on it, they say there is a 5% risk that it could spell the end of humanity. So, getting the settings right really is critical. I think Australia, while we don't host an OpenAI or some of the big tech companies working on the generative engines, we can be part of that conversation. Minister Ed Husic has led with a responsible AI discussion paper. There's been global conversations. Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron brought a proposal forward in 2017 for something akin to an International Panel on Climate Change for artificial intelligence. Those ideas are out there.
CONNELL: We’ve had AI progress since then, but actual formal government controls haven’t have they? Still in conversation? Is that a bit of a concern? Bit behind the eight ball?
LEIGH: The technology has moved as fast as any other you can imagine…
CONNELL: And faster than the legislation around it.
LEIGH: That’s invariably what happens in a whole range of areas. You look at cryptocurrency, for example. Technology frequently outpaces regulation. I can see huge benefits for productivity. A BCG study found people using ChatGPT4 were 25% faster and 40% higher quality.
CONNELL: And we always hope it gets rid of the boring stuff, right. If people are sort of saying, what's it going to do? Whose job will it take? Create new jobs and get rid of the stuff that's drudgery.
LEIGH: Indeed and it certainly seems like it could benefit a whole range of knowledge workers. And unlike other general purpose technologies – the steam engine and electrification – large language models can be immediately picked up and used straight away. So, the productivity benefits are huge. We just need to be careful around getting the regulation right.
CONNELL: Andrew Leigh, thanks for your time.
LEIGH: Real pleasure, Tom. Thank you.