ABC NEWS RADIO
MONDAY, 19 OCTOBER 2015
SUBJECT/S: Multinational tax; Superannuation; Malcolm Turnbull’s Cayman Island portfolio; Polls.
MARIUS BENSON: Andrew Leigh, good morning.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Good morning, Marius.
BENSON: You are backing these measures by the Government to crack down on multinational tax avoidance although you say yourself that you're a bit underwhelmed by them?
LEIGH: Well that's what the Budget says Marius. The Budget estimate of the amount of revenue that this package will raise is basically zero. There's a set of asterisks there in the Budget Papers where revenue estimates should be, so the Government isn't particularly confident about this adding to the Budget bottom line. But to the extent that they're committed to closing loopholes, we're committed to support that in the spirit of bipartisanship. We hope that in return, they'll take a look at Labor’s $7 billion package which has been costed, which does raise revenue and which closes a different set of loopholes than the Government's package focuses on.
BENSON: In fact the Prime Minister said in Parliament last week that he's also prepared to look at Labor proposals for cracking down on superannuation tax breaks as well. Is there a new spirit of cooperation since Malcolm Turnbull took over?
LEIGH: Well it would be nice to think there was, Marius. Let's wait and see. The proof of the pudding is in the eating but I certainly hope that the Prime Minister, unlike his predecessor, will recognise that Australia's superannuation tax breaks aren't fair and they aren't sustainable. They're growing far faster than the pension and indeed we're going to be spending more on superannuation tax breaks for those at the top than pension payments for those at the bottom within a couple of years.
BENSON: You were pursuing Malcolm Turnbull over his own financial arrangements, his international financial arrangements in the Cayman Islands last week. By near-universal assessment that didn't go down very well. Will you be pursuing Malcolm Turnbull on that further this week?
LEIGH: Marius, parliamentary tactics will play themselves out as they will but I do think it's appropriate for Labor to be asking questions about one of the world's most notorious tax havens. Our focus, as I've made absolutely clear the whole way through, was never on the Prime Minister's personal wealth. He's worked hard and had some good fortune –
BENSON: But that's exactly what Sam Dastyari was pointing to when he raised the issue in the Senate; the Prime Minister's personal wealth. And the inference that the only reason for using the Cayman Islands was to reduce tax exposure.
LEIGH: Well the Cayman Islands has been on the radar of international tax authorities around the world for many decades. The OECD has been concerned about it; our own Tax Commissioner has described the Cayman Islands as being a tax haven. So our concern was always around it being very important for Australia's Prime Minister to be beyond reproach when it came to dealing with multinational tax avoidance. You can't, on the one hand, say that you're serious about cracking down on multinational tax avoidance and then on the other hand be working so closely with one of the world's worst tax havens.
BENSON: Do you think the public was impressed by the attack last week? Obviously the evidence of a public response to that is the poll that was conducted over the weekend which shows 68 per cent approval for Malcolm Turnbull. As preferred Prime Minister, when people are asked who they prefer, 67 per cent say they prefer Malcolm Turnbull. Just 21 per cent say they prefer Bill Shorten.
LEIGH: Well, Marius as you know from many of our conversations I don't place much stock in polls.
BENSON: But you have to place a lot of stock in polls – that's why Malcolm Turnbull is Prime Minister. He has said that's why he's Prime Minister; John Howard said that's why he's Prime Minister; Tony Abbott said that's why he's Prime Minister. The polls, irritating though that the reality is for many, matter.
LEIGH: Marius, if you'd like to get off your addiction to single polls I can highly recommend my latest book ‘The Luck of Politics’ which has an entire chapter devoted to alternatives to following a single poll.
BENSON: No, no, we've been following about 170 I think since the last election.
LEIGH: You're talking about a single poll today and I'm arguing to you that focusing on a single poll distracts us from talking about issues, which are what we canvassed before. One of the things we've seen since Malcolm Turnbull took over the leadership is he's taken up a number of Labor ideas. We've been talking about cities and start-ups for years now and it's very pleasing to see Malcolm Turnbull picking up those ideas. Let's face it; in politics having your opponents take your ideas is in some sense, the sincerest form of flattery.
BENSON: But your colleagues have been saying that his ideas are exactly Tony Abbott's ideas. You seem to be in contradiction to what your colleagues have been saying. They've been saying new salesman, same sales pitch.
LEIGH: Well we're yet to see these things flow out into legislation on the floor of the Parliament. There’s been chatter about cities and start-ups, but the point that we've been making is in terms of the actual legislation we're yet to see much change there. If we see further change, it would be welcomed. I'm fundamentally in politics, Marius, because I care deeply about ideas: about making sure we've got a fairer tax system, that we create a great environment for start-ups and that we tackle questions such as inequality. So if those ideas are what we focus on in the coming weeks then that is a terrific thing
BENSON: Your Labor colleague, Ed Husic, said that the replacement of Tony Abbott by Malcolm Turnbull was good for the country but narrowly and politically bad for Labor. Do you agree that Malcolm Turnbull is better for the country as leader than Tony Abbott?
LEIGH: I am focused on the national conversation; I think Malcolm Turnbull is certainly somebody who is engaged on a number of important issues. Where I spoke before about cities and start-ups, that's terrific to see him start to share Labor’s focus. But where the rubber hits the road, Marius, is whether you're actually prepared to act on things. That's why before, when I talked about multinational tax, I raised the question as to whether the Prime Minister won't just introduce a package that raises no revenue, but will actually back a package that does. That's where the fine words have to translate into legislative action. Bill Shorten has been talking about tax fairness and putting our Parliamentary Budget Office-costed package forward as a proposal. If Malcolm Turnbull can take that up in the spirit of constructive bipartisanship then yes, that will certainly be a mark to his credit.
BENSON: Andrew Leigh, thank you very much.
LEIGH: Thank you, Marius
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