PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
FRIDAY, 4 MARCH 2016
SUBJECT/S: charities commission; tax reform; economic indicators
SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER, ANDREW LEIGH: Thanks everyone for coming. My name is Andrew Leigh, the Shadow Assistant Treasurer.
Over three years after the charities commission was created, the Coalition has finally decided they support it. Let's be clear: the charities commission was set up for practical reasons, and should always have enjoyed bipartisan support. The charities commission is good for charities who are able to be listed on the register setting out the charities who are doing the right thing. It's good for donors: someone turns up at your doorstep and you're wondering about whether they are legitimate, you can go to www.acnc.gov.au and check out their bona fides. And it's good for taxpayers to have the accountability of knowing there is a one-stop-shop charity register that provides everyone with the information they need to know who are the decent charities in Australia.
The charities commission came out of recommendations from numerous inquires going back to 1995. In 2006, a bipartisan Parliamentary inquiry recommend the creation of a charities commission. Malcolm Turnbull was one of the people who was on that committee, and signed of supporting the charities commission. In 2010, the Productivity Commission recommended a charities commission.
Yet the Coalition's opposition to it has always been ideological. Under Kevin Andrews, Scott Morrison and for six months under Christian Porter, the Coalition has had its official policy: killing the charities commission. It's taken six months for Christian Porter to finally be able to say to charities commission that they get to stay.
Of course, the charity sector themselves have always strongly supported the charities commission. Only 6% want charities regulation to go back to the tax office, and surveys consistently find that 4 out of 5 charities support the charities commission. Indeed in an open letter which was sent to the Prime Minister a couple of years ago, there were over 40 charities who called on the Prime Minister - then Tony Abbott - to keep the charities commission. That included charities across the spectrum - ACOSS, Sane Australia, the RSPCA, the Myer Foundation, Hillsong Church - all called on the Coalition to drop their ideological plans to kill the charities commission.
Labor has consistently campaigned to maintain the charities commission. Bill Shorten has spoken about this in Parliament. It might be a coincidence, but yesterday I moved a private member's motion supporting the charities commission, and calling the Government to drop their ideological plans to scrap the charities commission.
Now let's be clear: damage has been done. The charities commission has told the Senate that it's losing around 25% of its staff every year. That heavy staff attrition has happened because the axe has been hanging over the head of the charities commission; because the Government has been too concerned in playing ideological games, and not concerned enough with doing the right thing by our Australian charities.
I want to pay tribute to ACNC head Susan Pascoe for all she's endured over these last few years before the Coalition finally came to its senses. Now is the time we can make sure the charities commission work is even better. Already South Australia and the ACT are working with the charities commission to reduce duplicate paperwork for charities, to make it a true one-stop-shop for charities. I encourage the Coalition at the federal level to now work with their counterparts in State and Territory governments, making sure that charities do less paperwork.
Finally I just want to make a quick comment on tax reform. I addressed the Tax Institute's National Convention this morning in Melbourne. The invitation had gone out to the Coalition, but no Coalition person showed up to speak about their tax ideas. I think it says a lot about the Coalition's disarray on the issue of tax: they are unable to send anyone along to speak to one of our nation's premier bodies about their ideas for tax reform. After I spoke, the Tax Institute president put out a statement which said “we eagerly await the same from the Government. At the moment the tax reform debate is one-sided, and we look forward to some balance."
This is from the Tax Institute, a body whose senior tax counsel was seconded to head the tax unit in the Treasurer's office. They're concerned about the lack of economic leadership from this Government as are so many Australians. I'm happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: How long would you expect it would take to further reduce red tape within the Commission without having to shut it down obviously? That is still a major issue.
LEIGH: I hope we can move quickly in reducing duplicate paperwork. I hope other states and territories would follow the lead of the ACT and South Australia in ceding their reporting requirements to the charities commission. It was the reason it was set up - to be the one-stop-shop for charities and to make sure charities can spend less time filling out forms and more time helping the vulnerable and doing the great work that so many charities do across Australia.
JOURNALIST: Andrew you mentioned Tony Abbott's opposition to this body. Tony Abbott has also launched his opposition to Labor's five big new taxes today: housing tax, a wealth tax, a senior's tax, a worker's tax and a carbon tax, all of which he says Labor will bring back if they win government. Are you worried about another Tony Abbott scare campaign ahead of the 2016 election?
LEIGH: I'm not worried about a scare campaign from Tony Abbott. I'm not worried about a scare campaign from the Prime Minister who seems to be acting the part of Tony Abbott right now. What I am worried about though is that the Government has completely failed to come up with ideas of its own. In a context in which unemployment is up, debt is up, confidence is down and we have inequality at a 75-year high, we need a Government focused on the future - on ideas to improve prosperity for all Australians. Instead we are just getting second rate scare campaigns on Labor's practical proposals to make a difference.
JOURNALIST: How will you counteract that quite persuasive slogan of five new taxes?
LEIGH: I think in the same ways you counteract every scare campaign: with the facts, with reasoned argument, with a sense of optimism that it is possible to improve our tax system. Labor doesn't believe - like the Coalition seems to - that our tax system is perfect. We don't think our superannuation tax breaks are fair and we don't think they are sustainable. We believe it is possible to increase cigarette exercise in a way that stops more young Australians taking up smoking, and adds to the budget bottom line. And like three quarters of economists, we don't believe that negative gearing and capital gains tax arrangements are fair or sustainable. That's why we've taken the bold step in announcing the policies that will improve housing affordability and will also add to the budget bottom line.
JOURNALIST: How do you interpret today's retail figures? Slightly below expectations, but still up 0.3%?
LEIGH: We're seeing occasional positive signs in some economic indicators but what Australians don't have is that long term economic leadership that Malcolm Turnbull promised when he toppled Tony Abbott. I'd like to see more of the long term plan which of course involves a plan for schools. Labor is the only one with a funded plan out there, to make sure all children in every school get the needs-based funding that they are entitled to. You cannot build a clever country, you cannot create innovative businesses without a great education system underpinning it.
JOURNALIST: In terms of your negative gearing policy, can you just clarify how other asset classes would be affected - like shares? The focus has generally been on property?
LEIGH: Our policy is clear: negative gearing after the 1 July 2017 will continue only for new housing and for existing assets which are grandfathered under the policy. That then encourages people to increase housing supply. This is also the approach the Federal Government under John Howard and many State Governments - Labor and Coalition - have taken with the first home owner grants, recognising first time owner grants should be directed towards encouraging new-built homes, making sure we get that housing supply we need for a rapidly growing population.
JOURNALIST: The other day Bill Shorten referred to modelling on negative gearing and the he said it was modelling done by economists like Saul Eslake and the ANU. Have you asked economists to model your exact policy after your announcement to see the impact it would have on housing prices?
LEIGH: This is an issue that has been very thoroughly modelled. Look at the work by the Australian National University, work done by the University of New South Wales, work done by the Grattan Institute. All of these issues have been carefully canvassed. That's why when the McKell Institute asked Australian economists what they thought about Labor's plans, they were optimistic about Labor's plan working and very critical of Malcolm Turnbull's scare campaign suggesting somehow house prices are going to fall. It is simply a lie.
JOURNALIST: Would you be happy or willing to have BIS Shrapnel model your exact policy?
LEIGH: I'm not sure BIS Shrapnel has much credibility left. But there was one useful page of their report - it was the last one - which very clearly showed that the changes in the mid-1980s in negative gearing did not cause a nationwide change in rents. Other than that, the BIS Shrapnel report made a series of assumptions that were at odds with our policies, got Australia's GDP wrong, and came to contradictory conclusions, suggesting both that rents would rise and the investors would flee the market. No more questions? Thanks everyone.