MONDAY, 22 JULY 2019
Subjects: The Drought Future Fund; the Morrison Government’s lack of policy clothing; foreign fighters; protesters; superannuation.
HOST: Thank you very much for your time this morning. One of the bills - and great to be with you - one of the bills that will be debated this week is the future drought fund. Will Labor support it?
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: If it’s got new money, we're very happy to back it. The problem is so far the government simply wants to do pea and thimble tricks, moving money from one fund to another. The money they want to put in this future drought fund comes from the Building Australia Fund, which is the fund providing infrastructure across the nation, including in rural and regional communities-
HOST: But the government-
LEIGH: So it's beyond me why you want to take money out of rural and regional infrastructure and put it in combating drought. What farmers need is new resources, not a reallocation of existing ones.
HOST: But the government has $100 billion in infrastructure works that have been in place for a while now. Why not have both?
LEIGH: We need to make sure we've got that pipeline of investment flowing. We know the economy is looking pretty fragile right now. A whole range of indicators are turning down. Unemployment is now sitting a percentage point higher than in Britain, New Zealand, Germany. The Reserve Bank Governor is calling on the federal government to do more on infrastructure. And yet, as a result of moving money out of the Building Australian Fund into another fund, you’d do less in infrastructure. You’d be doing the opposite of what the Reserve Bank has been calling on the federal government to do.
HOST: Why would you delay funding to farmers who really need it?
LEIGH: You need to get new money to farmers that really need it. Anthony Albanese has said very clearly, if it's got new money we’ll back it. If it's robbing Peter to pay Paul, that’s not a sensible solution for Australian farmers at a time when the economy is extremely fragile. We've had 20 top economists recently tell us that none of them believe the government's wage growth forecasts. We’ve got productivity growth in the doldrums and we've got wage growth flatlining. The government has been left behind when it comes to dealing with the economy, the Reserve Bank having now to push interest rates down to a third of the level where they were the global financial crisis. The Reserve Bank can't do it all. They need a Federal Government that is committed to spending on infrastructure, not taking money out of infrastructure, albeit for a worthy cause such as supporting farmers.
HOST: So it sounds like you’re going to be voting against the fund, then. Is that right?
LEIGH: We're keen to make sure the government does the right thing. I don’t think it's impossible that when the government has exhausted all the other options it actually comes to the table and does the right thing-
HOST: But are you voting against it?
LEIGH: -putting new money for farmers. We’re encouraging the government to make sure they put new money on the table. As soon as they do that, we'll back it.
HOST: Will Labor fold again, just like they did with the tax cuts recently?
LEIGH: What we did with the tax cuts was we said we wanted to get more money into the economy. We supported that short term stimulus and indeed we were calling on the government to bring forward the tax cut-
HOST: But in the end you folded though. Let's call it what it is. You folded in the end and supported the tax cuts.
LEIGH: In the end, we were faced with a package that wasn't the package that we would have put on the table. We would have given more Australians bigger tax cuts sooner-
HOST: So is this just a bit of posturing?
LEIGH: - Labor wanted smaller-
HOST: Is this is just a bit of posturing now?
LEIGH: This is an important point. We had a package on the table before us which had less short term stimulus than we liked, but did contain some short term stimulus and had tax cuts in 2024 that we thought weren’t prudent given the current fiscal environment. On balance, we made the decision to support that package after our amendments had failed. We’ll work constructively with the government. We're very keen to make sure that the Australian economy is supported at a time of significant global uncertainty. Whether it's a hard Brexit or the US-China trade war, there are significant problems in the world economy and more issues in the domestic economy that the government has failed to deal with. You know, they say that you find out who's swimming naked when the tide’s going out. And as the tide’s going out, the government is not looking like it’s wearing many clothes.
HOST: Alright. I’ll tell you what, Andrew Leigh, we've got a busy week for you. We've got plenty to unpack here. I just want to get your thoughts quickly on the imprisonment of farm invaders for five years. Is that something you support?
LEIGH: We need to make sure that these laws are not infringing on freedom of speech. The federal laws, as I understand them, will be looking at people advocating certain actions. We need to make sure we've got strong protections for freedom of speech, you'd know that in your industry given that we’ve seen government raids on journalists over recent weeks which do seem to be stretching the limits of where government ought to get involved. So we've got to be careful and prudent as we work through these laws, as we look at what the committees recommend on them. We want to be very careful that we don't overstep in dealing with these issues. I don't have much time for anti-science activists, but I also want to make sure we defend free speech.
HOST: Will you support temporary exclusion orders? They'll be up for debate this week.
LEIGH: We support the principle of banning foreign fighters. We want to make sure-
HOST: What does that mean though?
LEIGH: - we want to make sure they’re constitutional. Well, that means that you need to look at the recommendations coming out of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security-
HOST: What concerns do you have about it?
LEIGH: Well, there's been a range of recommendations that have come out of that committee, a Liberal dominated committee run by Andrew Hastie. It’s not just any committee. Its recommendations have been heeded every time since 2013. So it’d be quite surprising if the government was to arrogantly reject recommendations of people like Andrew Hastie, Eric Abetz, Jason Wood and Julian Leeser - Liberals who are on that committee. We need to make sure the laws are constitutional, that they can withstand a challenge. You’d think if anyone was concerned about withstanding a High Court challenge, it’d be Peter Dutton.
HOST: Andrew Leigh, just finally, I just want to get your thoughts on a story that's running on the front page of The Australian today. More Liberal MPs are putting pressure on Josh Frydenberg not to increase the superannuation rate at the moment to 12 per cent. Where do you stand on that?
LEIGH: Labor believes we need to increase superannuation contributions, so people can enjoy a decent retirement. But it's no surprise that yet again the Liberals are fighting universal superannuation-
HOST: But the argument is that people need the money now.
LEIGH: -introduced it in the early 1990s-
HOST: But people need the money now, to be able to invest.
LEIGH: There's always an excuse that Liberals have for not backing universal superannuation. They didn’t like the universal superannuation scheme as a whole when it was introduced. John Howard promised he'd stick with the legislated patter of increase, in 1996 then broke that promise and froze the contributions Tony Abbott pulled behind trick in 2013, promising that the pattern of increase to superannuation contributions would go on but then freezing it. High income workers enjoyed more substantial contributions to universal superannuation – indeed, these Liberal parliamentarians who were arguing for less superannuation for low income workers themselves have 15 per cent of their salary put into superannuation. Fifteen per cent is good enough for them. I'm not sure why they ought to be denying increases to lower income workers.
HOST: Andrew Leigh, a busy week for you. Thank you very much for your time this morning. Appreciate it.
LEIGH: Absolutely. Always a pleasure.
Authorised by Noah Carroll ALP Canberra.