MONDAY, 25 FEBRUARY 2019
SUBJECTS: Franking credits, school chaplains, climate change, Ita Buttrose.
TIM SHAW: Last week, ACT Liberal senator Zed Seselja met with retirees at a forum at Parliament House. He was with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, looking at Labor's planned changes to franking credits. Senator Seselja joined me on the program on Wednesday ahead of the forum and he said it will leave thousands of retirees worse off. It's always good to get the other side's view. Dr Andrew Leigh, Shadow Assistant Treasurer and Federal Labor MP for Fenner, is on the line. Good morning, sir.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Good morning, Tim. How are you?
SHAW: Good. You wouldn't suggest Senator Seselja misled my listeners, would you?
LEIGH: I think he’s certainly stretching the truth there, Tim. The truth is that no one will pay a single cent more tax. No one will lose anything than their super contributions. No one will lose anything from their pension. No one will lose anything from their dividends. All we're doing is ending the situation where Australia is the only country in the world that cuts cheques to people who haven't paid any tax, half of whom have multi-million dollar superannuation balances. I understand many retirees have worked and saved hard, but it's simply not sustainable for us to be spending more than $5 billion a year sending cheques to people with significant amounts in their superannuation accounts and then not be able to properly fund public schools, aged care, reduce hospital waiting lists and the like.
SHAW: Yeah. Two things - there was conversations about the franked or the dividend imputation. So, say I've got shares in Telstra, they pay a certain amount of tax to the government. I am on a low income, but I do have some Telstra shares. Aren’t I getting that cheque cut to me on the basis of the contribution the company tax that Telstra has actually paid and that's why I've been getting that cheque on the dividend imputation and the franked credit?
LEIGH: What will happen under the Labor proposal will be that we will go back to the system we had from 1987 to 2000, where you can use franked dividends to reduce your tax to zero, but not below zero. So no longer will the Tax Office be cutting cheques in the way in which the Family Assistance Office and Centrelink do. You'll be able to reduce your tax burden, but not get a cheque back from the Tax Office.
SHAW: Yeah. I understand that. Are you concerned that when Tanya Plibersek told me at the National Press Club that not only does Labor fully support the continued operation of the chaplaincy program, that Tanya Plibersek completely supports the right of a school principal to decide whether I get someone for spiritual guidance or get someone who is professionally trained school counsellor. Were you shocked that the Barr Government announced, Yvette Berry, that they're getting rid of the chaplaincy in 21 schools here in the ACT?
LEIGH: That's a matter to the ACT Government and-
SHAW: But they’re your constituents too, Dr Leigh. I mean, you are a federal Member of Parliament. You are responsible - you're the highest two party preferred Labor member in the country. You'd be concerned that local constituents feel that Andrew Barr and Yvette Berry are cutting god out of Canberra schools?
LEIGH: Tim, different states and territories have handled this issue in different ways-
SHAW: But how would you handle that? Your electors are asking you.
LEIGH: They’re not, frankly Tim. They're asking me how I would deal with federal issues. When I'm standing on street stalls in Gungahlin and Belconnen, people come up to me and ask me about how I will handle those federal issues. I’ve got huge respect for Andrew and Yvette and great confidence that they're making the best decisions for Canberrans.
SHAW: There's a concerted effort to discredit Senator Zed Seselja. It's being led by Unions ACT. We also learned this morning that a brand new independent candidate, someone on climate change, is coming up. What do you expect that – clearly they wouldn't giving these preferences to the Liberal Party - you'd expect that those preferences would flow from Anthony Pesec to Labor and to the Greens?
LEIGH: The campaign to discredit Zed Seselja has been run principally by Zed Seselja himself. I mean, this is the bloke who knocked off Gary Humphries, told him he was safe and then took his job; who's constantly been one of the most extreme senators in the parliament despite the fact that Canberrans tend to have pretty moderate political views. He's been part of the climate change denying wing in the Liberal Party, the wing that argued against marriage equality. He's been wrong footed and left on the wrong side of history on many of these decisions. I think he's out of touch with Canberra and so we could do far better than Zed Seselja in the Senate.
SHAW: $2 billion the Prime Minister's announcing for the next 10 years as part of that climate change, you could call it a reaction investment fund. This is simply the $200 million a year we've been sending overseas to a bureaucracy, related to the Paris targets. Is it better to keep the cash at home?
LEIGH: Tim, the emissions reduction fund been discredited even by Treasury. They say that a third of the dollars don't produce anything additional, you’re just paying people for what they would have done otherwise. They say that the cost of reducing emissions is in the order of $80 a tonne - far more expensive than any of the alternatives. We want to make sure we're investing in clean green technology-
SHAW: 100 per cent. 100 per cent renewable energy target here in the ACT and Labor federally is 50 per cent. So should the ACT Government adjust its renewable energy target down to federal Labor's level of 50?
LEIGH: I don't think the ACT Government should apologise for being ambitious on climate change. When I drive around Canberra I see plenty of solar panels on the roof, plenty of desire for making sure we're doing our bit to combat global warming-
SHAW: Fair enough.
LEIGH: Tim, we had a quarter of a century where Canberra’s temperatures never went over 40 degrees. And then we had a week in January where that happened on four days during the week-
SHAW: Bloody hot.
LEIGH: Climate change is real for many Canberrans. People want serious action but also on the action that's going to make it make the biggest difference and that's certainly not this ramped up emission reductions fund. That's sensible interventions, grounded in the science and the economics, much of it coming out of places like ANU.
SHAW: Finally, do you think Ita Buttrose to make a good chairman of the ABC?
LEIGH: I'll leave it to the government. The process does seem to have been a bit botched, given that she wasn't on the initial shortlist, popping up later. Obviously, Ita is a household name and a great Australian. But I'll leave it to the government to answer how they've gone through that very important process of choosing a chair for our public broadcaster.
SHAW: Thanks so much for your time, lovely to catch up.
LEIGH: Likewise, Tim. Thank you.