ABC NEWS RADIO
TUESDAY, 21 NOVEMBER 2017
SUBJECTS: Malcolm Turnbull’s tax increases for middle Australia; Malcolm Turnbull’s tax cuts for big business; cancellation of sittings; banking royal commission; three AC/DC song references.
GLEN BARTHOLOMEW: For a response, we’re joined by Labor’s Shadow Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh. Good morning.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Good morning, Glen. How are you?
BARTHOLOMEW: Not too bad. Sounds like an admirable task, or ambition at least, to ease the burden on Australians earning up to $87,000 a year. Would you support that move?
LEIGH: It’s downright weird, Glen, for a Prime Minister who has just said that he was going to raise taxes on middle Australia to then turn around and hope to be patted on the back for lowering them. One of the big differences in Australian politics is that Bill Shorten has said that he won’t support Malcolm Turnbull’s decision to raise taxes on those earning below $87,000. The increase in taxes on average workers was in this year’s budget. Malcolm Turnbull is a tax raiser for average Australians. The only people whose taxes he wants to cut are those earning over $180,000 and the biggest businesses.
BARTHOLOMEW: Presumedly Labor though also wants to ease the tax burden on middle income earners, those who could be squeezed by bracket creep, that move into a top or a higher bracket.
LEIGH: Absolutely. We supported the change in that second highest bracket. We also opposed Malcolm Turnbull’s attempt to raise taxes on middle Australia. But I don’t think it was coincidence, Glen, that on the very same day that the Prime Minister couldn’t remember the song ‘Back in Black’, the Treasurer is writing to CEOs asking for their help for a budget-busting tax cut. The tax cut for big businesses is the biggest promise that either side of politics has made on any issue. It’s just not affordable. And because Malcolm Turnbull is committed to that, he’s committed therefore to having to raise taxes on average Australians. His own Treasury has done the numbers on what this means for personal income and the impacts on household personal income of a big business tax cut funded by middle Australia tax increases is 0.1 per cent in the 2030s.
BARTHOLOMEW: So you’re looking to stick to those guns. Also moving to restore that deficit levy, aren’t you? That would result in a top tax rate of almost 50 per cent. You don’t want the company tax cuts that have been legislated and you may even get rid of what, some of those other measures to reduce some of the impost on business in Australia. Mr Turnbull says that’s going the wrong way - that if we don’t reduce the company tax to 25 per cent as planned, the only advanced nations that will exceed Australia are Japan and Malta.
LEIGH: Malcolm Turnbull’s constantly campaigning for the big end of town. That’s why he stood against labor’s tax haven policy. It’s why he stood against our attempt to close multinational tax loopholes. That’s why he’ll fight harder than ever to get a tax cut for the biggest businesses in Australia. But at the same time Glen, let’s be absolutely clear, he’s raising taxes on middle Australia. That was in his latest budget. This isn’t a way of delivering growth for the future. Ahead of the last election, we had a poll of the top academic economists in Australia and they were asked whether they thought investing in schools or cutting taxes for big businesses would do more for growth. The vast majority said you should invest in schools instead. That’s Labor’s plan. Frankly I think Australians would’ve been thunderstruck that the Treasurer is writing to big business CEOs, asking them to do his job because he just can’t make the case.
BARTHOLOMEW: What about the commitment that any move got bring forward some of these tax cuts for middle income earners wouldn’t affect the return to the budget’s surplus. Is that a little optimistic? There’s some suggestions that this move for middle income earners could cost the budget $7.2 billion in the year 2020-21. It’s a very hard thing to do, to give such widespread tax reform without affecting the bottom line.
LEIGH: Well, Glen, rather than talking about the Prime Minister’s vague hypothetical hand-
BARTHOLOMEW: But that’s what we’re talking about now, so what’s the math on that? Do you think that could be done? Is that something the Labor Party would move to do yourself if in power?
LEIGH: We’ve absolutely been willing to leave middle Australia better off. Under a Labor Government, middle Australia would be paying lower rates of income tax than under the Coalition, based on the policies that have been announced so far. The policies that have been announced right now are Malcolm Turnbull wanting to raise taxes on average Australians and Bill Shorten saying that he won’t support that tax increase. Bill Shorten is able to pay for that because Labor is willing to tackle trusts, to tackle negative gearing, to tackle excessive superannuation tax concessions. Chris Bowen and Bill Shorten have been willing to lead the policy debate on getting tough with excessive tax breaks. We believe that Australia going back to the top marginal tax rate that it had of the last two years is appropriate at a time when inequality is at a 75-year high. We believe it’s appropriate that middle Australians not face tax rises. That’s why at the last Budget Reply, Bill Shorten said he wouldn’t support Malcolm Turnbull’s attempts to raise taxes on middle Australia.
BARTHOLOMEW: Do you think this is a serious plan or something that the Prime Minister’s come with to distract from other problems?
LEIGH: I think this is the Prime Minister’s latest round of TNT - he’s looking to blow up the place wherever he can. We’ve seen that with the delaying of parliament. The Prime Minister is scared of democracy. He’s scared of the accountability that comes with parliament being back.
BARTHOLOMEW: I wanted to ask you about that. Your colleague Brendan O’Connor had a bit to say about the decision to cancel next week’s sitting of the House of Representatives on Q&A. Let’s have a listen.
BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Well, whatever the ostensible reason was for not turning up to work next week, it was wrong for the Prime Minister to prevent the House of Representatives sitting next week. There are 53 items of business before the House, there are many things we could be debating next week, even if the Senate is entertaining and debating the bill to enact marriage equality. Quite frankly, I was absolutely shocked by the decision today to prevent the Parliament sitting next week. The Prime Minister should be turning up next week, as should the Government, and we should be debating matters in the Parliament.
BARTHOLOMEW: Will you be turning up next week, Andrew Leigh?
LEIGH: Absolutely, Glen. I live in Canberra, so I’ll be here - no doubt about that.
BARTHOLOMEW: Banging on the locked House of Representatives door?
LEIGH: Look, this is my hometown. I welcome parliamentarians here any time of the year. The fact is that we have legislation that is awaiting parliament’s approval that deals with critical issues in Australia. Finally, we’ve dragged the Government to do something about dodgy phoenix directors ripping off honest small businesses and workers, but it now looks like that legislation won’t be considered by the Parliament this year, meaning we’ll have an entire summer in which dodgy directors are able to continue to rip off taxpayers, workers and other businesses. The Government has said that it needs to fix up the botched way in which it handled its last company tax cuts for small business, yet that legislation might not pass the Parliament-
BARTHOLOMEW: Might there also be some attempted legislation, a private member’s bill in fact from perhaps one of the Government’s own - Nationals Senator Barry O’Sullivan pushing to establish a commission of inquiry into the banks while the Government’s numbers on the floor of the House are a bit slim. Is that something that you think is going to happen and have you heard from people within the Government that they are absolutely determined to get this done?
LEIGH: The one thing I can tell you is if we had a secret vote in Parliament on establishing a banking royal commission or a commission of inquiry, it would pass overwhelmingly. Liberals and Nationals know this is the right thing to do. Australians have had enough of the scandals and stuff-ups, they want strong banks which are scandal-free. The way to ensure the is through a royal commission. Malcolm Turnbull’s only plan for the big banks is to protect multinational tax loopholes and try to deliver them a big tax cut. That’s the wrong approach for Australia. We need the accountability that flows from the royal commission. There are plenty of Liberals and Nationals who in their heart of hearts know that would be the right thing to do.
BARTHOLOMEW: We’ll see what happens when the House does resume. Andrew Leigh, we’ll see you there. Thank you. Labor’s Shadow Assistant Treasurer joining us there.
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