We can keep shaping debate from opposition - Transcript, 2GB Radio

TUESDAY, 21 MAY 2019

Subjects: The federal election.

ROSS GREENWOOD: One person who has always been prepared to front up here on Money News is Dr Andrew Leigh, who was - perhaps, who knows what he might be in the future - and he’s on the line right now. Andrew, many thanks for your time.


GREENWOOD: Good, thank you. You're trying, like other members of your party - you were in the polls the raging hot favourites on the bookies, everybody's mind was that there would be a Labor government as we said here today having a chat. As you try to piece it together, there’s not one fact that there's many factors and I think even Chris Bowen today alluded to this -  is it really, where have people underestimated? Where they got wrong the electorate as a whole, do you think?

LEIGH: Ross, I think there’s going to be a lot of post-morteming going on and people looking at particular results and looking at Queensland obviously, with a swing against us that was more substantial than other places. We do need to listen and learn, but we also need to make sure we don't oversell the result. So if you look at the two party vote at the moment, Labor's got 49 per cent, meaning that 49 per cent of Australians voted for change. We got 5.1 million votes. We needed about five and a half million in order to comfortably form government. So there's a few hundred thousand votes that we fell short by, but we do owe it to that five million people that voted for change to be there as strong defenders of Labor values.

GREENWOOD: Okay. Although you would have imagined, given where the polls were, given the positioning of the party, it did seem as though you would sweep into government, not just leap over the line as it were. And so clearly something has happened there. There’s issues, there’s policies - there’s issues that really have got to be learned about now. If you start to try to put your finger on some of these things, where do you imagine maybe you could have grabbed that extra 500,000, million, 1.5 million people you needed to attract to your side of politics?

LEIGH: Yeah, I mean it’s going to be the conversation that we have over the next few months, Ross. I don’t think I’ve got all the answers. I feel a bit like one of those teams which wins the minor premiership, but falls short on Grand Final day. We did feel as though we'd put together a very competent and comprehensive agenda, that we'd had it carefully costed, that we knew exactly what we needed to do and how we pay for it. But we weren't able to secure the support for that. The challenge for Labor will be to refocus, not lose that steel for reform, not lose that desire to make the world a better place, but to listen and learn the lessons around how we craft a positive message.

GREENWOOD: Can I make an observation to you? Simply, here’s one I'd throw at you. Given the fact of Dr John Hewson 1993 Fightback, again he lost the unlosable election to Paul Keating. Is it a situation now that all political parties have got to recognise they cannot be promising higher taxes and expect to win government in Australia?

LEIGH: Well, we were promising higher taxes on multinationals who were dodging their tax overseas-

GREENWOOD: You were promising on some sort of ,some people who were receiving dividends, franked dividends. You were promising on people who sold properties and paid capital gains tax. You were promising on property investors who had negatively geared properties into the future. I mean, there were tax increases potentially coming for a whole group of Australians, maybe even aspirational Australians. This level of fairness I try to get to for you, you know there was tax reform but there were tax increases there.

LEIGH: Ross, if you’re serious about tax reform, we’ve got to tackle tax loopholes and you see this in tax reports going back to the Asprey Review in 1975, the Henry Review in 2010. All of those serious tax reform reports talk about the importance of closing down tax loopholes. So that was what we were grounded in-

GREENWOOD: So multinationals, I’ll agree with you. Every day of the week I'll agree with you on that. But I'm not so sure I agree and so vigorously on things such as the franking credits, because there already a company has paid its tax and yet you had one group of investors say for example shall we say industry super funds who would actually receive the full benefit of those franking credits and the other groups in our society would not receive them. It's about equality surely that everybody's got to be seen to be even in our society.

LEIGH: Ross, I don’t want to relitigate the election campaign with you, but I would say that if this is such a beautiful system, why is Australia the only country in the world that has it? So clearly, we’ll look very carefully at that policy and at others. We're going to be working to learn the impact of this result, but it's also vital that we recognise that just as Labor's steel didn't go away, so too the problems the economy haven't gone away. You've got unemployment rising. The Reserve Bank's now looking at a potential rate cuts for the first time since August 2016. Household debt at record highs, living standards stagnating, wage growth at record lows. Inequality up, government debt doubled. Household debt up. None of those problems disappeared as a result of the election result over the weekend.

GREENWOOD: Okay. And the interesting thing about politics, for nine years and  this goes back to when Tony Abbott was really voted in as our prime minister, but in the years even before when he was in opposition, it was really a situation where it's been a matter of significant conflict between the government and the opposition on both sides, both have been in power. I just wonder whether I might feel a lot more sympathetic towards the ALP - or indeed, if they were in opposition, the Coalition - if there was just that little bit more give for the national good that both parties do agree, and they occasionally do, but rarely. It almost seemed as though being in opposition meant that you had to oppose just about everything that the government brought forward. Where is the consensus that actually drives things like tax reform forward in Australia, drives productivity forward in Australia ,where both parties get together and say ‘you know, this is for the good of the nation, not for the political good, let's go and run that’. I just wonder if the public would would bite into that a bit more vigorously and believe in both parties if that happened a bit more often.

LEIGH: Yeah. Ross, one of my friends on the other side of the house and I won’t name him for his own good, likes to say that he agrees that his own party 90 per cent of the time and with the opposition about 70 per cent of the time. And that reflects the fact that parties aren't monolithic and that there's a lot of bipartisan legislation that goes through. So we were happy to support the Government's personal income tax cuts that we're going to middle income earners over the term of the next parliament, for example. Indeed, straight after the Budget we said to the government let's get this bit legislated, the change to the low and middle income tax offset. Let's get it done now. Scott Morrison said ‘no, no’. He'd put it off and if he didn't get legislation through, then the tax office could deal with it. It now turns out that that's a broken promise and he's unable to deliver before the 1st of July the tax cuts that he promised as the centrepiece of his budget. So there was a bipartisan hand extended there, just a shame that the Coalition were willing to take it. On superannuation tax concessions, there’s been quite a lot of bipartisanship over the course of this term and I think that's been a healthy thing, reining in some of those excesses in superannuation tax breaks.

GREENWOOD: So going forward, do you believe that - I’m just thinking about  style here, more than I guess the substance of it - do you think that really, if an opposition were seen in the future to be trying to work a bit more with the government, but then really opposing them - and I understand this - opposing when there was a genuine philosophical disagreement, to argue for better policy, for better legislation, that that might actually play better in the hearts of the public, who would therefore see an opposition that is not opposing for opposition's sake - and I would say that even Tony Abbott was guilty of this - but was saying ‘let's bring it along, let's actually celebrate the things that we do together and then let's actually really have a decent ding dong fight over the things where we are genuinely split but not over everything’.

LEIGH: We’re there in parliament in service of Australians first, not in service of our political parties, Ross. So you're totally right that we need to be articulating that long term vision and indeed I think there's actually an opportunity for Labor to lead a range of policy debates from opposition. I look at the number of Morrison ministers who ducked the policy debates during the election because they didn't have policies on energy or competition or tax reform or education or foreign policy. So we're up for not only working with the government on their ideas, but also being creative as we articulate where Australia should go. This idea of parties of initiative versus parties of resistance - the Coalition has always been fundamentally a party of resistance, Labor's always been a party of initiative. We’ll continue to take that initiative into the next parliament, not only being co-operative but also leading the big debate over ideas because that's what Australia demands.

GREENWOOD: Okay, just a final one for you. Australia right now, as it sits here - I mean, we have our challenges, there’s no doubt about it. Are we still a country of opportunity? Are we still a country of hope and resilience, do you believe, or are we a country that's fragile, that’s got its difficulties?

LEIGH: I look to a range of difficulties. I worry about inequality a great deal. I also worry about the productivity of the economy and the signs that the economy's become less dynamic. There was a really important study out a couple of months ago saying the business start up rate was 15 per cent a decade ago, now down to 9 per cent. And when you get fewer start ups, that means fewer fresh ideas, fewer scrappy firms challenging the big monopolists. We've got evidence  that Australia has too many eggs in too few baskets, that our industries are too concentrated. So I think there’s a big growth agenda there, which is important for Labor to engage with and I'd like to see us engaging in that conversation even more in the national interest over the next three years.

GREENWOOD: Are you likely to be the shadow treasurer?

LEIGH: No, I don’t think so. But I'm very keen to play an active role within the formation of the next opposition, taking the debate right up to the government. I think this is a really important moment for Australia, an important moment for Labor. We need to to be the party of ideas and reform. You know, Ross, policymaking is like a muscle. We have grown stronger as a party through this process of policy development. We will take that strength into the Parliament. We might be in opposition, but that doesn't mean we need to be rubber stamping everything the government does. It doesn't mean we need to be simply sitting back and letting the debate shape us. We can be in there, shaping the big economic debates.

GREENWOOD: Dr Andrew Leigh, the former assistant shadow treasurer under Bill Shorten. Now of course, waiting to see what his next role might be. And Andrew, as always, we appreciate your time here on the program. 

LEIGH: Likewise, Ross. Thank you.


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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.