ABC RN DRIVE
TUESDAY, 21 MAY 2019
Subjects: The federal election results, Labor leadership, tax cuts.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: I have joining me now the Shadow Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh. Andrew Leigh, welcome.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Thanks, Patricia. Great to be with you again.
KARVELAS: So you heard Mathias Cormann there, he said yes, they will ensure that people get the tax cuts that they had promised.
LEIGH: Well Patricia, he’s promised that those tax cuts would be delivered on time and now looks as though they will be coming late, contrary to what Scott Morrison was saying back when the tax cuts were announced. After the budget, he said Parliament doesn't need to sit, you can just do administratively. Labor said that wasn't the case, the Tax Office said it wasn't the case. The government just denied it. So we were willing to pass those low and middle income tax cuts for the forthcoming year straight after the budget. The Government waved their hands, said ‘no no no, we don’t need to do any of that’ and now have been told by the Tax Office that they’re wrong. And they’ve ended up just three days after the election breaking promises to be Australian people.
KARVELAS: Well, according to Mathias Cormann, it’s not a broken promise. He says it will be delivered and he suggested there wouldn't even be a delay.
LEIGH: That’s contrary to what Scott Morrison was saying today. He's suggesting very clearly that there's going to be delays in the payment of this tax cut which has bipartisan support. The question is Patricia, how hard is it to deliver a tax cut that has bipartisan support? Sure, we're having debates over the tax cuts that go to people on the top top income tax bracket - but we’re not having any debate over getting this done. I'm really troubled by the fact that the government is already breaking its word to the Australian people three days after the election.
KARVELAS: Is it? Because it says it will legislate and get them out in time. So until I suppose that delay happens, then we don't have any evidence that it will be delayed, do we?
LEIGH: The Prime Minister seemed to be suggesting today that there would be a delay-
KARVELAS: We’ve heard a clarification from the Treasurer, haven’t we?
LEIGH: They've been saying a whole lot of different things, Patricia. They were saying originally that it didn't need parliament to return and now they've backflipped on that, acknowledged that Parliament needs to return. This goes to a broader question about the Coalition. Yes, they won an election but they're a policy-free zone. The Prime Minister is an empty slogan in a baseball cap. They’re hopelessly divided. You saw this in the last week of the campaign, New South Wales Nationals against New South Wales Liberals. They don't have a guiding philosophy for how they want to tackle not just this particular tax cut, but also challenges like climate change or rising unemployment, wage growth, household debt. You've got the Reserve Bank looking now at rate cuts because they're worried about wage growth and the economy. So there are big challenges out there, but I'm just not sure the government is up to addressing some of them.
KARVELAS: The government wants to provide its entire tax package to the Parliament, to the Lower House and the upper house, of course. Given they've just won an election and this was their main policy that they took to the election and nothing, you know, nothing sneaky about it - we knew it all, it was outlined in the budget, they talked about quite a lot drought throughout the election campaign - shouldn’t Labor back it in because that means the majority voters have said yes to it?
LEIGH: Patricia, we’ll work through that decision using our normal consultative channels. But let's not oversell the result. On a two party basis, we’re currently tracking at 49 per cent of the vote. Meaning that we got about 5.1 million votes, not the 5.3 million votes that we were hoping for which would allowed us to form government, but a couple of hundred thousand short of what we wanted. I think that 49 per cent of Australians who voted Labor would want us to stick to our values and at the very least to go through the proper caucus processes. We don't suddenly turn into a rubber stamp for the Liberals just because we lost an election.
KARVELAS: Okay. But if it's all presented and of course as one as one single piece of legislation, you don't want to delay people getting their tax cuts, do you?
LEIGH: I don't think that tax cuts for lower middle income Australians should be held to ransom by the Liberals’ agenda. That's why we said we were willing to pass them back in April when the budget came down and the Coalition said that they they didn't need legislation. We said you do need legislation and we'll help you get it through the Parliament straight away. Chris Bowen was very clear with that, but the Coalition just waved our concerns away.
KARVELAS; Let’s talk about the election loss. What went so wrong?
LEIGH: I think a number of things. We took a very ambitious agenda to the Australian people, probably the most ambitious of any opposition in the post-war era. We can certainly be proud that we're able to not only have policies across from multinational tax to competition to education reform, but also that we're able to balance the books better than Mathias Cormann, to have stronger surpluses over four years and over the ten years. But we were faced by a government that was behaving like an opposition, that was ruthless in targeting us, that didn't really have any policies of their own and made it a referendum on us. So I think in that challenging environment, we weren't good enough at articulating the case for change.
KARVELAS: You say it’s all about the articulation or the argument - don't you think the policies were also part of the problem? That your franking credits policy, your negative gearing policy as well were just not liked by the electorate?
LEIGH: We’ll certainly need to go through and assess those policies and after any election loss invariably there are policies you don't take to the next election and there are policies you do take to the next election. We’ll take up our time over that. The one thing we won't do is to retreat from being the party of ideas. There's parties of initiatives and there's parties of resistance. The Coalition is a party of resistance. Labor is the party of initiative. I was speaking just on Saturday night to one of the volunteers for our campaign who was once homeless. Nick was saying to me, you know it's really vital that for all those people who are struggling on the margins of society that Labor never gives up, that we continue for people like Nick and to those who are out there sleeping rough or doing it tough to be formulating the policies that they need.
KARVELAS: Sure. But haven't you let people like that down?
LEIGH: I think that’s right. When Labor loses an election, we're unable to deliver for the most vulnerable. We do let those people down and that weight of responsibility it's very heavy on my shoulders as somebody who has worked my heart out for the last three years to see a Labor government in office. That's why we'll take this process very seriously of rebuilding. But it's also important to remember Patricia that policy making is a bit like a muscle. So we've gotten stronger as we worked together as a united team in forming policies and we won't stop doing that. We won't stop that process of thinking long term about how we tackle climate change and how we deal with the issue of sluggish productivity, what we do about the fact that the business startup rate has fallen over the last decade. These are real challenges for Australia and people expect Labor to be thinking about those challenges, to be driving the debate even from opposition as we've done on a range of issues over the last three years.
KARVELAS: Do you agree with Anthony Albanese's assessment about the franking credits policy that Labor took to the election, that it did hurt people who were not very rich?
LEIGH: I think it had an impact on the votes of people who weren't going to be affected. I think its impact rippled out further than we had expected. Certainly as the policy was structured, the poorest two-thirds of retirees, those who get the pension, weren't affected. But I think the lie about a ‘retirees tax’ did bite in a way that we hadn’t anticipated at the outset.
KARVELAS: And of course the negative gearing policy too. Given the circumstances had changed so much in the housing market since the other election, the one before where you also took it to the election, do you accept that people feel very differently now about a policy like this?
LEIGH: I think the challenge there was just the way the policies were rolled together by the Coalition into lie after lie, abetted by absolutely outrageous scare campaigns from One Nation and Clive Palmer. The amount of money that Clive Palmer poured into misleading campaigns was astonishing. So we were up against a lot and we were fighting on a lot of fronts as a result of having this very broad agenda. And I don't resile from the fact that we had great policies for charities, that we had terrific policies in the area of local sporting facilities. But we did have an awful lot to explain and sometimes the burden falls on those are calling for change rather than those calling for the status quo as the Coalition was.
KARVELAS: So now that of course it's all done and dusted, Australia has decided, what does it mean in terms of the way that you talk about aspiration too? I've spoken to many of your colleagues who say that Labor didn't talk enough about growing the economy, aspiration, growing the pie. It was all about redistribution rather than growing the pie. Do you think you need to develop more policies around aspiration and growing the pie?
LEIGH: You and I had a number of interviews during the campaign, Patricia, and you’d remember for those I was frequently speaking about the importance of growth, about my concerns around productivity, about the importance of our Australian Investment Guarantee, creating a more pro-competitive environment for scrappy start-ups to compete against bloated monopolists. So I'm a pro-growth progressive. I believe passionately that Labor has pro-growth policies and needs to continue with that. Perhaps we didn't emphasise them enough in certain contexts, but it's always been one big difference between us and the Greens. We believe passionately in growth and we see growth as being vital. We also don't see aspiration just in terms of somebody buying their twelfth house, but also in terms of the chances for a young kid born in a poor neighbourhood to grow up and become a CEO. That intergenerational mobility is central to Labor's message.
KARVELAS: So who are you backing in the leadership ballot? There are two candidates now, Anthony Albanese and of course Chris Bowen. Who do you support?
LEIGH: Like most of my colleagues, I'm keeping my cards fairly close to my chest-
KARVELAS: Not all are.
LEIGH: We have two terrific candidates who are streets ahead of the Prime Minister in experience in Parliament, in their understanding of the issues and their values and their ethics. They're both great contributors to the Labor movement. They both love labor. They are Labor to their bootstraps. We'd be served very well by either of them. Both of them would take the fight up. We’re choosing not just the next Labor leader, but also Australia's next reformist leader. The job of leading the Labor Party is different from the job of leading the Coalition. We're not just another political party. We're not just Coke and Pepsi, two different brands of the same thing. We are the reforming party in Australia and we are therefore selecting a leader of the next set of reforms that Australia needs.
KARVELAS: Just some clarity. Have you decided and you just don't want to tell me or are you still open to either of the candidates?
LEIGH: [laughter] I admire your tenacity, Patricia. I’m again keeping my cards close to my chest.
KARVELAS: So you may have decided, you may just not want to tell me. Or our listeners.
LEIGH: That’s entirely possible. One of the great things about the Labor leadership contest is it will also be a conversation about the kinds of things we've spoken about before, about the Labor loss. It's one of the things that I admired about our 2013 leadership contest, that as those conversations occurred around party members we also had a conversation about the direction for the Labor Party, which is almost as important as choosing the individual that leads us. And naturally, it's a great reason for people to join the Labor Party. In the Liberal Party or the Greens, you don't get a say in the selection of their leader. But for members of the Labor Party, one of the great benefits that come from being that isn't just being part of the oldest and greatest political party in Australia, but having a say in choosing the leader. One more reason to sign up.
KARVELAS: All right, don't try and recruit. I yell at Liberals who try and do that too to my show, so I'm going to be consistent. Don't try and recruit.
LEIGH: So you're telling me you're not going to join, Patricia?
KARVELAS: Definitely. I can exclusively reveal I will not be joining the ALP.
LEIGH: [laughter] Is it just that you're undecided or you've actually made your mind up that you’re not going to join?
KARVELAS: [laughter] I’ve made my mind up, I'm not undecided. I have made my mind up, I won’t be joining any political parties.
LEIGH: Well, that's disappointing but fortunately, you know, many of your listeners will be getting their pens out, or logging onto their local Labor Party website as we speak I expect, wanting to have a say in this terrific democratic process.
KARVELAS: [laughter] Andrew Leigh, thanks for coming on the show.