Bill's Transcripts

Transcript: Interview with John Laws 2SM

Read my interview with John Laws.

Subjects: cabinet reshuffle, superannuation, tax, new industrial relations portfolio



John Laws

I’ve been told our brand new Workplace Relations Minister is on the line. Bill, are you there?

Bill Shorten

Yes John, I’ve just called in. I know I was meant to call in a bit earlier but I just got caught up. Now you’ve just had our Prime Minister on the line. That interview sounded pretty interesting.

John Laws

Yes, she’s very, very good. Very quick on her feet, a clear thinker. She’s a very impressive woman, whether you like her politics or not.  You do, a lot of people
don’t.

Bill Shorten

I do, and I think she doesn’t harm her cause by getting out and talking to people like yourself, outside the usual sort of Canberra media coverage that, you know, can sometimes be a bit conflict…prone to looking for all the arguments and not very constructive.

John Laws

Yes, well no point in having an argument.

Congratulations on your promotion.

Bill Shorten

Thank you. I officially get sworn in this afternoon. I’ve kept some of my old work, which is important in superannuation and financial services. I’ve lost the tax system, which some would say is a mixed blessing, and I now pick up employment and workplace relations, which is very important to a lot of Australians.

John Laws

Yes, very important. But more work, less sleep I imagine?

Bill Shorten

I’m like a lot of Australians. I think whatever job you’ve got, you give it your best shot.

John Laws

I think that’s a very, very healthy Australian attitude and you will give it your best shot. What’s been the highlight of the year Bill?

Bill Shorten

For me it’s been watching my family. I’ve got a little baby who’s turning two in December.  And I’ve got two other children – nine and 10 – and they are coming along well.  The low lights have probably been so much travel away from my family.

In a professional sense, I am pleased the National Disability Insurance Scheme keeps gaining momentum, and that we’ve got through the House of Representatives at least a proposal to increase superannuation from 9 – 12%, so some of the younger and middle aged people will have more to retire on when they reach retirement age.

John Laws

There’s a cut off point for contributions being made to superannuation. Why is there a cut-off point? There shouldn’t be one?

Bill Shorten

There’s always been a cut-off point, and it’s moved around, much to the annoyance of people. The theory behind having a maximum amount you can contribute to super each year is that superannuation is still a tax concession, in other words money that isn’t being paid as normal income gets taxed concessionally.  So there’s a limit to how much tax concession you give away without totally damaging the revenue base of the Commonwealth. That’s the theory. I have a view that as incomes increase, we do need to lift the levels. There you go: straight opinion, straight answer.

John Laws

I think they should be lifted because those people who are living off superannuation are in fact saving the Government money, saving the taxpayer money.

Bill Shorten

They are. I buy that argument. If we can get super up to 12%, by 2030 that means there will be $10 million less in taxes required. Growing old is fantastic, but there’s no free lunch. You either pay for your lifestyle yourself, or the Government gives you a pension. Now the middle class of Australia don’t want to rely on the pension, and so there’s not much point in working hard all your life and retiring poor.

So I am, and I know the Treasury is motivated. We currently have a promise before the Parliament to lift the amount you can contribute to superannuation and get the tax concession from $25,000 to $50,000 per annum if you are over the age of 50. Now I’ve been meeting with industry people, and it’s not a simple issue because there is a cost to the revenue if you increase the concession. Our opponents at this stage haven’t contributed to that increase, so there is a difference between the two parties. In the last budget we also were able to give everyone a one-off amnesty if they inadvertently made an excess contribution up to $10,000 above the current threshold. But I accept that this is an issue of concern and, whilst I can’t say when and what we will do, what I can say is the Treasurer and I are most concerned with trying to put flexibility into the system to answer that problem you initially raised.

John Laws

Well that’s good news. I don’t believe there should be a cut-off point because the world has changed. People are working much later into their lives, efficiently and well, and wanting to stay at work. They should be able to benefit.

Bill Shorten

I agree with you. That’s why as recently as three weeks ago, in passing the mining tax we were able to afford more tax concessions for superannuation and we’re spreading the prosperity of the mining tax throughout Australia. What we’ve abolished is that if you are over the age of 70 and an employee, the law currently says you can’t get super. We’ve now abolished age discrimination. So if you’re working at 80 and 85, in a year and a half’s time you’ll be able to get superannuation paid on what you earn.

John Laws

There might be a mining boom but not everyone is benefiting from that I reckon, are they?

Bill Shorten

That’s the point. The mining boom is a great thing and it’s one of the reasons why the Australian economy is doing better than 100 other economies around the world. But it is an unevenly distributed benefit. In you’re in retail, if you’re in domestic tourism, if you’re in education services, our high dollar makes it more difficult to compete with overseas. That why we want to use some of the extraordinary, record-breaking profits of the large mining houses, because they are using non-renewable resources which are in our country, that they pay a modest amount of tax on their large profits to help subsidise superannuation tax concessions, to subsidise regional infrastructure and mining states, and to subsidise a reduction in the corporate tax rate.

John Laws

Do you think that our tax system is generally fair?

Bill Shorten

I think it’s fair and it works better than some countries. You only have to look at the problems in Greece to realise what happens when people don’t pay tax. But, no, I don’t think we have the perfect tax system yet.  That’s why the Treasurer at the recent Tax Forum set up the Business Tax Working Group.  And in my time as Assistant Treasurer we fixed up some of the areas around trust law. I want to make sure that corporations don’t pay any more tax than they have to but they certainly pay what they are meant to pay. I was a little staggered when Mr Forrest, the head of Fortescue Metals, who’s a successful billionaire, has opposed the mining tax but then boasted to his shareholders that his company has paid no tax.

John Laws

Well that didn’t come as a surprise. He is a bit of a tough nut I think.

Bill Shorten

Well there’s nothing wrong with a person trying to make a quid, but understand that when you carry the Australian passport, the best country on earth, we’re the best country on earth because of the enterprise of our private sector. We also are because we have reasonably good schools, we have reasonably good roads, great health care, we have the old aged pension. You know Justice Michael Kirby, the former High Court Judge, did a speech, a very good speech, where he compared Australia and Argentina in 1900 – had lots of migrants, lots of natural resources, good industrial base. But somewhere along the line Argentina hasn’t done as well as Australia in the last 100 years, and Justice Kirby did put that down to the integrity of our tax system. So we can improve it, but there’s
no question in my mind that compared to the rest of the world we are doing ok. But we shouldn’t be complacent.

John Laws

Bill Shorten, I appreciate your time very much. It’s been good to talk to you. Are you going to take a break?

Bill Shorten

Well I’m potentially off to India to help explain to the fastest growing parts of the world why they should invest in Australia and why superannuation is an opportunity for them.

I also want to get my head across the industrial relations portfolio. I’ve got a very simple view about workplace relations: the more time people spend talking and the less time people spend fighting the better off we all are.

ENDS