Bill's Transcripts

Radio Interview: ABC CAPRICORNIA - Liberals’ plan for a 15 per cent GST on everything; Labor’s plan for the jobs of the future




SUBJECT/S: Liberals’ plan for a 15 per cent GST on everything; Labor’s plan for the jobs of the future; Multinational companies to pay their fair share; Super tax concessions; Malcolm Turnbull’s cuts to Medicare and pathology services; Clive Palmer..

JACQUIE MACKAY, HOST: Labor leader, Bill Shorten is in Rockhampton today on a national tour talking about the GST - saying Queenslanders will be among the hardest hit if the GST is increased to 15 per cent. However, the Turnbull Government hasn't even decided yet whether it will broaden or increase the GST. At this stage, it's just a suggestion by the financial services council. So after appearing in supermarkets over the last few days, will Bill Shorten be shopping somewhere near you today? He is certainly with us this morning at the ABC Capricornia studios. Good morning.




MACKAY: So do you have any plans today to head to any of the shopping centres?


SHORTEN: Yes I do. The Liberals and Malcolm Turnbull want to have national debate about a GST in the merit of putting a 15 per cent price hike on everything that you buy. We are up for that argument - that's why I am in Rocky today because we think it is a bad idea. We think that increasing the cost of living for everyone isn't what Australia needs, isn't what Rocky needs. For me, one of the big issues in central Queensland is unemployment and the last thing you need if you've got unemployment, which is a challenge, is shopkeepers having to put up the price of everything by 15 per cent.


MACKAY: Certainly unemployment is a big issue in our region. With the downturn in coal prices, we've had thousands of workers lose their jobs. What plans does Labor have for job creation in central Queensland?


SHORTEN: Well, infrastructure is really important. I think people don't appreciate that whilst Rockhampton has got a range of industries, mining does have a flow-on effect here and that has been in a downturn since 2013. So really, the last two years there should be a lot more infrastructure being built then there is. So the first plan is infrastructure -


MACKAY: What types of infrastructure?


SHORTEN: Well, improve roads - roads are really important.  Also what we need to do is make sure that people have got skills. That's why we've been putting such effort into our plans to help revive TAFE, to help make sure it's not too expensive for people to go to university if they want to retrain. And of course, schools are really important to making sure that the next generation of jobseekers have got the skills that they need to find work in the future.


MACKAY: What about water infrastructure? Dams and the raising of [inaudible] are a big issue in this region.


SHORTEN: Yes, I appreciate that. There's no doubt that our water infrastructure is a big part of the future but when we also look at these matters - that's why you need a national plan. I know also that working with the Queensland Government is going to be very important. I think people are sick of the different levels fighting each other.


MACKAY: One of the other big issues that's related to this and it has emerged a lot in recent years is the casualisation of the workforce and contracts everywhere and job permanency is becoming a rarity in some cases. What are your thoughts on that?


SHORTEN: Well we look at the unemployment rate, the actual unemployed people who can't find a job. But then we have over a million Australians who regularly record that they aren't getting the amount of work they want. Labor has got a good track record of standing up to make sure have better job security against contracting and casualisation. There will always be a proportion of the workforce who will be casual and contractors, but there is no doubt in my mind that one of the growing pressures on inequality and insecurity is people not having some say over the permanency of their work. But it all gets back to the bottom line. The job of a government is to build confidence for its people; confidence to make investment decisions; confidence to open the wallets and purses.


That's why this issue of the GST, whilst the Government is ducking and weaving, is so important. The last thing that small businesses in Rocky and the other major towns of this region need is to be required to have to change all of their software, to be able to have to increase all their prices by 15 per cent. When you go to a supermarket, you meet lots of parents who are trying to work to ensure that their children eat healthy. The idea of putting a 15 per cent tax on fresh food is just disastrous. So it doesn't help confidence. We live in a time where as you mentioned, there's casualisation in employment, but wage rises in Australia are increasing the lowest they have in 25 years. Now some people might say 'that's a good thing isn't it?' But the truth of the matter is when national income is not increasing, when households aren't having modest and reasonable increases in their income, expenditure stops and that's why you see the flow on effect in small businesses and you see the flow on effect in confidence.


MACKAY: And you are talking to about creating jobs through bring in new infrastructure and that all cost an extraordinary amount of money - if you don't increase the GST, how would you go about increasing revenue?


SHORTEN: Well, Labor has got alternative plans. This is what this contest this year is going to be about. What is the best plan for the future of Australia. It seems whilst the Liberals won't actually tell us specifically what they are doing, there is a conversation about GST everyday in the newspapers. And not just from the financial services council - Liberal Ministers, Liberal Members of Parliament are constantly speculating about the merits of a GST. Our alternative plan is this - make multinational companies pay their fair share of taxation in Australia. It is ludicrous that a newsagency in the High Street is paying more tax than multinational companies. Secondly, what we have in Australia is we have our superannuation tax concessions for the super wealthy which are just ridiculous. If you have $2 - 3 million in your superannuation, which most people don't but if you do, good luck to you.  But what you don't need is to pay no tax on the interest that you earn from it. People who go to work in their 60s and they might earn $50,000 and they have got to pay marginal rates of tax but people who have millions of dollars in superannuation get interest payments from the lump-sum interest payments, and they pay no tax on it.


So we also think getting multinationals to pay their fair share, looking at superannuation tax concessions - I would start there to help address how we fund our schools and hospitals rather than a 15 per cent tax which kills confidence, hurts small business, hurts employment and most importantly pushes up the cost of living. Why on earth in Australia are we having a debate where working and middle class people have to pay more tax so that the government can give tax cuts to wealthy companies who don't need them?

MACKAY: And of course just to make it very clear though, we already have a GST that's 10 per cent, so you're talking about a 5 per cent increase on that so -

SHORTEN: Well have of the items that we buy in Australia don't have a GST at all, so that's a 15 per cent increase. And you're right where you already pay a 10 per cent GST then it would increase by 5 per cent. But my point is real wages are increasing at the lowest level in 25 years. You've got unemployment, you've got confidence problems in the economy, the stockmarket’s below 5000, you've got people trying to make ends meet. You know, parents are buying the goods, the school shoes and the school books for kids returning to school in the next two weeks, this could be the last year that they don't have to pay 15 per cent on these things.

Now when John Howard introduced a GST in 1998, Australians were promised by the Liberals that that was it; no more, 10 per cent, end of the story, end of the film, you know, roll the credits, you can get up and leave it won't change.

Now here they are again the Liberals are coming back down and they're saying oh well things have changed now we need to put up taxes by 15 per cent on some items and take it to 15 per cent from 10 per cent on others. The people proposing this need to get their head out of the sand and see what's really happening. Instead we should be making multinationals pay their fair share, what is so hard about that? Australia needs to stands up for Australian jobs and we need to make sure that we're getting multinationals to pay their fair share rather than asking Aussie small business to pay more, to collect more tax.

MACKAY: Twenty one past seven on ABC Capricornia and the Leader of the Labor Party Bill Shorten is with us here in Rockhampton, and do we take it that you're in Rockhampton because you see Capricornia as potentially a winnable seat for Labor at the next Federal Election?

SHORTEN: Well as you're aware I've been coming to Rockhampton ever since I became Opposition Leader. Labor absolutely wants to represent Capricornia, but it's more than that: Australia for me is not just three large cities on the east coast. My view of Australia is that it's not just Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. There's a good quality of life in Rocky to be had, but what we need is people in Canberra who know where Rockhampton is, who get the merit of the community and the region, but are also committed to making sure that we have policies which extend beyond the large cities. That's why NBN is so important and now what we're seeing is Rocky's been given a second rate NBN compared to some parts of Australia, that's not the Labor way. We think that Australia succeeds when we have strong regions and strong cities.

MACKAY: Well communication does continue to be problematic but just recently the Member for Capricornia Michelle Landry has had some success in getting some of our mobile blackspot areas better covered, so what policies in particular does Federal Labor have to improve mobile and internet access?

SHORTEN: Well internet access is fundamental, we'll be releasing our NBN policy in the course of this year, but there's no doubt in my mind that people are entitled to try - to be able to access good internet wherever you are. How can a business or someone - even an entrepreneur with a good idea in Rocky - be able to compete with other parts of Australia or indeed other parts of the world when you've got intermittent access or if you have it, very slow access. So Labor this year, we invite the voters to look at our policies at election time, is absolutely committed to making sure that we have a better quality NBN for people who don't live in the big cities.

MACKAY: When do you think the next federal election will happen?

SHORTEN: Well that's a matter for Malcolm Turnbull's Liberals. I think they'll call it when they think it best suits them, so I can't control that.  But what I say to Malcolm Turnbull and his Liberals is don't just make this year about when you call the election, make it about good policies for all Australians. Labor will work with Liberal on good policies, but what we do ask Malcolm Turnbull's Liberals and Nationals is to one, make sure you don't muck around with workers’ entitlements and penalty rates. Two, please drop these ideas for a 15 per cent GST.  And three, make sure that we properly fund our schools and education and for a special proposition also, at the moment the Government's introducing a new range of cuts on pathology services.

Pathology services are necessary in 70 per cent of clinical diagnosis for patients. What the Turnbull Liberals are doing is they're removing a payment they make to bulk-billing companies called a bulk-billing incentive. What that does is basically it dampens the cost on what patients get charged for pathology tests, the blood tests and the like. Now what that means is that patients are able to go and go to their GP get tests and they can bulk bill. Now the value of that is if you've got a chronic disease like diabetes, if you want to make sure that you get your blood test for early detection of cancer and the like, it means that there is no barrier in terms of a payment wall to stop a patient seeking the medical care they need. Now the Government, on Christmas Eve, proposed cuts which has got the pathology laboratories up in arms because they say they're going to have to introduce a co-payment. Cutting through all the sort of technical talk, what that means is that they're going to have to because of government cuts, which were promised not to occur at the last election, because of government cuts under the Turnbull Liberals, people who need important tests; pap smears, diabetes blood tests, cancer detection, leukaemia test, are going to have to pay more at the counter to get this care. Or they’ll just stop and they won’t do it – or they’ll put it off for another month when they’ve got more money. This is a disaster – its mad health policy, and the other thing is that is that if you make it harder for patients to go to the doctor, it doesn’t actually make the patients well. What it means is you get sicker and then the crisis – then you will find the money so the problem is that if we deal with sicker people in our medical system rather than early detection, it’s actually going to cost the taxpayer more. So it’s poor economics and its poor patient health care.

MACKAY: Moving onto a slightly different topic that federal sources are discussing at the moment the possibility of Clive Palmer leaving his seat of Fairfax to run for the Senate. What are his chances do you think and what could this mean for the balance of power?

SHORTEN: Well, again, what Mr. Palmer does it up to Mr. Palmer, but what concerns me is less what he does in his political ventures and more making sure that the nickel refinery near Townsville can trade out of insolvency. Yesterday, I think, administrators came in - that’s what happens when a company is getting into difficulty paying its bills; you bring in external administrators and they try and see if they can restructure the business so it can trade out of its problems. The issue of course is that there’s people caught up in all of this. You’ve got employees – we want to make sure their entitlements are secure; there are small businesses who don’t have a high priority when it comes to a company becoming insolvency under the law, so they are facing exposure and carrying losses. What I would like to see is the Queensland Nickel refinery trade out of its problems, and in the meantime, hear some guarantees from the management of that company that the people who’ve trusted in the business have secure entitlements in the event that the worst of all outcome happens and the business can’t trade out of its difficulties which we hope they can.

MACKAY: But commodity prices though are so low – it’s affecting so many different mining enterprises and of course this one is affecting a lot of people as well, so, you know, what are they supposed to do at that point, and can you point the finger of blame at Clive Palmer?

SHORTEN: No see I’m not your standard sort of political operator, I’m not interested in blaming anyone. But what I do get because I am a Labor guy to my bootstraps is that when companies get into financial difficulties – it could be banks, it could be financial services, businesses, it could be anything – it’s most important that the entitlements of the employees are protected. I’ve campaigned on this for 20 years. What I see when a company gets into trouble is quite often the directors move on, the senior management move on, but the workers who have worked for a company are left with nothing. Now I don’t believe that should be the case here. What I hope is that the administrators are able to trade this business on, but what I’m going to do – and what I’ve always done is I will speak up for the people who don’t have a voice. The employees and the small businesses who are affected and we want to keep the pressure on to make sure that people are secure. I get that there's world commodity prices go up and they come down and I get that if a business isn’t profitable then it can’t run – and the best thing is to have a profitable business. But what I don’t accept is that employees should lend their entitlements to businesses to be used as ballast for a company but when the going gets bad, the workers’ money is not there. Now I don’t believe that’ll be the case here, but I think this most recent administration shows how important it is to make sure that employees entitlements and indeed the unprotected interests of small business have representation and you know, we’ll see this again in the future, it’s the nature of the economy.

MACKAY: But what do you think of his position in politics then following these problems with Queensland Nickel, and the donation that was just revealed the other day to the Palmer Party?

SHORTEN: Yes, well being candid I think that there’s a proximity test; if the donation was done a couple of years ago when things were fine then that’s good, no problems, you know, you can’t reasonably expect to know everything that’s going to happen in the future. But I do think that it is important that this business ideally trade out and have a look at all the payments which were done at the time. To be clear here, though, Labor’s first view and ideal would be to see the business restructure. It is not totally unusual to have administrators come in, so I don’t want to be a doom and gloom merchant.

MACKAY: Could government subsidies be (inaudible)?

SHORTEN: Well I’m a bit wary about the taxpayer bailing out not just Mr. Palmer but any business which is going bad. But what I do think is that it's important that the position of the employees is clarified, because for me, what matters is last night there’ll be discussions going on around the dining table in Queensland, people who work at the refinery, small businesses, you know mum might ask dad or dad might ask mum, or the kids might ask both – well we’ve seen this on the news, what does this mean? Let’s never forget that when you’ve got an issue like this, and that’s why I’m spending more time talking about the people, and the business then the politics – there’s real people who are caught up in it. And to me what’s important to me is one, trying to trade the business out so there’s ongoing jobs. And two, reassurance that people’s entitlements are secure in event of the undesired outcome that the business can’t trade. That for me is the business, and then you let the administrators get into who owes what, where and when the payments should or should not have been made.

MACKAY: Well good luck for all the campaigning over the next few days and we’ll, I’m sure, see you again in the future. Thank you for your time this morning.

SHORTEN: Lovely to be here, it’s great, thank you.

MACKAY: Bill Shorten, the Leader of the Labor party of course and he’s in Rockhampton today.