ABC AM WITH MICHAEL BRISSENDEN
FRIDAY, 11 MARCH 2016
SUBJECT/S: Queensland Nickel job losses; Chaos and dysfunction in the Turnbull Liberal Government; Labor’s plan to fund health and education – and balance the Budget
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN, HOST: I was joined on the line from Townsville by the Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten.
Bill Shorten it seems clear now that Clive Palmer's Queensland Nickel has made, well the 550 workers will be made redundant today. Why should the Federal Government step in?
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well first of all, we need to get to the heart of what's happened here at Queensland Nickel. The consequences of 550 people losing their jobs today, on top of 250 a few weeks ago and the nearly 1,600 other people who indirectly derive a living from QNI, the consequences are simply catastrophic for Townsville. One way or the other, the Federal Government's going to get dragged into this mess because if you have that number of people losing their work, that has a big impact on everything from families to taxes to support required from Federal Government for people who are not working.
BRISSENDEN: But the Federal Government surely can't keep bailing out regional centres if these things keep happening?
SHORTEN: No, I wouldn't generalise that helping Townsville or QNI is any more than just dealing with an immediate crisis. When you've got a problem, you don't actually win any points by ignoring the problem. Australia in the regions is doing it tough. We've seen the mining boom ease, the Government love to talk about the transition from the mining boom. But when you've got people who pay taxes their whole adult working life, need some help from the Government for once, this is not the time for the Government to get out a right-wing economic textbook and read out that, "Sorry, we can't help you."
BRISSENDEN: Okay we're looking at the prospect of a very long election campaign by the looks of things. I mean, you are effectively campaigning now anyway, aren't you?
SHORTEN: I think the Turnbull Government's effectively given up governing. I mean they're not interested in reform. Malcolm Turnbull six months ago justified getting rid of Tony Abbott on the basis that he would provide new economic leadership. Six months on, all we see now is speculation about election dates. It's been Labor, ironically, who's offering the positive plans for the future of this country on everything from the future of our schools to our housing affordability and budget repair that's fair. The biggest issue keeping the Government up at night is do they move the Budget forward by a week, when do they have the election, and when should they book the Great Hall of Parliament for a Liberal Party fundraiser.
BRISSENDEN: Alright it looks pretty clear that the election is going to be July 2 at this stage. That's going to be either an eight-and-a-half week or a seven-and-a-half week campaign, which is a fairly long campaign. Do you think this will an advantage for you or is going to put you under pressure?
SHORTEN: The Labor Party's ticked all the boxes of being a strong Opposition in the last two-and-a-half years. We stopped the dreadful cuts of the Abbott-Hockey Budget of 2014, we've discouraged the Government I think successfully, for the time being only to increase the GST to 15 per cent. Labor is ready with a discussion this year, putting forward a positive plan for Australia and Australians. We've got fully-funded policies, we can explain how we'll help our schools, how we'll help tackle climate change with renewable energy, fair taxation, plans for Australian jobs, and of course making sure that our hospital system, which we've just seen from the AMA report is in a dire crisis because of cuts of the Turnbull Liberal Government.
BRISSENDEN: Well let's have a look at some of those policies. Negative gearing is one area that is clearly going to be a point of difference in the campaign. The Government says this will discourage investment and not have a huge impact on the deficit in the first few years. I mean, they are right about that part, aren't they?
SHORTEN: Not at all. The Government doesn't have any plan about the budget deficit. That was the rationale for the Liberals at the 2013 election and now you don't hear Malcolm Turnbull talking much about the deficit any more. No, our policies on negative gearing will return $32 billion plus to the budget bottom line over 10 years.
BRISSENDEN: Over the long term, exactly.
SHORTEN: That's right. And for the Government to criticise us not returning all that money in the first year, the only way you could do that is by having retrospective laws, and we're not going to change the taxation laws retrospectively. What Labor has is a plan to deal with one of the harder issues, housing affordability and budget repair, and we're doing it in a steady and considered manner. There are no surprises under Labor's platform and policies. We don't even know what Mr Turnbull's going to do about budget repair, we don't know what he thinks about taxation. We do know that he and his Treasurer Scott Morrison said that there were excesses in the negative gearing system. But as soon as Labor has an idea, we see the return to the old Tony Abbott style politics, which Malcolm Turnbull's adopted of just trying to frighten everyone and say, "You can't talk about reform". So I think that there's a lot of disappointment in Australia. I think a lot of people, myself included, thought that Mr Turnbull would be a new style of politics where we can have a genuine debate about ideas. Labor's accepted that challenge. We've put out more policies in opposition than any opposition in 30 years and Malcolm Turnbull's gone back into his shell. He's literally shrinking in front of us into the job.
BRISSENDEN: Well housing affordability, as you keep pointing out, is one of the areas, one of the key targets of any changes for negative gearing. But that does suggest that you'd be quite happy to see house prices stall, at least, if not fall?
SHORTEN: No, not at all. We know that our policies aren't going to decrease housing prices.
BRISSENDEN: Well what does it mean if you talk about housing affordability?
SHORTEN: Well, you and I both know, and indeed it's not even what we know, it's mums and dads who attend, grandparents who attend auctions on Saturdays around Australia but it's not a level playing field. I'm true-blue Labor. I understand that I want to see first-home buyers compete on a level playing field with property speculators. We both know that negative gearing won't change for anyone who has it. We also know that under our policies it'll still be possible for new housing, but we've got to do something I think to tackle long-term budget repair and to also ensure that the playing field becomes more level in terms of first home buyers.
BRISSENDEN: How can you guarantee that prices won't fall, though?
SHORTEN: I can say that our policies won't lead to a reduction in prices and it's not my word that people have to take. You know, have a good chat to Saul Eslake. Jeff Kennett, who's hardly a Labor sympathiser, has said that we're on the right track. Joe Hockey, in a moment of reflection in his farewell speech to Parliament, said that this is exactly the path to go down. So a lot of people are quietly, and in some cases quite vocally, supporting what we're saying. And we often need to do budget repair. Like $32 billion over the next 10 years is more than what the Federal Government, the Turnbull Government, has offered on anything.
BRISSENDEN: Well obviously we're going to see more policy detail in the next few months, but negative gearing -
SHORTEN: Isn't it ironic Michael that you say we're going to see more policy detail from the Government. Something very unusual has happened in 2016. The Opposition is running an insurgency based on positive policies. The Government is acting more like an Opposition just trying to pick holes in Labor.
BRISSENDEN: Well negative gearing, if we can just return to that for a minute, you do have to accept that it has been a good vehicle for many mum and dad investors to leverage their capital and get ahead financially?
SHORTEN: Well what I accept is that negative gearing is used by a small proportion of the Australian population. What I accept is that the Government's trying to pretend that somehow negative gearing is this sort of Robin Hood tax policy which helps the poor and it's an equity mechanism. And you've seen the Parliamentary Question Time debates, we've seen the Government try and throw the kitchen sink at our policies.
The truth of the matter is that there are 64,000 people who, after they've negatively geared, claimed no taxable income. And this is what shows the hollowness of the Government's attack, that somehow this is a massive equity device. No bank will lend to any person who earns no money to buy a house, yet somehow there's 64,000 people after they've done their negative gearing have no taxable income.
What this tells me is that for some people, this is working very well at minimising their own tax. That's the law, that's fair enough as it is. But really when you've got to make choices about the future of our higher education, the future of our TAFE, the future of our hospitals, and if you don't want to just rampantly raise taxes, then hard decisions have to be made about tax expenditures. And one of the hard decisions we're looking at is saying that negative gearing, going forward, is not the same priority compared to making sure that every child in every school gets every opportunity or that we do something about waiting lists in hospitals.
BRISSENDEN: Okay, just quickly, the trigger for this election may well end up being the Australian Building and Construction Commission legislation. If it's not, it'll be the Registered Organisations Act. So union corruption is an issue, will be a key one. What do you intend to do to tackle union misbehaviour and corruption?
SHORTEN: Well let's be clear, I think Mr Turnbull's anti-union, Labor's just anti-corruption. We have put in place policies and measures both in Government and now in Opposition to strengthen the regulation and governance of unions and employer associations. We've made it clear that we have no tolerance, zero tolerance, for corruption. We support having strong regulation in the construction sector, but -
BRISSENDEN: So what we have at the moment is fine, is it?
SHORTEN: No, what I'm saying is let's not kid ourselves. Labor's always up for improvement to the system against corruption, be it in corporations. I mean the Government's had far more to say about unions than they have about the Commonwealth Bank and the life insurance scandal there. But what I won't accept is that somehow the Government's agenda to bash unions is a reason to have an early election. What I don't accept is that workplaces and the Liberals, that the agenda of the Liberals isn't actually more than just getting rid of unions, it's actually about attacking penalty rates; it's about undermining the ability of people to get wage rises.
Do you know we had the lowest rate of real wage growth since records were kept in 1961? When it comes to workplace relations, the Liberals just play politics, Labor's up for improved productivity, we're up for proper regulation and governance. But what we're not going to do is engage in this Government distraction campaign from the Budget, the economy, and a plan to grow Australia.
BRISSENDEN: Opposition Leader Bill Shorten a short time ago.