WEDNESDAY, 15 FEBRUARY 2017
SUBJECTS: Coalition playing politics with the NDIS; Scott Morrison threatening to raise taxes; Mr Turnbull’s $50 Billion big business giveaway; education funding; energy.
SABRA LANE, PRESENTER: The Federal Government's raised the prospect of new, higher taxes or alternative spending cuts to help pay for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). The Treasurer wanted to carve out $4 billion in savings from a controversial social services omnibus bill unveiled last week but this week, the Senate crossbench has said it won't pass the bill, and neither will Labor. It's a challenge to the Opposition as well as the crossbench. Joining me now in the studio is Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten. Mr Shorten, good morning and welcome to AM.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSTION: Good morning Sabra.
LANE: Will Labor support a tax increase to help pay for the NDIS?
SHORTEN: Well, we don't think that's necessary frankly. Back in 2013 the National Disability Insurance Scheme was fully funded. Now the Government says it's not fully funded.
LANE: I just want to pick you up on that point and I'm sorry to do so, so early. Labor never fully explained how it would pay for the scheme. Sure it outlined how much it would cost and it gave a broad idea beyond the Budget four year estimates as to how much it would cost, but Labor never fully said how much it would pay for it and the crossbench is on agreement on that point.
SHORTEN: Well, I was there in 2013 when Jenny Macklin outlined that we would increase the Medicare levy and we would make other savings. The other thing about the National Disability Insurance Scheme which makes quite frankly the Government's behaviour quite scandalous, is that there is an assumption that because there is more people with profound and severe disabilities, that somehow they are not being paid for at the moment. People with severe and profound disabilities don't live on the moon. They live in our communities right now so there's currently a mishmash of funding networks at the state and federal level.
The National Disability Insurance Scheme over the next number of years will just bring together the treatment and support for people with disabilities, it will give them control over their own lives in a way they don't currently get from the crisis sort of funding they get, and furthermore the Productivity Commission report showed that as the National Disability Insurance Scheme rolls out, more carers will be able to work, more people with disabilities will be able to participate and it'll actually save and improve the bottom line of the nation over coming years.
So when the Government says that somehow disabilities is a cost, one, we’re already paying for it -
LANE: It's not arguing that it's a cost, it's saying that it wants to honour the scheme. It believes that the scheme is a great idea and it's not walking away from that. It wants to pay for the scheme now.
SHORTEN: No, I don't quite trust the Government on disabilities. As you know Sabra, I've been most motivated about the lives of people with disability since I came to Parliament and this Government I think is always just looking at one side of the ledger and never the other.
But let's also go to the latest case. What they first said for this current omnibus bill, what they first said several weeks ago is that this was necessary to help reform childcare. Then we've exposed that one and a half million Australian families will have reductions in family payments and we said it was unfair to make families -
LANE: So you think every family is owed that payment regardless of whether -
SHORTEN: Not every family but every family who currently receives a payment, not every family does - but we're talking about families on $60,000 and $70,000 a year and yes, I think that if, in a beauty parade, the leadership of this nation has got to make a choice about taking from a family on $60,000 or $70,000 a few hundred dollars a year or giving a $50 billion tax cut to large corporations, for me it's a no brainer.
And that's why I have to say, so the Government last week, the excuse, this is very important Sabra, I'll be brief. Last week the Government said that the rationale for their cuts was that they wanted to help reform childcare. This week initially they've tied it to the National Disability Insurance Scheme. They've taken the future of the NDIS hostage on the basis that it won't be properly supported unless these cuts go through. And this morning the Government has gone to their third leg -
LANE: Again, I'm sorry just on that point, the Government has said it wants the NDIS in place. It's saying, okay if these cuts are unacceptable, it'll be higher taxes or other spending so on that point alone -
SHORTEN: Alright, on that point alone, even if you accept this Government's lukewarm support for disability and the fact that they're complaining about funding it, I've got a very simple source. If the Government, if what they say is correct, which I don't believe it is - don't go ahead with $50 billion of corporate tax cuts. There's $50 billion over the next 10 years, Sabra, $50 billion.
So what the Government said is they either increase the taxes on ordinary people or they take away payments from people who are less well off. Why is it that they won't put their $50 billion corporate tax cut, their unaffordable tax giveaway to big banks and multinationals, why are they saying that is sacred, that is off limits, that must happen but by the way, you, the rest of Australia, you can pay more or lose more.
LANE: On education, the so-called Gonski plan, panel member Ken Boston says today that the panel did not see additional funding as the key to improving Australian education, rather the way that it was distributed in the system. How do you respond to that?
SHORTEN: Well, first of all, what I think about education funding is that it should be needs based and so what the Gonski panel did is they looked at schools and they looked at results -
LANE: We know that. Let's not re-prosecute the case as to what they looked at.
SHORTEN: Sabra, you can't always just divide politics and life and complex issues into 10 seconds. What I'm saying is that the Gonski panel assessed what was a high performing school and what was their resourcing standard. And what we did is we embraced the principle that we wanted to get schools - over time, you can't do it overnight, to a resourcing standard which was consistent with the best outcomes in schools, the top one-eighth of schools.
So, you do need resources, you do need resources. The people who most typically say that you don't need more resources in schools, that money is not the answer, are people for whom money isn't a problem.
LANE: But Ken Boston here, he was on the Gonski panel, this was a panel appointed under Julia Gillard's stewardship. He is now saying that the panel did not, again, see additional funding as the key rather the way that the money was distributed.
SHORTEN: The way money is distributed is important but overall education needs more funding.
LANE: So you're saying what he is saying is tripe. Is that right?
SHORTEN: No, what I said is that how money is distributed is important, so I'm agreeing. What I'm additionally saying is that I don't think our education system is properly funded and I have to say this is a matter of priorities. Why is the government pushing with a $50 billion tax cut, yet doesn't want to find the level of school funding that we want to support. Why is it that this government is fighting tooth and nail to keep tax concessions for property speculators and investors in negative gearing.
Now to go back to where I think both of these stories that you're talking about go to, what we see in Australia is two economic models up for grabs, two competing economic stories. The Government says lower taxes on the very well off which they've done by reducing the deficit levy, give a corporate tax giveaway of $50 billion and defend negative gearing and capital gains tax deductions. These tax concessions are worth tens of billions of dollars over future years. That's one theory, it's trickledown economics.
The other theory is if you have a good skilled workforce, if you've got a good safety net in Medicare, if you've got a good safety net with the Disability Insurance Scheme, if you look after families, you know, the bottom half of families in this country, that will build the confidence, the skills and the resilience of the middle and working class.
There are two stories, you either start from the top and trickle down or you start from the bottom and work up. We support the bottom and the middle class.
LANE: In helping pay for education, do you agree that schools that are over-funded now, because the Grattan Institute has pointed out that there are several schools that are over-funded now, should they have their funding reduced to where it should be?
SHORTEN: If the Government want to look at the rate -
LANE: No, I'm not talking about the Government, I'm talking about you.
SHORTEN: No, but I'm giving you my answer. I don't want to make the private versus public some sort of partisan or party political issue, but I make this invitation to the Government. If they want to look at whether or not some schools well in excess of the resourcing standard should continue to receive the sort of increases that are currently slated, we will work with them and look very carefully at their evidence.
LANE: So, it that a yes?
SHORTEN: Well, the answer is that we will work with the Government.
LANE: Turning to the electricity debate, Labor wants to generate 50 per cent of electricity from renewable sources by 2030. Even on the current bipartisan agreement of 23 and a half per cent by 2020, Dr Finkel says that Australia will be hard pressed at the moment to actually meet that target. How much do you think it will cost to meet Labor's 2030 target?
SHORTEN: Well, let's go to this issue of renewable energy and there's a range of points. What I'm going to do is explain to people why we think increasing - having a goal of increasing renewable energy as part of our energy mix is important.
Our weather is getting more extreme and unpredictable. We are seeing more weather records being broken almost on a weekly basis in Australia. We can't go business as usual. Our view about energy in the future is that we need a mix of fossil fuels and renewables -
LANE: Again, that was a point that was well made during the election campaign last year. How much will it cost?
SHORTEN: In terms of how we get to renewable energy, we think there's a range of levers which assist from having an emissions intensive scheme and the energy intensity scheme in the energy industry, having a market trading scheme and an emissions trading scheme, looking at the rate of land clearing. I think the technology in solar power for example is also something which is pretty fertile ground for further investment.
For me the answer to the question about cost is that there is a cost in not acting. When I look at the spread of solar -
LANE: Consumers are entitled to know how much it will cost them?
SHORTEN: Well, consumers are already voting with their feet with the expansion of solar panels.
LANE: And they're entitled to know how much a 50 per cent, you know, a 50 per cent target will cost them?
SHORTEN: Well, our answer is very, very straightforward. We think the cost of not acting is far greater. We don't think we could sustain the cost as the Liberals are saying, of building new coal fired power generation on the scale which Mr Turnbull is saying, and we don't think that from insurance to drought to extreme weather events, that we can simply go business as usual.
LANE: Mr Shorten, we're out of time. Thank you very much for joining us this morning.
SHORTEN: Great to chat, cheers.