WEDNESDAY, 15 JUNE 2016
SUBJECTS: Labor’s positive policies; Liberals’ tax break for big business; 457 visa arrangements; Labor Party; Pensioners; Perth Freight Link; GST; immigration.
HOST: Bill Shorten, good morning to you.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning.
HOST: I want to begin with a question from Mike. Can you ask Mr Shorten why we should trust the Labor Party to manage the economy after their poor performance last time? I want to vote for Labor but I'm worried about Labor buying votes again at the expense of the country's economic future. And that question comes from Mike.
SHORTEN: Thanks Mike. Labor has – in Opposition – has changed the political rule book. We've put our policies out early and we've committed ourselves to rigid budget discipline. So we're making choices. What I said at the start of his election 38 days ago is that this election will be all about choices. One of the things we will do, when we choose jobs, education and Medicare, is make sure that our budget improvements to the bottom line outweigh our spending promises. The other thing of course is not only are we outlining how we will save improvements on the budget, by not having the $50 billion tax giveaway that Mr Turnbull is proposing over a decade, by making multinationals pay their fair share, but we've also committed to reducing some Government spending.
It's all about making sure that you use scarce taxpayer dollars in the wisest way possible. Our economic plan is one which says that if you look after working and middle class families, by making sure that the kids get a good education, that sick people can afford to go and see the doctor, that we build job creating infrastructure such as Perth METRONET, then that'll create confidence in the economy and the basis for sustainable growth. Yesterday I announced that we would be supporting 10,000 pre-apprenticeship places, so that young kids who don't want to go to university can get a taste for what it's like to do an apprenticeship. That's a practical measure, so that's what we're doing. Using scarce resources in the best way possible so we can set Australia well up for the future. And by making choices.
HOST: Just on that subject of your spending, though, the Grattan Institute has today observed that politicians from the major parties have tried to argue painless ways of improving the budget, but aren't being honest about what is achieved. John Daley, the Chief Executive says, presumably you, are creating expectations that far exceed what government can do.
SHORTEN: Well Labor has actually been making some tough choices. We've gone into political territory that for 30 years people said was too hard. We want to reform negative gearing tax concessions, but not in a manner which affects existing people who invest under existing tax laws. We could probably get more money for the budget bottom line if we just change the rules overnight but Australians, some Australians who have invested under existing tax laws into investment properties, they will be able to keep those, but what we are saying is as at 1 July 2017, we're not going to provide further tax concessions which provide an unlevel playing field against first home buyers.
So we're taking the longer perspective with prospective changes, and that's a hard decision. We are proposing to make changes to the Emissions Reduction Fund. That was Mr Abbott, and now Mr Turnbull's fund, where they pay large polluters to pollute. We've taken the hard decision to say we think that is a waste of money, but what we're not retreating from is a debate about climate change. Everyone said, all the political insiders say, you can't win a climate change argument about taking real action on climate change because the scare campaign against Labor will be too strong. Well we're standing up. The Business Council of Australia is spending money advertising an attack on the Labor Party merely because we won't give big business a $50 billion tax cut. I think when you look at it from tax reform, to standing up to big business, to – we're calling for a banking royal commission. We want to have a royal commission into Australia's banks. Now, we get pilloried at the top end of town for that. The Business Council of Australia is spending money to discourage people from voting for the Labor Party, because we're willing to make tough decisions about prioritising Medicare and schools.
HOST: Let's just talk about business for a moment. "Mr Shorten I own a newsagency that has a turnover of just $2 million dollars, why am I considered a big business?"
SHORTEN: Well you're not. The point is that Labor is supporting a tax cut for 83 percent of Australia's businesses, they're businesses that have a turnover of $2 million or less. So we are supporting those tax reductions. But the Government has outlined a plan to provide massive tax giveaways for the largest corporations. So it's all about priorities and choices. The nation can't afford to reduce corporate taxation for big business, especially when it comes at the price of undermining Medicare or funding our schools or child care rebates or the other things. The only way you can afford corporate tax cuts is if you are replacing it with other taxes. Now Mr Turnbull thinks he can have it both ways. He wants to be friends with the big end of town, but he's pretending if you take the revenue out of the budget, that somehow there are no negative consequences.
HOST: I'm going to leave it there. Lots of people want to speak to you. The first of which is Graham. Graham, good morning.
CALLER: Good morning.
SHORTEN: Good morning.
CALLER: Yeah I was just wondering what the Labor Party's view is on 457 visas, with the excess of them, especially in the construction industry, and a lot of Australian guys are sitting on the beanbag at home out of work. And a lot of people from overseas filling those roles that Australian guys could be filling.
SHORTEN: We've always had guest workers as part of the Australian economy, but I'm deeply concerned that under a Liberal Government the deregulation of the visa system means that people are being brought in and are replacing Australian work, Australian workers, and also they're being ripped off. I mean the related visa system, it wasn't 457s, but people on some of the student visas who were working at 7/11, being paid half wages. We were promised by the Government that when we signed off on the China Free Trade Agreement, that there wouldn't be abuses in terms of workers being brought in on low rates of pay. Now we've seen that's exactly what's been happening in some cases. Only a Labor Government will stand up for Australian jobs against the excesses and abuses of the visa system. We would adequately resource the Fair Work Ombudsman to police the system. We believe in labou r market testing. The employers who are trying to bring in workers must demonstrate, must demonstrate, not just in a tick or flick fashion, that they've genuinely tried to find Australians to upgrade their skills or who might be available to do the work.
HOST: Ken, good morning.
CALLER: Good morning.
HOST: What's your question?
CALLER: Could you ask Mr Shorten how the public is going to be able to feel confident he won't shaft them when he shafted both of the Prime Ministers that he was working for?
SHORTEN: Well, I imagine yesterday you asked Mr Turnbull how he was getting on with Mr Abbott who he replaced through, the first term Prime Minister –
CALLER: But you did it twice.
SHORTEN. But my point also now is, first of all, the Liberals are deeply divided. And that's the substance of my point. The two quick answers I will give to you. One, after this election, one thing we do know, is the Turnbull forces will go to war with the Abbott forces, or the Abbott forces will go to war –
HOST: Can we ask you to address the question, though. The question was about where you have been before, and the role you played in the dismissal of two Labor Prime Ministers?
SHORTEN: Well, everything I've done has been based on my view about the national interest. Difficult decisions. But we have learned our lessons since then. And that was the point I was driving at, about unity. I lead my party. My party is united. Mr Turnbull doesn't lead his party, they're bitterly divided.
HOST: What's the lesson learnt? It is easy to say we've learnt them, but what is the significant lesson that has been learnt after a government –
SHORTEN: Australians don't want political parties playing political games and changing leaders. What they want is the opportunity to have a say on that themselves at an election.
HOST: This is Phil. Morning.
HOST: What would you like to ask, Phil?
CALLER: Mr Shorten, you opposed the reduction in the pension threshold when it came through Parliament. Why aren't you proposing to re-instate those pensions in this election?
SHORTEN: We did think it was a bad idea, for what the Government did, but we also realise that this Government, despite their rhetoric to the contrary, has tripled the deficit, that they actually endangered our AAA credit rating, and they have no serious plan to deal with government debt. So we've had to make hard decisions. We've prioritised in this election defending Medicare. And by the way, if we can keep the price of going to the doctor down, and if we can keep the price of prescriptions down, we think that's a great assistance to self-funded retirees and pensioners. We also successfully opposed the Government when they wanted to lower the indexation rate of pensions. In other words, they wanted to use a formula, for increasing the pension every six months, they wanted to use a formula which would generate lower outcomes for pensioners. We successfully opposed that and we intend to keep the proper indexa tion rate.
CALLER: Okay. Thank you.
HOST: Thank you Phil. This is David. Morning David.
CALLER: Yes, good morning gentlemen. I've been listening to speeches and what have you over the last month or so. I'm one of the million pensioners, and you've just been discussing pensioners, I don't notice anywhere in the budget where it will help me gain more than $900 a fortnight, which is near impossible to live on. I know I haven't created this position, but I am in this position because of economic climates and what have you. How can you help me other than giving me cheap medical? I need money to spend, I need money to eat.
SHORTEN: Well what we have done, is we have successfully defended the higher indexation rate for pensioners. I get that 20 per cent of Australia in the next few years will be people over the age of 65. I also understand that most people on the age pension or part pension, or indeed self-funded retirees, have made carefully calibrated decisions in order to be able to look after themselves, their finances. What we will contribute to you is we will make sure we keep the price of going to the doctor down. The older you get, it doesn't mean you get less health challenges, we're going to keep the price of going to the doctor down, both in medicine and preserving bulk billing and stopping the privatisation of parts of Medicare. We've also going to make sure the banks are more accountable. And the relevance of that is we have seen three of the four major banks now under serious investigation for rate rigging. No w that affects people with accounts in the banks. That affects the returns for self-funded retirees and part pensioners with modest savings. We will make the banks more accountable, through the Royal Commission. Furthermore, we've made it perfectly clear that we will never support a 15 per cent GST. And does anyone seriously think that if the Liberals gain control of the Senate and the House of Representatives the 15 percent GST wouldn't be on the table?
HOST: But we have to talk about tax reform too. If the demands on government are growing, if the expectations of the public is growing and politicians like yourself say "We can do these things for you, we can fund Gonski, we can fund a National Disability Insurance Scheme.” Why aren't we having the discussion about where we find the money to do it? And isn't a discussion about the GST part of that? You cannot like it but isn't it part of a discussion that needs to be had?
SHORTEN: I was answering the question about pensioners first and foremost, and I was just reminding people if you want to keep the banks honest, you want to protect Medicare, you don't want a 15 per cent GST, then vote Labor. You're going to a separate issue which is can a government afford to have properly resourced schools? Can it find the money to have the National Disability Insurance Scheme? Can it make sure that we can keep downward pressure on the price of medicine? You can under Labor's program because what we're not going to do is give away a tax cut to the top three percent of income earners in Australia, because we're going to wind back the unsustainable superannuation tax concessions at the top end, because we will make multi-nationals pay their fair share, because we will rein in government spending on programs that don't work. It's all about priorities.
HOST: But you don't accept that a GST conversation is part of a tax reform conversation the country is going to have to have?
SHORTEN: It's a free country.
HOST: It's a free kick for you to say "We will oppose any increase in the GST".
SHORTEN: It's a free country. People are allowed to talk about what they want, but in a debate, the nation deserves to know where its leaders stand. I don't mind Mr Turnbull raising it, I'm just against it. The idea you can compensate adequately self-funded retirees or part pensioners if you increase the price of fresh food, 15 percent tax on that, or if you increase from 10 percent to 15 percent items that will attract the GST, it's rubbish, it's a regressive tax which hits people on fixed incomes with the least capacity to adjust their interests.
HOST: I want to get to more calls, time is going to beat us, but there are two things I have to ask you, you've released Labor's so-called positive plan for Western Australia, to plan and build Metronet. Isn't that completely dependent on you being able to pull a billion dollars of Federal money out of the Perth freight link project, cancel that project and reinvest it in your piece of public transport policy?
SHORTEN: We think that building better public transport in Perth makes a lot more sense than building Perth freight link.
HOST: Can you get the billion dollars from the freight link project?
HOST: How do you know that because don't you have to urge the Barnett Government not to sign any Freight Link contracts ahead of the State Election?
SHORTEN: Our election is on July 2. And we will be talking to the West Australian Government about our interest versus his. So we absolutely put people on notice. Some of this money comes from the Federal Government. The contracts haven't been signed or finalised. I mean, frankly, every time I come across to Western Australia the common refrain I hear is that the local Liberal Government here has missed the end of the mining boom, spent money on the wrong priorities and racked up big debt.
HOST: Let's be very clear, though, if you win on 2 July, will you say to the State Government of WA "Don't you be signing any Perth freight link contracts?".
SHORTEN: Yeah, we will be saying to the WA Government that we have a mandate to do Perth Metronet, and we will sit down with them and convince them of the merits of our case.
HOST: Secondly, people in the State have heard for several years politicians of all persuasions expressions of sympathy and understanding about GST distribution and the manner in which it is reformed. I see nothing in your list of promises to WA that addresses that issue. Is the message coming from you and Malcolm Turnbull really clear to West Australians "Stop lobbying, we can't help you"?
SHORTEN: No. My message is very straightforward. There's an independent process which allocates GST. That process should always be governed by the best economic argument and evidence and not just political promises. But also what my message to West Australians this morning is this: we will fund proper public transport which generates jobs, we will generate the opportunity for young people to go into apprenticeships. We will make sure that any Western Australian child growing up in any part of the State gets an opportunity to go to a well-resourced school.
HOST: Ok, you do know our listeners are hearing that and saying that he is returning to his policies that he is saying will be a benefit to Western Australia but he won’t be addressing the GST situation and there is another issue here that both sides of the political fence in West Australia take very seriously and that is there are billions of dollars available to government’s on the east coast through gambling taxes. It’s not treated as income, iron ore is treated as income. Shouldn’t those gambling dollars be treated as revenue because the argument here is we get punished because we have a socially responsible position of no pokies?
SHORTEN: I think there is something in what you say. But also what I have to say to set the ledger straight here is that the Western Australian Government decided to take more royalties proportionately for itself out of its minerals than east coast states did. So I guess my view here is that that's why you have an independent process. And again whilst you just say, perhaps, not dismissively, but you are just talking about your policies, the truth of the matter is that I am the only person turning up in Western Australia with a proper policy for schools, with a proper policy for Medicare, with a proper policy for NBN, with a proper policy on climate change and with a proper policy on saving Medicare and having a Royal Commission into the banks.
HOST: One question I have to get to before we get to 9 o’clock comes from Paul. Paul, where are you?
CALLER: I am at Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre.
HOST: Why are you there and what is your question for Bill Shorten?
CALLER: Well I'm here because my visa was cancelled after doing 12 months jail. I’ve lived in Australia for 30 years and upon my release from prison I was sent here and had my visa cancelled under the 501 legislation.
HOST: So are you going to be deported back to the United Kingdom?
CALLER: There's every chance, that's right. My question to Bill is what would the Labor Party do if they were to be put in power about this sort of thing and what would happen?
SHORTEN: Paul, I don't know all the circumstances around what has happened to you. I'm happy for my office to get the details. I'm not going to make a general policy statement based upon a set of circumstances which I don't have all the facts about. But I'm happy to…I don't know if you've got legal representation, do you have legal representation?
CALLER: I certainly do.
SHORTEN: Well, I'm happy for them to get in touch with my office and we'll see what's happening with you.
HOST: Paul, what I'll do is we'll get the details and we'll pass them on to Mr Shorten. Final observation, you were asked on Triple J's Hack program the three things you quite admired about Mr Turnbull. You said he's articulate, he's a republican and he believes in marriage equality. If Mr Turnbull was asked what three things he might like about you, what would you hope he would say?
SHORTEN: That we have well-funded policies, that if you want to save Medicare you'd probably vote for Bill Shorten and that if you wanted to have a proper investigation into the banks Bill Shorten's got more fair dinkum policies than I do. Anyway, I don't think he'll say that.
HOST: I don't think there's much chance of it. Mr Shorten, thank you very much for your time this morning.