RADIO NATIONAL BREAKFAST
WEDNESDAY, 29 JUNE 2016
SUBJECT/S: Brexit; Labor’s positive plan for Medicare; Costings; Labor's positive policies to drive inclusive growth; Superannuation; Marriage equality
FRAN KELLY: Labor leader, Bill Shorten, is just three days away from his tilt at history. Labor’s seeking to become the first Opposition in 85 years to regain Government after just one term out of office. But with the final days of the campaign focused on economic management and Budget costings, particularly in the wake of Brexit, the polls suggest Labor will fall short of the 19 seats it needs to claim a majority. The Opposition Leader has swung his campaign caravan via our breakfast studio this morning. Bill Shorten, welcome to RN Breakfast.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Great to be on, Fran.
KELLY: Last week you told voters in Adelaide we are very close to winning are very close to winning, you said to someone when you were out and about. Just a few days to go now. Is that still your view?
SHORTEN: Absolutely. Our issues are biting. In particular, the fact that we are determined to ensure that the key parts of Medicare are saved from Mr Turnbull's cuts.
KELLY: Treasurer Scott Morrison describes you a 'spend now, pay later' leader. Your election promises, popular though some of them may be, are paid for by bigger deficits and higher taxes. Is that the way to future proof our economy, given the global shocks of recent times?
SHORTEN: It's a bit rich coming from Mr Morrison. Their whole central case for re-election is they want to give big tax cuts to corporate Australia. $50 billion away in the next 10 years. We can't afford that. Especially after Brexit. It doesn't engender stability to ram raid the Budget and undermine funding for our schools and hospitals.
KELLY: But can we afford $16 billion more in deficits than the other side at this time?
SHORTEN: We're making long-term reforms. We get to balance at the same time as the Liberals, but what we won't do is rely upon zombie measures which will never pass the Senate. What we won't do is cut funding to schools, to hospitals, to GPs for bulk-billing.
KELLY: Let's go to some of your long-term reforms. You're promising to run bigger surpluses over the ten years based on your changes to negative gearing and capital gains tax. Labor says you will raise about $37 billion over the decade. But we learned today that the Parliamentary Budget Office says your revenue forecasts are "unreliable", capital gains tax is seven times more volatile than total tax revenue, and 2.5 times more volatile than company tax revenue. This is according to the PBO. So you actually can't say for certain, can you, that the change also raise this much money and deliver these surpluses you're promising in the years, five, six, seven, eight, nine years hence.
SHORTEN: There's a few assumptions in your questions and I'll briefly go to them because I don't accept what you're saying. The Parliamentary Budget Office is independent. We've released more costed policies through the Parliamentary Budget Office than any Opposition in the history of elections. When we talk about the reliability of our costings, what we've done is not only go to the PBO, but what we've also done is we've belt and braced the propositions that we're advancing. We got our independent costings panel - Professor Bob Officer who was chair of John Howard's commission of audit, Mike Keating and James McKenzie and they have made it very clear that our costings are just as reliable as the Government's.
KELLY: You haven't released the reliability rating from the PBO of your costings, of your negative gearing changes. According to the Government has had the PBO model a very similar policy and it came back saying "low reliability due to the certainty surrounding behavioural responses". According to the PBO there is uncertainty over your revenue, a revenue stream you are planning to spend in advance of the money coming in.
SHORTEN: Two points. First of all, it's not surprising the Government is attacking us, but fair is fair, they don't release their Treasury costings.
KELLY: But this is the PBO.
SHORTEN: Sorry, two points. One is that the Government is attacking us. That doesn't surprise me. But what they'd never do is they'd never offer to provide their own Treasury costings. Secondly, the PBO when they talk about reliability, the reliability rating doesn't reflect the quality of the policy proposal and indeed this is -
KELLY: No, it just says you can't count on it necessarily.
SHORTEN: First of all, the Government is making ten year projections, for instance on their corporate tax cuts to big corporate Australia. I think that our process is absolutely as methodologically sound as the Governments and what we've done is not only got all our policies and taken them to the PBO, who are highly respected. What we've also done is then had a costings panel give a second stress test to what we are saying.
KELLY: What reliability rating did the PBO give you? You haven't released it. Can you tell us now?
SHORTEN: We're not going to release all of our method.
KELLY: Why not?
SHORTEN: Because the Government doesn't do it. Fair's fair, Fran.
FRAN: Just the reliability rating.
SHORTEN: Let's be clear, I stand by our costings and we've got an independent panel of respected business people to do it. When we talk about the back office workings, why doesn't the Government release all their Treasury costings?
KELLY: Yesterday you rejected Malcolm Turnbull's call for stability in the wake of Brexit. You said his version of stability is all wrong, that the source of the stability is coming from a sense of feeling marginalised and forgotten. People might like the services you're offering but people aren't mugs either. If they can't think you can't actually pay for them, deliver them, why would they vote for you?
SHORTEN: First of all, in your opening part of that question, you said I rejected stability. I haven't rejected stability.
KELLY: No, you rejected Malcolm's calls for stability, saying his version of stability is all wrong.
SHORTEN: Yes, I absolutely reject Mr Turnbull’s definition of stability. It is not stable to put all your eggs in the basket of giving a $50 billion tax give away to large companies at the cost of undermining our schools funding package and undermining Medicare. In terms of how we pay for things, we've made it clear that we are not going down the path that Malcolm Turnbull is going down. We're not going to give $50 billion away. We aren't going to give a tax cut to high net worth individuals. For me, instead, we're going to protect the fabric of our society, protect Medicare, protect schools. The lesson for Brexit for me, which was at the heart of my presentation yesterday to the National Press Club, was that if you have a divided government, putting policies in place which alienate people and create greater disadvantage, then you get the preconditions where a marginalised, alienated and c ynical electorate will not necessarily follow the leadership. What we're doing is restoring and rebuilding the middle class. What we're doing is giving working class people the opportunity to have a good standard of living. That's how you keep a society coherent and united.
KELLY: If you over-promise and under-deliver, and going back to your costings and some doubts over that, I mean, that's going to fuel the cynicism, isn't it? The sense that people get disillusioned because they don't believe what the politicians are saying?
SHORTEN: Just because you say there are doubts, doesn't mean I think there are doubts. We've been more fair dinkum with the Australian population than any Opposition in living memory. And when we talk about what disillusions an electorate, the fact you had Malcolm Turnbull yesterday talking about his political philosophy, that political parties can change their mind and don't have to keep their word in the lead up to an election, I mean, that's what breeds cynicism. We've put costed policies up and what we intend to do is keep them and we can pay for them. And the way we pay for them is by reigning in some of the excessive concessions at the top end. That we don't pay big business, corporate tax cuts when the price of that is undermining the quality of our Medicare, and the quality of our schools. For instance, on Medicare, and I will be very brief, the Royal College of GPs has reve aled that despite the Government's protestations that that rates of bulk billing are going up, they've revealed that only 43 per cent of doctors are bulk billing between 80 and 100 per cent of their patients. They've revealed that under this Government, we've seen the gap, that's the payment that patients get reimbursed for and what they actually pay the doctor, that gap has doubled to $33.80. I mean, what is really important in this country is that people can afford to see a doctor. What is important is that our kids get the best quality education. They're the building blocks, along with good infrastructure, of making sure we have sustainable growth and a society that is coherent and cohesive, not the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.
KELLY: On that, you mentioned Labor rushed out an ad after Malcolm Turnbull made that comment yesterday, what political parties say they will support and oppose at one time, is not necessarily what they'll do. But how cynical was that because he actually went on to say, you were selectively quoting, he went on to say the Labor Party has opposed in measures of ours after which they subsequently supported. The best known of those is the School Kids bonus. So he was talking about you.
SHORTEN: No, he wasn't. Let me give the quote exactly. I have it in front of me.
KELLY: And I watched it.
SHORTEN: Good. "The other point I would make is that what political parties say they will support and oppose at one time is not ultimate - necessarily ultimately what they will do." He said parties. He wasn't saying that is just about the Labor Party. I know in an election you put forward the platform for social and economic improvement in this country. We intend to stick our word.
KELLY: You are listening to RN Breakfast. It's quarter to eight. Our guest is the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, coming here on a very busy campaign day, heading out to Western Sydney where a lot of seats are in play as we know. Bill Shorten, Labor says it's going to reach a surplus by 2021-22. Banking the savings from the Government's superannuation changes, $2.9 billion over four years, this was in your costings released on Sunday. That is going to help you get there. But you are yet to agree to the changes. Now here is the Treasurer, speaking to us yesterday on RN Breakfast.
SCOTT MORRISON: Well, we'll bank that money but we'll tell you how it's all going to work later once we get into government. Who is going to trust Labor on superannuation on that? Seriously after all the changes they made when they were in government, they were making them almost every other week when Bill Shorten was actually responsible for this . The answer is I don't know, you don't know. No-one knows what their superannuation policy is because they don't know.
KELLY: Do you know? What is your policy? Is it the same as the Government's?
SHORTEN: We've outlined our policies and in terms of the Government changes, the concern that we've expressed about the changes is that they're potentially retrospective. Lots of experts have said that. Now, Mr Morrison and Mr Turnbull have said they're not retrospective. Ultimately, I don't believe in retrospective policy but you can't form a final view. You've got Morrison and Turnbull in the 'it's not retrospective' corner, you've got others saying it is. The best place to sort this out is from Government. The changes are not due in until 1 July 2017. So we're not proposing any changes to superannuation, other than what's been outlined, but we do get to the bottom of whether or not they're retrospective or not.
KELLY: That makes sense to me, except you've banked the savings of the Government's proposal, the proposal you don't respect.
SHORTEN: The Government's said they're not retrospective and they're banking those. The Government's made it clear that if they were retrospective they wouldn't be making these savings. So we have the same position. I'm just sceptical that the Government knows what it is doing with superannuation. But to listeners, frankly, who are concerned about superannuation policy, the Government gave no warning of these changes. We all know they didn't consult. On May 3, everyone went to the Budget night and heard all these radical changes. What we want to do when we get into Government is just make sure and run the ruler over them just to reassure ourselves that what the Government is saying is actually correct.
KELLY: Let's run through a couple more things. We have learnt today from the Australian newspaper you have changed your position on marriage equality plebiscite. In 2013 you told a Christian Lobby forum and it's on video that you were completely relaxed about having some form of plebiscite. "I'd rather the people of Australia could make their view clear on this than leaving the issue to 150 Members of Parliament." Now you say that you believe a plebiscite would be a platform for homophobia. So what is your position?
SHORTEN: Since 2013, there's been two developments. Community attitudes have moved on in Australia. I think that is a demonstrable fact. Secondly when you looked at the experience in Ireland, over a year ago, some of the arguments which emerged were really ugly and repugnant. So last July I put a proposition into Parliament that we make marriage equality a reality and we just vote on it and that is now the party policy which I took to our National Conference in July of last year. So I'm sure that some people think the plebiscite is the way to go. I no longer have that view. And what's more is I know that Malcolm Turnbull agrees with me, the problem is he doesn't run his political party. So I have made a decision that it will be the first Bill we introduce into Parliament. Frankly, the nation is ready to have the vote and to move on. There will be exemptions for religions. Some of the fear mongering w hich has gone on isn't worthy of the critics of marriage equality. I don't think we should have $160 million taxpayer funded opinion poll which conservatives in the Liberal Party say they're not even going to be bound by.
KELLY: So you have changed your view. The PM says he has a higher regard for the people of Australia to be able to conduct this conversation without that kind of nastiness.
SHORTEN: I've got no doubt that the Australian people are capable of debating all sorts of issues but we live in a representative democracy. The only reason why - and so they elect politicians to make decisions. The only reason and you know it as well as I do Fran, that Malcolm Turnbull's advocating a plebiscite is because he knows it's a second best option. He says, by the way, that he knows the majority of Australians want it. If he already knows what they want, why is he having a plebiscite? You and I know it was a stitch-up so you could get some Abbott Conservatives to vote for him in the internal civil wars of the Liberal Party. That's the only reason he is doing this and I don't think the rest of us should have to pay the price when the community has moved on, principally. Why should we have our taxes paid so Malcolm Turnbull can have a deal with the right-wing of the Liberal Part y and unleash, there will be ugly elements in this debate. Not everyone who is against marriage equality has an invalid view but there will be ugly arguments rear their head and we've seen the experience. Why not let the parliamentarians do what they're paid to do and get on and get this issue dealt with?
KELLY: What if Malcolm Turnbull wins, what if you lose? Do you accept he's won a mandate for a plebiscite or will Labor vote against it?
SHORTEN: I am not going to deal with a hypothetical of us losing. If we win will Malcolm Turnbull allow a conscious vote or because they have a position on the plebiscite will they try to bind all their people? That is a bridge to cross after this elections. But in the meantime I am saying to Australians that the time has come to have marriage equality. Let MPs vote according to their conscience in the new Parliament and we can get on and debate a whole lot of other issues too. I do not see for the life of me why some people's relationships have to be subject to a public opinion poll which then won't even bind the conservatives.
KELLY: Three days out, four days, depending on how you look at it, from the election. You need 19 seats to form a majority. The Coalition holds 22 of the 30 seats in Queensland. A Galaxy poll commissioned by Labor today suggests you won't pick up any extra seats there. You could even go backwards. Are you sunk?
SHORTEN: Not at all. We'll wait and see. The fact of the matter is that Labor's been - back in 2013 when I became Leader of the Opposition, everyone said that Abbott would be there for three terms. Back in 2014, the editorials gushed the day after that horrible Budget and we've managed to defeat a lot of the unfair changes. In 2015, when Malcolm Turnbull took over, everyone wrote Labor off. We have a knack of getting up, dusting ourselves off and fighting for the issues that are important for Australians. Mr Turnbull's called the election on the basis that he's recommending a $50 billion tax cut to corporate Australia, to big companies and he says that will kick start Australia. I say that if we properly fund Medicare and schools, build public infrastructure, get quality NBN, take real action on climate change and give first home buyers the chance to compete equally in the housing market, that's how we have a sustainable, prosperous and united Australia.
KELLY: After the election, the Labor leadership, under the rules that Kevin Rudd brought in, the leadership is automatically spilled. If you lose the election, and I know you're not prepared to countenance that, but would you seek a second term as Labor leader?
SHORTEN: Let's see how we go in this election first. I'm very confident that our issues are biting. The fact of the matter is that on a whole range of issues, we've provided clear policy choice. Mr Turnbull wants to give a $7.4 billion tax cut to big banks, I think they should have a Royal Commission. I believe fundamentally that providing $50 billion, especially after Brexit, is an act of instability, taking that money out of the Budget, whereas we believe in saving Medicare, properly funding it for all the reasons I outlined earlier on your show. We think that investing in schools and education, investing in infrastructure and public transport in particular, this is what the OECD says, inclusive growth drives growth.
KELLY: Bill Shorten, thank you very much for joining us.
SHORTEN: Thank you, Fran.