WEDNESDAY, 10 MAY 2017
SUBJECT/S: Malcolm Turnbull’s unfair Budget for millionaires and multinationals.
SABRA LANE, HOST: The Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, joins me now. Good morning, Mr Shorten.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning, Sabra.
LANE: Compare and contrast this to the budget of 2014: the Government has taken a big step to the left. It's taken a lot of policies that would sit comfortably with the Labor Party. Do you take it as a compliment?
SHORTEN: Well, what I think is that the budget last night delivered a tax cut for millionaires and for multinationals and a tax hike for working Australians.
So no, I don't accept that this is a Labor budget. A Labor budget wouldn't be cutting funding to schools, rising the price of going to university. It would properly sort out the freeze on Medicare, so that patient rebates went up straight away.
And we would do something fair dinkum on housing affordability. And we certainly wouldn't go ahead with a corporate tax cut or, indeed, a tax cut for millionaires.
LANE: You've just said that it's a tax cut for high-income people. They're presumably also the same people that you're defending in saying that the Catholic schools should be also receiving less funding from the Government in the school funding package?
SHORTEN: Oh, Sabra -
LANE: You're defending both ways?
SHORTEN: No, I don't believe - unlike you - that everyone who sends their child to a Catholic parish school is wealthy. Please don't fall for this false argument from the Government that everyone who sends their child to a Catholic school is rich.
If you believe that -
LANE: Not every Catholic school is poor?
SHORTEN: Well, of course there are elite schools and we support them not getting extra funding.
But please, Sabra, on behalf of the parents of 765,000 children who go to Catholic schools, many of which predominantly are parish schools, those parents in many cases are not rich. For me it's not about in education the government system or the non-government system. I believe in a sector-neutral approach which prioritises needs-based funding.
This government, though, has made significant cuts. And if the Catholic Education Commission is saying that Mr Turnbull's cuts to non-government Catholic schools are going to increase fees, I'm more likely to believe the people who run the schools, the people in the classrooms, than an out-of-touch Prime Minister.
LANE: The big bank levy, the new civil penalties for banks and bank executives, a one-stop shop for banking complaints: has the Government finally negated the need for a royal commission?
SHORTEN: No. Why is this government and this former investment banker-turned-prime minister colluding with the banks to do everything he can to stop a banking royal commission?
Now, as for a bank levy, we're not going to stand in the way of that, absolutely. Although I do think Mr Turnbull has to explain satisfactorily how his bank levy is not going to lead to an increase in charges or an increase in the interest rates.
We think one of the ways you could avoid the banks not necessarily getting the sweet financial excess that they get from the Government is – Mr Turnbull should cancel the corporate tax cut that he is giving to the major banks.
It's sort of a bit ironic, isn't it? Mr Turnbull will do everything he can to make sure that the banks don't have a royal commission. And he says, oh, have a look at this bank levy. Therefore he's fair dinkum about, you know, bringing banks to heel.
But then why is he giving a tax cut to the same banks that he's increasing the tax to? It doesn't make sense, does it?
LANE: If you think this will push up mortgages for bank customers, why not block it?
SHORTEN: Well, we want to see how you can safeguard the interests of customers. You know, we're up for working with the Government on this. But Mr Turnbull will have to do better than a paltry $1 million extra to the ACCC in the first year.
This does smack of a rushed deal. You could just see them sitting around at Liberal Party headquarters. They know that every Australian, other than them and the banks, wants a banking royal commission. So they look at other measures.
Mr Turnbull's willing to increase what banks pay to help the budget, but he's just not willing to stand up against the banks on behalf of consumers and people who are ripped off.
LANE: The new savings measures to allow people to raise a deposit through their superannuation accounts: does that gain your approval?
SHORTEN: Well, there he goes again, interfering with the superannuation system.
First of all, I don't think a lot of people have a lot of voluntary contributions in their super. Secondly, the purpose of superannuation is for retirement.
If you want to tackle housing affordability, you've got to go towards removing the unfair tax concessions where investors and property speculators get support from Mr Turnbull to bid unfairly against first home buyers.
Until you deal with the negative gearing distortions in the system, you're not fair dinkum on housing affordability.
LANE: What about the Treasurer's argument there that it's workers' money, they should be able to do with it what they want?
SHORTEN: Well, there they go again, raiding the superannuation. If he's that committed to workers' money, he shouldn't support a pay cut to penalty rates.
LANE: The Government is tightening the rules for negative gearing deductions and other tax discounts for foreign investors. Are those sensible measures?
SHORTEN: Yeah, we will look at them. Yes.
LANE: The increase in the Medicare levy for all, $8 billion over three years, with the additional money helping to pay for the NDIS. Labor used the same mechanism, so surely you'll pass this as well?
SHORTEN: Well, we'll have a look at this measure. A couple of assumptions, though, need to be questioned.
Labor helped develop the NDIS and I'm pleased that the Government is sort of becoming supportive of the NDIS. So that's good.
LANE: Is that fair? Because, I mean, from day one they have said, we support it too?
SHORTEN: Oh, yeah. Let's be clear, we set it up. You know, I'm not going to let history –
LANE: You set it up, but they also from day one said that they support it too?
SHORTEN: Well, I've just said I'm very pleased that they're talking about the NDIS, but Labor did set it up. You know, let's not rewrite history. Having said that - and yes, there's a lot of individuals in the Liberals have been supportive of it.
But what I want to say about this is: why doesn't the Government cancel their $50 billion-plus corporate tax handout? The reality is, are they hiking the prices of taxes for every Australian so they can pay for their tax cut to our large companies?
I mean, another measure I think the Government should change in their budget is that, three years ago, the Liberals introduced a budget repair levy. That's an extra two per cent on income tax for the top two per cent of wealthy Australians. They're dropping that.
So what in the fine print the Government didn't bother telling last night is that, on the first of July, if you are a millionaire in this country you will pay $16,500 less tax over the coming year. Now, how is it in this country the Prime Minister is pretending to be 'Labor-light', yet the only real winners - $16,500, that's good money.
Mr Turnbull is looking after his friends at the top end of town, but there's not a lot for everyone else. Schools' funding are being cut, university fees going up. Not a lot of discussion about TAFE, let's be fair. And again, no help for first home buyers.
LANE: TAFE is largely a state responsibility.
SHORTEN: No, but vocational education training funding is what the feds do, the Federal Government, and we don't support rampant privatisation of TAFE.
I wish Mr Turnbull – if he wants to be 'Labor-light', be Labor-serious. Do the proper issues. Let's train Australians for the future.
No real discussion of apprenticeships last night, was there?
LANE: There was a skills fund, actually.
SHORTEN: But the skills fund, I'm glad you raised that. Not only was that adopting a Labor idea, but let's look at the fine print.
They're levying employers for bringing in foreign labourers under 457s. Fair enough. That's what Labor said last week. But are they using that money and taking other money out of the training budget? Or will this be in addition to existing money in the training budget?
Did you know, Sabra, that whilst the Liberals have been in we've lost 130,000 apprenticeships? It's now under 300,000. This is a Government with a shocking track record.
LANE: And it's also something that the previous Labor government also struggled to deal with.
SHORTEN: So we judge this budget by what happened five years ago? I mean, at some point this Government has got to grow up and take responsibility.
Training has been going backwards under the Liberals. When Labor was last in, there were 420,000 apprentices. Now there's 280,000. The numbers tell the real truth.
LANE: The idea of the Medicare Guarantee Fund sounds like a political inoculation plan to vaccinate against any future Coalition government against any scare campaigns. Do you see the need for this fund?
SHORTEN: Well, first of all, when you use the words 'scare campaign', I think we'll all remember Mr Turnbull's famous tantrum last election night, where he said that there was no real problem with –
LANE: We've - there's been plenty of commentary on that. But what do you think about the fund?
SHORTEN: Well, my point is that he didn't get it on election night and he still doesn't get it. This is about a cosmetic fix-up.
What Labor campaigned about, amongst other things in health care, is that the Government was freezing for years the rebate which patients get back.
Now, what the Government has done is, they're starting to unwind their freezes but they're taking three years to do it. Why on earth doesn't Mr Turnbull bite the bullet and start putting health back into the health system, in terms of improving the rebates to customers, to patients?
My point is this. Mr Turnbull is happy to wave goodbye to money to give to corporates in tax cuts. He's happy to see millionaires get a reduction in their tax. But he takes a very long time to fix up some of the damage that the Liberals have been wreaking to Medicare.
If you want to protect Medicare, you've got to back the authors of Medicare – and that's Labor.
LANE: Mr Shorten, thank you very much for joining AM this morning.
SHORTEN: Thanks, Sabra.