Bill's Transcripts

7:30 Report - Tony Abbott’s unfair Budget; Economic growth; GP Tax.






SUBJECT/S: Tony Abbott’s unfair Budget; Economic growth; GP Tax.


LEIGH SALES: The Opposition Leader Bill Shorten joins me now. Welcome to the program.




SALES: Mr Shorten, when are you going to start acting like an alternative Prime Minister and face up to some of these economic challenges?


SHORTEN: Well, Leigh as I was watching the preamble to this interview and the disappointing news today about economic growth, I think the news of today is that the Australian economy is struggling and if you take iron ore out of the picture, we're in the very slow lane for growth. That's a great concern to me.


SALES: So what are you going to do about it?


SHORTEN: I think there's two ways to handle it. One is the Government's approach which is to kill confidence, which is to have an unfair Budget which puts the burden of the future on the backs of low and middle income earners, or you go for growth. This Government, though, doesn't have a plan for growth and its measures that it's proposing like a tax on the sick, a GP tax, $100,000 uni degrees, that's not a recipe for growth -


SALES: Are you prepared to flag your economic credibility right now to the Australian public and square with people and say that when it comes to the Budget, a future Shorten Government is going to have to make some really tough decisions that people will not like?


SHORTEN: Yes, we are prepared to be economically credible. We want to reach for higher ground -


SALES: So are you going to be prepared to square with people and say that will involve us making tough decisions?


SHORTEN: Yes, we are prepared to make hard decisions, but -


SALES: That people won't like?


SHORTEN: Yes, the concepts you're asking are about sufficiently important, I just can't give you a three-word slogan -


SALES: But it's actually pretty simple for Australians to try to understand this. Are you willing to square up to them and say we're going to have to make tough decisions, that is going to involve tax increases and spending cuts?


SHORTEN: Labor that I lead in Opposition has supported more than $20 billion worth of savings and changes in favour of the Federal Government, more than $20 billion. The income tax levy, changes to social security. Labor's always been up for making hard decisions. When Labor was last in power it supported savings and cuts which saw an extra $180 billion added to the bottom line. The problem is, this Government has got only one approach. It's to pick on the weak and the vulnerable, to make the wrong decisions -


SALES: But under a Shorten Government, you are also going to have to make some difficult decisions around spending in portfolios like health and education, because we've heard people like Martin Parkinson say the current levels of spending are just not sustainable. So do you agree with me that you are going to have to make some tough decisions around that stuff?


SHORTEN: What I agree is that for Australia to have a bright future, then we've got to go for growth. And the way you go for growth is you spend money on skills and training and higher education. You make sure that you have a system where the infrastructure is being built and it's working. You make -


SALES: That's not enough to fix the hole.


SHORTEN: But let's talk about the future. Because that's - I think Australians are sick of tit-for-tat and sound bites. You want me to be straight upfront with you, and I'm happy to be. This Government is a petty government. They go for changes which injure people. They change what they say before the election to what they do afterwards. I'm interested in going for the higher ground. The higher ground equation is pretty straightforward - skills and education; better infrastructure. It also involves, I believe, having a more equal society -


SALES: Mr Shorten, all of that is required, of course. But also, Martin Parkinson, other credible economists are saying to us that the Budget has in-built problems, that we spend so much on health and education that we currently - with the way the economy is - cannot make the money that's going to cover that. How are you actually going to cover that spending if you don't intend to cut it?


SHORTEN: Leigh you're right, but if you don't know where you're going - and what I'm spelling out is our direction for the future - if you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there. And the problem with the current debate in Australia is that the Abbott Government is making things worse. Ever since the Budget, they've killed confidence. Under this Government we've seen unemployment rise, we have got youth unemployment at a 13-year high. We've got - unemployment has risen generally. There is a real problem here. The number of people participating in the economy has shrunk -


SALES: But you're telling us what the all the problems are, but not giving us any idea how you would actually address them. You seem to be trying to convey that we can fix the economy without pain.


SHORTEN: No, that's not what I'm saying. What I am endeavouring to say and I will try to say it more concisely, I appreciate that you want that, it's about the future. You know, Tony Abbott said at the G20 he's not worried about the far distant future of 16 years. I think that's not the right - Tony Abbott said the wrong thing there. It's all about the future. I'm interested in policies. And this is how you build growth. If you’ve got growth, if you're creating national wealth then a lot of pressure comes off the Budget. And so what you have got to do is you have got to build the infrastructure of the future, you’ve got to have the skills and training of the future -


SALES: Sorry to cut you off because you have made that point, but the issue is you're not addressing what I'm saying which is to deal with the in-built structural problems in the Budget around big-spending areas like health welfare, education, Martin Parkinson said last week we simply have to address the spending in those areas if we want to have a credible economic path forward. Are you going to do that?


SHORTEN: Fair enough. But what I'm saying is there's a right way and a wrong way. I’ve endeavoured to -


SALES: What's the right way that you're going to address spending in those portfolios?


SHORTEN: First of all I have endeavoured to tell you where I see Australia going. It's got to be growth, it’s got to be the creation of national wealth. Here's some simple ideas for the Government to address right now, they don’t need -


SALES: Ok let's take the health portfolio -


SHORTEN: Sorry I was answering your question, just the previous one. You’ve said ‘what would you do’, you said in your opening ‘is Labor being a credible alternative?’ Here's some options where Tony Abbott doesn't even have to go to an election on. He could do these tomorrow. Dump his paid parental leave scheme which is billions of dollars -


SALES: That's not in place yet. So that's not even a valid thing to suggest he dumps because it's not affecting the current state of the economy.


SHORTEN: He has allocated it in the Budget and the other thing is he is putting a tax on business to pay for it. Let's go to the multinationals which he is not properly auditing and taxing because of his swinging cuts in the Australian Tax Office. There are measures this Government could take right now. We had a proposition on the table that the top 16 or 20,000 people who've got more than $2 million in their superannuation, they pay no tax on the interest. Now, this was a savings measure which would've seen the Government have revenue come in, but this is a Government who never chases the very top end of town. But they could tell you to put a new tax on two million women who work who earn less than $37,000. Government and budgets and surpluses and economic decisions are matters of priority. The only way this country will get ahead is by inclusive growth.


SALES: But let me put to you something very specific then about the health budget. So on the $7 GP visit fee that the Abbott Government is proposing, you won't support that. So then to keep Medicare sustainable, what option would you embrace? Higher taxes generally or an increase in the Medicare levy? Because you would have to do one of those.


SHORTEN: Let's go to that. The great con of the GP tax, where they’re justifying a price signal discouraging sick and vulnerable people from going to the doctor. That money is not going back into general revenue. That's not dealing with the so-called Medicare budget crisis -


SALES: I didn't ask about that, I asked about what you would do to make Medicare sustainable -


SHORTEN: It is important though that I get to deal with what the Government's saying, they -


SALES: It's actually really important if you want people to vote for you that you explain what you would do.


SHORTEN: That's true. And in good time before the next election we'll detail all of our policies. I know you're not going to be particularly surprised if I don't reveal our full election manifesto tonight. You talk about health and you go to the GP Tax issue: I don't actually think it helps the Budget to discourage sick people from going to the doctor and seeking primary care and wait till they get further sick. That to me is an exact illustration of the wrong priorities of this Government. There are no medical experts who support their proposition. Yet this is what they want to do. So in Australia, because we have Medicare - and I don't accept there's the Medicare funding crisis that the Government loves to bang on about - is that our employers don't have to pay medical insurance the way they do in America, because we've got an efficient system which not only adds the distribution of income and health care but it helps, in my opinion, create productivity -


SALES: But it has to be sustainable?


SHORTEN: Of course it does.


SALES: On the point that you raise about not laying out your election manifesto, is it reasonable then for Australians watching this interview tonight to say. ‘alright well the jury's out on that bloke because we know the economy's in trouble, we may not like what Tony Abbott's doing, but this bloke isn't yet telling us what he is going to do, and so therefore the jury is still out’?


SHORTEN: It's been 455 days - not that necessarily everyone's counting - since Tony Abbott got elected. I'm reasonably sure the jury's in on Tony Abbott.


SALES: But it's out on you and that's a problem for you, isn't it?


SHORTEN: Our challenge, if there was an election next Saturday, then you might be right, but there isn't. I would like there to be an election sooner than three years. I don't think this country can afford three years of Tony Abbott.


SALES: But you know Tony Abbott could call an election next year and you haven't yet started laying out to give Australians time to think about what you'd like to do.


SHORTEN: That's a good point and I appreciate you raising that. Labor is working on its policies. We’ve got a national conference in July. We’ve been having dialogue, all my Shadow Ministers are working very hard. I agree and I have said at the National Press Club last week that 2014 was marked by the Opposition, Labor, getting its act together and being a strong Opposition. But I agree there's an appetite in the community which we will help fulfil in 2015 through the course of the year to outline our vision and views.


SALES: Starting with that national conference, or earlier than that?


SHORTEN: Throughout the year. But if people are keen to know who I am and what I stand for, for me, you can have inclusive growth - what makes this country have sustainable growth and not just be narrowly based like it is, or a nation with expanding unemployment, or indeed an income recession which we're seeing for two quarters now under the current Government, is it's got to be growth which goes towards things which create wealth. Productivity: this Government doesn't talk about productivity. It's got to be about skills and education so people can change their jobs and if their jobs change underneath them they've got the skills to find new jobs. It's about the equal treatment of women. This Government doesn't get it but if you treat women equally in our society you will get a productivity surge.


SALES: Bill Shorten thank you very much for coming in. Probably won't see you before Christmas, allow me to wish you a very nice one. I look forward to having you on the show again next year.


SHORTEN: Yes, thank you, Leigh.