ABC NEWS 24
FRIDAY, 10 APRIL 2015
SUBJECT/S: GST; Joe Hockey’s ‘Netflix Tax’; Labor’s plan to stop tax avoidance by multinationals; Tony Abbott’s cut to pensions; renewable energy; Australian Labor Party.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Back home and federal politics this week has been basically devoted to one word, a three-letter word: tax. Whether it's tax avoidance by big multinational companies or ways to better split up the goods and services tax between the States and Territories. Joining us now for his perspective is the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten. Mr Shorten, good morning to you.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning Michael.
ROWLAND: Firstly let's start with this so-called ‘Netflix tax’ the Treasurer wants to introduce, a GST tax on the downloads of Apple and Netflix products. Would you support such a move?
SHORTEN: I have some sympathy for the people who say that these internet provided media products don't pay the GST but I think we need to go back one step. The Government seems to have a series of thought bubbles when it comes to taxation. Joe Hockey said there would be, and Tony Abbott said there would be no change to taxation, now they’re proposing increasing taxes. What worries me is that in all this discussion they’ve gone soft on multinationals, they have also shown a great interest in increasing the GST.
Labor's general problem with increasing the GST is pretty straight forward. On the one hand, the people who will be most affected by an increase in the tax are people who are less well-off and have - spend all of their income on consumption, they don't get to save. So a GST, the burden falls disproportionately on the less well off. The other thing of course, is that if you increase the GST to 15 per cent you’ll see a rise in the black economy, and the Government keep telling us ‘well other countries have a GST’. Well other countries have also had a terrible time, you know, in Greece and Italy and other places, so I am not quite sure what the Government think they're solving because the net burden of taxation and I don't think the Government’s chasing the big end of town anywhere near enough.
ROWLAND: We’ll get to that shortly, and no one’s talking about raising the tax to 15 per cent. Let's go back to that so-called Netflix tax supported by the Labor State Treasurers, do you support it too?
SHORTEN: Yeah well as I said at the outset we're open to have a look at that proposition, we want to see how it works.
ROWLAND: Is that the same as supporting it?
SHORTEN: Well again, this is a Government who, you know, seems to do their policy on the back of an envelope. They have thought bubbles. What we’ve made clear be it on pension reform, be it on taxation is they have to get their basic principles right. We’ve said in terms of taxation that the Government shouldn't be looking at increasing the GST as a general rule. We’ve said that the Government should be looking at going after multinationals, and we would work co-operatively with them, where you’ve got a multinational who is minimising their taxation here, maximising it in a low taxation jurisdiction. This is where we think the main game is. My concern about Joe Hockey when he talks about the GST generally is that when they're in Western Australia, the Liberals say to the Western Australian Government ‘we will increase your share of revenue which you get from GST’. When they’re in Tasmania, they’ll say ‘well, in Tasmania we’ll increase your share of taxation revenue’. The problem with this Government is that they just can't keep their promises.
ROWLAND: A lot of us have been fixated on that inquiry into tax avoidance this week and the prevarication of some of the tech giant’s CEOs, what did you make of their performance?
SHORTEN: Well I’m glad it's out in the open. Labor’s had a concern for a long period of time that you see companies with massive revenue turnovers in Australia paying very small tax, and no one’s saying they're doing anything illegal but the law’s silly when somehow you see all this economic activity happening here, yet there’s no taxation being paid here. This is very frustrating for a lot of medium and small sized businesses and a lot of individual taxpayers. None of us are able to sort of shift our taxation to Singapore or to the Caribbean to minimise our tax. Yet you’ve got large companies doing just this because they can.
ROWLAND: On pensions, are you any closer to looking favourably at the Government's proposal to, or the ACOSS's proposal which the Government supports to lower the threshold at which you access the part pension?
SHORTEN: Well the Government hasn't actually told Australians what they intend to do. When Labor was in government we were willing to look at taper rates, and you know, that’s the intersection between when you can still keep claiming the part pension based on the income you get. But before we get to that, I mean this is a dishonest Government, they need to just drop their cuts to the pension. This Government currently has a bill in Parliament to take $23 billion off pensioners over the next 10 years, and yet they say ‘don't look at what we're doing, just look at what we want to talk about’. Pensioners in Australia need to have their anxiety removed from their shoulders. The Government should – I mean they’ve dropped a lot of the other – they’ve retreated and dropped a lot of their other terrible ideas in their last Budget. They need to stop messing around with the pension rate of indexation.
ROWLAND: You mentioned that key figure $23 billion, it is also a $23 billion saving to the Budget. How would you fill that breach?
SHORTEN: Well first of all you don't fill the breach of the Budget by punishing those on low fixed incomes. Again, we would submit that one way to help fill the breach is tax multinationals properly.
ROWLAND: Would that raise $23 billion over 10 years.
SHORTEN: I believe there's billions of dollars to be raised. The Opposition that I lead put forward a costed policy where we would stop companies taking advantage of our laws, loopholes in our laws and put all their debt into the Australian jurisdiction far greater than their average across their worldwide gearing ratios. So this is a Government who you can tell by the choices they make. They're happy to tax or cut pensioners, they're happy to talk about a GST being where the burden is disproportionately felt by the less well-off, but when it comes to taxing multinationals it gets put in the too hard basket.
ROWLAND: Let’s get to the Renewable Energy Target, Labor have of course this week announced its compromise plan to accept a 35,000 gigawatt hours per year target. The Government says it won't budge from 32,000 and wants Labor to budge even further. Where do you go from here?
SHORTEN: Well, I think your question says it all. Labor's been prepared to look at saving the renewable energy industry by going with the proposition put forward by the Clean Energy Council. The long story short and the renewable energy debate is, one Australia should have a renewable energy industry. Two, before the last election, Tony Abbott, the Liberal Party along with Labor both said we would keep the renewable energy target here. Now what the Liberal Government’s done is they’ve said actually we may have said that at the election but three, they want to lower the target drastically.
The Clean Energy Council is the peak body for investors, there’s billions of dollars in solar power and wind power. There’s tens of thousands of jobs, I was in Tasmania looking at where they build the wind turbines and towers. A lot of people want certainty. So Labor’s agreed with the Clean Energy Council, with the business Council of Australia, with unions representing the work force in these industries and we’ve said, alright, we're willing to come in from our position which we think is correct, to the Clean Energy Council's position of a target of 33,500 gigawatt hours.
The point about gigawatt hours isn’t to confuse people, it’s just to say, if you know that there’s a set proportion of the energy mix in Australia which is produced by renewable energy, investors will come in over the future years.
But the confusion caused by the Government cutting the target drastically, there's been a drought of investment in the last 18 months. We’ve said to the Government time to do a deal. Now Tony Abbott, we all know he’s a climate sceptic, you know, nine out of ten people would say that Tony Abbott doesn't really believe in the science of climate change. He thinks that renewable energy is a fad, he doesn’t get it, he’s not a modern scientific personality in that way, and he just wants to wreck the industry.
There's a deal to be done, we just say to Tony Abbott if the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Industry Group, the aluminium producers, the environmentalists, the renewable investors, the people working in the industry, Labor, if we all believe this is the deal to be done, why is it that the Prime Minister because he’s the odd man out on the science, because he doesn't understand the future of renewable energy, why is he robbing Australia of a renewable energy industry?
ROWLAND: Finally, The Sydney Morning Herald is reporting this morning that the two senior NSW Labor figures want an investigation into possible rorting of the 2013 leadership ballot which of course you won over Anthony Albanese. Are you completely confident that ballot was clean?
SHORTEN: Yes. First of all with the ballot, this was a time where we - the first time a major political party’s involved tens of thousands of people in the choice of the leader. I actively supported the development of including our rank and file members in this vote, and I still do. Now there's been a complaint made in NSW which - and I’ve checked with the NSW branch of the Labor Party, their responsible for the administration of that part of the Labor Party, they’ve told me that they're satisfied that the overall integrity of the ballot was fine.
ROWLAND: Even though in an internal review by the Labor Party has also found addresses were changed and 50 changed addresses were sent elsewhere including 20 to one Sydney Labor councillor who was subsequently suspended from the Labor Party. Surely that raises questions?
SHORTEN: Well you’re right and the fact that there's been an investigation, the fact that this person was suspended is as it should be. I’ve got zero tolerance for people who want to break the rules of the Party and play any of those sort of games. But the point is there has been an investigation, the NSW branch of the Labor Party who’s responsible for the administration have said that they’ve investigated the matter.
And I will be determined that despite these isolated examples that we still keep rolling out a greater say for our members, because I think politics in Australia has to change and we’ve got to keep involving people, ordinary people, in decision making in politics, it's how we build up the level of trust.
ROWLAND: Ok Bill Shorten thanks for coming in, thanks for your time.
SHORTEN: Thanks Michael.
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