PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
TUESDAY, 13 SEPTEMBER 2016
SUBJECT/S: Budget repair that’s fair; Marriage equality; Labor’s shadow ministry.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: During the election campaign, Labor proposed budget repair that was fair. And I'm pleased to announce that's exactly what we're delivering today. Today is a win for families on low incomes. Today is a win for Australians committed to real action on climate change.
I'm pleased to be able to announce that following negotiations with the Government, Labor has secured significant amendments to the Government's Omnibus Bill.
In particular, we have protected families on low incomes. We have saved ARENA by abolition from the climate sceptics. We've protected the children’s dental program and also we've forced the Government to capitulate on one of their signature policies, the discredited baby bonus scheme.
Labor, through its negotiations, and I acknowledge the work here of Chris Bowen, Jenny Macklin, Jim Chalmers, Mark Butler and others, what we've managed to do is generate a $6.3 billion improvement to the bottom line over the forward estimates - the next 4 years.
What we've managed to do is come up with a package of negotiated amendments which are bigger, better, and fairer. Because Labor understands that it's fundamental to keep faith with our commitments to budget repair, but to do so in such a way which doesn't increase inequality, or take action on the priorities of making sure that we properly fund Medicare, that we properly fund our schools, we prioritise local jobs. Now for the detail of our negotiations and the amendments, I'm going to hand over to both Chris and then Jim.
CHRIS BOWEN, SHADOW TREASURER: Thanks very much, Bill. People look to Labor to protect the most vulnerable in our society. People also look to Labor to reach across the aisle and work together in the national interest. Today we've done both. As Bill said, we deliver budget repair. We deliver budget repair which is fair. The Government and the Opposition have engaged in good faith negotiations on the Omnibus Bill, and I'm pleased that we have been able to reach agreement that will see this bill pass the Parliament.
I will run through some of the key elements. Labor will support 20 out of the 24 measures in the Omnibus Bill as put forward by the Government.
We have, as part of these negotiations, insisted that the Government drop its plans to reintroduce the baby bonus. It's not right to say to the Australian people that Government spending should be cut, while as a part of internal government negotiations, bringing back a baby bonus which is unsustainable. This will save the Budget $367 million over the next 4 years.
As Bill said, we've saved ARENA. Now, we went to the election with a very robust Renewable Energy Target policy. We did also go to the election with cuts to ARENA and also reinvestments in ARENA. What we've done is ensure in discussions with the Government, $800 million worth of funding for ARENA over the next five years. No existing commitment affected, and ARENA will be able to continue its important work. We've also agreed that Mark Butler and Josh Frydenberg will have discussions both about ARENA funding and any potential pathway to a more bipartisan renewable energy policy, very importantly, for the future.
In relation to the clean energy supplement, we have agreed that the clean energy supplement will not be paid to new recipients of Family Tax Benefit and the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card. However, it will be paid to recipients of Newstart, the Age Pension, Disability Support Pension, other sources of primary income. We will not pay it, the Government and Labor Party have agreed, to people who receive supplements to their income, but recipients of primary income will continue to receive it. These are some of the lowest recipients on welfare in our society and we are very pleased that this will not be part of the Omnibus Bill going forward.
A couple of other measures. As you know, the Labor Party implemented a very successful dental scheme in office. The Government has a different model. The Government and the Opposition have agreed this will not be pursued in this bill. In other words, The Government has withdrawn the dental elements of the bill. They reserve to right to bring this back to Parliament and we will have good faith discussions with them on other ways of achieving savings in the dental area. And finally, the measure in relation to psychiatric confinement, which in fact the Labor Party did not support, has been dropped from the bill.
Now, we've managed to do this in a way which actually restores more to the Budget bottom line, $6.3 billion. These measures have to be paid for. Accordingly, the Labor Party has agreed the Family Tax Benefit-A supplements paid to families with income over $80,000 will be abolished. This will affect 390,000 families compared to the 2.2 million who would have been affected clean energy supplement changes originally proposed by the Government.
So of course, originally the Government said there was $6.5 billion worth of savings, then $6 billion, then Dr Chalmers found an error in the costings of $107 million, which brought the save down to under $6 billion. This agreement brings us back up over $6 billion to $6.3 billion. Budget repair which is fair, which more than reflects the budget bottom line which the Labor Party took to the last election - more than reflects that.
I want to genuinely thank the Government for their good faith discussions and negotiations. The Australian people look to both sides to act in the national interest, and on this occasion, both sides have. And it shows what can be done. We stand ready to help the Government with more savings. We stand ready to help the Government with superannuation. We stand ready to help the Government with proper budget repair reflecting the values that the Australian people look to us to reflect, and Dr Chalmers will add to the remarks in relation to what we can work on together in the future.
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW MINISTER FFOR FINANCE: Thanks very much Chris and Bill. This is a far superior package to the one that it replaced. It is bigger, it's fairer and invests more in renewables. We've been saying for some time that we had three objectives as we went carefully and cautiously through the detail of this bill.
One, it had to reflect the magnitude of the savings that we took to the election. Secondly, it had to be consistent with our values. And thirdly, it had to make sure that we're not gutting the future when it comes to our investment in renewable energy.
Because of the consultation that we undertook with the community, because of the good negotiation work that Chris did, and the Shadow Cabinet that Bill leads, we have been able to come to this compromise which ticks all three of those boxes. It's a $6.3 billion package which doesn't ask the most vulnerable people in our community to do the heaviest lifting. It also shows that when we talk about budget repair that's fair, that's not a slogan, it's a framework. It's the same framework that we will bring to all of the fiscal considerations in this 45th Parliament. It shows that we're prepared to consult and make concessions where necessary, but we're not prepared to compromise on our Labor values.
We intend to continue to play a constructive role in defending the AAA credit rating which has been put at risk by the fact that we've had more than $100 billion blow out in net debt under this government. We've had a deficit that has tripled since the 2014 budget. For all of these reasons, budget repair has never been more important, but that budget repair has to be fair.
We call on the Government today to make this the beginning, not the end of them taking up our responsible savings proposals. This is a good outcome. It's good that the Government and the Opposition have been able to come together on this bill but it shouldn't end there. The Australian people expect us to continue to work together. That's why Bill and Chris and the team have put on the table substantial additional savings that the Government should pick up and run with. They relate to private health insurance, they relate to capping the VET-Fee Help measure, they relate to not proceeding with the $50 billion tax cut which is the biggest piece of fiscal vandalism which is currently on the table, they shouldn't be proceeding with that. We've also given them a way out of their humiliating superannuation impasse within their own caucus.
So the Labor Party again, the Opposition has taken the lead, we are providing the fiscal leadership here again today. We encourage the Government to continue to follow our lead when it comes to repairing the Budget in a fair way and defending that AAA credit rating which matters to the price that Australians pay for money in this economy.
SHORTEN: Thanks Jim, are there questions?
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, you went to the election saying that you would agree to do away with the clean energy supplement for new welfare recipients. You said after the election you would agree to what you took to the election, is this a victory for the left?
SHORTEN: First of all, we said before the election that we're always up for the hard job of budget repair. But we believe in budget repair that's fair. And in terms of the specific measures which you've mentioned, we said we would carefully consult and study what the propositions of the Government were after the election.
What we've managed to do is not only help the Government, and thereby help the bottom line of the budget, what we've also managed to do is come up with a package of amendments, which put simply are bigger, better and fairer.
In terms of the work of my Shadow Cabinet and my broader caucus, I want to particularly, not exclusively, but particularly single out Chris, spearheading negotiations with Senator Cormann, the work of Jim Chalmers, but also the work and information and ideas that Jenny Macklin brought to the table, and Mark Butler and in his area, and Catherine King in health.
And what I also say about budget repair that's fair – Mr Turnbull, we don't have to stop here. We can do further improvements to the bottom line. You now stand with the opportunity that before Christmas the AAA credit rating could be under threat or it could be rescued. That's why Labor will work with you and the Government to restore confidence in superannuation. We've proposed further savings which deal with some of the objections which his own backbench are raising. We want to help him with the backpacker tax which has become quite a mess, and we will work with the Government. And we say to Mr Turnbull and Mr Morrison, again, once upon a time you used to acknowledge that there were excesses in negative gearing and capital gains tax. Let's find that former courage you had and we'll work together. There will be no jeering. Let's work together and we can make real improvements to the budget bottom line. Jim also mentioned improvements in terms of the way that PHI is administered and dealt with. We're up for constructive work and so is my whole Labor team.
JOURNALIST: In the negotiations, did you raise, Mr Bowen did you, will you raise private health insurance or VET-Fee help or the super? Was that a potential in negotiations or was it made clear that they weren't going anywhere near it?
BOWEN: Andrew, I'm not going to the go into the intricate details of what was put by both sides, you know in negotiation to get to a good outcome. Suffice it to say the Government is under no illusions that we would welcome them, accepting and progressing private health insurance reform and I believe that this is something which can be progressed, and of course Bill outlined at the National Press Club not long ago a very comprehensive position on superannuation which avoids retrospectivity and adds $1.5 billion to the budget bottom line over the next four years. Now if the Government wants to talk about that, and just as we negotiated this, then that is open to be discussed, but the Government knows our proposed and recommended savings and they know that if they choose to go down that road we will facilitate their passage through the Parliament expeditiously.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, the biggest single item looks like the Family Tax Benefit Part A change for families over $80,000 a year, and in the past Labor has argued against cuts to Family Tax Benefit on the grounds of fairness. How difficult was it to get Shadow Cabinet to agree to that cut, and what, can you talk us through the change in thinking on the Labor side about why that cut is now acceptable?
SHORTEN: Well it's a hard choice. In a perfect world you don't get to, have to do any of these things. But I tell you what, if you're someone who is only getting $260 a week, you're unemployed, you've got no opportunities, you're not getting a job, cutting their income compared to cutting someone who might be on $140,000 and receiving an extra payment, well I think we've got to look after the most vulnerable in our society as a priority. Also we get that there has to be an improvement to the budget bottom line. The Howard Government introduced some of these supplements when there was massive revenue coming in. It's not sustainable. But when you've got to make difficult decisions we would rather find the money to fund our priorities, not cutting Medicare, properly funding our schools, saving ARENA and that's why we've made the choices that we have and we've made them with a collective determination to be true to our values. Sorry, Phil and then Michelle.
JOURNALIST: During the election campaign you offered a deal on the FTA, FTB Part A supplements and you've gone a bit further today. The Government's policy I assume is still to abolish the supplements for A and B a all together. Is this the last time you're going to redraw the lines on these?
BOWEN: The short answer is yes, this is our position, it's a position we'll maintain. The Government can speak for themselves. There's no doubt they'll be speaking to you shortly. They maintain and reserve the right to continue to pursue their policy both with further cuts to the Clean Energy Supplement and the Family Tax Benefit supplements, but they are clear as to what we have agreed to and will agree to and what we're announcing today is it.
JOURNALIST: Given the equity problem, why did you even contemplate in the election, before the election, cutting the Clean Energy Supplement for new recipients?
SHORTEN: Well first of all we did make clear before the election that we would study carefully the proposition after the election. The second thing is, we were planning to win the last election, and I believe that only a Labor Government can be trusted to look after the truly disadvantaged in our society. We're proposing a review of Newstart, for instance. But, of course, whilst we came close, the Government were returned. And on that basis, we don't trust this government to look after the interests of the most disadvantaged, quite frankly. And whilst they may wish to cherry pick our propositions and pick the things they like and ignore the things they don't like, you know we are a full package and we are committed to our proposition which I advanced in the Parliament yesterday. If you didn't get to hear it, it was you can't have economic growth which is sustainable if you jeopardise fairness. The more that you undermined fairness, the harder you make it, I think, to have sustainable economic growth. That's why we're advocating very clearly, and the template we apply to government measures and of course our own policies, is how do we best ensure that we have fairness as well as growth, because growth without fairness creates greater inequality in our society and we're not up for that.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, will Labor be supporting the same-sex marriage plebiscite?
SHORTEN: Well, we note that the Government's now started to release some of the details of the government-funded opinion poll, because that's all it is, isn't it? It's just an opinion poll, not binding on Mr Turnbull's own recalcitrant backbench. Our concern with the plebiscite, we've yet to see the bill and we'll study it carefully and we'll arrive at a final position through the proper processes of our party. But our concern is that, is the emotional torment of a teenager grappling with their sexual identity, is that really worth having this government opinion poll for? Is it really worth some of the evidence that we've seen of the experiences of hate and homophobia which this debate, which this the Government opinion poll would licence?
Frankly, I am surprised that Malcolm Turnbull, having given in, he didn't even want to have a plebiscite, he just believed in a vote in Parliament until he became leader. I'm surprised that he's given into the bullies so much that now he's gone down the slippery slope of spending taxpayer money to fund an opinion poll which most Australians don’t see the point of. So we're going to be talking further to people who will be affected by this vote. We will be talking further to mental health experts. But we have grave reservations. Is the emotional torment of people worth it? Is it worth $160 million plus $15 million, plus whatever else gets spent? Especially when it's not binding upon Government MPs.
JOURNALIST: Is there anything the Government could do to win you over on this, whether it's funding for support services or making it binding on Government MPs? Is there anything that would get you over the line?
SHORTEN: You know you're going into hypotheticals there because they are determined not to bind their MPs. So you know the answer to your own question. Mr Turnbull can't bind his own MPs. Half his MPs don't really want Mr Turnbull, let's be frank. When you talk about, could they do other things, you know, they've now decided to spend millions and millions of taxpayer dollars to fund the different yes and no cases. I mean Liberal Party members, in his own team, have said that's a bad idea. We all know that Mr Turnbull's not in control of his party on this issue. We all know he's voting against his own conscience on this issue. We all know the conservative Abbott faction are calling the shots. So when you say is there anything which he could do to convince us, he can't even convince his own people.
JOURNALIST: Do you think it's fair to say this issue of same-sex marriage won't be dealt with until the next term of parliament?
SHORTEN: Well no, I think there can be a vote at any time in the Parliament. There's a famous conservative politician from the 18th century, Edmund Burke, who the Liberals love to quote. This guy articulated what should become the credo of the modern Liberal Party, and he said that a Member of Parliament doesn't just owe his constituents their industry, the energy of a politician, he owes them their conscience and not automatically to be swayed by the opinion of other people. Mr Turnbull's betraying his own core liberalism by the way they're handling this issue.
Now we see reports there will be some sort of citizens’ assembly, we'll have a committee on both sides? We know where that goes, don't we? You have MPs and citizens picked at random. Who knows? They're going to be working out the case - is this a new censorship board to keep the debate within certain bounds? We all know that Mr Turnbull is retrofitting a bad idea because he doesn't control his own party.
JOURNALIST: If the Liberal right wing won't allow a vote in Parliament, though, is a plebiscite not better than another two and a half years of nothing?
SHORTEN: I think that you'd be a very confident punter to presume that the Liberal Party might not change its position in the next two and a half years. They have got a bit of a track record at the moment with their disunity of changing things haven't they?
JOURNALIST: You've changed your position significantly in the last two and a half years on same-sex marriage –
SHORTEN: No I haven't. I'm glad you raised that, let's be straight there. The community's attitude on marriage equality has been evolving in the last 10 years. When it was seemed that a plebiscite was the only way formally, people would consider, but the fact of the matter is, what is the case against the parliamentarians just voting on it? What's the case to spend $160 million? What is the case to have a government-funded, a taxpayer-funded opinion poll which won't bind members of parliament. And most importantly, what is the case for putting young people in particular, through a public debate where gay people are being treated by a discriminatory and different policy-making process to any other group of Australians?
Now I'm a bit more optimistic than your question, that we can win the debate in the parliament. But why accept a really second best alternative when the parliament meets on a regular basis?
JOURNALIST: Can I go to the budget issue again. Presuming the other things not mentioned are going ahead, so what's your message to aged pensioners and students who are affected by changes that will go ahead and is there still the waiting period exemption or non-exemption for migrants waiting?
BOWEN: I'll deal with the last one first in relation to that measure because it's one which caused us some concern. We worked it through carefully with the Government, we raised our concerns with the Government. We received assurances which will be reflected in the second reading speech and in the explanatory memorandum to the Government's amendments, because this agreement will be reflected by government amendments in the House. Mr Cormann can speak to you about the details of those. But what we've done is received an assurance from the Government that anybody who will suffer hardship, will have access to the special benefit payment. That was not clear in the original legislation. That's reflected in the costings and will be reflected in the explanatory memorandum.
In relation to the other measures, we've been working them through. As I said, we support 20 out of the 24 in total. These are measures which were reflected in the position we took to the election. They're decisions we've taken in the past and again, budget repair is not without difficulty. Budget repair isn't without difficult conversations with people. But budget repair which is fair is about prioritising and making sure that our decisions reflect our values.
JOURNALIST: So is the migrant, you're talking, about the migrant waiting –
BOWEN: Yes, that's what I was referring to.
JOURNALIST: So what sort of hardship do you think and what was considered?
BOWEN: We were concerned about a situation, for example, where you might have somebody who sponsors in a spouse and then unexpectedly, they become unemployed, and have the new migrant has no access to Newstart and you've got one person looking after two people on Newstart. We were concerned about that. We raised that specific case with the Government. And the Government came back to us with this proposal that, reflected in the second reading speech, which has important status in the parliamentary process, and reflected in the explanatory memorandum, would be the safeguards. There are already situations and protocols for the departmental secretary of the Department of Social Security to provide hardship payments, and that's reflected in this measure.
SHORTEN: We might take one more question.
JOURNALIST: When the plebiscite legislation is handed out, will you have a special caucus meeting to discuss it or is there no discussion whatsoever?
SHORTEN: Trust me, our party talks all the time. Some of them even talk to you. In all seriousness, probably if the legislation comes out later this week, at the next sitting week, we'll have a caucus meeting and finalise a position.
But let me be unequivocal. I think the plebiscite is a bad idea. I think the plebiscite is a bad idea because it's going to cause harm to people. Because there's a lack of leadership in the Liberal Party, why should teenagers grappling with their sexual identity have to pay the price of community debate about the merits of relationships? Why should children of same-sex couples have to have their parents' relationships analysed and discussed and dissected when no one else's parents' relationships get that treatment? I also think it's a bad idea because of the cost. I think it's a bad idea to use taxpayer money to fund yes and no cases. So we have a lot of reservations about this and we would keep talking to experts, we will consult with people. The Government brings its legislation forward, you get to see a copy at last, then at the next caucus meeting we'll discuss it and finalise our position.
I should just say before going, that I also want to announce some minor changes to our Shadow Ministry. Tim Hammond from Western Australian will be the new Shadow Minister for Consumer Affairs. He will retain his responsibilities as the Shadow Minister Assisting the Minister for Resources. Senator Deb O'Neill will also become the Shadow Assistant Minister for Mental Health and the Shadow Assistant Minister for Innovation.