SUNDAY, 3 FEBRUARY 2019
SUBJECTS: Labor’s plan to protect and reward whistleblowers; Labor’s plan for a fairer economy; negative gearing; the Liberal’s chaos and instability.
BARRIE CASSIDY, PRESENTER: Bill Shorten, welcome
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning, Barrie.
CASSIDY: That concern, that if you punish the banks in a certain way then credit might dry up, is that a reasonable thing to keep in mind when you decide on penalties?
SHORTEN: There they go again, the government. They already sound like they're backpedalling on making the banks accountable. Let's see what the report says. The reality is this a government that can always find an excuse not to do something to bring the banks in to heel. I mean is really what Mr Morrison is saying is that the only way that we can have a solid banking sector is an unethical banking sector? I don't buy that logic. But maybe that explains why the government voted 26 times against this banking royal commission, 26 times. And basically the big economic plan the government has had for the last six years for Australia is to give the banks a 17 billion dollar tax cut.
CASSIDY: He wants an effective banking system, he doesn't want credit to dry up.
SHORTEN: Barrie, is this Liberal government, this protection racket for the banks scandals and rip-offs we’ve seen, are they really telling Australians that the only way that we can have a banking sector is to have an unethical banking sector? I don't buy that, nor do thousands of farmers and small businesses and people who have been ripped off by the banks. I for one have been shocked. I pushed for the banking royal commission against the government. They mocked me, they abused me but in the end we got our way. Now it sounds like the government is trying to say, "Well, maybe we need to have a bad banking sector to keep a banking sector." I don't buy that.
CASSIDY: So, do you commit to adopting all of the recommendations of the royal commission?
SHORTEN: We will in principle. I mean it would have to be a pretty amazing reason not to. I mean we saw that remarkable proof of life video where poor old Commissioner Hayne, who has done a great job, is sort of dragged out to try and give some faux credibility to a government who didn’t want to have a banking royal commission. I’m not going to let the government off the hook, they didn’t want this and now they are already trying to say ‘well maybe we need to have an unethical banking sector, we don’t want to go too hard against our friends in the banks.”
CASSIDY: You've come up with a recommendation of your own around the new protections for whistleblowers but it’s this financial incentive that’s thrown in as well. Why is that there?
SHORTEN: Well, we have a look around the world and the Americans have been able to make some big breakthroughs in some financial scandals by basically encouraging some of the people involved to be able to come forward and get a reward. What our plan means for people who are doing the wrong thing is that just be aware of the person next to you because they might just want the reward and not put up with corruption. I want whistleblowers to come forward. And also whistleblowers pay a big price. There’s a lovely fellow, Jeff Morris, he’s paid a big price for coming forward about the Commonwealth Bank and he has suffered great financial disadvantage. Are we a country who says we want people to sacrifice everything to expose illegality or corruption and then we punish them? Because what happens is when a whistleblower comes forward they get punished in many different ways after the event. We're trying to address the balance. I'm determined to make sure the big white-collar crooks, the top end of town, the next time someone cooks up a scheme to park a couple of hundred million dollars away from the eyes of the tax office, when mums and dads have to pay their taxes, we want to say to whistleblowers, ‘we’ve got your back.’
CASSIDY: But you talk about white collar criminals, and in this case that’s who you are targeting, and yet you oppose an ABCC in the area of industrial criminality.
SHORTEN: I think there is a bit of a difference there Baz. First of all, what we are saying is that in workplace relations, just one set of laws. Why do construction workers have to have a different set of laws to everyone else. It’s not fair. We oppose illegality wherever it is. But one of the weaknesses being that whistleblowers haven’t been rewarded. What we're proposing today could apply in any workplace, any workplace.
CASSIDY: Couldn’t that be the risk though, the reward. It could be quite large, it could be as much as $200,000 in big cases - could that lead to vexatious claims?
SHORTEN: Well, if you think we're catching, if you think that we are hearing all of the insider deals that go on well I don’t share that view. Labor is going to pursue and make sure we restore faith in institutions, not just in the government. We've pushed the National Anticorruption Commission, we also want to make sure – and we pushed the banking royal commission. So we’ve been fair dinkum, our record is there. But we want to make sure that whistleblowers don't get punished. I don't believe in a system where we encourage whistleblowers but we then see them financially disadvantaged.
CASSIDY: I want to ask you about housing prices now, housing prices have gone up in Sydney and Melbourne by close to 10% in the last 12 months. There are predictions - have fallen by 10%. The predictions are they might fall by a similar amount or even more in the next 12 months. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
SHORTEN: Well, prices go up and prices go down. It really depends if you're trying to buy or sell a house. I think the real issue the government has been getting at is they're trying to scare people about our sensible reforms to wind back taxpayer hand-outs to property investors.
CASSIDY: Because that might cause the house prices to fall even further?
SHORTEN: Well, first of all let's look at where the house prices have fallen. They've fallen under this government. This government wants people in Australia to forget that we have twin problems. One problem is that first home buyers don't get a fair deal. How is it fair that a couple in their 20s or 30s go along to bid for a house and they're competing against someone who is getting a taxpayer hand-out to buy the house as their sixth or seventh house? So that's just not fair. Everyone knows it's not fair. As usual with the Government if they're given a choice between standing up for ordinary Aussies or standing up for the vested interest, they picked the vested interest just like they’ve done with the banks. But the other issue is, if this government is saying and trying to scare people about our very modest proposals then what they are also doing is, they should take responsibility for the housing price falls on their watch. You never hear them do that do you. Somehow they want to scare you about stuff which even the treasury department says will only have a modest impact, but they want you to gloss over the fact that under this government our economy has underperformed, it hasn’t performed in the interests of working Australians.
CASSIDY: But will your changes to negative gearing mean that houses will be even cheaper?
SHORTEN: What our changes will mean is that it will be fairer, in terms of…
CASSIDY: But cheaper?
SHORTEN: I’ll come to cheaper in a second, first of all let’s deal with fair, this is the real reason we’re doing it. How is it fair, Barrie, that a couple have to compete to buy their first home with someone who is getting a taxpayer funded handout to buy their sixth or seventh home. In terms of the impact on prices, it will not have the negative impact that the people trying to promote and oppose our current scheme are saying. Absolutely not. Even Treasury, who as we know these days write reports for the government on their side, even they have said it will only have a modest impact.
CASSIDY: But by ‘modest impact’ it will cause a further decline in the price of houses.
SHORTEN: Oh no I don’t accept that, I accept that what we are doing is creating fairness.
CASSIDY: How can it not have that impact?
SHORTEN: Well first of all, the only way that you could follow the government’s logic is if you would stop investing in property in Australia. The reality is most people invest in property because it is a good deal. Some people do it to get a taxpayer handout. How is it fair, Barrie, that some people are able to access a taxpayer handout to buy their sixth or seventh house, and the rest of us or the rest of Australians can't.
CASSIDY: On the franking credit issue, you can see that it’s causing you more political harm because it's not grandfathered and you also can see that some of the people who will take the hit here are not wealthy.
SHORTEN: Well first of all, just on this issue of grandfathering, you are quite right, when it comes to negative gearing all of the people currently negatively geared will not be affected and you’ll still be able to negatively gear your houses…
CASSIDY: But that doesn't apply to the franking credit.
SHORTEN: Well the franking credits, that's still prospective. Without everyone being bored to tears about the issue, in 1987, Paul Keating introduced the scheme, basic principle of tax equity, he said you shouldn't pay tax twice. So a dividend that a person receives is taxed in the company, company tax, and then it used to be taxed as income tax, income tax. He removed the double taxation. But in 2001, John Howard and Peter Costello, when they had more money than they knew what to do with, abandoned tax principals. And now we have a crazy situation where a taxpayer gets a credit, sorry a non taxpayer, get a cash tax refund. What principle of taxation says that a person who doesn't pay tax can get a cash tax refund? Let's open the textbooks - it doesn't exist.
CASSIDY: But it does exist and a lot of people have relied on it for a long time and you are copping some backlash over this - the government is making quite something of it - are you prepared to have another look at it?
SHORTEN: Well, first of all, the reason why we're doing it is there is no principle that says it is fair that a non-taxpayer gets a tax refund, a cash tax refund. But it is also not fair that we're spending $100 million a week paying non-taxpayers cash tax refunds. It is not fair in this country that we're spending more money giving non tax payers a tax refund than we are on public schools. So we're not for turning. It really goes to a deeper point - this government has run out of governing. They don't even want to turn up to Parliament. They just want to scare people about our sensible reforms which are about making Australia fairer.
CASSIDY: When you say you're not for turning, there will be no tweaking of the policy at all?
SHORTEN: Well if I can put it really directly, do people want a government or do they want a piece of plasticine. Do people want a government with tax principles and fairness at their core or do they just want a lump of political putty. We’ve had six years of the plasticine government and we are putting our views out because we want Australia to be fairer and we want it to operate in the interests of the millions of people who go to work every day, the pensioners. Did you know Barry, for example, that we're handing back bigger tax refunds to ten million Australians than the government’s currently offering...
CASSIDY: We're just go to a package and we will come back to you. We’ve got a bit of a problem in the studio.
*** BREAK ***
CASSIDY: And just to explain what happened there, one of our cameramen had a bit of an episode. He seems fine but we've got an ambulance on the way. So Bill Shorten, if we could just round off the interview. What I did want to ask you about throwing forward to the sitting fortnight you seem determined to put up the new measure to deal with unwell refugees on Nauru. Are you pursuing that and do you think you have the numbers?
SHORTEN: Well, we'll be pursuing it. It really depends on what sort of pressure the government has brought on the crossbenchers. I should say though that I am pleased the final children are off Nauru. And I do believe that if the crossbench, and the opposition, and some of the progressive Liberals hadn't pursued this, I do wonder if the children had been off. And I do also think it’s correct to say although he was my rival, former Prime Minister Turnbull, the American deal, which we backed in. So I am pleased with this development but we want to keep making sure that we treat people with a proper duty of care and with access to proper medical treatment.
CASSIDY: Because of that development though, do you think that will have an impact on the thinking of some of the crossbenchers, and I’m thinking Cathy McGowan in particular and she might now be satisfied with that and she won't then support the Labor initiative?
SHORTEN: Ms McGowan has always said she's concerned about all of the people in detention, not just the kids. But I’m not going to put any more pressure on her, I’ll leave that to the government. In terms of the sitting fortnight though, one thing which I’m determined to do is to hold the government to account to the fact that they have only scheduled 10 sitting days in eight months. As people come back from their Christmas holidays imagine if they go into their boss and say, "Listen, I've been thinking about it. I only want to come to work for 10 days in the next eight months." You’d get shown the door. And that’s really what I’m going to be saying to the government, turn up to work and schedule more sitting days. And if they don't do that I’ll say to the Australian people, "If you want a change in the government, then change the government."
CASSIDY: Thanks very much for coming in. I appreciate it.
SHORTEN: Thank you very much.