Bill's Transcripts

TV Interview: ABC 7:30 - Tax transparency; GST;



ABCS 7:30



SUBJECT/S: Tax transparency; GST; Union governance; Truffles; Polls

LEIGH SALES: For his final interview of the year with this program, the Opposition Leader joined me from Melbourne a short time ago. Bill Shorten, thank you very much for coming in.


SALES: The Tax Office today released a list of about 1,500 companies that pay minimal tax in Australia. Labor has a policy on corporate tax avoidance. How much per year do you believe that your crackdown would deliver to the budget bottom line in rough dollar figures?

SHORTEN: Well we're very concerned that in Australia you've got so many companies not paying any tax at all. Yet at the same time Australian wage earners are having to hear about Liberal ideas to increase the GST to 15 per cent. We've done some costed numbers on sensible policies to make multinationals pay their fair share. We've estimated, according to the independent Parliamentary Budget Office, that we could raise in excess of $7 billion over the next 10 years by getting multinationals to pay their fair share.

SALES: $7 billion over the next 10 years, though - that's nowhere near enough to cover the cost of policies that you support such as the NDIS and Gonski, let alone start paying down debt.

SHORTEN: Well we've got other policies which we've costed. The truth of the matter is that we've done more as an opposition in the last two years than any opposition's done in a generation. By that what I mean is we've costed policies to reduce the excessively generous tax concession loopholes in superannuation for the super wealthy. That would raise significant amounts of money. We've also proposed a tobacco excise, which would raise money and help pay down important costs in our health system. We've also suggested though on the spending side that the Government doesn't need to pay big polluters money to pollute and we'd save money there. And finally, we don't support the Government's bizarre new offer to offer mums who are not working, an extra $1,000 baby bonus in the first 12 months after the child's born, especially as we've got a perfectly good paid parental leave scheme which the Liberals seem intent on wrecking.

SALES: But even if I added all of those things up together, it would still be not enough to get the budget on sustainable footing. The former Secretary of the Treasury Martin Parkinson says it's not feasible to materially reduce spending growth without looking at the larger spending categories: health, welfare and higher education. Do you accept that if you want to have a credible economic policy, you will have to have a look at some spending cuts in those areas?

SHORTEN: We certainly accept that it's not a matter of just looking at the revenue side of the budget and that you do have to make hard decisions in spending. But what I can't understand for the life of me is why the Liberal Government's proposed two days ago going after people who get payments - bulk billing costs for cancer treatment, yet they drive by multinationals not paying their fair share. All budgets and all governments are defined by their values and their choices. I just wouldn't start with the lowest paid, the most vulnerable and the sick, I wouldn't make life more expensive for wage earners. What I'd do is look at our spending costs that we can restrain, but also revenue measures which go after the top end of town.

SALES:: But you're not going to be able to get on top of the debt and deficit that we've got without inflicting some pain on some people and that would include a broad cross-section of Australians, not just people at the top end and not just multinational tax companies.

SHORTEN: Well, let's talk about what's happening in our economy. We need to be ready to grasp the rise of Asia, we've got an ageing population, we want to make sure that women participate equally, we need to have a national infrastructure market which works properly. Labor's got policies in all of those areas. I don't think that just cutting, you know, health care for people who are very sick, I don't think just proposing a blanket increase of 15 per cent GST rather than going after multinationals. Labor's steeped in the values of looking after ordinary wage earners and families. I think we've got a problem in this country of growing inequality.

SALES: A couple of times in the interview now you've referred to an increase in the GST as if it's a fact and it's not a fact. The Liberal Party hasn't announced any sort of increase to the GST.

Well, for a party who mightn't have announced it overtly, they seem addicted to talking about it, don't they?

SALES: Well so do some Labor premiers.

SHORTEN: I don't blame the premiers for trying to chase money for their states, but I've got to stand up for ordinary Australians. The Liberal Party are very interested in a 15 per cent GST on everything, and if they're not Leigh, why don't they just take it off the table? Because I can promise you right now here, Labor will not support a 15 per cent GST and you can vote for us confident that at least one major party in Australian politics is absolutely against putting a 15 per cent tax on everything.

SALES: It's the end of the year, next year's an election year; let's have a look at Labor's fitness to return to government. You've repeatedly said when asked about union corruption that you have zero tolerance for criminality and illegality.

SHORTEN: That's right.

SALES: Why then does the ALP continue to accept hundreds of thousands of dollars from the CFMEU, an organisation with a solid history of criminality and illegality?

SHORTEN: Well, we do have zero tolerance for corruption, you're quite right, and in fact last week Labor announced new policies to improve the governance of trade unions and employer associations. But let's talk about this trade union royal commission and the campaign the Liberals have waged for the last two years -

SALES: Could we just stick with the question about the CFMEU?

SHORTEN: Yeah, well first of all, people haven't yet been convicted and if anyone's broken the law, they're not welcome in the Labor Party.

SALES: Well, actually -

SHORTEN: And we have proposed tougher governance standards and in fact we've put out the challenge to Malcolm Turnbull - we'll vote for reforms to the governance of unions, but he's also got to come to the party with improving the governance of political donations generally.

SALES: You've said that no-one's been found guilty of anything. I can read you a string of judgments from various courts around the country. Let me start with one from Justice Logan in the Federal Court in Brisbane. "The CFMEU displays a disregard or contempt for the rule of law. Those who suffer from this unlawful behaviour fear that if union demands are not met, further loss will be inflicted." How do you justify the ALP's acceptance of hundreds of thousands of dollars from an organisation that is contemptuous of the law?

SHORTEN: Well first of all, just to put the context in my previous answer, the royal commission hasn't handed down its final report -

SALES: That's the Federal Court I'm talking about.

SHORTEN: Yes and so you've gone to a different matter than the royal commission. I agree with you that where unions and some officials of the unions act as if they're above the law, they should be penalised. That's why we are supporting tougher governance standards. When I was -

SALES: But what I'm asking about is there is heaps of evidence. Here's another court judgement from 2011, the Federal Court also: "The CFMEU has a deplorable record of contraventions of the act. The union has not displayed any contrition or remorse for its conduct." If Labor has, as you say, zero tolerance for criminality or illegality, then why does the CFMEU have any say, for example, in the selection of Labor candidates or the formulation of policy?

SHORTEN: Well first of all, when we talk about industrial relations, I don't accept the argument that all unions act like some individuals in some unions. But having said that, let me come to the issue of lawlessness or otherwise in the construction sector. When I was the Minister for Industrial Relations, we strengthened the powers of the Fair Work Building Commission to stamp out lawlessness. So I do get and I agree with you and the concerns of many in the community that we can't tolerate in modern Australian workplace relations standover or coercion. In terms of the relationship between unions and the Labor Party, they've been long-established but if there are findings against a union and there are findings against individuals of criminality, well then the Labor Party will take the strongest possible stance.

SALES: You've said zero tolerance. Here, I'll give you another judgement, this one from the South Australian District Court: "It is fair to describe the CFMEU record as dismal. Since 1999, the CFMEU has had penalties imposed on it by a court on numerous occasions. The records indicate an attitude of indifference." Again I ask: if you have a zero tolerance policy, then why does Labor accept hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from this organisation and allow it to have influence over the selection of candidates and the selection of policies?

SHORTEN: I'm not going to exaggerate the influence that the CFMEU or any individual union has over the decision-making processes of the Labor Party. That is why since I've become the national leader, we've removed the requirement that it be compulsory to belong to a union to join the Labor Party. That is why we've pushed to democratise our party processes. So this - this sort of conservative analysis which says that the CFMEU are calling all the shots doesn't accord with reality.

SALES: No, no, but I'm not suggesting that. What I'm saying is that you've said there's zero tolerance and if there's zero tolerance, then I'm reading you out, like, a long list of court judgments from - it's not just the royal commission; it's various judges around the country.

SHORTEN: That's right. And they should - where people breach industrial relations or civil laws, they should feel the consequences of that. But when it comes to the matter of the union relationship with the Labor Party, that's a longstanding relationship. What I've done in my time is I've broadened our party base. When I took over the Labor Party, we had 43,000 members. We've now increased it to nearly 60,000 members.

SALES: But just a few months ago the former Labor minister Greg Combet described the influence of unions on Labor policy as suffocating. The former ACTU secretary Bill Kelty said Labor had to choose candidates from a broader talent pool and it can't continue with the blessed hand of a union leader anointing who gets in. Do you think that there is further change that needs to occur?

SHORTEN: Yes, and we've made a lot of changes, but there is further changes to be made.

SALES: So where do you see the scope for that then, in addition to what you've done?

SHORTEN: At the national conference, and it's just worth remembering this, we've now set a target that half of our elected Members of Parliament within the next 10 years have to be women. So that's a big change. But I'd like to see a greater say for rank and file in pre-selections across Australia. It's worth noting that since I've become leader, there hasn't been any national executive interference in any preselection, in stark contrast to the Liberal Party and the disunity in those ranks. Our members - you can join the Labor Party and you can have a say, not only in who the leader is, but in who your candidate is and I think that's very healthy and that's a trend I want to continue.

SALES: You mentioned before that you'd increased the membership to 60,000. How many of those people are not members of unions?

SHORTEN: Well I haven't checked, but I'm sure many of them are not.

SALES: Like, half or -

SHORTEN: If I haven't checked I'd be making up a number, wouldn't I? But your general point about the role of unions, let me just restate for the record - we do have zero tolerance for criminality. Anyone found guilty of breaking a criminal law is not welcome in the Labor Party, absolutely.

SALES: But I just told you - I just went through many examples of the CFMEU as an organisation being found by courts.

SHORTEN: Yes, but you and I both - you and I both know you're talking about civil laws as well as criminal laws. And also, when we talk about industrial relations, my whole track record over 20 years has been as a moderate union leader. I don't take this view of life that says the employees are in one corner and employers in the other corner. I'm very proud of my record of trying to find outcomes which are in the best interests of my members, but also ensure that they've got productive, safe, harmonious and profitable workplaces. That's absolutely who I am to my boot straps.

SALES: When you wished Malcolm Turnbull a Merry Christmas on the last day of Parliament, you said, "as long as the truffles are up to standard, it's never been a more exciting time to be Malcolm Turnbull." What was the joke that you were trying to make there?

SHORTEN: Well, I think that Malcolm Turnbull's clearly excited by being Prime Minister and why not? He deserves to be.

SALES: But what do you mean about the truffles?

SHORTEN: Oh, that was just a joke. You and I both know that's - in the valedictories, what you also try and do is you try and lighten up the serious business of politics with a joke.

SALES: Sorry to harp on, but it's also that it came in the context of that a few months ago you were pursuing Malcolm Turnbull over his private investments in the Cayman Islands. So is there something about Malcolm Turnbull's wealth that strikes you as a point of political attack or a point for mockery?

SHORTEN: No, what I believe is that Malcolm Turnbull's a very successful businessman and he's got every right to the wealth that he enjoys. That's a matter for him. What I'm interested in though is how this country's organised and making sure that Australia doesn't have an economic system where most people just get the crumbs off the table. Inequality is rising in this country. Living standards for wage earners are falling and all the Liberals want to talk about is a GST.

SALES: The - let's finish with a leadership question. The latest polls have you at 14 per cent as preferred prime minister with the two-party preferred figure being 53 to 47 in the Coalition's favour. You took the unusual step of directly addressing that to point out that it's the two-party preferred figure that matters because that's where the election's won and that Labor is still competitive in that. But isn't it fair to say that when your personal numbers are low as they are, that that would have to be acting as a drag on Labor's two-party preferred figure?

SHORTEN: I think that there's an extended honeymoon for Malcolm Turnbull because he's not Tony Abbott. I actually think every time Tony Abbott raises his head on one of his more extreme statements, he reminds everyone how happy we are that he's no longer the Prime Minister. So there is an extended honeymoon.

SALES: But you've got to be concerned about your own number and you didn't address my point that it's got to be a drag on your party's vote.

SHORTEN: Well what I'm saying is there's an extended honeymoon, but all honeymoons eventually come to end. Malcolm Turnbull and his team are still yet to face any serious economic tests.

SALES: In your speech in April, 2014 that I referred to a little bit earlier, you said that unless Labor reforms itself, it will remain in opposition and that if Labor were to remain in opposition that it would let the Liberals undo everything that modern Australia has going for it.


SALES: Given that view, under what circumstances would you stand aside for the good of the nation?

SHORTEN: What is important for the nation is that we don't have the policies which attack families and wage earners.

SALES: Well that means that you’ve got to get Labor re-elected.

SHORTEN: We’ll look after the policies and the polls look after themselves, and I think what people want to see from Labor is us standing up and making clear where we stand.

SALES: Well why do you -

SHORTEN: Let me make it clear -

SALES: I no doubt think that you think you're doing a good job of doing that, so then why do you think you're at the 14 per cent?

SHORTEN: Because there's an extended honeymoon. To use a simple analogy, Tony Abbott was the equivalent and his policies were the equivalent of having a knitting needle waived around in front of your face far too close to your eyes. That stopped. I understand the national relief that we don't have some of his extreme rhetoric running around the country as Prime Minister. I'm relieved that we don't have that chap heading off overseas embarrassing Australia. But what concerns me is that Malcolm Turnbull hasn't actually changed some of the fundamental policies. His rhetoric's changed. We've still got attacks on family payments, we've still got the mucking around with paid parental leave for working women, we see the proposal to attack aspects of Medicare and they keep talking about a 15 per cent GST. Working families need Labor to stand up on these issues and we will.

SALES: Bill Shorten, thank you very much. Thank you for coming on the program several times this year and all the best for the festive season.

SHORTEN: Have a safe and merry Christmas, Leigh. Thank you.