SUBJECT/S: News Poll; The Government’s lack of fiscal and economic policy; Labor’s plan for Australia’s future; Medicare.

TONY BURKE, MANAGER OF OPPOSITION BUSINESS AND SHADOW FINANCE MINISTER: We’re all back now in Canberra and Labor has come back to be able to debate the policies we’ve been putting forward; our plans for Australia, for jobs, for health and for education. We’re here for a policy argument, for a policy debate, the Liberals are here for an internal fight with Malcolm Turnbull. After the Abbott-Turnbull Government – when Turnbull came in, we were told we were going to get new economic leadership. Interestingly, the three word slogan of that they were very comfortable with, but when you turn to the 46 minute speech from the Treasurer you found it was nothing but waffle. Putting the policy work together takes time; it takes commitment. This is the first time in living memory we turn up to a Parliament where the Opposition is prepared to govern and the Government has no interest in Australia. Happy to take any questions.

REPORTER: The polls this morning, neck and beck between the two major parties, what’s behind it?

BURKE: What’s happening in the Australian community at the moment, is people, when they first heard Malcolm Turnbull, liked what he had to say. They’re now working through the gap between what Malcolm Turnbull says and what Malcolm Turnbull does. Malcolm Turnbull says ‘economic leadership’, Malcolm Turnbull provides chaos and mess, no plans. To the extent now when Labor puts forward a policy aimed at dealing with housing affordability, dealing with housing supply, helping restore the Budget bottom-line and providing ways of funding commitments in health and education, when we put forward a policy like that how does Malcolm Turnbull respond? He picks up the old Tony Abbott notebook and just starts reading Tony Abbott’s old lines. That’s all he’s got. While we were told things would change under Malcolm Turnbull, first the policies didn’t change, now we see the only thing that has changed is Malcolm Turnbull himself. All the things people used to like about him he doesn’t do anymore, and he’s much more interested in a straight, pick up the old slogans from Tony Abbott and just argue those.

REPORTER: Just on bracket creep and how firm Labor’s commitment is to tackling it. There’s a lot of analysis out there it’s actually going to advantage the high income earners. You talk about someone going from 80,000 to 85,000, it’s only a small proportion of their income obviously that’s taxed at that higher rate. Is it a big issue tax and bracket creep or is it a less central issue for Labor?

BURKE: Well certainly…[pause for background noise] …certainly at the moment we have record low wages growth so therefore the rate of bracket creep at the moment is at historically low levels. But there’s a theme with any policy challenge the Government wants to deal with, and that is there approach will always be to provide the benefits to people who have the most and give the hit to the people who have the least. They’ll attack the pension, they’ll attack family payments, they’ll attack penalty rates, but when they talk about bracket creep they want to do things for people at the highest levels of income. When they talk about superannuation reform, they want to cut superannuation benefits for people on the lowest incomes. Their approach is always the same, they’re here to govern for the very few at the top end of town and we’re here to make sure we’ve got plans for jobs for the whole of Australia.

REPORTER: [inaudible] between Labor and the Government? They’re talking about bracket creep as a priority, you spoke about pensions – there’s obviously the tax free threshold, you addressed the other end of it, if you like, when you were in Government – do you see that as a difference of priorities between you and the Government?

BURKE: I think there’s a difficulty in the question. The difficulty with the question is when you say ‘let’s define the difference between the parties’, when Labor has a defined plan and approach and the Government does not. It’s very easy to define what Labor’s about. We’re responsible in our economic management, we’ve already put forward more than $100 billion worth of improvements to the Budget bottom-line over the decade. We’ve already made those tough decisions and we’ve got commitments in health and education. The Government is changing its story from day-to-day. Their approach on multinational tax reform is backed up by asterisks rather than any dollars or revenue being raised. They change their story from day-to-day on penalty rates, but it’s always a story about giving workers less. They changed their story on superannuation, but it’s always about preserving tax loopholes for the very wealthy and attacking superannuation benefits for people with less. Their approach changes all the time, but it always leaves lower and middle income households worse off.

REPORTER: What do you make of the crackdown on foreign investment approvals with the companies avoiding tax?

BURKE: Only a few weeks ago, Scott Morrison was telling us the Government was doing enough on multinational tax. We were saying ‘well, no you’re not and we’ve got a policy founded in a series of principles from the OECD including being able to look at a company’s worldwide gearing ratio to make sure they’re not avoiding tax in Australia.’ The Government, the legislation they brought forward, instead of revenue it had asterisks – very rarely see that on a Bill, asterisks. No idea if it will raise any money at all or what it’ll do. They then said that would be enough, now they’re acknowledging their own failure by saying they need to do more.

REPORTER: So do you welcome the plan?

BURKE: If they’re doing more, that’s good. They’re still doing less than we would do, they would still be doing less than needs to be done.

REPORTER: Just on savings, we’ve got a report out from the Grattan Institute today about health savings, actually backing in the Government savings in MYEFO which the Government has campaigned against. Do you still support that position?

BURKE: Yeah we are, and I’ll leave Catherine King to go into the finer details. But there has been a theme ever since the last election that this Government will attack Medicare every chance it gets. They don’t believe in the universality of healthcare. They don’t believe it should be your Medicare card that determines whether or not you can go to a doctor, they think it should be your credit card. It is a fundamentally different approach to health in this country. Australia has a simple approach to Medicare which has always been Labor’s approach, which is the health of one of us, matters to all of us. We look after each other in healthcare the way a family does. That has never been the Liberal’s approach, and we’ve seen it with attack after attack on Medicare this term.

REPORTER: You can keep that principle though can’t you and find efficiencies? I mean, not efficiencies as a code, but genuine efficiencies in a huge at times unwieldy system.

BURKE: Policies always develop and as new opportunities for medical treatment come online, policies adapt to that. That’s taken as a given. What this Government does is attack Medicare, and they’ve got form and the public know they’ve got form. Medicare is a proud Australian institution. Thank you.

Tony Burke