SUBJECT/S: National Accounts; The Government’s $50 billion tax cut to big business; Labor’s position plan for the future; The Government is a mess on superannuation.

TONY BURKE: Thanks for being out here. Shortly we'll have the GDP figures made available; the national accounts will be out. So I'm not going to pretend I can announce that 20 minutes early or anything like that. When those figures do come out, what we need to remember and to look at is what's behind them and how that interacts with the rest of the Australian economy.

We have a situation for living standards in Australia where we have already had seven consecutive quarters where living standards have gone backwards. We have a situation where domestic demand remains soft and where wages growth has been soft. Wages growth, in fact, has been up until now, has been riding the lowest levels since records began.

Against that, you have to ask the question, what is the pathway forward for growth in Australia, what is the economic plan? The only plan that's being supported by the Government is a $50 billion tax cut, the lion’s share of which ends up going to the top end of town. That's what the government is putting forward. Against that, Labor says what you need to do in putting people first, is have a situation where you invest in people and invest in nation building infrastructure.

Investing in people is your way of being able to deliver productivity if you get the infrastructure equation right. That's why Labor supports investment in education. It's why we support making sure we've got a healthier workforce. It's why we believe that Australia needs the roads, the rail and the high speed broadband to make sure business in Australia and jobs in Australia have the underpinnings the economy needs.

JOURNALIST: Won't all those things you've outlined, investing in education, and investing in infrastructure take years to pay off and they won't necessarily improve growth in the short term?

BURKE: Let's put that against the pathway offered by the Government. By Mathias Cormann's own admission, when he's talked about the one per cent growth in the long term, when asked what the long term is, his answer to that is 20 years. The modelling released by Treasury that referred to the economic impact you have from their massive corporate tax cut, they then offered, that modelling begins in 10 years’ time. So -

JOURNALIST: That's a problem isn't it on the government's side, I was asking about the time it would take your policies to have an impact.

BURKE: Well let's start with the last one that I referred to. Start with the impact of high speed broadband. Malcolm Turnbull had said their high speed broadband was going to be rolled out by 2016. We've got people all around Australia who are still buffering. We've got people all around Australia who are still in a situation where the broadband speeds promised by this government will never eventuate under this government's new plan for broadband. Why is that? They said that they would simply use the old copper network. They went one step further and kept buying new copper. They've actually purchased enough additional copper to reach from here to Russia. They have deliberately made broadband for Australia slower than it was meant to be. Those roll outs happen now. Those roll outs and the second rate impact they're delivering is affecting Australian business now.

JOURNALIST: Mr Burke, will we be finishing the election with a bigger deficit than the Coalition forecast in Budget and in PEFO?

BURKE: What Chris Bowen has made clear is we will be releasing, after we've released all our policies, we will be providing the full Budget breakdown over the four years and over the ten years. We will be providing both.

Now let's not forget when the current government was in opposition when did they provide these figures? The Thursday afternoon before people voted. They deliberately tried to make sure there would be no debate about their figures. They deliberately tried to make sure there would be no scrutiny of their figures.

JOURNALIST: Should we take that you're only fixing the Budget over the median term, you will have a bigger deficit over forward estimates?

BURKE: You should take from that the Budget bottom line for all our promises will be something that we make clear after we've made all our promises.


BURKE: I'll answer your question, there's no time constraint. The situation we will bring down is over the four and over the ten we will make sure we will do better than them in ensuring we have the scrutiny that should be available. But obviously we're not going to provide the Budget bottom line for promises not yet made, for issues not yet announced. We're not going to do that.

The other thing that we won't do is play the game the Government is trying to play in this election campaign, which is where they pretended they can announce Labor policies. Well, we're not going to announce Liberal policies for them. We've got enough to campaign on in this election based on what they've announced for themselves. Certainly, we won't be going down the path the Government has gone down of having the biggest single expenditure and hit to the Budget bottom line in this entire election campaign being the $50 billion hit to the Budget that happens by their hit to big business.

JOURNALIST: Isn't it the case though that you have all the policies now and you have all the costings now because you would have run them through the Parliamentary Budget Office process before the election has started to avoid the office costing and releasing policies during the election as is the case under its election rules. So you have all the information now, all you're doing is waiting for the times in the campaign when you're wanting to release them which is largely theatre isn't it?

BURKE: It's not unusual for either side of politics to want to make sure you announce your policies in sequence to make sure you get the opportunity to have a decent conversation with the Australian people about each and every one of them.

Let's not forget in terms of the time that's available during this election campaign, if the election had been called in the ordinary time, it would have been the Sunday just gone. We would now be on Day three of the campaign -

JOURNALIST: And it would still be the case that you have all your policies now and they are all costed now -

BURKE: Please allow me to finish my sentence; I won't interrupt your question. In the ordinary course of events, that's how early we would be in the entire process now. There is time for Labor to announce each of its policies in sequence and time for Labor to provide proper scrutiny of our Budget bottom line, which is the opposite of what our opponents did when they were in opposition.

JOURNALIST: So what time is proper scrutiny, is it a day, is it a week, is it two weeks?

BURKE: It's certainly not the Thursday before the election; the Thursday afternoon when the blackout on advertising had already occurred which is what the Government did. I'm not going to give as many weeks’ notice of what date a particular media conference will occur, nor would you expect me to. We have made clear we will do better than the government in terms of the scrutiny on that.

JOURNALIST: But doesn't scrutiny mean giving people time to be across those figures -

BURKE: Yes it does.

JOURNALIST: And why not, given presumably you've already planned this stuff out, say we'll give you a week to have a look at it.

BURKE: What we've said is once we've announced our policies we will provide the costings for them. That's not an unreasonable position.

JOURNALIST: Mr Burke, on the ABCs analysis you've got about a $20 billion black hole. We've looked at a few things you might fill that with. They include $10 billion over forward estimates drawn from scrapping the fuel tax credit for miners; $1.5 billion would be raised from reintroducing the bank deposits levy which Chris Bowen introduced as Treasurer. Can you rule out doing any of those things?

BURKE: With respect to the analysis you've referred to, what you've done in that, by definition, is analyse policies we haven't announced.

JOURNALIST: So are you going to announce things like that?

BURKE: What I'm saying is, in getting to the first figure, before you ask the question about the different policies you've referred to a budget total which is wrong in terms of the policies we've announced.

I know you haven't done it personally, but you put it to me in the question, and the figure you referred to is wrong. Why is it wrong? The policies we've announced so far are the improvements to the Budget bottom line. Prior to Budget we had already announced more than $100 billion over the median term in improvements to the Budget bottom line. On the Budget Reply night alone, Bill Shorten added a further $70 billion worth of improvements to the Budget bottom line we announced. You then have the policies which we have announced on top of that. On the four years and on the ten years we are still in front on both figures in terms of what we have announced.

What Scott Morrison and Mathias Cormann have tried to do, and I would ask the media to scrutinise exactly what they have tried to do, is to presume any policy area which involves a measure they refer to as a blocked save - some of the measures they refer to weren't even introduced to the parliament, so they were hardly blocked in the parliament - but they presumed in those areas of policy, the only option is support what the Government has done or oppose what the Government has done and it’s impossible for any side of politics to have any other reform in that area at all. We have not announced our policies in a large number of areas yet. It’s very early in the campaign in terms of the ordinary sequence of the campaign. We have time to do that. Go by what we have announced, don't go by what the Liberal Party have said is a Labor policy. If you go by what we have announced as our policies for improvements to the Budget bottom line, and expenditure we have announced, we are still well in front.

JOURNALIST: Can you rule out that you won't reintroduce the bank deposits levy or scrap the fuel tax credit for miners?

BURKE: The second one you refer to, Bill Shorten has already been on the record ruling that out. That happened some time ago and the Liberal Party have tried to get this conversation going again. On the other one you referred to, there's no proposal like that in front of us at the moment.

JOURNALIST: But there are still nasties to come then if you're going to fill that hole?

BURKE: We will announce our policies in sequence, and you've refereed again in that question to a hole based on accepting Scott Morrison and Mathias Cormann are the people that announce Labor Party policy. They're not. They want to be. They've spent years trying to announce Labor Party policy. They don't get to do that when they're Liberal Party Treasurer and Liberal Party Finance Minister. They get to announce their own policies and under their own policies for the Budget year we're about to enter, they've more than tripled the deficit, they've added $100 billion to net debt. Under the rules and standards they set for themselves they have been an abject failure. Embarrassed about their own policies they decided to play a game of pretending they can announce Labor's policies.

All I ask in this campaign, is when you're scrutinising each side of politics, look at the Liberal Party and National Party costings, look at the promises they have made and the policies they have announced. When you're looking at Labor's policies, look at the policies Labor has announced in terms of improvements to the Budget bottom line and expenditure. There's enough in that to have a good policy conversation.

There's a lot of stake in this and we actually have one of the biggest economic divides I've ever seen in an election campaign. This time around you have one side of politics, in the Liberal Party, arguing that the way to get growth is to shove as much money to the top as possible in the hope some of it might trickledown through the rest of the economy, which is a great theory for gravity but lousy economics. You have a Labor Party arguing about investing in people and investing in infrastructure. There are policy arguments to be had on both sides of that. We don't need to be dealing with policy not yet announced or to be dealing with policy arguments that are fictitious because it's one sided politics pretending they can make announcements for the other.

JOURNALIST: If I could, with respect, maybe get you to comment on a policy on the other side of politics. Would the Government's superannuation reforms be better if it ditched the transition to retirement changes it made?

BURKE: Last night, for the first time, Steve Ciobo started to clarify what they're doing here. The big question here, on the transition to retirement, you've got a lot of people, and there's a good productivity reason for this, where Australia has encouraged people to stay in the workforce and to basically move slowly through part time work into full retirement. For people who have set up their finances that way already, the question has been does this mean an immediate hit to them or not? The government has been ducking and weaving for a while. The implication, from what I heard Steve Ciobo say yesterday, is they are in fact giving an immediate hit to people in that circumstance. I'd like to hear that confirmed by some of the people directly responsible for the policy area. Obviously once we know exactly what they're doing it then needs to be looked at in two contexts: One, the hit to the Budget. And secondly, in what does it mean f or productivity.

They've been in a mess on it; all over the place. The problem we've had in refuting and arguing whether what they are doing is right or wrong, is they haven't quite been able to say what it is they're doing, which is sort of a first step before you scrutinise something. I think that's part of the reason it's blown up the way it has over the last 24 hours following Julie Bishop's interview. There's also the case though, the retrospective changes to superannuation they’ve made, you can't only look at that in terms of what does it mean for the Budget bottom line. It also hits confidence in the Superannuation system itself.

Thank you very much.

Tony Burke