TUESDAY, 24 MAY 2016

SUBJECT/S: The Government Making Up Labor’s Costings.

TONY BURKE, SHADOW FINANCE MINISTER AND MANAGER OF OPPOSITION BUSINESS:  Well, there's not much left of what Malcolm Turnbull promised. We might remember when he became Prime Minister he claimed he was going to respect the intelligence of the Australian people. Today, his Treasurer and his Finance Minister thought they could get away with treating the Australian people like fools. Today, his Treasurer and his Finance Minister started out at the beginning of a media conference, all puffed up like helium balloons and by the end of the media conference, you'd watched the air run out of them completely. What they did in that media conference, was start out with their graphics, claiming they knew the numbers, having invented policies Labor hadn't announced, having ascribed numbers to the Labor Party that were an invention of their own offices. Having done that and created the pretty graphic, by the end of the media conference instead of h olding to the figures that were on that graphic, they were saying "Oh well maybe the figures are somewhere between $67 billion and $32 billion." Not a bad range. Not a bad range of where they might miss. We watched the two people who were meant to be in charge of accuracy in numbers for our nation, basically blindfolded throw darts at the Labor Party. It was an extraordinary media conference. And it was riddled, riddled with a litany of errors.

Now, let's make no mistake here. Joe Hockey had a reputation for making errors. Scott Morrison and Mathias Cormann, they're not stupid people, they know exactly what they're doing. These are not accidents from the two of them. They know the information they are giving the Australian people is wrong. They intend to give it anyway. They believe they can get away with it. Have a look at just how wrong some of the information was they gave out today. There are a number of different foreign aid announcements which have been made during the life of this term. They dealt with some of them, such as the UNHCR, as specific line items. The one for additional foreign aid was announced in final form by Tanya Plibersek on the weekend. The amount of that announcement was $224 million. But how much did the Treasurer of Australia and the Finance Minister for Australia want to turn that figure into today? They presented a figure of $224 million, got out the liquid paper an d said "Oh look, it's $19 billion." When asked “how could you get it so wrong?” they said "But Labor's got this policy of getting foreign aid to 0.5% of GNI” so they've plugged those numbers in. Forgetting that on their own 2013 election policy documents, they claimed the same thing. The exact same claim.

Tanya Plibersek made clear on the weekend, that was our foreign aid policy, now complete and announced. Yet, they have turned a figure of $224 million and presented it to the Australian people as $19 billion. If their argument is, as we heard during that media conference, Tania Plibersek made a comment that could've implied that a year ago, and therefore that's what they'll rely on, well then it's quite OK for the Australian people to rely on comments Malcolm Turnbull has made recently, that he believes in a 15% GST. That he believes a 15% GST should be extended to food. That Malcolm Turnbull believes the States should levy or then income tax. That he believes government schools should not be paid any federal funds. Those comments were all made much more recently than the comment on which they chose to make their $19 billion lie earlier today.

It's not the only one they've got hopelessly wrong. Two superannuation measures which we've said are out for consultation at the moment and we'll make further announcements later, appear as definitive announcements totaling $10 billion. The Ipswich Motorway is on the list of their Labor black hole. Having forgotten they have promised the same $200 million. The exact same measure is one of theirs. Yet they've thought they could put that in a Labor policy document only as though that represents the fiscal gap.

Can I give a hint to the Treasurer and the Finance Minister and their Prime Minister, who's the person we used to know as Malcolm Turnbull? During this election campaign, Liberal Party policies will be announced by the Liberal Party. Labor Party policies will be announced by the Labor Party. The government doesn't get to do both, and today, that's exactly, exactly what they tried to do. More extraordinary, is at the same as they’ve got Barnaby Joyce running around the country telling people the Backpacker Tax they've got nothing to worry about, it will be gone, and yet they've kept every dollar of the Backpacker Tax in PEFO. They then ascribe to Labor, as they we've made it a final decision, to get rid of it altogether, when Chris Bowen as Shadow Treasurer has made clear we are still consulting with the sector. Yes, the Government's made a mess of this. Yes, we're worried about the impact on agriculture, on tourism, on hospitalit y. But that doesn't mean they can suddenly invent Labor's policy announcements for us and ascribe them to some fictitious black-hole story.

We have made clear, we would do what no opposition in living memory has done. That is, we would announce our improvements to the Budget bottom line well in advance of announcing expenditure. We've made clear, over the medium term, there will be more improvements to the Budget bottom line than spends. We've made that clear and we have kept to those principles rigidly.

What happened today, in a media conference that started with so much arrogance and confidence and fell away into farce by the end, was simply an attempt by the Government, by this Liberal Government, to think they could get away with making up Labor policies, lying to the Australian people and thought maybe just maybe nobody would notice. Well, message to Scott Morrison and Mathias Cormann: people do notice. Scott Morrison's got more interviews to go later tonight. He can explain how they turned $224 million into $19 billion. He can explain why they deliberately inflate numbers from the Labor Party. He can explain why fully costed policies get ignored, and they just go out and play their own games. The Australian people may be subject during the next few weeks to more lies like we saw in that media conference today. But they will make sure - we will make sure, this Government is held to account every step of the way, because there's an alternative government doing the hard policy work and having an honest conversation with the Australian people. Happy to take any questions.

JOURNALIST: Mr Burke, looking at broader economic issues - Labor has made announcements on more commitment to health and to education and so on. But what about the issue of broader economic reform? There's been some commentary we're not seeing any of that list as yet in the Labor policy platform compared to the great reforming era of Hawke and Keating. What would you say to that? What are - do you have any sort of really broad-brush big the economic reforms on the agenda?

BURKE: In the first instance, can I say and I’ll get to the specifics of your question, so bear with me for a moment. In the first instance, let me say, it's rare we've had an election where the dividing lines are so clear. This is not the top half of the cup versus the bottom half of the cup. This is a situation where Malcolm Turnbull is wanting to defend the froth at the top of the cappuccino. We've got two parties here in this election campaign where both sides have major commitments that will cost the Budget $50 billion. The Turnbull Government says that $50 billion should be spent on tax cuts for big business. Labor says the $50 billion should be spent on schools and on Medicare. These are the choices that are made. Now, those choices do have an economic impact. Having a more skilled population does have a direct economic impact as well. And does create better job opportunities for Australians.

It's also true though, when you look at tough decisions people have shied away from for a very long time, that do make a long-term structural difference. Superannuation reform and reform of negative gearing and capital gains tax do fit that bill. They are both measures both sides of politics, for more than a generation have let stand and been unwilling to confront. We've had changes of government in each direction over that time and they are measures that people have not plate been willing to step up to the plate on. One of the reasons, I might add, people often haven't bothered to do those long-term structural reforms is you don't raise much money in the first four years. It makes a long-term structural difference to the Budget and deals with the structural deficit. But within the first four years, the only way to make significant money with those sorts of measures is to make them retrospective, which Labor does not believe in. You could have an imme diate improvement to the Budget bottom line if the negative gearing and capital gains tax concession decisions had not been grandfathered and had been retrospective. Labor doesn't do that. The only retrospective policy in play at the moment is there from the Government in how they’ve structured their superannuation charges on which we've said we're still consulting but deeply concerned about the retrospective nature of them. They are very significant in terms of the long-term impact on they have on the Budget and also in what they do for where investment goes within the economy. Investment within the housing market gets steered towards the part of the housing market that creates jobs. In the same way with superannuation, we're talking very large sums of money that are growing and we have to acknowledge when concessions are no longer sustainable.

JOURNALIST: Mr Burke, no doubt this spending argument's going to go on for the rest of the campaign. When will the Labor Party actually release its full costings, give voters some sort of accountability?

BURKE: In the first instance, the people who are now in government, they released their costings on the Thursday before polling day. That's when they gave their’s. So in terms of the benchmark they set, I'm be very comfortable in knowing we'll be well in front of their benchmark. They really have no credibility in saying Labor should rush this out. The second thing, is you do, every time a Budget is brought down, need to have all your costings updated. It's an important thing to do because a number of policies interact with other measures in the Budget and can interact with some of the assumptions that go into a Budget. As Chris Bowen said before, after the Budget came down, everything was resubmitted to the Parliamentary Budget Office as is normal practice. As that comes back we’ll be in a position to be able to release that.

But what we have done already though, is far more, far more than any Opposition in living memory. The rules that we said we would keep, have been kept to the letter. The thing we haven’t done, is play the game Scott Morrison and Mathias Cormann played today. Where they wanted to say because someone had an aspiration for a policy, therefore you’ll rack everything on the Budget bottom line from Day One. The same game was played last week by Peter Dutton with respect to the humanitarian program where he was saying there was a $2.3 billion black hole, today in this document that’s come down to $17 million. That’s how rubbery the figures are they are putting forward.

We’ve been making sure what we release is properly costed by the Parliamentary Budget Office and following the release of the Budget it does mean those numbers need to be updated. But in terms of the total costings, we are well in front of our fiscal rules.

JOURNALIST: Do you have any idea of an exact date? Usually it’s a week before the election when those numbers will be updated?

BURKE: As I say, for our opponents it was two days before the election. We will make sure that people have a proper chance to be able to scrutinise the numbers, and because we’ve made extensive use of the Parliamentary Budget Office, there will be no doubt as to the quality of our costings.

JOURNALIST: Mr Burke on issues that may be of interest to constituents in your electorate among others. The Greens have said they will remove religious exemptions to Federal Anti-Discrimination legislation. Will Labor give a commitment the religious exemptions to Federal Anti-Discrimination legislation would stay in under a Labor Government?

BURKE: The only areas where we’ve referred to reviews on that have been for essential services. Now, the review of that took place when we were in Government was with respect for nursing homes. Making sure you don’t end up with a situation where somebody simply can’t get access to aged care. In terms of preserving freedom of religion, respecting the role of institutions to be able run their own organisations, respecting the operation of the Anti-Discrimination Act, our principles remain as they have ever been.

JOURNALIST: Can I also just ask, coming back to what you were talking about There’s just one thing I want to be totally clear on. You mentioned the commitment that you say both Labor and the Coalition have to 0.5% of Gross National Income to foreign aid. Are you now saying this is a commitment you are putting in abeyance, or are you saying this is something a Labor Government will achieve in its first term in office?

BURKE: Oh, there’s no chance of achieving that in the first term in office, no chance.

JOURNALIST: Then what’s the point of having the commitment if there’s no chance?

BURKE: Well, on these long term commitments you work on the basis of where you would like things to get to. Where you would want things to get to and you get there as the Budget can afford it. So, the announcement that was made on the weekend by Tanya Plibersek, which was that we would stop the clock on the next lot of cuts that are being presented by the Government. We made clear we would be providing more in foreign aid than what the government will be providing. But the Budget simply cannot afford, the state that it is in, to be able to simply push all that money back in, in the course of a term. There is no prospect of that happening, the Budget is not in a position to be able to do this.

But let’s not forget how much worse the fiscal situation is now, to when the current government took office. It’s very easy to miss. Even on their own figures from their first Budget, the next financial year, we were meant to have a deficit of $10 billion. That’s now at $37 billion. They have more than tripled the deficit for the next financial year in the life of this government. They have added $100 billion to net debt in the short life of this government. There is no doubt things that might have been affordable some years ago, Australia is not in a position to be able to afford now. That doesn’t mean you don’t have intentions for policies you would like to achieve in the long term, and for targets you set that you would like to achieve as the Budget can afford it. But at the moment, beyond the announcements Tanya Plibersek made on the weekend, there is not the capacity to foreign aids over the next term.

JOURNALIST: When would you hope would be the earliest a Labor Government could achieve that 0.5%?

BURKE: As soon as it would be responsibly afforded, and that is the only responsible answer to that question.

Tony Burke