SUBJECT/S: The 2016 Budget; Negative Gearing; The NDIS; Penalty Rates.

BARRY CASSIDY: We’re join now by the Shadow Minister for Finance and Manager of Opposition Business, Tony Burke. 

Good morning. Welcome.


CASSIDY: Are we now seeing, emerging in this campaign, the differences basically down to this: It’s your spending against the Government’s tax cuts?

BURKE: I don’t accept that. There’s competing priorities and budgets are about priorities; government is about priorities. What we’ve been willing to do, is make tough decision in closing down a series of loopholes. That’s given us the capacity to be able to say we’ll properly fund schools, we’ll properly fund Medicare. To be able to say we’ll take a series of actions on making sure we’ve got the jobs of the future. For an economy that’s in transition, economically, they’re the calls you need to make. 

Malcolm Turnbull frequently refers to the economy being in transition, but we must be the only place in the world saying the way to become a more modern economy is to have a less educated population and to not be shifting towards renewables.

CASSIDY: We’ll go through some of those initiatives you’ve announced. But what do you make of the story yesterday the Government plans modest personal income taxes? Do you think that will happen?

BURKE: Well, they've said they believe in it, so it’s probably doomed. It may or may not happen by the time the Budget comes around. The key question on any of these measures, is how will they pay for it? If they’re saying there’s going to be a tax cut somewhere, then that also means they’re going to be cutting spending to some sort of service. People will have to weigh up whether the tax cut the Government is claiming they’ll provide, is worth the trashing of Medicare. Whether it’s worth the cuts that come on the other side. 

You’ve got to remember, pretty much all of the Tony Abbott cuts are still there. Malcolm Turnbull hasn’t been undoing the 2014 Budget and we’re heading to a Budget that’s increasingly looking like a photocopy of Tony Abbott’s. 

CASSIDY: Are you walking into the Government’s rhetoric though on higher taxation? The deficit levy, on high income earners, it's due to end next year; you’ll keep it so you can spend it, presumably, the Government plans to scrap it so taxpayers can spend it.

BURKE: Well on tax and spend, first of all, let’s not forget in terms of spending this Government is still spending at Global Financial Crisis levels. In terms of taxation they are a higher taxing Government as a percentage of GDP than we were when we were in office. They use the rhetoric a lot, but the numbers themselves don’t in fact stack up. 

The challenge though, which we need to remember, is in the Australian economy and the Australia Budget, we have both a spending challenge and a revenue challenge. Moody’s have actually threatened our triple-A credit rating with a warning about this; that we need to deal with both. Now, Scott Morrison as Treasurer has just said ‘oh, that doesn’t matter.’ He’s not accepting we have a revenue problem at all. If he wants to put our triple-A credit rating at risk, that has an impact on the borrowing rates people have throughout the nation. It’s a big call to say we don’t have a revenue problem when even the credit rating agencies are saying we do. 

CASSIDY: Isn’t it also a big call though, you voted for this deficit levy to come off in 2017, now you’re saying you’ll renege on that?

BURKE: We haven’t made a final judgment on it. We’re waiting until we see what’s in the Budget to see whether in fact the Government goes through with this. But let’s not forget, when this was introduced it was titled a ‘deficit levy’ with the thought it was going to get rid of the deficit. From one budget to the next, this Government doubled the deficit. That’s what they did. They doubled it from one Budget to the the next on their own numbers.

CASSIDY: But then again, if you keep this deficit levy on, you’re essentially locking in 47 cents plus Medicare as the top marginal rate. 

BURKE: Well, you have to make decisions for revenue as to who can most afford it, and on expenditure where you can be most strategic in your spending. The challenge we see here from the Government, is when it comes to revenue, they’re not willing to tax people who can afford it, and when it comes to spending, they’re not willing to fund people where it’s most needed. 

CASSIDY: You say they go soft on high-income earners, but look at what’s now proposed, or at least leaked, on the super concessions. They’re prepared to go further than Labor.

BURKE: They say this immediately before a Budget where, by their own timeframe, they will have put none of the measures through the Federal Parliament before they go to an election. On their own timeline. They have spent 12 months railing against, giving all the arguments against, what we have proposed on superannuation, against what we have proposed on multinational tax avoidance, against what we have proposed on the tobacco excise. Yet on negative gearing they’ve said there were “ excesses" and now in today’s papers they’re saying they’re going to go against that too. They are going to election with the opposite of their record on all of these measures. Against that, you’ve had an Opposition that has been methodically putting forward where the priority of a Labor Government would be.

CASSIDY: But if they do go ahead on the concessions around superannuation, and they go further - you’re bringing the threshold down to $250,000 and they’re talking about $180,000. So, if they hit twice as many people and raise far more revenue, would Labor then consider lowering the threshold?

BURKE: Well, let’s have a look at what they do. At the moment we’re trying to run off the back of their anonymously backgrounded briefings of the newspapers. Ordinarily, in the lead-up to a Budget, you would take that a face value as a series Government proposals. But with this mob, comments they’ve given in front of cameras on the record, they’ve then argued the opposite of a few weeks later. I think we’ve really got to wait and see where they’re at by the time they’re delivering the Budget.

CASSIDY: You mentioned negative gearing. The Government has clearly identified that as an Achilles heel for Labor. Given the city you live in, they’ll be running this line strongly that rents will go up and house prices will come down. Now, that’s a savage attack.

BURKE: And in the same way, I remember a few weeks ago we had the Assistant Treasurer arguing housing prices would go up, Malcolm Turnbull arguing housing prices would go down. The housing market has a series of upward and downward pressures in it and they have no economists who’ve been out there backing in this fear campaign they’ve wanted to run. 

Effectively, it’s again Malcolm Turnbull adopting the policy agenda Tony Abbott told him to adopt. This is where all of these issues tend to end up; with Tony Abbott winning their internal policy debates. Malcolm Turnbull, if he wants to run a fear campaign, he needs to know this: he’s running it on the opposite arguments to what Scott Morrison was arguing only a few months ago. He’s arguing the second, third and tenth homebuyer should get more Government assistance than the first homebuyer. He’s arguing by protecting the tax concession, that’s justification for cutting the local school and slashing Medicare. If that’s the election campaign he wants, we’re in that argument.

CASSIDY: Well, they will go on about the spending issue, and there’s a longer term issue as well the Opposition will need to deal with and that’s spending around the NDIS. In the longer term they say it’s not adequately funded.

BURKE: Which is extraordinary. There was bipartisan support when the National Disability Insurance Scheme was announced and we put down all of the different…

CASSIDY: Provided you funded it adequately.

BURKE: We did. It was all released and all provided formally by the Department. The graphs are out there where we show exactly how it would be funded over the full ten years. What the Government has done, is the spending cuts we proposed to pay for the National Disability Insurance Scheme they’ve gone through, they’ve legislated some of them themselves and they’ve just pocketed that money and said ‘oh no, that doesn’t count towards the National Disability Insurance Scheme anymore, only the Medicare Levy does.’ 

So, what they’ve done, is they’ve pocketed money that had been there for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, claimed the revenue item was the only one that counted and then said ‘oh look, this system’s not affordable anymore’. Well, they make the decision if they want to remove funding that had been provided. The only reason you would make that decision, is if you don’t believe in this fundamental reform they went to the election calming was bipartisan. 

CASSIDY: Can I just ask you finally on penalty rates. I just get the feeling this is issue neither side wants to deal with but you’ll probably have to because the Fair Work Commission will come down with some recommendations. When Bill Shorten was asked about this during the week, and he was asked whether Labor would embrace any recommendations, he said ‘yes they would’. So, if one of the recommendations was Sunday penalty rates become Saturday rates, Labor’s locked in, you’ll support that?

BURKE: I think we’re getting ahead of ourself in advance of a decision. Both the Liberal Party and the Labor Party made submissions to the Fair Work Commission. The Coalition, the Libs and the Nats, gave all the reasons as to why penalty rates should be cut. The Labor Party put in a submission as to why penalty rates should be protected. 

There are people working today, and lets make it clear, the people working this afternoon are making a bigger sacrifice working on a Sunday than I’ll be making working on a Tuesday. People deserve an extra amount of money there. Now, we are in advance of a decision and the comments made by Bill Shorten there were in the wake of the Government having a situation where their response to a decision they hadn't liked on road safety was to abolish the tribunal. 

CASSIDY: Well hang on, was it Bill Shorten getting ahead of himself when he said that he would accept the findings?

BURKE: Well no. He’s made clear Labor supports having an independent umpire. We’re now in advance of that independent umpire bringing down a decision. We support having an independent umpire, that’s what he was referring to. But beyond that, we believe people deserve penalty rates. That’s our position, that’s why we made a submission to the independent tribunal.

CASSIDY: Thanks for your time this morning.

BURKE: Good to be back.

Tony Burke