SUBJECT/S: Federal Election 2016; Government chaos; Budget; Labor’s responsible fiscal policies.

TONY BURKE, MANAGER OF OPPOSITION BUSINESS AND SHADOW FINANCE MINISTER: Fantastic to be here today with Stefanie Perri and Julian Hill, but particularly exciting today to be able to make an announcement of a new candidate for the Labor Party at the upcoming Federal Election. The Victorian branch of the Labor Party has now selected the person who will be running number three on our Senate ticket, that announcement has been made. I’m very proud to tell you now the decision has been made and that person will be Jennifer Yang.

Jennifer has been known by the community for a long time – as a mayor, as a leader in the community, as a leader in the Chinese community as well – and will be a fantastic addition to the Labor team in the Senate. Before I invite Jennifer to say a few words, if I can just comment on a couple of issues of the day.

This morning we had the extraordinary spectacle of Malcolm Turnbull saying opinion polls were something he used to comment on in his youth. Let’s not forget, only six months ago Malcolm Turnbull was jumping in front of every camera he could find wanting to talk about 30 different Newspolls. All of a sudden, he wants to run a million miles away from the conversation, and I think every Australian knows exactly why: Malcolm Turnbull doesn’t want to talk about what Australians think of him because they’re starting to work him out. We’re seeing the massive gulf between what Malcolm Turnbull says and what Malcolm Turnbull does.

When he was going after Tony Abbott, he was very happy to talk about Newspolls. Now when he looks at a Newspoll, he’s seen the Australian people start to talk about his Government and the differences between what he says and what he does. If there was ever an example of how wide that gulf is, it’s when we discovered last week despite all the talk we had about him being some sort of figure of unity, he became the first Prime Minister in living memory to argue the Federal Government should give no money to Government schools but should continue to fund private schools.

When people are sitting around the kitchen table trying to work out how they’ll make ends meet and where their priorities are, nobody can fathom a Prime Minster who says the priority is the Federal Government should fund private schools only. 

Labor has made our priorities clear. With our plans for schools, we’ve made clear we want to get beyond the old public/private divide. We want the focus to be on funding students and the needs of students. We’ve put forward more than $100 billion worth of improvements to the Budget bottom line to make sure that that can be paid for. The disparity, the difference, between Labor’s priorities and the twisted priorities of Malcolm Turnbull couldn’t be more stark.

Every day we get closer and closer to a Budget that quite clearly is going to be very close to a photocopy of the 2014 Budget Tony Abbott brought down. The reason we’re ending up there is really clear – Malcolm Turnbull had a plan to take the Government from Tony Abbott, but he had no plan to govern. His reasons to take Government from Tony Abbott were all about Newspoll. It was Newspoll, Newspoll, Newspoll from Malcolm Turnbull six months ago. Today, he’s running a mile.

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When you look across the candidates we’ve put forward for the Parliament, whether it’s Julian, whether it’s Stefanie, whether it’s Jennifer, right through to Pat Dodson entering the Senate when Parliament returns, you look at the Labor Party now and you see modern Australia. You put that against a Prime Minister who only last week was arguing we should have an income tax system that is backdated to 1942. The difference as to which party can handle the transition the economy’s going through, and has genuine plans for the future, is very clear.

REPORTER: Malcolm Turnbull says you’ve got a $50 billion black hole in your Budget, is that true?

BURKE: Of all the lies that come out of Malcolm Turnbull’s mouth, the one he tells about the black hole is just extraordinary. He knows full well Labor has put forward more than $100 billion worth of improvements to the Budget bottom line. He knows that because it’s costed by the Parliamentary Budget Office, which draws its information directly from Treasury. So he knows that’s what the facts are.

So how do they come up with this $50 billion figure? Really simple: When Bill Shorten announced in his Budget Reply he would like to see small business pay less tax but acknowledged it would only be possible if there was a bipartisan approach, Malcolm Turnbull factors in as though Labor would unilaterally introduce that tax cut immediately. When Tanya Plibersek says we need to gradually get back the foreign aid levels this Government has just slashed, they presume we would reinstitute the foreign aid cuts immediately. 

Even when we have explicitly said we would not immediately make these changes, they put forward a set of confected numbers to say we would. The only people who argue these numbers are members of the Liberal and National parties. They know they’re wrong, but from their point of view, when they’re already telling so many lies to the Australian people, this is just another one. That’s their view, that’s their level of arrogance.

Every commentator knows Labor has done what no Opposition in living memory has done, and that’s announce the improvements to the Budget bottom line well in advance of announcing how we would spend any of the money and how much of it would go back as a permanent improvement to the Budget bottom line. It’s confected outrage on confected numbers from Malcolm Turnbull.

REPORTER: Do you agree Australia has to live within its means?

BURKE: Every country has to live within its means, but so do Australian households. Malcolm Turnbull seems to think the Budget he puts together is the only budget in the nation, and the household budget doesn’t matter. What he keeps wanting to do is to say ‘well, I’ll try and deal with my debt and deficit situation by putting it all back on the family’s credit card.’ That’s his approach. 

He’s still willing to waste Government money on things like reintroducing the Baby Bonus, introducing a plebiscite his own Members say they'll ignore, and pay polluters to keep polluting through a bizarre fund in the name of acting on climate change when they know they’re not. 

He’s willing to waste all that money and at the same time turn to Australian families and say: ‘We can’t afford your schools, unless they’re private schools; we can’t afford your hospitals any more; you’ll have to pay more every time you go to the doctor; you’ll even have to pay more for tests to work out whether or not you have cancer.’ That’s the sort of warped priorities we’re getting from a Prime Minister who’s willing to cut the pension, from a Prime Minister who’s willing to cut family payments.

Every family knows about living within their means, and they know Malcolm Turnbull is deliberately, through his priorities, saying they’re going to do it harder because he won’t make the tough decisions on multinational tax avoidance, he won’t make the tough decisions on dealing with high-end superannuation tax concessions, he won’t make the tough decisions on negative gearing and capital gains discounts. Whenever there’s an improvement to the Budget bottom line that hits the top end of town, Malcolm Turnbull is nowhere to be seen.

If you want to live within your means, the first thing you to is start cutting down on tax loopholes. That’s how Labor has got to $100 billion worth of improvements to the Budget bottom line. They’re the exact measures Malcolm Turnbull won’t have a bar of.

REPORTER: Can you promise Labor won’t increase taxes if you’re elected?

BURKE: The changes to taxes, for example on tobacco excise, we’ve already made those decisions, we’ve already made those announcements. They are improvements to the Budget bottom line. There’s good public health reasons for making a change like that. But in terms of tax and revenue, that’s an increase, of course it is. In the same way as when this Government put off the improvement to the tax-free threshold that had been scheduled, they increased income tax for everyone paying income tax. 

When they brought in what they called the deficit levy, which once they brought it in they doubled the deficit anyway, but when they brought that in it was an increase in income tax. The last time we had cuts in income tax was when we had a Labor Government. That’s the last time we had it.

This Government seems to work on the basis the bigger the lie, the more they think they can get away with it. The truth is: under them, the deficit has doubled; under them, spending has gone up; under them, taxation has gone up, specifically income tax is at higher levels than it was when they came to office. Scott Morrison will go out with a whole lot of rhetoric implying the exact opposite, but the Budget Papers speak for themselves. By every measure the Liberal Party sets, this Government is a failure.

REPORTER: Aside from the tobacco excise though, can voters expect any more increases to tax?

BURKE: Look, we’re still working through our policy announcements. At the moment we have improvements to the Budget bottom line way in excess of the spending announcements we’ve made. I think the interesting thing, is questions are being asked about where Labor’s at, because people have given up on trying to work out where the Government’s at. Every few days there’s a new thought bubble from Malcolm Turnbull, and a few days later Tony Abbott and his forces make sure Turnbull has to back down on it. 

As we go on the thought bubbles get madder and madder, to the point where we had this crazy idea we’d go back to 1942 and the states would start putting up their income tax and doing whatever they wanted on income tax. We’re in the lead-up to a Budget and people are giving up on whether or not they can get a rational answer from the Liberal Party. I think that says it all. Thank you very much.

Tony Burke