SUBJECT/S: The Retirement of Warren Truss & Andrew Robb; Stuart Robert; Tax Debate.

DAVID SPEERS: I want to bring in my guest this afternoon, he is the Shadow Finance Minister and Manager of Opposition Business, Tony Burke. Thanks for joining us this afternoon.

MANAGER OF OPPOSITION BUSINESS AND SHADOW FINANCE MINISTER, TONY BURKE: Good to be here. It’s happening while we’re sitting here.

SPEERS: Well this has just happened. Let me get your reaction to it though; both Warren Truss and Andrew Robb will apparently go.

BURKE: Well, first of all, if the story’s accurate, at a completely personal level I wish them both well. Andrew Robb came here at the same election I came in, in 2004. Warren Truss when I was Agriculture Minister had previously held that portfolio. So, both of them I’ve interacted with quite a lot over the years and genuinely wish them both well. For the things they believe in they’ve got some achievements they’ll always be able to look back on. From Malcolm Turnbull’s perspective, that means in the last two months he’s already lost four ministers. Four in two months. You’ve had Brough, you’ve had Briggs, now Robb and Truss. 

SPEERS: It’s hardly a vote of no confidence for Warren Truss to after many years in Parliament. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a vote of no confidence in Malcolm.

BURKE: I didn’t say that. What I’m saying is, in terms of the stability of the Government, to have four ministers gone in two months is extraordinary when the whole concept of what’s being debated in the Parliament this week is whether there should be a fifth. They’re dropping like flies around Malcolm Turnbull at the moment. In terms of him having any chance of providing stability in Government or anything like the stable economic leadership he claimed he would be able to deliver.

SPEERS: We did see in Labor a lot of chopping and changing…

BURKE: And we got punished for it.

SPEERS: On Stuart Robert, we don’t know if he’ll go. Labor today very clear in saying he must go and the Prime Minister must act on this. Are you saying Malcolm Turnbull shouldn’t wait for the outcome of the inquiry he’s commissioned from his department?

BURKE: I don’t know what evidence the inquiry could possibly turn up that isn’t already there to establish the breach of the code. Now the code has a blanket ban. If you’re a minister, you’re not allowed to advocate for a company in a personal capacity. Blanket ban, you’re just not allowed to do it. There’s not doubt…

SPEERS: ‘Advocate’ or ‘assist’ to, that’s an important word.

BURKE: And there’s no doubt that Stuart Robert was assisting. But how do we know that we was not doing it in an official capacity, that he was doing it in an personal capacity? He said so. He stood up in the Parliament and said that what he was doing. So all the evidence you need to say ‘this is a breach of the code,’ is already there by his own confession in the Parliament. Now the only possible thing they could be inquiring into is whether or not he was telling the truth when he said that. If he wasn’t telling the truth then he’s deliberately misled the Parliament and he’s gone anyway. No matter which way you look at this, I don’t doubt there’s interesting extra information to come out on this, but you are already at the threshold where he cannot remain as a minister.

There’s a different rule for ministers than what we have for other members of Parliament. You’ll find lots of members of Parliament going off and advocating for different companies because they’re in their electorate, or something like that, and trying to help promote them. No one thinks they’re doing it on behalf of Australia. When you’re a minister, whenever you assist a company, you’re doing it on behalf of Australia. You can’t take the hat on and off like that. That’s why the ban exists and Stuart Robert clearly breached that blanket ban.

SPEERS: Let me turn now to some policy matters. We heard the Treasurer this afternoon indicate that the Government may well do something on negative gearing. Not for the bulk of ordinary investors, he’s talking more about at the extreme level I suppose. Is that Labor’s thinking as well when it comes to negative gearing?

BURKE: We’re the first Opposition in living memory to not just rule out any changes to negative gearing and we’ve been engaging in policy consultation on this for some time. We’re at a very advanced stage on this. But the challenges you’ve got in making sure you get this right; you have to make sure first of all that you don’t have a negative impact on people who are already negative gearing, because people have already set up their finances in that way and you don’t want to pull the rug from under them. Secondly, you want to make sure you don’t have a negative impact on the construction industry and therefor on housing supply. If you don’t keep going with new housing supply you actually put an additional pressure on housing prices.

SPEERS: Where do you draw the line?

BURKE: Well, as I say, and Kieran Gilbert had a go at this with Chris Bowen, trying to get us to announce in Kieran’s program. We weren’t announcing it then, I’m not going to announce it on yours.

SPEERS: Can you tell me though, there’s a few ways you can do it. You can put a limit on how much people can claim each year in their deductions. You could limit the number of properties they can negative gear, or could say that you can only negative gear a property for a number of years. Are they the options you’d be looking at?

BURKE: The options people will talk about and would have been put to us during consultations, they’re all public options people have advocated. About limits on number of properties, limits on type of properties, whether it’s new builds only, about whether it’s about dollar amount caps that are put in place. They’re the sorts of things people raise. But whatever we do, we’ve made the commitment the whole way through that we won’t do anything that jeopardises people who have already setup their finances in this way. Secondly, we won’t engage in any policy that hurts housing supply, because that just makes some of the housing spikes that we’ve seen in our major cities much much worse.

SPEERS: There have been reports today about the Government working with the Greens on some tax measures, including this one. It sounds like you’re pretty close to where the Government might come down on negative gearing. You might support the Government?

BURKE: It’s interesting the Government have been bagging us for not shutting this down. I remember we had Government ministers and a former Prime Minister get stuck right into us for this. Scott Morrison had his own words put back to him today where he’s previously said he didn’t think we should change. Today he’s saying, without acknowledging that he’s moving away from his previously guarantee, now he might be open to change. But the people he’s negotiating with, the Greens, their proposal, as I understand it from the material they’ve put out, is you just stop negative gearing on all new properties. Now if you…

SPEERS: You won’t do that?

BURKE: If you did that, unpack what impact that would have on the construction industry. If you have that sort of negative impact on the construction industry, that you take all that investment out of new builds, then not only do you have a jobs impact on the industry, you also have a housing supply problem. When you get a housing supply problem, you then get a housing affordability problem.

SPEERS: I think it’s pretty clear from what Scott Morrison said the Government’s not about to do that either.

BURKE: That’s who he’s talking to.

SPEERS: Listening to all comers he says. Now a final one: Labor’s tax plans; we know the cigarette tax, the superannuation, but the multinationals one as well. I’m about to be joined by the Tax Commissioner, Chris Jordan, he’s been talking today about what they’ve been doing on cracking down on multinationals. There’s some pretty strong messages for them today. Just remind us exactly what Labor wants to do on multinationals and the amount of debt they can carry in Australia.

BURKE: Without getting into a very detailed explanation, companies have a worldwide gearing ratio where effectively there’s a ratio of the extent to which they’re geared across the world, and you make sure that the tax they’re paying in Australia is not at a disadvantage because they’re parking their profits in tax havens in a different way. What does that raise? The costings that we’ve had done, the conservative costings from the Parliamentary Budget Office, over the course of a decade in the order of $7 billion. It’s substantial. You put that against the legislation that went through the Parliament from the Government, how much did they have themselves raising? Asterisks. They weren’t even willing to put a dollar to it.

SPEERS: Well Chris Jordan’s been…

BURKE: Chris Jordan’s been doing some good work on enforcement of law.

SPEERS: He’s used a figure of $2.5 billion over one financial year.

BURKE: I don’t know how much of that is dependent on the new law and how much of that is an actual crackdown and hopefully we’ll get some answers.

SPEERS: Either way it’s a pretty good figure.

BURKE: And of course to see multinationals paying more…

SPEERS: Could it be the Government’s plan is working?

BURKE: We appointed Chris Jordan, we’ve got a lot of faith in the work that he does, and he’s going to be on next to explain exactly how whatever they’re doing right now certainly seems better that what they were doing in the immediate past.

SPEERS: Alright, Tony Burke, Shadow Finance Minister, thanks for joining us this afternoon.

BURKE: Good to be back.

Tony Burke