SUBJECT/S: Malcolm Turnbull’s travel plans; superannuation; GST; Julie Bishop’s involvement in the rolling of Tony Abbott.

KIERAN GILBERT: Joining me now to discuss this and other issues of the day, we’ve got Manager of Opposition Business, Tony Burke. Mr Burke, first of all: Jakarta, the Indonesia relationship, it’s been a very difficult time, most notably around the execution of the Bali Nine duo. But Mr Turnbull making this the first step of a major overseas commitment, you’d welcome that?

TONY BURKE, SHADOW FINANCE MINISTER AND MANAGER OF OPPOSITION BUSINESS: That’s right. And there’s an easy hit that oppositions sometimes take where they just criticise any overseas trips from a Prime Minister, but the truth is, these are work trips, they are absolutely in the national interest and it’s in the whole interests of every Australian, no matter what your political view, that these go well.

GILBERT: It is summit season. Every Prime Minister is committed to undertake anyway the G20, APEC and so on.

BURKE: That’s right. When the Liberals were in Opposition, they had a go at Labor Prime Ministers attending. I’m not going to play that game. It’s in Australia’s national interests we participate and we have good outcomes at these meetings, as well as the one-on-ones that are happening there.

GILBERT: It’s an interesting shift if you look at the global discussions at the moment leading into Paris. Justin Trudeau the new Canadian Prime Minister, a shift in their politics. Here, while there hadn’t been a change in government, there’s been a definite shift in terms of the Prime Minister from the more conservative Tony Abbott to Mr Turnbull?

BURKE: Look the bar was set pretty low. I expect the welcome will be pretty warm and what will matter will be, when you get beyond that, what sort of commitments is Australia making.

GILBERT: Let’s look at the tax debate. Obviously you will be following this very closely indeed, and in superannuation specifically. While there is a difference of opinion as to whether or not you touch the nest egg of those that have already built up their superannuation savings, there is an agreement isn’t there, a consensus at least, that the exemptions for those wealthier Australians, higher income earners, need to be reined in?

BURKE: Well, who knows if there is. I take issue with your reference to the nest egg because our policy is about additional earnings and only starting to have any sort of taxation beyond $75,000.

GILBERT: It’s based on the nest egg isn’t it?

BURKE: Well, but we’re talking about when you get the earnings on top of what you’ve put in there. They’re already tax free, we’d be saying for $75,000. So, I’ll get to your question, but I take issue with that characterisation. When you say it’s common ground, what do we have at the moment? On the record we still don’t have the Government saying anything other than they’re completely opposed to what we put forward. The last quote we have from Scott Morrison where he’s got: “The Government has made it crystal clear that we have no interest in increasing taxes on superannuation either now or in the future, that is clearly our view, we have no plans for that.”

So, what we’ve got today is again the Government leaking to the media, off the record, what they might be planning to do, but not participating in the discussion themselves. It’s the same as how they’ve behaved with the GST. They start the conversation, you challenge them on any of it, and their only response is to say ‘oh, we don’t have a policy yet, we don’t have a plan’. If we were only to judge this Government by policies they’ve actually announced, it’d be a pretty short conversation at the moment. All they’ve really done is make their commitments to cut family payments for grandparent cares, single parents and a few of those things. In terms of taxation, they want the conversation to happen, but they don’t want to have a position in it and then are critical when everybody else take a position.

GILBERT: Well their defence is they’re still working on it, on the tax front, through the green paper and obviously well within months of next year we would expect some detail from them. You’d cut some slack for a new Prime Minister who’s only been there eight weeks wouldn’t you? In terms of trying to finalise what is quite a shift in this Government’s approach.

BURKE: I’d be more sympathetic if they didn’t also have the view that anybody who participates in that discussion and has a view, as Labor does in opposing the expansion of the GST, they say ‘because you have a view therefor you’re not really participating in the conversation.’ On superannuation, on superannuation tax concession, particularly at the high income end, action needs to be taken. We’ve had…

GILBERT: What about the idea of changing the 15 per cent flat rate and doing what Chris Richardson from Deloitte Access Economics has suggested? What the Government appears to be open to, as you say they haven’t been definitive on it, but certainly… 

BURKE: Well the last comments they’ve made were ruling it out and ridiculing Labor for being involved.

GILBERT: But in terms of this idea, they’re open to it, Mr Turnbull spoke to Richardson for - had a lengthy discussion with him personally late last week. In that context, what do you think of that idea of linking the reductions in tax paid on super to a person’s marginal tax rate.

BURKE: The concept of doing something about the concessions, particularly at the high income end, both at the contributions end and at the earnings end, is something we’re supportive of. But we’re not going to comment on the specifics of a particular proposal the Government won’t even step up to the table and have a conversation about. The only time we’ve directly, Bill Shorten directly asked – it might have been Chris Bowen – directly asked the Prime Minister ‘would they adopt this policy?’ Malcolm Turnbull’s response in the Parliament was ‘of course we’re not going to adopt what Labor’s put forward, you’re wasting the time of Question Time.’

GILBERT: But you are willing to comment on the specifics of something which hasn’t yet been finalised in terms of the GST and in terms of…

BURKE: In terms of our position on it, absolutely.

GILBERT: Why would you pre-empt something where you don’t know what the compensation package might be? Lower income earners might be better off under the Turnbull initiative. We don’t know yet.

BURKE: Well let’s unpick what you’ve said there on the GST. If you’re within the payment system, say you’re within the family payment system, the Government’s moves at the moment are to cut those family payments. So, if their argument is ‘we’re going to cut them now, introduce a GST and then we’ll give you a little bit back of what we’ve already cut,’ you’re still behind. And significantly behind.

You’ve got to also remember, if you’re not within the payment system, because your kids are too old or you don’t have children, then how do you provide that sort of compensation if you’re outside the payment system? They talk about what we did with respect to carbon pricing, we tripled the tax free threshold. We took a million people out of the tax system.

GILBERT: They might do the same thing.

BURKE: Well, you say they might do the same thing. If you’re a part-time worker on $20,000 or say on $18,000 – in retail, a part-time worker – you already are effectively out of the tax system, because the bottom tax bracket doesn’t kick in until $18,200. So, what are they going to do, triple it again? Every angle you look at this, people on low incomes and middle incomes get hurt.

GILBERT: Just my final question to you relates to a story published in The Australian based on Peter Van Onselen and Wayne Errington’s new book, that Julie Bishop’s Chief of Staff attended that meeting the night before the coup against Tony Abbott. Do you accept that now, while it’s interesting to people like us who watch this stuff, in the broader electorate it’s probably not going to resonate?

BURKE: The real issue on this, an extraordinary get story from Peter Van Onselen, but the real issue here is for people who are loyal supporters of the Liberal Party. Any of them who fell for the argument Julie Bishop was an innocent bystander in all of this would feel they’ve been completely taken a ride.

GILBERT: Mr Burke, appreciate your time. 

BURKE: Good to be back.

Tony Burke