24 July 2017





SUBJECT/S: Tax reform, marriage equality postal vote, UNHCR report.


MATT WORDSWORTH: Labor's Finance spokesperson Dr Jim Chalmers says Australia’s tax system remains unfair and in need of change. He joined me earlier.


JIM CHALMERS MP, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FINANCE, MEMBER FOR RANKIN: We’re saying Matt that the Budget’s a mess and the tax system is unfair and that we’re prepared to continue to provide the economic leadership that has been lacking on the other side when it comes to dealing with those two challenges. We’ve already got a record of dealing with tax concessions like negative gearing and capital gains and tax expenses, a whole range of other polices that we’ve put out there. And I think Bill’s making the very sensible point that a lot of Australians will agree with that we do have two tax systems in this country, and it doesn’t make much sense at all to have the biggest tax concessions go to those who need it least.


WORDSWORTH: So it’s going to target tax minimisation by the wealthy?


CHALMERS:  We’ve said for a long time that that’s an area that we’re very concerned with and very focused on. You can take from the announcements that we’ve made to date, some of those that I just ran through, that we do have an interest in that. You might have noticed that the budget is not in good nick, we’ve got gross debt crashing through half a trillion dollars for the first time in Australian history under the Liberals, so we are looking for ways to tighten up tax concessions and I think the majority of the Australian population agree that it’s a good idea when we’re looking to repair the Budget in a fair way that we look at some of these tax concessions that go to people who need them least.


WORDSWORTH: An Australia Institute study last week on tax avoidance found the number of discretionary trusts, where you can split the income among the members and theoretically reduce tax, they’ve almost doubled in twenty years. Whereas non-discretionary trusts grew by 39 per cent over the same period. Is there something you need to do about these trusts and are they being used unfairly?


CHALMERS: I thought that was a very interesting report from the Australia Institute last week and it did point to an important issue which is the growth in the use of some of these trusts. Without pre-empting or revealing any announcements we might make in the future, I do think it’s worth reflecting on the analysis in that report at least, which shows this has been growing, as have some other areas in the tax system that have been growing in a way for people to manage their tax affairs and any reasonable and rational Opposition would look at all of these issues to make sure the Australian taxpayer is getting the best value of money.


WORDSWORTH: In anticipation of something being announced on family trusts, Barnaby Joyce has come out and said look, you’ve got to consider that trusts also protect an asset like farms from being sold off in the event of one of the family members getting divorced. Do you have sympathy and consideration for that aspect of family trusts?


CHALMERS: Well there are all kinds of considerations when you look at, not just trusts, but all aspects of the tax system. You want to make sure you’re making the right kind of changes with as few unintended consequences as possible. The tax system is notoriously complex as you know, and any attempt to change the system needs to take into account all those factors.


WORDSWORTH: Can I just switch to marriage equality, cause Peter Dutton says the Senate is deadlocked on the Coalition’s idea of a plebiscite and the Liberal’s won’t go for a free vote in Parliament, so he’s suggested a postal plebiscite. Does Labor see any merit in that pitch?


CHALMERS: Oh look, I think it’s just one harebrained idea after another – not just from Peter Dutton but from the Government. Another farcical attempt to prevent what should be happening which is a parliamentary vote on same sex marriage. I mean it’s an extraordinary situation that we had…


WORDSWORTH: But on the one hand it costs less than $180 million of a full scale plebiscite while also navigating the opposition to a vote in parliament the conservative  MPs have, is that a fair way through?


CHALMERS: We went from wasting $180 million on a plebiscite that wouldn’t even bind the Turnbull Government and now we’ve got this harebrained idea of a postal ballot which is basically a big opinion poll. I just think this is just a farce. I mean the Australian people pay us to go into the Parliament and put our hand up for the issues we believe in. I believe in marriage equality. I want to see it a reality sooner rather than later. We need to get this done. It’s an important change that we should be able to make it as a country.


WORDSWORTH: The UN Refugee Agency has put out a statement about asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru and this resettlement deal with the US. It said it made an exception to helping that deal on the clear understanding that vulnerable refugees with close family ties in Australia would ultimately be allowed to settle there. Did Labor ever understand that to be the deal?


CHALMERS: I’ve just seen that UNHCR report, as a lot of people have, but I think it does make a pretty extraordinary claim about the information that the Turnbull Government has put out there so far. There are some big questions now for Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Dutton to answer. They need to urgently clarify the arrangement that was made with the Americans and any involvement from the UNHCR. They need to clear this up sooner rather than later. Because there does seem to be a pretty extraordinary difference between the account provided by the agency and the account provided by the Turnbull Government.


WORDSWORTH: Shadow Finance Minister, Dr Jim Chalmers