AM Agenda with Kieran Gilbert

21 April 2016


SUBJECT/S: ABCC; 2016 Budget; Income Tax; Lack of Economic Leadership from Government; Government’s plan to cut penalty rates

KIERAN GILBERT: This is AM Agenda. With me now, the Shadow Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation, Jim Chalmers. He's with us from Brisbane and here in the Canberra studio, Liberal Senator Zed Seselja. Let's look first of all at this Omnipoll for Sky News, and Senator Seselja, your thoughts on this given it seems quite a chunk, 44% of people, don't have an opinion one way or another when it comes to this issue of the building watchdog. 

SESELJA: And Kieran, I think what it shows though is those who have made a decision on it overwhelmingly support the ABCC being reintroduced. Something like three quarters of those who expressed a view for or against are for the reintroduction. So obviously this is going to be a very important part of the campaign and I think that as people hear more about the fact that this is a watchdog for dealing with lawlessness on construction sites, Australians understand there's around a million people employed in this industry. Everyone knows someone in the construction industry, and they understand that if you get that under control, you get these stand-over tactics under control, it's good for jobs, it's good for the economy and frankly, it's just the right thing to do. So I think this is a very encouraging poll.

GILBERT: Jim Chalmers, your thoughts on this. And in the context of what Martin O'Shannessy said before the break that sixty-five per cent of the Coalition voters, of Mr Turnbull's supporters, back the idea as well. So politically, doesn't it make sense in that regard to start the campaign?

JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FINANCIAL SERVICES AND SUPERANNUATION: The overwhelming message from this poll, Kieran, is that people are indifferent to the ABCC. There's a very good reason why they're indifferent and that's because it doesn't accord with their own priorities. They'd be scratching their heads; they heard Malcolm Turnbull promise new economic leadership and all we're getting here is a continuation of Abbott era obsessions, combined with policies written and authorised by the big end of town, and then some pale imitations of Labor policies. This is one of the reasons why people are so disappointed with Malcolm Turnbull, they had high expectations for him and now all we're getting is this ideological obsession with the ABCC when there are so many other challenges and issues that should be addressed. The ABCC shouldn't be the primary focus of the Turnbull Government, but unfortunately it is.

GILBERT: But you know that once the campaign is underway, this forms part of a broader economic narrative, Jim Chalmers.

CHALMERS: No doubt the Liberal Party and Malcolm Turnbull will throw millions of dollars trying to make this an issue, but what that poll shows and what each member who's in touch with their community around the country knows is that people are indifferent to the ABCC. They don't see it as a high priority. They're very puzzled why the Prime Minister sees it as such a high priority. It doesn't accord with what he promised when he said that he would provide new economic leadership, instead we've got this obsession.

GILBERT: If Jim is right on that, Zed Seselja, is it the way that you want to start such a marathon campaign with something that people are sort of scratching their head about?

SESELJA: The good news is Jim's wrong. He's clearly wrong because as I say, when you've got three quarters of those who have formed a judgement about it supporting our policy, I've got no doubt that as more people turn their minds to it, you will see those numbers increase. So that's a very strong number when you see three quarters, 44 per cent in favour, 26 per cent against. And yes, there are undecideds, but they will be hearing during the campaign about how we can clean up those sites and ensure we see jobs growth and see economic growth in the construction industry and beyond.

GILBERT: Jim, just quickly if you want to respond to that.

CHALMERS: If the Liberal Party think this is a higher priority than making our schools better, or saving Medicare, or making the tax system fairer, they are even more out of touch than people feared.

SESELJA: You know, Kieran, the reality is this -- when you look at our economic plan in terms of growing jobs and the economy, which is absolutely critical because if you don't grow the economy and grow jobs, you can't deliver any of those services. This is an important part of it.

GILBERT: Well let's look at this other revenue question that Labor is looking at the moment, Jim Chalmers, the suggestion that the high income deficit levy which was put in place for three years by the Coalition Government, that Labor is considering keeping this for the longer term. Is that right, this story in The Australian today?

CHALMERS: The important point about that story, Kieran, is that as it stands right now, despite all the tough talk from Scott Morrison and others about dealing with bracket creep, the only people that will currently get a tax cut in the years ahead, at the moment, as it stands, are people earning more than $180,000. We've already got a whole stack of tax policy out there. We've been making the running on fairer taxes in this country. Any further announcements that we make or don't make, will be made after careful consideration and consultation. It's not for me to announce tax policy on this show, but we've got …

GILBERT: So you're obviously open to that idea.

CHALMERS: … form, we've got runs on the board when it comes to announcing carefully considered tax policy. It's not something I'm prepared to announce today, but we will consider and consult as we have with all of our other tax policies. But as it stands right now, the only people getting a tax cut are people earning more than 180 grand per year.

GILBERT: Zed Seselja, your response to that, particularly if the Labor Party did move on that front, extend this deficit levy and use that to provide tax cuts at the medium to lower end of the income scale.

SESELJA: The problem with Labor is that even the massive tax increases that they've announced won't cover their spending. So even though they want to tax us an extra hundred billion dollars over the next ten years and if what Jim suggesting here is right, maybe that's an extra twenty billion over ten years, then even with that extra taxing, they still increase the deficit because of all the spending that they're committed to. So Labor does have a plan, Jim is absolutely right that Labor has a plan for higher taxes, higher taxes when it comes to housing, whether it's the family home seeing the value reduce, whether it's investment, higher taxes on people's superannuation, higher taxes across the board.

CHALMERS: You're going to copy the superannuation tax changes, and tobacco!

SESELJA: We're not touching people's nest eggs, Jim, as you're well aware. But let's just be clear here, they do have a plan for much, much higher taxes. So you would expect they would increase a range of taxes. Unfortunately, with all of their spending, the deficit still increase.

GILBERT: It looks like, before we get back to Jim, I want to ask Zed Seselja another one about this story about the industrial umpire set to rule on penalty rates and particularly Sunday penalty rates in the face of the demand by employers that they be reduced. And that ruling could come in the next month or so, that would not be great timing, would it, in the lead-up to a July 2 election? It's not something that Mr Turnbull wants to have as a front and centre issue in this election campaign, surely?

SESELJA: The timing obviously is not a matter for the Government. But what I would say is the process that we have in place is the process put in place by the Labor Party. And in fact, the review of penalty rates is something that Bill Shorten specifically put in the Act. So the reason that is being reviewed, the reason that is being looked at is because of Bill Shorten. So I guess if there are changes under any recommendations, or if there is a recommendation for changes, it will be as a result of Bill Shorten's processes.

GILBERT: He was the Workplace Minister in the Labor Government that put in place this mechanism, Jim Chalmers. That's true, isn't it?

CHALMERS: It's laughable for Zed to try and pretend that whatever they think about penalty rates is somehow Labor's fault. We know already, because Malcolm Turnbull has said so, that he wants to cut penalty rates on Sundays. We know that the Turnbull Government doesn't believe in penalty rates. They don't understand that's how a lot of people in our community make ends meet, with penalty rates. And what we'll see, if the Turnbull Government is re-elected, and especially if they get control of the Senate, is we'll see a big push to cut penalty rates. We'll see a big push to go back to the work contracts that were part of WorkChoices. All of these sorts of things. They are desperate to clamp down on workers' entitlements and workers' rights in the workplace. That's what we're seeing now. They can blame all they like the Productivity Commission or Labor or anybody else, but we know that's what they believe because the Prime Minister said so.

GILBERT: They're obviously... That might be the case as you argued it this morning, obviously Zed would disagree with the way you've characterised it, but there are also, Zed Seselja, reports that the Government is not going to push ahead with more flexibility in workplace contracts as well. This again, I guess, shows that the Coalition is a bit cautious on this front in the wake of the whole WorkChoices debacle for the Coalition.

SESELJA: Well obviously that's a matter for the Minister to answer. But I would say that it does appear that there are a range of issues with that proposal and perhaps a lot more complexity than one would think. And so, you know, in the end we want to see our workplaces be as efficient and effective as possible. We want the best possible conditions for workers. 

CHALMERS: Rubbish.

SESELJA: If those mechanisms won't deliver either of these goals, it's unlikely we would adopt it.

GILBERT: You can see from the Government's message, Jim Chalmers, it's a pretty simple message -- it's about jobs and growth. That's going to be fairly well-received if they can prosecute that mantra within the next ten weeks.

CHALMERS: Well, the sum-total of that agenda is the ABCC which your poll shows people are entirely indifferent to. We've got a whole range of positive policies out there to fund health and education, to underwrite growth into the future, for jobs which are well-paying jobs. Zed just said then that they want the best possible conditions for workers at the same time as they want to cut their penalty rates! And the story that you referred to about the Government shelving temporarily their plans for more draconian workplace laws is not because they've all of a sudden understood the impact that has on working class people and people in the middle of the Australian economy, but because it's too hard politically. And what we know from that is if they were to win the election, and particularly if they were to control the Senate, then all of that would come back and so would a fifteen per cent GST.

GILBERT: Just quickly, we're almost out of time.

SESELJA: Jim, you say you want to grow the economy with a hundred billion dollars’ worth of extra taxes. That's not a good way to grow the economy, it's a way to slow the economy.

CHALMERS: Have you not been reading the papers Zed? You are going to copy our tax policies on super and tobacco!

SESELJA: We're not going to have a hundred billion dollars in new taxes, mate.

GILBERT: We're going to have to ring the bell, fellas. Have a good day, Jim Chalmers and Zed Seselja. We've got to wrap it up there. See you in just a moment.

CHALMERS: See you guys.

SESELJA: Thanks Kieran.