SKY News AM Agenda (1)

09 March 2016



SUBJECT/S: Return of Tony Windsor and Campbell Newman; Election Timing; CommInsure; Negative Gearing; Economic Policy; Objective of Superannuation; Greens Preferences

KIERAN GILBERT: With me this morning to discuss this prospect and the other issues of the day, Liberal Senator Zed Seselja and the Shadow Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation, Jim Chalmers.  Gentlemen, good morning to you both.  Zed, first to you, your thoughts on the prospect of a return for Tony Windsor.

ZED SESELJA:    Well, look, it is a democracy so good luck to him if he wants to put his hand up for the House or the Senate than he is entitled to do so.  If he does put his hand up to challenge Barnaby Joyce, I know who I would be backing to win.  I think Barnaby Joyce is not just well known but very well respected not just in his electorate but right throughout Australia and particularly rural and regional Australia.  So, if Tony Windsor wants to have a go at Barnaby, he is entitled to. If he does go into the Senate I suppose, he will probably be taking a lot of Green votes and maybe he will take a seat away from the Greens.  Who knows.

GILBERT:  Jim Chalmers, your thoughts on that and I should also ask you as well -- it would be remiss of me not to get your thoughts on Campbell Newman as well.  It is front page of the Courier Mail today.  You are from the Federal Seat of Rankin in Brisbane.  He looks like he might be or at least considering running for the seat of Brisbane with Teresa Gambaro announcing she is going to resign at the next election and the Liberals currently hold that seat with a margin of just over 4 per cent Jim.

JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FINANCIAL SERVICES AND SUPERANNUATION:  I think Campbell Newman contemplating a run for Brisbane will send a shudder down the spine of every Queenslander and should send a shudder down the spine of every Australian.  He is the poster child for cuts to schools and hospitals so he would fit right into the Turnbull Government if he was elected.  We have got a terrific candidate in Pat O'Neill.  I expect Pat to win Brisbane.  I think that will be one of the seats we will win on the night.

When it comes to Tony Windsor: Tony is a man of towering integrity.  He is well respected in the bush and right around Australia.  I think whether he decides to run against Barnaby Joyce or in the Senate, I think he will be a very formidable candidate and I hope that he makes a good contribution to Australia again after the election.

GILBERT:  And you hear Jim with a very positive appraisal of Tony Windsor, this is the individual Zed Seselja who once was a member of the National Party many moons ago.

SESELJA:  He has moved a long way from there.  He has sort of spent a career hating the National Party I think when he didn't get pre-selection many, many years ago.  As I say, I am not surprised that the Labor Party, GetUp! and the Greens would back him very strongly.

CHALMERS:  All that bitterness Zed!

SESELJA:  He definitely drifted to the Left in his time in politics and he is entitled to do that.  People are entitled to change their views but we shouldn't pretend he is a Conservative.

GILBERT:  What about Campbell Newman?  Should he run for Brisbane, Senator Seselja?

SESELJA:  Well look, I have got the greatest of respect for Campbell.  You know, it is not an easy job being Premier and you know, Campbell would have acknowledged that he made mistakes as Premier but he also did a lot of good things.  So, you know, Campbell has made a significant contribution to Australian public life and I for one, if he wants to make a further contribution through the Federal Parliament, I would be very happy to see it.

GILBERT:  We spoke about the seats - you suggested Labor might pick up Brisbane and another one you would be hoping to pick up is Hindmarsh in Adelaide.  The Prime Minister there last night, Jim Chalmers, having a beer with locals at the Royal Hotel and the campaign still a couple of months away but it feels like it already.  Certainly July 2 is shaping as the likely date it seems.

CHALMERS:  I think one of the reasons for the growing disappointment with Malcolm Turnbull is the farce that has become of this election year.  He stumbles from one photo opportunity to the next without coming up with any economic plan.  The Government’s own ministers don't even know when the Budget will be.  It has become a real farce as the economic policy making machinery in this country has ground to a halt while Malcolm is at the pub. He should spend his time coming up with a plan, locking in the Budget, providing the economic leadership that he promised.  Instead, we have just got this farcical feeding and fuelling of election speculation.

GILBERT:  Senator Seselja, your response to that given we are still most likely a couple of weeks away from seeing any detail of the tax plan and then the Budget talk of possibly May 3 but the scheduled date of May 10 for the Budget?

SESELJA:  Well look, there are some petty criticisms here, I have got to say. I mean, are we saying that Malcolm shouldn't be going and meeting people in pubs and cafes and various things?  I mean, that is what Prime Ministers do, that is what politicians do.  I think that is a good thing to do.  When it comes to our policies, what we’re doing is getting our policies right and that is what I am particularly pleased about is that we are taking the time to get policies right not rush them as Labor has. 

CHALMERS:  Taking your time? It has been two and a half years Zed!

SESELJA:  Well hang on.  Labor has got pats on the back from some of the insiders but they have produced some of the most diabolical policies in their attack on housing.

CHALMERS:  Channelling your inner Peter Dutton!

SESELJA:  Well, you know, this is a dangerous policy and we will be highlighting that and Labor members who I have spoken to in their honest moments can't quite believe that they have gone ahead with this policy.

CHALMERS:  What a load of rot!

GILBERT:  I want to get back to this and Jim Chalmers, I will get your thoughts on that in a moment and you refer to Peter Dutton and we will get your reactions to that after the break.  Let's take a break.  Back in just a moment.  We will explore that and other policy issues of the day.

GILBERT: This is AM Agenda.  With me this morning is Shadow Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation, Jim Chalmers.  Liberal Senator Zed Seselja.  Jim, your reaction, we touched on a bit of it before the break - you are saying that Zed is channelling his inner Peter Dutton alluding to the comments of Mr Dutton warning about the impact of Labor's negative gearing policy and your reduction of the capital gains tax exemptions for investors.  In detail though, do you have any guarantee to individuals that there won't be a significant impact to the housing market or is Labor just hoping that that is the case?

CHALMERS:  Look, the credible people who have spent a lifetime looking at these issues have analysed our policy and think that prices will continue to rise in a more sustainable way.  That is on the public record.  The wheels fell off the Liberal Party's scare campaign on negative gearing some weeks ago and every day they try and sticky tape them back on but it is not particularly effective. 

When it comes to Peter Dutton, nobody takes him especially seriously, particularly when it comes to the economy.  It is disappointing to see Zed channel his inner Peter Dutton. Even Mathias Cormann, when asked about it last night, refused to back in Peter Dutton.  And I will make this prediction Kieran - as we get closer to the election and as it becomes more and more apparent that the Liberal Party doesn't have an economic plan of their own, we will see more and more of this pushing out of the Government’s lesser lights to make outrageous claims about our polices.  And that is what we saw with Peter Dutton.  It should be laughed away and not repeated like Zed repeated just a moment ago.  Nobody takes it seriously.  The people who know their stuff know that this is a desperate scare campaign; the wheels have already come off it.

GILBERT:  Is it too much for Mr Dutton to say -- he quoted Tony Abbott saying that this was a housing tax, Senator Seselja, and it would cripple the economy?

SESELJA:  Well it is a housing tax and it is going to have a massive impact there is no doubt about it. 

GILBERT:  Cripple the economy – is that too much?

SESELJA:  Jim might not like but there is a little bit of rope-a-dope here.  Labor has gone out thinking that they are on to something when they have produced one of the most damaging policies we have seen. 

CHALMERS:  There is a dope, you are right.

SESELJA:  When even your supporters like the Grattan Institute say it could see house prices drop by up to 10 per cent.  It is designed to do that. It is designed to lower the values of people’s homes.

CHALMERS: You sound more and more desperate every day.  Come up with a plan of your own and we will debate it then.

SESELJA:  I will say this to you Jim, I would be very, very happy to fight the election on this issue.

CHALMERS:  Well what is  your policy Zed?

SESELJA:  If this becomes the major issue of the election, then bring it on.

CHALMERS:  But Kieran, doesn't that say it all about this election year that what Zed wants this to be an election about is about one Labor policy?  Doesn't that say it all about the absence of economic leadership on the Liberal Party side?  It is just extraordinary whether it is Peter Dutton, Zed Seselja, the Prime Minister himself - they are so bereft of any ideas about the economy that all they want to do is talk about Labor's policy.  We are proud of our policy.  We put it out in advance because we wanted people to understand it properly.  It is five minutes to midnight in an election year and the Government still doesn't have any economic policies.  It is quite extraordinary.  And they are feeding all this speculation about an early election at the same time as they don't have anything to say about the most important issue which is economic policy.

GILBERT:  The understanding is that there will be a tax plan by April I am told, after Easter, and Zed Seselja, to be fair to Jim's critique there, it cannot come before time for the Government to fill this vacuum.

SESELJA:  Well as I say, our plan is not to go out there and do what Labor has done. But what we will do is get our policies right. If you look at all the policies we have implemented, it has been about lowering the overall tax burden-

CHALMERS: Tax has gone up, of course.

SESELJA: So getting rid of the carbon tax, getting rid of the mining tax, lowing small business taxes, instant tax asset write off -

CHALMERS: Which was our policy.

SESELJA:  It is all about growing jobs - 300,000 jobs in the last year; 2.6 per cent employment growth, much higher than the decade long average at very challenging times.  So, if you look at that, that is what we are on about.  But when it comes to the specifics of tax changes: yes, we are taking the time to get them right.  That is absolutely right that we do that because the alternative is what we have seen from Labor.  And Jim says well we want people to have lots of time to appreciate it, well, they will have lots of time and when they do start to consider the impact on their home, the impact on investment, the impact on jobs and on confidence, they are not going to support that policy.

GILBERT:  Now you have got, as the Shadow Superannuation spokesperson, you have seen the comments from Kelly O'Dywer, the Assistant Treasurer, she has put out a paper on superannuation questioning some of the core tenets of super as it was established in saying that she wants this to be discussed as to whether or not it is sustainable within its current framework as a national savings pool as opposed to replacing pensions and that sort of thing.  Give us your take on what she has said in the last 24 hours.

CHALMERS:  Well, I welcome the release of that discussion paper.  We welcomed it yesterday and we welcome it now.  I think we have been calling for some time for the nation to define and enshrine in law the purpose of superannuation. I think that is an important benchmark that you can then measure all of the various policies against because once you work out what super is for, all of the various arrangements underneath that hang off that.  So we did welcome that.  Chris Bowen I think almost a year ago put out our suggestion for the purpose of super which is for as many Australians as possible, a decent retirement without recourse to the full age pension.  So we are playing a very constructive role in what we think is an important development.  That is our view about what superannuation is about. 

We are also putting our money where our mouth is and so we say that the tax concessions at the top end of super are very unfair and poorly targeted.  They do contribute to the situation that Kelly was criticising yesterday around estate planning and all of those sorts of things.  So we have put our money where our mouth is with policy. The one unfortunate thing is that -- even though we welcome the release of the discussion paper -- the one unfortunate thing is that this is another case of where the government says one thing and does another.  They say that they don't want super to be an estate planning vehicle but they are yet to have any policies which really do fix or begin to fix the poorly targeted and unfair concessions at the very top end of super.  We want to see them pick up Labor's policy to do that because we think that is an important step in making the superannuation system fairer and targeting it towards what it is supposed to be which is a decent retirement income for as many Australians as possible.

GILBERT:  And this is, the paper suggests as much, that superannuation is meant to help fund a person’s retirement. It is not for unlimited wealth accumulation. In that context then, Senator Seselja, what is your take on where the Government is at and where it should go in terms of reigning in some of the concessions on super which the Minister yesterday described as a gift from government, not necessarily a right?

SESELJA:  Well, there are two different aspects.  There is the retirement phase which Labor said they will tax in an increasing way because I don't think they have indexed that so more and more people will see the retirement phase taxed when those inputs have already been taxed. Then there are where there are other contributions.  And I think the contributions obviously are taxed at a concessional rate and that has been a positive broadly but that is something that can be looked at and certainly in the context of looking at ways of delivering income tax cuts to workers now, I am certainly of the view that it is a reasonable discussion to say to a worker, well  you can have your inputs into superannuation taxed a little bit higher than they are now but still probably still in a concessional way but you can have income tax relief right now and you can choose whether to spend that money, whether to invest or to save that money.  I think that that fits with our Liberal Party principals of choice and I think that that is a very important discussion to  have.

GILBERT:  Well that looks like that is where the Government is heading through the Treasurer at this stage but as I say, we are still a few weeks away from that statement I am told.  After Easter is when we are going to get the details of it. Let’s look at a few other things now. Jim Chalmers, I know you were very vocal on this issue of CommInsure and the scandal around that particular arm of the Commonwealth Bank.  Quite extraordinary and you are calling for a Royal Commission into this and how broad do you see that as a potential in terms of looking at the life insurance industry more generally?

CHALMERS:  Look, no Australian should be treated in the disgraceful way that CommInsure treated its customers in those instances which were aired earlier in the week.  Our position on a Royal Commission is first we need to make sure that ASIC has what it needs to properly investigate and get to the bottom of the issues here.  At the same time, we need the CEO of the Commonwealth Bank, Ian Narev, to front up to the Senate Inquiry so that the Senate has the best opportunity to get to the bottom of that.  If, at the end of those two processes, a Royal Commission is warranted, then we have said we are prepared to talk to the Government about that. 

GILBERT:  Okay, and Senator Seselja, your thoughts on this one of your colleagues. Wacka Williams on the forefront of this campaign in relation to this very poor, disgusting behaviour in some respects by this institution?

SESELJA:  Look, there is no excuse for some of this behaviour and it is right that people are brought to account.  Australians need to have some confidence in corporations when they are dealing with them and look I think the work that Wacka Williams is doing is outstanding.  I think he is bringing some of this to light and he has broadened I think the Inquiry he is undertaking.  So let’s see how that goes as to what is needed further.  But it is very important these things are brought to light.

GILBERT:  Only a few minutes left.  I want to just touch one final issue which could have ramifications for a number of seats in Sydney and Melbourne particularly.  This relates to the prospect of a preference deal between the Liberals and the Greens.  Senator Seselja, your thoughts on that?  Do you feel comfortable with doing preferences with Greens even if it is going to hurt some of the Labor members of the House of Representatives potentially?

SESELJA:  Well I have always been one to argue that the starting point is that we put the Greens last and that continues to be my position but when the Labor Party looks more and more like the Greens, it does become more difficult for people like myself to make that argument within the Coalition. The Labor Party, when it comes to higher taxes, when it comes to their links to dodgy unions, when it comes to bashing Israel on foreign policy, they are closer and closer to The Greens. And so these days, the Labor Party appears to be a lot closer to Bob Brown than to Bob Hawke and if they were closer to Bob Hawke, it would be much easier. Those of who argue to put the Greens last will find it increasingly difficult if the likes of Anthony Albanese who now wants the Liberal Party's help keep drifting to the left and taking the Labor Party closer to the Greens' positions.

GILBERT: Jim Chalmers, any reflections on that, given the prospect of a deal and particularly in Melbourne and Sydney in a couple of seats, that could have some ramifications for sitting Labor members?

CHALMERS: I just think it's laughable, Kieran, that they rant and rail against the Greens while they do all these backroom deals with them. And they've done a backroom deal to change the Senate voting, they've done a backroom deal on preferences. It's just another instance where they say one thing and do something entirely different. I think if you're a Green voter in Sydney or Melbourne or indeed, anywhere in the country, you'd want to think very carefully before you preference the Party that doesn't want to take meaningful action on climate change, has got a farcical position on marriage equality -- the list goes on and on. I think that Greens voters would be smarter than to preference a party which is so contrary to their interests, a party who rails against them publicly and then meets with them privately behind closed doors to cut all these sorts of dodgy deals.

GILBERT: Jim Chalmers, Shadow Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation, and Liberal Senator Zed Seselja. Gentlemen, thanks for that this morning and have a good day.