21 April 2014
Transcript - #2014006, 2014

Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News AM Agenda

SUBJECTS: The Budget and the death of Neville Wran

GILBERT:

With us on the program we've got Liberal frontbencher Steve Ciobo and also Labor frontbencher Andrew Leigh. Now Andrew Leigh first to you, on Neville Wran, described by one person this morning, Troy Bramston - the author and journalist, as the greatest ever Labor leader either state or federal. How do you reflect on the contribution of the former premier?

LEIGH:

He was pretty extraordinary Kieran, and Malcolm Turnbull reminded us once again why he really ought to be the parliamentary eulogist. There's no one better to encapsulate a life than Malcolm. In the area of law reform, he just dusted off the cobwebs after a decade of conservative rule in New South Wales, with things like the decriminalisation of homosexuality, stopping smoking on public transport, four-year terms and an elected legislative council. These sorts of things that we just regard as basic and fundamental. Then at the same time, the national parks in the north-east of New South Wales; investing in infrastructure and hospitals and schools – ahead of inflation in eight out of the nine years of the his term and then to step down while he was the top of his game. Since World War Two, only Menzies has done that from the Prime Ministership. There's a few other Premiers, Carr, Bracks, Beattie who managed to do it but as Malcolm has noted, it's a rare thing to step down voluntarily from the top office.

JOURNALIST:

Steve Ciobo as we remember the life and legacy of Mr Wran, that is a valid point; that's rare for political leaders to leave on the top as he did in the mid '80s.

CIOBO:

Well Kieran, the reality is politics is a hard business. So I think with the passing of Neville Wran, whether on the Liberal side or Labor side, or whatever your involvement is with politics or someone who is a student of politics or has an interest in politics, it takes a lot of gutso, a lot of determination and a lot of hard work to rise to the top on any side of the political aisle so in that respect, of course, we honour Neville Wran and the contribution he made to NSW especially.

JOURNALIST:

Steve Ciobo, Andrew Leigh stay where you are. We have to take a quick break and will be back to talk about the other political issues of the day. Stay with us.

JOURNALIST:

This is AM Agenda, thanks for your company. With me this morning is Andrew Leigh and Steve Ciobo. Steve Ciobo to you, there's a bit of budget speculation around this morning in The Australian newspaper 'pension asset test safe from PM's axe.' Mr Abbott, according to The Australian, arguing very strongly that the asset test should not be changed, at least before the next election because that would be a broken promise. Is that a fair assessment?

CIOBO:

You know Kieran there's always this speculation about what's going to be in the Budget, what's not going to be in the Budget and the media whip themselves up into a frenzy about what might be and what may not not be, I think let's get down to brass tacks. We have a very big repair job to do in this year's Budget and it's just not this year's Budget, it's going to be future budgets as well. We know that under Labor we saw the fastest growth in debt in this nation compared to basically every other developed country in the world. That's Labor's legacy – $123 billion worth of deficits, $667 billion worth of debt is the forecast. So what we've got to do is make changes that do a couple of things. One; put the Budget back onto a fiscally sustainable position and secondly; we need to make sure we honour our election commitments. We said we were going to do that. We will honour our election commitments and we'll do it in a way that sets us apart from Labor's track record where they said one thing before the election but delivered something entirely different after the election. We won't do that; we'll honour our commitments but we'll repair the mess Labor left behind.

JOURNALIST:

Is it inevitable though that things like the asset test and so on need to be looked at in the medium to longer term if the budget is going to be put on a sustainable footing because as it stands, it's taking up a big big chunk of the overall budget.

CIOBO:

I think the error Kieran is to focus on particular issues. The issue is that we have expenditure that's growing so massively, largely as a consequence of a number of decisions Labor took, and we don't have the revenue to cover it off. Now this isn't a challenge that's unique to Australia, this is actually a challenge that is across the world and last week, for example, the Treasurer and I were in IMF and G20 meetings in Washington and there was a consistent theme across many countries. But the difference is this Kieran; in Australia we fought hard to get Labor to honour their commitments but they took decisions that made our budget situation worse and that's the difference is that every country is struggling with its budget but overseas they're trying to do what they can to try and rein in the budget, to try and get that spending under control, to make the budget sustainable. Here in Australia we're fighting a fight with the Labor party because that's what we're trying to do; we're trying to keep the Budget on a more sustainable footing but it's the Labor Party who keep saying: 'no, keep spending, keep spending! No cuts!' So ridiculous is the situation Kieran that Labor is actually opposing $5 billion in savings that the Labor Party themselves announced; so they're opposing their own announced savings and that just underscores how completely whacky the Labor Party has become when it comes to fiscal restraint.

JOURNALIST:

Andrew Leigh, on the asset test, is it too generous, does it have to be reined in?

LEIGH:

Well Kieran, on the broader picture, people say Mr Abbott doesn't care about manufacturing, but he has manufactured one thing; he has manufactured a budget deficit. He has doubled the deficit since coming to office, adding $68 billion to the deficit. Steve may chuckle but it's just there in black and white…

CIOBO:

Because it's comedy hour from you Andrew.

LEIGH:

So, the effect of doubling the deficit, of going on soft on multinational profit shifting and the other 55 tax measures that they didn't pursue is now that the Coalition has doubled the deficit and needs to look elsewhere to find savings. And in manufacturing the budget crisis they've now put themselves in a position where they're really going to struggle to meet their election promises. And now we have the spectre of a Prime Minister who criss-crossed the country talking about the importance of keeping promises, now looking at breaking promises to pensioners, a solemn pledge the day before the election – no changes to pensions, no cuts to pensions. The Labor Party intends to hold Mr Abbott to account on his promises.

GILBERT:

But it looks like he will be honouring that, according to reports in The Australian today, that he is arguing internally against any change to the assets test and how it works. So he's actually going to be honouring the promises he's made.

LEIGH:

It appears there is one aspect of the pension system where Mr Abbott will honour his promise. But he's not repeating his promise across the board. He is unwilling to say, as he did the day before the election, that there will be no changes to pensions. And now you've got Minister Andrews out there saying that really in order to pay for $75,000 to affluent households to have a child, we have to cut back on support to people with a disabilities, to people with mental illnesses, by tightening tests around disability support.These are twisted priorities indeed Keiran, to say that it's alright to give the most to those who have the most but then at the same time to be cutting back on the most vulnerable. Maurice Newman, the Prime Minister's top business adviser attacked me in The Weekend Australian for caring about equality. But I believe that the 'fair go' is fundamental to who we are as Australians. The notion of means-tested social support is absolutely vital, not a program like parental leave that gives the most to those who have the most.

GILBERT:

Steve Ciobo, the Prime Minister is again, according to a report in The Australian today, the recommendation out of the audit commission apparently is for the Government to amend the Paid Parental Leave scheme, the generous $5.5 billion a year scheme. Tony Abbott is pushing back on that as well. The Commission of Audit incidentally, we're expected to get over the next couple of weeks, but is this something that is defensible while you're trying to make cuts elsewhere? In hindsight, is it something that would have been better not to pursue.

CIOBO:

Kieran, I'm not going to engage in speculation about what the Commission of Audit report says because we will see all that in due course. But I will say this about the Paid Parental Leave scheme: this is a scheme that will empower women to get back into the workforce, to stay engaged in the workforce, to keep being contributors to Australia's tax base. You see, the sad thing about Labor's attack when it comes to the Paid Parental Leave scheme, and we just heard it from Andrew now, they love to play the politics of division. Andrew says 'well, I'm all about a fair go and it's the lowest paid that are missing out while the Abbott's scheme is a Rolls Royce scheme'. The reality is that when you talk about Paid Parental Leave, you're talking about 1.7 per cent of the population. That's it, 1.7 per cent of the population who earn over $100,000 a year that are women. And yet we now have a situation Kieran where we are attempting to put women on a level playing field, to say to women, you are going to get a replacement wage for 26 weeks to keep them in the workforce so that that way they are paying the taxes that the older generations are relying upon on to help fund, for example, the NDIS, to help fund, for example, the pension scheme. These are the kinds of things that are paid for by working taxpayers. These are the kinds of things that need people to stay engaged and Labor might be very happy to walk away from Australian women and say 'you know what, you don't deserve super and you only deserve the minimum wage'. That's not our approach. We say you deserve a replacement wage. We say you deserve to make sure you have superannuation paid as well and what's more Kieran, our policy, and this is the important one, our policy is fully funded. We are not borrowing a dollar to pay for it. It's fully funded; unlike Labor's scheme, where they continue to borrow money hand over fist over I think, $200 million a day to feed their veracious spending they were going on.

GILBERT:

Andrew Leigh, with the ageing population we need as many people in the workforce as possible including as many women, of course, as possible, working mothers. So in this sense, this is something Tony Abbott has argued for very strongly for a long time now and he's not going to back away from it by the look of today's report but really it's really no surprise. He's been sending those signals for a long time.

LEIGH:

Well, the Government keeps on saying it won't rule anything out but in fact it has ruled one thing out, which is changing the gold-plated, diamond-encrusted parental leave scheme which no serious economist says will boost productivity or participation. Take someone like Saul Eslake, a respected economist, who's certainly not a mouthpiece for Labor. Saul has very clearly said that going from the current flat rate parental leave scheme introduced by Labor to a regressive scheme which pays five times as much to the most affluent families is not going to boost productivity or participation. And, yet at the same time, the Government is looking at funding this by taking away supports from pensioners who are getting $20,000 a year..

CIOBO:

That's a complete and outright fabrication Andrew…

GILBERT:

They haven't pursued that…

CIOBO:

It is a complete fabrication.

LEIGH:

It is very clear to anybody who has looked at the front pages of a newspaper recently…

CIOBO:

Get a hold of yourself mate.

LEIGH:

…that the Government is looking at changing the pension age. We had a piece on the front page of The Australian on Saturday, very clearly stating unequivocally that the Government was going to push out the pension age still further.

GILBERT:

But Labor changed the pension age.

CIOBO:

You already did it.

LEIGH:

Labor did two big things in Government. We put in place the biggest increase in the pension since its inception and that took a fifth of the people out of poverty. And then, we had a phased increase in 2017 to 2023 in the pension age. The Coalition is just interested in cutting and is saying to a bricklayer you have to work ages 68, 69, 70. I think that's not particularly fair when you're giving $75,000 to millionaire families to have a child.

GILBERT:

Gentlemen, we're out of time. Thank you for your company this morning, Easter Monday. Happy Easter to you both.