Doorstop: Sydney - Tony Abbott & Joe Hockey’s second Budget to save their own jobs

04 May 2015




MONDAY, 4 MAY 2015


SUBJECT/S: Tony Abbott & Joe Hockey’s second Budget to save their own jobs; Justice Minister’s Ministerial Directive to the AFP.


SHORTEN: Good afternoon everyone, it’s fantastic to be in the hallowed halls of Sydney University, talking at the McKell Institute about what Australians want to see come out of the Budget, which is in eight days’ time. I outlined the test which Labor will apply to the Abbott-Hockey Budget. One, is the Budget about the future? Two, is it honest and responsible? And three, is it fair? What Australians want is a blueprint for the next ten years; they don’t want a plan which is about saving Tony Abbott’s job by the end of this year. So Labor will apply a constructive filter, and we’ll stand up for millions of Australians who were so hard-hit in the last Budget, we're determined to stand up for them again this year. Happy to take questions.


JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, do you honestly think that economic growth is the only way to balance the Budget moving forward?


SHORTEN: I think that economic growth has to be central to any strategy for the economy. The Budget is not the only part of the economy, but what we need to see is a Budget generating confidence. There is no doubt there have to be tough decisions that get made, but there is a big difference between a tough decision and an unfair decision. Labor has broken the political mould by putting forward policies to look at winding back some of the excessively generous concessions that a very small proportion of the Australian population enjoys at the top end of superannuation. We've also encouraged the Government, and offered them our ideas, to go hard against foreign multinationals who are gaming the Australian tax laws. These are hard issues and it’s against the political wisdom for an Opposition to put their views out so early, but I think it is important.


But there is a big difference between tough and unfair. There is no way that Australians or Labor will support GP taxes and attacks on Medicare. It is well overdue that the Government drop their cuts to the pension and we certainly don't support their cuts to family benefits of up to $6,000. Labor is always willing to be constructive and that's why this morning I made it very clear that we're willing to work on the Renewable Energy Target - even though the Abbott Government has broken their promise - we're more interested in saving jobs and investments and making sure that Australia has a future, which includes solar energy and renewables in the next 10 years. That’s why we’ll be constructive.


JOURNALIST: What do you make of the reports this morning Mr Shorten that the deficit levy could be gone in this coming Budget after 2017, and also no GST on goods purchased online under $1,000. Would you be supportive of those measures?


SHORTEN: There’s the Government going again with thought bubbles in substitute for well-argued and reasoned policy. They’ve been telling everyone in sundry and industry that they’re going to lower the GST threshold for online purchases and they've just put that in the too-hard basket, and also we see discussions about increases to the highest level of personal income tax that they've put on. I mean , this is a Government who has always got a strategy for the top end of town, but no strategy for the rest of us. In terms of what we will support, I think the Government just needs to do its homework, tell Australians of what it's doing - not a process of selective leaks of half thought-out ideas which they then retreat from as soon as they get the first whiff of political gunpowder in their nostrils.


JOURNALIST: Would you like to see the deficit levy continue?


SHORTEN: Well first of all I’d like to see what the numbers in the Budget are. I’m not going to start putting up all the propositions of the Government. We've done a fair bit of the Government's homework. I would like to see the Government adopt our approach, going after the multinationals, not putting them in the too-hard basket. I’d like the Government to do something about the biggest worst kept secret in town, which is the excessively generous superannuation contributions which have turned superannuation – for the lucky few on many millions – turned superannuation from a comfortable retirement into a legalised tax haven in Australia.


JOURNALIST: When will the Labor Government deliver a Budget surplus?


SHORTEN: First of all we have to be in Government. I think the question though that should be asked of the Abbott Government is that – they’ve now been in power about 604, 605 days, when will they stop blaming Labor around every corner for everything that this Government hasn't done? We saw before the last election, the Abbott Opposition said they’d deliver a surplus, no worries, then we saw it stretch out while they’ve been in Government to one year, to three years, to sometime in the future, to Treasury saying not in the next 40 years. So I think this Government’s got a lot of explaining to do to Australians. Last year, they got the economy wrong. They just got it wrong. They went after lower-income people - cutting pensions, GP taxes, $100,000 degrees, family payments on the line.


Remember they were going to make unemployed people under 30 go six months with no money at all. They were so blatantly unfair that Australians rejected it. Now this year, Tony Abbott, the best he can do - because he’s so focused on saving his job and not much else – is he says that it will be ‘dull’. Australia doesn't need a dull Tony Abbott, what we need is a plan for the future.


JOURNALIST: Can I ask what is needed - more spending cuts or tax increases?


SHORTEN: What's needed is the Government to keep its election promises, what’s needed is the Government not to attack low-paid people. I put forward our tests very clearly and I - like you - wait to see what it really is, not their selective leaks, not Scott Morrison using childcare to grab Joe Hockey's job, or Tony Abbott using childcare to keep his own job. We've said they should be responsible and fair, and should be about the future, not a nip and tuck here and there where they're desperately trying to hold onto their jobs in the caucus room. The only reform that they can think of is one that's unfair to most people.


JOURNALIST: This morning Tony Abbott said that the Government has been able to save about $3 billion or so over the forward estimates as a result of its asylum seeker policy. Is this something that Labor will continue if you were to win Government?


SHORTEN: Well, I will give some tips to Tony Abbott. He could save north of $20 billion by taking up our changes to multinationals and superannuation. Tony Abbott needs to stop focusing on political point scoring against Labor. He has been in office for 604 days. When will the man do his day job and stop blaming everyone else, and start working in the long-term interests of Australia? Simple test by Labor - is it fair? Is it honest and responsible? Does it help us in the future, where we’re seeing the great transition from the mining boom to the non-mining sector, we’re seeing the rise of age and the digital disruption, the equal treatment of women long overdue, we’ve got an ageing society – we’ve got to make sure that we are a services-based society so we can capture the great new middle class of Asia. That's the game in town ladies and gentleman, it’s the future. Tony Abbott has got to answer the future test.


JOURNALIST: But given the savings that Operation Sovereign Borders - the Government says - have been achieved, is it a policy that Labor would continue with if you were to win government next year?


SHORTEN: Well, I don't accept the assumption – you’re asserting numbers, we haven’t seen them yet.  Let’s see what they look like in the Budget. But in the meantime, I just invite Tony Abbott to take up our constructive suggestions. We remember the long years of Tony Abbott as Opposition Leader. Did you ever see him offering billions of dollars of bipartisan agreement to make sure that this country can do better in the future? Billions of dollars proposed by Labor. Tough areas, superannuation concessions for the mega-wealthy, looking at multinational taxation. Australians don't understand why Tony Abbott make wants to make it harder for working-class kids to go to university, why he insists on trashing bulk-billing and Medicare, why on earth he’s still persisting with cuts to the pension indexation rate, which are real cuts to pensioners, and yet on the other hand when we say, "Here is some money," he needs to be dragged kicking and screaming to the table to go after the top end of town, but he’s always got a plan to put his hand in the pocket of middle Australia.


JOURNALIST: You were saying before that you’ve got three tests that you are going to apply to the Abbott Government’s Budget, if the savings measures that they propose don’t meet those tests, are you committed to blocking them?


SHORTEN: Well, first of all, let's see what they do. We all know that last year’s Budget was a complete disaster.  It was the biggest train wreck of budgets of recent decades, and they’ve complained, you know, a few people have complained that somehow the Australian people are selfish, they’re not up for reform or that the Parliament is being selfish. It's not selfish to want to defend Medicare, it’s not unreasonable for the Australian people to be against pension cuts or $100,000 university degrees for the vast bulk of Australian students in the future.


No, I think the ball is in Tony Abbott's court. The question is, does he only have two gears - dull and do nothing and save his job, or extreme ideology. Does he have the wit and wisdom to learn over the last twelve months - stop being negative, stop blaming everyone else. Pick up the good ideas, we're willing to be bipartisan, and I hope today that he takes up our deal on the Renewable Energy Targets and maybe tomorrow to put Australia in a more confident mood, he drops his rotten cuts to the pension. Last question.


JOURNALIST: The Bali Nine – the AFP had their media conference today, they've continued to defend their position, and essentially have said that they still need to work with countries which do have the death penalty.


SHORTEN: And the question is?


JOURNALIST: Well, what do you make of what the AFP have had to say?


SHORTEN: Well I’ll need to see what they've actually said. I have been obviously here with you giving this speech, and what I’ll have to do is look at the transcript of what they've said. What we’d make clear though is we don’t understand why the Federal Government dropped their Direction of the federal police in terms of opposing the death penalty. There may be a very reasonable explanation for this. It has been a very hard time for the families of the two men who were executed, I'm very conscious of the AFP not being caught as the meat in the sandwich here, but on the other hand, I’ll read the transcript. But I do think there is an opportunity for the Liberal Government and the Labor Opposition to work together to campaign against the death penalty in countries where it currently exists.


Thanks, everyone.