12 May 2019

SUNDAY, 12 MAY 2019 

Subjects: Election policy costings; unsustainable tax subsidies; negative gearing; house prices; wages; Newstart; Senate cross bench; News Corp; ABC funding; electorate of Higgins.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Bill Shorten good morning and welcome.


CASSIDY: And happy birthday, 52 today.

SHORTEN: And I should actually say Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers of Australia.

CASSIDY: Okay let's start with your costings that came out during the week. Bigger surpluses delivered faster and yet increased spending across the board. Can you understand why some commentators are saying it's all too good to be true. 

SHORTEN: Well we're actually just producing a better set of books than the current Liberal government. We've made the difficult economic reform decisions. We're going to stop spending taxpayer money on subsidies to the very well off and the top end of town. So by making that decision we can get to the magic trifecta for Australian budget, Australian economy in the future. The trifecta being, one, we can reverse all the cuts to schools and hospitals that this government has made. We can, two, provide on the 1st of July tax cuts for 10 million working Australians and indeed for 4 million lower paid Australians better than the Government's offering. And, three, we can get bigger surpluses which are a national fighting fund to deal with whatever the world economy might show to us in the next 10 years.

CASSIDY: But to be able to do that doesn't that demonstrate the size of the hit that some of these individuals are going to have to take?

SHORTEN: Not at all. What it demonstrates is that a few Australians have been getting a lot of taxpayer money spent on them and a lot of Australians have been not getting that priority. This election is all about choices. I'm choosing to shut down unsustainable tax giveaways to the lucky few and instead use some of that to improve the bottom line of the budget and use some of that to provide tax cuts for 10 million Australians and use some of that to make sure that I - I want the best hospitals in the world. I want the best schools in the world, the best TAFE, the best kindergartens, the best childcare, the best pensioner dental. It's all about priorities. I can do these things which are going to be great for the vast bulk of Australians because I'm going to stop spending taxpayer money. I mean when we spend on pensioners for their dental care or $2,000 per child for a household for childcare that money is already being spent but just being spent on other people. It's being spent on the top end of town in unsustainable subsidies.

CASSIDY: But it's not just the top end of the town. There are others that are going to be caught up in this that are hardly the top end of the town. In terms of the franking credits and the negative gearing.

SHORTEN: Well first of all let's talk about negative gearing. Our changes are not retrospective. So if you're someone who's invested under the current tax laws - fine. You will still keep getting a taxpayer subsidy if you make a loss on your property investment. In terms of the franking credits we are shutting down an unsustainable subsidy. By that, in plain English, what happens is that people who own shares are getting an income tax refund even though they haven't paid income tax. See the money you get from the shares is income but in retirement that's not taxed. But what happens is - and millions of Australians don't even know this exists and they're quite amazed that it does. We are currently getting taxes off millions of Australians who go to work and we're paying those taxes, which the people who go to work every day pay, and we're giving it back to people, in the form of a tax refund, who haven't paid tax. How can you give an income tax refund to someone who hasn't paid tax Barrie?

CASSIDY: Just back on the negative gearing though. What does your modelling tell you about what will happen to house prices as a result of this.

SHORTEN: What our experts say - and it's not just the think tanks who talk to us but even New South Wales Treasury - what they're all saying is that our changes in the future prospectively will have a minimal, a negligible impact on house prices. What we're simply doing -

CASSIDY: So a minimal means a small fall in housing prices.

SHORTEN: Treasury said in the turnover of houses it would have an impact between 0.3 per cent and 1 per cent. That passes the minimal test. But the point about our, the reason why we're doing the negative gearing is first of all if you're currently negatively geared you get a taxpayer subsidy if your investment makes a loss. Now that's nice that you can get it but it's not sustainable going forward. But no changes for the existing people. Going forward though Barrie it's all about choices. I want to see first home buyers be able to bid for houses and not face the unfair competition of a property investor who is getting a taxpayer subsidy to bid for that house. And it won't have the impact on house prices. I mean I predict Barrie the government's going to run a scare campaign on this. I mean we've seen their absolute rubbish and lies on death taxes. We've seen their absolute rubbish and lies that we're going to confiscate people's utes in 2030. Their absolute rubbish and lies that we're going to end the weekend. And this is just another piece of rubbish and lie. I mean if you want to look at house price falls it's happened under this government.

CASSIDY: Let's go back to the costings and you're talking here about a record surplus in monetary terms about four years from now, right. But that can very quickly disappear. Let's take for example, you're already talking about subsidising wages in the private sector, in the childcare sector. If you go beyond that that will cost more money, billions?

SHORTEN: Well we're not going to. When you say the childcare sector, you say it's the private sector. It's actually a hybrid. It is a sector where there's a lot of government money goes, is paid into it. But what we've seen is market failure. Did you know Barrie that early childhood educators, 96 per cent of them are women. Yet when it ranks across 96 occupations in Australia they're at 92, like they're at the bottom. Early childhood education is important. We've got to keep the talented people in this profession. But the problem is we can't ask parents to pay more money can we? And we shouldn't.

CASSIDY: Yeah but you just said that you won't be going beyond that. So that means you won't be subsidising the wages of aged care workers in the same way.

SHORTEN: No I think that we'll end up doing different parts to lift wages in other sectors. For example ...

CASSIDY: So you will be going beyond childcare?

SHORTEN: No in terms of, we'll get wages moving. The solution we're using for early childhood is unique to early childhood. Let me illustrate how we're going to get wages -

CASSIDY: So what you're saying is you won't be subsidising aged care wages in the same way. It won't be government money.

SHORTEN: That's right. So what we're saying about wages and getting wages moving again is this. Take for instance retail, hospitality, pharmacy. Did you know Barrie that people have had 70, 60, 70, 80 bucks a week cut because of the cuts to penalty rates. So I'm going to see all the low paid workers, who Mr Morrison wouldn't know if he tripped over them, I'm going to make sure that they get their penalty rates back. I'm going to make sure that we treat women equally and we make it easier to run pay equity cases. We're going to clamp down dodgy labour hire and we're going to make sure there's less sham contracting and we must stop the rorts where some guest workers are brought in from overseas to undercut the local labour market and they get exploited in turn. We want to stop the wages theft like we've seen with some of the big companies.

CASSIDY: All right there's another area where some of this surplus could disappear very quickly. You've got a review into Newstart. Now if they recommend, and they surely will, an increase that could mean billions of dollars off the surplus bottom line as well.

SHORTEN: Well what we're doing is we've said that we are going to review Newstart. But we've got to also see in this review the whole network. Because there are other benefits that people receive. We want to see exactly what is the best way to deliver unemployment support to encourage people back into work. I'm not going to pre-empt that.

CASSIDY: It's more likely than not it's going to recommend an increase right and that's not allowed for.

SHORTEN: Well first of all if we I want to talk about that. We don't know what that number is, one. And we're going to talk to the experts, two. We're not going to pour shame, we're not going to say that people on $265 a week should just be ignored because they don't have the same political voice that the property industry has or that other vested interests have. So we are going to be champions for people who are not sharing the Australian dream. But when we come to an outcome, that will be contingent also on how we're going with our employment programs. We announced last Sunday Barrie a measure to stop age discrimination amongst older workers who make up quite a cohort of people on Newstart. Barrie I actually think older Australians once they have got a little bit of grey in their hair sometimes, you know present company excepted, can face unfair treatment. And I'm sick of seeing older Australians chucked on the scrapheap, sent to 30 job interviews in a row. They're not suitable for those jobs and we give up on them. So we're going to give a tax cut to small business to employ older people. So our plan is not just Newstart. It's about making sure that the Australians who don't have the political power to write the newspaper editorials in this country - I'm going to be a champion for all those people who don't have the big end of town on their side.

CASSIDY: The thing that could really go wrong with that plan of course is that the Senate doesn't support raising these revenue raising measures. If they vote against the abolition of these tax concessions you could be down as much as six or eight billion dollars a year.

SHORTEN: Well first things first. If we didn't have a strong balance sheet as we presented to the nation you'd be criticising us for that. Now we present a strong balance sheet to the nation. This government is saying oh well it can't be done. My answer to them is this. We will be the party of reform. This country needs a change. This country's, this government's not trying to do anything for anyone else other than you know give away taxes to the top end of town, to the top tier of tax earners. In terms of the Senate - 

CASSIDY: This is about the cross benchers though.

SHORTEN: Well first of all they haven't all got elected. My first advice if Australians are worried about chaos and confusion in the Senate is vote Labor in the House and vote Labor in the Senate. We've got another seven days. I say to Australians if you're sick and tired of the last six years of chaos where you voted for Abbott and got Turnbull. Where you voted for Turnbull and got Morrison. Now you could be voting for Morrison and get Clive Palmer or Pauline Hanson. This country is now entering the third decade of the 21st Century. We haven't got a lot done in the first two decades. We need to start getting on with business in Australia. Real action on climate change. Bridging the inequality gap. Reversing the cuts to schools and hospitals. Get the wages moving, look after the child care, look after dental care for pensioners. The way you do that is don't vote for extreme right wing parties in the Senate. Vote for stability. Vote for Labor.

CASSIDY: All right. You were obviously very angry with the Telegraph during the week and the story that referenced your mother. If you get elected are you planning retribution, are you going to go after them?

SHORTEN: Oh listen the Telegraph and other conservative critics, I realise with them that they are what they are. And by that I mean this. You can pick up the front page of that paper some days and all that's changed is the date at the top. They are campaigning against Labor. It's not all of News Limited. Some of their mastheads, a lot of their journalists, I don't put, lump in the same bucket. But I think a political - if some newspapers and some editors want to be political parties they should just come out and say it. Beyond that though any vote they can take off Labor they took off three or four electoral cycles ago. I mean the real problem here, and let's not even talk about the Telegraph but, if you like, traditional media is that they are under threat. And I have some sympathy that the new media platforms get a lighter run in terms of regulation and taxation than they do. So to that extent I might surprise you. I'm sympathetic to traditional media. But the way forward for them isn't just to become more frenzied. If you've got a business model under challenge, loss of advertising, loss of eyeballs, people not reading it. Perhaps - and I've never run a newspaper so I'm just another consumer of the media like most people. Perhaps rather than doubling down on an old business model of going the gossip, of playing you know the attack stuff and not focusing on the journalism. Maybe there's a way forward for them to look at. But hey I'm just another consumer but I promise -

CASSIDY: Yeah but you might be Prime Minister - you can come after them. You're going after multinationals on taxation. News Corp you can specifically target them. Is that that in prospect? You could change media laws.

SHORTEN: This will surprise you. I look at the policy not the personalities. You know I understand. I've done this job for six years. I've united my team. For six years some in the conservative ranks in the media and the Liberals have just thrown bricks at us. But we've come through all of that. We are united. And one of the reasons why we are competitive - I wouldn't put it any stronger than that - next Saturday is we are respecting the intelligence of the Australian people. If we want the people to trust us we have to trust them first. That's why we've outlined our policies. That's why we've outlined the best set of books that an opposition's ever presented in half a century, I would submit. So when it comes to some of these personality debates, I'm not interested. I'm not running for Prime Minister to square off.

CASSIDY: Was it a deliberate decision on your part not to go and see Rupert Murdoch in the run up to the campaign?

SHORTEN: I'll deal with Australian businesses in Australia.

CASSIDY: OK, just a couple of quick things. On the ABC you've offered this extra funding. But also on the five year funding, you've said you'll have a conversation. Well I think we can assume the managing director David Anderson in that conversation will argue very strongly for five year funding. Is it in prospect?

SHORTEN: I fundamentally believe in an independent national public broadcaster. I've been frustrated at the constant undermining of it from conservative rivals and critics. This is a government who writes more letters complaining about the ABC to the ABC than will invest in the ABC. So we've said we'll reverse the $83.7 million worth of cuts. We've also said we'll provide an additional $40 million for more comedy, more children's shows, more drama, more music. And what I did also say yesterday at the Save the ABC rally is I get that having three year funding cycles is not as desirable for long term ABC planning as five year funding cycles.

CASSIDY: So you prefer the five year cycle.

SHORTEN: I can see the sense of it and we need to sit down with the managing director. But I haven't been elected so that's only a conversation that can happen if and when we're elected. But to anyone who loves the ABC, be it in the bush, be it the people who you know need the emergency warnings. You know I've got a view. My policy for the ABC is two words. ABC everywhere. Everywhere in reach and availability and including in the Pacific.

CASSIDY: Just finally you've got a rally in your own electorate today. I think you're being introduced by the candidate for Higgins. Now that's a seat Labor has never won - it's out at 7.4 per cent. Is a bit of bluff going on here?

SHORTEN: Oh you should meet our candidate running in Higgins. Fiona McLeod, Senior Counsel. She is a rock star. We're running the best candidate we've run in Higgins. I think with Kelly O'Dwyer going there's a lot of disillusioned voters. Fiona McLeod's CV is remarkable. She's represented victims in class actions right through to complicated business transactions. She's a tip top candidate. But there is a mood for change. I make no apology for spending more money on cancer than I will on the top end of town. We can do this because we've got a great set of books, because we've made the reforms. But fundamentally our message Barrie is vote Labor to end the chaos in Canberra. Vote Labor for real action on climate change and the rest.

CASSIDY: All right we're out of time. Thanks for coming in this morning. 

SHORTEN: Thanks Barrie.