SUBJECTS: Tax cuts; John Setka.
JOURNALIST: You’ve lost your first battle in your leadership, I know it’s a three year war, have you learned anything from this?
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: What Labor has done is take a principled stand in the national economic interest. We’ve laid down markers. The fact is that the economy is flat lining at the moment. We have growth of 1.8 per cent on an annual basis. We’ve seen the Reserve Bank ring the alarm bells with the second interest rate cut since the election on May 18. What the Reserve Bank is saying is that the economy has changed just since May 18th. That’s why they adjust interest rates because they need to pump up consumer demand to get more money in the hands of Australians. What we did this week was always support as we did during the election campaign Stage One of the tax cuts. $1,080 for those who earn less than $126,000 a week. But we always supported that. That’s the only thing that will happen in this term of Parliament. People need to get that.
What we also tried to do and I’m amazed frankly that the actions of the Government – the first vote they had in the 46th Parliament – was to deny every Australian worker a tax cut, because our proposal to bring forward Stage Two to say if it’s good in 2022 then it’s a very good idea in 2019 given the state of the economy – if you give every Australian worker including those who earn between $90,000 and $120,000 and then above regardless of what they earn $1,350 by lifting that marginal tax level from $90,000 to $120,000 thousand dollars.
Stage Three, this morning I know that Josh Frydenberg couldn’t give a commitment that there wouldn’t be cuts. Stage Three is about $95 billion. It’s ripping $19 billion out of revenue in the first year. You can’t take $19 billion out of the budget in the first year without having an impact on education, on health, on infrastructure, on what government is able to do. And the Government won’t say. Josh Frydenberg said today he couldn’t guarantee there wouldn’t be cuts. Scott Morrison yesterday in Question Time answered with one word: none. Well everyone knows that that’s a triumph of hope and is frankly a fantasy to say that you can make that change to a budget in one year and then have no impact on expenditure .
JOURNALIST: You’ve ended up voting for the tax package in full though despite vigorously opposing elements on it. Do you understand why people might be confused about what Labor stands for?
ALBANESE: Well you’ve got to follow the play. The people here shouldn’t be confused if you actually follow politics because what we always said was that Stage One was something we always supported. It was our policy before the election. We also said the economy is flatlining. We need to get more money into the hands of workers right now. That’s why we were arguing to bring forward Stage Two. The only people who were threatening to block any tax cut to Australian workers was the Coalition. Go back, we didn’t change our position. Go back and see if you can find something for me saying that that should happen. The only people who are threatening to block any tax cut were Government ministers who were saying they would block a tax cut today because of something that they wanted to happen in 2025. Now the truth is that all political parties will go to the next election in three years’ time with new economic policies, new social policies, new environmental policy.
JOURNALIST: And will Labor be looking to repeal Stage Three if you’re successful at the next election?
ALBANESE: No we will go to the next election and make announcements at the time of the next election well in advance about what our policies will be in the context of what the economy looks like.
JOURNALIST: Given that the Government is not going to bring forward Stage Two of the tax agenda, what should it be doing to respond to the Reserve Bank Governor’s call for fiscal stimulus?
ALBANESE: Well the first thing it should have done is that, listen to the Reserve Bank and listen to Labor. The second thing it should do is to bring forward infrastructure investment. That was another thing that we called for and we’ll wait and see what the Government does. But I asked the question yesterday in the Parliament about Linkfield Road in the northern suburbs of Brisbane. Now that is a choke point, it runs between the electorates of Dickson and Petrie that were two pretty big focuses in the election campaign, Peter Dutton and Luke Howarth. The Prime Minister in December 2018 went up there and promised to fix this choke point. What he didn’t say when he did that was that there wouldn’t be a single dollar flowing until 2026-27. This Government’s infrastructure investment package frankly is off in the never never. Just like Stage Three of the tax cuts are off in the never never. But they need to bring forward projects like that, they could start with funding Cross River Rail in Brisbane, putting some money into Melbourne Metro, the Southeast roads package, North-South road package in the upgrade in Adelaide, bring forward funding for Metronet.
All of these projects could be done. They need to stimulate the economy, it will be a good thing if they did that but this is a government that’s pretending everything’s going fine. When you look at what’s happening with the OECD comparisons that I asked Mr Morrison about yesterday, no answer. You look at what’s happening on deeming rates, no answer. You look at yesterday the first question I asked in the parliament, be very clear about what happened yesterday in the first Question Time of the 46th Parliament. The first question, straight no rhetoric, asked the Prime Minister which of his policies on wages, on consumer demand, on interest rates and on productivity was working the best. The Prime Minister couldn’t answer because frankly he’s had a shocker on all four indications. And when he didn’t answer the question he got sat down by the speaker. On the first question of the 46th Parliament, the Prime Minister of Australia was sat down, told to resume his seat and to not continue his answer. It was a shocker by the Prime Minister, just like the economic performance of this Government is quite frankly appalling. And what we’ve done this week is lay down markers. I know there were some of you who said we should just wave everything through and make ourselves completely irrelevant to the economic debate in this country. I’m not frightened of having an economic debate with this Government, I’ll continue to do it. I’ll continue to put forward good policies.
JOURNALIST: Should the Government forego a surplus to accelerate infrastructure spending to reinvigorate the economy?
ALBANESE: No, what we had was a proposal and we looked at the Government’s own costings which were that the 2022 change, after the next election – after 1 July 2022 the next election has to be before in practical terms before March, at the latest of 2022. The cost of that it was $3.7 billion. Now if you bring that forward now today the cost of that will be less than that – which is why we looked at the costs of it. And that leaves you some scope as well with regard to the Government’s forecast to bring forward infrastructure investment. And we know as well that the Government’s fiscal position in terms of the budget, because of what’s happened with iron ore prices frankly and that relates to events in Brazil, frankly is what it relates to, will significantly benefit the Government’s fiscal position for the last financial year and for the one going forward.
JOURNALIST: Labor initially stood in the way of tax cuts that we’ve ended up with anyway …
ALBANESE: No we didn’t. No we didn’t. In what way do we stand in – tell me where we voted against tax cuts?
JOURNALIST: The Third Stage, so the Third Stage (inaudible).
ALBANESE: We did not stand in front of tax cuts, that’s just not true. And the fourth estate frankly have to do a little bit better at examining what’s happening rather than what editors sitting in an office somewhere think is happening because we never did that.
We never said we would. What we said the whole way through was we supported Stage One. Guess what, that’s the only thing that is happening this term and you can’t argue – got to think about the counterfactual. You can’t argue that Stage One’s important, you can’t argue to bring forward Stage Two and then say oh well we’ll vote against any tax cut right now – notwithstanding the fact that we have pointed out and we’ll continue to point out that the idea of $95 billion of tax cuts in 2024-25, $19 billion impact in the first year.
What’s extraordinary about the debate here is that Pauline Hanson seems to understand more about economics than the Government or frankly some of the people in this gallery. Because she was saying how do you pay for the $19 billion because it’s got to be paid for with something. You take out of your own budget if you earn you know $100,000 a year, all of a sudden you rip $5,000 out. Guess what, you don’t go on as business as usual. You got to make decisions about what you spend, how much petrol you put in your car, how much food you put on the table of your families, whether you go on a holiday or not. The Government can’t have $19 billion ripped out without having an impact. This Government would have you believe that that can happen and everything else just goes on as business as usual. We have been responsible in pointing that out. The Government I think put forward this package in the expectation that they didn’t think they’d win, so they put these things off in the never never with big figures a bit like their infrastructure investment program. You know all these big figures. No one thought, no one thought who voted if they voted in the electorate of Dickson or the electorate of Petrie, no one thought well that’s good we’re going to get this road package, the direct mail letters that went out, the pamphlets that went out, the videos that were done. None of them said yes we’ll do it in ten years’ time we’ll actually get going on this.
JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, do you risk confusing voters by saying what a terrible idea this Stage Three tax cuts were – only to go ahead and vote for it a few days later?
ALBANESE: No, but we did not. We made it very clear, be very clear what you do in terms of the Parliament. There’s some people who haven’t paid attention at all. The votes in the Parliament that occur on legislation are on the second reading. That’s where it’s determined whether a bill happens. The third reading is a procedural issue effectively and what happens in terms of the second reading by the way is that that went through the House of Representatives unanimously. So the Greens political party who some of the media seem to be taking economic advice from about the way the Parliament works and the economy. They voted for it, Andrew Wilkie voted for it. There was no division in the House of Representatives on the second reading. That’s the vote that determines when you – after you have the process of the consideration in detail. That is the motion that’s before the Parliament – is that the bill be agreed to. And the parliament unanimously voted for that in the House of Representatives. Now facts matter. The Greens voted for that as did Andrew Wilkie. It went through the house unanimously. So we went and got to the Senate. We also tried to amend Stage Three out of the bill. We fought for it. We negotiated with independents. We negotiated with the – we put that forward to the Government directly as well. We did it publicly. I haven’t been shy this week about what our position was indeed we adopted our position, a considerable period of time ago but we never ever said we’re in favour of stopping Stage One or Stage Two for that matter going through, not once.
JOURNALIST: Aren’t you complicit in passing this Third Stage?
ALBANESE: No, no. And you should follow Parliament. You should have a look at Parliament and what happens.
JOURNALIST: But is it reasonable to expect the ordinary person there to be paying attention to the finer points of parliamentary procedure to understand your position?
ALBANESE: No, no, no. That’s not reasonable. What’s reasonable though is that the people who are paid money to understand the Parliament i.e. the people in this gallery understand the way the Parliament works and not misrepresent positions and actually follow the play as I said. And the fact is that we argued very strongly against Stage Three. The fact that the Greens backed up by some in the gallery misrepresent our position when they voted in favour in the House of Representatives of the bills as a whole going through in the Stage Two vote, the second reading vote on the floor of the House of Representatives that’s a matter for you. I’m just trying to help you see, I’m here to help. And the way that Parliament works, the way that laws are made. It’s important that people look at them rather than look for a story which is not there. Go back and look at our position and how consistent it was. You can’t argue the economy’s tanking and then say it doesn’t need any stimulus at all. We argued it needed more stimulus. We wanted more tax cuts, to more workers sooner. It’s pretty simple.
JOURNALIST: So you’ve had a win this week?
ALBANESE: No we didn’t. We lost the vote. We argued the case and we lost the vote on the floor of the parliament
JOURNALIST: How’d you lose the vote when you cast your vote with the Government in the Senate?
ALBANESE: We didn’t. We moved amendments to our legislation, we weren’t successful in convincing the crossbench and have a look at what the Government had to do. They had to argue that somehow gas prices would be reduced. The Centre Alliance say they’ve got this commitment for $7 gas prices for households and industry. I asked the Prime Minister – it was a pretty straight question yesterday, was that the Government’s policy? Was there a commitment to do that? He couldn’t answer it. So we’ll wait and see what happens to the other commitments that were made. Thanks very much.
JOURNALIST: Just on Setka, he’s commenced legal proceedings in Victoria to stop your big to expel him from the Labor Party. What will you do if he’s successful?
ALBANESE: He won’t be.
JOURNALIST: He claims that you denied him due process and justice, have you?
ALBANESE: Well I reckon that we’ve said – what he did was, he wrote to us and said – people can draw their own conclusions as to the circumstances here but because he’d been involved in a court case of course he’d been a bit tied up. The court case concluded last week with a guilty plea. What happened then was he wrote to us on the Friday and asked for more time. He asked for ten days from July 5th, from today. We gave him ten days precisely, July 15. I’m very confident that any – I’m not surprised that legal proceedings have been commenced. It always going to be the case given Mr Setka’s background in litigation. But the fact is that the Australian Labor Party has the right to determine who we want to be members just like any organisation. If a footy player, rugby league or AFL, had pleaded guilty essentially to two issues relating to harassment of a woman they’d be sacked by their club. We’ll sack John Setka and we’ll do it on July 15.