Subjects: Budget savings, superannuation, the economy, negative gearing, Liberal Party leadership, Badgerys Creek
HOST: How would Labor deal with this? They could be 18 months away from being back in government according to the polls. They will have to make decisions in the Senate to try and get some of these essential pieces of legislation through. Anthony Albanese is the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport. He’s on the line. Good morning, sir.
ALBANESE: Good morning to you.
HOST: You’d accept that the Budget position isn’t good. What would you do? If you were the Treasurer today, what should they do?
ALBANESE: Well the first thing that I’d do is go to the saves that they reversed. The high end of superannuation is one measure whereby we had some modest measures. But they would have grown over a period of time. They were important structural changes in the Budget. The second is the $1 billon that they stopped getting in terms of revenue from company tax that was being offshored. Now, they are just two measures. That’s where you’d start. The other thing that you would do though is make sure that the principle of fairness goes across any measures that are put in play. That’s why this Budget of last year that still hasn’t been carried this year has gone down like a lead balloon – because it’s an attack on fairness. I think Tony Abbott conceded that when he made the remarkable statement yesterday that good government begins today. I think people will wonder: What were they doing in their first 16 months?
HOST: Just take us through, what do you mean by these changes to superannuation and how would that impact on most of us out here?
ALBANESE: What we had was a bonus basically, an incentive, to put in superannuation if you were a low-income earner. So at the moment the top end of town, if you get, say, up to $2 million in terms of superannuation benefits – that is part of a package. That’s often done because the tax concessions provide an incentive for that to occur. That sort of tax minimisation compares with those at the bottom end who need more in their superannuation in terms of just surviving not as any tax minimisation ….
HOST: But that’s not a saving plan is it? That’s actually revenue foregone, isn’t it?
ALBANESE: There was that measure at the low end – that’s right. But over time is certainly was a savings measure and it grew into the future.
HOST: But the big issue that no-one seems prepared to tackle – and even Alan Jones was saying this last night on QandA – that high income earners like you and me and Gary, who are baby boomers or late generation Xers who are starting to look towards that age of 60, where you get massive tax breaks if you are a high earner, surely they ought to be reined in?
ALBANESE: I agree that they should be.
HOST: When we say they should be, is anyone going to do anything about it?
ALBANESE: We had begun to do it. That’s the point. We actually had legislation that they reversed when they came into office.
HOST: But given the political climate in this country is it too hard, too hard, to do these things?
ALBANESE: No I don’t think it is. Part of the problem is that the government talked down the economy and confidence which is so important. They inherited an economy that was in sound shape and we shouldn’t talk ourselves down. We had low unemployment, low inflation, record low interest rates, the economy grew by 15 percent, in spite of the fact that the rest of the world went through the Global Financial Crisis. We have relatively low debt. On infrastructure investment we’d gone from 20th in 2007 to first. So the foundations are sound and we shouldn’t talk them down.
HOST: But the Budget is blowing out. Debt is growing isn’t it?
ALBANESE: We need to address the structural issues in the Budget and they need to be addressed in a way, as we’ve just been talking about, at the high end.
HOST: What about in your electorate you’d have Green-voting and Labor-voting people in the inner city who’d be negatively geared. Half the city is negatively geared. Something like that, isn’t that untouchable because there’s so many people who are doing it?
ALBANESE: Well, that’s certainly very difficult because people have made decisions based upon the existing system. So I think governments will find it very difficult to address that issue. But there are other changes that they have made, is what I am saying. Since they have been in government in spite of the fact that they have spoken about the structural deficit, they have not addressed issues such as that. Remember when we, towards the end period of the government, foreshadowed clamping down essentially on the FBT on cars so that you would have to actually use your car …
HOST: The salary packaging issue and we know the salary packaging industry put huge amounts of money into the Liberal Party to get a campaign running.
ALBANESE: The media just … we got smashed on it. That was a system whereby all you do is prove – provide the evidence for two weeks out of five – and you could keep getting it.
HOST: That was a rort. It still is a rort.
ALBANESE: They have reversed that. They have reversed that. There’s arrange of measures that go to fairness, that go to people who should be paying tax, pay tax.
HOST: But we are all talking about bits and pieces here. They manufacturing era is over. The minerals resources boom is over. What is Australia going to live off over the coming 10 or 20 years? How do we define ourselves?
ALBANESE: Look, we have to be the smart economy.
HOST: When people say we have to be the smart economy, what does that mean?
ALBANESE: What that means is that Australia has been very good at innovation. What we have not been good at is then value adding on to the inventions that we have. We have invented things like wifi. We’ve invented a range of measures in terms of renewable energy. But what we have not been good at is value adding and creating jobs here in Australia out of that. I’m very confident. We are a smart country. We need to invest in education. We need to invest in training. We need to make sure that we take advantage of our greatest asset which is our people. But we have enormous opportunity due to the growth in the middle class in this region. Areas like tourism, that I have responsibility for, the potential is quite enormous from India, China, Vietnam, Indonesia, over the coming decades.
HOST: The story on the front page of the Telegraph today suggests six ministers voted against Tony Abbott. In your long time in politics you’ve been involved in a few leadership challenges. How many times have you been lied to?
ALBANESE: Oh, a few times.
HOST: Do you ever notice people craning in meetings. I know you have show-and-tell approaches in the Labor Party, people craning looking over the shoulder to see who is marking the ballot paper which way.
ALBANESE: I’m old fashioned, I’ve always told people when I’m not voting for them. I’ve never left any doubt as to what my position is and I think that is the easiest way to wake up in the morning with a clear conscience.
HOST: Do you reckon they would know in the Liberal party who said one thing and voted another?
ALBANESE: I reckon they would. They certainly knew on the weekend that people were ringing around on behalf of Malcolm Turnbull. On one count, with Malcolm still sitting in the frontbench there, he didn’t challenge Tony Abbott yesterday. We know that in effect he did. Tony Abbott was successful in implementing his new policy of stop the vote. He did that only by binding his ministers. Without that he wouldn’t be Prime Minister today.
HOST: Is there a lot of relief in your party that Tony Abbott remains Prime Minister?
ALBANESE: We want to see good government though.
HOST: But you are relieved that Turnbull is not leading the Government now?
ALBANESE: Well we’ve had Malcolm Turnbull as leader before of course and he was a failure. I think Malcolm Turnbull isn’t exactly someone who is in touch with the needs of ordinary people in my electorate.
HOST: So you are the first opposition – you say you want to see good government – that if they do a good job in the next six months will say, you know what, they’ve done a fantastic job. Would you say that?
ALBANESE: Well. We‘ll wait and see
HOST: A political warrior like you will to get up and say: You know what, Joe has really surprised me. That’s a fantastic Budget and can’t say anything negative about it.
ALBANESE: When they do the right thing I have been prepared to be out there. Something like Badgerys Creek airport didn’t need a decision of government, it needed a decision of government and opposition that’s the truth. There’s no harder decision that than and I’ve been there upfront from day one I argued for it. I couldn’t get the then Opposition to back it in but we certainly have.’’
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.