Subjects: Tax, Labor Party.
HOST: Chris Pyne, Anthony Albanese, good morning to you both.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Good morning, Will.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good morning.
HOST: We will kick off with you if we can thanks Albo. Now last Friday, in a very widely reported speech, and a pretty well received speech , you talked about how it is important for Labor to maintain a strong working relationship with the business community. Fast forward five days and we have seen Bill Shorten unilaterally embrace a tax position which reportedly does not have the support or the endorsement of caucus or indeed even Shadow Cabinet, which could see businesses – very small businesses – with a turnover as low as $2 million – being stripped of tax relief. Is Bill Shorten’s position an example of exactly what you were warning against?
ALBANESE: No. Labor is engaged with business, including small business. One of the things that we did when we were last in Government of course was do the instant asset write-off that was opposed by the Coalition at the time and indeed when they came to Government they abolished it. Then they brought it back and pretended it was their policy, having said it was a bad idea. It was good policy and it is good that it is there now and one of things that we have also said for businesses of whatever size is the investment guarantee for investment of a 20 per cent discount for investment above $20,000, excluding only passenger vehicles, so it would apply for utes and capital equipment and that sort of investment to encourage that support.
HOST: What about current policy? What about this policy and particularly what about the way it has been handled by Bill Shorten?
ALBANESE: Well, we opposed of course these changes in the House of Representatives and in the Senate when they were debated and dealt with on the floor of both of those chambers over the last year and a bit.
HOST: But are you surprised and troubled, as other shadow ministers reportedly are, that Bill Shorten could be advocating a threshold as low as $2 million for taking tax cuts away from very small businesses?
ALBANESE: Well, what Bill said yesterday is that Shadow Cabinet will consider the issue of businesses with a turnover between $2 million and $10 million and that will be a decision that we’ll make at an appropriate time and announce.
HOST: No-one has yet, as far as I understand, given you the opportunity to have your say about what you think about the tax cuts being wound back for businesses between $10 million and $50 million. Bill Shorten came out and made the announcement yesterday without consulting. What would have you said if he asked?
ALBANESE: Well I think that Bill Shorten has got a right to announce Labor policy. He did that. He did that consistent with the way that Labor had voted in the House of Representatives and the Senate when these changes were considered.
HOST: So if he asked you, you would have said yes?
ALBANESE: Well, it is a matter of priorities. It’s a matter of whether the priority is for education or for health and or for infrastructure for that matter and Labor has clearly said that our priority is education, is health, is infrastructure, is paying down the debt, is making sure that we’ve been fiscally responsible so we have had a number of policy announcements, indeed more than oppositions in the past have done, and that is a good thing – the fact that we have so much policy out there.
HOST: Albo, your speech last Friday was widely reported as you putting yourself out there in the leadership context and saying I am available for the top job. Is that a valid analysis of your speech?
ALBANESE: No it is not. If you look at speeches I have given for similar occasions in the past few years, be it the Light on the Hill function that is held in Bathurst, the Earle Page lecture that is done in Armidale at the University of New England, the Eddie Graham Lecture, which is done in Wagga Wagga in rural New South Wales, on each of these occasions I always give a considered speeches – not about what happened in Question Time that day. I mean for goodness sake, the Whitlam Oration, and I make no …
HOST: They key criticism of Bill Shorten right now is that he is too anti-business. The key point you made in your speech is that Labor needs to be more pro-business.
ALBANESE: Well that wasn’t the key point. That was one of a range of points that I made, was that Labor has to appeal to not just members of trade unions, but we have to appeal to small businesses, to people who are contractors, to people who are professionals and aren’t in any union and that’s just common sense. And that’s what Labor Governments do. That’s what I did and Bill did and others all did as members of the Ruddand Gillard Governments. That’s what Hawke and Keating did. That’s what Whitlam did. That’s what modern Labor is about.
HOST: Or should be about?
ALBANESE: No. That is what modern Labor is about and Bill Shorten, Chris Bowen, we all have extensive relationships with the business community. We are sitting in Canberra this week, I have a business lunch on Friday which is all about that engagement that we have with the community and indeed the New South Wales state conference of the Labor Party is being held on the weekend. There will be business observers there and I have a range of meetings with them on Friday and indeed on Saturday.
HOST: So Albo, if you are comfortable with the manner in which Bill Shorten, as you are saying, he is well within his right to make an announcement repealing those tax cuts, make the case to small business owners listening right now about why they should pay more tax and will pay more tax under Labor.
ALBANESE: Well the fact is that a number of – you’ve got to look at the policy as a whole and I think the support for the investment guarantee that we are putting forward will be worth more than the tax changes which come in over a period of time of course, for businesses between $10 million and $50 million and that will be of significantly more benefit for them. And that is something that the current government opposes and all businesses know that we need a strong economy and that having a strong economy means making difficult decisions in terms of investment in education and training and skills for example, something that businesses say to me they are suffering from as they can’t get a skilled workforce.
HOST: Chris Pyne, you’ve been very polite and very patient. I’m going to bring you in now.
ALBANESE: I thought he wasn’t here. I thought he hadn’t turned up.
PYNE: I thought you were doing a lovely job trying to dig yourself out of a hole there. So I thought I would let you keep doing it.
HOST: Now Chris, you’ve been an MP since the early 1990s.
PYNE: Since the early 1890s.
ALBANESE: He’s a very old man.
HOST: You’ve seen a lot of leadership dramas in that time. Does what’s happening in the Labor Party now look to you like a leadership battle?
PYNE: Look there’s absolutely no doubt that Bill Shorten has said he’s going to have a war on business. He wants the unions front and centre of Labor Party policy-making. He wants the CFMEU to be involved in every forum. And he’s repudiated the aspiration of Australians, that the Hawke-Keating Government understood, that Keating’s actually criticised modern Labor for, because Hawke and Keating got that Australians are aspirational. It’s why they were a successful Labor Party. And Bill Shorten says he’s not going to do that. He wants to increase personal income taxes at the next election by $70 billion. And yesterday he’s about to kick small businesses in the teeth and South Australia is a small and medium enterprise state.
And yet Anthony Albanese on Friday last week said that they had to remember that the unions are small part now of the workforce. It’s not 1950 anymore, he said. He said that Labor needed to be close to business and cooperate with business and that they should remember the Hawke-Keating legacy and that Australians are aspirational. So, Anthony stated a very, very clear contradiction to Bill Shorten. And that’s why the speech has had such a great run over the last few days, because everyone can see that Bill Shorten is now a man on borrowed time.
And yesterday he reacted under pressure, announced without consultation with his party room or his front bench, that Labor would roll back the company tax cuts for small businesses. So now 94,000 small businesses across Australia have a motivation to campaign against Labor because if Labor gets elected they’ll have their company taxes increased. If Labor gets elected people’s personal income tax will increase.
And Bill Shorten’s saying people on $95,000 a year are the top end of town. He’s now saying that small businesses with a turnover of more than $2 million are the top end of town. He’s boxed himself in because he lives day to day. And what Anthony said last Friday was that Labor should stop living day to day and look at their history and have a vision for the future and that’s why we’re talking about Labor Party leadership.
HOST: There will be more to come on this over the coming days, we’re sure.
ALBANESE: Chris Pyne and Anthony Albanese, thanks so much for joining us this morning for Two Tribes.
PYNE: It was a great pleasure this morning.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you. I’m glad Christopher got a crack.
PYNE: It was a good crack.