Subjects: Medicare Levy, tax cuts, Banking Royal Commission, infrastructure, immigration
GRAHAM RICHARDSON: On my right is Anthony Albanese. Actually, he should be on my right the way he goes on these days. But there he is. Anthony, welcome to the program.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I don’t know about that Graham, but good to be here.
RICHARDSON: Well I worry about it. Maybe if have gone further to the Left though? That may be the case.
ALBANESE: That can happen.
RICHARDSON: You may not have moved, but I may have.
ALBANESE: Eventually you realise the correctness of the Left position.
RICHARDSON: I’ve seen the light. Well, I’m not quite there yet, but we will see. Look, just minutes before we came into the studio, literally I think about 10 minutes before, I was told that the Government has just announced that they are abolishing the Medicare Levy, which of course I think you have been asking them to do for quite some time.
ALBANESE: Well we have for some time. It’s quite absurd and untenable for a Government that is going to a Budget where we know they are going to be saying we want some income tax cuts at the same time as they were putting this Medicare Levy on for the NDIS but across all income levels. What Labor has said is that we are happy to look at the levels of $87,000 and above. We are also of course happy to look at maintaining, or putting back, what was called the Deficit Levy because the deficit has actually got worse under this mob.
RICHARDSON: Much worse.
ALBANESE: The level of debt has just about doubled. It’s now over half a trillion dollars and for those people on above $180,000, we think they could afford to pay that until such time as the Budget returns to surplus.
RICHARDSON: Well, I don’t care whether I pay it or not but I know that if you are going to have an income tax cut, you can’t give a two cent cut. You are going to have to give something decent to make it worthwhile then one would imagine that Scott Morrison was going to get rid of this anyway. I mean as soon as they announced they were going to have tax cuts I assumed this would go.
ALBANESE: Well you can’t give with one hand and take back with another.
RICHARDSON: Some people can.
ALBANESE: You can try. But the truth is they haven’t got away with it, like they haven’t got away with theirbig end tax cuts of $65 billion for companies. People again this week we have seen surveys that show that what people want is investment in education, investment in health, investment in early childhood …
RICHARDSON: Health was way in front actually.
ALBANESE: Investment in infrastructure. And that usually is the case. People know that there are massive pressures on their own Budget and what they have now, I mean it is going to be interesting to see, in a Kelly O’Dwyer-type way, them argue that the banks, the Big Four, should be entitled to this company tax cut. I mean, how do you do that?
RICHARDSON: It’s going to be very difficult. I have been arguing against you up until the last ten days. My view was you couldn’t gouge out any particular sector. But now I think the banks have earned our wrath. They have earned our ire and they have not earned a tax cut. That’s for sure.
ALBANESE: Well they have had a shocker. But the truth is if the Government was smart, what they would do is to take the company tax cuts off the table and they would do it at the Budget, because I can’t see how it is going to get through the Senate. I think in spite of the fact that Pauline Hanson has betrayed once again her own battler base in favour of the big end of town, I can’t see it getting through.
RICHARDSON: It’s interesting you said that because I interviewed Scott Morrison on this show two weeks ago and put that to him directly and said why don’t you get the numbers out of the Budget because it is pretty obvious it’s not going to happen? But his view was that Malcolm Turnbull says you never know what will turn up with the Senate numbers. That was his great saying. I said to him then that he had another saying which is that the trajectory is clear, but he didn’t seem to like that part of it so I moved on. But it is obvious that the tax cuts are coming. But it is not obvious to me how you pay for them and I am still wondering. I note as, you probably have, that tonight Scott Morrison has said that receipts, I think he said revenue is $4.8 billion up because you’ve got more jobs and more people paying and I suppose less unemployment payments.
ALBANESE: And you have had a turnaround in some of the commodity payments as well.
RICHARDSON: Yes. Coal has gone up, iron ore has gone up.
ALBANESE: Yes. That has produced more revenue for the Government.
RICHARDSON: Does that mean they can afford the tax cuts?
ALBANESE: Well we will wait and see what the Budget numbers show. But what they can’t afford to do Graham is to continue to stand for the top end at the same time as working people out there, the people I seek to represent, are really struggling. They are struggling with their electricity bills. They are struggling with paying fees for their kids.
RICHARDSON: They are struggling with no wage increases.
ALBANESE: They are struggling with everyday costs of living. And at the same time as you have these companies doing quite well many of them in terms of record profits, you have remuneration to the top end being pretty good – a lot of largesse, ordinary people out there are suffering effectively a real wage cut.
RICHARDSON: Well that bloke Mellor, who AMP have just sacked. I mean they had already sacked him. He has been sacked twice the poor bugger.
ALBANESE: I wouldn’t feel too sorry for him.
RICHARDSON: While the share price was plummeting last year, so before these revelations remember, the share price has only had on direction – south – and he got paid $8.1 million for presiding over that last year – $8.1 million for failing. It’s not bad, is it?
ALBANESE: Yes it’s not a bad wicket and I think that people see that and they know themselves that they are not getting wage increases to keep up with inflation and they know that Scott Morrison is relying upon the trickle-down effect – if we just look after the big end, somehow it will all flow down and the average worker out there, struggling, will be better off. Well the average worker doesn’t buy it. That is why this Government is in real strife I think frankly. This Budget is the last Budget before an election. I think the election will be next year, but his will be the last Budget regardless of what the timing is, whether it is later this year or early 2019 and the Government has to turn around its fortunes. That Kelly O’Dwyer interview I think will be one of those totemic things that you will keep seeing. I notice it was on Sunday and I’ve seen it three of four times now.
RICHARDSON: Well I had to play it.
ALBANESE: Of course you had to.
RICHARDSON: It was fascinating television really.
ALBANESE: Of course you had to.
RICHARDSON: How anyone could be that stupid is beyond me.
ALBANESE: It was a train wreck. I have seen a lot of Insider interviews. That was the worst I have seen. But it was so bad because of what in represented, because of what it told people – that she just couldn’t bring herself to say one, that she was wrong, but secondly, also to acknowledge as Mathias Cormann did then, that actually the behaviour that we have seen come out is just quite extraordinary. The fellow who was giving financial advice to the former Labor Council official Donna McKenna, you know, people ringing up impersonating her is just beyond belief.
RICHARDSON: Yes, well at the end of the show I do a review of the week and I’ve got that included because it’s quite extraordinary the lengths to which they have gone. But also, I think, as I’ve remarked in other places, it was the way in which this evidence has been delivered. There was never any, ‘I’m really sorry that we did this’. I didn’t get any sense with these witnesses of saying that: ‘Gee I know this is terrible, for any role I had in it I’m truly sorry’. They seem to say: ‘Yes so what?’
ALBANESE: Well I tell you what Graham, if a working class kid I grew up with went into a dock with former High Court Judge and said: ‘Yes, I knocked off this and I got someone to impersonate this person and we did this’, they wouldn’t leave through the front door.
RICHARDSON: No, they would leave in handcuffs out the back.
ALBANESE: They’d leave in a paddy wagon. That’s what would happen.
RICHARDSON: This is the problem though. It just seems to me that because ASIC, and Tony Abbott has suggested they should be abolished, I’m not sure they need to be abolished, but they need to be fixed, because obviously they have failed dismally in their role…
ALBANESE: He did cut their funds substantially in his first Budget. He ripped the guts out of it. So he in part is responsible for the position that ASIC find themselves in.
RICHARDSON: But ASIC have been really soft and they have used enforceable undertakings rather than taking anyone seriously. And enforceable undertakings are just ignored by all and sundry. They’re a joke. They were never enforced by ASIC and they were always ignored by the other party that signed them. But it just seems to me that there’s no sorrow and people just seem to plough on as if this is just an inconvenience, this Commission. It’s in the road for a while, it will go. I think some of them will go with it. Now getting back to your portfolio, which I haven’t even asked you about yet, it seems amazing to me the way the Government is handling infrastructure. It seems to me that you throw these massive amounts of money around as if they’re like confetti. So rather than have it as some sort of great structured thing, I think it was last week, there’s an offer, bang, for transport to Tullamarine. A couple of billion, just bang.
RICHARDSON: Five. Now how do you get that much to be able to throw around?
ALBANESE: There’s a problem with the Government’s approach to infrastructure. They’ve sidelined Infrastructure Australia. They say, Tony Abbott said, he wanted to be the infrastructure Prime Minister, but the first thing he did was to stop funding of all public transport projects that weren’t under construction. Infrastructure funding is due to fall off a cliff. In 2016-17 it was meant to be, they were meant to spend, $9.2 billion. They only spent $7.5 billion. But that falls to $4.2 billion over the forward estimates. So it gets cut in half. And over the next decade, as a proportion of the economy, it falls from 0.4 per cent to 0.2 percent according to the Parliamentary Budget Office. Now that’s cutting it in half.
What that means is that their rhetoric about growth and jobs – how do you get future growth? You invest in infrastructure. So what we’re seeing now is, because they’ve fallen behind, they haven’t worked with Infrastructure Australia, they don’t have a pipeline of projects coming out. You have these statements being made without anything to back them up. And what was extraordinary about the Melbourne Airport decision, I certainly think Melbourne Airport needs a rail link, and I know the Victorian Government have been working on that, but Malcolm Turnbull, when he announced $5 billion, said it was an equity injection, rather than a grant. And we’re not sure what that means. Nor does the Victorian Government know what that means. Because we all know that public transport projects don’t produce a return on capital in themselves …
RICHARDSON: No, you don’t make money out of them.
ALBANESE: That’s right. But they boost the economy, which can make money and grow out of it.
RICHARDSON: Of course, and isn’t it the case that we’ve been falling behind badly on this. It seems to me that obviously while we’re not China, we don’t have a billion people and all the rest of it, they are building infrastructure all the time because they know that’s the only way that they’ve got a future. We just seem to take it for granted that things will be okay. I don’t think they are okay.
ALBANESE: Well they are not okay, which is why there is pressure in our cities. There’s congestion. People are worried about population growth – that whole debate is in the context of infrastructure fails. Fortunately we’ve seen the Government move to Labor’s position of saying with the second Sydney Airport, you’ve got to have rail there from day one. Let’s not repeat the mistakes that have been made in the past. And you need links in a city like Sydney that go north-south in Western Sydney. This Government has now announced half the line, rather than the whole line through to the Macarthur region to give support to people around Campbelltown.
RICHARDSON: Well you can take the train half way and hitch the rest. There’s always that.
ALBANESE: That’s right. People need access to those high-value jobs. Now some of the work that Lucy Turnbull is involved with, the Greater Sydney Commission, there’s been some good work done there. You do need to address the fact that we have drive-in, drive-out suburbs where people spend more time going to and from work in their cars than they do at home with their kids. That means a number of things. One, it means better public transport. It also means creating jobs close to where people live. And that’s the sort of vision that we have. That’s why outer suburbs need to be a concentration and that’s why as well you need to concentrate on public transport because in the big cities you can’t solve urban congestion with roads. You do need roads, but you need…
RICHARDSON: Without rail, you can’t solve anything. Mind you, if you look at New South Wales and what’s happened with the light rail here, I wonder about that as a solution because if you look at that it’s just a mess beyond belief.
ALBANESE: But isn’t that an example of just bad planning? When people realise as well that you’ve got a section of light rail that now operates, this new section that’s being built is a different gauge. They won’t be able to work together.
RICHARDSON: So the Dulwich Hill line can’t work together? I didn’t realise that.
ALBANESE: No. So if you want to go from Dulwich Hill to the footy, you’re going to have to get off one tram and get on another tram because they don’t work together.
RICHARDSON: That’s crazy.
ALBANESE: And that in part is because, just like the trains that the Berejiklian Government have ordered don’t fit the stations in the Blue Mountains, they’re going to have to change the tunnels, fix the stations. Just like in Queensland, the trains that were ordered by Campbell Newman’s Government don’t fit the model as well that’s there. That’s why we need in this country, one of the things that we can do that would create jobs here, is have a manufacturing plan that supports a national rail manufacturing strategy and that’s something that’s been – there’s been a Senate committee report. Kim Carr’s been very active on that and has done some really good work on that. The unions support it. The Australasian Railway Association supports it, the industry, and it would be a very good step forward.
RICHARDSON: I think it would be a great step forward given the decline of manufacturing. Now, they keep telling me I have to give up on you, but I won’t just yet, because there’s one question, a little more difficult than some of the others that I want to ask you. Both sides of politics, seem to me want to shut down a real debate on immigration. But the punters out there, they see it as a problem. Newspoll this week’s got 56 per cent saying it’s too high, 28 per cent saying it’s just right, and 10 per cent, mainly the Green voters, one would assume, saying not enough. Now, a majority of Labor voters unquestionably think that, yet you do have great ethnic support and it’s pretty risky for Labor to stand up and say we want to cut the numbers. Where does this debate go in the Labor Party?
ALBANESE: What you’ve got to do is have a sensible debate that debates the issues rather than debates – quite often it can be derailed by talking about a particular race or a particular group. So we need to avoid that.
RICHARDSON: We’ve got to talk about Budgets, jobs.
ALBANESE: Non-discrimination. The second thing is, how do we grow? The fact is that we need migration in this country because of the nature of the population. The ageing of the population means we need to have younger people in the workforce or simply we won’t be able to manage the economy. That balance needs to be made. So migrants contribute to the economy and there was an important study that showed that last week.
But that doesn’t mean that we can’t have a debate about the fact that the migrants are all settling in Sydney and Melbourne, that that’s producing real pressure on infrastructure in the suburbs. It doesn’t mean that we can’t have a debate about proper planning. One of the things I’m concerned about is that in our outer suburbs of course we had growth whereby suburbs, housing had been built without thinking where people would work, where their kids would go to school, where they will play on the weekend, where the hospitals are – all those facilities.
There’s a similar thing happening in the inner and middle rings now whereby you have – go and have a look at Wolli Creek, close to the airport there. All of that development – not one new oval for a kid to kick a footy, not one new public school, not one new private school, for that matter, in that area. How’s it going to work? That creates real pressure and that will, I think, make it susceptible to politicians who come up with easy answers, which is just, you know, ‘stop the world, we want to get off’. So we can’t go down that way, but we can’t also avoid having a proper debate about growth, about where people are living and about quality of life and we should be able to do that in a way that’s respectful.
RICHARDSON: Let’s hope we can. I have to say, you’re a very convincing person sometimes. It worries me. Anthony Albanese.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.