Subjects: GST; superannuation, tax avoidance; Gary Gray
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Thanks very much for being there.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be with you Peter.
VAN ONSELEN: Let’s get straight into Tony Shepherd. He saying Australians have to get used to paying more tax if we want to maintain the kind of services that government currently provides. Do you accept that?
ALBANESE: Well I think certainly in terms of the tax mix the idea that you can have more and more services and infrastructure with less and revenue certainly isn’t right. But you need to get the balance right. We need to look at both expenditure and revenue and certainly I think Tony Shepherd – I’m not sure of the context of his comments – but I am sure that that would have been it, knowing Tony as I do.
VAN ONSELEN: From his perspective he’s arguing for GST. I’m sure that we can have a very different perspective from yourself on that in a moment. But the general principle from him is more tax – like it or not if you want to pay for the kind of services we have and the ongoing cost in an ageing society and so forth that are attached to that. Is your point, Mr Albanese, that yes, more tax is probably unavoidable but equally we need to look to try to contain spending as and where we can?
ALBANESE: Yes but also that tax should, I think, be kept to a minimum in terms of the rates. I’m not an advocate of increasing rats of taxation. What I would say is this: That we need to make sure that people who should be paying tax are paying tax. That’s why measures such as the multi-national tax measures put forward by Labor are important. That’s why the measures on superannuation that essentially allow the very top end to avoid their obligations through manipulating the superannuation contributions need to be looked as well. And if you look at that then you’ll find the revenue verses expenditure equation ends up being very different. My concern about the GST of course is the inequity in it; is the fact that the pensioner pays the same as the billionaire when they make a purchase and low and middle income earners of course spend far greater of their income on the necessities of life and that is a major concern. I think that should be considered. I raised an issue the national conference about the fact of looking at the Buffett Rule should be considered and I note that the government in Joe Hockey, when he was treasurer, said that would be looked at. There’s a real concern when you have people who are very high income earners who use taxation arrangements and smart accountants and lawyers to get out of their obligations, something that average PAYE taxpayers certainly don’t do.
VAN ONSELEN: But going back to the GST for a moment, I mean surely there’s capacity to alleviate some of your concerns through compensation. Those same concerns existed when the carbon tax was introduced – that if it was passed on to consumers by businesses paying it that therefore lower income earners might be stung. But that was overcome by the compensation measures. I guess what I am asking is why does Labor rule out the GST carte blanche rather than think about ways that it could be tailored to allow for safeguarding the areas you are worried about?
ALBANESE: It’s a matter of your priorities Peter and why would you look at increasing at a tax that is by its very nature regressive? There are a range of taxes that aren’t regressive – that are progressive and that impact more on those that can more afford to pay. The government isn’t looking at that. The government is
looking at increasing the regressive tax and decreasing the progressive taxes that are there that scale up the higher the income that you earn. I am certainly not against taxation reform. But I do think you need to look at the impact of it and you need to look at issues including particularly tax avoidance in this country.
VAN ONSELEN: What about this though: You’ve got the Liberal Party, the new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, doing some of the things you are talking about. They are looking at tax avoidance, they are opening the door to superannuation which Tony Abbott was simply not prepared to do. Yet he is making these concessions, the new Prime Minister, yet Labor continues to play old politics you could say about the GST.
ALBANESE: Well, old politics if you want to define as the person on $30,000 a year paying the same as the person on $30 million a year then I am happy to be identified with it. Old politics, if it is about progressive taxation measures, then I am happy to be identified with that as well. The GST is fundamentally an unfair tax. It’s a regressive tax by its very nature and what I want to see is a comprehensive debate on taxation particularly looking at the impact of it. Unless you do that then you are having a somewhat unreal debate. And Malcolm Turnbull could fix superannuation by the end of this year. You have Labor’s position very clear. He can go into the Parliament- unlike the GST that requires the support of states and territories, it’s quite complex to change – he can fix some of these measures that would assist in boosting the fiscal position of the government. He could do that in the remaining three sitting weeks. They’ll sail through the House of Reps and the Senate. I think he would get a big tick were he to do that.
VAN ONSELEN: We will wait and see when Parliament returns. Mr Albanese, I put out a tweet asking for any viewer questions for you. One that came in was about the situation with Gary Gray in Western Australia. I wonder if you are aware of this. He’s refusing to sign the parliamentary candidates’ pledge and he’s of a view that he could be in trouble with his preselection because of it. What’s your response to that?
ALBANESE: Well, that should be fixed. This is an archaic pledge. My understanding is pledging to be bound by the WA conference. As a federal candidate, what he is bound by is the national platform of the Labor Party and that is the pledge that we sign. My understanding is this is an outdated measure that has remained in WA. I am sure that common sense on the national executive will prevail and Gary Gray will be allowed to context the preselection.
VAN ONSELEN: Let’s hope so. He’s one of the better performers in my opinion at least.
ALBANESE: Gary Gray makes an outstanding contribution to the federal shadow cabinet. He was an outstanding contributor to the previous cabinet. And he is someone who I think has very strong connections with industry and he’s someone who happens to be a friend of mine to declare an interest there. I think he is a very good human being. From time to time he will ruffle feathers. He says things I don’t agree with from time to time. But the thing about Gary is he will put forward his views, debate them out and then go with the collective decision and that’s the sort of person that you want making a contribution.
VAN ONSELEN: Just a final question, I know you’ve got a meeting to get to. But on the GST, Laura Jayes was up on set with me earlier saying that behind the scenes in the Labor Party there seemed to be people that are suggesting that they understand the need for something like that if it can be tailored correctly because of the volume of revenue that it would bring in. Kristina Keneally didn’t quite go that far, but she had heard similar things internally. Your reaction to that? Are you hearing the same things internally?
ALBANESE: What I say publicly is the same as what I say internally Peter and what I know is that the Labor Party fundamentally has issues with regressive taxation. We are a political party with social justice at its core and you don’t advance social justice by saying that we need a tax cut for the top end of town at the same time as we’ll hit the bottom end with an increase in taxation
VAN ONSELEN: Anthony Albanese always a pleasure to have you join us on the program. Thanks once again.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.