Subjects; dividend imputation; company tax; enterprise bargaining; inaugural Qantas Perth-London flight; tourism
DAVID SPEERS: I’m joined now by Labor’s Anthony Albanese, Shadow Minister for Transport and Infrastructure. Thanks very much for your time this afternoon.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good afternoon, David.
DAVID SPEERS: Bill Shorten says he’ll have more to say about pensioners in the coming weeks. What is he going to say?
ALBANESE: Well, David you’d be shocked if I told you exactly what Bill Shorten would say in coming weeks. That would be a bit undermining of the whole point of him saying that. The fact is that we’re not going to take lectures about treatment of pensioners from a mob who just this month have gotten rid of the Bereavement Allowance; from this mob who want to increase the working age for pensioners up to 70; from people who opposed the big increase that we had, the largest ever increase in the pension that we had when we were in office; from a mob that changed the assets test to throw tens of thousands of Australians off the pension.
SPEERS: Fair point, but but does Labor acknowledge that this policy announced by Bill Shorten last – does this suggest Labor perhaps didn’t realise it was going to hit that many pensioners with this policy announcement last week?
ALBANESE: It suggests nothing of the sort. What it suggests is that we have a policy out there well in advance of an election for all to see; that we know that this policy now costs around about $6 billion. It was estimated to cost $500 million when it was introduced. When it was introduced…
SPEERS: …nearly 20 years ago….
ALBANESE: …pensions weren’t tax free. That has made an enormous difference. So when you see the scare campaign run by the Government through the pages of some compliant news agencies, they talk about taxable income, not income and there’s a big difference between the two.
SPEERS: But there’s also no dispute that about 14,000 full pensioners will be hit. You know well that these aren’t wealthy retirees. A full pensioner is doing it tough. Why should they be hit at all?
ALBANESE: Well, they will be impacted because simply in terms of this policy, we had a decision to make of whether this was sustainable or not. I don’t believe that anyone could possibly argue that if this system wasn’t in place that you would go to an election saying that we had this plan to allow for cash payments to be made rather than a reduction of tax liabilities, which is what it was introduced to do. We have got this plan; it’ll cost $8 billion dollars for the Budget. Would you do that, or would you spend it on education, on health, on infrastructure, on lifting living standards.
SPEERS: All important things, but why should a full pensioner who might have ten grand in shares have to lose money they rely on?
ALBANESE: If you have ten thousand dollars in shares at the moment you will receive a cash payment based upon the dividend on that which will be of course a small amount relative to what some people are getting from this. But I understand that even a small amount can have an impact.
SPEERS: So why should they lose that at all, even a small amount but important for those who are trying to make ends meet?
ALBANESE: There is not a country in the world, in the OECD that has cash payments for dividend imputation. Not one, and there’s a reason for that.
SPEERS: Well, not many have 30 percent company tax rates either if we want to make international comparisons.
ALBANESE: Actually, if you have a look at the international comparisons and you look at actual tax paid, they don’t have the sort of deductions that are allowable in Australia that sees major companies, including many of the ones that you read out earlier today, not pay any tax. So a range of companies have a lower headline rate, if you like, but they have very different systems indeed from the Australian taxation system.
SPEERS: Perhaps getting off this issue, I understand it would be difficult to exempt pensioners from this sort of change, because what if they wanted to buy shares or sell shares? You know, what would happen to the franking credits that are attached to those shares and so on? But from what Bill Shorten was saying today there seems to be the thinking within Labor that you’re going to have to do something else to help these pensioners.
ALBANESE: Labor will always help pensioners. That’s what we do. That’s what done since Gough Whitlam. That’s what Hawke and Keating did. That’s what Rudd and Gillard did and that’s what a Shorten Labor Government will do.
SPEERS: Would you undo the changes to the taper rate that Labor opposed a couple of years ago? The Greens and the Government passed it through. Is that something Labor would look at?
ALBANESE: I’m not about to to announce policy on your program this afternoon, with due respect. I’ll leave that to the Leader and Jenny Macklin as the appropriate Shadow Minister. I’ll say this; Jenny Macklin or Malcolm Turnbull? I know who pensioners can rely upon, and it’s not Malcolm Turnbull.
SPEERS: Let me turn to company tax. We were just touching on that there. You’ve got another crossbencher today, Steve Martin who says he’ll back the Government, the BCA with that statement. They’ve just offered a commitment to the Senate to invest more in Australia at least. Is Labor winning or losing this argument in the Senate at the moment?
ALBANESE: Out there in the public, certainly there’s a view that $65 billion of tax cuts is something that we simply can’t afford. The Budget is about priorities and we now have a debt increase to half a trillion dollars from a Government who said it was an emergency situation when it was just about half that; a Government that seems to have given up on the issue of how you get deficits reduced and how you deal with with fiscal policy. So the fact is that today’s announcement – I notice that you read out earlier, it didn’t say anything about increasing real wages of the staff from those corporations involved. We have circumstances in Australia where we already have record profits taking place. We have big payments to senior executives but you have their employees effectively not getting any increase in…
SPEERS: So you doubt these companies, BHP, Energy Australia, Qantas, Woodside, Woolworths would actually boost wages?
ALBANESE: All I know is that in that statement that you’ve read out, they didn’t say that they would. They were directly asked whether they would and they haven’t said that they would. So I think they can be taken on their non-word, that they haven’t been prepared to give a commitment there. We know that trickle-down economics essentially doesn’t work. The idea that if you just give a whole lot of money to the top end of town then it trickles down, doesn’t work. People are experiencing it right now. It hasn’t worked for the economy at the moment. Why would it work if they had even more profitability? Essentially we’ve seen a transfer in recent years from wages to profits as a share of the national economy. We’re not seeing wages keeping up. That’s why many families are really struggling to pay their mortgages, to put food on the table, to look after their kids education and health needs.
SPEERS: Let me just finish on a couple of other issues. Sally McManus, the ACTU Secretary spoke at the National Press Club today; a wish list from the ACTU. We’ve heard many of the ideas before. Can I just pick out a couple; the unions want industry-wide bargaining allowed. Would Labor ever go back to industry-wide bargaining?
ALBANESE: Well, what they’re concerned about is that enterprise bargaining at the moment simply isn’t working across a whole range of enterprises in both the public and the private sector. The current Government’s attitude for example to pay rises at the lower end, of those good public servants, who are all working away in the national interest has been nothing short of appalling…
SPEERS: So is industry-wide bargaining the answer?
ALBANESE: …and in the private sector we haven’t seen wages kept up either. So certainly, there is a need to consider why that isn’t working; to work that through. Sally McManus speaks for the ACTU. Labor will determine our own policy direction, but it’s very clear that the national economy is being hurt by the fact that real wages aren’t increasing, and it’s not just the ACTU saying that. It’s the Reserve Bank Governor and previous governors; it’s senior economists; it’s people who are normally seen very much on the conservative side of politics.
SPEERS: But is this something that Labor would consider? Allowing the entire building industry, for example, to have industry-wide bargaining and what that might mean for the economy?
ALBANESE: Labor will determine our own policies after input from the ACTU, from employer organisations and from the broader community, and we will do what is in the national interest.
SPEERS: So it’s not a yes?
ALBANESE: I’m not about…
SPEERS: Because you’re going to have an interesting National Conference in July with the unions and the Labor Party.
ALBANESE: Our national conference is always interesting, David, and it will be broadcast live on Sky TV!
SPEERS: It will. I can’t wait. I can’t wait. Final one. Lucky you, Anthony Albanese. You’re on the inaugural Perth to London, the first Qantas Perth to London direct flight. It’s, what is it, Sunday?
ALBANESE: Saturday evening.
SPEERS: Saturday evening. Why is this important for the tourism sector?
ALBANESE: It is critical and Steve Ciobo the Tourism Minister will also be travelling as will the Premier of Western Australia, Mark McGowan and their Tourism Minister, Paul Papalia. This is a historic event. When the Kangaroo Route, as it was called when it began in 1947, it took four days. One of the reasons why it was called the Kangaroo Route from Australia to London was that it had so many stops that it was like a kangaroo hopping across the globe. Now we’re going to have the first ever non-stop commercial flight from Perth to London. This has an enormous potential to give a boost to jobs and tourism particularly in Western Australia. Perth will benefit but so too will those regional locations like the Kimberley and Ningaloo Reef and the Margaret River region in Western Australia. Tourism is so important for jobs and for our national economy. It’s been identified as one of the super-growth sectors and there’s no doubt that this opportunity, where WA is getting the first direct flights, in a few years time you’ll be able to fly direct from Sydney and Melbourne to New York or London. That will happen sometime in the middle of the next decade, but we’re seeing a transformation where Australia’s competitive disadvantage of distance is being overcome with new technologies such as the Dreamliner, which will undertake this direct flight.
SPEERS: All right. Maybe Alan Joyce will sit next to you for part of the trip and have a chat about company tax rates. We’ll see. Anthony Albanese, thank you very much for joining us there from Sydney this afternoon.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you, David.