TRANSCRIPT - Sky News AM Agenda > Mitch Fifield, Liberal Senator for Victoria

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04-September-2015

TRANSCRIPT - Sky News AM Agenda

with Kieran Gilbert and The Hon Dr Andrew Leigh MP

 

24 August 2015
8:40am

 

E & OE

 

Subjects: Taxation, reform summit, free trade agreements, NDIS, Andrew Hastie

 

GILBERT:
 
This is AM Agenda, thanks for your company this Monday. With me now the Shadow Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh and in Melbourne we’ve got the Assistant Social Services Minister Mitch Fifield. Thanks for your time gentlemen. Mitch Fifield, first to you, more calls for tax cuts from the Treasurer, but how are they going to be paid for? He’s got the idea but not necessarily the solution.


FIFIELD:
 
Well Kieran, I think, as you know, we are very much for a lower, a simpler and a fairer taxation in Australia. We’ve demonstrated that through the abolition of the Carbon Tax and the Mining Tax. We will have more to say in the near future about personal income tax through the Taxation White Paper process. But we’re not hearing any talk from the other side about how to reduce Australia’s levels of taxation. Labor still want to bring back the Carbon Tax, they want to call it a different name, they want to call it an ETS. So I think the people of Australia really do have two competing visions when it comes to taxation.


GILBERT:
 
But I guess the question is Senator Fifield, how you fund this when, as I say, it’d run into the billions to bring the Australian marginal tax rate down to say New Zealand’s for example.

FIFIELD:
 
Well Kieran I’m not here today to announce a Coalition taxation policy. We have the Tax White Paper process which is there for a reason. It’s there to elicit views from the Australian community, from Australian business as to how they think our taxation system can be more competitive. There are a number of stages to that Tax White Paper process. And we will have more to say on personal income tax as a part of that process.


GILBERT:
 
Well that’s a starting point I guess at least Andrew Leigh. The point is that, compared to other nations, our marginal tax rates are not competitive are they?

 

LEIGH:
 
Well Kieran if you look across the OECD, what they call the ‘tax wedge’ is below the OECD average in Australia. For income taxes, and our total tax take which is in the bottom handful of countries in the advanced world. We should always be trying to craft a better income tax system. But if the average Australian had a dollar for every time they were promised tax cuts from Joe Hockey, they’d be as rich as he is. The simple fact is: Joe Hockey is all hot air and no action when it comes to tax reform. Labor’s announced our multinational tax plan, our high-end superannuation plan, tax reforms which make a difference to the budget bottom line but are also fair and sustainable.

GILBERT:
 
So you’re happy with the status quo in terms of the marginal tax rate?

 

LEIGH:

 

Certainly it would be great to bring them down, but there’s that old Milton Friedman line, ‘to tax is to spend.’ So effectively, if Mr Hockey intends to cut one area of taxes, he needs to either show us he’s going to cut, which other tax he’s going to raise or how debt’s going to blow out. Under Mr Hockey’s watch we’ve seen the tax share go up, not down. His Budget paper one shows very clearly that he’s taxing more highly than the Rudd or Gillard governments before him. Which again, just shows the lack of seriousness from Mr Hockey when it comes to tax reform.

 

GILBERT:

Okay, let’s go to Senator Fifield. On the broader issue of reform we’re seeing business groups this morning the front page of the Fin Review ahead of this reform summit to be co-convened by The Australian and the AFR on Wednesday. They’re saying they’re willing to put their interests to one side to see reform, growth-orientated reform, undertaken. But I guess, there just seems to be very little common ground right now on anything, when it comes to whether industrial relations or wide-scale tax reform. You know, it’s a good idea to have the reform summit but is there any sense of optimism that they’ll be some common ground here Senator Fifield?


 FIFIELD:

 

Well Kieran I think the reform summit is a good thing. It’s always good when journalists and business leaders take an interest in public policy and want to help create an environment that’s more conducive to good policy and to reform. But what we need is growth to lead to even more jobs in the Australian economy. And there are some really practical things that can be done, which we’re in favour of and which the Labor Party are against. Legislation to bring back the Australian Building and Construction Commission, to bring productivity back to building sites, to eliminate militant trade unionism. That’s something really practical. Another practical thing is if Labor would support us with our Registered Organisations legislation, that would see union leaders subject to the same penalties and the same expectations that are there for company directors. There’s some really practical things. Labor could get on board and support the China Free Trade Agreement. We’ve negotiated three important trade agreements. Labor seem to have great difficulty embracing something which should be a self-evident good for the Australian economy in the form of the Australia/China Free Trade Agreement. So there are some really practical things that Labor could do to help support growth in Australia. So I don’t agree that basically we’re on the same page here.


GILBERT:
 
On the FTA, I can’t see, if we just to pick up one of those points that Senator Fifield referred to, I can’t see Labor blocking this. And certainly as an economist yourself and a former adviser to a trade minister you would be, there’s very little chance that you would endorse Labor attempting to block or repeal this FTA.

 

LEIGH:

Kieran, Labor’s got a strong track record on free trade. It was Labor governments that put in place Australia’s big tariff cuts in 1973, 1988 and 1991. Our concern in this trade agreement doesn’t go at all to the tariff cuts, it goes to the immigration measures and the measures which potentially would allow companies to sue the Australian Government. That’s again our concern with the trans-Pacific partnership being negotiated in secret. But Labor’s concerns are not over the trade liberalisation parts, they’re over the threats to our intellectual property systems.


GILBERT:


Do you welcome the business groups saying they will put self-interest to one side as the debate around reform cranks up on Wednesday at this summit to be convened by the AFR and the Oz?

 

LEIGH:

 

Absolutely and Kieran like Mitch I really welcome to contribution of business groups to that ongoing public policy conversation. But we need to be careful of lionising the Hawke/Keating days. When Parliament passed the legislation to enact the Mabo decision, the Liberal leader at the time said it was a day of shame. And today we’ve got a Liberal Prime Minister going to visit Eddie Mabo’s grave. That reflects how far the Liberal Party has come over that time. But no one should look back and see the Labor reforms of Native Title as being backed bipartisanly. Same with Medicare, superannuation, capital gains tax, fringe benefits tax, the assets testing of…


GILBERT:

There’s another big reform that both sides have agreed to up until this point, but Senator Fifield. With Joe Hockey saying he’s going promise tax cuts at the election, if you look at the big spending initiative that the Government’s committed to, but in the last few weeks you seem to be wavering on in terms of the timeline, that’s the NDIS. Is the NDIS going to be delayed here to fund the tax cuts in the short term?

 

FIFIELD:

No Kieran. That’s the short answer. That’s long answer. That’s the unequivocal answer. We as a Government are not looking for ways or reasons to delay the NDIS. We are determined to see the NDIS rolled out in full. I’ve been working extremely hard to see that become a reality. I wasn’t put in the job as Minister for Disabilities to do anything other than deliver to the NDIS and to do it in full.

 

GILBERT:

Well I know you’re committed to it but the problem is, and the suggestion is, that the ERC—others within your Government—are trying to make savings from it. You’re saying this morning that is not going to be the case.

 

FIFIELD:

Kieran we are not looking to pull money from the NDIS. I’m conducting negotiations with state and territory jurisdictions so that we can work out together the roll out plans for the NDIS beyond the current trial sites to take the scheme nation-wide. There’s immense goodwill with my state and territory counterparts. We want to see this become a reality, it will become a reality.

GILBERT:

Well you heard that. You must be reassured by the Minister this morning. He is the Minister responsible Andrew Leigh. He’s saying that no, there won’t be savings being made as some suggestions around this place this morning might have indicated.

 

LEIGH:

Kieran I’ve got no concerns with Mitch’s goodwill on this important issue. But you can hear there in his language where he says, ‘we’re not looking to’, the unwillingness to stick to the agreed timetables. When he was asked about this in the Senate, he wasn’t willing to commit to the NDIS roll out timetable that we thought was a bipartisan timetable last election. This is such an important reform and the notion that it’s going to be slowed down will be deeply concerning to the millions of Australians with disabilities…

 

GILBERT:

He hasn’t said it’s going to be slowed down. He’s still committed to that timeline.

 

LEIGH:

He hasn’t recommitted to the timelines that were bipartisan at the last…

 

GILBERT:

Senator Fifield your response to that. Because by my reading what you said was you are still committed to the timeline, but you haven’t given a guarantee that you’ll necessarily meet it because of the state negotiations.

 

FIFIELD:

The timeline for the NDIS—the target date—is 2019. That is embedded in the Heads of Agreement between the Commonwealth and the jurisdictions. That is the target. That is the objective that I am working towards with my state and territory counterparts. I can’t put it more clearly than that Kieran.

 

GILBERT:

And just to reassure one final time for those with families and loved ones with disabilities this morning that this NDIS is not going to be the victim of a cost-saving in order to fund tax cuts. Just a reassurance on that.

 

FIFIELD:

No Kieran. Absolutely not. The NDIS is the core business of government. And that is, helping people who face extra challenges for reasons beyond their control. It’s one of the reasons why people pay their taxes. People are very happy to pay their taxes to support something like the NDIS. I’m in this job to see it through. To see it delivered in full. That’s what’s going to happen.

 

GILBERT:

Good on you. That’s good to hear and let’s hope that you achieve that timeline despite Labor’s doubts. And let’s go to by-election on Canning now, the Canning by-election in WA. It was a very impressive speech by the Liberal candidate Andrew Leigh. There were some reports about his time. The contingent that he was captain of in the SAS in Afghanistan and then a forceful response to the reports in the Fairfax papers on the weekend. You’d have to be impressive by Andrew Hastie, Captain Hastie, the Liberal candidate for what he’d said on the weekend.


LEIGH:

Kieran I’m certainly not going to question somebody whose served overseas for his country. This by-election is about whose best able to represent Canning on the issues of jobs, and health and education. Labor’s candidate, Matt Keogh, grew up in the electorate, lives in the electorate, knows the electorate. He’s concerned about 30,000 additional West Australians who joined the unemployment queue since the last election. Concerned that the Abbott Government’s cuts to hospitals and schools are hitting the Western Australia and a time when the Western Australian budget can least afford…

 

GILBERT:

On Captain Hastie. The reports about him. And, you know, you saw the reports in Fairfax about the actions of those in SAS contingent that he was captain of. He responded to them forcefully. Your reaction to the way he handled that very difficult situation.

 

LEIGH:

Look he did and I think that was a perfectly appropriate response. My feeling though is that the people of Canning need more than a rubber stamp for the Abbott Government’s cuts. They need a candidate, Matt Keogh, who’ll actually stand up for their community at a time when Western Australian jobs are under threat. The idea that unemployment is just the fault of the individual. That a one-month waiting list, waiting period, for young unemployed people will somehow starve people back into work. The idea that unemployment is the fault of the individual, rather than a lack of demand is a real problem for Australians.

 

GILBERT:

Well Senator Fifield, going into this crucial by-election. Crucial for a number of reasons. For the Prime Minister, for the Government generally, it comes at very important time for Mr Abbott. It’d be encouraging to see the likes of Andrew Hastie—very, very impressive at the weekend.

 

FIFIELD:

Look Andrew Hastie is a first-class candidate. He’s served his nation in uniform. He was a distinguished officer. He served in the SAS. He’s a decorated individual. And I’ve got to say one of the really pleasing things for me over the past few elections is the number of people who’ve served in the Australian Defence Force who are putting themselves forward for parliamentary office. There was a time where we were getting extremely low on the numbers of Members of Parliament who’ve actually worn uniform and served. So I think it’s a great thing. People like Andrew Nikolic, people like Linda Reynolds. And very hopeful that Andrew Hastie will join them and bring that perspective to the Parliament.

 

GILBERT:

Yeah well. We’ll see Mitch Fifield September 19’s the date. Certainly a strong candidate. Labor’s got a pretty good candidate as well. It’s going to be a very interesting campaign over the next month or so. Mitch Fifield, Andrew Leigh, gentlemen thanks so much for that have a good day.

 

Media contact:

Vincent Tulley | 0409 244 865 | vincent.tulley@dss.gov.au