SUBJECTS: Labor’s plan for greater access to justice for small business; Coalition division over an effects test; Morrison has no Budget date, no tax policy and no idea about how to tackle the “excesses” of negative gearing; Labor’s plan to fund health & education – and balance the Budget; negative gearing; polls; marriage equality plebiscite; WA Labor.
MIKE KELLY, LABOR CANDIDATE: Well welcome everybody to Queanbeyan, it’s great to have everyone with us. Chris Bowen, our Shadow Treasurer, also Michelle Rowland, who is focusing on small business interests and Andrew Leigh, contributing so many great things, to our development of economic policy in the Party. I’d also like to thank Lisa Robertson for having us here today in her gymnasium. She is a wonderful example of a small business person who is out there doing great things, taking on the world and big franchises and getting it done. It’s also great to see the focus of this being on small businesses because Eden-Monaro is a community and an economy that depends so much on small businesses, it is our life blood.
And to be frank, over the last three years we’ve seen our small businesses being kicked in the guts by this Coalition government. What we’ve seen is the smashing of the public service and moving departments has caused great harm and hurt in our region right across the board. I was talking to a local real estate agent and she was saying before the last election there was only a one per cent vacancy rate for small businesses, and that is now up to 6 per cent and still getting worse. Killing off our renewable investment, which has done great harm.
And now we see the Coalition with their NBN policy, we are seeing a digital divide in Queanbeyan. Disadvantaging small businesses, right throughout the region where an inferior rollout is hurting the prospects of our small businesses, the wash through of Labor’s local infrastructure and projects. We are seeing our tradies and our small business looking for the next steps forward, which they aren’t seeing from this Government.
So I welcome the team here today to make this announcement, and it will show the best friend that small businesses both here in Queanbeyan and nationally is the Australian Labor Party.
CHRIS BOWEN, SHADOW TREASURER: Thanks very much Mike and thanks for everything you’re doing here in Eden Monaro, the people of Eden Monaro has no better representative than Mike Kelly. We hope very much Mike returns and joins us in the Caucus after the next election. As you know, Labor has been setting the economic policy agenda. We’ve been making our policy announcements, doing the hard work, doing consultation and announcing detailed policy as the Turnbull government has been left without an agenda, without policy and without a strategy when it comes to our economy. They have been reduced to running pathetic scare campaigns on Labor’s policy, which is quite extraordinary from the government of the day.
Today, Labor takes the next step in making our economy policy announcements. A vital part of economic policy is competition policy. Now, the Government commissioned the Harper Review which provided its report 12 months ago. The government commissioned the review with a big song and dance and over the last twelve months have done absolutely nothing.
One of the recommendations in the review, to be very clear, was the imposition of an ‘effects test’. Labor considered this closely and rejected that recommendation, as being poor policy. Now the Deputy Prime Minister is seen boosting on television that he would be able to implement an effects test, other Ministers are arguing against it, clear factions within the Cabinet, and the Government reduced to taking so-called “decisive” action with the release of a discussion paper, which is still the official Government position when it comes to competition policy.
One of the problems with an effects test is it would be a lawyers’ picnic, it wouldn’t make it any easier for small businesses to get before the courts. We want to see a more level playing field for small businesses, and one of the big disincentives for small businesses to bring competition action before the courts is the deep pockets of their big competitors. And the big fear is then costs will be rewarded against them, and then not only will they have to pay their own costs but those of their competitors.
Now, we don’t think that’s right. So our economic team, with our energetic Shadow Small Business Minister and our Shadow Competition Minister, Andrew Leigh, have been consulting and working in practical ways to level the playing field and the announcement we are making today is about access to justice for small business. Providing the court with an opportunity to say the case has merit, therefore, in advance of the case being moved and costs being racked up, they won’t hold small business responsible for the cost of big business. This is bringing this more in line with what occurs overseas, and is a practical, real and sensible support for small business.
It’s another Labor policy announcement. We’re getting on with the job and providing alternative policies for the Australian people, to be decided at the next election. While Mr Turnbull and Mr Morrison are reduced to scare campaigns and pathetic press releases, we’re getting on with the hard yards of policy announcements. As I said, developed by our economic team, most specifically by Michelle Rowland and Andrew Leigh, in conjunction and consultation with our Shadow Attorney General Mark Dreyfus.
I’m going to ask Michelle to outline a little bit more detail and then ask Andrew to make a few brief remarks.
MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR SMALL BUSINESS: As Chris said, this is a very practical measure which comprises two parts. Firstly, we are codifying the ability of the courts to issue a no adverse costs order. Now in some of these situations, you do have David and Goliath battles, and Goliath has very deep pockets. The ability to have no adverse costs orders will mean that small business seeking to bring actions will not be put off immediately by the prospect of having to not only pay their own costs, but those of their opponents.
The second part of this proposal focuses on financing the Small Business Ombudsman to be able to provide an initial assessment on whether or not the case to be considered is capable of qualifying for a no adverse cost order. This is in response to not only a number of submissions, but we have also held consultations with the sector and small businesses themselves. We have a proposal which includes pre-court stage, informal advice but very valuable insight is being offered on whether or not the case has merit.
We think this is a most practical option and I think it will have results for the small business sector, instead of an situation where you will have an effects test, where we will have to wait a considerable period of time to get some good law in this area, we are proposing something that will provide immediate relief.
I’ll hand over to Andrew Leigh.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMPETITION: Thanks Michelle and Happy Canberra day everyone. It’s a great pleasure to be here with Mike Kelly, the former Member for Eden-Monaro, and hopefully the future member for Eden-Monaro as well, as well as my colleagues Michelle and Chris.
Labor believes passionately there is no better way to put downward pressure on the cost of living than good competition policy. Labor put in place the Trade Practices Act under Gough Whitlam and it’s Labor that is consistently looking for ways to make sure we have great competition laws that ensure that consumers get a better deal. But it’s not just about writing the right laws. It’s also about making sure they are enforced. In coming to office, the Abbott-Turnbull office, cut resources out of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. That’s made it harder to be the strong cop on the beat Australia requires. What this policy does today, is this provides another avenue for the laws to be upheld. It allows small businesses to go forward in certain instances with confidence that even if they lose, they won’t be hit by a multi-million dollar cost order. That ultimately they won’t pay cost orders. That’s in the public interest. We see this in other jurisdictions and other places, where litigation in the public interest is valued, and here a number of cases will now go forward that wouldn’t have gone forward before. This will help get a better deal for consumers and in the end, put downward pressure on costs.
We’re happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Just a question on this policy, have you consulted small business? They indicated this is their biggest concern.
BOWEN: Yes, we have consulted small business as Michelle indicated in her remarks, whether it is COSBOA or the Retail Guild or individual small businesses. Competition policy is very much front of mind for small business and when you talk to small business about the issues, they will tell you it is very hard to get before a court when they have to weigh up not only their own legal costs but the chance of being provided with a bill for the other side's legal costs and the other side may well engage in a legal strategy to maximise those costs. As I said, as Michelle said, this is a practical measure and it has been based on consultation with small business looking through their submissions to various inquiries but also going out and talking to them direct.
JOURNALIST: Labor’s been releasing policies for about 12 months but the latest IPSOS poll shows the Coalition is still ahead. Is this a concern?
BOWEN: Well, at the next election, the Australian people will have a choice based on a Government which has no plan, no vision or a Labor Party which has an education funding plan to make our schools better and a fairer education funding plan, a fiscal plan which involves difficult decisions not only to fund important initiatives in schools and hospitals and elsewhere but also to ensure a proper fiscal plan. We will be running against a Government with no fiscal plan and a Treasurer who says the great moral challenge of our time is tax cuts and bracket creep and he appears to be reduced to not doing anything about it.
Now, the one trend in the polls is the Australian people are showing very clearly they are awake to Mr Turnbull's waffle, his lack of agenda, his lack of a plan. The fact that he had a plan to knock off Tony Abbott but very little idea about what to do next. Whether the next election is in July, August or September I expect it to be very competitive because we will be campaigning on an alternative vision for the nation.
JOURNALIST: Just back to this announcement, how much is it going to cost and will the policy be put to the Parliament?
BOWEN: I will ask Michelle to comment.
ROWLAND: We have costed this through the Parliamentary Budget Office as $1 million over two years and that covers the staffing to the office. We have also said in our policy document that we will consult with the small business sector about the best way of implementation. I think that would be the best result because whether or not it is by, for example, legislation or a change to the court rules, what we will be doing is codifying what the courts can already do but don't do. We will be continuing our consultations because it is important for small business to own this very important reform as well.
JOURNALIST: Mr Bowen, the Treasurer has called on Labor to say what the effect on housing prices will be if your negative gearing policy. Will housing prices go down?
BOWEN: Well, at the risk of my colleagues thinking I'm going a bit soft, I’m almost feeling sorry for the Treasurer. I mean, he has been reduced to a pathetic laughing-stock and former strong Treasurers of both persuasions must be shaking their heads that the Treasurer of Australia, weeks before a Budget is due to be brought down, is reduced to trawling through old newspapers and asking silly questions about Labor's policy which have already been answered.
So before we'll take Mr Morrison's questions seriously, he should answer a few of his own. Three basic questions like: What day will the Budget be on? What is your tax policy? You said there were excesses in negative gearing, what will you do about them?
Until the Treasurer can answer those basic questions, I think his pathetic little press releases should be treated with the contempt they deserve. Labor's policy has been carefully and properly mapped out. We have answered questions in hundreds of media interviews about this. The first question on his list of 28 questions I answered on the Insiders program the day after the announcement. So he really needs to do better and if he spent a little bit more time working on his own policies and doing his day job instead of engaging in silly little press releases about alternative policies, then Australia might be better off.
JOURNALIST: Just a question on something unrelated, the modelling shows it going to cost the economy about $500 million, but isn’t it the best way to give Australians the chance to have their say?
BOWEN: Well the Australian Parliament was elected for a reason. To make decisions. All of us - Michelle, Andrew and I and hopefully Mike, certainly in a former capacity Mike, we are paid to make decisions. That's the Parliament's job. Mr Turnbull actually agrees with that. Mr Turnbull believes in that. But he is not prepared to do anything about it. He is not prepared to stand up to the Eric Abetzs and Cory Bernardis of the world. He sold out of one of his core beliefs to get the votes to become Prime Minister.
Now the fact of the matter is, there’s no need for a plebiscite. The Parliament should make the decision, the Parliament should make a decision with the conscience vote. It can pass at very little cost to the Budget or at the very least, put aside the PriceWaterhouse modelling – and I'm sure they have some weight to their argument but put that aside, even if you don't count those costs, the cost of $160 million to the Budget directly, when we are meant to have a budget crisis and a spending problem. Mr Turnbull and Mr Morrison are prepared to spend that money.
We are prepared to return to Parliament, vote within our consciences I would think that that would be the case and Mr Turnbull would have the courage of his convictions to allow his MPs to have a conscience vote, in the Liberal tradition, then marriage equality would pass.
BOWEN: Well our policy is clear, our policy is clear and as Mr Shorten has said we will have legislation in short order after the election in a Shorten Labor Government. So we can legislate it at zero cost to the taxpayer while all of Parliament is sitting, as opposed to Mr Turnbull’s plan which costs at least $160 million and probably much more when you look at the broader economic costs to the entire economy.
JOURNLALIST: Just on Stephen Smith, is it worrying the Labor Party that this is happening in WA when you should be out there campaigning (inaudible)?
BOWEN: We’re in Canberra, that’s happening in Perth. I’m sure it will be resolved as quickly as possible. I’ve been watching like you have the events in Perth about Labor leadership. We get these things from time to time. I spent a lot of time in Perth focused on the federal issues in my travels through Perth, my work in the seats of Perth with the Perth business community, community groups and trade unions, the view about the Liberal Government is very strong. They feel taken for granted by the Federal Liberal Government, quite the same with the State Liberal Government. I believe Labor can be competitive in Western Australia. We need a lift our game, we need to win more seats, I am sure that this matter will be resolved and everybody will be focussed on that task. The most urgent task for Western Australia Labor is delivering more seats for the delegation from Western Australia. We have a number of very good candidates who have been preselected for seats in Western Australia and I look forward to them joining us in the Caucus once the (inaudible).
JOURNLALIST: But the aesthetics of it, is it an unwelcome distraction?
BOWEN: You’re going to get this from time to time, Mr Smith’s made a statement, Mr McGowan’s made a statement. I’m sure that they will both be working to see that the issue is dealt with as quickly as possible and (inaudible).
Okay, thanks very much.
MEDIA CONTACTS: JAMES CULLEN (BOWEN) 0409 719 879
NICK GREEN (LEIGH) 0402 575 042
HENRY SHERRELL (ROWLAND) 0423 315 250