SUBJECT/S: Liberal Party’s chaos and division; Deloitte tax reform report





KIERAN GILBERT: Good morning and welcome to the program. ‘It’s coming like a freight train’ was the view of one Abbott Government minister in relation to the prospect of a Turnbull challenge. Just when is it going to happen though. There’s some sense that it’s inevitable, but could it even happen this week. With me to discuss this and the other issues of the day, Labor frontbencher Michelle Rowland and Assistant Education Minister Senator Birmingham. Senator Birmingham, could a challenge eventuate this week?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well Kieran, I’m not particularly interested nor intending to feed the speculation that’s out there. Speculation is unhelpful for the Government and frankly I, and I’m confident most members of the Government are completely focused on the jobs we have and those jobs are to make sure we grow jobs across Australia which we do incredibly well. That we strengthen growth and the economy so we can create more jobs around Australia and we enhance community safety for all Australians.

GILBERT: But the report last night by Laurie Oakes that the PM, it’s the view of senior figures within the Government that the Prime Minister had discussed and raised the idea with Rupert Murdoch, the idea of a snap election after the Canning by-election has spooked some within the Liberals. I’m told that the PM himself did not raise that prospect of an early election and in fact those close to Mr Abbott playing down any such idea. What’s your take on that?

BIRMINGHAM: Conversations that are had in private meetings are conversations that can only be confirmed by the participants in those private meetings and I have no idea what was said in that meeting. It is of course always within the domain of a PM to call an election at a time they believe is right for the country but as a government we’re not focusing on elections, we’re not intending to have early elections to my knowledge. We’re focused on getting on with creating more jobs for Australians and we have a good, strong track record of employment growth far outstripping that of the previous government. We have our challenges in terms of what’s happened around the world; with the slowdown in China, with the dropping of iron ore prices. They are of course putting pressure on different things but job growth is still strong and that is fundamental to this government’s reforms and to the small business packages we had this year.

GILBERT: Now, just in relation to that quote from a Minster who I wouldn’t say is a “Turnbull supporter”, that ‘it’s inevitable and it’s coming like a freight train.’ An individual who wasn’t of the view that a spill motion should be supported in February, now suggesting that that’s the case and that Turnbull should be Prime Minister. That’s something that’s been put to me by a number of Liberals, including those of what’s called the Right.

BIRMINGHAM: Many things are claimed by people at times to be inevitable. I don’t think you can say that anything outside of elections and budgets in politics are necessarily inevitable. I’m not much of a trainspotter either, I’m somebody who thinks we should be talking about policy, talking about economic policy, talking about how we make sure we keep growing jobs and deal with the challenges Australia has and as a government that’s what we’re focused on. We had great success over the first couple of years in terms of dealing with the border protection issues we had and stopping the boats. We’ve had good success in rewinding the carbon tax and repealing the carbon tax and the mining tax, and delivering small business tax cuts, making sure we don’t proceed with Labor’s banking tax, in growing jobs. All of those things are positive for Australia, they are starting to pay some dividends. We need to keep the focus on economic reform and make sure that as a country we are well placed for the challenges we face in the future and that’s why things like the Free Trade Agreements which Labor are so recklessly opposing are so incredibly important to the future.

GILBERT: Michelle Rowland, to you. Are there internal deliberations and ongoing tensions within the Government disguising an Opposition that’s in itself got some significant issues to deal with ahead of an election year?

MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CITIZENSHIP AND MULTICULTURALISM, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Kieran, we’re ready for an election whenever that might be called. We have a good suite of policies that we have already had costed and ready to take to the Australian people. But I think the focus today on Malcolm Turnbull seeking to fulfil his destiny to become Prime Minister combined with the fact that despite what Simon might say about them having had a good two years and he talks about economic management: debt and deficit – up. Unemployment – up. Growth – down. All these indicators where the Coalition are supposed to be superior, this has not been a good performing government. So Tony Abbott is in this position where he has not delivered in over two years. And bear in mind, I remember vividly being thrown out of office in 2013 but there was not love for Tony Abbott then. He didn’t have the capital with the electorate then, he certainly has burnt any remnants that might have been remaining and people are now looking for alternatives and the conundrum they find themselves in and I would say this, Tony Abbott may be unpopular, Malcolm Turnbull may look like a reasonable alternative in some people’s eyes, but have a look at this bloke’s track record. He’s doubled the cost of the NBN since he announced their version in 2013, isn’t going to deliver it on time – it was supposed to be at the end of next year, that’s not going to happen. This is a bloke who talked a big game when he was in Opposition just as Tony Abbott talked a big game when he was in Opposition. None of them have delivered.

GILBERT: Okay, Senator Birmingham. Your response to some of that in terms of the person that’s mooted as the likely candidate, that being Malcolm Turnbull. You can hear Labor already having a crack at his record, it’s not going to be an easy run for him even if you do move to him.

BIRMINGHAM: Malcolm is a strong member of the team who inherited a complete basket case in the NBN where cost blowouts were already spiralling, where it was self-evident that Labor’s model was not able to be delivered and certainly not able to be delivered within the end running into many multiples of what was initially forecasted to cost so Malcolm’s a great member of the team.

GILBERT: Would he make a good leader?

BIRMINGHAM: I’m not going to buy into those comments. I’ve made it very clear, Kieran, that I don’t think it’s helpful to add to the speculation. I think it’s a government that can stand on a strong record that actually has delivered many of the things we spoke about before the election.

GILBERT: What about some of your colleagues like Andrew Nikolic who texted Malcolm Turnbull on Friday morning and called on him to make a public statement in support of the PM. I’m told that that was not at the PM’s request, that Mr Nikolic did this off his own back, the Deputy Government Whip. He texted Mr Turnbull come out and express your support for the Prime Minister, and this followed that story about the reshuffle in the Daily Telegraph and Mr Nikolic was advised that this was a Daily Telegraph story and Turnbull doesn’t have the closest link to the Tele within the Government so basically you should be sending your messages elsewhere.

BIRMINGHAM: Well, I send text messages from my phone, Andrew sends them from his. You can ask Andrew about his text messages. Again, I would say that as a government I am convinced we are focused on jobs and growth. We’ve done the job of making sure we stop the boats and secure our borders. It’s a great accomplishment. The Government should be proud of that and of course that work never ends. We have achieved lower tax base for many Australians.

GILBERT: But should your colleagues be urging Turnbull to rule out a challenge, is that something that’s helpful?

BIRMINGHAM: Kieran, you can talk about the internal discussions of colleagues if you want. I’m not going to engage in those discussions. I’ll happily talk about policy issues. There’s a fabulously thoughtful policy paper out today by Deloitte Access Economics talking about tax reform. That’s the type of discussion we should be having in this country and a vision for Australia in the future.

GILBERT: Okay. Well let’s move to that because despite my efforts I haven’t got you to elaborate on that this morning, wanting to focus on the policy issues.

BIRMINGHAM: Australia’s challenges are policy challenges.

GILBERT: Well indeed and this is a thoughtful contribution from Chris Richardson and Deloitte. You can raise the funds, provide compensation and reduce the company tax rate with the revenue generated by the GST. This guy is a very well respected Budget-watcher.

ROWLAND: He is respected but I would say two things to that Kieran. Firstly, reform in and of itself isn’t about increasing a regressive tax. And this is what this government seems intent on being focused on. Whenever they talk about reform, they always talk about increasing the GST as a starting point. That is not our starting point. Our starting point is, as I’ve mentioned before, reforming some of those issues of multinational tax avoidance and also high end superannuation. The second is, although Simon might want to latch onto this, we only had in the last couple of weeks Joe Hockey coming out saying we can increase the GST to fund income tax cuts. There’s no plan here from this government.

GILBERT: This isn’t a government document, this is Deloitte Access with their ideas.

ROWLAND: I acknowledge that. And my ideas, as a member of the Opposition, is that we should not be focused on increasing regressive taxes which only serve to make sure that the people who can least afford it end up paying the most.

GILBERT: Except if it’s the carbon tax which you were happy to introduce with compensation.

ROWLAND: We need to remember though Kieran, we had a very generous assistance package in place.

GILBERT: But that’s what they’re talking about here. What’s the difference?

ROWLAND: The difference here Kieran is that the clean energy package was about reforming the economy as a whole. It was about moving industries.

GILBERT: That’s what this is as well.

ROWLAND:  This isn’t about moving a whole sector of the economy towards a new way of funding. That is precisely what the clean energy package was about.

GILBERT: What it is about though is making the economy more efficient and to generate more competitiveness in terms of our business tax take, at 25 per cent would make us more competitive. And as Richardson argues, that would benefit middle Australia because the companies invest more in infrastructure, employ more, train more, work is better off.

ROWLAND: With all due respect, I don’t see this as the answer to making us more competitive and more efficient. I think we should be investing more than anything in two sectors. Firstly, studies will consistently show that in order to improve a country’s productivity you need to have great investment in ICT. We don’t have an ICT plan in this country. We have an NBN that is going backwards under this government, and secondly you don’t do it by hitting the people who can least afford it and then saying we’re going to have compensation in other areas.

GILBERT: Richardson is saying you can make them better off in terms of the compensation. His starting point was to make those on low incomes better off.

ROWLAND: You can also make people on low incomes better off by ensuring that we have a pension and an income retirement system that is in place -

GILBERT: - How do you pay for it?

ROWLAND: We’ve already outlined in one of our first policies that we’ve released, in terms of the high end concessional tax rates on superannuation how we can do that.

GILBERT: Let’s bring in the Minister now. You said it was a good contribution before. The Finance Minister said that it looks inevitably like the Government is going in this direction and make the case for an increased consumption tax.

BIRMINGHAM: Well the Government is going through the right process for formulating what is a complex area of policy and that is the development of a tax reform white paper which will be the foundation of what we take to the next election. And importantly we will look at contributions like this and consider their merits and give them the appropriate thoughts we should give them. Chris Richardson is arguing that you can take inefficient taxes that are disincentives of investment and economic growth in Australia and move their impact on the economy and create greater wealth for everybody by having a more efficient tax structure. That of course is an appealing argument. Of course as a government we would want to make sure that Australians that are less well-off were not disadvantaged by tax reform. That has to be your starting point of any discussion in this space.

GILBERT: But you’re open to the idea of this as a measure to make the tax take the economy more sustainable.

BIRMINGHAM: I think it’s the type of discussion that we need to be having. It’s the type of paper that is a valuable input as we finalise the green paper on tax reform that will lead into that final white paper and I would encourage other think tanks and other bodies around Australia to make other contributions in a similar ilk because I trust that we are a government that is open minded to serious economic reform, open minded to the type of tax reform that can ensure Australians are richer and better off in the future, that does look after the less well-off.

GILBERT: Senator Birmingham, Michelle Rowland. Appreciate it. Thanks, have a great day.

Thank you.