12 May 2017

FRIDAY, 12 MAY 2017

Subjects: Budget 2017

SABRA LANE: Joining me now to discuss the Budget in reply speech is Labor's finance spokesman, Jim Chalmers. Mr Chalmers, good morning, welcome.


LANE: Labor's said it won't lift the Medicare levy for all Australians to help pay for the NDIS - just the two top income tiers for marginal tax payers. Why just them?

CHALMERS: We don't think it's fair for Malcolm Turnbull to be asking middle Australia to pay more tax so that the millionaires and multinationals can pay less tax. It's a pretty simple proposition.

LANE: But hang on, they've argued that this is going to the NDIS.

CHALMERS: Well let's be real here. The real reason that Malcolm Turnbull wants working Australians to pay more is not to fund the NDIS, which the Liberals have never wholeheartedly agreed with, but to fund a $65 billion company tax cut.

LANE: I'm going to pick you up on that point, because from day one they've been behind the NDIS. You've both had differing views as to how it should be paid for. If you believe that this won't be used to pay for the NDIS, why pass it at all?

CHALMERS: We think that it's only fair for people to make a contribution over $87,000. We don't think it's fair for Malcolm Turnbull to ask middle- and low-income earners in this country to pay more so that millionaires and multinationals can pay less tax, which is the core of his Budget.

LANE: You've made that point, but my point is, if you believe the money's not going to go to the NDIS, why pass any of this at all?

CHALMERS: The point that I'm making, Sabra, is that the real reason that they are doing this is not to fund the NDIS. It's to fund the company tax cut.

LANE: And my point is, then why do it?

CHALMERS: Why do it at all? We think in the severe fiscal situation that we're in, we won't oppose the bank levy, for example. We need to find a way to help the Liberals fix the mess that they've made of the Budget. That's why we've got that Budget repair levy, which was one of the key announcements that Bill Shorten made last night. We are targeting our response. We want to target people on low- and middle-incomes, because they're our highest priority. Malcolm Turnbull's highest priority are the highest income earners at the top end.

LANE: Labor's said - you've just made that point - high-income deficit levy should stay. It's due to be abolished in July. That policy with hiking the Medicare levy for the top income earners, you say, and Labor argues, is enough to pay for the NDIS. How much money will that raise?

CHALMERS: Over the medium term, the 10-year horizon, we think that the combination of what we're saying on the Budget repair levy and the Medicare levy will actually raise $4.5 billion over that 10-year horizon. That means that our plan is, in fact, more responsible than the Government's plan. And most importantly, it doesn't ask low- and middle- income earners to pay more so that millionaires can pay less.

LANE: That still falls short of what the Government requires for the NDIS, does it not?

CHALMERS: No, we're raising $4.5 billion more than the Government would raise. We're raising more than the Government would raise over that 10-year horizon.

LANE: I think initially you said that would raise $4.5 billion total.

CHALMERS: In addition.

LANE: In addition.

CHALMERS: In addition to what the Government is raising.

LANE: All right.

CHALMERS: Our plan is fairer and raises more over that 10-year horizon.

LANE: OK, so something like $12.5 billion. Is that it?

CHALMERS: $12.5 billion in total? It raises $4.5 billion more than the Government. What Bill Shorten announced last night...

LANE: We need to be clear on the figures here. If you've got those figures, why not release them all for everyone to see?

CHALMERS: Well Bill Shorten said in his Budget speech last night that the difference between the Labor plan and the Liberal plan is $4.5 billion over the medium term.

LANE: Why not release all the costings that you've got for this so that we can independently have a look at it ourselves?

CHALMERS: Well we will release our costings when it's appropriate to do so. We've done that continuously in the last term. We'll do it in this term, so that when the Australian people go to the election, they know where we stand on the Budget.

LANE: By taking this approach with the NDIS, this issue becomes a major political battleground. Scott Morrison's accused Labor of playing class warfare with the disabled. How do you respond to that?

CHALMERS: Well that's just a ridiculous accusation. That sort of accusation is thrown about by people who can't justify and can't defend the core of this Budget. The core of this Budget is asking people on middle incomes to pay more so that people at the top can pay less. We shouldn't fall for the trap of thinking that this Medicare levy is about the NDIS. We've got a $65 billion company tax cut in the Budget, which the Government is trying to fund. They want you to believe, and they want your listeners to believe, that this is about the NDIS. It isn't.

LANE: Well if they've done that, they've hoodwinked John Della Bosca, former Labor MP, who’s now the spokesman for Every Australian Counts. He issued a statement on Tuesday night welcoming what the Government had said, saying quote unquote “the Government’s put its money where its mouth is and fully funded the NDIS".

CHALMERS: I’ve got a lot of respect for Della and for the work that he’s done in the community for Australians with a disability and what I’d say to him is that we’ve found a way to provide more money over the medium term in a much fairer way that still asks people to make a contribution, but which asks the people at the top end of the income scale to make a bigger contribution rather than the opposite, which is what Malcolm Turnbull wants, which is people to make a contribution at the low- and middle- end.

LANE: Still, Labor's approach means the top personal income tax rate now becomes 49.5 per cent. Perceptions are everything in politics. It looks and sounds like class war.

CHALMERS: I dispute that. That's the sort of absurd description that gets thrown about largely in this building - not out in the community. It gets thrown about by people who can't defend a really simple proposition, which is in this country, with the absolute Budget mess that this Government has created, we don't think it's fair to ask people to pay more tax when they're making less than $87,000 a year at the same time as the Government wants to give a $16,400 tax break to millionaires and at the same time as the Government wants to give a $65 billion tax cut to big multinational corporations.

LANE: Mr Shorten also revealed last night that Labor could save $5.4 billion over 10 years by closing multinational tax loopholes. How will that be done?

CHALMERS: There's a combination of eight measures in our plan to close those loopholes. A lot of your listeners would have followed very closely and with interest some of the revelations around things like the so-called Panama Papers. We have a really serious problem in Australia and around the world from people who want to hide their money in tax havens and avoid paying their fair share of tax. So the plan that we announced last night had a whole range of measures around transparency and reporting, protecting whistleblowers, dealing with the sort of transaction data that is crucial to getting to the bottom of this issue, guidelines for super funds, more ATO disclosure and reporting - a really comprehensive plan to deal with these multinational tax havens so that the people who should be paying tax in Australia are so that middle Australia isn't being asked to pay more to fill the hole.

LANE: Jim Chalmers, thank you very much for joining AM this morning.

CHALMERS: Thank you Sabra.