Press Conference - Sydney 1/2/19

February 01, 2019

SUBJECTS: Banking Royal Commission; Liberals' record debt; Morrison Government's wasteful ad spending; Liberals' blowout on unsustainable tax loopholes; Liberals' cuts and chaos in Queensland; Murray-Darling Basin Royal Commission; Labor’s fairer tax policies.
CHRIS BOWEN, SHADOW TREASURER: Well thanks for coming everyone. I'll deal with a Banking Royal Commission before handing over to Jim Chalmers to talk about the Government's outrageous taxpayer funded advertising campaign, desperate and outrageous, and also the latest situation with Government debt.
But of course today the Government received the report of the Banking Royal Commission. Today every Australian should have received the report of the Banking Royal Commission but the Government has chosen to sit on the report over the weekend and won't release it until Monday afternoon.
Victims of the Banking scandals, consumer groups and indeed the banking financial sector itself should be getting this report today. It's just the latest mismanagement of the Banking Royal Commission by Scott Morrison in particular, the last holdout against holding a Royal Commission into banks. Voted against it twenty six times, said it was ‘regrettable’ when he announced the Banking Royal Commission. A long time ago Bill Shorten, Jim and I and Mark Dreyfus stood at a press conference in Melbourne and called for a Banking Royal Commission. Scott Morrison said it was a ‘populist whinge’. He said it would be a bad thing for Australia and now this bloke expects Australians to believe he's the bloke to trust to clean up the Banks. I think Australians will look at this Prime Minister in particular, particularly cynically when it comes to the Banking Royal Commission.
This is not a ‘regrettable but necessary’ Royal Commission. It was a vital Royal Commission. We want Australia's banks to be strong, to be profitable but to be working on a basis of ethics and decent treatment of all Australians. And nobody could look at the evidence through the Royal Commission and say that that has been the case, no one. And so Scott Morrison has got it wrong about the Banking Royal Commission at every single turn.
Bill Shorten and Labor called for this Royal Commission. Bill Shorten and Labor who can be trusted to ensure that our banks retain the trust of the Australian people. Now the Government will sit on the report over the weekend. It's incumbent on the Government to ensure there are no leaks. This report should be released in full. It can't be leaked out bit by bit, can't be leaked out selectively by the Government, should have been released today but it should be if they refuse to release it today should be released in full on Monday and if it's not done that way it's on Josh Frydenberg’s head and the Government's head because they've chosen to sit on this report over the weekend. I’ll asked Jim to add to those remarks and then we'll take questions.
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FINANCE: Thanks very much, Chris. The Government this morning borrowed another $400 million. This week they borrowed another $900 million. And that means that gross debt in this country is at a new record high of $540.8 billion. Debt in this country has never been higher than it is under this Liberal Government today. Under the Liberals, over the last five years net debt has doubled, gross debt is at record highs well over half-a-trillion dollars for the first time in Australian history. There are many reasons for this, but I want to touch on two reasons why the Budget is such a mess under the Liberals, why we have debt doubling and why we have a new record today after they borrowed that extra $400 million.
The first one is political advertising. Australians are absolutely filthy to learn that in the last year alone, the Liberal Government has spent $200 million of their money on political ads. This $200 million in political ads is nothing but a shameless attempt to distract the Australian people from the cuts and chaos and division and dysfunction, which consumes this Government on a daily basis. I think what really rubs salt in the wounds for a lot of Australians are that these are ads about schools when the Government's cutting schools funding; ads about infrastructure when they're cutting infrastructure funding; ads about pensions when they're cutting pensions; ads about energy policy when they've made such a shambles of energy policy. Australians want their taxpayer dollars spent on hospitals and schools, not political ads to cover up the shambles that is this Liberal Government. Just think of the difference that $200 million could make to the school system or the hospital system or to TAFEs around Australia. We call on Scott Morrison to stop wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on politically motivated taxpayer-funded ads to cover up the shambles that his Government has descended into. Every time an Australian sees an ad from Morrison's Government they will know it's paid for by the Australian taxpayer to cover up or distract from the division and dysfunction which is eating this Government alive.
That's the first issue. The second issue is around franking credits. The $400 million that the Government borrowed just today wouldn't even cover one month of tax return checks that the Government has been sending to people who don't pay any income tax in the first place. Every week, the Government borrows $100 million for a tax concession - a very generous tax concession - which 92 per cent of the Australian population doesn’t access. Every single week, $100 million in debt added to record debt in this country so the Government can send tax return cheques to people who haven't paid tax in the first place. This is around what we spend on public schools as a Federal Government. It's a remarkable amount of money; it's one of the reasons why debt has skyrocketed on this Government's watch.
The Budget's a mess and net debt has doubled and gross debt is at record highs because of these unsustainable tax breaks which give the biggest benefits to those who need them least. And also because the Government is spraying hundreds of millions of dollars around in political ads. Government is about choices. We've been upfront about ours for some time now. Our priority is hospitals and schools and TAFEs, workers and pensioners. Our intention is to make the tax system fairer to start dealing with this record debt, which has accumulated on the Liberals' watch. But also to make sure that we can invest in economic growth and good services for the Australian people.
One final point before I throw over to you for questions, as a Queenslander. Scott Morrison has spent the last four days in Queensland, so I might just make a comment about that. Scott Morrison's four days in Queensland won't make up for five years of cuts and chaos and division and dysfunction which has done such damage to Queensland and to Queenslanders. No amount of cringe-worthy social media videos or belated announcements about infrastructure will make up for five years of cutting money from our hospitals, our schools, our universities, our TAFEs, and our pensioners. Queenslanders will see through four days of spin, four days of cringe-worthy social media, and they will never forget that Scott Morrison is the chief architect of all of the cuts and carnage and chaos and division and dysfunction, which has done such damage to services in Queensland and to the state of Queensland. Over to you.
BOWEN: Thanks Jim. Over to you folks.
JOURNALIST: Mr Bowen, Tim Boyd from the Financial Review. Will a Labor Government support the ‘protect your super’ legislation next week to give the ATO power to claim back money in inactive accounts?

BOWEN: Well thanks Tim. I'm glad you say “Will we support it next week?” I’m glad it’s coming on for a vote next week. It should have come on for a vote last year and the person who is responsible for it not coming on for a vote is Josh Frydenberg. I mean this Government is so chaotic and/or incompetent that they announced this measure in May and through May to now February the next year they have not brought it on for a vote in the Senate. Here's a tip to the Treasurer: If you want a bill passed you have to bring it on for a vote. I don't determine what gets voted on in the Senate. Jim doesn't. We don’t. The Government of the day does. Now the Treasurer has been active on Twitter today. He's all tweet, no action. I mean if you're want a vote on it Josh, bring it on for a vote and how we will vote is how Clare O'Neil and I said we will vote last November in a press release.

Maybe the Treasurer was too busy doing other things like running scare campaigns about the Labor Party to take notice of our policy announcement. We announced that we'd move amendments and I note that in large part these amendments have been, while I don't want to put words in their mouth, there's been noting in the Productivity Commission report about the need to improve the bill and our amendments improve the bill by allowing APRA to carve out funds where APRA is convinced that the insurance is in the best interests of the member and/or there is high risk occupations. Ensuring that mothers on maternity leave and workers who are actively engaged in their superannuation or insurance for example they name a beneficiary. So they're active, that they aren’t inadvertently caught in the loop of inactive accounts, the definition of inactive accounts and speeding up the consolidation of superannuation accounts so that workers can continue earning a return. I mean we said this last November and we'll move those amendments, they’re sensible amendments. The Government knows that. It's been communicated to them publicly and in other ways that we're ready to vote on this and we'll move those amendments. The Treasurer knows that. I suggest he spends less time with silly tweets and more time getting his legislative timetable in order. And it could have been voted on in June, July, August, September. Pick a month when the Parliament was sitting last year and we were happy to vote for it, to vote on it and to move our amendments. So if the if the Government wants to play games on superannuation, that's what they've been doing, they could be getting on with the job.
JOURNALIST: Now with the Royal Commission findings. The Government says that they're not releasing it today because they don't want to shock the banks and create instability. Do you think that they’re being sincere when they say that?
BOWEN: No because I accept that not releasing the report while the stock market is open is a genuine issue and the Government needed to consider that as we would have had to if we were the Government of the day. I perfectly consider that. Now the market closes this afternoon. It could be released this afternoon or it could have been released tomorrow morning or Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning or Sunday afternoon or Monday before the market opens. And instead they've decided to release it Monday after the market opens and they're going to spend the weekend going through the report, reaching conclusions. It's not being provided to the alternative Government. There's election to be held yet. We're a long way to go but it could be that it's the alternative Government that has to implement the recommendations. We'll see who wins the election. But you would think that they might be some consideration to providing the report to the alternative Government but more importantly than us, to the Australian people. The Australian people should see this report over the weekend. I think it goes to Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg’s arrogance and they're continual mishandling of a Banking Royal Commission they didn't want to hold in the first place.

JOURNALIST: Will a Labor Government consider making changes to the franking credits policy as the CPA suggested, capping the funds at $10,000?

BOWEN: We announced this policy last March and it's a policy that will take to the election and we're seeking a mandate from the people to implement it and that's the policy we will take to the election, the policy that we've announced now. That's what the Labor Party does. We develop policy. We have the courage of our convictions to explain it to people who argue for it and then to let the people decide. That's what we’re doing. Putting it to the Australian people, the election in May. But the policy that we've developed is the one that we will take to the election and we will seek the support of the Australian people for, we will continue to argue for it, explain it, explain the justifications for it, explain we're the only country in the world with a refundable imputation system as Jim said  providing tax refunds to people who haven't paid tax, the only country in the world that does that. We're spending roughly what we do on public schools on dividend imputation refundability. These are all important reasons for the reform. We have the courage to put our ideas out there and to put to the Australian people what we think is necessary. Unlike the current Government which just to take one example last term reduced the pension for more than 300,000 people, took almost 100,000 people off the pension entirely, didn't seek a mandate for it. Weren’t honest with the Australian people. Didn't give the Australian voters a chance to express their views at election, fundamentally dishonest with the Australian people about it. We're taking a different view. We'll take the policy to the people at the election.

JOURNALIST: Mr Bowen the Murray Darling report has opened up debate about environmental impact and economic impact if these are implemented. What’s more important, the environment or economic issues?

BOWEN: Well I know Bill Shorten dealt with the Royal Commission into the Murray-Darling just earlier today. I'd refer you to his remarks. Obviously our relevant shadow ministers and Bill are working through the report very carefully, the rest of us are also reading it and working through it. It's only just been released. It's obviously very deeply concerning issue, very deeply concerning for the future of the country and we'll take the Royal Commission report very very seriously indeed. But in fairness you'd understand Mark that we have some time and consideration to go through to formalise a more full response.
Okay I’ll leave it there, thanks very much.