SUBJECTS: Cost of living pressures, Turnbull’s Energy Policy failures, tax cuts

TANYA PLIBERSEK, ACTING LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well thank you for coming out this afternoon.  There are reports in newspapers today that tell us what most ordinary Australians already knew, we are in the longest stretch of declining living standards in a quarter of a century. People are finding it harder to make ends meet, health costs are going up, electricity costs are going up, housing costs are going up and all of this at a time when wages growth is stagnant or even going backwards. 

Why is this happening? Well, we've got a Government that is cutting health spending, making it harder to see a doctor, harder to see a specialist, harder to see an allied health professional, cutting funding to hospitals meaning people are waiting longer for elective surgery or for emergency department treatment. You've got a Government that promised years ago to do something about runaway electricity prices but has presided over only chaos with prices going up and pollution going up at the same time all the while with less reliability in our network.

As this is happening we see wages stagnant in some cases going backwards and a Government intent on taking penalty rates from 700,000 working Australians. At the same time as they want to introduce a tax hike on- sorry, penalty rate cut for 700,000 working Australians and a tax hike on 7 million working Australians - meaning low and middle-income earners will be paying more tax while millionaires and multinationals pay less tax. So in the last quarter of a century, we haven't seen a period where we've seen such a run of uninterrupted declining living standards and Malcolm Turnbull's response - well tax cuts for multinationals and millionaires and bugger the rest of us. 

Any questions?

JOURNALIST: Will Labor match the Government’s pledge to cut income taxes to help ease the cost of living burden?

PLIBERSEK: Well, what is the Government's pledge to cut income taxes? I mean this is something that the Treasurer loves to roll out any time he gets a tough question he says: 'oh sometime in the future there may be tax cuts'. Well, the fact is right now this Government is committed to increasing taxes on 7 million working Australians, low and middle-income earners paying more tax. 

So your average say- nurse on $60,000 a year is going to be paying $300 a year more tax while someone earning a million dollars a year gets a $16 400 a year tax cut. The only people who've succeeded in getting tax cuts out of Malcolm Turnbull are people earning more than $180,000 a year, so all this talk of tax cuts well, I'll believe it when I see it and let's see if any of these mythical tax cuts actually make up for the fact that taxes are already going up, slated to go up on 7 million working Australians. 

JOURNALIST: Do you anticipate that larger energy users could be asked to power down this weekend as temperatures soar in order to prevent blackouts?

PLIBERSEK: Look we have seen reports that large power users might be asked to reduce their energy usage over the weekend. This is further illustration that this Government's refusal to commit to a decent energy policy will cause chaos for individual home users and for large businesses also. 

For years now Malcolm Turnbull has been saying he's going to do something about energy costs and reliability. First, it was going to be an Emissions Intensity Scheme that delivered reliability, lower pollution and lower costs, well that's gone. A Clean Energy Target, that's gone. A National Energy Guarantee that doesn't even come into effect until halfway through the year- the thing Malcolm Turnbull could have done, made sure that more Australian gas stayed in Australia so that we could put downward pressure on gas prices in Australia well he didn't do that. The only thing that he could have successfully done he decided not to do.

The continued uncertainty around the gas market and the broader electricity market in Australia means nobody wants to invest. We've got a strike on new investment in renewables and all of the experts tell us that the coal-centric energy policy of the Liberals and Nationals means that there is a continued strike on renewables that will mean higher pollution, higher prices and less reliability.

JOURNALIST: So is this just a band-aid solution to a much bigger problem?

PLIBERSEK: Of course nobody wants to see blackouts and if the energy market regulator is able to ask large energy users to reduce their usage over a particular weekend to reduce the likelihood of blackouts well, that's terrific. The fact that they need to do it shows chaos under this Government. And this is a Government that has in some unbelievable way managed to preside over higher prices and higher pollution and lower reliability, all three of those. 

JOURNALIST: Do you think strategic reserves will become a permanent feature of the energy market? 

PLIBERSEK: Well we're yet to see any policy from the Government that would commit to strategic reserves, what we see is a gentleman's agreement between Malcolm Turnbull and some of the large energy companies that hasn't really seen any of the affect on domestic users and commercial users that the Government has promised. 

They've been, there's been a lot of talk in this area and no real action.

JOURNALIST: Sorry just back on tax cuts do you think Australia should be more competitive with other nations- with the US raising tax cuts for businesses to 21 per cent? Can you guarantee that businesses will still want to operate here in Australia especially now that they do it cheaper in the US?

PLIBERSEK: First of all, I think Australia competes very well with the United States on a number of fronts and competes very well with the rest of the world. We've got a highly educated, healthy workforce, we invest in quality infrastructure, our roads, rail, ports and so on that's how we maintain our competitive edge. A highly skilled, highly educated, healthy workforce being paid a decent day’s pay for a decent day’s work and the public infrastructure that supports those businesses.

The constant pointing to the United States tax regime as something that Australia should emulate for a start, most people who point to the competitive advantage of the United States don't include state taxes in the United States when they're making these comparisons. They don't include things like dividend imputation which Australia has, which makes us very competitive and they don't include the public investment that we make in our workforce, in our infrastructure in the things that make it good to do business in Australia, including good governance, lower red tape, all of the things that attract businesses. I think it's a very superficial thing to say that businesses only look at one tax rate that they don't take into account state taxes or any of the other complexities of doing businesses in other countries.

The other thing I point to is, look let's be frank about it, many of the very large businesses in Australia are not paying anywhere near the corporate- the headline corporate tax rate in Australia they're paying much less in some cases they're paying close to zero so you know, let's be a little bit realistic about the actual rates of corporate tax that businesses are paying as well.

JOURNALIST: If Labor was elected would it reverse the tax cuts on small to medium businesses?

PLIBERSEK: We'll make all of our tax announcements closer to the election, you know our position - our position is that it is more important- yes to have a competitive business environment here in Australia but to look at all the factors of productivity and to make sure that ordinary working Australians are not paying more tax as Malcolm Turnbull is proposing (he's proposing to put up tax rates on 7 million working Australians), that's got to be our priority.

JOURNALIST: Could you outline what Labor would do, you're criticising the Government on what they may or may not be implementing, you haven't really outlined what you would do if elected.

PLIBERSEK: We've announced many, many of our policies - we announced 100 positive policies before the last election and two years out from the next election I'm not going to give you the whole manifesto here in the park today. You know that our priority will always be making sure that we invest in health, that we invest in education, that we invest in productivity-enhancing infrastructure, that we keep tax rates at the low end, particularly on low and middle-income earners. That we make sure that those who can afford to pay, are paying more. Certainly prioritising tax cuts for multinationals and millionaires - we won't be doing that.

JOURNALIST: Are you considering subsidies for businesses?

PLIEBRSEK: I'm not sure what you mean by that question, I mean there are so many different subsidies that businesses receive at the moment, it's a very broad question.

Thank you.