TRANSCRIPT: Insiders, Sunday 26 June



SUNDAY, 26 JUNE 2016

SUBJECTS: Labor's positive plans for the Australian economy; division and disunity in the liberal party; Liberals' tax cuts for big business and high income earners; Labor's positive policies; Medicare; Liberals' plans for a $160 million wasteful and divisive plebiscite on marriage equality/.

BARRIE CASSIDY: That’s the Sunday papers and now to our program guest the Deputy Leader of the Labor Party and the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Tanya Plibersek. Good morning, welcome.

TANYA PLIBERSEK: Hi Barrie, how are you?

CASSIDY: So Malcolm Turnbull says that Brexit decision does point to the need for stability and here in Australia, when we’ve had four Prime Ministers in three and a half years, that's likely to hit a nerve.

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think there's two things to say about that. The first is that you can't say that the Liberal Party is united and stable in the way that the Labor Party is behind Bill Shorten. You see all sorts of evidence of that from climate change, you've got the sceptics versus the people who believe the science; the marriage equality plebiscite mess; superannuation, a backbench revolt on whether it is retrospective or not. There's a whole list of examples of that. You also have to look at the way the Liberals handled global volatility last time - during the Global Financial Crisis. When Labor was in Government, we protected 200,000 jobs. We got three ‘Triple A’ credit ratings for the first time in Australia's history. By international standards we were one of the best performing economies in the world, and Malcolm Turnbull voted against stimulus the second time round. At a time when the Reserve Bank of Australia was still cutting interest rates because of the poor performance of the Australian economy, when the global economy was still stagnant, Malcolm Turnbull was voting against measures to protect Australian jobs. And Julie Bishop, who was the Shadow Treasurer at the time, said about the GFC ‘we should sit and wait and see.’ The exact opposite of what any sensible economist would have told you at the time. So Malcolm Turnbull, both on the basis of the division and disunity - I think that's what double dissolution, DD, should be this election, should be division and disunity in his own party - and his failed judgements last time we had any sort of global instability, has proven that he hasn't got the answers this time round. This time round, he's got one policy, a $50 billion tax cut, unfunded tax cut.

CASSIDY: Despite everything that you've just said, the Government seems comfortable now that this Brexit thing will bring the conversation back to the economy. They're always comfortable when that's the case.

PLIBERSEK: Great, and they had the wrong answers last time. If Malcolm Turnbull had been in charge last time, we would have had 200,000 more unemployed Australians, a generation that would have lost their jobs. And who knows - economically, you've actually got the National Party right now campaigning against the backpacker tax. They're half of the Coalition - they’re campaigning against Coalition economic policy. We've had a range of different economic proposals from the Government, from a state-based income tax, increasing the GST. Now the only thing they're proposing is a $50 billion unfunded tax cut and a $16 billion cut for high income earners. Now, Barrie, what is extraordinary about this is that no journalist has managed to get Malcolm Turnbull to say where is this $66 billion coming from? There's only three ways you can fill this $66 billion hole. You either cut spending further, you increase the deficit, or you find taxes, other taxes, to fill the hole. Now, which of the three will it be? My money is on $66 billion worth of cuts. Now, if you do have global volatility from a downturn in Europe, which, of course, is a very significant economic player globally, the last thing we need is to slam our confidence further into the wall in Australia. What we've seen in Australia is slow growth. We've seen very slow wages growth, just over 2%. We've seen a fall in full time employment - 50,000 full time jobs gone since the beginning of the year - we've seen a fall in business confidence and a fall in business investment. Why would you take spending away from ordinary families now, right now? That is the worst time to be contracting the Australian economy.

CASSIDY: You talk about a fall in confidence and the rest of it, but there does seem be this move away from major parties. Labor is not picking up any benefit from that kind of feeling out there. When you look at what happened in Britain, both major parties said stay, the unions, the business organisations, almost all the economists: but they went anyway.

PLIBERSEK: I think this really does point to middle class and working class families feeling left behind. What we've seen in Britain, what we've seen in the US, and sadly what we've seen in Australia too, is a growing wealth gap. We know that the three wealthiest Australians own as much as the million poorest Australians. We've seen inequality in Australia at 75-year highs and the Government's response to that is to give a $16 billion tax cut to people on $180,000 a year and up. Labor's response is to invest properly in health and in education - most important driver of improved living standards for all Australians into the future - to make sure that we properly support families through family tax benefits, childcare cost relief, pensions and so on. This is the choice that people have. A $66 billion tax cut for big business and the wealthiest Australians versus proper investment in supporting fami lies and productivity, enhancing infrastructure - including a better NBN - if you vote Labor.

CASSIDY: Then you spend a week talking about Medicare as well and when Bill Shorten was asked, as you saw in that package earlier, he would not put hand on the heart and say that Medicare would be privatised under the Coalition.

PLIBERSEK: I think this is the most extraordinary debate we've had. People know you can trust Labor with Medicare. We had to introduce it twice after Malcolm Fraser privatised it the first time. A day before the last election, Tony Abbott said no cuts to healthcare and then we saw more than $50 billion cut from our hospitals. At every stage, this Government is trying to get you to put your hand in your pocket when you need healthcare. They first wanted a $7 GP co-payment. They wanted a $5 increase in the cost of medicines. They've now got a Medicare Benefit Schedule freeze which means doctors will have to charge you to see the doctor. They've got rid of incentives for bulk billing for pathology and diagnostic imaging. At every stage, they are asking Australians to stick their hand in their pocket to pay for healthcare. If that's not privatisation, I don't know what is.

CASSIDY: On the plebiscite on gay marriage, do you see any merit in this idea that's been put around now that the MPs, certainly on the Coalition side, might be able to vote in line with the vote in their own electorates, that they can ignore the national vote and vote that way?

PLIBERSEK: Why don't we just short circuit that and ask those Coalition MPs, who believe that their electorates feel one way or another, to walk into the Parliament and vote that way now. The plebiscite is a $160 million divisive and disruptive opinion poll that the Government is going to ignore anyway. They've said from the beginning that it doesn't matter what the results of the plebiscite, not even the Cabinet will be bound. Why are we going through $160 million opinion poll that the Government will ignore anyway? Barrie we have...

CASSIDY: If they were to vote that way though, wouldn't the plebiscite have some meaning because then the MPs would follow the views of their own electorate?

PLIBERSEK: But they're not promising that they'll respect the views of their -  if the electorates vote yes, are they promising that they'll go in and vote yes if they're opposed to marriage equality? They've said the exact opposite. We've had half a dozen Coalition MPs say it doesn't matter what the plebiscite result is, they'll be voting no, so why are we going through this? We actually don't have a plebiscite when we send people to war. We don't even have a parliamentary vote on that. We didn't have a plebiscite to introduce sex discrimination legislation or race discrimination legislation or national native title legislation. We haven't had a plebiscite about putting a price on carbon. We haven't had a plebiscite about a $50 billion tax cut for big business.

CASSIDY: But people like them though. Part of the problem with the Republican debate was that if you're going to have a president, people want to elect that president and of course that then gives the president all the authority of a politician.

PLIBERSEK: Well then, I think Barrie we should probably have a plebiscite about protecting the future of Medicare, whether people prefer investment in education or whether they think that a $50 billion unfunded tax cut, where $30 billion of that money goes to overseas shareholders, is a good use of taxpayers' funds.

CASSIDY: Well, the polls in the marginal seats suggest that modest gains for the Labor Party and you're almost out of time to turn that around.

PLIBERSEK: Well, we've got another week to go and we've got a very clear choice for people to make. They can back Malcolm Turnbull and $50 billion worth of tax cuts for big business and $16 billion of tax cuts for high income earners or they can back Labor. We've got the most comprehensive plan for Government that we've seen from an Opposition since the Whitlam years. It focuses on education; it focuses on productivity-enhancing infrastructure, roads, ports, rail, an NBN that means our businesses can trade with each other and trade with the world. It focuses on jobs coming from renewables; a steel industry plan; it focuses on a decent health system, protecting Medicare. That's the choice that Australians will be making in a week’s time.

CASSIDY: Well we're out of time but thanks for your time this morning.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you very much Barrie.