SUBJECTS: Tax; Budget; Business Council of Australia campaign; Schools.

FRAN KELLY, PRESENTER: Before then [the budget] the Government will be trying to convince the states and territories to adopt the Gonski reforms to lift our underperforming school system, these were released yesterday. Tanya Plibersek is the Deputy Opposition Leader and Shadow Minister for Education she joins me in the breakfast studio, Tanya Plibersek welcome back to Breakfast. 


KELLY: Under Labor you will pay more, that's what Scott Morrison said yesterday, I think you will hear that a lot between now and the next election, and you can’t deny it can you? Is your plan to put taxes up not to decrease them?

PLIBERSEK: If you are a multinational company trying to avoid your tax, you will pay more. If you are a millionaire, if you are earning more than $180,000 a year you will pay more, and we will use that money to invest in our schools and invest in our hospitals, make sure that low and middle-income earners don't pay more tax, make sure they are getting decent wages, make sure that we properly fund our aged care and childcare. Reverse the billions of dollars cut from schools and TAFE and universities. This is about a competing vision for Australia, we don’t think that $80 billion worth of big business tax cuts is fair, we don't think that someone earning one million dollars a year needs a $16,000 a year tax cut. So yes there is going to be a very clear competing vision here.

KELLY: One element of that competing vision is around tax and its around how much tax we pay as a nation. Now you are saying if you are that person, or that person, some people who negative gear or have plans for negative gear will say well hang on I'm not a millionaire, I want to negative gear and Labor is going to change that too so -  

PLIBERSEK: Well if they are already negative gearing, they can keep negatively gearing, and if they want to negatively gear what they will have to do is buy new property, which means that we are adding to the supply of rental accommodation we are not just bidding up the price of existing accommodation. 

KELLY: Alright, well the Government’s vision, you say that is about competing visions, the Government’s vision is that we will be a country with a tax to GDP ratio no higher than 23.9 per cent, they reckon that's about fair, everything else will get handed back to you, will Labor match that promise?

PLIBERSEK: Well it won’t get handed back to ordinary wage and salary earners, it will get handed to big businesses Fran -  

KELLY: No it will get handed back in personal income tax cuts that's what the government says. 

PLIBERSEK: So where are the big business tax cuts coming from, where is the funding for that coming from?

KELLY: Well the government would say that it is already factored into the budget. 

PLIBERSEK: It's not though Fran. In every other policy we have to say: we identified these offsets to pay for that. How are these $80 billion worth of tax cuts being paid for?

KELLY: Well the government says it’s there in the budget and that will be clear as they said it was last time.

PLIBERSEK: Well fine. I could spend a gazillion dollars and say, "Oh I wrote it into the budget, it’s there in the budget." I mean it is a nonsense argument to say that you can give away $80 billion worth of tax cuts and you are not going to hit services, you are not further going to cut services or you are not going to add to debt and deficit or you are not going to increase taxes in some other way. So first of all, they need to say what services are they further cutting or are they adding to Australia's debt and deficit by providing these $80 billion of big business – unfunded - big business tax cuts. 

KELLY: Well let’s talk about Labor, will you match the personal income tax promise from the Government?

PLIBERSEK: We don't know what it is. What is it? What is this personal income tax promise? So far -

KELLY: Well there will be, once we reach 23.9 per cent of tax to GDP, then excess money surpluses will be handed back to tax payers. 

PLIBERSEK: OK, a week ago they were saying that low and middle income earners were going to pay extra tax, they have back flipped on that. Now they are saying that there is some unspecified amount of personal income tax cuts, we will have a look at that. But don't forget that these are the people whose main tax priority is to give away $80 billion to big business and $19 billion over the decade to people earning more than $180,000 a year. Of course we disagree with that, we will fight that every day until the next election. 

KELLY:  OK. Well if your vision is not to do that, it’s to fight that, so you will have that $80 billion, that is your figure not the Government’s, for now, for the purpose of this discussion, you will have that money to spend on something else. You will also have the money you raise from the two per cent increase on tax to high income earners, the money you save from negative gearing, capital gains, dividend imputations - .

PLIBERSEK: Family trusts.

KELLY:  Family trusts.

PLIBERSEK: Closing down loop holes on multinationals.

KELLY:  What are you going to do with all that money?

PLIBERSEK: Well we will make sure -

KELLY:  Will you hand that back as personal income tax cuts that match the governments?

PLIBERSEK: We will make sure that low and middle income earners are looked after and that we properly invest in our services. This budget is shaping up to be a budget for the next election, not a budget for the next decade. We will see what is in it and make our responses that we usually do on the Thursday after the budget. But what Scott Morrison admitted yesterday is that he has given up on paying down debt and deficit; because he can't do both. He can’t keep tax at the 23.9 per cent and pay down the deficit as well. What an extraordinary job he is doing that he manages - while the global economy is improving - to still be still be cutting services at the same time as debt and deficit increasing. Remember the deficit this year is eight times larger than this government predicted it would be in 2014 in their first budget. So he is continuing to blow out debt and deficit, he admitted yesterday he's got no plan to reign that in, he's focused on the next election. Well if he's so focused on doing something that's popular how about he gives up his cuts to schools and hospitals.

KELLY: I want to get to schools but just before, given the focus, does seem to be pretty firmly on the next election now the Business Council of Australia has signalled it plans to be more active in marginal seats in particular during that election, town hall meetings, grass roots campaigning, in the process of raising a lot of money from each of its members so it will be very well resourced. Its upgraded its data mining analytics to be more effective with its message. Unions and Labor are now going to have a pretty geared up opponent on the tax, company tax cut debate won't you?

PLIBERSEK: Oh my goodness, bring that on. It's actually not called grassroots campaigning when you're a big rich company paying other people to campaign for you, it's called astroturfing. What these companies will be doing is saying we're a big rich company and we would really like tax cuts for big rich companies. People know that this is all about self-interest and they know that there's a choice.

KELLY: Well there's a message from business from corporate Australia that says if we're doing well you'll doing well. We will create jobs, they want to get that message out.

PLIBERSEK: Except Fran, the Business Council of Australia wrote to its own members and said: look we'd like you to sign on to this letter, and what we'd like you to say is that if you get - at that time it was $65 billion worth of big business tax cuts, we're bringing in another year with a new budget, it would be $80 billion - we'd like you to sign on to this letter, we'd like you to say that you'll employ more people, you'll pay them more, you'll stop offshoring and you'll pay your taxes. The members wrote back going 'oh sorry, can't really agree to that one, no sorry can't really agree to pay people more'. I mean honestly is anybody sucked in by the idea that if we give them $80 billion they're going to behave well. The banks will get an extra $17 billion over the decade under this proposal.

KELLY: You're listening to RN Breakfast. it's quarter to 8, our guest is Tanya Plibersek Deputy Labor Leader and Shadow Education Minister. Let's go to education and the Gonski reforms unveiled yesterday. Pretty radical change to the way all schools teach students and assess their progress. It's a move towards personalised teaching, based on a students need not a general performance for the class, if you like or instruction of the class. Is Labor on board?

PLIBERSEK: Actually there's not much to object to in this report. A lot of the stuff in there was already happening, a lot of it was in the National Education Reform Agreements that were signed with the states by the previous Labor government so there’s 23 recommendations, 17 findings that's pretty unobjectionable.

KELLY: But this notion of individual teaching, yes some schools are doing it and there is - .

PLIBERSEK: Many are, yes.

KELLY: Yeah many are but many aren't and this would be an across the board, national change to the way we teach in our classrooms, it would be giving apparently teachers some tools that will now make it easier to do that. From the work you've done in education, you spend a lot of time on this. Is this going to improve the outcomes?

PLIBERSEK: Yeah, absolutely and I think absolutely. Making sure that every child progresses every day is something that I've been talking about it as Shadow Education Minister that people in schools have been talking about for a long time. But it costs money Fran. Here's the point - if all of these recommendations were implemented you would actually have to find more money for teachers to spend that one on one time with the kids. We completely agree that should happen but who's covering the class while the teacher is spending time with each individual child, that's a very expensive proposition. This government has cut $17 billion from our schools over the next decade.

KELLY: Just to be clear on our terms here, it's cut $17 billion from the amount that Labor was going to promise to fund Gonski for the first ten years.

PLIBERSEK: It cut $17 billion from the signed agreements that the states and territories had from the money that was legislated through our parliament. The only way that they are spending more is in comparison to Tony Abbott's 2014 budget that never passed through the parliament.

KELLY: That is $25 billion more and that is a lot of money and the Minister says that -

PLIBERSEK: Compared with Tony Abbott's cuts that never made it through the parliament.

KELLY: Simon Birmingham, the Minister says that ultimately the money spent on introducing personalised teaching into the classrooms would be a fraction of the costs of the tens of billions of dollars that Australians invest in schools each year. Is that fair enough?

PLIBERSEK: Like I say we think it's a good investment, but you will actually need - we heard Rob Stokes on the radio, the New South Wales Education Minister, yesterday agreeing that he thinks that there is some good directions in these reforms but it will cost them more money and that he'll be going to the federal government saying give us years and 5 and 6 of the Gonski school education funding that we had a signed agreement for.

KELLY: Okay, just to finish off on this. If Labor won government at the next election, Labor has already committed to putting $17 billion more, would you also be implementing these 23 recommendations from David Gonski?

PLIBERSEK: Fran, like I say a heap of this stuff was already underway when Labor was last in government. Christopher Pyne came in and said oh it's just all red tape. Plans to improve every school and to report on that - red tape. Highly accomplished and lead teachers: Labor announced it when we were last in government the report calls for that, that programme stalled under this government. Really high quality, professional development for our teachers throughout their lives; mentoring, collaboration all of that was underway: dumped by Christopher Pyne and Simon Birmingham as just so much red tape. It has taken us five years to get back to square one.

KELLY: Tanya Plibersek thanks you very much for joining us.

PLIBERSEK: Thanks, Fran.