SUBJECTS: Liberal leadership; Debt; Preferences; Negative Gearing; Gig economy; Dividend imputation

MARK BRAYBROOK, PRESENTER: It has been an extraordinary week in politics, one I was going to say you don't see too often but sadly we are seeing it quite regularly with a change of Prime Minister again. Scott Morrison is our new Prime Minister of course and the Cabinet, the front bench was sworn in today at Government House. As I've mentioned a couple of times on this program it seems to me that the Labor Party is in position to win the next election and only they could lose it. I wonder whether the Deputy Labor Leader and Shadow Education Minister agrees with me because Tanya Plibersek is in the studio with me. Ms Plibersek, thank you very much for your time.
BRAYBROOK: Tanya, thank you very much. Is it your election, the Labor Party's election, to lose?
PLIBERSEK: Well we take nothing for granted. We are working very hard every day. I truly believe we've got the best policies. We've been working on our policies since we left government so that we can really focus on what matters to people: a decent job with good pay and conditions; great schools for their kids; a hospital they can rely on, and we've got the best people. Bill's leadership has been terrific and we've been making sure we've got terrific candidates particularly in our marginal seats, so I hope we'll be successful but we take nothing for granted.
BRAYBROOK: What do you believe will happen over the next few months? Are you expecting an early election? Are you expecting the Government to try and live on as long as they can?
PLIBERSEK: I haven't actually have much of a crystal ball going because I didn't expect to have a change in Prime Minister last week so I'm not sure I'm the best person to ask for predictions. Most people would say that the most likely thing is that we have an election either in October this year or May next year and that takes account of big sporting events and state elections and so on, but it really is anybody's guess. I think Malcolm Turnbull said as he was leaving that an election sooner rather than later is what the Australian people expect and I get that very strong feeling too in talking to people. They're asking me who is this guy Scott Morrison, we didn't vote for him. A lot of people actually don't really know who he is or what he stands for. They want the right to choose, they want the right to decide who is their Government, not 80 people in a party room somewhere in Canberra.
BRAYBROOK: Do you find it difficult to argue that when your Party did the same thing with Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard?
PLIBERSEK: Yeah, I think we’ve certainly learned our lesson. That time of division and disunity for Labor was very destructive, it was bad for us as a Party and it was bad for the nation. We've had five years of unity and discipline under Bill's leadership. We've been focused on policy, as I said, and I'm confident that we've learned our lesson. I think people look at the events of the last few weeks and are scratching their heads. They can't believe that this has happened to Australia again and we want to offer them, the Australian people, the chance for them to make a decision about who should lead our country rather than having it decided in Party back rooms. It's important to say we actually changed our rules to stop this happening in the Labor Party as well. We recognised that it was a destructive thing for us as a nation and we've changed our rules to make it much harder to change the leader. 
BRAYBROOK: You said you've been out with the people and they're telling you this, that and the other. Surely the overwhelming thing their telling you is that they've had enough. That this has to stop from both sides of politics, that we need, I think we had a stat that it's been a decade since a Prime Minister has served out their term. That has to stop surely.
PLIBERSEK: Yeah, absolutely, I agree. And like I say, we've changed our rules to make it so much harder but more particularly we've learned our lesson. If you look at our behaviour, our discipline, our unity over the last five years under Bill's leadership I think it's been very strong and I'm proud of that because it shows that we are focused on what matters - the lives of the people we represent, not our own jobs. I mean it was pretty extraordinary last week that the Liberals actually closed down Parliament so that they could go and fight each other in their Party room. You know all over Australia there were people going to work in factories, in mines, teaching kids and nursing sick people and they have to turn up to do their job but the Australian Parliament actually closed down so the Liberals could spend their energy fighting each other instead of governing. 
BRAYBROOK: Is politics now more about popularity that politics in this 24/7 news cycle, Instagram, social media, etcetera. Has the politics of politics changed?
PLIBERSEK: Look I think it’s changed for good and bad. I think the good thing is we can communicate much more directly with people so you're not relying on media organisations or individual journalists who put a particular spin on the policy that you're trying to present. You can say this is what I believe, this is what I stand for in a much more direct way. But I think that some of that communication becomes quite superficial too - it's very short and instant. So I think we have to be careful not to try and dumb things down. Australians are smart people, they're prepared for big debates, they know we have to make some hard decisions so I think it is important to trust that, to actually present our arguments, to present our vision for the future.
BRAYBROOK: In my eyes there's been so much discussion about energy, education today, NAPLAN, etcetera, but one of the biggest things that no one seems to, well that may be unfair, that doesn't seem to get the discussion that it deserves in my opinion is this ballooning debt that we have at the moment. Surely that has to be one of the most serious issues facing either government, whether it be the Liberals or the Labor Party.
PLIBERSEK: Yeah, I completely agree and of course Scott Morrison was the Treasurer who has actually doubled the deficit and taken Australian debt beyond half a trillion dollars for the first time ever. It was the Liberals together with the Greens that removed the debt cap. They've had five years to get the budget back on track, and instead of getting the budget back on track, they've cut hospital and school spending, but they've wanted to give away more than that to the big end of town. So who on God's earth thinks it’s a great idea to cut schools by $17 billion at the same time as you want to give the four big banks a $17 billion tax cut? Like that's extraordinary. The tax cuts at the top end of town will mostly flow to overseas shareholders. Scott Morrison was on one of his first press conferences, he's talking about the 'fair go'. His idea of the 'fair go' is someone on a million bucks a year, earning a million bucks a year, gets a $28,000 a year tax cut, while someone on up to $90,000 a year gets 13 bucks a week. So we absolutely think you need to deal with debt and deficit, and we can do that because we're not giving away tax cuts at the top end of town, but we also think you need to focus on the services that Australians rely on. We can properly fund our hospitals and schools, we can properly support our pensioners and pay for aged care because we're not committed to those giveaways at the top end.
BRAYBROOK: We've got some callers, do you mind taking some calls? 
PLIBERSEK: Sure, of course.
BRAYBROOK: 131 873 is the telephone number. Peter, good afternoon.
CALLER 1: Yeah g'day Mark. G'day Ms Plibersek.
PLIBERSEK: Hello Peter. Please call me Tanya.
CALLER 1: OK Tanya I will. I'm a actual union member.
CALLER 1: I am, let's just say I was part of the Labor base and I will never vote for Labor again. Simple reason is that I cannot understand why you decide to take all your preferences from Greens. I, and you know, the blatant hypocrisy of your party, you know, to sit there and actually call out untruths, you know, you just mentioned there that, you know, the money that, there always seems to be a hypocritical comment that comes from you guys to put down the smaller guys and the Liberal Party and I'm no fan of the Liberal Party, believe me, but I will say one thing is that I cannot understand why, and I know that this is a state issue, right, why the two major parties, and I'm not a greenie either, but why would the two major parties get together to oust a Green candidate in an inner Brisbane seat just for the sake of keeping the little guy out.
BRAYBROOK: Right-o Peter, thanks very much for your call. Tanya?
PLIBERSEK: I feel like saying maybe that's a comment rather than a question.
BRAYBROOK: Well, it is. He's entitled I suppose to, to have a comment about a Party that he used to be a member of?
PLIBERSEK: Yeah look, I'm not really sure what the point that Peter was making. We of course very gratefully accept preferences from other political parties. Where we direct our preferences is a test of our values, and we don't direct our preferences to racist parties. We want to see stable government so we're prepared to work with whoever is in Government for the best interest of the nation and we've said for example to the Liberals, and the LNP as it is here in Queensland, we want to work with you on energy policy. The problem is we can't get them to work with each other on energy policy. So we're happy to work in a bi-partisan way in the national interest but at the moment we've got a Liberal Party that can't agree with itself on how to bring down power prices and bring down pollution, and that's just one example where we'd love to be bi-partisan but there's no-one serious to deal with on the other side.
BRAYBROOK: Eddie, good afternoon.
CALLER 2: Good afternoon. Good afternoon Tanya.
PLIBERSEK: Hello Eddie.
CALLER 2: I heard that your Party were looking at negative gearing and changing of the negative gearing so it will only affect the new houses.
CALLER 2: If that was the case that will affect a lot of people that are unemployed or on low incomes, because people buy houses at a lower cost and people with less income can get into those houses. So that's going to affect the people that are going to be able to get a roof over their head, knowingly full well that government's cannot look after the homeless or the low incomes through their own Department of Housing. What can you say about that please?
PLIBERSEK: Yes, look, I think homelessness and rental accommodation for people on low incomes is a really serious issue and I'm very glad you raised it. Our policy is to say that we want to apply negative gearing tax concessions and the capital gains tax concessions only to newly-constructed housing. So you'll still be, if you're negatively gearing a property at the moment, nothing changes. This is all for people in the future once we're elected, so nothing changes if you're negatively gearing a property at the moment. You can keep doing that if we're elected. This policy is what's called 'grandfathered'. It will only apply in the future. But in the future we say if you want to negatively gear a property and get the capital gains tax concessions, it has to be a newly-constructed property, and we're doing this for two reasons. The first reason is we want to drive new construction. We have a shortage of construction of housing in Australia. We want to drive new constructions. We want the jobs that come with it, we want the economic investment that comes with it. If you're negatively gearing in the existing housing market, what you're doing is putting investors in competition with first-home buyers and we've seen the very strong growth in property prices in recent years. If you've got kids, if you've got grandkids, you know that they're competing against cashed-up investors for that existing housing, so we want to make it easier for first-home buyers to enter the housing market - particularly in those existing homes and we want to make it more attractive for builders to build new housing because investors will be buying into that new housing and that gives us, I think, a double-whammy for the money that we're spending on negative gearing tax concessions. It gives us more homes for people to rent because people will still be negatively gearing but it gives us more incentive for new construction, too and the extra jobs that come with it. 
BRAYBROOK: Eddie, thanks for the call. Mick the cabbie, good afternoon. 
CALLER 3: Good afternoon Mark. G'day Tanya. 
PLIBERSEK: Hello Mick. 
CALLER 3: Bill Shorten supported the, in the previous election, came out and supported the gig economy which supported Uber, which have supported ride-share across the country and what you mightn't realise is that you keep talking up the, you know, the $90,000 jobs and everything else. I mean, my wife and I took a $53,000 pay cut just as ordinary commission drivers since four and a half years of Uber. I mean, how can you possibly support seeing people earning less than nine dollars an hour down from twenty five with no rights and no working conditions and call yourselves "supporting the working poor'"?
PLIBERSEK: Yeah, well we don't support that. That's just flat-out exploitation and at the time of the last election, we didn't say we supported the gig economy, we said there should be principles for the gig economy that actually prevents the sort of exploitation you're describing. We're very worried about insecure work, the taxi industry is just one example where we've seen these new entrants really driving down pay and conditions but all over the place, we're seeing more people on contracts - they're supposed to be short-term contracts but they get rolled over again and again and again. Or we see people bringing in labour hire into their businesses and the labour hire people come in on lower pay and conditions and suddenly the workforce that's been there for years is competing with people on lower pay and conditions and guess who's getting the overtime and guess who, as the employed people leave their positions, guess who's filling them? It's more of the labour hire. So, we've got industrial relations policies that really try and support predictability and permanence in our workforce. We support higher minimum wages and we've already said we would immediately restore the penalty rates cut from 700,000 working Australians, so they're working for less this Sunday than they were Sunday this time last year, and less again than they were Sunday this time the year before because of the cuts the government supported to penalty rates.

I am dead-set, I reckon, dead-set, the biggest problem that faces us, economically, today in Australia is the fact that we've got flat wages growth because, you're talking about the stress in your family budget; I can only imagine how hard it is to have seen your income decline in that way and it is bad for you, but it's not just bad for you. You're not buying the cup of coffee on the way to work, you're not taking your wife out to dinner on a Saturday night because you've got less money to spend. Those are the jobs that hang off you having a decent income. Those jobs aren't being created either. This is bad for our whole economy, the fact that we've seen no wages growth in recent years. Wages growth - lowest on record - that's a problem for the people who are directly, you know, stressing in their family budgets, failing to make ends meet but it's a problem for demand and confidence across our whole economy, too. 
BRAYBROOK: Mick, thanks for the call. Bill, good afternoon. 
CALLER 4: Hello?
BRAYBROOK: You there, Bill? Yes, Bill go ahead.
CALLER 4: Yes, is that me? 
BRAYBROOK: It is, Bill, yeah. If your name is Bill?
CALLER 4: Yeah, sure. I just wanted to ask Tanya, how can you credibly say you're a party for jobs and you just articulated then that you want to increase the minimum wage when the Fair Work Commission said businesses can't afford it? How can you seriously say you are a party for jobs when you want to increase wages which small business clearly cannot afford and you want to close down the coal mining industry chasing your 50 per cent or 45 per cent renewable energy target which is going to close - which I would have thought was your base, or part of your base, I think it's left you, as that other fellow said he was a Labor voter - which is going to affect coal mining jobs. I mean you clearly are a party that is anti-jobs. 
PLIBERSEK: Well, first of all, we're not about closing down the coal mining industry. We see that coal has an important future for decades to come in Australia. What we've said is we don't think any business will credibly invest in new coal-fired power stations or any bank will want to bankroll them because renewables are becoming cheaper all the time. But our coal industry, we've got an existing coal power industry that's got a future in Australia and we've got coal export commitments that certainly we want to keep going.

Secondly, when it comes to jobs and small business and so on. Who buys the goods and services in small business? If we don't have people who've got a decent income in their pockets, then small business can't make ends-meet either. We think that, with historic low wages growth, that inevitably affects confidence in our economy and you know yourself, this is common sense - if you're worried about where your next pay packet's coming from, if you've got no extra spending money, you're not taking the kids out for pizza on a Friday night. You're saving every dollar. Those small business that rely on you to spend a few extra bucks that you've got buying their goods and services, they can't succeed when we've got historic low wages growth.
And, just on the "can we afford it or not?". We continue to see strong company profits in Australia, I know many small businesses struggle to make ends meet but overall, our company profits are strong and we see the CEOs and the, you know, the big executives continuing to pay themselves very good incomes indeed. I think we're up to the average CEO having an income that's over seventy times the average worker in Australia. So, the idea that we can only afford to pay people at the top end, we keep saying; "paying big executive salaries, that's a good incentive for people at the top end", we can afford that, but we can't afford to pay nurses and childcare workers and people working in cafes and restaurants and people working in factories and so on - we can't afford to give them a pay increase? That just doesn't make sense to me. 
BRAYBROOK: Bill, thanks for the call. Mark very quickly before we head to the news.
CALLER 5: Yeah, look I've changed my question. I'm a self-funded retiree, Tanya and I get part of my income from imputation credits from shares that I own. Now, I get nothing from the government, I don't get any pension or I don't get any concessions or anything and one of the few things I get to help supplement my living is the imputation credits and Bill Shorten has said that he wants to take that away from me. How can you justify that? 
PLIBERSEK: Well, dividend imputation, most people don't actually understand how it works because most people don't benefit from it. Dividend imputation was introduced by a previous Labor government and the idea was that if you're a shareholder and the company that you've got shares in has already paid tax, you shouldn't pay tax a second time on that. You should only pay tax once on the profits of a company. Then, you know, sometime after that, I think it was the Howard Government came up with this idea that if you're paying no tax, instead of just having the tax-debt waived, you'd actually get cash back. The problem with this is it's one of the fastest growing areas of expenditure in our tax system. We are spending billions of dollars a year giving essentially a tax refund to someone who hasn't paid tax. That means that these [companies] individuals aren't paying tax twice, they're not paying tax once, nobody is paying tax on that profit. That's just not fair, we can't afford it. I know that it's frustrating when you've set your finances up in a particular way but what we're saying is it's not fair that you get a tax refund if you haven't paid any tax and I think, you know, in an ideal world, perhaps we wouldn't have to tighten up on areas of spending like this but we've got to choose our priorities too and our priorities have to be, for example, the government's trying to put the aged pension up to 70. We don't want to see people waiting until they're 70 to get the aged pension. They've been trying to cut the energy supplement from pensioners. We don't want to see that energy supplement cut from pensioners. Sometimes we have to make tough choices. 
BRAYBROOK:  Mark, thanks very much for the call. We've run out of time, Tanya thank you so much for joining us. 
PLIBERSEK: It's a pleasure.
BRAYBROOK: It's been great for you to take calls from the listeners as well. I know that, you know, the democracy of talkback radio is that they can ask whatever question they want and I think you appreciate that as well so thank you for your time. 
PLIBERSEK: I'm delighted to speak to your listeners. I really, really appreciate the opportunity. Thank you. 
BRAYBROOK: Well, hopefully next time you're back in Brisbane you might come in and spend some time with us again. 
PLIBERSEK: Look forward to it. 
BRAYBROOK: Tanya Plibersek, the Deputy Labor Leader and Shadow Education Minister on 4BC Drive.