SUBJECTS: Linguistic talents; passing of Senator Kimberley Kitching; health; fuel excise; cost of living pressure on families; taxes; more high-paying jobs for Australians; boosting productivity; superannuation.
TOM ELLIOTT, HOST: We have these political debates every few weeks. We have got a federal election at some stage, it will almost certainly be in late May, but it could be any time within the next couple of months. Representing the Labor Party, he’s the Deputy Leader, he says he doesn’t speak Chinese but I think he probably does, Richard Marles, good afternoon.
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good afternoon, Tom.
ELLIOTT: Or ni hao, as they say in Beijing!
MARLES: That’s the best I can do.
ELLIOTT: Senator Jane Hume is – amongst other things – the Minister for Superannuation, she represents the Liberal Party. She’s also here too, at the MCG. Senator, good afternoon.
JANE HUME, VICTORIAN LIBERAL SENATOR: Good to be with you, and I definitely don’t speak Chinese.
ELLIOTT: No. It’s just interesting because Anthony Albanese said something in Chinese and I remember Kevin Rudd-
MARLES: -Well he did speak Chinese.
ELLIOTT: He did speak Chinese, and I just assumed to be senior in the Labor Party that’s what you have to do – speak Chinese.
MARLES: You’re a bad man, Tom!
ELLIOTT: Anyway look, I don’t want to dwell on this but the News Corp newspapers are running with this story about the late Senator Kimberley Kitching, who only died a couple of days ago. And she said that some of her fellow Labor senators – and Penny Wong’s been listed and Kristina Keneally – were awful to her, that there was a culture of bullying in the party. Richard, now, you’re the Deputy Leader, would you like to say something about this?
MARLES: I mean, I’ve obviously seen the reports. I don’t accept the claim about Penny Wong and Kristina Keneally. But to be honest, you know, right now our focus is all on the shock and grief of having lost Kimberley. You know, she was somebody I’ve known for 30 years, she was a person of a very clear sense of view, a very clear sense of right and wrong. She was a fierce advocate for all of that. Just a person who was very warm, Jane-
HUME: She was.
MARLES: And, you know, I have many memories. And we are, I think, as a community very much in shock. And I’m thinking very much about her husband, Andrew – who I think you might know, Tom – and really right now it’s about celebrating her life, I think-
MARLES: And that’s where the focus is at.
ELLIOTT: It’s just that your colleague, you know, Michael Danby has stood up in the Parliament and said that she was bullied, that she was given horrible shifts in the middle of the night in the Senate, and all this sort of thing, that her staff were treated badly by other Labor staff. So I mean, he’s saying those sorts of things.
MARLES: You know, I’ve obviously read the report. I just don’t think now is the time to be going into that. Kimberley died last Thursday. I mean, we are all in a state of shock. Her funeral is next Monday. And right now, you know, my focus is about giving whatever support I can to her family and to celebrate an incredible life, it is an incredible life.
ELLIOTT: I’ll put this to both of you, we’re all, within a few years, roughly the same age, and yet we’ve seen Kimberley Kitching die aged 52. Shane Warne, also the same age. Do you think it’s been a wake-up call, Jane Hume? I mean, you think you’re going to live forever when you’re in your 20s, you sort of think that in your 30s, your 40s you creak a bit when you wake up in the morning, but suddenly you hit your 50s and you look around and there’s people your age who are dying of things like heart attacks and stuff. Is it a wake-up call?
HUME: I think it’s been a bit confronting for all of us. First and foremost in our mind is Kimberley. We are genuinely grieving, as a Parliament and as friends of hers. But yeah, it has been quite confronting, I think, for a lot of people. This is a really stressful job, you know, I’ve often described it as cage-fighting, it’s not croquet. And certainly, clearly that’s what Kimberley felt as well, and we all have at some stage. I think that it’s really important that we reflect on our behaviours in Parliament, as well as outside of Parliament. And you know, there’d be a few people, I would imagine, that will look at themselves pretty carefully in the mirror right now for all sorts of reasons.
ELLIOTT: OK, well let’s go back to the policy. A fuel excise – Jacinda Ardern over in New Zealand has – I think she’s cut it in half, 25 New Zealand cents, which is almost 25 Australian cents off the fuel excise. Richard Marles, your leader Anthony Albanese said he’ll look at it. The Prime Minister, Jane Hume, has said that ‘well, there’s a Budget coming up, we’ll see what we can do’. So Richard Marles, to first, what would you – if you win the next election, and we’ve still got these elevated fuel prices – would you cut the fuel excise?
MARLES: Well, look, we don’t have a policy going into the election around this. Obviously, we will see if there is anything which is brought forward by the Government at the Budget, and we’ll respond to that if there is something there. This speaks though to the whole question of the cost of living, which is becoming increasingly difficult. And petrol prices is part of that, but it’s not the only part of that. And that’s why, you know, we have been putting forward policies around making child care more affordable, free TAFE, lowering power bills, but more than anything else, getting wages going. Because the standout stat in the economy over the last nine years – and it’s really why cost of living is biting – is that we’ve seen stagnant wages, and we need to get them going again.
ELLIOTT: OK. It’s great to say that but, I mean, the higher wages have to come from somewhere, so where do they come from?
MARLES: Well I think, actually where they come from, I mean, the economists will make this really clear, they come from increasing productivity, and productivity has flatlined over the last nine years. But you can make sure that there are minimum standards of employment across the employment spectrum, in places like the gig economy, which there are not now and we would put that in place. But we’d also build an economy which does give rise to, you know, the kind of well-paying secure jobs through building industry.
ELLIOTT: Well, you might have an opportunity to do that, because if we have sanctions against China, there’s a whole bunch of industries we’ll have to restart back here in Australia. Now Senator Hume, I mean, inflation is going to be a massive issue at the election. Suddenly, having had almost no inflation for quite a few years, it’s 5, 6, 7 per cent. It’s heading towards 8 per cent in America, could mean interest rates going up, which is very awkward, you know, in an election year. Is there anything the Government might consider doing – and I know fuel excise is top of the list, but it’s not the only thing – is there anything that you will do in the Budget to make life easier for ordinary families?
HUME: Well the most important thing that any government could do to make life easier for ordinary Australians families is to make sure that there are jobs available, that there are better and higher paying jobs available. And that’s exactly what we’re doing and that we are cutting taxes so that there is more money in people’s pockets at the end of the day.
ELLIOTT: Normally I agree with that, I always think you spend a dollar better on yourself, than giving it to the Government and letting it spend it. I know Richard’s shaking his head a bit – but I mean, debt is going up dramatically, we’re headed towards a trillion dollars of federal government debt. So I mean, is there a limit to how far that can go?
HUME: Well, there’s no way that the Government is going to be able to solve every single problem. But that said, what we can do is help people get a better and higher paying job, which is exactly what’s happening now. We’ve seen unemployment drop to 4.2 per cent, it’s headed towards something with a three in front of it. That means that there are more jobs out there, around a million people changed jobs at the end of last year to a job that paid somewhere between 8 per cent and 10 per cent higher.
ELLIOTT: It seems to me as though the two of you are , sort of, in furious agreement on this – more jobs, higher paying jobs, you know, away we go.
HUME: Well, a more productive economy is certainly the way to respond-
ELLIOTT: Richard, you said that too. I never thought you’d have the same policy as the Liberal Party.
MARLES: Well, I’ve made really clear, you know, we don’t want to get in the way of a tax cut. And if you look at the positions we’ve taken over the last few years, that’s the position we taken.
HUME: Oh that’s rubbish, Richard. Labor have never met a tax they didn’t like.
MARLES: But that’s just not right. If you look at every proposition that the Government has put up in front of this Parliament during this term, we have not got in the way of any tax cuts, and that’s where we stand.
HUME: $387 billion of taxes at the last election-
MARLES: That’s the last election, it’s not what we’re taking forward to this election. What we think is that you need to grow the economy. You need to grow the economy and you need to create greater productivity in the economy, and that’s how you improve people’s job.
ELLIOTT: Alright. We’ll take some calls in a moment. Richard Marles, Deputy Leader of the Labor Party and Jane Hume are going to stick around, 13 36 93. Hey just quickly now, you know, Anthony Albanese has lost about a quarter of his body weight over the past year. I found out that Scott Morrison, a year ago, went on a Man Shake diet and lost about six kilos. Do you two feel any pressure ahead of the election to, I don’t know, drop – I’m not saying you do need to-
HUME: What are you implying? This is the first time we’ve done this in person with you and I’m feeling a little self-conscious!
ELLIOTT: No, no, no, you look as lovely as you do in all those photos on social media and everything. But does someone say to you ‘guys, we’ve all got to drop five kilos before the election’?
MARLES: No, but like, I’ve had a time in my life where I was heavier than I am now. And I felt I needed to lose weight and I probably, you know, lost about 14-15 kilos from my peak then. That’s probably 10 years ago. And I’ve managed to keep it off – touch wood – you know, I certainly know the struggle with weight and all power to Anthony that he’s taken that on.
HUME: I love listening to blokes talk about how they lose weight. They say things like ‘oh I just stopped eating pies for lunch and all of a sudden I lost 10 kilos!’ and you go, ‘God, I stopped eating pies for lunch in about 1992!’
ELLIOTT: Switched to light beer for a couple of weeks.
MARLES: It was chocolate, it was carbs in the morning, and then I started running. That was my prescription.
ELLIOTT: OK, wonderful. 13 36 93, anything you would like to ask these two august politicians, Richard Marles and Senator Jane Hume are going to stick around.
ELLIOTT: …Right now though we’ve got Senator Jane Hume, Minister for Superannuation and Richard Marles, Deputy Leader of the Labor Party, and we are taking your calls, 13 36 93. Michael, good afternoon.
MICHAEL, CALLER: Just another bunch of meaningless political dribble. Here’s a concrete solution that everybody’s known about for the last 10 years – you cut the payroll tax, you cut company tax. Companies will have a tonne more money – like mine – I’ll hire more people, I’ll invest money back into my business, and we’ll actually do something specific and substantial to regrow this economy. Stop waffling on, folks, and let’s start doing some tax reform that’s meaningful.
ELLIOTT: Well, Michael makes a good – Michael’s a local business person who rings up -one of the things about company tax is, I mean, companies pay dividends to shareholders, it sort of doesn’t really matter what tax you charge the company because, in a sense, the shareholders get a credit on that. And there is a view out there that you actually shouldn’t tax companies at all. Now it’s difficult when they’re foreign-owned and all the rest of it. But Richard Marles, I mean, you’re going to this election with almost no policies, as far as I can see, it’s just a small target sort of thing. Like, let’s not scare the horses, and that’s fine. But is the age of tax reform over in Australia? Will anybody ever be as brave as like Howard was with the GST?
MARLES: Well, I mean, firstly, I don’t accept the characterisation that we’re not going with any policies. We’ve talked about a national reconstruction fund, we’re talked about Free TAFE, we talked about more affordable child care-
ELLIOTT: -small things.
MARLES: Actually I don’t think they’re small things at all. A $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund is not a small thing. And that is actually about getting the economy going. And we have talked about what [inaudible] we can have minimum standards for wages-
ELLIOTT: Sure. But tax reform?
MARLES: I mean, it’s something that should be what people think about. But what I will be absolutely clear about is, we are not going to go to this election and do something after the election we haven’t taken to the election.
ELLIOTT: Right, that’s good.
MARLES: And that’s a really important principle. And, you know, we’ve talked about a multinational tax, but beyond that, we are not planning to take any measure to this election.
ELLIOTT: Jane Hume, what about you? I mean, you’re the Minister for Superannuation, you know, taxation is extraordinarily complicated in Australia, I think there’s like 120 taxes across states and the federal government. And yet only 10 per cent of them produce 90 per cent of the revenue, why don’t we just get rid of the other 110?
HUME: Well, that’s a very good question, Tom.
ELLIOTT: -and increase the remaining ones by 10 per cent-
HUME: Very good question. The vast majority of those taxes are, in fact, imposed by state governments, not federal governments. And in fact, the Federal Government, you will recall, did actually try and lower company tax rates, it was successful for small to medium enterprises, but Labor blocked lowering company tax rates for larger enterprises. Now, we have lowered personal income tax rates, and in fact, more people today have more money in their pockets that they earned themselves than they did only two years ago. We’ve, in fact, abolished an entire tax bracket, which is really important to.
MARLES: Which Labor supported!
ELLIOTT: Joe joins us, Joe, go ahead.
JOE, CALLER: Oh yeah thanks, Mike kind of stole my thunder a little bit, but you hear it across many businesses and companies, [inaudible] re-jig the payroll tax, then you would employ more people, you may be giving incentives to companies [inaudible].
ELLIOTT: I agree with you, when I ran my own business in the 2000s, I got my first payroll tax bill, which I’d not budgeted for because I just never thought about it. And it is a state government tax, but Richard Marles, even you can agree it’s a pretty nasty tax, payroll tax.
HUME: Counter-intuitive, really isn’t it?
MARLES: I mean, it is a state government tax, as you say, and so I’ll leave that policy up to the Andrews Government. I mean, obviously, we need to be looking at ways in which we can be getting the economy going, getting businesses to employ more people and that ought to be our focus.
ELLIOTT: OK. Margaret, good afternoon.
MARGARET, CALLER: Hi, how are you going?
MARGARET: Look, mine’s a comment or a suggestion and it’s for the Senator for Superannuation – I’m a woman who’s 64, had children, so working career gets broken up. Then we have to care for our elderly parents, working career gets broken up, you can’t take promotions. Now at 64 I’ve got a great job and it’s the first time I can really sock money away into superannuation for myself. But of course I turn 65 this year and I have a limit on how much I can contribute, but I can’t retire until I’m 67.
ELLIOTT: Well, Senator Hume, what do you think? I mean, there seems to be a disincentive for Margaret to, as she puts it, ‘sock money away’ for her retirement. Could you do something about that?
HUME: Well, we’ve actually done a number of things, particularly for women, we’ve done catch up contributions so that you can put more money in superannuation when you have the capacity to do so. Carrying forward your unused caps from previous years, which is terrific. We’ve also changed the downsizing contributions, so if you sell your house, for instance, you can now take the money from selling that house, around $300,000 per person in a couple-
ELLIOTT: Why is it so complicated, though?
HUME: -And we’ve got rid of the work test. So you can put more money in without actually having to meet that 30 hour [inaudible]-
ELLIOTT: Why don’t we just allow people to just put it in without having to sell their house, sell their business?
HUME: Well superannuation is highly tax effective, highly tax concessional, it’s still the best investment in town. And because of that, there is an understanding that not only will you not put it all in at once, so that, you know, the current taxpayers essentially, compensate you for being able to do that, and that you will draw it down in your retirement and, you know, crack the nest egg because that’s what it’s there to do. But Margaret makes a really good point. You know, we’ve just had International Womens Day, and we’ve been talking about how the best decisions get made when both genders are around the table. Superannuation is one of those policies that clearly there was no bloke around the table when that policy was made. Because you know, if you have a gender pay gap, if you have gender pay gap, if you have lower workforce participation, if you have broken work patterns, yeah, superannuation doesn’t necessarily work for you. So now we’re taking a system and trying to make it fairer, particularly for women, and particularly for those older women that haven’t grown up with a mature superannuation system.
ELLIOTT: We are running out of time and on behalf of everybody, which is all of us who put money into superannuation, can I say there are a couple of issues: one is the rules keep changing, so can we just have a moratorium on any further changes to super? And two, you realise as politicians – I know you two don’t get the massive pensions that pollies used to get – but you still get superannuation which is better than the average person. Why not – what do pollies get – 15.5 per cent a year super?
ELLIOTT: 15.4, there you go. Before fiddling with other people’s super, why not make it the same as your super?
HUME: First and foremost, we haven’t actually fiddled with super since 2016 when a cap was put on the balances. Since that time, there have been no adverse changes to superannuation. And those changes only affected a small amount of the population.
ELLIOTT: Richard Marles, you said you won’t do anything that hasn’t been pre-announced. Can you guarantee no more changes to super if you’re the next government?
MARLES: Well, I don’t think we have any plans in relation to super going into the election. But you know, we will be making our position on this and everything very clear so people know what they’re going to be voting on.
ELLIOTT: Alright, fabulous. Great to see you both. Richard Marles, Deputy Leader of the Labor Party, Senator Jane Hume, amongst other things, Minister for Superannuation. Enjoy the football tonight, we’ll see you in a few weeks’ time and thank you for coming in.