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Transcript of interview with Kieran Gilbert: Sky PM Agenda: 21 October 2013: MYEFO, Freedom of Information, Coalition culture of secrecy, climate change, Border Protection.

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SUBJECTS: MYEFO, Freedom of Information, Coalition culture of secrecy, climate change, Border Protection.

KIERAN GILBERT: Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen, thanks for your time this afternoon.

CHRIS BOWEN: Pleasure Kieran.

GILBERT: We have seen reports today that the economy is slowing at an even faster rate. Would you support a major infrastructure spend to fill the gap left by the mining sector here?

BOWEN: Well, the first thing to say is that the Government needs to come clean on the figures and what advice they are receiving. Whenever there was a projected change in the economy or revenue under the last government, you always saw Joe Hockey jumping up and down demanding to see the figures. Now we have a very different approach from this government. A culture of secrecy across the board. But refusing to release the full Budget update - we did that, I released an update just before the election - Mr Abbott promised one in the first 100 days of the election. The Liberal party was talking about releasing it in January, they have been forced to back down from that. Now the only guarantee they will give that it will be before Christmas; might be Christmas Eve, that is simply not good enough. It is a mid-year economic forecast and they should release it soon. Under Labor it was always released in October or November…

GILBERT: What material difference would it make if it was released say two weeks before the end of December? It has been released in that timeframe before…

BOWEN: Wayne Swan or I never did. Under Labor we always released it at a time when it could be fully digested and understood. Not in a holiday season, not just before Christmas; always in good time. Now Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott talked about a budget emergency; well if you have got an emergency you do something about it. Either they didn’t believe it then or they don’t believe it now.

GILBERT: They did do something about it.

BOWEN: What are they doing about it? They’re going to spend money…they’re going to spend more on infrastructure, is that what they are going to do?

GILBERT: Let’s go through a few of the developments that we are seeing. The Parliamentary Budget Office has said that they will be over $7 billion better off under the Coalition, then they would have been otherwise. That is from the independent PBO. They have the Commission of Audit that is going to be announced tomorrow; they are doing that. They have released the draft legislation to repeal the carbon tax, as the start of their deregulation agenda.

BOWEN: Let’s go through all of them. The PBO made comments on all parties’ costings; they said our costings were viable and sound. We do have some question marks…

GILBERT: …No black hole.

BOWEN: The Liberal Party’s black hole comes about by saying ‘we will get back to surplus, abolish taxes and increase spending’. That’s how their black hole comes about. Now the full range of policies that they committed to during the election, that they did not provide to the Parliamentary Budget Office, including infrastructure spending up and down the country and hospital upgrades, all sorts of things. The Parliamentary Budget Office is a fine institution and they do a good job with the information given to them. We gave them all of our policies; there is a very big question mark over the policies the Liberal party supplied to them, to the PB. Also, the PBO confirmed some of the things we warned about before the election. We pointed, for example, that the Liberal party can only get the savings they need from the Low Income Superannuation Contribution was to make it retrospective. Take money off people. Now the Liberal party wouldn’t come clean about that before the election, and that was confirmed in black and white, Australia’s lowest paid workers having money taken off them, retrospectively, by this Government - which the Liberal Party was not upfront about before the election.

They promised to get rid of 12,000 public servants through natural attrition. You look at the Parliamentary Budget Office analysis, six thousand need to go by July next year. That’s a job an hour. I will be very interested to know how they are going to do that by natural attrition, over and above the efficiency dividend. So there are very big question marks about the Liberal Party’s costings and policies.

GILBERT: In relation to a commission of audit. They are going to announce that tomorrow. It’s a major announcement they made during the election and it looks like they will be delivering a bigger picture agenda here far from the ‘cuts, cuts, cuts’ and the doom and gloom Labor had warned about.

BOWEN: What’s a commission of audit if it’s not going to recommend cuts? So let’s let this play out. We’ll watch it, we’ll monitor it, we’ll provide commentary on it. We need to see the terms of reference; we need to see who’s doing it. A commission of audit we know through bitter experience, Campbell Newman being our most recent, is not a pleasant experience. And we said before the election if you’re going to cut then tell the Australian people beforehand where you’re going to cut, don’t rely on the fig-leaf of the commission of audit but then you’ll make the recommendations for cuts after an election.

GILBERT: But that looks exactly like what they’re going to be doing and then seek a mandate for a second term…

BOWEN: Well, let’s see whether they seek a mandate for a second term or if they try to cut things earlier. I mean Joe Hockey can explain all this, I’m not sure where he is but you don’t see much of him these days. He was very vocal, like Scott Morrison before the election but now after the election you find them much more in hiding, much less willing to provide updates to the public, frankly we see a culture of secrecy. We see an extraordinary development of the Treasury refusing to release the incoming Government brief.

GILBERT: Yeah I want to ask you about that in a moment but just to finish up on the mid-year economic update because the legislation says that the Treasurer can introduce or release MYEFO as it’s known, by the end of January, what material difference does it make to release it two weeks earlier as you demanded?

BOWEN: Well because if you get into the Christmas period you don’t find the scrutiny that should attach itself to it. Now Joe Hockey was very vocal every year demanding to see the MYEFO, we also released it in October or November, usually in early November not late November. Now they need to release it on the same timetable that they held us to when we’re in office. It’s not unreasonable for us to point out hypocrisy if they then turn around and do it at Christmas eve or close to it.

GILBERT: On the Freedom of Information request that you pointed to that was Treasury’s decision. You’ve been critical of the Government and Mr Hockey but wasn’t it the Treasury itself that denied that FOI request?

BOWEN: Well there are some very important questions that need to be answered Kieran. I FOI’d on behalf of the Opposition and the Treasury incoming Government briefs to both parties as I know many media outlets did. And I received a letter saying ‘yes, you can have them but it’s going to cost you a significant amount of money’, I mean this is a normal exchange of correspondence. And out of the blue on the Treasury website appears a change of decision which says ‘no, we’re not releasing it under FOI’. So there’s a very important question to answer here how it changes from one week to the next. What happened here? And I’ll be pursuing that obviously. Again, when we were in office they were released, in fact they were put on the website of the Treasury in the public interest. Not necessarily political convenient for us as the Government, there’s always things which are difficult for a Government to deal with when those things be made public. But as a matter of principle they should be made public. We deserve an explanation as to why it’s not being made public frankly the explanation is highly unsatisfactory and we’ll be pursuing it, we’ll be pursuing it through several avenues.

GILBERT: What will the Opposition do about the Carbon Tax? It’s tough to support its continued operation given that you were there with Mark Butler and Kevin Rudd before the election promising to abolish it.

BOWEN: Well you are right to say that every side agrees that the Carbon Tax needs to be terminated and a new set of arrangements need to be put in place. We went to the election with that, that is correct. The key question is what follows it. Now we need, we do need to have a discussion about so called Direct Action and what it actually entails. Whether it can realistically achieve the targets its meant to achieve. I’m not aware of any economist or any environmental scientist who thinks it can. The Government could provide some evidence to that and there’s a parliamentary process to go through. If they think they can just ram-road it through, bully it through with no discussion about the important issue of climate change and what replaces the Carbon Tax whether it’s a market base mechanism or their so called Direct Action then they’re sadly mistaken.

GILBERT: But they’ve separated the bills…

BOWEN: Well they can do that.

GILBERT: But this is something you’ve committed to, to abolish the Carbon Tax, why not get rid of that, and then you know you still remain committed to a

carbon price, emissions trading scheme, introduce parallel legislation or an amendment?

BOWEN: Well these are things that a Shadow Cabinet will continue to consider. They can separate it if they like but the fact of the matter is it is one combined debate and issue. It’s about what to do about climate change. Whether you think it’s real or not, we think it’s real we think it’s caused by human activity and we think there should be Government action to fix it. We’ve also said that a market based mechanism is the best way of doing it which you would expect the Liberal Party to agree with by the way but they’ve long since walked away from that. But we have grave concerns about Direct Action and parliament is the right place to discuss those concerns and for them to bring their case and put forward their experts. Bring forward the experts who say Direct Action will work. Show us the economists. Mr Hunt was asked to nominate one economist who supported Direct Action, he nominated a Nobel Prize Winner, economics prize winner from overseas who said he never heard of Direct Action.

GILBERT: But do you accept that Labor did not have a mandate for the Carbon Tax as Kevin Rudd conceded during the election campaign?

BOWEN: Oh well, when you’re talking about mandates clearly we had issues in the last term but we went to the 2007 election with a clear policy, a clear policy of a price on carbon and we had a mandate. Mr Abbott didn’t respect that mandate. He became leader of the Liberal Party on an internal mandate to destroy it. To destroy a policy which we had a mandate to implement. So we’re not going to be lectured by him. He’s the last person in the world who can lecture anybody about mandates when it comes to carbon pricing.

GILBERT: But at this point we don’t know what you’re going to do though in the parliament when the vote comes.

BOWEN: Well Kieran, we are no longer the Government. I mean what the Labor Party does is important but we are no longer the Government, it’s the Government which now must be held to account. We’ll play our role responsibly but we are entitled to go through our processes and we’re also entitled to use the parliament to consider all the issues in full detail. And that’s what we’ll be doing as an Opposition.