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Transcript of doorstop interview: Parliament House, Canberra: 9 February 2016: Scott Morrison keeping a 15 per cent GST on the table; Labor's savings; what's the point of a Turnbull Government?; negative gearing; Stuart Robert

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SUBJECT/S: Scott Morrison keeping a 15 per cent GST on the table; Labor’s savings; What’s the point of a Turnbull Government?; negative gearing; Stuart Robert.

CHRIS BOWEN, SHADOW TREASURER: Well, good morning everybody. Another day, another day of chaos at the heart of the Turnbull Government. Whether it’s ministers embroiled in scandals or a government in search of a tax policy, it’s very clear that Malcolm Turnbull had a plan to knock off Tony Abbott but has very little idea on how to govern Australia.

The Liberals sell themselves as a party competent when it comes to tax. Yet today we see a Prime Minister scrambling to work out what he believes in. Now the fact of the matter is that Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison embarked on a path to increase the GST, the fact of the matter is that on Sunday Malcolm Turnbull scared of his backbench, was starting to crabwalk away and yet yesterday we saw the Treasurer scrambling to put, make sure that the GST remains firmly on the table.

This is a Government which is simply not up to the job. A Treasurer with no overriding framework, a Treasurer humiliated because his preferred tax plan is sawn away by the Prime Minister. Now Malcolm Turnbull may be up to tax plan B, or E, or F, he’s gone through A, B, and C. It’s time for Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison to come clean with their plans.

By contrast we have the extraordinary situation where the alternative government, the Opposition has more detailed, well considered, costed plans on the table, then a Government that has been in office for well more than two years, with all the resources

of the Treasury and the bureaucracy at their disposal and yet they are scrambling, scrambling to come up with detailed policies.


announced policies, not all which are universally popular but which are well thought out and necessary. High income superannuation, been announced, on the table, there for all to see and scrutinise since last April. Multinational tax has been announced for very close to a year. Tobacco tax, Emissions Reduction Fund, not proceeding with the Government’s baby bonus, not proceeding with the same sex marriage referendum, plebiscite; at substantial cost to the taxpayer.

All these things have been announced by Labor. And yet, the Government’s answer to everything, to every single question is; ‘it’s on the table’. Well we know that increasing the GST is on the table for Scott Morrison, we know that putting the GST on fresh food is on the table, but the question is; will the Government have the courage of their convictions and fight an election on their tax plans? We’re happy to. I’ll debate Scott Morrison anytime, anywhere. But he actually has to come to that debate with some policies in his briefcase to be announced, to be scrutinised, to be debated. He has singularly failed to do so up until this point.

It just goes to show, we have a Treasurer and a Prime Minister just simply not up to the job. They had a plan to knock off Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey but they are scrambling as they take over those roles without a framework, without a core set of economic beliefs. Labor’s opposition to the GST is informed by our core set of economic beliefs. It’s quite clear that Scott Morrison’s only belief is increasing the GST but he may or may not have the ability to get this through the Prime Minister who he may well describe, in his favourite term, as a political bed-wetter because of the Prime Minister’s contortions on the issue of the GST.

Now we see Scott Morrison edging away from changing negative gearing, edging away from changing other tax mixes, let’s just get one thing straight; if the Government want to go down other roads first they have to deal with the GST. Take it off the table.

Provide a clear commitment to the Australian people that they will not increase the GST. Until they do that, then Scott Morrison's plans to increase the GST are very clearly still on the table.

Happy to take some questions

JOURNALIST: What about your own plans on negative gearing. Are they edging closer?

BOWEN: Look I have said for a long time, for close to 12 months again that any serious tax debate will involve a discussion about negative gearing. I've outlined a couple of principles, including protection for existing investors, people who made investments in good faith. We have been continuing that work, consulting very closely with experts, with the property sector, with people with different views as we develop that framework very, very carefully. And of course we will have more to say about that. But I'm prepared

to have that discussion. Scott Morrison of course railed against changes to high income super, railed against changes to negative gearing and now apparently they are both very much on the table for him. So we won't be taking any lectures from him. We've been going through our detailed policy work and that work is very well advanced.

JOURNALIST: Are we to take it that you're doing work to see if you will make changes to negative gearing or just how you will?

BOWEN: Well we will have more to say about our approach to the negative gearing. Negative gearing does provide more benefits to people who are buying a second, third and fourth home than buying their first home and the benefits go particularly to higher income earners. There will always be negative gearing in Australia. It's about looking at sensible reforms which we have been doing and we will have more to say about that in due course.

JOURNALIST: Mr Bowen, won’t changes to negative gearing have a hit on low income earners anyway by forcing up rents?

BOWEN: Well it depends on how it is done. If it is done carefully and probably and that's the work, consultation that we've been undertaking.

JOURNALIST: Any thoughts on, obviously the Government initially had plans for Green/White papers on tax. Labor though also got to the final stage of having that review but cherry picked from it so?

BOWEN: Well the Government said they would have a Green Paper/White Paper process. That was this Government. I mean the spokespeople at the top might have changed but we still have a Liberal/National Party Government in Australia. And they invested millions of dollars of tax payer’s money in bureaucrats working on the Green Paper/White Paper, advertising about the Green Paper/White Paper. And late last year when some of you speculated on reports that the process was going to be scrapped, Scott Morrison got himself in a lather and said it was a lie and said that the Green Paper/White Paper process would continue and it was vitally important for the future. Guess what? It turns out you were right, he was wrong. He was misleading the Australian people or the Prime Minister had made a call and not told the Treasurer and now they are walking away from that. Now this goes to the point, about a Government without a framework. They can't say late last year that the Green Paper/White Paper process was so important, we've got to have a proper debate and that's why we invested millions of dollars of tax payers money in it. And then early in 2016 saying oh actually it doesn't matter that much after all.

If the Treasurer doesn't have a consistent set of approaches to these important matters, no wonder the Australian people, as well as his a Liberal Party backbench are rapidly losing confidence in the Treasurer.

JOURNALIST: Does Stuart Robert have to stand aside while the Prime Minister gets advice on whether his conduct was appropriate or not?

BOWEN: Well this is a very very serious matter. Stuart Robert has failed to answer questions in the Parliament. This is particularly serious and the Prime Minister needs to take personal leadership here, referring it with all due respect to Dr Parkinson, who is a fine public servant, Malcolm Turnbull washing his hands of this matter and referring it to his Department or Secretary does not meet the test of Prime Ministerial standards, below ministerial standards.

Now this looks very, very serious indeed. He has very serious questions to answer and in fact I think the writing is on the wall for Stuart Robert but I'm sure the Shadow Attorney General, who is prosecuting this matter on behalf of the alternative government will be able to speak to you in more detail about that.