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Transcript of interview with Michael Brissenden: ABC Current Affairs AM: 8 November 2016: Labor's superannuation tax reform package; asylum seekers; Turnbull caving in to right wing pressure on 18C

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SUBJECT/S: Labor’s superannuation tax reform package, asylum seekers; Turnbull caving in to right wing pressure on 18C.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN, HOST: Chris Bowen, good morning.


BRISSENDEN: So the Government has amended its super plan considerably, but your still not happy with it. Why not?

BOWEN: Well it can be improved further and that’s what we’re saying today. We will make these suggestions to the Government. The Government has been all at sea on this right from the beginning. At first saying they didn’t want any changes to superannuation, Scott Morrison personally leading the charge, saying he would never touch superannuation. Then of course the Budget night bombshell about retrospective tax changes, then the revised package after the election. Now what we’re doing is making this proposal better for the budget, $1.4 billion better over the next four years and actually almost $19 billion better over the next 10 years. So that’s better for the Budget.

The Government lectures everybody about the need for Budget repair, well they can take these suggestions and it would also make it fairer, a better targeted tax concessions. As you know, the tax concessions for superannuation are overwhelmingly skewered to the top income earners in Australia. There is a broad consensus that the system needs to be improved. The Government is very late to this discussion, but just as we’ve led this debate on superannuation now for two years, we continue to lead the debate by making further suggestions to the Government.

BRISSENDEN: But you’re saying -- The Government wants a $100,000 non-concessional after tax contributions. You want that reduced to $75,000. It’s not really a huge difference is it?

BOWEN: Well, it’s better. It is the case that only very high income earners are in a position to put a $100,000 extra into superannuation a year. This would save $20 million over the forward estimates, a billion dollars over the next ten years, so it’s worth it in the conversation about Budget repair. Now of course if the Government chooses to stick to its guns and refuses to accept these suggestions that’s a matter for them, but these are on the table in good faith.

BRISSENDEN: And if the Government doesn’t meet those - your concerns? Are you going to stand in the way of the package?

BOWEN: Well I don’t want to give Scott Morrison an excuse to walk away from this package. The Australian people want to see a package. We won’t let the perfect be an enemy of the good, but these are good…

BRISSENDEN: Right so you’ll let it through?

BOWEN: Yeah, these are proper suggestions that we are making to improve this package, but at the end of the day, of course I’m not all that hopeful that the Government is going to take on these sensible suggestions.

BRISSENDEN: No. Your also argue the Government is keeping two new tax loopholes for things such as catch up concessions…

BOWEN: Well it’s actually worse than that Michael, they’re introducing new tax loopholes in superannuation which again…

BRISSENDEN: The Government says that is designed to make the system more flexible and it does do that…

BOWEN: Look, even if some of these measures in a perfect world might be desirable, these two measures, even if that’s the case, and that’s arguable. I’m not necessarily convinced that that’s the case, but even if that’s the case, how can they be priorities when the Budget is under such pressures? I mean this is $800 million over the next four years, that’s a lot of money. That’s a lot of money which the Government is pushing out the door as part of their package and we don’t think that’s justified in this time of Budget restraint.

BRISSENDEN: Flexible is important…

BOWEN: Well again, in a perfect…

BRISSENDEN: This is a complex issue as we all know.

BOWEN: Of course, and in a perfect world where the Budget wasn’t under such pressures, you might contemplate some of these measures. But Budgets are about priorities, and the Government has a different set of priorities than us.

BRISSENDEN: Can we move on to a couple of other issues that are in the Parliament, in the political sphere this week. The Government’s bill to introduce a lifetime visa ban

on refugees being held on Manus and Nauru will come before Parliament today. Shadow Cabinet met last night, presumably you discusses this. Did you come to a formal decision?

BOWEN: Of course I’ll leave the Leader to make our announcements, it will go to Caucus this morning but we’ve made our concerns very very clear. Shane Neumann received a briefing yesterday from the Government that did not meet out concerns. What’s very clear is that Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Dutton haven’t been sitting around thinking about ways to defeat people smugglers. They’ve been thinking of political tactics to change the political conversation because they are in such a diabolical mess. That is what is going on here and you would be unsurprised to know, the Labor Party is not inclined and attracted to be part of that little plan.

BRISSENDEN: Have you got, are you going to put up amendments or will you just block it?

BOWEN: Well again I’ll leave Bill Shorten to make that announcement later in the day but our concerns that this has been ill thought out and are silly. It’s just a silly change have been very well articulated by Bill.

BRISSENDEN: You’re a former Immigration Minister, you know this portfolio area well. The ban would send a pretty strong message wouldn’t it?

BOWEN: Well, it was only a couple of weeks ago that Malcolm Turnbull was boasting that the boats had stopped and they’d do everything necessary and all of a sudden, out of the blue, they say “Oh actually now this is necessary as well”. Now you’ll forgive my cynicism Michael. Now I understand that tough decisions are sometimes necessary. I do understand how the people smuggling network operates, but when you’ve got a Government which just a couple of weeks ago was saying “Nothing to see here, we fixed it all, aren’t we wonderful?” to “Now we have a crisis, all of a sudden, we didn’t mention it before but he has a crisis on our hands and we need this dramatic change to the law.” We are very entitled to be very cynical about that.

BRISSENDEN: Alright. On the debate over 18c and the changes to the Racial Discrimination Act, it seems there will be a Parliamentary enquiry to this. Is Labor still opposed to any change to 18C?

BOWEN: We don’t see the case. We don’t see that case for this and it’s very clear the Government is divided over this. We just heard John Alexander, you could add other members of the Liberal Party in Parliament who are deeply concerned about this. This is yet another example of Malcolm Turnbull’s agenda being determined by the extreme right wing of the Liberal Party.

BRISSENDEN: It’s just that in some cases, the Prime Minister was on the program yesterday talking about a change in the wording. People have been talking about removing….

BOWEN: ‘Insult or offend’.

BRISSENDEN: …insult or offend on the grounds of race. Would you entertain that prospect?

BOWEN: Well again Michael. Point one: we don’t see the case. Point two: Malcolm Turnbull just a little while ago saying this wasn’t a priority. Apparently it’s a priority because certain sections of his party room from who he relies to hold on to his job thinks it’s a priority all of a sudden. I’ve got to tell you, in my electorate, I don’t get people stopping me in the street saying “It’s time to change 18C”. They raise a lot of issue with me but this isn’t one of them.

BRISSENDEN: Chris Bowen, thanks very much for joining us.

BOWEN: Nice to talk to you Michael.