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Rowville, Victoria: transcript of doorstop interview with Kieran Boland ALP candidate for Aston: GST, Andrew Thomson, Aston by-election, environment policy, contractors taxation, tax of trusts.

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Kim Beazley, Kieran Boland - GST, Andrew Thomson, Aston By-Election, Environment Policy, Contractors Taxation, Taxation Of Trusts

Thursday, 12 July 2001

Kim Beazley - Doorstop with Kieran Boland, ALP Candidate for Aston Subjects: GST, Andrew Thomson, Aston By-Election, Environment Policy, Contractors Taxation, Taxation Of Trusts

Transcript - Rowville, Victoria - 11 July 2001


BEAZLEY: Yesterday Peter Costello was suggesting to me that I needed to do some work - the basis of that I do not know. But what I have to say to Mr Costello, he has got to get something right the first time. We have had from Mr Costello a mess of the BAS, a mess of the introduction of the GST, a mess of family debt problems associated with the taxation system, a mess in the legislation related to independent contractors. If a Labor Treasurer had made those sorts of errors in the course of a couple of years, you'd be swinging from a metaphorical political gibbet in the media. Mr Costello can count himself lucky that he's had a fairly friendly passage so far. But he's not had a friendly passage from the people of this country who are more and more upset about the erratic character of this Government; its malevolence and the fact that it will not listen. This Government has got to be made to listen. And one of the ways to make them listen is to hand them a defeat here in Aston.

I'm specifically here today for one major reason, and that's the circumstances of Australian families. Among the many errors made by this Government, errors of inattention, has been what they've allowed develop with the family debt problem in the taxation system and the potential debt problem related to childcare benefits. This Government does not live in the 21st century. The Government's social conditions placed on benefits like the family benefits and the childcare benefits relate to a family experience of the 1950s - not a contemporary family experience where spouses are in and out of the workforce repeatedly. They've bought themselves out of trouble for the duration of the election and the by-election. But they've left everybody else in trouble this time next year, because they've made no changes; they've merely forgiven debt. Well, that's not good enough. It's time for Mr Costello and Mr Howard to do some listening and some working and get their act together on these issues which so threaten the happiness of families mid year, every year, until they're resolved.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, do you agree with your frontbencher, Kelvin Thomson that if Mr Howard loses Aston he's likely to abolish the GST?

BEAZLEY: I think Mr Thomson was speaking facetiously.

JOURNALIST: He wasn't smiling at the time.

BEAZLEY: Mr Thomson rarely does. But one of the things you could say about this Government, they've jettisoned everything else. I mean, they remind me of that Russian proverb about the chap in a sleigh with a barrel of apples pursued by the wolves. They keep chucking the apples over and the wolves keep stopping for them, but sooner or later they come to the last apple. And I suppose the last apple in the barrel was the GST.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, why do you think the Morgan poll has Labor behind the Government on economic management?

BEAZLEY: Well, the Government of the day usually does pretty well on economic management in terms of the calculation of the public. But I've got to say, we are very close to it in comparison to where Oppositions usually are on economic management, and that is because nobody can look at the way in which this country has been administered for the last two years, and arrive at an objective conclusion that this Government is any good.

JOURNALIST: ...(inaudible)...

BEAZLEY: The economy was going well when this Government came to office. They decided to kick an own goal with the GST. And if we're lucky the economy will be back to what it was before the GST, though none of the projections of Treasury suggest that that will be the case. But even assuming that we do get back to that point, then what was the point of the goods and services tax? It was supposed to make things better. It has made things worse temporarily and probably in the medium term. There has been no gains in Australia by these decisions. And yet it was the biggest by this Government and it's now run out of ideas. Appealing to their backbenchers now, for a program for the next term, appealing to the public service for a few ideas for a program for the next election. Well, we've got our program out there. We have a program for the sort of modern nation that Australia needs to be. And this Government can do nothing but attempt to imitate us and back flip in their own policies.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, there are reports out of Sydney that Liberal backbencher Andrew Thomson has taken study leave to complete a Masters Degree in the US. Is the Labor Party examining this particular issue to see whether or not there is any breach of his parliamentary duties?

BEAZLEY: He has taken no such thing. There is no such thing as study leave in the conditions that are there for Members of Parliament. This is a discipline issue for John Howard. But it is further evidence of everybody abandoning ship. This Liberal Party now represents an episode of Big Brother. They're sitting there chatting to themselves about who's going to be leader, chatting to themselves about what opportunity there ought to be for somebody to hop overseas and study, chatting to themselves about how Peter Reith can skive off from taking the full measure of the electorate's wrath and the way in which he's conducted himself over the course of the last few years. It's a Big Brother love-in, the Liberal Party, or fight-in that we see now, but it's not a government.

JOURNALIST: Who's going to be the last in there, then Mr Beazley?

BEAZLEY: Who's going to be the last in? I don't know, they can turn off the lights, though.

JOURNALIST: You said that the people of Aston should send a message to John Howard. If, however, you lose this by-election, will they be sending a message to you?

BEAZLEY: People send all sorts of messages in by-elections. It's a tough one for us. Kieran here has drawn the bottom of the card in what is clearly a preference fight. This is a tough position for him to be in. This is a seat that doesn't swing much. It's a hard one - a hard one for the Labor Party. It's not one that would have been on the list of heavily supported marginal seats during a Federal election campaign. Kieran has done his best. He's been working away here over the course of this year - since he's been endorsed. He never expected to find himself in a by-election and he expected to fund his own campaign himself from the day he set out on this fight. So, this is not one that the Labor Party would automatically be expected to win - but gee, we're put up a decent show, I reckon.

JOURNALIST: Wouldn't Kieran do better if he knew what your environment policy was?

BEAZLEY: Kieran does know what our environment policy is...

JOURNALIST: Why won't he tell people?

BEAZLEY: ...and he is not our environment spokesperson...

JOURNALIST: But he's your candidate.

BEAZLEY: ...he got up and he put our environment policies I think pretty well in the course of your quizzing of him, or the harassing of him by one journalist who I see is hovering and dancing around the pack at the moment.

JOURNALIST: He didn't put it, he just said you had one. Can he tell us now what the environment policy is?

BEAZLEY: You know very well what the environment policy of the Labor Party is. And you know very well what they are in relation to this particular by-election. We have not gone down the road, despite lying Liberal pamphlets saying that we oppose the Scoresby road because we think that is essential for the people of this area. But there is a pamphlet out there with a lie in it which says that the Labor Party has exchanged a policy on Scoresby for Green preferences - an out and out lie. Now, if you want to do a bit of serious journalism and a bit of serious coverage of honesty in this election campaign, you might get yourself into gear and do something about that - point one.

Point two, in so far as there is an issue in this election, and there ought to be in any election in relation to the effect of greenhouse emissions, our position is clear. The first thing is that we're not going in behind the United States on this one. We happen to think that it is important to get a greenhouse agreement because it is the most serious environmental problem now confronting the rest of the world. What we have said is this: we got a good deal out of Kyoto - a good deal. And having got a good deal out of Kyoto, it would be sensible for us to work ourselves towards those targets, difficult though they might be.

Point three, in an environment in which ratification is up for grabs, the first step before ratification by an Australian government ought to be to see what they can negotiate to get a generalised agreement -pressure on the Americans, pressure on the third world to come in and in the mean time, prior to that, getting an acknowledgement out there of the fact that we did get given a good deal on greenhouse and get on with the business of implementing the targets that were put to us.

JOURNALIST: Isn't the Realpolitik of this that your hands are tied by the big unions, in particular the CFMEU's insistence that you don't take a hard line approach on Kyoto, on greenhouse emissions?

BEAZLEY: Not at all. If our hands were tied by those views, I would not have said what I just said on getting to those Kyoto targets. End of story.

JOURNALIST: Why won't you in a simple statement announce that you will join with Europe in ratifying Kyoto. If you'd done that Mr Boland would have a better chance in this election because he would have attracted the Green alliance.

BEAZLEY: Because, Margo, we are not unprincipled and we do believe in forming a Government. We do believe in behaving like a government and not simply like a pressure group. And because....

JOURNALIST: Why won't you make.....commitment to go with Europe and ratify Kyoto?

BEAZLEY: The commonsense thing here, Margo, and you're here as a journalist, not a pamphleteer for Greens or anyone else, but let me go through the commonsense position on that. One, we have got a good deal out of the arrangements associated with Kyoto and we ought to work towards those targets. So, that gives the lie to any notion that we're under some sort of pressure not to go to those targets. Point one.

Point two, what a sensible government would do in these circumstances is not sit like a stunned mullet at the table, which is the marching orders that Hill has been given in this latest round of discussions, but to use the fact that we're prepared to go for those targets to achieve these things: one, the sorts of things that Australians want on the table as criteria for dealing with greenhouse gas emissions. That is things like carbon sinks, things like carbon trading. Two, what we ought to be doing is using our position and our preparedness to go for those Kyoto targets to pressure others into universally ratified agreements. And included in that, bringing in the third world countries in the process and putting pressure on the United States to join in. Those are the commonsense things to do by a government in operation and not simply waiving standards to achieve the ultimate position in which we get an agreement ratified by everybody including ourselves, Margo, that is how a government operates, not how a pressure group operates.

Now, we will not be like this Government. We have got a bit of ticker in the Australian Labor Party. We take a few stands and we take stands on process. This Government has shown itself without ticker over the course of the last seven months as it's back flipped to gain political benefit time and time again. Now, we have not, and we won't because we intend to offer the people of Australia a stable and purposeful government, including on environmental issues. And if that means that we, by taking a principled stand, we miss out on a few preferences in this particular exercise here, well, so be it. But we've got a long-term view in mind. And the long-term view is this: we convince the Australian people on environmental issues that we actually stand for something, unlike our political opponents. And, secondly, we convince the Australian people generally that they've got an alternative government in town and not like an episode of Big Brother, which is what this Government has become.

JOURNALIST: So, you understand the environment policy now, Kieran?

BEAZLEY: He understood it the other day. You know, there was a fair amount of smart aleckery from one or two people around here the other day. So, I am here. It's my job.

JOURNALIST: 1999, regarding tax laws governing contractors, you said they weren't tough enough. In view of what the Government's done this week, if Labor is elected, are you going to toughen up this

legislation when you get into power?

BEAZLEY: The legislation went through with our approval. We agreed with this legislation. I'm not running away from this legislation. What I say is this: this Government is spending $20 million a month on advertising its policies at public expense. That is corrupt, but that is what it is doing - $20 million a month. It has not got one red cent for a piece of advertising of bad news. Now, this legislation has been in place for some considerable time. And a bit of serious advertising on the fact that contractors may have a problem with it might have assisted enormously the processes that we've just gone through where people suddenly at the end of this financial year confronted enormous confusion. This is a mess because the Government will not bring bad news to people - even when the bad news has been supported by its political opponents. Now, the reason why it is necessary to do something is this: the taxation system now with the GST and with the changes in income tax has been carried heavily by PAYE taxpayers. They don't have the capacity to split income. And they don't have the capacity to claim input credits. On the other hand, we have a Government that has actively encouraged employers to get people off their day labour forces and they'd be essentially still day labour, giving them a capacity to declare themselves as independent contractors when they're not. And this has become ubiquitous and it threatens the revenue. This is why it was necessary to do something about it. And Costello ought to have the guts to explain it. But he also should have had the gumption to explain to people the circumstances in which they found themselves. Had they done that when this legislation was passed, you'd have started finding the anomalies. And, indeed, there are. There are some people who are obviously independent contractors who have been caught up illegitimately in the net. Illegitimately under this Act. They should have been capable, the Tax Office and Costello, should have been capable of explaining the circumstances before then. We've had reported to us worse instances than any of those that have been reported so far. We had the example of a bloke who is a ship builder. And because his ship took one year to build, or a full year to build for one contractor and he couldn't do any other work, he suddenly found himself allegedly in the PAYE system. There are a lot of those silly anomalies out there which would have been resolved if this Government had been, instead of an advertising machine absorbing the taxpayers' dollars like the god Moloch on its own behalf, instead of being that it had actually been a government and gone out there and done something for the ordinary citizens and explained the sort of things that ought to happen to them, we wouldn't have the problems that we now have.

JOURNALIST: What will you do in Parliament? Will you make amendments to the Government's.....

BEAZLEY: We don't know what the Government's legislation is. And I bet you your last bottom dollar they don't either. They have said they're going to introduce something in parliament. We'll take a look at what comes through.

JOURNALIST: ...(inaudible)...

BEAZLEY: Have you ever guaranteed anything unseen in your life? I mean, I hope not, I hope you're more sensible than that. What we will do is be favourably disposed to ensuring that the legislation clears things up for people. But let's have a look at the legislation. I've heard two views of it out there from Costello and Howard, sooner or later we'll get one view when the things hits Parliament, no doubt.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, in the same vein, do you think there's scope to crack down on high wealth individuals in the tax system? Do you think there's further scope to get additional revenue out of the tax system? And would Labor consider that in the lead up to the election as a way of funding Knowledge Nation?

BEAZLEY: We always look at tax avoidance and tax evasion. Don't kid yourself about the early start-up funding for Knowledge Nation. We couldn't spend the sorts of monies that Minchin and others say we ought to be spending. I mean, he was saying, for example, next year we'd have to spend $5 billion. You could stand on the street corner handing out thousand dollar checks for everybody who said they had a BSc or a B Eng and still wouldn't spend $5 billion in that period of time. The Knowledge Nation requires in the first instance the Government to set down what it understands to be the strengths and weaknesses of the nation and to start to address them. And then in the second instance to start to provide a certain amount of start-up money to set ourselves on the ten-year track. It's not so difficult. For example, you take those thousand positions suggested for, if you like, golden handcuffs to end the brain drain. The implementation of 100 of those would cost about one month of the Government's budget for advertising. One month of advertising on its own behalf - these things can be done. You don't need to take extreme measures to start up Knowledge Nation. It's a question of your priorities over a decade and it's a question of getting your ducks in a row, getting your aims right. We happen to believe in this, it's our idea and the direction in which we want to go. And I am flattered by the way in which the Government is a) falling over itself to try and imitate us and b) seizing more money from the taxpayers to advertise their own non-existent performance in this regard.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, if the Government holds on in Aston, what would that mean for the timing of the Federal election?

BEAZLEY: Well, that's up to Mr Howard. I mean, I have taken the view that the parliament ought to serve its full term. That's my view earlier on. But the second view I've had is this: Mr Howard having fired the starter's gun at the beginning of this year, fair dinkum, the business community is marching up and down on the spot waiting for some sort of outcome. Howard's incompetence reflected in the way he's managed the tax system has now given us the situation of an American style presidential campaign which in a non-American style politic, we have a political system, and a business habit which calculate elections as six week affairs - this has been very confusing for them and is having a material effect on investment.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, are you willing to take further the fight against tax avoidance in Government?

BEAZLEY: You should always fight against tax avoidance in Government - always.

JOURNALIST: With more legislation?

BEAZLEY: And you always look at the taxation system to ensure that the taxation system is operating fairly. Now we supported the taxation changes that have been put in place to this point and the measures that are taken against avoidance, one of which we have been dealing with in the course of our conversation here today. While we always look at the possibility of breakout, and the moment our view is that we're not looking at making changes at the taxation system which impact on ordinary families.

JOURNALIST: What about trusts?

BEAZLEY: And what we've said about trusts is this: they are bound up in the arrangements that we had with our political opponents, they have since backed off it, in part for good reasons, in part for bad. In good reasons related, of course, to the fact that you did need to work out a solution for farmers, for example, and you needed to be careful of the position of small business people. But what we've said on

this is we'll act on that when we can get bipartisan support. Until you get bipartisan support, you can forget it. All you do if you fail to get bipartisan support is leave yourself open ultimately for defeat in the Senate and then get constant change in taxation policy.

JOURNALIST: ...(inaudible)...

BEAZLEY: Well, maybe. And maybe not. And maybe there's a price to be extracted there that's unacceptable. What we look for in that regard is what we gave our political opponents - bipartisan support.

JOURNALIST: But.....surely it's an important issue?

BEAZLEY: No, it's a sensible calculation about how you do tax administration, particularly in these sort of areas. You want, when you make taxation changes, them to have some longevity and be a matter of agreement between all sides in politics. We offered that to our political opponents. We expect the same, ultimately, from them no matter what they say now.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, some charges have been laid against Craig Johnston....prominent union official. Are you at all concerned that there might be any negative impact...?

BEAZLEY: You can't discuss a particular case once charges are laid. So, let me stand aside from that case to talk about issues generally. We oppose violence in the industrial relations system under any circumstances. We witnessed a couple of years ago extreme acts of violence against union....this is Reith land. In the industrial relations system we are now in Reith land. And in Reith land is devil take the hindmost, dog eat dog, Rottweiler eat Rottweiler. And this is not the way to conduct industrial relations. It's an inevitable consequence of the system that we now have...and won't be once we have a chance to have a go at it.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask Mr Boland what his top priority would be if he did win the seat of Aston for the people of Aston?

BOLAND: The top priority is getting out there over a three-year electoral period, make sure that you can speak to as many people as absolutely possible and find out their views and their concerns and then take that back to Canberra. It's important not to do it just before an election campaign, it's important to get out there for the entire period?

JOURNALIST: But is there a program, a policy or a project in particular that is a priority for you and for the people of Aston.

BOLAND: What they've been speaking to me about are issue like GST, issues like health and education and the Scoresby freeway. The local issue of the Scoresby freeway is absolutely important. We're committed to it, we're committed to making sure that the Scoresby freeway gets built and politics stop being played on that issue, that we put forward and push ahead and work together with Governments to make sure it does get built.

JOURNALIST: What chance do you give yourself of winning the seat?

BOLAND: This is a tough ask. As Kim said, it's not an easy seat for us to win. We haven't held the seat in 11 years. And we haven't won a seat out here since 1988. So, it's not going to be easy for us. We'll keep fighting. I've been out there for 12 months on people's doorsteps. I'll keep fighting and making sure

we give ourselves every best chance in the lead-up to Saturday.

JOURNALIST: 50/50? Less than...

BOLAND: I'm not an analyst. We'll wait and see on the day.

JOURNALIST: Kieran, some commentators have criticised your domestic arrangements in that you still live at home. How do you know what goes on in the real lives if you still live with mum and dad?

BOLAND: It's a matter of getting out there amongst the people of Aston, as I have been doing for about 12 months. If that's the case, how could I know what pensioners are going through - I'm not a pensioner. There are all different types of people in the community. You've got to get out there and stand on their doorstep and stand at the shopping centres and listen to what they've got to say. That's the best way of knowing what people are going through.

BEAZLEY: Alison, have you ever asked John Howard why he lived at home until he was 32? Kieran has got five years of living at home before he hits John Howard's particular record in this regard. And I think it was nice for John Howard to stay at home and look after his mum and his dad.

Ends Authorised by Geoff Walsh, 19 National Circuit, Barton ACT 2600.

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