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Transcript of doorstop interview: Parliament House, Canberra: 21 November 2013: Debt ceiling; AFP; financial services inquiry

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Subjects: Debt ceiling; AFP; financial services inquiry

ANDREW LEIGH: Well, we're still pretty much in the same situation with the debt cap as we were when I spoke to you a week ago. Joe Hockey put in an application for a no-doc loan, providing no substantiation as to why he needed a debt cap that rose to $500 billion. Parliament came back and said we'd comfortably give you $400 billion. We will give you enough to carry you through to the next election with a $30 billion buffer on top of that. Joe Hockey has been welcome to come back to parliament at any stage since then providing evidence as to why either, a) the budget position has significantly worsened in his ten weeks as Treasurer, or b) the decisions that he's made, such as the $9 billion grant to the Reserve Bank, have so damaged the public finances that he then needs a higher debt limit than was provided for in the pre-election fiscal outlook. But he's done neither of those things and despite considerable pressure in Senate Estimates last night, the government has been no more forthcoming on why they need this $500 billion dollar debt cap. I'm happy to take questions.

REPORTER: You don't accept Treasury advice that half a trillion dollars is seen as prudent?

LEIGH: What we would like to see and what the Australian people would like to see is documentary evidence as to what has changed since the pre-election fiscal outlook. In the pre-election fiscal outlook we had debt peaking at $370 billion in 2016-17 and we haven't been provided with a different level of peak debt as a result of the evidence last night.

REPORTER: How would you interpret that, what he said, that the decision to raise the ceiling would be prudent, to 500?

LEIGH: The decision to raise the ceiling to $400 billion gives Australia breathing room now. In fact it gives us breathing room for three years. I think Australians

are entitled to treat Mr Hockey the same way your bank manager would treat you if you asked for a near-doubling in your mortgage.

REPORTER: Why would Mr Parkinson say that the decision to raise it to $500 billion would be prudent. Why do you think he'd say that?

LEIGH: I'm not to get into a dispute with Martin Parkinson. He's someone I respect greatly. What does trouble me though is that the Government is not being transparent on this as with so many other areas. This is a question of whether the Government will release the documentary evidence that updates the pre-election fiscal outlook. When Labor was in office we brought out that mid-year economic fiscal outlook in October and November every time. The Government now wants to push it off into December, a very strange decision given at the same time they're coming to parliament asking for a 66 per cent increase in the debt cap.

REPORTER: But the September accounts aren't due out til early December, you're an economist and you'd accept that that's the way it should be?

LEIGH: Laura, the timing of the September accounts has been the same in previous years. The mid-year economic and fiscal outlook has been brought out in October or November. If you were in Mr Hockey's shoes and you were expecting the Australian people to raise your debt limit 66 per cent, I suspect you would regard it as a very strange decision to delay a regular economic update rather than bring it out on time.

REPORTER: Are you concerned that the AFP has obtained phone records of politicians?

LEIGH: It's a matter for the police. I'm not going to get into commenting on police investigations.

REPORTER: Do you operate on the assumption that your phone calls are being listened to or your records could be obtained.

LEIGH: I suspect I lead one of the least colourful lives in Australian politics as a Canberra-based MP with three little kids.

REPORTER: Do you have any advice for your colleague, Sam Dastyari, about open mics in Senate Estimates?

LEIGH: None at all. Mr Dastyari is a good Senator. He'll take care of himself in these matters.

REPORTER: David Murray is heading an inquiry into financial services. Does Labor welcome that appointment?

LEIGH: We're certainly interested in seeing what comes out of this. I think it's driven in part, to be frank, by Mr Hockey's experience of being the responsible Minister when HIH collapsed. But certainly the appointment of David Murray does something to signal the direction that the inquiry will take.

REPORTER: Where do you anticipate this debate on going now on the debt ceiling? There's now a stand-off. Joe Hockey's given no sign that he's going to capitulate on this and Labor and the Greens have made it clear. So as we approach December, is Australia going to go over that [inaudible]?

LEIGH: Australia is in no danger of default. If Mr Hockey stops throwing tantrums and takes the $400 billion Parliament is offering him. Nobody is playing Tea Party games in Australia. The parliament is giving Mr Hockey enough money to carry on government activities until the next election with a seven or eight per cent buffer at that point. He should stop throwing tantrums and take that $400 billion or he could start by being transparent and telling us why he needs more. Thanks everyone.