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Transcript of doorstop interview: Treasury Place, Melbourne: 2 February 2005

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Wayne Swan MP Federal Labor Shadow Treasurer


SWAN: Labor welcomes these long overdue proposals from the Treasurer to curb cartel behaviour. Labor thinks that these proposals are long overdue. It’s been something like nine years to force any substantial reform out of the Howard Government. And in that time, cartel behaviour and associated corporate greed has gone largely unchecked. So what this has meant is that basically the Treasurer is shutting the gate after the horses have bolted. Nevertheless, better late than never. So what we would like to see from the Treasurer is the detail of these proposals. We’d also like to see a comprehensive response to the proposals of the Dawson Review. The Dawson Review is now two years old, so despite what the Treasurer has said today we still do not have legislative proposals. Other elements of trade practices reform are also long overdue, including reforms to curb abuse of market power. So what we would like to see from the Government is a comprehensive package of competition reform. Comprehensive trade practices reform from the Government. We’ve not seen that as yet.

I’d also just like to make a few comments about the decision of the Reserve Bank today not to raise interest rates. We welcome the decision of the Reserve Bank not to raise interest rates but we would note that the Reserve has said, and most market commentators have said, that the next movement is up. Two aspects of Government

policy are putting upward pressure on interest rates. The first one is the skills crisis that is emerging in the Australian workforce, which is a direct result of the failure of Government training policies and labour market policies. And the second factor here is the Coalition’s $66 billion spending spree in the election. Its spending spree and the failure of its labour market policies are putting upward pressure on interest rates. So, as we said during the election campaign, and subsequent to the election campaign, we are going to hold the Howard Government accountable for any rise in interest rates. Because they said very clearly during the campaign that a vote for John Howard was a vote which would keep interest rates down. There is pressure on interest rates and part of that pressure on interest rates is directly related to the failure of Howard Government policies and also its $66 billion spending spree during the election.

I’d also like to comment very briefly on the Business Coalition for Tax Reform. Its proposals to reform the tax system, to do something constructive about the punishing rates of tax which are hitting middle income families, low income families, after the withdrawal of their social security payments, are very constructive. And we are going to keep the pressure on the Howard Government for tax reform to make sure that when people who go to work, and work some overtime, that they don’t lose between 50 and 80 cents of every additional dollar they earn in tax and withdrawal of

family payments. This is a critical issue. What we must have in our economy is reward for effort. The Howard Government has constructed a tax system which punishes average Australians who work hard to get ahead. They don’t work hard to get ahead, to have Peter Costello and John Howard take between 50 and 80 cents of every additional dollar they earn.

Journalist: (Inaudible.)

SWAN: The Government has been dragged kicking and screaming to these proposals today. We are entering the tenth year of the Howard Government. Ten years where there has been no substantial reform and where we’ve had plenty of instances of corporate greed and abuse. Two years ago they appointed the Dawson Committee and it reported. It made substantial recommendations. Peter Costello has been dragging his feet on those recommendations. Today he made a welcome announcement, it is long overdue, but we are yet to see the detail. We want to see a comprehensive package of reform in this area but this Government has been dragging its feet. In the meantime, the horses have bolted. Many people have escaped the net. Better late than never, but let’s see comprehensive reform and let’s see the detail.

Journalist: (Inaudible.)

SWAN: Well there’s no doubt that there are other areas of competition reform that the Government is yet to tackle. Proposals to protect small business, for example, from abuse of market power, and many others. The Government has been dragging its feet right through this area over a ten year period. So we are entitled to be a little sceptical about Peter Costello’s latter day conversion in this area.

Journalist: (Inaudible.)

SWAN: Well, we don’t know yet. I’m optimistic about the future of the country, I’m even somewhat optimistic that the Government might be dragged kicking and screaming to do the right thing. What I can say is that, based on their record, we could be waiting a long time to see a comprehensive package. But at least he’s made a start, I welcome that start, but we’re going to be watching him like a hawk to make sure that we get a decent package out there that brings honesty into the system.

Journalist: (Inaudible) … prospect of five year jail terms … (Inaudible).

SWAN: Yes it certainly does. And those jail terms are enshrined in the social security act. And people out there who abuse the social security system incur very severe penalties. I don’t see why those penalties oughtn’t apply to the top end of town as well. It took Peter Costello almost ten years to get to this position, he’s been dragged kicking and screaming, we’re going to keep him up to the mark and make sure he delivers.

Journalist: Do you think the timing of the announcement (Inaudible) … Amcor?

SWAN: Absolutely. That’s one of the reasons why this Treasurer has been pushed and dragged kicking and screaming into making this announcement today.

Journalist: Can I just quickly ask you about the abortion debate … (Inaudible) … where do you stand on it?

SWAN: Where I stand? Personally I’m pro-choice. But I think a lot more can be done to assist people via education and we ought to do that. But I don’t believe lecturing and hectoring people in this area is the way to go.

Journalist: (Inaudible.)

SWAN: There may be an issue with late term terminations, there may be an issue in that area but I don’t intend to canvass it any further. But I think it’s primarily a matter between a mother, her family and her church.

ENDS Wed 2 Feb 05

Contact Jim Chalmers 0417 141 676