22 November 2017

MICHAEL ROWLAND, HOST: Joining us in Sydney is the Shadow Treasurer, Chris Bowen, good morning to you

CHRIS BOWEN, SHADOW TREASURER: Good morning to you, Michael.

ROWLAND: Let's go to citizenship first. A big question mark this morning in the Fairfax papers over your colleague, Labor Senator Katy Gallagher, about a possible British citizenship for her. She is refusing to release paperwork about her possible renunciation about the prospect of UK citizenship. Where does she stand?

BOWEN: Katy made a very comprehensive statement to the Senate quite a while ago, several weeks ago, dealing not only with the allegation of Ecuadorian citizenship, which, of course, she does not have, but also the issue of her British citizenship. She outlined when she renounced her citizenship, and most importantly, Michael, the Labor Party has nothing to fear. Every single Labor member and Senator will disclose all our citizenship details. We had an agreement with the Government to do that on 1 December, which they have reneged upon. But nevertheless the Labor Party is moving towards disclosure very soon. And that will be all very clear. But the underlying point is that we have very, very, very strong legal advice that every single Labor member and Senator is an Australian citizen only, and was at the relevant time, and took all reasonable steps. Now, the key point here is, of course, that the Government, the parties of the Government, Liberal and National Party, did not have in place the proper processes that the Labor Party had in place before the elections to ensure that every member could make the same statement as every Labor member has made.

ROWLAND: Okay, so you're completely confident Katy Gallagher has nothing to worry about?

BOWEN: Correct. Absolutely correct. Katy Gallagher was properly elected at the last election and is eligible to sit in the Senate. Full stop.

ROWLAND: Lets go to tax, the Government standing by the prospect of personal income tax at the next election, announced as early as the Budget next year - will Labor seek to match those at the next election campaign?

BOWEN: Well, Michael, in fairness, you're asking me to match a puff of smoke at the moment. We do not have a tax cut plan from the Government, we have one line, one throwaway line in a speech from the Prime Minister, who makes it up as he goes along. What we've got is a Government, a Prime Minister, saying, "I've got huge political problems on my hands. My Government is falling apart. I'm engaged in banana republic tactics to subvert the Parliament, but look over here. Here's an idea of a tax cut, but I've got no detail, no modelling, no plans whatsoever. All I've got is one line in a speech." That's not how the Labor Party does policy development.

And the other point, Michael, our focus at the moment is stopping the Liberal Government putting taxes up on working Australians.

Now, Malcolm Turnbull perhaps thought that nobody would point that out, when he said, "I believe in lower taxes, that he has legislation before the Parliament, as we speak, which was part of their $20 billion worth of tax rises in the last budget, which increases the personal income tax paid by every single Australian, by putting up the Medicare levy. The Labor Party opposes that for Australians earning less than $87,000. We're protecting those people under $87,000 from a personal income tax rise that Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison are trying to impose.

Now, if they want to be taken seriously about tax cuts, the first thing they should do is drop their tax rise.

ROWLAND: Okay so then what do we think going back to 2013 about the then Labor Government's increase in the Medicare tax of half a percentage point?

BOWEN: Well what we have said is that we fully accept that, of course, that from time to time Medicare levy increases need to be looked at.

ROWLAND: So, why can't the Government? You can't have one without the other. The Labor Government increased, and you're calling it a tax. Let's call it a tax and the Government here is doing it.

BOWEN: Michael, you asked me a question, and if you let me, I'll answer your question. In this environment, where we have record low wages growth, and for many people, wages going backwards, those who work on weekends who are having their penalty rates cut, the last thing they need at the moment is a personal income tax rise. We reluctant support the Medicare Levy rise over $87,000. We don't do so with any alacrity but we recognise it's needed for Budget repair. We're up for tough decisions. But in this environment, really?

At a time of record low wages growth, and for many people, wages going backwards, is the answer really an personal income tax rise? I don't think it is.

We have alternative plans. We've announced very comprehensive plans so far, more comprehensive and detailed than any Opposition youve seen in living memory, when it comes to negative gearing reform, capital gains tax reform, family trusts reform, managing tax affairs, and a whole range of others and we have more to say.

We're not resting on our laurels. We'll have much more detail and many more announcements to make between now and the election but what we won't be doing is a puff-of-smoke one line in a speech, which says, "Oh look, trust me, I believe in lower personal income tax," when the Prime Minister is personally overseeing increases in personal income tax as we speak.

ROWLAND: This Medicare increase as you well know has been raised, imposed to fund specifically the NDIS. So, it's not going to general revenue.

BOWEN: That's the Government's rhetoric, Michael. Not, thats the Governments rhetoric. Thats not the reality.

ROWLAND: OK, there's a $55 billion shortfall, as you know, as well in the funding of the NDIS over the next decade. How should that be filled?

BOWEN: Well, Michael, I don't accept the premise of your question, because this is a political construct by the Government to try and make the case - a political case. Now, Christian Porter, the Minister for Social Services himself, himself has said there is no blow-out in the NDIS. The cost of the NDIS are tracking just as predicted by the Productivity Commission and in fact, in the last final Budget outcome we saw, actually the NDIS was tracking below expected expenditure. There is no cost blow-out. Now the Government pretends all the measures the Labor Party took in Government to fund the NDIS just didn't happen. They live in an alternative universe, a parallel universe, where they denied they happened and that's how they construct the argument there's some sort of shortfall in the NDIS.

And Michael, It's fundamentally irresponsible as well as being inaccurate, it disturbs and distresses people who rely on the NDIS, who have come to welcome and rely on the NDIS. When the Government says the NDIS is unfunded, it creates massive uncertainty for those families, and particularly for older Australians who, you know, are wondering who's going to look after their children when they're gone, who have a disability. It creates uncertainty for those people. It's just fundamentally wrong. It's just fundamentally irresponsible.

The Government should just stop this inaccurate, misleading and irresponsible rhetoric about the NDIS being unfunded. It's untrue and it's irresponsible.

ROWLAND: Okay, before you go, a question on same-sex marriage. The Government has this morning announced that former Liberal Minister Philip Ruddock will be appointed to review religious freedoms in a possibly separate bill next year. He will report back to Parliament towards the start of next year. Is that a good move and is it good to separate this review from Parliament itself?

BOWEN: Well, Bill Shorten has made it clear that we're up for a sensible discussion about what might need to happen in relation to religious freedoms and reassurances going forward. But we need to be satisfied as to the detail, of course. It is very important that this gets separated from the marriage equality debate. We should be making marriage equality a reality before Christmas.

Now, some in the Government - and I'm careful when I say only some in the Government - are using this religious freedom argument to try and delay marriage equality, which has been delayed long enough and that is unfortunate and regrettable. But, nevertheless, we believe, we were happy to proceed next week in the Parliament to get on with the job, but we certainly believe that marriage equality should be progressed before Christmas. If there's a separate discussion about appropriate protections, well, then we'll engage in that but the Government's got to make the case and we'll engage and see what comes forward.

ROWLAND: Just finally, is the Labor Party ready to fight a general election if there's one as early as next year?

BOWEN: Yes. Absolutely. We are. With this Government, which is falling apart before our eyes, any responsible, alternative Government, we will be ready for any eventually, and we are.

ROWLAND: Chris Bowen in Sydney, thank you very much for joining News Breakfast.

BOWEN: A great pleasure, Michael