LAURA JAYES, HOST: Joining me now is the Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen. We did get you in to talk about the Productivity Commission report and we will get to that but I want to ask you first about the AWU raids. How damaging is this for Bill Shorten?
CHRIS BOWEN, SHADOW TREASURER: Bill Shorten is the subject to an unrelenting abuse of power on behalf of this Government, a smear campaign and an abuse of the office of Cabinet Minister by Michaelia Cash. Michaelia Cash instigated this inquiry, that's a matter of public record. The Prime Minister can confirm or deny that all he likes, that is a fact.
Now we've had a Royal Commission into the Trade Union movement at the cost of $80 million to the taxpayer which did not make one adverse finding about Bill Shorten which examined every document under the sun in his relation to his management of the AWU and the Government keeps coming back to this.
So we will call this as we see it and the Australian people when they see an abuse of power they know it. This is an abuse of power. Now let me be very clear Laura, our beef isn't with the AFP here. They are doing their job, they have no choice as to how they go about these things but the Government, a Cabinet Minister, a senior member of the Government Michaelia Cash is responsible for this. She sent the reference to the Registered Organisations Commission. She asked for this witch-hunt, and if this witch-hunt is designed by the Government to damage Bill Shorten which it clearly is then they must account for the abuse of power taxpayers money which is going on here.
Is this an outrage? Yes it is. Are we angry about it? Yes we are. Should the Australian tax-payers be angry about it? They have every right to be.
JAYES: Let's just unpack this a bit because you are levelling extraordinary claims against Michaela Cash here.
BOWEN: Well it's a statement of fact Laura, she made this reference
JAYES: She reference this matter to the Registered Organisations Commission for investigation. The Registered Organisations Commission has then investigated this matter and I believe early yesterday sought a warrant from a judge in Victoria. So this is all due process, isn't it? Michaelia Cash is within her rights to refer such a matter to the Registered Organisations Commission and then they decide whether to investigate?
BOWEN: There's a couple of points here Laura, couple of legitimate points to go through. Firstly, the Registered Organisations Commission is a creation of this Government. It was set up by them
JAYES: Sure but it still went through the Senate and both Houses of Parliament
BOWEN: Point one. Point two, The reference was sent by this Cabinet Minister, not a day goes by Laura when I don't open a newspaper and find some piece of dodgy analysis which Michaelia Cash has instigated, initiated, got her department or her office to do. I don't know what this Cabinet Minister does apart from run a smear campaign against Bill Shorten and the Labor Party. I mean she is a Cabinet Minister with a serious job to do. She should be concerned about wages growth in Australia. She should be concerned about actually improving the productivity and economy of the nation. All she is interested in is this witch hunt. I mean she is operating a political smear campaign as a Cabinet Minister and we've had enough of it and the Australian people have had enough of it. On the other point, there is a serious question. You say the process will work Laura, the media were outside the AWUs office 15 minutes before the AWU even knew there was a raid. Now there are very serious.
JAYES: We've seen media outside other grades for example when the AFP raided the Channel 7 offices
BOWEN: If we are told that this is a serious investigation it would be a potential breach of the efficacy of that investigation if the media were tipped off.
Now we all know the media were tipped off. The media did not, with all due respect you are all very fine journalists but you didn't just wander down to the AWU thinking "I don't know something about me tells me there's a raid on"
JAYES: We have very good intuition.
BOWEN: Yeah, but not that good with all due respect to you. So there were tip offs. So they have very serious questions to answer by this Government about how the media knew about this. The fact that the media were there indicates to me this is a political stunt and a smear campaign by this Liberal Government and it is an abuse of power.
JAYES: But Chris Bowen I question how are you can call this a political stunt without at the same time questioning the integrity of the AFP.
BOWEN: When not asserting that the AFP told the media.
JAYES: Then who are you asserting
BOWEN: What I'm saying is the Government has serious questions to answer as to how the media found out about it. Now I don't think it's acceptable to say the media was at Channel 7 or elsewhere, just because it's happened once before doesn't make it right. The AFP has got a job to do. Now if they have to go in and get these documents because they had no choice about it, if that's the case then their ability to do that was undermined by the media leak. So what I'm saying to you is there are very very serious questions to answer as to how the media found out about this. If the media was tipped off by people who werent in the AFP it is a very serious abuse of power for political purposes by this Government
JAYES: Okay can I ask you one more question just about, not this in particular but the Royal Commission, the allegations levelled at Bill Shorten. This is another example if you like, your opponents would say this is another example of Bill Shorten using workers money for his own political means. What do you say to that?
BOWEN: Laura, let me put it this way.
JAYES: It's a bad look though isn't it?
BOWEN: Would this reference have been sent, would the raid have occurred, would any of this happened if Bill Shorten was not the leader of the Labor Party?
Can you seriously say to me that if Bill Shorten had been secretary of the AWU and retired or had gone off to the private sector, that the Government would be interested in this? They would not be. They would not be. This is an attempt by them to smear Bill Shorten because he is the alternative Prime Minister of Australia and a very affective one and they are very worried about him and they are very worried about us. That's what's going on here, let's just call a spade a spade.
JAYES: But if the union isn't worried about this why are they seeking to have those documents back in court this morning?
BOWEN: I'm concerned about the process here. I mean they are concerned about the way they have been treated and Dan Walton is a very eloquent spokesman on behalf of the AWU and he can explain that, and he will but I've heard him today say very eloquently that this all went through the proper national executive process, it was all in keeping with the rules. That at the end of the day the only question here that the AWU has to answer. Was it dealt with in keeping with the rules? Yes it was.
JAYES: Did Brendan O'Connor go a little bit too far then yesterday because he was fired up and he had the media conference here in the afternoon at Parliament House yesterday, he was basically blaming the AFP saying that they were political playthings of the Government. That's not right thought.
BOWEN: His attack was on the Government, his attack was on the Government
JAYES: The AFP didn't see it that way and they sent out a statement to that effect. Should he apologize?
BOWEN: Not at all, Brendan's comments were appropriate. Our sympathies are with the AFP, they have been put in a difficult position here. They have been politicized by the Government, this was Brendan's point. They've been politicized by the Liberal Government, not by them, not by themselves. They get a warrant, they have to comply they had to do what they have to do. Our beef is not with them. Actually far from our beef being with them, our point is this: they are under resourced. The evidence, the sworn evidence before the Senate estimates well it's a very serious matter Laura. Sworn evidence before the Senate estimates yesterday was about their under resourcing and we know now that they have been very serious drug investigations that have been pushed to one side because they are under resourced and at the same time they have to comply with this sort of political campaign that's being run by the Government. It's not their fault, they have no choice but they have a limited resources and when
JAYES: They do have a choice, they decide what the priorities are surely?
BOWEN: When they have 30 officers turning up at the AWU that's the offices who aren't doing something else. Now, there's a court warrent issued, they have no choice but to implement that but it is a statement of fact that 30 officers were doing that yesterday, that's 30 officers not doing something else.
JAYES: Okay, let me get to your portfolio now. We have John Fraser before the Senate Estimates this morning. He has just said that he believes that the Government is on track, well the budget is on track to reach surplus by 20/21. That's good news isn't it?
BOWEN: Yes and let's see, we've got a Budget update in a couple of weeks in December presumably, the Mid-year Economic Forecast Outlook. Obviously we will be going through that very closely. Obviously we all welcome improvements in the budget but I make this point: under this Government the improvements in the budget are coming from increased tax revenue, from a pay-as-you-go tax earners, taxpayers. This Treasurer said he was going to introduce sweeping tax cuts to deal with bracket creep, in fact what he's doing is giving a $65 billion corporate tax cut away on one hand and increasing PAYG $44 billion over the decade. I mean they are actually not lower taxes, they are different taxes. They believe in taxing different people.
JAYES: The increase in the Medicare Levy though is to pay for the NDIS.
BOWEN: The NDIS is funded.
JAYES: It's not funded.
BOWEN: I'm sorry Laura it is. I mean the NDIS is running on-budget. In fact the recent improvement in the budget was partly due to underspending in the NDIS. The last final budget outcome was partly due to the fact that the NDIS was costing less than was forecast.
JAYES: Yeah but the forecast is for it to ramp up.
BOWEN: No, the Social Services Minister himself has said its spending is in keeping
JAYES: So the NDIS has become a victim of its own success?
BOWEN: Social services Minister himself said the spending was in keeping with the Productivity Commission forecast so there had been no blowout. Now is the Government saying that they are going to renege on their agreements, their written agreements with the states? I don't believe they will. They are not saying that.
JAYES: They are going to have fights with the states
BOWEN: Including a new one on housing which they've blindsided the States, that's not good Government.
JAYES: Yes I did notice your op-ed this morning but can I ask you about this Productivity Commission report, it's 1000 pages I haven't been through all of them but there are some pretty out there suggestions and also an underlying message in there that this big concerns about productivity in this country and also wages growth which is something that you know, really hurts middle Australia. Are you concerned about that?
BOWEN: Well we've been strongly talking about wages growth.
JAYES: But if there's one suggestion in the PC report is there anything that you would grab and run with to the next election?
BOWEN: Let me say this Laura, we take the PC report seriously. Now it would be easy for me to come out and say "this bit is outrageous, that bit is outrageous, we would never do that". I'm not doing that. It is a serious contribution and it deserves our respect and we will take, as you said, take time to go through it.
In many ways the underlying message of the Productivity Commission report is investing in our people; human capital. That's what we've been saying for a long time, that's what we in Government put at the heart of the COAG reform agenda which this Government in effect ripped up in 2014 with their budget which cut health and education funding and blindsided the States again. Now the Productivity Commission report doesn't say you need a corporate tax cut, that's all you can do. That's not what the Productivity Commission report says.
JAYES: It does back the corporate tax cut.
BOWEN: What the Productivity Commission report actually does is say invest in our people, get the human capital right. We agree. Now there are some things the Productivity Commission argues
JAYES: It does back the corporate tax cut doesnt it?
BOWEN: Well the Treasurer is the one who is promoting that. If you read the Productivity Commission report its saying youve got to get so much right when it comes to human capital and investment in our people and we agree. There are some things I give a big tick to in the Productivity Commission report for example, the Productivity Commission has endorsed our policy of having the Parliamentary Budget Office conduct the Intergenerational Report.
JAYES: Is that just cherry picking what suggestions you like?
BOWEN: No, but in all seriousness I could come out and say oh this is an outrageous report, wed never do that, wed never do this. At the end of the day there will be things that we agree with and things that we dont.
JAYES: Will you consider the corporate tax cuts?
BOWEN: Our position has been crystal clear. Our position is crystal clear and it remains. Its a $65 billion hit on the Budget which cannot be afforded. I mean talk about Budget repair, $65 billion Laura. I mean we are talking about $17 billion back into education which the Government says cant be afforded. They can afford $65 billion in corporate tax cut.
JAYES: Unfortunately we are running out of time and this is a conversation for another time, so we will have you back on the morning shift, but one of the suggestions in the PC report is a price on carbon.
BOWEN: Thats right. Its not a very convenient one for the Government is it? They are denying it. They deny that the Productivity Commission report said that yesterday which I thought was a rather brave claim for them to make.
JAYES: But would your plan be a price on carbon?
BOWEN: They fact of the matter is, that we have shown we are more than prepared to find a sensible outcome here, but the Government has not been able to come up with a sensible outcome. We were prepared to sign onto the Clean Energy Target even though its not our preferred option. Our preferred option has been an Emissions Intensity Scheme.
JAYES: Youre not ruling out the NEG though?
BOWEN: The NEG, firstly, a couple of points. Weve seen no modelling.
JAYES: That will come.
BOWEN: No, but COAG. What the Prime Minister has done is announce changes to State legislation. He hasnt announced changes to Commonwealth legislation. I wont get a vote on this.
JAYES: But there will be some (inaudible)
BOWEN: The legislation will go through the State Parliaments. So hes announced changes to State legislation without telling the states. I mean the first they knew about this NEG.
JAYES: He will take it through the COAG process.
BOWEN: Well its not the way of taking the states with you. Now lets see what he gets through COAG. Now he doesnt have a great track record of negotiating in good faith with the state premiers. Even Will Hodgman has come out and said hes not sold on it.
JAYES: The Productivity Commission report and every single business group is coming out and saying what we need here is bipartisanship. There has to be a solution and some certainty for business.
JAYES: What do you see as your responsibility convincing the states that perhaps this is one to go down?
BOWEN: Well the Commonwealth should produce a bit of analysis and modelling to show to the states and us. I mean I have seen more comprehensive modelling on Year 12 economics assignment frankly. This is a joke when it comes to energy policy. The Government has chosen to go down this road of announcing changes to state legislation without telling the states. Theyve got a long long way to go. We have shown we are more than prepared to be the adults in the room. We would sign onto a Clean Energy Target even though it wasnt our preferred option. To get that bipartisanship. But thats not a blank cheque to say come up with a thought bubble, dont produce modeling, everything will be okay, well just agree. Thats not how we do business.
JAYES: I think well get you back on when we do finally see that modelling.
BOWEN: And plenty of other times as well.
JAYES: Shadow Treasurer, Chris Bowen. Thank you for your time.