LEON COMPTON, HOST: Leon Compton in the chair this morning and Chris Bowen is Australia’s Shadow Treasurer, Chris Bowen good morning to you.
CHRIS BOWEN, SHADOW TREASURER: Good Morning to you Leon, good to be here.
COMPTON: What are you doing in Tasmania?
BOWEN: Well I try to be a regular visitor, the Tasmanian economy has it challenges we in Canberra need to be focused on it and need to be talking to experts and locals about opportunities that I think can be capitalised on so that Tasmania has a brighter future economically. I am here today at the invitation of our Federal Labor colleagues and some State Labor colleagues to talk about STEM for example to look at the science technology and engineering opportunities, I have done that before, not that long ago with Helen Polley and visited some very important and impressive facilities in Hobart and we need to be looking at all these opportunities and as well as the challenges in the Tasmanian economy. Because it is very easy to get stuck in the Canberra bubble and not be focused on the issues that are important right around the country and including here in Tasmania.
COMPTON: So have you made specific dollar pledges or infrastructure pledges?
BOWEN: At this point, we have made pledges to STEM more broadly of course and it was a key focus for us last term and that will remain this term, It was very flavour of the fortnight for a little while with the government Malcom Turnbull talking about innovation and entrepreneurship that has come off the boil somewhat we have retained our focus and on these visits what we do is consult and learn and think about opportunities and of course Bill was here just last week making the commitment to Hobart Airport, so we do make commitments on some visits and on some other visits are more of a consulting phase.
COMPTON: And it sounds like that is the phase today. Our Goods and Services Tax, you would know that overwhelmingly that Tasmania benefits from the way the GST is distributed, you would also know that there is a big clamour from the major states and Western Australia to get more of their share. What is your commitment to Tasmania on the GST?
BOWEN: Western Australia in particular has that issue and again we were in Perth a few weeks ago, Bill Shorten and I and we announced a package for Western Australia which importantly takes not one dollar off any other state. I mean what we've done is put infrastructure funding in place to help Western Australia with their legitimate concerns and their shortfalls.
COMPTON: Does it keep the same model?
COMPTON: For the distribution?
BOWEN: Yes, it keeps the same model so there is not a single dollar lost for Tasmania or any other state but what we've done is come up in consultation with Premier McGowan and Treasurer Wyatt in Western Australian with a model which meets their concerns but which doesn't impact in any way adversely on Tasmania, South Australia or any other jurisdiction.
COMPTON: We've been raising with Health Ministers of your stripe and of Liberal stripe for years now the impact of the growing cost of private health insurance premiums and we are seeing now that that is pushing thousands of people out of the private health system and back onto the roll that you would find as Treasurer, the health Budget. What would you do if elected to control to reduce the cost of private health insurance while keeping its value the same or better?
BOWEN: Well I saw some speculation on the weekend the Government had a package here and we want to see the details of that package which went to all sorts of things to try and bring costs down and try to make private health insurance more viable. Again we want to see the details of that, of course there is a private health insurance rebate in place which has been in place under Governments of both persuasions with some sensible changes made by us in office which this Government has kept in place so there are rebates in place already for private health insurance.
Now, this is a complicated area, it's one where we need to look carefully at all the proposals and that's why I say if the Government’s got a proposal they should come forward with it and we will look carefully at it.
COMPTON: Do you talk to ordinary people that tell you what it feels like to be forking out more and more every year?
BOWEN: All the time and I know what it's like as a customer of private health insurance and you know people raise these issue and all sorts of issues with me all the time. I know how much of an issue it is where you've got a limited budget and you're looking at private health insurance as part of that budget and it's going up all the time and you're making difficult decisions and people will make different decisions depending on the stage of their life, their kids and how likely a health episode is for example and they’ve got to make those decisions and we in Government have got to get the policy settings right. Private health insurance has a role to play in the ongoing viability of our health system but so of course does proper funding of our hospitals
COMPTON: On mornings around Tasmania, people talk about the Hawke/Keating Government, they talk about the Howard/Costello Government. You are potentially 18 months away from becoming the second surname in that phrase.
BOWEN: Well after the Shorten/Plibersek/Bowen Government. Tanya with due respect is Deputy Leader and Deputy Prime Minister in the Government.
COMPTON: But we're talking here about Treasurers and potential Prime Ministers. How will people know Chris Bowen that you are the Treasurer in your first Budget if elected? What will they see in that first budget in Tasmania and think "This is different"?
BOWEN: Well what I really determined to do is for frankly the first Budget not to be a surprising Budget. You know there is a tradition in Australia, the Treasurer gets up and says "Oh look things were so much worse than we were told, we've had to breach all these promises and we've had to change everything that we said we would do". I'm absolutely determined that that's not the case for us and I can tell you why and I can understand people's cynicism but I can tell you why that will be the case; because we've gone out and done the hard yards in Opposition. We've actually done the difficult things in Opposition and been upfront about them so we're going to the next election with a more detailed policy platform than any opposition since at least 1993.
COMPTON: Okay, so here’s the opportunity for specifics right now. Specifically, what will we see in your first Budget?
BOWEN: What we will do is we will make the Budget fairer by reforming negative gearing. We will make the Budget fairer by reforming capital gains tax. We will have housing affordability which is perhaps less of an issue in Tasmania than elsewhere but still an issue at the forefront of our agenda. We will have measures in place to ensure that the Budget gets back to balance but will do so in a fair way, not in the 2014 way of coming in and saying "Right, your pensions have got to get cut, and we’ll cut education and will do all the things we promised we wouldn't". When I get up and deliver the Shorten Labor Government's first Budget it will be to implement the agenda for which we sought a mandate and we are after a mandate to do big and important things and these are things that have been in the too-hard-basket for 30 years Leon.
COMPTON: What are the big reform things that you would do, the changes you would make? Let's go back to Hawke/Keating, I mean they floated the Australian dollar, they made significant changes to the banks, I mean the changes in their first term were enormous.
BOWEN: They were, all big reforms which played a role in setting us up for 26 years of uninterrupted economic growth and what we will do is set out that reforming agenda: negative gearing reform, capital gains tax reform, important funding of schools; that's a big important education and economic initiative, better and fairer funding of our schools that's a really important initiative going forward. Improved economic engagement with our region, with Asia and importantly investment in important regions like Tasmania to ensure that every Australian shares in that economic growth going forward.
COMPTON: Is it possible to pay people on pensions more? If you look around Tasmania, our listening audience around the state there are lots and lots of people who are living on the pension. Why isn't anybody running to an election promising to significantly lift the rate of the pension and of unemployment benefits?
BOWEN: Leon I understand that issue. Now obviously when we were in office we had the biggest increase in the aged pension since it had been established. Kevin Rudd did that as Prime Minister with Wayne Swan as Treasurer, a very significant increase in the aged pension. It was justified, it was warranted and it was needed. Now having done that I'm not going to pretend to you that we have millions of dollars more to throw at things like that but it's important to know that that was done and just as importantly we resisted the efforts by Tony Abbott and the Liberals supported by Malcolm Turnbull to take money off pensioners in the future by changing the indexation.
Now it has been a bipartisan consensus in Australia since Gough Whitlam that the aged pension should be linked to average weekly male earnings. Now Tony Abbott threw that consensus out with no mandate breaching a promise trying to change the way the pension was increased. We resisted that, so did the other parties in the Senate, thank goodness we prevailed. Thank goodness we prevailed otherwise pensioners would be on less
COMPTON: It's a couple of minutes to news at 10 o'clock, the Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen is our guest in the studio this morning. Investing in infrastructure: have you got Tasmanian infrastructure that you would invest in?
BOWEN: Well we will, we will and that's part of the job that Anthony Albanese and I have in in going around the country, Anthony is the shadow Infrastructure Minister and as the Shadow Treasurer funding those sorts of important initiatives and when we are on tours like this we see it firsthand. Of course we have many more announcements to make, I know I've said to you correctly that we have the most detailed policy offering of any opposition since 1993 but we have much much more to do, much much more
COMPTON: We've been out this morning we've been talking to open inspections, there are students just queueing up, international students who want to come here to do things like STEM and can't for months and months on end in Hobart find accommodation to live in that's decent. We are happy to take their money, we are investing in the schools they might study at, we are not building the houses for them to live. I'm sure you will bump into a real estate agent and people in the planning game while you're here in Tasmania. Can you have a think about that issue because it seems like there is a blockage in Tasmania at the moment?
BOWEN: Well I certainly will on the specifics but as I said we have a housing affordability and supply has been a very important part of our agenda and just last week there was a negative development with the Government changing without any consultation or announcement the tax treatment of how major investments can invest in rental accommodation in Australia. Now the Government is entitled to look at these things but they really took the market by surprise and that's really killing off something that's had some potential going forward which is called ‘build to rent’, actually getting more rental accommodation built and putting downward pressure on rents and so that's an unfortunate development.
COMPTON: Appreciate you coming into the studio this morning
BOWEN: Great to see you Leon, great to be here in person instead of talking on the phone as we normally do.