CHRIS BOWEN, SHADOW TREASURER: Okay. Well thanks for coming. Just very briefly before I start, obviously we are all watching the unfolding events in Syria. The Labor Party always seeks to reach a bipartisan position on national security matters with the Government. Of course Penny Wong will have more to say in due course, as will, I’m sure, Bill Shorten about these events. The abhorrent chemical attack earlier this week of course needed the attention of the world and I will leave Penny Wong to respond in more detail about the approach Labor we will take no doubt we will seek and receive briefings from the Government in due course.
On other matters, I see the Liberal Party is at war with itself about why they didn’t do very well at the last election, all blaming each other. It seems that it does occur to them that it was because of their policies. Their policies to attack Medicare, their policies to give away $50 billion in corporate tax cuts while lecturing Australians on their need for restraint and talking about Budget repair. The important thing is that of course these are still their policies today. They still cling to the harsh cuts from the 2014 Budget, many of them. And in fact say that they will continue to have those built into their Budgets going forward. They still gloat about the fact that they managed to pass $24 billion worth of their $50 billion of tax cuts last week.
They just don’t get it, the fact that they are out of touch with the needs and aspirations of ordinary Australians.
And of course the mess goes on. Scott Morrison and Malcolm Turnbull even today unable to outline the economic benefits dividend from their corporate tax cuts. Scott Morrison flailing about saying go to the pub and ask them, ask the Labor Party. He is the Treasurer of Australia. Malcolm Turnbull has previously said that policies that don’t come with economic modelling are plucked out of the air, that you ‘can’t tell what the benefits are’. They were Malcolm Turnbull’s words. Well that same accusation that he has levelled with others is today levelled against him. The Government can’t outline the economic dividend of their corporate tax cuts. They are flailing around blaming everybody else. And of course they are at war with themselves about what should be in the Budget.
We have had confirmation through a Freedom of Information request to the ABC that Cabinet documents have been prepared to deal with the reform to negative gearing and capital gains tax. Now this of course is one of the key battlegrounds not between Labor and Liberal so much, but between Liberals themselves.
Labor has a clear policy announced 18 months ago dealing with capital gains and negative gearing. The Government can’t even tell us whether it will be in the Budget or out of the Budget in relation to capital gains tax. Scott Morrison used to argue that there were “excesses” in negative gearing. Now he says that the Cabinet documents were prepared, he implies, with a policy of doing nothing about it. Well having been a member of the Cabinet, I can tell you Cabinet documents aren’t prepared with the conclusion ‘we shouldn’t do this’, Cabinet documents are prepared for Cabinet to consider policy changes.
So Scott Morrison is showing, every day, why he is not up to the job. He’s reminding Australians every day that he is simply incapable of running a G20 economy. He is reminding us as we lead up to the Budget that this is a Government in a complete and utter mess, focusing on blaming each other for the reasons why they didn’t do very well at the last federal election campaign, not focusing on the needs and aspirations of Australians.
Well Bill Shorten, I, and the entire Shadow Cabinet of the Labor team will remain focused on developing the alternative policies that deal with the needs and aspirations of Australians while they continue a focus on fighting amongst themselves.
Happy to take any questions.
JOURNALIST: Mr Bowen, it’s been revealed that Treasury was preparing Cabinet submissions on negative gearing in mid-February last year. What does this reveal?
BOWEN: I think it reveals that we have a Government at war with itself and again a Treasurer singularly incapable of the job. I mean this is was the time, this was the exact same time as these documents, which we are now aware of, were being prepared, that the Treasurer was out there saying that there are ‘excesses’ in negative gearing. And then, we understand that there was a brawl in the Cabinet where the Treasurer was rolled on the matter of negative gearing reform and then he engaged in a scare campaign against negative gearing reform with full gusto, saying to the Australian people that changes to negative gearing would see house prices crash and rents increase. When behind closed doors he’d been advocating, it appears, changes to negative gearing. So this is a guy who stands for nothing and will fall for anything.
JOURNALIST: You say these documents which we haven’t seen, prove that Scott Morrison was rolled in Cabinet, but how have you inferred that?
BOWEN: Well I think that’s been asserted before by Peter Van Onselen in his book on the Abbott years and the change to Malcolm Turnbull. He has very good sources in the Cabinet. And as I said we now there were Cabinet documents prepared. Now from my experience in the Cabinet, having served in the Cabinet for a number of years, Cabinet documents aren’t prepared with do- nothing nature to them. Things only go to Cabinet when a Minister is recommending change. The Minister doesn't go to Cabinet and say "Here's some documents, here is all the work I have done and the conclusion is we should do nothing", that just doesn't happen.
JOURNALIST: Well should the documents be handed over?
BOWEN: Well you know that's a matter for the Government. The Government is not going to hand over the documents, that's very clear but what should happen is that they should embrace negative gearing reform. I mean negative gearing reform is necessary for housing affordability, Budget repair and importantly financial stability and we've been making this case consistently. And David Murray's Financial Systems Inquiry recommended, even though it wasn't in the terms of reference directly, recommended that the distortionary impacts of property tax concessions which are the most generous tax concessions in the world when it comes to investment, be dealt with.
David Murray has just in recent days clarified that and confirmed that and if anything gone further and said "Yes negative gearing reform has to be tackled” so you've got a Government who has had clear warnings particularly about financial stability and they are asleep at the wheel.
JOURNALIST: Malcolm Turnbull in Parliament rejected reports that he and Mr Morrison favoured changes to negative gearing but were defeated in Cabinet. He said that the story had no basis in fact at all and it was not even credible. Could he have misled lead Parliament with those statements?
BOWEN: Well he needs to explain, I mean now there are Cabinet documents, we are aware of Cabinet documents. He needs to justify his position and his previous statements before the Parliament.
JOURNALIST: On another topic, the Syrian airstrikes. What's Labor’s position on whether Australian ships or aircraft should also target the Syrian Government?
BOWEN: Well as I said, I think Penny Wong and Richard Marles will have more to say. This is breaking as we speak, I wouldn't have expected the Government to provide the Labor Party with a briefing yet, in fairness to the Government but I'm sure there will be further conversations between Penny Wong, Richard Marles and their Government counterparts. We will receive full briefings mainly on what the United States has done but any potential for exposure of Australian troops and we would provide careful considered and well calibrated commentary after we've had the chance to consider what we've been told and not on the run.
JOURNALIST: One more issue I'd appreciate your views on, the Nationals Member for Page says foreign aid should be suspended and the money redirected to flood victims. Is that something Labor would support?
BOWEN: I haven't seen those comments so with due respect I will take your word for it that that's what he said. I think Australia can afford and be willing to provide and appropriate level of foreign aid and look after those who have been dramatically impacted by the floods and cyclones. I spent the last two days in North Queensland in Bowen and Mackay looking at the damage, talking to locals. The damage is real, it's substantial but they are getting on with the job and I visited the disaster recovery centre in Mackay where I saw firsthand as I've done previously with other disasters, the sorts of support being given directly by the Queensland Government with Federal support, to victims of the cyclone in particular. I saw firsthand the very dramatic damage to pristine and prime farmland of Bowen which has been washed away in the floods. Now these communities will need Government support ongoing but this issue should not be linked to foreign aid. It should just not be linked to foreign aid and if that has happened, I haven't seen the comments, that's particularly unfortunate.
Okay that's a wrap, thank you.