ABC 730 REPORT
WEDNESDAY, 3 JUNE 2015
SUBJECT/S: GDP FIGURES; HOUSING AND COMMENTS BY TREASURY SECRETARY JOHN FRASER; THE GOVERNMENT VOTING AGAINST PASSING ITS OWN SMALL BUSINESS MEASURES; ABC SERIES.
LEIGH SALES: We invited the Treasurer Joe Hockey to join us tonight but he was unavailable. Instead, with me from Parliament House in Canberra is the Shadow Finance Minister and the Manager of Opposition Business, Tony Burke. Tony Burke, the economic growth figures today have come in ahead of most economists' forecasts as Sabra Lane just said. Doesn't that indicate the Government has the broad economic settings right?
TONY BURKE, SHADOW FINANCE MINISTER AND MANAGER OF OPPOSITION BUSINESS: They're better than had been expected today. That's certainly welcomed. We're still in the middle of the longest below-trend period in the last 50 years. So I think while there's some optimism that they're better than had been expected, and that's absolutely a good thing, we've got to also set the context that we're still well below trend.
SALES: But when you guys were in government, Wayne Swan would always point to external factors and other things that come into play that are not necessarily in the Government's control?
BURKE: That's exactly right. So we, for example, don't criticise Joe Hockey over the fall in the iron ore price. If you look at the major reason for the figures today, being better than expected, it's a growth in exports. Joe Hockey himself referred to the number of major projects which have switched from their construction phase to their production phase. Now, if that's what's principally driving these numbers, that's also something that is not at all within the control of the Government. It's still good, but it's not a moment of a round of applause for a Treasurer when the main drivers of these numbers have been issues that the Treasurer's not in control of.
SALES: Earlier this week, the Treasury Secretary, John Fraser, said that Australia's in an unequivocal housing bubble, and that Sydney's in danger of ending up like London. What would Labor do about that?
BURKE: Well, it's a very serious issue first of all and we need to be able to have a sensible national conversation about it. Now, yesterday, Bill Shorten put to the Prime Minister whether or not the Government agreed with these statements from John Fraser. Rather than engage in a conversation at all, the Prime Minister's response was to start this bizarre argument of Labor trying to drive housing prices down.
SALES: Tell me what Labor would do?
BURKE: Well, on this, the first thing is to have - There are supply issues, there are demand issues, on housing affordability and on housing prices. Now, the supply issues, what's being done through COAG is sensible because supply constraints are largely in the hands of the States not in the Commonwealth Government. On demand issues, there's a number of conversations that have to be taken forward. One, the Government has gone, I don't know how much impact it will have, in the foreign investment space with respect to property investment. The other area is various tax concessions that favour investors as well as home buyers buying. There's a conversation that needs to be had about that. It needs to be done in a way that doesn't disadvantage people who've already set up their finances.
SALES: Would Labor put some limits on foreign investment in domestic housing?
BURKE: Oh we're not proposing to add to anything the Government's done on that, absolutely not.
SALES: Labor started a consultation process on housing affordability earlier this year. Submissions have now closed. When would you be proposing a policy out of that?
BURKE: There’s a way to go on that, is the best way I can describe that Leigh. Certainly we're not in a position yet to be able to announce. Ultimately the outcome that you want - People often look at, and the media attention will go to, the million dollar house or multimillion-dollar house. That's not where the real policy debate needs to be. The policy debate needs to be on whether or not the next generation can affordably find a home, and that part of the debate is where our policy priority is.
SALES: Why did Labor play politics today by trying to bring on an immediate vote on the Abbott Government's small business legislation?
BURKE: It was really important that we called on for that vote in the Parliament today -
SALES: But why?
BURKE: That's the next part of my sentence. The reason it was important we called it on, was we had to make absolutely clear, because for some reason the Government hadn't accepted when Chris Bowen had said from this desk, well a different desk but on your program on Budget Night, that we would support these measures. We needed to make clear in the Parliament that it had bipartisan support.
SALES: Why bring it on? The Senate's not sitting so it can't get fully through. What difference did it make if it's you bringing it on today or the Government bringing it on tomorrow?
BURKE: In terms of the Government speaking list it wasn't going to be concluded tomorrow either. One of these measures began on Budget night itself, the accelerated depreciation. Small business owners need to know right now whether or not they can have the confidence to invest. Now, we tried to give them that confidence on Budget night, and faced with a choice between accepting bipartisan support or trying to turn it into a new political battle, the Government chose the battle. So the Government chose to reject the fact that Labor had said we would support it. Today we called them on it and said ‘We're willing to support it, right now, are you?’ and the answer from the Government was ‘No’.
SALES: You’re one of the Labor MPs who's participated in a documentary trawling back through the Rudd Gillard years. Why would you remind voters again of all the dysfunction that characterised Labor's last stint in office?
BURKE: I said ‘no’ to the program for a long time I’ve got to say. I did the original research interview. There is a great policy story that I want to be able to tell. I was given different guarantees eventually the program would tell those, so I agreed to a long interview.
SALES: Do you regret doing it now?
BURKE: Not at all.
SALES: Isn't the effect of the documentary going to remind voters ‘Oh that's right, that’s what this mob was like last time in office so I won't vote again for Labor’?
BURKE: By the time I did agree to do the program, which was a long way in the production phase of it, the program was definitely going to go ahead.
SALES: Isn't the effect of you and your colleagues participating in something going to be to remind voters of the disarray that occurred?
BURKE: The decision I had to make was whether or not I thought if the story was going to be told anyway, I could contribute to it being told accurately. I'm not in charge of how it gets edited. Certainly, in the interview I gave, which was long, a whole story of policy achievement in my area of the environment: Murray-Darling, oceans, Tasmanian forests, a whole lot of things I'm tremendously proud of that we did, I got to tell that. Whether it ends up on the cutting room floor or not, that part of it is not my decision.
SALES: Is Kevin Rudd a bully or is Julia Gillard a liar?
BURKE: The particular description that was given today in the papers is something that I never saw and I don't have information about.
SALES: Tony Burke, thank you very much for joining us.
BURKE: Good to be back.