ABC774 Drive ‘Fight Club’ Interview with Rafael Epstein

Release Date: 
4 November 2015

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Alan Tudge is the Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister.  He is the Member for Aston.  Oh the Aston by-election.  He owns a bit of political history by way of political ancestry, Alan welcome.

ALAN TUDGE: G’day Raf.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: It’s only political dags like you and me.

ALAN TUDGE: That’s right, it’s a long time ago now Raf.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: David Feeney now joins us in the red corner, royally decorated for those who dance well.  He’s the…

DAVID FEENEY: Republican decorated.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Republic of course.

ALAN TUDGE: I’m with you on that actually.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Well there you go.  I don’t think that issue is going to happen.

DAVID FEENEY: Off to a bi-partisan start there!

ALAN TUDGE: Isn’t that terrific?

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: I should tell everyone who David Feeney is.  He’s the ALP member for Batman.  He is the Assistant Defence Spokesman.  So he’s on Bill Shorten’s team.  Alan Tudge is on Tony Abbott’s team.

ALAN TUDGE: Malcolm Turnbull’s team.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: I’m sorry, that just slipped out.  Completely Freudian slip.  To both of you, a lot of people texting, I know you didn’t hear the conversation with the policeman.  Horrific rape, or I think the horrific sexual assault of a 14-year-old girl.   A few people texted and a few people called to say, well part of the conversation should be, maybe teenagers shouldn’t be out that late.  Is that a- David Feeney- is that a relevant part of the conversation?  Is that something we should be talking about on the day when we first hear about the crime?  What do you think?

DAVID FEENEY: I’ve only just heard about this first in the studio.  It sounds absolutely ghastly, so I think our first thoughts need to be with the victim and we need to make sure she’s a survivor of this ghastly attack and sorry, our first line of thought should be of course to pursue the perpetrators and to make sure that the girl is safe and well.

I think there is then a broader conversation about what we can we do to make sure that we’re mitigating risk, what can we do to make sure that these sorts of youngsters are getting the parenting and mentoring they need.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: You don’t know this but the perpetrator by the way is believed to be 25 to 30.  Girl- 14.  Just so you know.

DAVID FEENEY: Obviously a ghastly moment and I wish the police every success as they hunt down and bring to justice the perpetrators.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Alan is there a place- Mick Hughes actually, senior homicide detective, he was shouted down over one particularly horrific murder where he effectively made a similar comment well you know, every woman has got to be careful.  That was in the context of- similar context actually- someone still not yet arrested.  Every woman should be careful, something like that I think Mick Hughes said. 

Is there an appropriate place for that conversation?  I should point out too, Jason Walsh the policeman, he said no, that’s not the question.  The question is what these men were doing.

ALAN TUDGE: I think Jason Walsh is absolutely right.  Right at the moment, the only people who we should be discussing is really these men and what they were doing.  They were the ones who perpetrated a very grave crime which will have a significant impact on this girl and her family’s life forever.

That’s the only issue and I completely support what David said there.  I’ve got two girls myself, a nine year old and an eleven year old, not much different.  Yes of course you’re always worried about their safety but these guys should rot in hell as far as I’m concerned.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Can I just ask you, quick one more sidebar question, do you think we’re getting better?  We’ve got the example- we’ve had lots of public discussions around violent sexual crime, we had on another front, a female jockey winning the Melbourne Cup for the first time.  I just wonder, the way that we are talking about this is changing, so my question is, do you think it’s having an impact on society?  Are we treating women better than we used to in the near past?  David?

DAVID FEENEY: I’m not sure two white Anglo-Saxon men are the best commentators on this.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: You’re an elected representative at the moment as well.

DAVID FEENEY: Well I certainly hope we are.  The tone of the conversation I think is very, very strong.  I guess we’ve seen for instance, Fiona Richardson leading that Royal Commission here in Victoria into domestic violence that in some ways we create the space to really comprehend what’s going on and that opens our eyes.  But we need to create the environment for people to come forward and tell their stories and seek justice.

In some ways we are horrified by what we discover as we improve the conversation but that’s obviously part of growth and hopefully part of healing.  So yes I think we are getting better.  I guess to look at the macro for a moment, the crime statistics suggest we’re getting better.  But as your story of a moment ago about that horrible incident in Geelong.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Every one of them is bad.

DAVID FEENEY: Every one of them is bad.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Alan Tudge do you think the public conversation in the last four of five years is having an impact?

ALAN TUDGE: I do, I do think we’ve got a better level of conversation now.  We’re more aware of the issues.  We’re more aware of the full spectrum from sexism towards women to violence towards women.

I think there is a concerted effort across all aspects of society at the moment to address some of these issues- particularly violence against women.  Which, for too long I think we probably brushed under the carpet and it’s just not acceptable.  We take our hat off to Rosie Batty for providing such a strong lead in terms of her discourse around this area as well.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: It’s coming up to sixteen minutes to five, 774 ABC Melbourne, Alan Tudge, this year September, I’m thinking GST election.  Right or wrong? Surely.

ALAN TUDGE: You’ll have to wait and see Raf. As you know we’re having a broader discussion about a tax package because there are issues with our tax package presently.  We’re very reliant upon income tax and corporate tax, far more so than every other OECD country apart from Denmark.

We want to ensure that the tax system works better, is more efficient, is a greater encourager for people to work and invest.  By doing that, then we become a wealthier society.

That’s the type of discussion which we’re having.  I think we’re having a good discussion actually, with the state governments, the parliamentarians and with the broader Australian people.

All the options are on the table at the moment and we haven’t settled on any.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: So that’s a yes.  GST election?

ALAN TUDGE: No, no, I said all the options are on the table at the moment and we haven’t settled on any.  The Prime Minister and the Treasurer have made that very clear.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: David Feeney, big difference this time compared to previous discussions around the GST.  There is nothing between now and the federal election state-wise that’s going to make a difference.  Daniel Andrews, the Victorian Premier has said if we all vote for it, that changes the conversation, if a federal election is won on the GST as an issue.  Maybe Labor needs to get on board and argue for the version of GST change that you do support rather than oppose the whole package.

DAVID FEENEY: I think there is a fair bit in that question Raf.  The first point I would make is that Morrison in his opening moments as Treasurer declared that the Government had a spending problem, not a revenue problem.  Ever since then all they’ve been talking about is revenue.  This is a Government that insists it wants to reduce tax and all it’s done is raise taxes.  Of course now it’s all about raising taxes again. 

Labor’s problem with the GST is the eternal problem and that is that it is a consumption tax, it’s a flat tax, it hits the poorest the hardest.  Obviously if you put fresh food, education and health into it, it hits the poor even harder.  Compensation measures that are introduced to offset that are temporary, but the tax is forever.

My first instinct is to look very hard indeed at the totality of the package and what the counter-balancing offerings are.  Let’s remember that the only reason these tax initiatives ultimately have to have compensation brought alongside them is because of a recognition by all and sundry that is the lowest paid and the poorest who are hit the hardest.

Labor’s position has now been for some years, let’s have a different kind of conversation.  Let’s talk about what’s going wrong with our corporate tax regime in this country.  Let’s look at multinational tax evasion…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: We need to do all of those things.  We probably need to look at multinationals, we need to look at super, we need to look at not ending negative gearing but change it.  We need to look at changing the capital gains tax arrangements around negative gearing. And we need to look at a consumption tax.  We have tax as a proportion of the economy under the current settings, it’s going to be 1.7 percentage points higher than it ever was under Labor.  We need to change a little bit of everything.  That’s going to include a consumption tax isn’t it?

DAVID FEENEY: It may, it may not.  We certainly agree, Labor has made it clear that there does need to be structural change and Chris Bowen our Shadow Treasurer said that we’re up for a conversation about both revenue measures and spending measures.  Both of those things have to be tackled. 

We’re not ruling anything in or out unlike the Government, who as I say said it was all about spending, not about revenue.  We want to have a serious conversation…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Everything is on the table, it’s a very big table at the moment.  Everything is on the table.

DAVID FEENEY: But the Liberal Party’s first port of call is a tax initiative which hits the poorest the hardest and I don’t want us to lose sight of that fact when there are superannuation concessions outpacing the pension, when we have multinationals that are able to evade tax, money they make in this country is not properly taxed.  There are other questions we should be grasping.


ALAN TUDGE: Just let me take up David Feeney on that point, that our first point of call is to do that.  I think that’s absolutely rubbish and David knows that.  In fact, in this tax reform process, yes we are considering all the various options on the table and we’re having a constructive discussions with the state premiers and treasurers in this process as well, because they have to be involved because they have so many taxes as well.

We’ve already made a couple of markers.  One of those markers was articulated by the Prime Minister just a couple of weeks ago and that is that if we do proceed with a tax reform package we will ensure there is no disadvantage to vulnerable people and that’s an important principle which is already being articulated.

Second principle is that overall we want to have tax reform rather than just tax increases.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Two of your significant allies, Amanda Vanstone and Tony Shepherd, who prepared the Abbott Government’s Commission of Audit and we’ll have a word to Tony Shepherd after five o’clock, they’re both saying  if we want to fund what we all want we are going to have to pay more tax.  Now they’re not buying Green Left Weekly, Amanda Vanstone and Tony Shepherd, they are significant thinkers- Amanda Vanstone former minister.  Maybe they’re right, maybe we just need to tax a little bit more to pay for everything we want like school funding and NDIS.

ALAN TUDGE: You have to have a tax base to pay for those things.  But there are some taxes which are better than other taxes which have a less distorting impact on the economy.

Ideally you want a tax system which has the least distortions on the economy and provides the greatest encouragement for people to work harder for longer and for companies to want to invest.  In doing that you create more jobs, you create more wealth; in doing that you actually end up with more money to put into those services you desperately need.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Does that theory actually work, if you just spark the economy, lower taxes a bit, therefore you grow the economic pie that’s where you get the extra revenue?

DAVID FEENEY: No and let’s just decode what he actually said.  What Alan just said is they want taxes that don’t distort the economy.  What that’s code for is being against a progressive tax system, against a tax system which taxes the wealthy a greater rate than it taxes those least able to pay.

Labor has a view that there should be a progressive tax system.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: But both sides agree that we need to do something about what we call bracket creep where everybody’s wages inflate up to higher marginal rates.

DAVID FEENEY: Sure but under this Government’s budget they’re relying on bracket creep over the forward estimates-that by the way they’ve actually doubled in the last two years.  The Liberal Party talks about lowering taxes but all it has ever done is raise them.  In the last two years we have seen this Government lift public spending to the same level we had it at when we were fighting the Global Financial Crisis.  The difference now of course is they have nothing to show for the spending.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN: You are going to have the same problem, David Feeney. All of those issues, if you win, let’s just say you are in government next November, all of those numbers are going to be your numbers.

Here is what I find frustrating. I had this conversation, I don’t even remember who with, but at the time we were talking about changes at the top for both pensions and super, you kind of want to bang heads together and say ‘actually, we need all of this’.


RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Now, they got the pensions through with the help of the Greens, the government, and Labor didn’t want to go there.

Then when Joe Hockey leaves, his last speech in Parliament he says ‘actually, we should do something about the high income earners and super.’

We need every single one of these ideas. If you don’t tweak everything you’ll get nowhere. 

ALAN TUDGE: Raf, that is where we are addressing these ideas though through the tax white paper process. We’ve been in part criticised for saying that all these things are now on the table and let’s have a fair dinkum discussion about them.

What that doesn’t necessarily equate to though, which I think you are getting at, is that it means you have to collect more tax overall.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Well I’m not sure to be honest, we might make a collective decision to pay more.

ALAN TUDGE: But you can also balance these things out and restructure your tax system so that overall you are not collecting more tax, but you’ve got a more efficient tax system which is what we’ve been talking about and our aspiration is.

DAVID FEENEY: You’ve been talking about collecting another $65 billion per year in tax through a consumption tax.

ALAN TUDGE: We have not David and don’t put words into our mouths. We have not.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Surely the GST is coming. Surely the GST is coming. You don’t have all these discussions without some form of a GST coming down the path?

ALAN TUDGE:  In some respects it was the state Premiers who kicked off these discussions, as you might recall. It was Jay Weatherill, the Labor Premier, and Mike Baird in New South Wales, the Liberal Premier.

DAVID FEENEY:  And why did they do that? Because in the 2014 budget, you stripped $80 billion off health and education funding and made state Premiers’ desperate.

ALAN TUDGE:  But in part they have kicked this off because they know that every single dollar to date from the GST has gone directly into state government coffers. So in some respects it is in their interests to be talking about this.

DAVID FEENEY:  But my point is it you made it in their interests by starving them of Commonwealth government grants.

ALAN TUDGE:  But if you do it, it must be in the context of a reform package, not just doing one tax and increasing it by itself.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:  I think we’ve solved that. It’s good, we can move on. Alan Tudge and David Feeney will stick around. We will get a quick traffic check with Chris Miller. Hi Chris.

[Traffic report]

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:  Alan Tudge is with me. He’s part of Tony… oh god, it keeps coming through to me. Forgive me.

ALAN TUDGE: We have had a change, a very significant one, Raf.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: I’ve heard about that. I wasn’t here though.

DAVID FEENEY:  They changed the font Raf. They changed the font.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:  It was Jewish new year, I missed it.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:  Alan Tudge is Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister. David Feeney is Assistant Defence with Labor.

Dave has called for Harrietville and quickly wants to have his say. Go for it Dave.
CALLER DAVE: G’Day gents. I just wanted to say government and efficiency, aren’t they two words that never should come together because it is the biggest farce in the history of our country.

There is no efficiency in government and it is full of waste. It is constantly full of waste. You operate any normal business the way you guys operate the government and those businesses will fail unless they get a government handout.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Dave, I’m assuming from your anger this is a bipartisan criticism or not?

CALLER DAVE: I think both the parties are exactly the same as each other.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: I just want to get a quick response from them Dave. Radically inefficient and not much good for us? Alan Tudge?

ALAN TUDGE: I think he is talking about the expenditure side of the equation. He is suggesting that government expenditure is often not particularly efficiently done and I think that sometimes he is absolutely right.

What we are talking about here on tax is the revenue side and can you collect taxes, in essence in a way which encourages more people to want to work and encourages more businesses to want to invest.

For example, by having say lower income taxes or lower company taxes and therefore by doing that you actually create more wealth.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Ok, I’ll give Dave a chance to respond, but David Feeney? A dreadfully inefficient Labor government as well.

DAVID FEENEY: Sure, it was a bipartisan spray about government. I guess government can always do its job better, that is why we suffer the eternal critique of the electorate and fine, upstanding commentators like yourself.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Dave, does that answer your question or your criticism?
CALLER DAVE: Not really and I wasn’t referring to the corporate side of things. I was referring to every single level of government there are people just riding the system, constantly waiting for… it’s the wrong system we have and unfortunately…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: I’m not sure we have an alternative, Dave, but hopefully you feel that you got your say. I’m happy to get into that conversation. 

DAVID FEENEY: I’m reminded of Churchill’s quote that democracy is a terrible system but have a look at all the others.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Alan Tudge, Coalition voters far less likely to agree that human activity is significantly to blame for climate change. Why do you think that is? CSIRO study.

ALAN TUDGE: It’s a good question Raf, I mean it is a fascinating study because it actually found that, I think, two thirds of Liberal Party supporters were convinced that humans were not to blame for the changing climate. About a third of Labor Party voters and about one fifth of Greens voters all thought a similar thing.

I suppose every single individual will have their own view. I think in part it is possibly because we’ve now had sufficient amount of time passed whereby some predictions which were made around five or ten years ago haven’t come to fruition.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Which predictions haven’t come to fruition?

ALAN TUDGE: I’m thinking say from Tim Flannery when he said that the dams would not fill and clearly dams have filled.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Clearly that is not the science, that is the opinion of a scientist. That is not the science. 

ALAN TUDGE: Well he is a scientist and was interpreting the science through that process.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:  Are you saying some of what you would consider exaggerations [inaudible]?

ALAN TUDGE: I think that is probably why some people are sceptical, because some claims were made which were significant and quite disturbing claims and we’ve had enough time pass that some of those claims have not come to fruition. Maybe ....
ALAN TUDGE: Listen, I don’t know the answer to that question. I honestly do not know the answer to that question.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: I want to give David a chance before we get to the weather. David, have you got a theory?

DAVID FEENEY: Of course I do. The theory is that Liberal Party voters do not think that climate change is real because that is what their leadership have been telling them for years.

The last Liberal Party Prime Minister said climate change was ‘insert expletive here’ and the current Liberal Party Prime Minister said that climate change was important but has subsequently done nothing about it and has admitted to doing nothing about it.

For a long time, we’ve had conservative politicians and commentators denouncing climate change and the threat of climate change.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Although the research said the attitudes are more about say a person’s individual relationship to environment than politicians and the media, not that they are not important, but they may be less important than a personal response to the environment.

DAVID FEENEY: I think that the messaging over years and years does have an impact. Political leadership in these debates does matter. That’s why we think action on climate change continues to be an important priority.

These views will become, I mean it was absurd that we were having this conversation in Australia when we were, but that is only becoming starker as the rest of the world gets on with tackling climate change and leaves Australia behind.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: I need to leave it there. I’m sure we’ll talk more about climate change as we lead up to the talks in Paris. Alan Tudge, David Feeney, thank you for coming in.

DAVID FEENEY: Thank you Raf.

ALAN TUDGE: Thanks Raf.