Sky News, Saturday Agenda Interview with David Lipson

Release Date: 
7 March 2015
Transcript
E&OE

DAVID LIPSON:
I want to start with this letter that's been co-written by each of the Attorney's General throughout the states and territories- both Labor and Liberal and they are urging the Federal Attorney General to reverse the cuts to legal services that were made in last year's budget and guarantee that no further cuts will be made.

They've warned of a looming crisis in the legal sector, Alan Tudge.  Can you guarantee that there'll be no further cuts?

ALAN TUDGE:
Well David just let me back up one step and explain what has happened. 

Firstly we've got an absolute commitment to providing good funding for frontline legal services for vulnerable people and indeed we've committed $1.3 billion over the four years.  The second point I'd make is the issue which they have raised is that what we're doing is changing the way that the legal service organisations are funded so that instead of the Commonwealth funding them directly, we will fund them via the state governments.  We're in a process at the moment of working through that, such that there will be a be a new funding arrangement start on the 1st of July, this year, and we'll announce that in the budget.

DAVID LIPSON:
But they say that this funding arrangement that you talk of is just not adequate and they particularly point to some of the vulnerable sectors of the community and one sector that you're very familiar with- indigenous affairs- they say that indigenous Australians and victims of domestic violence- also a hot topic this year and in particular this week, that they are the ones that are going to suffer the most as a result of the cutbacks that were announced last year.

ALAN TUDGE:
As I said David we're working on a new package to begin on the 1st of July this year.  But just let me pick up your point there.  Legal aid is important in relation to domestic violence issues, but you've really got to be focused on earlier on in the peace.  In relation to indigenous people for example where domestic violence is very high, two-thirds of all domestic violence is related to alcohol.  So we are determined to address that issue- to stop the violence occurring in the first place, rather than having to wait to get towards the police and legal processes.

DAVID LIPSON:
Matt Thistlethwaite will Labor reverse the cuts that were made in last year's budget if it wins government?

MATT THISTLETHWAITE:
Well contrast the approach of Labor this week David.  Bill Shorten announced this week an additional $50 million for frontline legal aid and services specifically related to combating domestic violence in aboriginal communities.

Alan Tudge says that these aren't a cut but that's exactly what they are and that's why the Attorney's General of the states and territories have written this letter, they see that frontline services are going to suffer and when you talk about aboriginal Australians- 15 times more likely that the rest of the population to be incarcerated, there's a big problem.  Cutting frontline services, cutting support for victims of domestic violence being able to seek legal advice and representation when they're before the courts, perhaps in a custody battle with a partner, is going to make the system much unfairer and that's why these Attorney's General have written this letter.

ALAN TUDGE:
Can I just pick up on the points in relation to…

DAVID LIPSON:
With that funding that Bill Shorten sort of announced this week, does that cover the changes that were made last year and does Labor pledge to make up any other ground if any further cutbacks are made?

MATT THISTLETHWAITE:
Well what you can guarantee David is that Labor will have a much fairer system.  We've said that our approach to the budget won't be to attack the most vulnerable in our community and we demonstrated that this week by the announcement we made in respect of domestic violence but also in the announcement we made on multinational profit shifting, ensuring that the most wealthy multinational companies that seek to shift profits overseas pay their fair share of tax right here in Australia.

What you can guarantee is that Labor will have a much fairer approach to budgeting.

DAVID LIPSON:
Alan Tudge you wanted to respond to that?

ALAN TUDGE:
I just wanted to pick up on that one point going back to the indigenous situation and the high incarceration rate and it is very high, it's unacceptably high but the evidence shows and this has been done by Don Weatherburn at the Bureau of Crime Statistics that additional legal aid services have very little impact on the overall crime rate and imprisonment rate.  What does have an impact is getting control of alcohol, getting people into work, getting people educated.  They're the key levers to address the incarceration rate and that's absolutely where we're focusing our intentions.

Of course we're also putting money into frontline legal services as well and we'll have a new package come the 1st of July.  But let's not believe that we just put more money into legal services and we'll solve the incarceration rate.  We've got to actually address the root causes of it.

MATT THISTLETHWAITE:
Can I just reply to that David?

DAVID LIPSON:
Yeah, sure.

MATT THISTLETHWAITE:
The Government's also cut support for tacking alcohol addiction in our community.  They cut money for the alcohol advisory body, they've cut funding for frontline services to reduce the rates of alcohol addiction in our society and if an aboriginal person comes before the legal system and they're not represented because there's been a cut to the legal aid funding or the community legal service in their community, they're highly more likely to end up being incarcerated as a result of that.

DAVID LIPSON:
Well another area in the news today is pensions.  The reform that the Government has already announced in relation to pensions would see the value of the age pension go from 28 per cent of weekly earnings to 16 per cent of weekly earnings by 2055.  That's largely because the Government changes link it to inflation but weekly earnings are going to go up significantly- close to 80 per cent the average income by 2055.

Alan Tudge, is that tolerable to have older Australians earning so much less in their pensions than the average weekly earnings?

ALAN TUDGE:
David we have an absolute commitment to the pensioners of Australia that we want to provide a pension that is as generous as possible, but which nevertheless affordable.  Under the Labor plan if you like, debt was going to be rising to Greek levels and under that situation it's actually hard to have a pension at all let alone a generous one.

Our guarantee is this.  Our guarantee is at the very least pensioners will have an increase every March and every September in line with cost of living and ideally it would be above that but that's the absolute minimum and we're open to discussions with the crossbenchers as to what exactly the formula should look like going forward.

DAVID LIPSON:
So there's a possibility that you may look to de-link the pension from the CPI, from inflation, at some point further down the track?  So you can be as you say, more generous than just keeping up with the cost of living?

ALAN TUDGE:
The commitment is to at the very least keep up with cost of living but as Scott Morrison, the Social Services Minister has flagged today, he's open to having discussions with the crossbenchers as to what solutions they might have to address the overall fiscal disaster left by the Labor Party but to nevertheless to have a generous pension.

Of course we'd be open to suggestions from the Labor Party as well but I think we'd be waiting a very long time before any were forthcoming.

DAVID LIPSON:
Matt Thistlethwaite any suggestions in this area?

MATT THISTLETHWAITE:
Well David we'll have a much fairer approach to budgeting.  What the Government is doing to pensions- reducing the real value of the pension over time will see more older Australians slip into poverty…

ALAN TUDGE:
It's not reducing the real value of the pension Matt, it's not reducing the real value. Don't scare pensioners.

MATT THISTLETHWAITE:
Yes you are, yes you are.  You are.  It's reducing the value of the pension.

ALAN TUDGE:
It's keeping up with inflation as the absolute minimum.

MATT THISTLETHWAITE:
And it won't keep pace with average weekly earnings and pensioners will fall further behind and slip into poverty.  When Labor came to government in 2007, we had a historic increase in the pension to ensure that pensioners did keep pace and what we won't do is we won't attack the most vulnerable in our community, we won't attack pensioners…

DAVID LIPSON:
But Matt Thistlethwaite, Alan Tudge is right isn't he in saying it won't fall below inflation, therefore it won't fall in real terms.  It will only fall as you say, in relation to weekly earnings but weekly earnings are going to be going up substantially.

ALAN TUDGE:
It's actually below CPI at the moment, weekly earnings. The CPI is the higher figure right now.

MATT THISTLETHWAITE:
It's going to make it more tough for pensioners.  It's going to see pensioners fall further behind when it comes to keeping pace with other Australians.  Labor's approach will be to make the biggest multinational companies pay their fair share, our approach will be to ensure that the biggest polluters in our economy pay their fair share.  We won't attack pensioners, we won't attack students, we won't attack Medicare like this Government is doing.

DAVID LIPSON:
The question then is Matt Thistlethwaite, how are you going to address that projection of $2.6 trillion of debt by 2055? Because you can't increase taxes for the wealthy to claw back all of that money, there has to be a much bigger approach, especially since you still want to spend more on Gonski, on Foreign aid, on childcare, on higher education, you don't want to cut the petrol tax, and you are currently opposing some $5 billion of cuts, similar to those you actually proposed in government.

MATT THISTLETHWAITE:
Well David, if you look at the difference between MYEFO figures and the budget you see that this Government wiped out about $11 billion worth of revenue by getting rid of the minerals resource rent tax and by getting rid of the price on carbon. So there's a way to restore some of the lost revenue to the budget.

We've also seen that Labor will take a much fairer approach. This week we announced a policy about ensuring that multinational companies can't shift profits overseas and that they pay their fair share here in Australia.

We've said that we'll have a look at some of the tax concessions that exist on high and superannuation people with more than $2 million in their superannuation accounts.

We're reviewing all of our policies at the moment in the lead up to the national conference of the Labor party in July.

Labor will be in a position to ensure that we're working towards paying off the debt but we'll do it in a much fairer and more  reasonable way that doesn't attack the most vulnerable Australians.

ALAN TUDGE:
I mean it's interesting David…

DAVID LIPSON:
AlanTuge just on the policy that Matt mentioned there, I'll let you respond, but just on this point, the policy of attacking multinational tax avoidance that will bring in $2 billion or such.  You asked for a conversation, you've asked Labor for ideas, they presented an idea this week that tackles tax avoidance for multinationals and the Government slammed that idea because you say it'll cost jobs.  But every suggestion has a downside, why dismiss that one so out of hand?

ALAN TUDGE:
We dismissed the particular proposal that the Labor Party put up because in essence because it would lead to job cuts in Australia.  Now we've actually put this issue on the table through the G20 process, we've got some plans going forward to address it.

But my overall point to address what Matt Thistlethwaite has said is that every single measure he has raised or the Labor Party has raised to get control of the fiscal disaster they created is a tax increase effectively.  Their only solution to a fiscal disaster are tax increases when actually the problem has been spending increases and now for tax increases to match the spending increases Labor left, you would have to have 50 per cent increase in all of the taxes today in order to meet those spending increases by 2055.  That would create all sorts of problems for our economy, it would be deeply unfair for so many taxpayers and it would further lead to disincentives for people to work and create wealth in this country.

So we've got to get serious on the spending side.  We've not heard one serious proposal from the Labor Party as to how to get control of their spending.

DAVID LIPSON:
OK, we are out of time on Saturday Agenda.  Matt Thistlethwaite and Alan Tudge, great to have your company and great to have your company at home, thanks for joining us.

[ENDS]