Transcript – Pollie-Graph with Raf Epstein and Tanya Plibersek – ABC Radio Melbourne

Subjects: Medicare rebate freeze; housing affordability; Israel and the West Bank settlements.

 

EO&E………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 

 

RAF EPSTEIN:

The Pollie Graph – your chance to ask the politicians a few questions, I might get a few questions in as well.

Joining us from Perth, I think, Tanya Plibersek, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. She is also Shadow Minister for Education. Tanya Plibersek, good afternoon.

TANYA PLIBERSEK:

Hello Rafael.

EPSTEIN:

Great to have you on the Pollie Graph. And joining me here in Melbourne is Scott Ryan. He is a Liberal Senator for Victoria, right-hand man to the Prime Minister – that’s the translation for Special Minister of State. Scott, welcome.

SCOTT RYAN:

Good afternoon, Raf.

EPSTEIN:

Can I start with you Scott Ryan? Just tidying up some of the stories that are out and about and floating around: the Health Minister Greg Hunt seemed to be saying this morning that the rebate freeze, the Medicare rebate freeze, may be unfrozen in the budget. Is that going to happen?

RYAN:

Well I’m not going to comment on what might happen in the Budget, I didn’t hear the interview –

EPSTEIN:

… Are you going to make peace with the doctors?

RYAN:

Well I think Greg has thrown himself into the role as Health Minister, he’s been very active and the Government’s made clear that it’s a focus for this term of office.

EPSTEIN:

New to that little bit of opposition, take some of the fire away from the formal Opposition?

RYAN:

If you remove the ability of the Opposition to misrepresent what the Government does, then that’s politically obviously quite helpful. The Coalition since John Howard’s days has been committed to Medicare. There was a scare campaign at the last election. There was a cost to that for us, so I’m not going to deny that. But Australians value Medicare and so does the Coalition.

EPSTEIN:

Tanya Plibersek, feel free to respond. He’s made a few (inaudible)

PLIBERSEK:

(laughs) Well I don’t know where to start. I mean this is a Government that has frozen the Medicare rebate indefinitely –

EPSTEIN:

(interrupts) The freeze started under you, didn’t it though?

PLIBERSEK:

There was a seven-month pause under Labor and the reason for that was to realign it from the middle of the year to the end of the year, and it is extraordinary to draw this kind of equivalence to a pause that is putting so much pressure on doctors’ wages that they are actually not bulk billing anymore. You can go into doctors’ surgeries right around Australia and they say ‘we’re sorry, we can’t afford to bulk bill anymore’.

RYAN:

But it’s higher than it was, the bulk billing.

PLIBERSEK:

Patients are telling me that that is their experience. Well, you’re using dodgy statistics again, Scott.

RYAN:

They’re the same stats you use, Tanya.

PLIBERSEK:

You know that there are no – oh jeez, this is going to be terrible if we just keep going back and forth like this. Patients will tell you their experience – the doctors that used to bulk bill are no longer bulk billing, and there’s no hope on the horizon unless this government reverses this pause that has pushed doctors really to the edge. We’ve also seen costs for blood tests that were previously free to patients; we’ve seen costs for other medical tests that were previously free to patients. We’ve seen the Government do its best to put up the price of medicines, the price of private health insurance is going up. I mean, patients know that they are paying more out of their own pockets than they used to.

EPSTEIN:

Can I ask a Labor policy question – Sydney Morning Herald, I think it was, reporting that Labor’s interested in a ‘Buffett rule’, which is essentially a mandatory minimum tax as a percentage of a higher income, so you can’t sort of try and concession your way out of paying a certain amount of tax. Is Labor interested in that?

PLIBERSEK:

Well there was a policy discussion in Melbourne last weekend that was a Left of the Labor party meeting to start to look at ideas for the future. This is not something that’s come from the parliamentary Labor Party, but I understand what’s driving it. Australians everywhere are concerned about the fact that if you’re a very large business you seem to pay less tax than if you’re a smaller business – you get away with paying less tax, and we know many large companies –

EPSTEIN:

(interrupts) Sure, but is Labor considering something like a Buffett rule?

PLIBERSEK:

Many large companies are not paying tax at all. And the same goes for very wealthy individuals. The reason it’s called the Buffett rule is because Warren Buffett said it wasn’t fair that he paid less of his salary, as a proportion, in tax than his secretary did, because he could afford to get better advice.

That’s not what we’re considering, a mandatory minimum, but we have looked at things like reducing multinational tax avoidance. We’ve looked at reigning in tax concessions for very high income earners for their superannuation, and we of course, one of our biggest policies is reducing the availability of negative gearing and capital gains tax unless a property is newly built for future investors. That saves $37.3 billion over the next decade. It’s a huge improvement to the budget and it actually gives young Australians an opportunity to be on a level playing field when they’re trying to buy their own home.

You know a lot of older people, Raffy, actually they may make use of negative gearing themselves, but gee they’re worried about whether their kids or grandkids will ever be able to afford a home of their own.

EPSTEIN:

Absolutely. Look I want to ask about housing affordability and Scott Ryan may wish to respond, but can I just play a little bit of one of the junior ministers in Malcolm Turnbull’s Government – his specific job, Michael Sukkar, is to look at housing affordability. I want to know, Scott Ryan, if you think Michael Sukkar is simply being realistic, or whether or not as his critics say he is out of touch. But just listen to Michael Sukkar the other night on Sky:

We’re also enabling young people to get highly paid jobs, which is the first step to buying a house. It’s not the only answer, but it’s the first step.

Is that insensitive to say you basically need a high paying job to afford to buy a house?

RYAN:

I think, with respect, you needed to play the whole grab there so I’ll grant you that. Occasionally I’ll convey an impression that I don’t mean to convey. I think what Michael was saying is that the first step to owning a house is having a job. And I think that’s a statement of the bleeding obvious, as it has been for decades.

EPSTEIN:

Sure, but is it a concession that there’s not much you can do?

RYAN:

There are limited things the Commonwealth can do. I read a report recently that said at best, you might have less than 2 per cent impact of Labor’s policies despite the fact that there’s a hit on renters and despite the fact that you can be a massive high income earner, but still use negative gearing if you buy it before a certain date, most of the issues about housing affordability are at the state level.

And to use a Melbourne example, Raf, if you live in a suburb with tram lines, they were built 100 years ago. You’ve paid tens of thousands of dollars in stamp duty, and for decade after decade our state governments haven’t built trains in the next suburb or trams in the next suburb.

There has been a record windfall, billions of dollars of gains to our state government here in Victoria. I’ve paid a whack of stamp duty myself when I bought –

EPSTEIN:

(interrupts) That’s an argument. I just wonder if, are Michael Sukkar’s words a concession that there’s not much governments can do?

RYAN:

Well no. The most important thing the Commonwealth can do is to ensure the economy is strong so that people can get a job. You’re not going to be able to sustainably pay off a mortgage without secure employment. I think that’s a statement of the obvious and that’s the point Michael was making.

EPSTEIN:

Tanya Plibersek, statement of the obvious?

PLIBERSEK:

Rafael, Joe Hockey said get a good job that pays good money. Malcolm Turnbull urged people to shell out for their kids. Barnaby Joyce said move to the country, Paul Fletcher said people weren’t talking about housing prices around the barbecue and now we’ve got Michael Sukkar again saying ‘go out and get a good job’. I mean the simple fact is that 25 years ago the average home cost five times a young person’s income annual income. Now it’s 15 times a young person’s annual income. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a good job. We’re seeing a generation of people who are less and less likely to own their own home because –

EPSTEIN:

Did it make a big difference though?

PLIBERSEK:

Yeah, you can make a difference. And certainly reducing the incentive for people to speculate, for the person to buy their eighth investment property or their tenth investment property because they get a bigger tax benefit than someone trying to buy their first home, that is an important part of it.

But it’s not the only thing you can do. We had, for example, the National Rental Affordability Scheme which was on track to deliver 50,000 new rental properties. Again, that takes the pressure off supply.

We had the Housing Supply Council that pointed out exactly how short we were and made recommendations to government on what they could do to increase supply. We had of course, First Home Saver Accounts, which allowed young Australians to save a deposit in the same tax-privileged way that you can put extra money into super, but these accounts helped them save for their deposit. Not taking money out of super which is just dumb – I mean, I just heard that’s on the table again apparently in this Budget – that people would undermine their retirement income and in fact drive up housing prices by being able to use their super, but saving in the same tax privilege way.

This Government got rid of First Home Saver Accounts. They got rid of another program that we had where older Australians could downsize out of the family home but their pension wouldn’t be affected when they downsized. The Federal Government has a number of levers – most particularly negative gearing and capital gains pax – but has other levers too and they’re not using any of them. They’re just telling young Australians to go out and get a job. It’s incredibly insensitive.

EPSTEIN:

Scott Ryan?

RYAN:

Well firstly, one of the schemes that Labor had in place was providing fantastic money for student accommodation to be built. That’s not addressing the housing affordability problem –

PLIBERSEK:

(interrupts) Oh Scott that’s just such nonsense.

EPSTEIN:

(inaudible) …taking things out of the rental pool, does it?

RYAN:

No because capital is being directed into this for student housing. Then you have –

PLIBERSEK:

(interrupts) A tiny proportion.

RYAN:

(inaudible) They simply weren’t working.

PLIBERSEK:

(interrupts) They were working.

RYAN:

They weren’t working. If we’re talking about downsizing, I’ve recently gone through this in my family-

PLIBERSEK:

(interrupts) They were for the thousands of people who had them.

RYAN:

The single biggest barrier is actually stamp duty, because when someone sells a house and then buys a unit in a place like Melbourne – a member of my family has downsized – it was $30,000 or $40,000.

EPSTEIN:

Sure.

RYAN:

And that just comes straight out of their savings if they can afford it.

EPSTEIN:

Scott Ryan is with me in Melbourne, he is one of Malcolm Turnbull’s ministers. Tanya Plibersek is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, so a crucial part of Bill Shorten’s Opposition.

The number, if you want to ask a question, 1300 222 774. Jane is in Berwick, forgive me Tanya, just let Jane have a go. Go for it Jane.

CALLER:

Hi Raf. I just want to say that I have been renting for many, many years. I’m over 50, I like renting and I find this constant argument that we all have to own our own home as a really – it’s just a waste of energy. In Europe people rent for year after year after year. Why do we all have to own our own home to be a success?

EPSTEIN:

Jane let me just put that to both of them. If I can ask you to keep your answers brief, there’s lots of issues. Scott Ryan? Maybe there’s a whole lot of people happy renting.

RYAN:

There’s no compulsion, but I think that it’s an aspiration that a lot of people have and it’s an aspiration that the Liberal Party has supported since the moment of our foundation by Robert Menzies.

EPSTEIN:

Tanya?

PLIBERSEK:

Oh it’s individual choice. If people are happy renting, good for them. I think we probably do need to change some of the laws that make it very easy to evict people for no reason and so on, because we will have more people who are renting long-term and our rental laws should reflect that. But it’s up to the individual, of course there is no compulsion.

EPSTEIN:

The Israeli Prime Minister is in town, Bibi Netanyahu.

Can I start with you Tanya Plibersek – Bob Carr, Bob Hawke, Kevin Rudd, they’ve all said that Australia should formally recognise Palestine as a state. Is the ALP going to do that? Are they going to adopt that as a policy?

PLIBERSEK:

Yeah we’re pretty clear at the last national conference we had that if there’s no progress in the next round of peace that a future Labor government will look at joining with like-minded countries that have already recognised Palestine and we would announce the conditions and timelines for an Australian recognition of a Palestinian state.

EPSTEIN:

Can I just ask Tanya, do we get the definition of the ALP’s definition of progress before the next election?

PLIBERSEK:

Well I think this is as you can see an ongoing issue for discussion in the Australian community, not just in the Labor Party, and um –

EPSTEIN:

Sure, I’m not saying the policy is right or wrong, it’s just not clear to me what sort of progress you mean.

PLIBERSEK:

Well there’s a likelihood of a next round of peace negotiations that Prime Minister Turnbull’s called for that again today.

EPSTEIN:

(interrupts) I’m glad you think they’re likely.

PLIBERSEK:

And we would urge the parties back to the table, that’s our constant position. We, of course, acknowledge that this most recent law that the Knesset has passed that has retrospectively legalised the building of settlements on Palestinian land reduces the likelihood that there will be a resolution anytime soon. But we need to work constructively with both the Government of Israel and the Palestinian people. Our deepest desire is to see an Israel behind secure and internationally recognised borders and a state for the Palestinian people to meet their justifiable desire for a state of their own.

EPSTEIN:

And worthy sentiments. I’m just – do we know – I mean I know it’s not your portfolio anymore, it’s just not clear to me if we know before the next election. I know it’s a long way away, what you define as progress?

PLIBERSEK:

Well actually think having people back at the table would be a first step back to progress. We hope that the Israeli court system will make the Government reconsider (inaudible) recent law. There are a number of things you would hope would contribute to peace. At the moment we are several steps away from that.

EPSTEIN:

Scott Ryan, can I ask you about that law, just so people know. It’s controversial, it legalises settlements that are built without permission on private Palestinian land. My question actually to you as a representative of the government, AIJAC says it’s counter-productive – so that’s the big significant Jewish lobby group – it’s been condemned by Britain and France, but Australia won’t criticise that law. If AIJAC is willing to criticise it and say that it’s unwise and counter-productive, why won’t the government?

RYAN:

Because it’s not appropriate to single out one thing, particularly when it’s usually something like a settlement issue related to Israel as a barrier to peace. I personally, having been there a couple of times and visited the West Bank a couple of times, think a bigger barrier is some of the vilification – horrific things that happen about deification of people that attack other people and some of the racial hatred that gets inculcated into young people (inaudible) –

EPSTEIN:

(interrupts) (inaudible) …criticise Hamas’ kindergartens and say this law is bad?

RYAN:

This is one of the problems. When people talk about recognition of a state for the Palestinian people there needs to be borders for a state and they have not been settled. We support as a government the two-state solution. We support both parties going back to the table to continue negotiations. As I understand it at the moment, they are not progressing because the Palestinian Authority is not coming to the table for negotiations and Israel has made that offer. But we’re not going to constantly join what happens in the region, which is singling out Israel, for an issue such as the settlements and ignoring the slaughter going on in a neighbouring country, or some much larger barriers to peace which are the inculcation of racial hatred.

PLIBERSEK:

Scott no-one’s ignoring if you’re talking about what’s happening in Syria and what’s happening in Iraq. I don’t think anyone’s ignoring that –

RYAN:

(interrupts) No I wasn’t referring to you Tanya, I was referring to the UN as the Prime Minister outlined in his piece this morning. The UN has a fixation on Israel, utterly out of proportion to the fact that no state is perfect and everyone makes mistakes. Given what is going on in the region and what some of the other states who are still technically at war with Israel remember –

EPSTEIN:

(interrupts) Is the government, Scott Ryan, seen as a fair arbiter if you won’t criticise a fair player in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute? If you won’t criticise a law that AIJAC won’t criticise, now they are the staunchest supporters of Israel in this country formally organised, and they’ve criticised that law.

RYAN:

That’s a community group, that’s a lobby group. There are plenty of lobby groups that make observations that governments don’t necessarily agree with or disagree with.

EPSTEIN:

Britain and France condemned the law as well.

RYAN:

But the point we’ve made is that there is a singling out of Israel in certain international fora that is utterly unfair and this is not something our government supports or will condone.

EPSTEIN:

Do you agree with that Tanya Plibersek? If I can just cite the numbers that the Prime Minister did, I think in 12 months, a period picked by the Israeli Prime Minister, there were I think about 15 resolutions about Israel; one about Syria. The Prime Minister says that’s the hypocrisy of the UN General Assembly. Is he right or wrong?

PLIBERSEK:

I don’t think that’s a helpful comment. I mean, Scott talked about borders. I don’t actually think the border issue is the most complicated issue. I think most people agree that a peace settlement will be along the lines of the 1967 borders with some land swaps. I think this most recent law that retrospectively legalises something that previous Israeli law has recognised as unlawful, the building of settlements on Palestinian land, I think that’s a sign that we’re headed in a bad direction. And you can’t just discount that as Scott’s doing and say you know, everybody else does bad stuff too. I think it’s a very serious thing and supporters of Israel and friends of Israel, as AIJAC is, are concerned about it because they see it as moving us further from a two-state solution, not closer.

EPSTEIN:

I will get to more of your calls. A lot of people want to talk about housing affordability. Some traffic first with Chris Miller.

[Traffic report]

EPSTEIN:

Scott Ryan is with me, he’s a key right-hand man to the Prime Minister. Tanya Plibersek is Deputy Leader of the Opposition. We’ve been talking many things including housing affordability and renting. Michelle you’re in Bunyip, what did you want to tell us?

CALLER:

I’ve been in a situation where I’m forced to rent. I couldn’t afford to keep my home and I’ve been in 14 houses in nine years. And each time they’re put on the market you’re invaded. You’ve got no rights as tenants not to have the house open for inspections when they’re selling. And every time you move you’re out of pocket three grand. So I would love –

PLIBERSEK:

(interrupts) That’s exactly my point. You know, if we’re going to have a nation of longer-term renters, we’re going to have to do something about the sort of no-cause, you know the landlord wants ten bucks more or fifteen bucks more a week –

EPSTEIN:

(interrupts) Are they federal issues, Tanya Plibersek?

PLIBERSEK:

No, but the federal government can show leadership. They’re laws that are determined by state governments, but the Federal Government can show leadership and certainly through the National Affordable Housing Agreement, that kind of effort to have more universal rental laws and better protections – I mean, one of the problems is of course that when the Liberals came in they got rid of Homelessness Australia, they got rid of National Shelter, they got rid of Community Housing Association, all the bodies that used to do really good policy work to improve conditions of housing affordability. They’ve all been de-funded. So getting this advice to government is much harder than it once was.

EPSTEIN:

Stick around Michelle, good to know exactly what you make of both Tanya and Scott.

CALLER:

Well can I make a comment there with the national renting scheme. I applied for several of those houses and the minimum number of applicants is 120 in Packenham per property.

EPSTEIN:

So that’s just you applying to rent a house and there are 120 people?

PLIBERSEK:

No.

EPSTEIN:

With the National Affordability Scheme?

CALLER:

Yes, as soon as that –

PLIBERSEK:

(interrupts) No. The 120 is for people who want to build them, not for people who want to live in them.

CALLER:

No, I’m sorry. I lined up with 60 people at a time to go in and have a look at these houses to be rented.

EPSTEIN:

Okay can we –

PLIBERSEK:

(interrupts) Oh yeah, so they’re more popular. Of course, we wanted to build 50,000, this Government stopped building them.

EPSTEIN:

(interrupts) Tanya, let me give Scott Ryan a chance because you made quite a few claims there. Scott Ryan?

RYAN:

Sorry to hear of your circumstance, Michelle. There’s no Commonwealth role here in setting lease laws. The Commonwealth has got plenty on its plate and quite frankly, the Commonwealth needs to stick to its bread and butter. The Federal Government can do certain things particularly around the economy, but to get the Federal Government involved in deciding terms of lease of houses, this is exactly the sort of thing that’s making the federation not work. And exactly the sort of thing that annoys people because they then don’t know which level of government is responsible for my lease.

EPSTEIN:

Can you do anything about people who’ve got problems with rent?

RYAN:

Firstly you want to have a strong social safety net. We have Rent Assistance, we spend a lot of money on that space, and you want to support people going from welfare to work as much as you can. Because remember housing is a basic need and people are always in a better position to be able to do that for themselves. If they’ve got an employment opportunity, if they can’t work, we take care of them. But to get the Commonwealth involved in the terms of private leases that one person might have with one investment property is getting us way out of our level of confidence.

EPSTEIN:

Michelle you’ve –

PLIBERSEK:

(interrupts) That’s actually not what I’m suggesting there Scott.

EPSTEIN:

Tanya, if I can, I just want to know what Michelle makes of what you’ve both had to say. Michelle, did either address what you see as your concerns?

CALLER:

The first lady, I’m sorry I can’t remember her name –

EPSTEIN:

Tanya Plibersek.

CALLER:

Yeah. She partly did, but the point being, when you’ve got that many people looking to rent and you’re on a disability pension and will be for life. I’ve tried working online and that, you don’t get any money out of that very often, and it’s just impossible. I was paying $350 a week for rent. I’m now paying $310 in a tiny little place that I don’t fit, and I’ve got to downsize everything. I would love to be able to get a deposit together that I could buy a little dump out in the country somewhere and just live in that.

EPSTEIN:

And settle in. Thank you, Michelle. Scott Ryan, Tanya Plibersek. Tanya just 10 seconds more, can you do much for someone like Michelle, do you think, if you were to win government?

PLIBERSEK:

Yeah, absolutely. Look when we were last in government, we built 21,600 new public housing dwellings. We were on track to build 50,000 National Rental Affordability Scheme dwellings before the Government cut that program. We need to add to affordable housing rental stock. We can encourage the states to give better protections to tenants, recognising that we’ve got a generation of people who will never own their own home. And the one thing we agree with the Government on, it is about supply, but it’s about supply at the affordable end of the market. And that means programs like the National Rental Affordability Scheme, more public housing and making sure that people can rent without spending the whole of their income doing it.

EPSTEIN:

Sure. Scott Ryan, quick response, is there more you can do?

RYAN:

There’s not much we can do when we’re still dealing with the budget deficit Labor left us with. A lot of those programs Tanya was talking about were funded with debt, and the truth is when we’ve had surpluses over the Howard and Costello years, you could potentially look at a problem and say is there something extra the Commonwealth could do? Well that can’t happen when you’re trying to balance a budget because it is completely unfair to run that debt up on future Australians.

EPSTEIN:

Okay, Tanya Plibersek (inaudible)

PLIBERSEK:

(interrupts) Don’t give a $50 billion dollar tax cut and there’s $37.3 billion dollars for the negative gearing and capital gains tax changes –

EPSTEIN:

Tanya we need to leave it there. Tanya Plibersek, thank you for joining us.

PLIBERSEK:

… Almost $90 billion for you (laughs).

EPSTEIN:

Thank you for joining us on Pollie Graph. Scott Ryan, thank you as well.

 

Author: senatorryan

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