Transcript - ABC RN Drive (1)



SUBJECT: ALP National Presidency; Labor’s fairer income tax cuts; Longman and Braddon by-elections; the need for a strong, independent ABC

PATRICIA KARVELAS: With Labor's refusal to vote for the federal government's income tax cuts in full, the battle lines for the coming federal election are starting to be drawn. Within the party itself, there's been an important changing of the guard. Former Treasurer Wayne Swan has defeated Shadow Environment Minister Mark Butler for the ALP's federal presidency. Wayne Swan joins me now; welcome back to RN Drive and congratulations.

WAYNE SWAN, MEMBER FOR LILLEY: Oh, thanks very much.

KARVELAS: What will you bring to the ALP presidency that was lacking under Mark Butler? What will the differences be?

SWAN: I think I've got a fair bit of policy experience and a fair bit of organisational experience and now that I've said that I'm not running again, I think I've got the time and the energy to devote to the job. Now, it's not a paid job at all; it's a part-time, honorary position. But the Labor Party's done a lot for me and given me a lot, and I think I owe something to give back to them, and I'm very, very passionate about Australia, the future of our community and the policy mix. As you know – you and I have discussed a lot what we need to do in Australia to deal with growing inequality. And of course, we got a graphic demonstration of that today with the government's tax package. It's a recipe for greater inequality into the future and a more unfair Australia. 

KARVELAS: Mark Butler was a champion of giving rank-and-file members a greater say in selecting Senate candidates; will you be doing that? 

SWAN: Well there's a pretty healthy debate about that, and the rules have changed dramatically around the country. I mean, in my state of Queensland, there's now rules in place for rank-and-file participation in Senate preselections. Ditto in Victoria. So there's a hot debate about the speed of that, and where it applies. My point is that we do need to be a party that's democratic, but we've also got to be a party that is as concerned about winning the battle of ideas. You can have a machine for winning elections, but that machine has also got to win the battle of ideas. And I think there's some very big ideological and policy issues before Australia at the moment. I think Nick Greiner said on the weekend that the character of Australia was on the line in the next election. And I think that's right. And I think the government's tax package absolutely demonstrates where they're heading and what the vast difference is between the Liberal Party and the Labor Party.

KARVELAS: We're going to get to the tax package in a minute—

SWAN: Sure.

KARVELAS: But on that issue of rank-and-file members having a greater say in selecting Senate candidates, you're actually not on the side of making that happen like Mark Butler—

SWAN: No, that's not fair to say at all. What—

KARVELAS: Well you didn't back his approach, did you?

SWAN: He was president for over three years, and during that period, and leading up to that, there's been dramatic change. Senators are being selected by the rank-and-file. We've just been through massive ballots in the Labor Party, across all states, including new ballots, for the first time, to directly elect delegates to National Conference. So there have been dramatic changes in the organisational arrangements. 

KARVELAS: Do there need to be more?

SWAN: I don't think there needs to be dramatic change over and above what we've got now. No, I don't. And I don't think the party should spend all of its time talking about itself. We ought to be out there talking about the ideas that will secure the future of this country economically and socially. And that was the point I made in the ballot; we shouldn't be talking about ourselves, we shouldn't be engaged in public battles over organisational matters. We need to be engaged in the battle of ideas and focusing more fairly and squarely about how we can make the country more prosperous, and fairer. And that was the point I made in the ballot. I'm not going to spend all of my time talking publicly about organisational matters. Because the public will rightly conclude we're only talking about ourselves, not about them.

KARVELAS: Labor's confirmed it will only vote for the income tax cuts if the government splits the bill. How will you counter the argument that you're anti-aspiration?

SWAN: It's a joke, isn't it really? I can't believe—

KARVELAS: Well the Government's making it, and they're not making it as a joke.

SWAN: No, I know, they're making it—

KARVELAS: If you listen to some of the rhetoric in Question Time about investment bankers and richie-richie people, you are kind of suggesting that people aspiring to be in a higher income bracket are, you know, there's something wrong with that.

SWAN: Rubbish. Absolute rubbish. What we're saying is—

KARVELAS: Well I heard some of the lines come out of Question Time; that was the rhetoric. 

SWAN: Well it's not how I interpreted the rhetoric. The fact is that the government's package, at the top end, which they're proposing to bring in in six years' time, will produce a situation where someone on $41,000 is paying the same marginal tax rate as someone on $200,000. Now that's a recipe for inequality in this country. And the Labor Party will never vote for that. And for the government to say, "if you want a tax cut now, you've got to put your hand up for a tax cut in six years' time which is going to make our tax system much more regressive" is outrageous and indicative of what their real priority is – that is, tax cuts directed to the top end disguised as tax cuts to the bottom end.

KARVELAS: Labor's gone down the rollback line before with the GST, because you're going to go into this election period saying that if the government does manage to legislate the full income tax cuts that you'll roll them back if you win government. Didn't work out well last time, did it?

SWAN: Well we ended up in government, Patricia, so—

KARVELAS: You didn't roll back the GST—

SWAN: Yeah, but we stuck to our guns and we stuck to our principles. And what this country desperately needs is a progressive tax system to drive incentive for people who work hard and who are on modest incomes. The notion that somehow Labor's just advocating for a tax cut for people at the bottom, and is anti-tax-cuts at the top is not right. Our view is that we should be giving tax cuts that incentivise the great bulk of people who produce the wealth in this country. And most of them are on pretty modest incomes, and they're not on $200,000 a year – which is where the government really wants to head, because that's their priority when it comes to tax reform.

KARVELAS: Polls suggest that holding the seats of Longman and Braddon – I can hear the bells ringing, don't you worry – will be a challenge for Labor—

SWAN: It's the Senate, so it's ok at this stage.

KARVELAS: Oh well that's not your House!

SWAN: No, it's not – we don't care about that!

KARVELAS: What do you see as the key to winning those campaigns in Longman and in Braddon?

SWAN: Well they're both difficult seats for us, in a variety of ways. Longman's sort of swung backwards and forwards over the years, and Tassie's just always been volatile. So they're sort of classic marginal seats. So I think the issues we've just been talking about will be significant issues in both those seats, because essentially the government's tax package has got very little for people earning incomes under $100,000 a year. 

I mean the median income in Australia is only $53,000 and in parts of those electorates, it will be even lower. But of course, as you know Patricia – and this is how tax works – there are many two-income families. People maybe have a full-time breadwinner, they'll have a part-time breadwinner, and combined incomes will be $80,000 to $100,000 a year. 

So people will be sitting around and saying, "are these people fair dinkum when it comes to tax?" And they'll also be saying, "if we have all these tax cuts, is there enough money left over to adequately fund the health and education that our family needs?" So people will be taking their decision based on their assessment of who's got the best package and who's going to be able to provide the services for their family, so that when they're sick in Caboolture, they can be treated adequately at the hospital. So it's going to be the classic election over tax and services.

KARVELAS: Just a final question; managing director of the ABC Michelle Guthrie delivered a speech saying the ABC shouldn't be a punching bag, or is being treated like a punching bag. Eric Abetz has responded – and I also spoke to Michael Sukkar a little earlier too – Eric Abetz says that the ABC isn't doing enough to tackle political bias. 

SWAN: Look, basically Mr Sukkar and Mr Abetz are from the radical right wing of the Liberal Party that regard public broadcasters as a foreign virus and they should be eliminated. That's essentially where they're coming from. And their objective, in their ideal world, would be no public broadcasting. Because that is their right-wing ideology. They're fundamentally opposed to public broadcasting. And the Labor Party has made our position very clear. We don't support the attacks that they've launched on the ABC, both in terms of its funding and its credibility. And what's surprised me in this debate over the last week or so is that right-wing element of the government has not backed off its attack over the ABC.

KARVELAS: Wayne Swan, thank you so much for joining us. 

SWAN: Good to talk to you.



Authorised by Noah Carroll ALP Canberra