Topics: Albanese’s broken tax promise; Funding pause on UNWRA;

09:35AM AWST
29 January 2024


Gary Adshead: Simon Birmingham is here as well. He’s the Shadow Foreign Affairs spokesperson at the moment. Thanks very much for coming in the studio.


Simon Birmingham: G’day, Gary, it’s great to be with you.


Gary Adshead: Hey. Look, I can’t miss this opportunity. Uh, jeez, it’s a tough business politics, isn’t it? Uh, has there ever been moments where you’ve thought. Crikey, Moses, you say one thing, you get absolutely torn apart. You go to the tennis, you get booed. Why would you do it?


Simon Birmingham: Look, it is a tough business, and you definitely face that. And there are times where you’re standing around the supermarket or the shopping centre and you’ve got your kids and your family there, and somebody decides that it’s a chance to give you a little piece of their mind. But overwhelmingly, I find people are polite and it’s about how you engage is, by and large, reciprocated back to you. And so if you’re considered thoughtful, calm in your political engagement, then most people will be pretty polite and engaging. But of course, people have strong views. They’ll let them known. Social media and its rise has been a horror as to how people, under the cloak of anonymity, can be really vicious and brutal, and you’ve got to find a way to detach yourselves from all of those things. But ultimately, be up front, be direct, be truthful, focus on the policies and the consequences for people, and play the ball, not the man. And usually, I think you can be treated with a fair degree of respect, even if it’s a job and a career and a profession that people don’t necessarily love or respect out there all that greatly, they can often see the difference in the individuals.


Gary Adshead: Did it surprise you, in all honesty, that, uh, the Prime Minister got booed in that way? Like I said, it wasn’t just 3 or 4 people. It was quite loud. The chorus of boos when he was introduced at the tennis.


Simon Birmingham: Uh, no. Look, it doesn’t surprise me. In part, of course, there’s a bit of a great Australian tradition there. Uh, but equally-.


Gary Adshead: It’s not a good tradition. I don’t think it’s a great tradition, though, is it? That that’s how we mark our sort of views on our prime minister with a booing, sort of carry on at a tennis match? It’s a bit weird.


Simon Birmingham: Look it. I guess. Yeah. Would it happen to a US president or the like? Probably not. Although it depends where they are in the circumstances. You know, ultimately Anthony Albanese is now carrying the can for a government that has, betrayed Australians and breached its word and his word given solemnly to Australians. And its little surprise that there’s some real angst out there across the community and that is completely understandable as to why people have turned thinking, well, this is a prime minister who lied to me. It’s a prime minister who’s showing weakness in a number of the decisions that he’s making and who is being timid when it comes to the types of reforms that are necessary to tackle the real economic challenges of our time.


Gary Adshead: How will you deal with this, though, as an opposition? Now you’re meeting in Perth, as I said, as a shadow cabinet, is this where you’ll have to decide whether to back these reforms in, given the changes to the stage three tax cuts? Given that, you know, most people might be going, well, there’s something in it for everyone, although there’s not as much as there was going to be for those people in the top tier. So do you back it while still attacking his credibility?


Simon Birmingham: Look, we’re not going to make it easy for Anthony Albanese and the Labor Party to break their promises they’ve given to the Australian people. And what we’re seeing from him here is really treachery, trickery, timidity and sort of explain those-.


Gary Adshead: The three Ts.


Simon Birmingham: The treachery is just the broken promise. And everybody can see that, you know, for more than 100 times pre-election, he and Jim Chalmers said, we are backing these stage three tax cuts, and they kept saying it post-election. And he was still saying it a couple of weeks ago, even while he was doing the work to be able to break that promise. So that is why he’s really, I think, taking a big hit in the eyes of Australians. But then there is the trickery. This is a reshuffling of the tax arrangements. For most Australians, they don’t see a lot of benefit out of it relative to the huge cost of living pressures they’re facing. And it will be quickly eroded because they’re keeping bracket creep in the system here, and they’re actually going to get $28 billion more income tax over the next few years as a result of these changes than was previously budgeted. So they’re dressing it up as being good for today, but it’s actually bad for tomorrow in raising more income tax and taking more out of the pockets of Australians. And that’s really where the timidity comes in, their reforms, as we put in place when we were in government and legislated, were to abolish the 37 cent in the dollar tax bracket and ensure that bracket creep was largely eliminated for Australians, that the vast majority would never pay more than 30 cents in the dollar as their top marginal tax rate. Labor’s keeping that 37 cent in the dollar tax bracket, thereby meaning that more people will face more frequent instances of bracket creep. That’s why they get the $28 billion extra, because they’re keeping a system that actually penalises people who work that bit harder, take on an extra job, get a promotion and those things are, of course, what we really need people to aspire to, to have as strong an economy as possible.


Gary Adshead: If you’re listening and you want to call the federal opposition spokesperson on foreign affairs, feel free. I’ll throw another T, though. Is it a tactic? Do you think that might work in terms of getting them through that Dunkley by election?


Simon Birmingham: Well, I think it can best be described as a tactic because it’s certainly not policy reform. Policy reform is to get rid of bracket creep and to abolish an entire tax bracket. That’s what we applied policy reform, tax policy reform. Whereas really this is just a bit of tax policy trickery and a tactic designed for a by election. I hope that voters will see through it. That they will see it for what it is, which is that it is backing away from reform, that it is just a tactic dressed up, and that ultimately, if Labor were delivering on their promises, not only would these tax cuts stay in place, but voters would have seen their electricity bills go down by $275. Because, again, that’s what Anthony Albanese said again and again prior to the election, that his policies would get electricity bills down by $275. Instead, Australians are seeing them go up dramatically, along with all of their other pressures. Now, if he were delivering on all of his promises, people would be much better off than they are today. I think it will be the totality of these things that voters in Dunkley and all Australians will be looking and addressing him on.


Gary Adshead: So, I suppose it brings the question then. How important, given we see how the public reacted at a tennis game when they boo a prime minister. How important is trust in politicians? You could argue going back there’s been broken promises by both sides. How important is trust now? Because the key thing that the Prime Minister says is, well, he won’t say, I’ve broken a promise and I’ve done this. But he does say trust me to do the right thing. So he’s saying this is the right thing. How important is trust now or is it just part of the game?


Simon Birmingham: Well, I think it is- it’s important to be as up front with people as you possibly can. Why was Anthony Albanese asked so many times about the stage three tax cuts prior to the last election and continuously since? Because people had this nagging doubt as to whether he really wanted to be committed to them. If everybody thought he was committed to them and genuinely on board, he wouldn’t have been asked again and again. But he was asked again and again because there was this niggling doubt, rightly as it turns out, in the minds of everybody. And I think that’s why people see it as such a significant broken promise, because the doubts were there. People didn’t really think he was genuinely committed, yet he went to great lengths to say, oh yes, I am, trust me. And then he completely breached that trust. You can’t help but be left with the feeling that actually it was a deliberate lie designed to deceive people prior to making their vote, rather than actually, as he’s trying to dress it up as a changed set of circumstances.


Gary Adshead: I reckon just from analysing it where he looks really bad is okay. The use of the terms, you know- we haven’t changed our position. That’s one thing that’s a weasel way of dealing with it. But I think where he looks really bad from, from my analysis of it was when he’s doing that interview with Mark Riley, and he’s actually specifically being asked about whether you really believe in the stage three tax cuts. And he says, my word is my bond. And you’ve got to commit to people when you say that you’re going to do something. That’s probably the moment where I thought, oh gee whiz. Cost of living was an issue then when he was being asked about it. I must say that to say my word is my bond, and then to change it, that makes his word no longer his bond, doesn’t it?


Simon Birmingham: Well, that’s right and that will be how people look at these issues now going forward, that in terms of other big questions, having broken promises on electricity prices, on income tax, on superannuation taxes, what comes next? And in the run up to the next election or beyond, to what extent can Australians take Anthony Albanese’s word as his bond? The answer is they can’t, and they’re going to have to look very carefully about the potential consequences of where else Labor’s tax policy may go. Ultimately, what we seem to be seeing is a return to the 2019 type of policies and attitudes in Labor, which is that they want to raise more tax so that they can spend more across the areas of different government. And raising that additional tax we can see they’ve actually sneakily done through this change by getting $28 billion more on the books in the years to come. And will they now follow that up in terms of negative gearing reforms, capital gains reforms, the types of things that Australians voted against in 2019 for those tax grabs that Bill Shorten was then proposing. Is that where Labor’s going to go next? If they have this desire to keep raising the revenue by taking more from Australians over the years ahead?


Gary Adshead: All right, stand by. We’ll be back in a minute. Talk to you about some international affairs. Simon Birmingham, the federal opposition spokesperson on foreign affairs, is my guest in the studio if you’d like to have a chat. Back soon.


[Commercial break]


Gary Adshead:  Simon Birmingham in the studio with this. Now, something else that’s playing out at the moment is what must be a real concern. That’s in relation to the government’s funding. They’re not they’re only not the only government that fund them, but an organisation called the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees. Now, what’s transpired is that while they’ve received millions and dollars in funding, some of the people who are part of that organisation took part in what happened on October 7th, when 1200 Jewish people were murdered and others kidnapped, in that extraordinarily horrific terrorist attack by Hamas. I suppose my question for you, Simon Birmingham, is how are these organisations vetted before we give them the money?


Simon Birmingham: Well, Gary, it’s a good question. The Albanese Government has made multiple announcements, both pre October 7th and post October 7th terrorist attacks of increased funding to UNWRA. Yet all Australians would rightly expect that not one Australian dollar should be going to an organisation that potentially supports, engages, facilitates any type of terrorist activities, any type of extremist ideology or the promotion thereof. So, these things need to be handled very, very carefully. There are questions there for Penny Wong to answer about what assurances she received when she was in Israel recently and met with UNWRA and provided the commitment of extra funding to them. What were the guarantees and assurances received about how the organisation is operating and how Australian taxpayer dollars would be used? Because here we are just a couple of weeks later, with that funding now having to be paused as a result of revelations that indeed had been raised as concerns by Australia’s Jewish community, back last year, and the government appears to have ignored those concerns, doubled down on its additional funding to UNWRA rather than actually taking a more cautious approach, as would have been judicious.


Simon Birmingham: Come back to that in a second. Daniel is on the line. G’day, Daniel.


Caller Daniel: Yeah. G’day, guys. Um, genocide aside, um, we’re talking about the stage three tax cuts. Jim Chalmers, if you listen to him the whole way along, I mean, you did wedge Albanese, I’ll give you that, uh, to the Liberals. You did wedge him and he did make the promise, which he probably shouldn’t have. But Jim Chalmers, the whole way along, has been saying he would like a discussion in the community about the stage three tax cuts. The whole way. So now the discussion has been there has been discussions building around this. Um, so I commend them for rolling with, the public sentiment. Um, but you’ve got, um, an economist just before the end of last year, he was saying that if the stage three tax cuts went through as they were put forward, they would delay the decrease in our interest rates for at least at least six months. So you’re wanting to visit six months more worth of pain on middle Australia. Who’s been bailing out the economy all through this Covid situation? High inflation situation? Would you have us pay more for six months at least?


Gary Adshead: All right. Well, that’s the question.


Simon Birmingham: Well, the answer to that is definitely not. And I think there is no suggestion that the stage three tax cuts, as they were legislated and remain legislated would have any greater impact on inflation than what the government’s proposing. In fact, if anything, many economists would still argue, contrary to what the government’s saying, that the way in which they’ve recast them could have greater spending impacts on the economy and therefore more inflationary impact than what was previously legislated. But really, that aside, what we are seeing is not just the breach of promise. But as I said before, the abandonment of income tax reform. These were reformist changes that abolished a tax bracket and actually therefore abolished bracket creep for many Australians. And the government is now keeping that tax bracket, maintaining bracket creep and through slight of hand, raising $28 billion of extra tax revenue over the years ahead that will come from the Australians they are pretending to help.


Gary Adshead: But on the face of it, if people don’t go beyond the arguments that you’ve just raised, then that people will see that they’re going to get some money in their kitty, uh, you know, come July 1. And that could be as simple as that for them.


Simon Birmingham: Well, that’s the tactic that Labor’s obviously hoping will play out. I think Australians are clever enough to look two, three, four years down the track, not just six months down the track. They know that in six months’ time and they still won’t see these tax cuts, some of them for even longer than that. That this is small fry compared with the cost-of-living pressures they’re facing right now. But years down the track, it’s actually going to be worse for many millions of Australians because it keeps that bracket creep in place.


Gary Adshead: Just come back to that UN agency. Just the last question because we are running out of time. But I mean, essentially the federal governments now suspended any more funding or will be pulling some of it back. Do you think, I mean, what sort of guarantees do we need to have that $6 million won’t end up with an organisation that in part has supported that level of terrorism?


Simon Birmingham: Well, we need very strong guarantees and assurances or to pursue an alternative. There’s no denying that innocent people living in Gaza deserve humanitarian support and assistance for what are terribly challenging circumstances and tragic circumstances that many face. But we should be doing that through trusted, credible partners and agencies, be that the Red Cross or other international partners and agencies. Not risking that Australian taxpayer dollars are used to promote extremism in any way, shape or form.


Gary Adshead: Simon Birmingham, we have run out of time. Appreciate you coming in. Enjoy your next couple of days here in sunny and particularly hot Western Australia as the temperature turns up again. Thanks very much for coming in the studio.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Gary. It’s always great to be in the West.