SUBJECTS: Tax Cut; Leaks; Israel Folau

SHARRI MARKSON, HOST: Joining me now is Labor's Assistant Treasurer and also their financial services spokesman Stephen Jones. Welcome Stephen. 


MARKSON: Now where are you? Labor seems to be in a complete mess to me over its tax cut package. If you don't get the amendments through will you support the entire package? 

JONES: We'll it would be a pretty silly person who went into a negotiation, or into Parliament saying we really want these amendments but we don't really mean it and if you knock them off, we'll just fold our tent and go in behind your proposition. We're not going to do that. There are genuine concerns within Labor about the for affordability of Stage Three of the tax cuts and genuine concerns in Labor about the need to bring forward Stage Two so we can pump prime the economy which is in serious strife. The Reserve Bank Governor and The Reserve Bank board a meeting later this afternoon, widely tipped it to cut interest rates yet again, that's not because they are really optimistic about the state of the economy and the Government's handling of it. It is because they think things are pretty crook and they're concerned about the capacity of monetary policy to do anything to turn things around. 

MARKSON: But that's the exact point. Philip Lowe has given so many warnings now that the economy does need a stimulus beyond, as you say, beyond the rate cut and tax relief is the ultimate stimulus that he has been pushing for and he has even had conversations with the crossbenchers with Rex Patrick and others over it. So, how can you... How can Labor resist and you know. 

JONES: Let me answer that? How can the government argue that tax cuts in 2024-25 to people who are more likely to save it than spend it is going to provide stimulus to a tanking economy in 2019. Simple answer: It won't. Let's cooperatively on this. Let's work with the Government. Take a little bit of theirs, a little bit of ours, bringing forward the Stage Two tax cuts. We have shifted our position on this significantly. Let's bring them forward so we can give some stimulus to the economy now. Let's deal with the Stage Three... We've got plenty of time, five years, plenty of time to deal with the Stage Three tax cuts. Everyone gets something out of Stage One and Two. Plenty of time to deal with Stage Three. Let's look at some of those concerns that Labor is legitimately raising along with many others, you know, the Grattan Institute, for example, not a flag waver for Labor ... 

MARKSON: Scott Morrison has made it very clear that this isn't you know, you said it you don't want to put your cards on the table. It's a negotiation. He's made it very clear: There is no negotiating when it comes to this, the package will not be split. They say they've got a mandate they took it to the election and this is the piece of legislation. So ultimately Labor does need to come to a position on this because when the amendments don't get through and it doesn't look like they're going to get through, you know, you need to go in to vote one way or the other so what will it be?

JONES: There's still a lot of discussions going on with the crossbenchers at the moment. We've got a position: Happy to support round one happy to support round two. In fact, bring forward round one and round two so that everyone gets some tax relief and immediately and enter into discussions with the government about phase three, we could do that immediately as well. But there are really genuine concerns about the budget implications and can I deal with that issue of mandate because there's a lot of talk around the building about it... If you accept what Scott Morrison is saying the only people who come to Parliament with a mandate are Government MPs. Nobody but a Government MP has a mandate to represent the concerns, the interests and the views of their constituents when they walk into the Parliament. Now clearly, that's not right. Clearly, there are a bunch of other MPs who have got a mandate. They've got an obligation to represent their conscience and their constituency as well and we will do that. Let's see how things unfold over the week. 

MARKSON: I think that in this election when the Government only had one key policy platform that they took to the election, you know, it was the lowest ever expenditure. It was something like $1.3 billion of new expenditure they announced in the campaign that this was their only main policy that that is why they're saying there is a mandate. But let me just be clear, you are in the camp that says that if these amendments don't go through you should not support the Government's tax package. 

JONES: We are saying the best way to show... 

MARKSON: Not we, that you personally. 

JONES: Stephen Jones: Member of the Shadow Ministry, Member of the Labor caucus is saying the best possible outcome for Australia, therefore this Parliament, is that we adopt Labor's position moving Stage One and Stage Two. Everybody not just the low and middle, everybody gets a tax cut because of that. Let's do that and if the Senate doesn't follow the wisdom, doesn't agree with us on this. Let's revisit that in a couple of days’ time, but we've got plenty of time Sharri to work through these issues.

MARKSON: There are other MPs who have a different view to you, people like Joel Fitzgibbon have been quite vocal and I know he's on with David Speers again this afternoon and, you know, the other MPs say that if the Government doesn't... If the amendments don't get through the Senate rather that you should take a pragmatic approach and pass this package or you will be the party that voted against Australians getting tax relief. 

JONES: We're not going to be the party that votes against, we're being a party that says everyone should get tax relief and they should get it earlier than the Government. Now, about Joel and about others, there's not one member of our caucus who is saying 'we think Australia's number one priority of the moment is those Stage Three tax cuts,' not one member of our caucus is saying that $90 billion, because that's what we're talking about over the medium term, nobody is saying that that is our number one priority. 

MARKSON: Of course.

JONES: They all believe that the position that we have adopted in our caucus is the best proposition. 

MARKSON: But they are taking a more pragmatic approach and I think Michelle Rowland is another MP as well, that has taken a more pragmatic approach that if you can't get the amendments through: let's support it. You are not in that camp, clearly, so how divided is Caucus on this. 

JONES: Not nearly as divided as the Coalition by the sounds of the interview you just did with Nikki Savva earlier. Not nearly as divided as the Government, we're united in ensuring we can have a policy decision...

MARKSON: But seriously how heated is behind the scenes when it comes to this policy decision, and it is a big one for Labor. 

JONES: It's not heated at all, a very collegiate discussion. I say to you: invite me on your program on Friday. Let's see what happens throughout the Senate, if our position doesn't get up or we'll review what we need to do. But you know, there's a couple of days between now and then, you know how quickly things move in here Sharri. 

MARKSON: They do move quickly. It has also been reported that Anthony Albanese has lashed out at leakers in the party room. I think Samantha Maiden wrote about that. What happened? 

JONES: Oh look Anthony had some concerns, they've been pretty well reported by now. I think all members of the Caucus have a concern that we want to ensure that we have confidential discussions and they don't end up on the front page of a newspaper or in your program Sharri. There is a big difference, I've got to say between people speaking their mind, people having differences...

MARKSON: Very hard to tell if they're speaking their mind or leaking. 

JONES: We encourage a diversity of views and opinions. That's what Labor is. 

MARKSON: Very quick response now on Israel Folau I know you've spoken in defence of his right to free speech and in defence of multiculturalism, do you think Rugby Australia should have sacked him? Do you think he should get compensation and an apology?

JONES: Look I'm not going to make comments on things that are currently before a court. I don't think the whole episode has been well-handled. I think a couple of months ago Israel Folau was a footballer with a few kooky ideas and now he's become this martyr for a cause and if you oppose what Israel Folau is saying...

MARKSON: Should they apologise?

JONES: I think there has been problems with the whole way this episode is occurred. I'm not going to enter into or enter sides in a debate which is currently before the court. And the question about whether he receives an apology or not is one of his asks before which is before the court at the moment, but I will say this: I don't think the best way to deal with those people who disagree with you is to shut them down or to vacate the territory. I don't think that ever works. Freedom of speech, he's got to take responsibility for some of the reckless things that he says that I don't think we should be cutting him down.

MARKSON: Thank you very much for your time Stephen Jones and let's see what happens this week on the tax cut.