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Posted September 07, 2016

CHRIS BOWEN, SHADOW TREASURER: Thanks everybody. I'll deal with two matters and then I've got time for a few questions after that. Thanks for coming to this press conference. Obviously today national accounts; Australia has had 25 years of uninterrupted economic growth entering its 26th. That is something to be celebrated as a nation, as I mentioned in my speech just a few moments ago.
Of course many Australians have worked hard for that outcome, Australians working right across our economy. Previous reforms, particularly by Labor Governments in the 1980s and 90s and of course the Rudd Labor Government getting Australia through the Global Financial Crisis without recession otherwise we wouldn't be able to celebrate that quarter of a century of growth. But of course there are elements of this report which are concerning. We see quarter on quarter growth halving; we see a big part of the growth coming from Government consumption which is ironic for a Government which lectures the Australian people about the need to reduce expenditure.
The only reason we have a positive quarter of growth is a surge in Government spending over the last quarter and of course private figures are down and concerning. So of course this underlines the case that a slogan about jobs and growth is not a plan for jobs and growth. Talking about jobs and growth does not deliver jobs and growth. We need a Government focused on measures to improve productivity, competitiveness like infrastructure, like the NBN and like investing in our most important resource: our people through education and training.
Secondly of course the Government has released today rather bizarrely the spending part of their superannuation package, but not the revenue part. For a Government which again lectures people about fiscal responsibility out there saying how they will spend money on superannuation but they can't answer a question about how they will raise money in superannuation to pay for it because they are internally at war.
Now Labor on the other hand has put out a responsible way forward. There are measures in the plan that the Government has announced today which may be worthy in a perfect world but cannot be afforded with the budget pressure we are under, the nation is under. Hence we have opposed those measures and are willing to save the Government $1.5 billion over the forward estimates. The Government is insisting on proceeding with those. We are taking a much more responsible approach but what is most irresponsible is Treasurer Morrison releasing a plan about how he will spend money when he cannot answer a question about how he will raise it because his plans announced in the Budget are in tatters; opposed by members of his own Government, the superannuation sector has pointed out how they can't work. We have put forward a way forward which will avoid retrospective element of the Government's changes and would still raise more money for the Government by not proceeding with some of the measures announced today.
Of course Labor welcomes the measures to improve the taxation treatment for low income earners when it comes to superannuation. We called on the Government to do that. The Government abolished them in the first place. We said it was fundamentally unfair for them to be abolished, we called for them to be restored. So we welcome that. These other measures can't be afforded in a fiscally responsible way in these times and hence we oppose them and will oppose them in the Parliament. Happy to take some questions.
JOURNALIST: Mr Bowen, missing from your interest register in the 44th and 45th Parliament was the fact that you are a Patron of the Council for the Peaceful Reunification of China. What was included though was your membership of The Marconi Club, The Greater Western Sydney Giants. Are you trying to hide something?
BOWEN: No not at all, and in relation to that I think over 12 years in Parliament I have attended two events of that organisation that I can recall, both very large dinners in Sydney very well patronised by senior members of political parties of both persuasions, Premiers, former Prime Ministers and the like. I am told by a newspaper that my name was on the list as a patron that is now nice. That is not of my doing that I had that removed. I do recall that at one of the functions somebody mentioned to me that I would be an appropriate patron, as I know the former patrons were Gough Whitlam, Bob Hawke, and Malcolm Frasier. Obviously I would have said that that would be something that I would be very open to and welcome to but the fact that my name was on the website was something I read in the newspaper.
JOURNALIST: Have you ever relied on a private donor to pay any bills associated with your personal office arrangements?
JOURNALIST: Mr Bowen, the economic growth is slightly still growing; does the Government not deserve some credit for that?
BOWEN: Well of course I welcome the headline figures and I point out though that the result is largely the result of Government spending, both Federal and State. We need to see broad based growth driven by the private sector. I would have thought the Treasurer would have that view. Of course I welcome the headline figure and of course I particularly welcome a quarter of a century of economic growth, the longest period of economic growth in our nation’s history which is the result of the hard work of many Australians and the reforms by Governments over that quarter of a century.
JOURNALIST: Why would Senator Sam Dastyari rely on donors to pay some of his –
BOWEN: Well he held a press conference yesterday, and he can speak for himself. He has made a mistake; he has paid the price for that in the public debate that is quite obvious.
JOURNALIST: Is it common? Is it common practice?
BOWEN: Not to my knowledge, no.
JOURNALIST: Mr Bowen, what was the purpose of a recent trip taken by the Australian Guangdong Chamber of Commerce of which you were a part? Can you tell us about that?
BOWEN: Firstly, as the alternative Treasurer it is very important that I am engaged with the Chinese economy. I went to China twice last term, once as a guest of Fortescue Metals Group as declared in my peculiarly interests register to attend a forum, appropriate. As the alternative Treasurer I should go to China, the Treasurer should go to China, I would be negligent if I didn't go to China. The Treasurer quite rightly has the resources of Government to travel, Opposition does not. Second trip I was a guest of the Chinese Government in the form of the Communist Party with assistance from the Chamber of Commerce. The purpose of the visit: I met with Financial Services and Financial Secretary of Hong Kong, visited a high performing school, had a briefing with JP Morgan Investment Bank, briefing from the Australian Embassy in Beijing, a meeting with the Vice Minister of the Chinese Government, meetings with officials from the Department of Finance and visited JD com, one of China's largest e-commerce companies, quite appropriate. Any other questions?
JOURNALIST: Mr Bowen, what is the nature all of your relationship, if any, with Minchin Zhu from the Top Education Institute and with Huang Xiangmo, forgive my pronunciation, the Chairman of Yuhu and the Australian Guangdong Chamber of Commerce? Do you know both those men, have you had meetings with those men?
BOWEN: I've met them at various functions and meetings. Mr Zhu runs Top Education who has lobbied Government over years, in fact the lobbying the he wanted in relation to International education I was not able to agree with when I was Minister for Tertiary Education. I've met the other gentlemen that you referred to at various functions.
JOURNALIST: A passing relationship, how would you characterise it?
BOWEN: I would know them, I know who they are.
JOURNALIST: Do you still have confidence in Sam Dastyari?
BOWEN: Look, he has made a mistake, he says he has made a mistake, he is paying the price for that mistake in the public debate and of course I regard him as a valued colleague who has an important contribution to make to Australia in the future. So the answer to the question is yes.
JOURNALIST: Mr Bowen, I’ve just got a couple of questions on the economy, if that’s alright?
BOWEN: I would be delighted.
JOURNALIST: Wages earnings are down, how would Labor boost that given the current climate?
BOWEN: Well it is interesting that we have the lowest wages growth since records began. The Government not that long ago was telling us that there was a wages break out, and that was the need for a tough approach to wages. The best way to have good wages growth is a good economy and a fair economy with trade unions playing an important in negotiations with that growth and wages being reflected by a good economy and broad-based growth which I was referring to, so I don't think that Australian workers need to be lectured by the Government and told there is a wages break out when clearly they're just isn't one.
JOURNALIST: What about the Government’s plan to slash company tax? Is there a merit in that given that investments is quite sluggish also?
BOWEN: Well, we are having this debate about budget repair and the biggest hit on the Budget is a $50 billion black hole created by this Government by giving away money to corporate tax payers. Now, how can you say that the Budget is in desperate need of structural repair at the same time arguing for a policy, unfunded, to give away $50 billion over the next decade? So we maintain our position, we are happy to support the measures for small business and we have done in the past, but this just can’t be afforded and is not reasonable.
JOURNALIST: Finally, the farmland register is out today and it shows that China is placed fifth in terms of ownership of agricultural land. Do you think that’s an accurate reflection of the situation? The fact that less than half a percent of land is…
BOWEN: I’m sure it’s accurate, I’m sure it reflects what I have known to be the case for some time. Labor said we would do this in office, the Government said it would match us. The Government could put out and should put more information, because public transparency is important. And the Treasurer comes out today like it is a big revelation that there isn’t much Chinese investment agriculture, like it’s big news, when that has been the case for a very long time. I think this is a valuable contribution to the public debate, providing more transparency like Labor promised to do in office.  
JOURNALIST: Do you think some of the commentary around Chinese foreign investment in particular, in recent months, has been overblown?
BOWEN: Well the Government can answer for themselves. They’ve made a lot of their commentary in relation to residential investment has part of their answer on housing affordability. Now I have never thought that kicking people out of multimillion dollar mansions on Sydney Harbour was an answer on housing affordability. The law of the land should be enforced as I have repeatedly said. To pretend that this is some sort of answer to housing affordability is plain wrong. I think that in relation to agriculture, the Government can account for its own rhetoric. But the Labor Party went to the last election with a pro-foreign investment policy when it comes to agricultural land and agribusiness, saying there shouldn’t be a distinction for agribusiness and the threshold for investment in agricultural land should be higher, because we believe in the capital infusion that comes with an appropriately robust foreign investment framework.
JOURNALIST: (Inaudible)
BOWEN: I am happy to participate in the public debate. China is our largest trading partner. As I said, I make no apologies for visiting China twice in the last term. It would be negligent if I didn’t, as the alternative Treasurer. I would never criticise the Treasurer for going to China or any other major economy, trading partner, for that matter.
JOURNALIST: (Inaudible)
BOWEN: Well again, Sam has said that he has made a mistake. Obviously I agree with him on that, it was a mistake. In relation to travel that I have been asked about at the press conference, I am more than happy to answer any questions on it. It is fully declared. Just as the Liberal Party did with overseas travel, with private sponsors, when they were in Opposition. That’s what oppositions need to do. I don’t think you’ll find we were critical of that or would be critical of that in the future.
JOURNALIST: Does Mr Dastyari owe us an explanation over why he sought…
BOWEN: He held a very long press conference on this yesterday, and as I said, he’s paying the price for his mistake.
Thanks very much.

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