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Posted September 14, 2016


HAMISH MACDONALD, HOST: Chris Bowen, good morning to you.


MACDONALD: I couldn't see the headphones on

BOWEN: I've got a little one in my ear so I can hear you just fine.

MACDONALD: Fantastic, thanks very much for coming on the program. Who's responsibility is this that we have a deal on the omnibus savings bill? Is it yours or the other side?

BOWEN: Well obviously Hamish, there is goodwill on both sides, that was a good faith negotiation so I don't take anything away from the Government. The Labor Party worked in good faith with the Government to deliver these savings. Now this is a good deal for the country. What we negotiated was a bigger saving that the Government was asking for, $6.3 billion instead of under 6 billion, but a fairer saving and as part of those negotiations for example we insisted on the Government not proceeding to bring the back the baby bonus. It was unsustainable. We didn't think it was right that the Government lecture people about the need to reduce spending while having a baby bonus reintroduced which was abolished by the previous Labor Government as part of some deal with the National Party. Now we thought that was important and I give credit to the Government for listening to us on it. Likewise we came up with a fairer way of dealing with the Social Security payments and we saved ARENA. These are good faith discussions which we had but we in the Labor Party, we are happy with the outcome.

MACDONALD: You saved ARENA did you because Josh Frydenberg just said it was him.

BOWEN: Well you know I'm really not interested in frankly the game about who did what in negotiations, it is a good outcome for the country. Now obviously we went to the Government and said look we cannot cop the $1.3 billion saving in ARENA but if we want to talk about something sensible let's sit down and talk about it.

MACDONALD: So you say this is a good deal for us, the public. The reality is these savings make up only a fraction of the $84 billion in combined deficits over the next four years. Are you saying that you are willing to continue striking deals with the Government to do the really hard slog on Budget repair?

BOWEN: Well $6.3 billion is a large number Hamish, let's not….

MACDONALD: But in the context of $84 billion it is a fraction.

BOWEN: There is more to do, absolutely.

MACDONALD: And will you put participate in that process?

BOWEN: What we have shown is that we are prepared to cooperate with the Government for a good policy in the national interest; Budget repair which is fair. We are not prepared to rubberstamp bad decisions, we will not do that. We are the Opposition of Australia, our job is to hold the Government to account and to oppose bad policy but where we can work across the aisle in the national interest we will. So I'll give you some examples: Bill Shorten, two weeks ago or a bit more at the National Press Club outlined a plan for superannuation. No retrospective element and it actually improves the Budget bottom-line by $1.5 billion over the next four years. Now the Government could take that up. The Government has got a terrible mess on their hands in superannuation, they've got a backbench in revolt. We are happy to help. We have put out a plan which actually fixes that problem.

MACDONALD: Will you work with them on their agenda on superannuation? The Gratten Institute recently said that superannuation reform is the real acid test for this Parliament.

BOWEN: Well with respect Hamish, we lead the debate on superannuation. We were putting out a superannuation policy when Scott Morrison was still going around the country saying this is outrageous and an attack on family incomes and we will never do it.

MACDONALD: Will you work with them on how they want to proceed?

BOWEN: Well I draw your attention to what we have already said which is there are elements of the Government’s policy that we can support. We have already said that. There are elements we can't like the retrospective tax change. But there is also new spending in there which we don't think, as justified as it might be in a perfect world, when you are talking about Budget repair can be justified and so we wouldn't proceed with that. That would save altogether $1.5 billion, together with our proposal to make the contributions tax threshold $200,000. So we have put a very sensible plan on the table for the Government which they can take up and if they want to work with us on it we are more than happy to talk about that.

MACDONALD: Speaking of which, there are $12 billion worth of so called zombie measures still stuck in the Senate, most of them from the 2014 Budget. Is there any room for compromise on any of those measures?

BOWEN: No. We have been very clear and consistent about those.

MACDONALD: So you are serious about Budget repair but not the $12 billion which they couldn't get through?

BOWEN: Well not things which are unfair Hamish. Not things which are unfair, not making unemployed wait to get Newstart for an unacceptable period. Not making people work until they are 70, the highest pension age in the world. We are just not prepared to do that. I mean we have consistently said that the 2014 Budget was fundamentally flawed, was unfair, it has been rejected by the Parliament and rejected by the people. Now what we are prepared to work with the Government on is unfair things.

So for example we went to the election saying why don't we crack down on these the VET fee help rorts in the vocational education sector. We put out a policy. The Government should adopt it or at least offer to work with the labor Party to implement it or something similar. Likewise, we have said there is sensible reforms to the private health insurance rebate. This is a massive the drain on the Budget. It could be better at targeted. We put out a policy on that in the election. If the Government chooses to take it up, or again to offer to work with the Labor Party on it then we would be happy to participate it in that. Likewise on Superannuation.

MACDONALD: Okay, the marriage plebiscite Bill will be introduced today, Labor will finally get to see the legislation. Why are you going to wait another three weeks before declaring your position on the plebiscite?

BOWEN: Well we’re only seeing the legislation today Hamish, we haven't seen it as yet. I think we have outlined pretty clearly our very deep concerns with this. Look Hamish, the Parliament….

MACDONALD: Sure, but why three weeks? That's the question.

BOWEN: Well Hamish if you would just let me finish the answer to the question. The Parliament in 2004 voted to make marriage between a man and a woman. What to the Parliament did in 2004 the Parliament should undo in 2016. That is our job, what we do is amend legislation. The Marriage Act is a piece of legislation, it is not the constitution. The Parliament amends legislation, now the Parliaments have made very important decisions on legislation since 1901 and we should continue to do so.

MACDONALD: But this Government went to the election promising a plebiscite, the Australian people voted…

BOWEN: This is a sop, this is a sop to the right wing of the Liberal Party…

MACDONALD: Hang on isn't this about what the Australian people voted for at the last election? For this Government to deliver a plebiscite?

BOWEN: Malcolm Turnbull can choose to be held hostage by the right wing of the Liberal Party, it doesn't mean the rest of us have to. The right-wing of the Liberal Party says to Malcolm Turnbull “You cannot do this in the Parliament, you cannot have a free conscience vote.” Well he can choose to be bound by that, we do not have to.

MACDONALD: But didn't the Australian people choose that option?

BOWEN: Well we’ve been very clear. We went to the election Hamish with respect saying we will want a free vote, a conscience votes in the Parliament. That is our job. That’s what we, that's what I went to my electorate with. That’s what Labor MPs went to their electorates with and we have been consulting and talking to the community about this, if you talk to members of the same-sex attracted community they have very deep concerns about a plebiscite and our job to listen to them as well. Malcolm Turnbull can fix this, Malcolm Turnbull….

MACDONALD: For years Oppositions across the political spectrum critique Governments for not holding up their election promises once they are elected. This Government was elected promising a plebiscite and you are trying to stop them from holding it aren't you?

BOWEN: Well, it's a very basic principle of parliamentary democracy which has worked pretty well since 1901 that the Parliament amends legislation. Now sometimes there is a referendum needed to amend the constitution. One of the things which annoys me about this Hamish is that there is a very important national task of achieving recognition of Indigenous Australians in the Constitution. Only the people, can do that, it can only be done by referendum. While we are having this debate about a plebiscite and making the people do want the Parliament should, we are not progressing indigenous recognition. There is not enough bandwidth in the political debate to allow us to have a referendum on indigenous recognition and a plebiscite on marriage equality at the same time. I want the Parliament to do its job and to save hundreds of millions of dollars and not have a plebiscite. I want the people to be given the opportunity to amend the constitution to recognize our indigenous first peoples because that would be a very important moment in the history of our nation. Under Malcolm Turnbull's leadership, we will get neither marriage equality or indigenous recognition if they continue to insist that a referendum or a plebiscite is necessary on marriage equality and that is the national priority.

MACDONALD: All right, we will to leave it there. Appreciate your time this morning.

BOWEN: My great pleasure Hamish.

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