Thursday, 10 May 2018

6PR – Mornings with Gareth Parker



Subjects: High Court Decision; 2018 Budget; Arthur Greer parole

GARETH PARKER: Attorney-General Christian Porter, good morning.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Good morning, Gareth

GARETH PARKER: Is Scott Morrison dirty on you and the High Court for stealing his thunder?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well I mean, we probably wouldn't have chosen that particular day but of course, the High Court makes its determination at law, and as a matter of process, so yeah, it was an unusual day to have it but just had to be dealt with.

GARETH PARKER: It certainly was an unusual day. I can't recall in recent times a budget being so shunted from the front of the Canberra news cycle so quickly. But it endures. I'll ask you about the Budget in a minute.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: The Budget will be back because there's, I mean, great things in it, great things for WA, I think the tax reform is truly structural and very important. Moving to a personal income tax system where you have effectively a flat rate of tax for everyone between 40,000 and 200,000 is a very significant and welcome reform for Australia, I think.

GARETH PARKER: Are you going to be able to get it through the Parliament? That's the big question.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I believe we will be able to get it through. And it's going to take a lot of work, obviously with the Senate crossbench but immediately it gives very substantial tax relief to middle and low income earners, in excess of $500 a year, and if you've got two people working, that's $1000. And that is very, very significant. But added to that immediate tax relief is this restructuring of the tax system, and having a flatter, simpler, fairer tax system. And it's very good for WA because traditionally we've had a greater percentage of our population working, working harder, earning more than the rest of Australia, and paying more tax. And for a hardworking state like WA to get this sort of structural change of the tax system, I think, is going to be great for our local economy. And I think there's a very persuasive case to bring the crossbench with us.

GARETH PARKER: It's quite a departure from the sort of progressive nature of our income tax system that's featured for decades. I mean, I think what, 95 per cent of people who are taxpayers earn between $40,000 and $200,000. There are some who will say; well, that is fair because everyone's paying the same rate, and obviously if you earn more you pay more tax. But the counter-argument is; well, why should someone earning $195,000 a year pay the same rate of tax as someone earning, say, $50,000 a year.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, what we're trying to get to obviously is a flatter system where around about 90 per cent of people will pay that flat rate of tax between 40,000 and 200,000. And the great benefit of those flatter tax systems is that they are simpler, easier to administer, fairer but they don't punish people who work harder and earn more. And I find with my constituents, they are very conscious of the idea that if you get a promotion or you work longer hours that you get thumped for it in terms of the tax that you pay. So, the incentive structure that it creates means that everyone benefits in the long run. And I think that that has been something that has been born out in countries with flatter tax systems than Australia. And look, I mean, look at the rates of taxation for personal income tax that are levied in New Zealand. I mean, we do not want to be uncompetitive, and we want to reward Australians and West Australians who work hard and earn more.

GARETH PARKER: Is it credible to say we've got a seven year tax plan that we're going to legislate now but it extends beyond the next election and then the election beyond that and potentially the election beyond that?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I think it's all about affordability. And I think it is credible because we're seeking to legislate it now, like right now. And of course, as we've noted there's very significant tax relief for lower and middle income families right up, and yes over time we want to have this structural reform to a flatter simpler fairer system. I think it is credible and I think we will get it through the Parliament. I think it's what people want.

GARETH PARKER: Well they may want to but I wonder, is it affordable? I think that's the big unknowable. Last year, for example, you were on this program and everywhere else saying we need to increase the rate of tax to pay for the NDIS; one year on everything's changed because things change, economies change, budgets go up, budgets go down, the economy turns. But I just wonder whether it is, in fact, affordable when you're making these long run projections.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, again, the two sides to your question are, one is it affordable and is it too long? And the reason why it's taking a bit longer is that's what makes it affordable. And yet things have changed very significantly since last year as Scott Morrison, the Treasurer, has noted, and they've changed for the better. Record job creation last year, the economy is growing, that improves the revenue base and the lynchpin for this budget is that we're able to bring forward the projected surplus by a year. And critically that's what allows us to turn the tide on debt and start paying down debt. The surplus is the operating balance that allows you to pay down debt. And what we inherited was surpluses from- deficits from Labor as far as the eye can see, and it has taken an enormous amount of work to get expenditure restrained to grow the economy, which has in no small part been because of the fact that we've been willing to give company and small business tax cuts to all businesses with a turnover of less than 50 million. And this is in excess of three million businesses that employ six million Australians. So, what we've been doing, I would argue, is working and demonstrably so.

GARETH PARKER: Sure. Forgive me if I hold the champagne until you actually deliver the surplus but we'll wait and see, that's in the future…

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Yeah, we're not popping any corks yet.

GARETH PARKER: Yesterday, Bill Shorten said that the High Court had handed down a new test for MPs who have fallen foul of Section 44 of the Constitution. Is he having a lend?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I mean, it's outrageous that he's still maintaining this position and pretending that anyone believes it. And what’s interesting is that he and Tony Burke and Mark Dreyfus got out and try this point on. None of them refer to the decision. I haven't heard them read a single sentence from it because anyone who reads it; and I don't expect all that many people will, which is probably what Bill Shorten's relying on; anyone who reads it knows that is wrong. I mean, I'll just read you a very quick sentence from it: The Attorney-General's primary submission is clearly correct, it reflects the law stated in Sykes and Cleary and Re Canavan – i.e. the previous decisions, there's nothing new in this; the principal submission of the Commonwealth Attorney- General is that it is not enough for a candidate merely to have taken reasonable steps to renounce his or her foreign citizenship that primary submission is clearly correct. There's nothing new in this it just reaffirms what we knew in October of last year and that is when these individuals should have taken the action that they took yesterday, and resigned. But here we are.

GARETH PARKER: So, to be clear, the test was that you had to have rescinded your second or third citizenship on the date that you nominated unless the country you were trying to rescind made it so difficult that only reasonable steps were necessary?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Correct. I mean, reasonable steps only applied to, it was activated by a narrow set of circumstances which you've described where the foreign country made it impossibly difficult for you to renounce. And of course, Britain's not one of those countries. And what Shorten, and Dreyfus did since October last year, is just muddy the waters, delay for political purposes when they must have known and did know because it's so clear that those three Labor members were not eligible to sit in Parliament. And so, we had to go through this incredibly costly exercise for the High Court to confirm what we already knew in October. And when you read that decision, I don't think it's an unfair thing to say that the Court is effectively saying: Gee, we thought we made it really clear last time, but to the extent that it can be made any clearer, this is it.

GARETH PARKER: Very quickly in the last 30 seconds we've got, I read with interest in The West that you say you wouldn't have released Arthur Greer. There is a compelling argument, is there not, to say that there is no reason that this bloke should consume a single extra dollar of taxpayers' money, and he gets on a plane and goes back to the UK and he's no longer our problem?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I mean part of criminal sentencing is punishment. Like, there's a very strong, if not dominant, punitive part particularly with horrendous offences like the one that was committed here. And I think something that is very, very critical in this matter, and I know that we've had this discussion in WA about no-body, no-parole; This individual has shown no remorse, no contrition, doesn't acknowledge that he committed the offence, and were it not for an accidental discovery, we would never have found out where this poor victim's body was. And so, all of this talk about no-body, no-parole, this is a bloke who fell into the category of never acknowledging the offence, where the body was, any contrition, or remorse. And in those circumstances, yes, it costs money to keep the person in prison but so be it if that is the just outcome.

GARETH PARKER: Thanks Christian.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Pleasure Gareth cheers