5 June 2019




DAVID BEVAN: Penny Wong, can we begin with you? It’s not clear whether or not Centre Alliance will support the Government’s tax package. Where does that leave Labor? Has the Opposition settled on its position?

PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: No, we’ll work through that. I would make two points. One part of the tax package doesn’t kick in until after the next election, so 2024. I would say this to Rex, Stirling and Rebekha, if you’re considering voting for this – I notice that Rex is saying they’re looking at it carefully – they should require the Government to disclose the fact that they kept hidden through the whole election campaign just how much money is going to high-income earners. The indication is it’s about $77 billion goes to people earning over $180,000 a year. Simon was asked, I think, more than 10 times during the campaign and refused to answer. I think that’s a relevant fact for Senators to consider when they’re looking at the package.

BEVAN: The initial bit though, the bit that will end up in people’s pockets soon, that’s going to be for low-income earners.

WONG: We’ve already said we’d support that. In fact, it’s interesting isn’t it? All through the election campaign Scott Morrison told Australians that that could be passed before the 30th of June, all the while knowing he’d already written to the Governor-General saying that the writs would be returned on the 28th of June. In other words he knew there was no way Parliament could sit before the 30th of June. As Albo said yesterday, he’s broken the record of election promises broken. He actually broke it during the election campaign.

BEVAN: Okay, so can you run those figures by us again? You say that – was it $77 billion?

WONG: Well this is not my tax package, perhaps you should ask Simon?

BEVAN: We will in a moment, but what are you saying will go to people earning over $180,000?

WONG: The public figure which the Government refused to confirm or deny was $77 billion in the tax package for people earning over $180,000.

BEVAN: That’s a lot of money.

WONG: It is a lot of money. In fact there was an independent body that suggested it was in excess of $80 billion. An ABC Fact Check said this was a reasonable figure, so we’re just waiting for the Government to tell people.

ALI CLARKE: Well, Simon Birmingham, the floor is yours.

SENATOR SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well what the tax package actually does is give the greatest share of benefits to low- and middle-income earners.

CLARKE: But will you be giving $77 billion to people who are earning over $180,000?

BIRMINGHAM: What it does Ali for those top five per cent of income earners on the top tax bracket is it sees them pay a higher share of income tax overall. It reduces income tax paid by virtually all Australians, but it does see those on the top income tax bracket go from paying currently – currently they pay, that top five per cent, around 32 per cent of income tax in Australia. That top five per cent of income earners will go to paying around 36 per cent of income tax in Australia.

CLARKE: So Simon Birmingham, the figure that Penny Wong is chasing though is will you confirm that this figure of $77 billion will be spread over those who are earning over $180,000?

BIRMINGHAM: Well Ali, the point I’m trying to make clear to you is that it’s misleading to say that there’s some disproportionate benefit. In fact, those high-income earners will end up paying a higher share of the total income tax collected.

WONG: Why won’t you give the figures?

BIRMINGHAM: We’re cutting income tax, cutting income tax. Yes people benefit across a whole range of wage brackets, but what we’re doing in particular is abolishing the current 37 cents in the dollar tax bracket and that tax bracket kicks in far lower than that. What we’re doing is making sure that if you’re earning anywhere upwards of $45,000 ultimately, you’re going to have the opportunity to get a pay rise, work an extra shift, do all of that without actually being pushed into a higher tax bracket until you get up to that top tax bracket, which is unchanged. The top tax bracket in terms is still staying at the 47 cents in the dollar rate.

BEVAN: Is it fair to say, Simon Birmingham, that the mood in the Coalition Government is not to compromise? You just won an election so you’re not going to roll over within a few weeks and start breaking up your tax bill?

BIRMINGHAM: It is fair to say that we talked extensively through the election campaign about abolishing the impact of bracket creep on low- and middle-income earners as a core part of our campaign and our policies we took to the election. I think it would be quite remarkable if the Labor Party’s first act under Anthony Albanese was to vote against tax relief for hardworking Australians.

BEVAN: But what this means Simon Birmingham – because you guys are so cocky because you won the election you won’t compromise on your bill, but you haven’t got control of the Senate?

BIRMINGHAM: No no, David…

BEVAN: You haven’t got control of the Senate and ordinary Australians are going to miss out because you won’t compromise?

BIRMINGHAM: David, it’s not about being cocky, it’s about putting to the Parliament the policies we took to the election. That’s what we’re going to do – put to the Parliament the policies we took to the election. Yes, we did win the election, we are continuing with government of Australia and we want to implement the policies that we took to the election so that everybody gets every dollar of tax relief that we promised during that election campaign.

WONG: If there’s every dollar, why won’t you tell Australians on this show now, how much is going to people earning over $180,000? We believe the figure is $77 billion, how much do you say it is?

BIRMINGHAM: Penny, why doesn’t the Labor Party accept the reality…

WONG: See, he won’t tell you. All of your listeners can be aware, he will not tell you the figure.

BIRMINGHAM: Penny, you’re trying to demonise people on higher incomes…

WONG: No, I’m not. I’m not demonising them, no.

BIRMINGHAM: Even though the tax reforms that we are putting forward will see them pay a higher share of income tax into the future.

WONG: It’s a reasonable question, Simon. It’s a reasonable question and you refuse to answer it. End of story.

BEVAN: I’m taking it for granted Cory Bernardi, Australian Conservatives Leader, you’re going to sign off on the tax package in terms of your vote for the Senate, so we can move on to another topic.

Cory Bernardi let’s start with you on this issue of faith and the election. We’ve got a copy of a letter, it was an email, that was sent out by a northern suburbs Pentecostal church and it featured online and in an article by Malcolm Sutton, who has done a very good piece on this for the ABC. Basically this church leader encouraged his congregation to not vote Labor or Greens. I’ll just have a read of a portion of it, he says:

“Our decision on who to vote at the election needs to be informed by the knowledge that Labor and The Greens have made statements publicly about the freedoms that we have today.

There is no doubting their intentions and while I have previously never encouraged anyone to vote for a party in the Lower House, I do want to make you well aware that a vote for Labor and The Greens and anyone who represents anti-Christian rhetoric, policy positions or beliefs will undermine our nation.

This is the next step in the assault against the Church, Christianity, and Christians in Australia.

The next steps after this will be to deem the Bible as hate speech.”

Cory Bernardi, Australian Conservatives, are you picking up this sentiment?

BERNARDI: Well there are many in the faith community who are deeply concerned about religious freedom and that’s reflected actually in the Coalition. But I’m not sure why this is any cause for concern or alarm. This is a group of like-minded people in a community organisation that are encouraging others to vote for their own interests. It’s just like the Friends of the ABC saying don’t vote for the Coalition because they are going to cut ABC funding or The Wilderness Society saying vote for The Greens because they’re going to be helping our cause. There is nothing inappropriate about this.

BEVAN: I’m not suggesting there is anything inappropriate. They are perfectly entitled to lobby in any way they see fit. Frankly, if you close down the ABC life would go on. But what they are saying is this is an attack on a fundamental part of our society and that is religious freedom.

I mean it goes on to say that “As followers of Christ, this election comes down to a simple proposition of whether you and I believe in freedom of religion”.

BERNARDI: People will prioritise different issues. Certainly the freedom agenda is one that concerns many, not just of faith but those who recognise the role that free speech plays – freedom of thought and freedom of worship plays. And we’ve seen various assaults on these freedoms, both overt and covert assaults, and certainly it should be a priority for this government, I think, to prioritise protecting our freedoms.

Now how best to do that is a challenge. I introduced a Protected Freedoms Bill last year into the Senate and I’ll do so again this year in this Parliament because I believe that our freedoms are under assault in this country.

BEVAN: Penny Wong, does Labor have a problem with conservative religion?

WONG: I want to make a few points about the letter that you’ve read out before I come to that if I may.

I think the first point is that all parties support freedom of religion and that is in fact a principle of our democracy and under our Constitution.

The second point about the letter is that it makes some assertions which are simply untrue. It makes the assertion that Labor and The Greens somehow have anti-Christian propositions in their platform and the only thing they could be pointing to is something that even Scott Morrison supported, that people didn’t believe that religious school should have the right to expel children just because they were gay.

One of the points in the letter is that the Bible would be deemed hate speech. That is simply untrue and it is disappointing that something that is not truthful was put into a letter.

There are people of many different faiths and there are people who are of faith but don’t share the view that some people do in relation, for example, to issues of sexual orientation. So there are Christians who supported marriage equality. The majority of Catholics in fact voted for marriage equality, in the previous plebiscite.

I do think that we need to have a respectful discussion around these issues. It would be a pity in Australia – a country which I think has had a very good history of ensuring that we respectfully discuss different views, different faiths, whether it’s Christian faith, Muslim faith or others – if this turned into a partisan political issue. I would hope that we could have a more respectful discussion on that. I hope all political parties would avert this becoming a highly partisan issue.

BEVAN: Should Israel Folau lose his job?

WONG: That is a contractual matter.

BEVAN: Eric Abetz says it’s not.

WONG: Well Eric can say that. I just think employers do have to determine what they regard as appropriate aspects of the employment contract that goes beyond these sorts of issues.

I don’t agree with his views. He holds them and he’s entitled to hold them. The question is whether his employment contract enables him to use a platform to promulgate them. That is a matter between him and Rugby (Australia).

More broadly, I would prefer to have a society where, regardless of our views, we didn’t speak about each other in ways that were this divisive.

CLARKE: Simon Birmingham would you like to comment?

BIRMINGHAM: I hope that this Parliament will be in a position to progress religious freedom laws, those that provide for anti-discrimination rights for people of faith in a sensible and bipartisan way. I do think this is an issue that we don’t wish to see play out in a political sense.

The recommendations for there to be some sort of religious freedom legislation that provide certain protections was the recommendation of a Senate Committee looking into the marriage equality law some time ago. It was a joint committee and, I understand, a joint recommendation, that was then followed through with a further recommendation from the review Philip Ruddock led for the government in looking at religious freedom. What we have done is ask the Australian Law Reform Commission to do some drafting work.

BEVAN: Would you agree with Penny Wong that that letter is factually incorrect? I know you and Penny Wong had a tense moment during the election campaign…

WONG: We’ve made up.

BEVAN: That’s good, that’s good. We like to bring people together on this program.

WONG: We did it without you but we can give you credit if you like. But we basically caught up and it’s okay.

BIRMINGHAM: Peace in our time.

BEVAN: But Senator Birmingham, Senator Wong finds this letter has errors in it and I don’t want to put words in Penny Wong’s mouth but I think she finds it unhelpful. Do you agree with her on that front?

BIRMINGHAM: I saw the letter for the first time probably half ago when your producer sent it through. I think it is for the author of the letter to defend, or otherwise, its content. I understand people have various views. In the end I think what’s important here is that how we tackle the issues.

Penny and I have had private discussions about the importance of protecting matters of faith and respecting those matters just as we’ve also had private and public debates about the need to respect and protect all people’s rights in terms of not being discriminated against, whether that is their faith or their sexuality or their age or their gender or any of those other factors.

What I hope we can sensibly do as a Parliament is come together around legislation that gives people of faith confidence that they will not be discriminated against, just as we try to provide the same confidence to other groups in our society.

CLARKE: Simon Birmingham thank you very much. Penny Wong there as well and Cory Bernardi from the Australian Conservatives.

Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.