SUBJECT/S: ALP National Conference, Federal Election, Offshore Processing and ATO Tax Transparency Report.

ALI MOORE: If the opinion polls keep going as they are we could have a new government early next year after the Federal Election. That means that this year's ALP National Conference will be watched just that little bit more closely. It also probably means that rather than the policy battles and vigorous debates of the past, you can probably remember those ALP National Conferences that used to make the front pages of the headlines and the top stories on the TV news but this time it could well be a case of nothing to see here. Wayne Swan is President of the ALP Federally. Wayne Swan, good morning.

WAYNE SWAN: Good morning.

HOST: You are gathering in Adelaide on Sunday for three days. Is it going to be a very vigorous contest of ideas, or all good, not a time for self-indulgence?

SWAN: ALP Conferences are always a vigorous contest of ideas, so I don't have any doubt about that. The fact it's happening close to Christmas is something that we didn't want but were forced into this by the bastardy of Malcolm Turnbull but nevertheless we welcome a vigorous contest of ideas at our conference and I think that's what the Australian public are looking for.

HOST: Perhaps a little less vigorous given it's so close not to Christmas but to the Federal Election?

SWAN: Look, I think everybody is aware of the importance of this conference, the conference outlines a framework within which a Labor Government operates and we take our responsibilities pretty seriously. There are big challenges in the country and we're going to debate the ideas about how we go forward and we really want the public to be involved in what's going on at the conference, to listen to the contest because they don’t get that opportunity with anybody else as the Liberal Party operates behind closed doors.

 HOST: So who goes to this conference, every state and territory sends a whole lot of delegates?

SWAN: Yeah that's right there's something like 400 delegates. It’s proportionate so it depends upon the size of the state and there is the state and territory leaders they are there as well. So it's a pretty big conference and it's a huge exercise and enormously costly to do but it's a part of democracy if you like and being a truly representative party.

HOST: Well if it is a party of all that what are the key issues do you think? And what sort of changes to the policy platform can we expect? I guess if I start with Industrial Relations there does appear to be pressure to re-embrace industry-wide bargaining. As a former Treasurer you'd have firm views on that?

SWAN: Yeah I do and I think that's an issue – its time has come but it's not just a question of industrial relations it’s how all these policies come together and putting forward a program to tackle inequality and to create prosperity and spread opportunity. So the policies all come together, there's industrial relations policy, there's a broader economic policy, there’s universal access to health and education. All of these things are critical to living standards and the ability of the economy to create the quality jobs of the future. We'll be focusing on all of those issues of which industrial relations is a very important part because you've seen this wage suppression in this country which is driving higher inequality, lower living standards and lower incomes for many people. So I think that there will be a real focus on industrial relations but it’s how that connects with all the other policies as well.

HOST: But do you think that you will actually change the policy platform to re embrace industry-wide bargaining or is that an unpalatable option and you'd look more at trying to only embrace industry-wide bargaining for specific low-paid industries? How do you do that, how do you separate that?

SWAN: Well I mean, ultimately these decisions will be taken by a Labor Government if we are elected. What we're doing at the conference is putting in place the framework and the direction. I think there's general agreement across the community that collective bargaining as it is currently constituted is failing. We've got record low wage (growth) and a record low wage share in the economy which is leading to weaker economic growth, higher inequality and lower living standards for working people. So we're going to discuss the bargaining framework and we're going to look at all of the alternatives and we'll have a debate about that.

HOST: And you will change your policy do you think at the end of it?

SWAN: Well I’m not going to pre-empt the outcome of the conference but I think there is very strong agreement that the current collective bargaining framework is not working for the economy and certainly not working for individual workers in our community. I think there will be some change in that direction but I'm not going to pre-empt that on your program today. I'm the President and I respect the wishes of the conference, I’m sure there'll be some substantial changes in this area.

HOST: Another issue that has been sort of bumping around the conference of course is the offshore detention of asylum seekers do you see that, as also being a key area of debate over the weekend and early next week?

SWAN: I think there's enormous interest in this issue as there should be. The broad framework of offshore processing, regional resettlement and turn-backs where safe I think it is one that is accepted more broadly across the party but people are angered by the current approach of the current Government which is to lock people up indefinitely, that’s inhuman and it is certainly destructive not only for the individuals involved but for Australia's reputation and standing around the world.

HOST: I know that you're saying that there's going to be a vigorous debate as there usually is at these ALP conferences but Wayne Swan, in the lead-up to an election you really don't want to show divisions do you?  I mean this is the time where a nice quiet united front serves you best.

SWAN: I think we want a united front but there's a lot of passion in our party and I hope it goes through the conference. Everybody understands the importance of unity particularly given the shambles that we are seeing in the current Government and have experienced over the last decade or so. And I think the Labor Party has recognized that unity of purpose and talking about the country rather than ourselves is absolutely critical to the success of the conference but more importantly, long term the success of the country.

HOST: Just a final question as a former Treasurer you would have seen the latest tax transparency figures from the ATO. About a third of big companies paid no tax for various reasons like tax losses and concessions, no suggestion that they're doing the wrong thing but is it good enough?

SWAN: No, there's too much tax evasion out there. We've seen signs that we're finally catching up with the tax termites, largely because of legislation I've put in place as Treasurer.

HOST: The tax termites, what are the tax termites? Who are they?

SWAN: Big companies like BHP that have been out there evading their responsibilities. BHP was forced to settle with the Tax Office only a couple of weeks ago using legislation that I passed as Treasurer in 2012. The fact that we've got these rules comes from legislation that I've put in place in 2013 which was then opposed by the Liberals. So we've got a lot more transparency that's forcing more companies to come forward and be more honest in their operations. There are plenty of honest taxpayers out there in Corporate Australia but unfortunately there are some tax termites. And the Tax Office is starting to catch up with those but also what we've got now is a surge in tax revenue. Revenues are up about a hundred billion on what they were in 2013. And that's what's driving our return to surplus rather than the current policies of the Morrison government.

HOST: I know I did say that was a final question but I do have to ask you, what did you make of Kevin Rudd's assessment of you in his memoir?

SWAN: I’m not going to buy into that. The points I made before about unity are absolutely critical. Obviously I've got an alternative point of view I’ve outlined that in a book I published some time ago people could read what I’ve had to say and what Kevin has had to say and make up their own mind.

HOST: All right so you're definitely in for a very busy weekend.

SWAN: Certainly

HOST: All right thank you very much Wayne Swan we might catch up with the ALP next week post conference.

SWAN: Good to talk to you.



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