21 January 2018
Transcript - #2018001, 2018

Press conference, Sydney

SUBJECTS: Over 400,000 jobs created in 2017 under the Coalition Government; Enterprise Tax Plan; Defence; bushfires

TREASURER:

2017 was a year of extraordinary jobs growth in Australia, over 400,000 jobs created in the year. More than 1000 jobs every, single day. That was the strongest calendar growth in jobs we have seen on record. That is great news for the hundreds of thousands of Australians, including young Australians, who are able to get out there, find a job, get in a job, and stick in a job and I commend all the Australian businesses who were out there making those jobs last year.

Now, 2018 is going to be another year of opportunity for the Australian economy. I have great faith in the Australian businesses who will be going out there, and the Australians working hard, to realise those opportunities. They need to be supported with the right policies. That means easing the tax burden, both on Australian businesses and on hardworking Australians. That's what the Government is focused on in 2018 as we work towards the Budget and as we come back to the Parliament and seek support for the Enterprise Tax Plan that will give businesses the further encouragement and the further opportunity to realise their opportunities in 2018. We are already seeing the dramatic impacts in the United States of the changes to their tax rates for businesses in America. We have the opportunity, now, to catch up. We had the opportunity before to get ahead. As a result of the obstruction from the Labor Party, we were unable to do that. Now we have to pass these tax cuts to ensure our businesses can compete and continue to create the jobs they were so successful in creating in 2017. So, 2018 is a year of economic opportunity for Australians and the Government will be working hard alongside Australians to ensure that they can realise those opportunities.

QUESTION:

Could you say what sort of practical steps you are going to try to negotiate through the Senate to get some of this up and running?

TREASURER:

Again, the Enterprise Tax Plan Bill will be voted on when we come back and enter the Parliament. It was introduced last year, for the second time. That Bill, it is for the Labor party to support to ensure its passage through both houses of the Australian Parliament. After all, it's the Labor party who used to support these precise changes when they'd previously been in Government. But Bill Shorten and Chris Bowen, on the record saying and believing that reducing the tax burden on Australian businesses is good for the economy, good for jobs, good for growth and so it's up to them to be true to their word and support what they said they once believed in, and act on those changes in the Parliament. Now we'll obviously work with the cross bench in the Senate, when the Bill goes back to the Senate, but the real responsibility for ensuring Australian businesses can remain competitive and continue to generate these jobs is for the Labor party to climb down and support this policy to ensure that Australian businesses can get on with the job so Australians can continue to get into jobs.

QUESTION:

Treasurer, economists say that these tax cuts will only be good for all Australians if companies actually pass on the benefits. How can you make sure that happens?

TREASURER:

We're already seeing in the United States that is the behaviour of those businesses that are receiving those tax cuts. We've already seen, in more recent times, when the small business tax cuts pass through the Parliament, the strong lift in jobs growth we saw after March of this year when the tax cuts finally passed the Parliament. Reducing that tax burden on small, medium businesses, we've already seen the benefits of that and we want to go further to ensure that goes right across the economy. We already have tax cuts legislated for businesses that employ more than half the Australians in the labour force today. Now we want to make sure all Australians working in businesses get the benefits of those tax cuts, which means for them stronger opportunities for wage growth and greater job security.

QUESTION:

May I ask a question about the recent OECD report, I understand in that particular report there was a three tiered approach to this which involved dropping the company tax rate, along with the personal tax rate, but also broadening and hiking the GST. The GST, is that something you'd look at changing?

TREASURER:

No.

QUESTION:

And why not?

TREASURER:

That matter was determined before the last election and the Government has no plans to pursue that.

QUESTION:

On the topic of personal tax cuts, economists say that is more of a political imperative than an economic one, they think it would be better to use that money to pay off the debt. What's your reaction to that?

TREASURER:

The debt currently, as we revealed in MYEFO at the end of last year, is actually coming in below what we'd previously expected it to peak at, and it will fall, net debt, over the next ten years to just around 7.5 per cent of GDP. The Budget is on track to return to its projected balance in 20-21. Debt is projected to peak in net terms next year and then fall as a share of the economy and net debt, in absolute terms, as well. So we have a plan to bring the Budget back into balance and retire that net debt. That is there, and plain, in the economic statements that we've released. We want to now ensure that we can deliver that income relief to Australian families, particularly middle income families, by ensuring we can take some of the tax burden off them, as we move through the course of this year.

Lower taxes is what Coalition Governments are all about. We've already delivered that for income taxpayers and for businesses and we want to go further this year, because that's how we see the opportunities that are ahead of Australians this year being realised. You've got to take the tax monkey off their back to ensure they can get out there and realise the opportunities that they know are there, they can see them, and they want to go out there and seize them. We want to support them to do that, with a lower tax environment.

QUESTION:

What exactly has created all these jobs?

TREASURER:

What we've seen in the Australian economy, it's really starting to surge back on the back of increased investment in the economy. The story of last year was the turnaround in investment, by businesses, in the Australian economy. New private investment, particularly in the non-mining sector, we saw a real turnaround in that in 2017, and we look forward to that continuing this new year of 2018. It's investment in the economy that is driving jobs. Lower taxes for businesses supports their investment in our economy, which supports more jobs, and better wages, and that's why our focus has always been on increasing investment, whether it's from the private sector, or indeed by the public sector with the strong infrastructure program that we've pursued after the last several years. That infrastructure spending is supporting growth in the economy, and as it is, also for private investment.

QUESTION:

Labor say the unemployment rate is at crisis level, is it?

TREASURER:

The Labor party have never got anything good to say about the economy. Even when over 400,000 jobs have been created, Labor will find the black spec, in every cloud, on every opportunity because it suits their political interests to do so. We're focused on the positives in the Australian economy - over 1000 jobs created every single day last year, and the Labor party are still not happy. Australians need the continued support of a lower tax environment so they can seize better wages, jobs growth again in 2018, and a resurgent economy in a world economy which we know is also continuing to improve. It improved last year as we said it would, the better we said were coming in terms of the global economy, have already now started to be realised and we expect that to continue into this year. Last year was a great year for jobs growth. They were the better days evidence of last year. Some 1000 and more jobs created every single day. And for more than 400,000 Australians last year, that was better days ahead for them.

QUESTION:

Is there an issue with underemployment?

TREASURER:

Well, what we've seen, particularly in the December jobs figures, is we've seen an increase in the participation rate. That is the biggest lift in the participation rate to a level that we haven't seen since about 2011. So what we're seeing in the economy is more people re-entering the Labour force, more people getting into the economy, participating in the economy and that's a function of confidence. We've seen business confidence improve strongly last year, and early this year, we've seen a very strong resurgence in consumer confidence. We saw that starting to flow through in some of the data in the back end of last year, where we saw the October and November sales data in the retail sector which had been struggling for much of last year, and we saw a strong pick up in retail sales in October and November, and we'll wait the December data when it comes in. But what we have seen is more Australians being more optimistic about the Australian economy. What we saw in the Westpac data just a week or so ago, was that there are more optimists than pessimists about the Australian economy, the Coalition Government are the optimists.

The Labor party are the pessimists. We have a big vision and we have an optimistic vision for the Australian economy in 2018, Bill Shorten just has a dark vision of higher taxes. Not one of Bill Shorten's higher taxes, some $164 billion worth, as costed by Treasury, will create one job, will lift one wage, will give one young person an economic opportunity. They'll do none of that. Our task of reducing the tax burden on Australians creates the jobs, drives the investment and will support wages growth in the economy.

QUESTION:

Most wage earners though, they haven't had a pay rise in years, do you think these figures are going to be of any comfort to them?

TREASURER:

Well for parts of the economy, we already have started to see an improvement in wages, particularly in those sectors where labour market shortages are really starting to emerge. We've seen that in parts of the construction sector, we've seen it in the technology sector, we've seen it also in the health sector and we expect, as the labour force continues to tighten, this is also the view of the Reserve Bank, and other respected economists, then we can expect to see that flow through to wages over the course of this year and beyond. There is a very optimistic outlook for the Australian economy in 2018, it is a year of economic opportunity and we want to see that opportunity realised. The Turnbull Government has a plan to support Australians realise their economic opportunities in 2018 and the Labor party only has a plan to frustrate that.

QUESTION:

Treasurer just briefly on foreign policy, the US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis has unveiled a new policy which puts more of an emphasis on China's military expansion and Russia's military aggression and less on combating terrorism, does the Turnbull Government agree with the assessment of General Mattis, that China poses a threat to regional stability in Asia?

TREASURER:

I'll leave those matters, as you'd expect, to the Defence Minister and the Foreign Minister, but I would simply say this - we enjoy a very strong relationship with China, as we do with all countries throughout the region. You just saw the Prime Minister in Japan working strongly on that relationship which has been pivotal to our broader ties throughout the region. Australia is well plugged in to our part of the world and it's a fast growing part of the world economically. Incredibly important for us. China last year wrapped up the year at 6.9 per cent growth. That was above expectations. It is playing a key role in supporting economic growth in Australia and we will continue to work hard to ensure we are tapped into that growth, as we are right across the region. We will continue to balance the issues of economic and security interests as you'd expect a responsible Coalition Government to do, as we have always done. We'll consider the views of our allies about our region, but there is no one closer to our region than us, and we are in the best position to assess the opportunities and to assess how best to protect Australia's interests in this part of the world.

QUESTION:

The incoming Liberal Senator, Jim Molan, has again said that in the current strategic environment as it becomes more fraught, we should consider boosting our expenditure on defence above the 2 per cent cap. Sorry, the 2 per cent target the Coalition has set, for a couple of years. Is that something that you're willing to contemplate?

TREASURER:

We're already delivering on the 2 per cent commitment that I know Jim was a keen of before we went into Government in 2013 and I congratulate him on entering the Senate and look forward to his participation. As you know Jim and I worked closely together on border protection when I was Immigration Minister. So I'm looking forward to Jim's contribution as a colleague joining the Senate as a New South Wales Liberal Senator. Our commitment is being realised to defence. We are recapitalising our defence force at a rate not seen since the Second World War. We are restoring our defence forces in a way that has not been seen in generations. That is something the Coalition Government has had to do, even within the straightened economic and fiscal circumstances we found ourselves in, we are delivering on that, not only that, that defence recapitalisation is a defence industry plan that is also supporting jobs growth across the Australian economy, linking us up to high tech industries all around the world. It's both an economic plan and a strategic security plan at the same time, and as a Coalition Government, we've married those interests, I think, very successfully.

Just before we go, I did want to say one other thing, just as a local member here in Sydney's Sutherland Shire and the St George area. I want to thank, very much, the untiring work of our local bushfire volunteers, the Rural Fire Service, there are still fires burning today down in the Royal National Park. A smaller fire was able to be extinguished yesterday. They are out again, just keeping a close eye on that. The other major fire there is being managed, we understand, but they're out there in what is a very hot day down here in Southern Sydney. They're out fighting those fires. They would otherwise be at the beach, be with their families, sitting around a pool, attending family events, doing all of those things that the rest of us may be doing today. They're out there putting themselves at risk, to keep our community safe. I want to thank them very much.

There was a very moving image which I saw this morning of some firefighters resting down on Garie Beach this morning after a pretty torrid night. I want to thank them I also want to thank all those who are back in the operations centre who have been supporting them out there, and a lot of the other local crews that have come down from Warringah, and up from the Illawarra today which is supporting that firefighting effort just south of Sydney, not far from where we are standing here today. It's been a difficult last 24 hours in the Royal National Park but I think it's a testament to both the endurance, the courage, the volunteer spirit of this community and the many other communities around Sydney that have come to our aid. There are many other fires also burning around New South Wales today and we think of those fighting those fires in more remote places, but here in Southern Sydney they are doing a fantastic job and we thank them very much for their efforts.

QUESTION:

Treasurer, I didn't get to ask, just one more question on the business tax cuts. Do you think business itself, businesses groups could be doing more to educate the public about the benefits to help get it through the Parliament?

TREASURER:

The business community has been making their case to the crossbenchers and to the Labor party, and the Labor party has turned a deaf ear to the Australian businesses who are out there wanting to get this tax monkey off their back. Bill Shorten and the Labor party have turned their back on Australian small businesses. They will reverse the small business tax cuts that have already been legislated if they came to Government. They won't support extending those tax cuts to other businesses which will see more investment, greater jobs growth in the economy and support higher wages. The Labor party are the ones turning their backs on business and the businesses that generate jobs in Australia for young people, people of senior years, right across the labour market. So it's really a factor that the Labor party has gone deaf to the needs of the Australian economy. Those who participate in the Australian economy, whether it's business, or people out there working every day, they're making their view pretty clear. They want to see tax relief, both on a personal level and also for businesses to ensure that they can grow and they can invest. It's the Labor party that has turned a deaf ear to them. Thanks a lot.