27 March 2018
Transcript - #2018034, 2018

Interview with Ben Fordham, 2GB

Subjects: Cricket, Liddell coal-fired power plant, Labor’s retiree tax, Corporate tax cuts.

BEN FORDHAM:

Treasurer, good afternoon.

TREASURER:

Hey, Ben.

FORDHAM:

Thank you for talking to us.

TREASURER:

Happy to.

FORDHAM:

The Prime Minister has declared war on sledging today saying it’s out of control, it must be outlawed, let me play you what the PM had to say today.

[AUDIO PLAYS] PRIME MINISTER:

I think there has to be the strongest action taken against this practice of sledging, it has got right out of control, it should have no place.

FORDHAM:

You can understand why the man at the pub would be saying, “Well, hang on a moment, are you guys going to set the example and stop sledging in Canberra?”

TREASURER:

Ben, I think all of these issues that have occurred with the Australian cricket team over the last week or so, I think people are pretty disappointed about it, I think they’re taking it in perspective and I’m not going to pile in on top of that. I think this has been a really, really disappointing period, I’m quite sure the players themselves would be pretty disappointed in themselves but the question is where do you go from here? The Prime Minister’s made some pretty useful suggestions because he’s going to – you know, the culture of what happens on the field, I’ve got daughters as you know, they don’t play cricket, they play netball, but you want them to when they look at sports figures to be setting that example as a parent and…

FORDHAM:

Doesn’t the same rule apply though to politics in Canberra? I think one of the best sledges I’ve heard in a long time came from Malcolm Turnbull about a year ago on Bill Shorten when he spoke about him being a parasite and a hypocrite and a social-climbing sycophant – I mean, that’s sledging, right?

TREASURER:

As you know, what happens in cricket matches is it gets very personal, it gets quite offensive, in the political theatre of Canberra, this has been happening for many years. As you know, and those who play cricket will know this, what’s said around the stumps can sometimes be pretty hard going. Now, that shouldn’t be in the game, that’s just my own view but I don’t run Cricket Australia, I run the Budget and the Budget which I’m bringing back into balance and an economy which is seeing investment grow again and confidence lift so they’re the things I’m focused on just like anyone else in the country though you observe these things and you wished they hadn’t happened but also you’ve got to get a bit in perspective. Cricket Australia need to sort it out but these are some great players we’re talking about here. I’ve met Steven Smith, you may well have as well, he’s a very decent guy and I think he’d be very disappointed in his judgement and where this has got to but I don’t think these guys should be written off. They should have the opportunity to learn their lesson and go on and be the great players that they are and the great people they are.

FORDHAM:

Let’s get down to some other business, this Chinese company that’s declared they have interest in buying the Liddell coal-fired power plant. Now, does the Government want to see this happen rather than watching it close in 2022 or have you got concerns about foreign ownership?

TREASURER:

No, I’d be happy to see them buy it but it’s not ours to sell. If they wanted to buy 2GB, I couldn’t make them buy that either, we don’t own it, your owners own it and it’s up to them whether they sell it or not. It’s a free country and if you own something, you can’t be forced to sell it.

FORDHAM:

There aren’t any foreign investment questions over this?

TREASURER:

I’d have to assess that, Ben, but nothing…

FORDHAM:

Is that why they’ve written to the Prime Minister though? Because as you say, it’s not yours to sell but they’ve contacted the Prime Minister – Nick Farr-Jones has on behalf of this mob – saying, “Look, we’d be interested in doing something here”. And I don’t think they’ve heard back yet from the PM on it, I think that’s what I’ve been told but…

TREASURER:

Some months ago – I mean, they never raised buying Liddell with me and nor have they more recently, I have met the firm that Nick has talked about and they’d expressed an interest in investing in the energy sector in Australia – now, they’d have to put forward a proposal they’d have to be something in front of me. I don’t make these calls unless I have all the information in front of me but in principle, a foreign investor buying a power station of itself is not prohibited by the act so provided there’s the right conditions to make sure they pay their taxes. When I became Treasurer, I introduced a whole range of requirements on foreign investors that they had to abide by Australia’s tax laws and if they didn’t, then I could force them to sell the asset, they could divest it. Now, previously, obviously you’d expect foreign investors to pay their tax but there was no sanction before I started putting those conditions on – they’d obviously have to pay the tax back but I couldn’t force them to sell the asset and I think that’s how the foreign investment rules should work. You get the privilege of being able to buy something in Australia but it’s on certain conditions and if you flout that then I’ll make you sell it.

FORDHAM:

When Bill Shorten announced his tax plan a few weeks ago for investors, we said on the day, “Look, he’s going to have to do something about this. There are too many pensioners and low income earners who have been caught up in this and who would be damaged”. The next morning, I interviewed him on Channel 9 and suggested that he’d have to tweak it or change it, he said no, he was standing firm and he’s been saying that ever since and then surprise, surprise, today we get a back down, an announcement of an exemption for 300,000 pensioners, is this good enough?

TREASURER:

No, of course not. This is policy on the run, they’ve completely stuffed this up and let’s stop for a second and think that they didn’t know it was hitting pensioners two weeks ago. Chris Bowen actually said in another interview over 200,000 pensioners would be hit so they will tax you as much as they think they can get away with. They didn’t all of a sudden get a change of heart and all of a sudden become worried about pensioners. Chris Bowen, when he designed this, and he said it was properly designed, was all good to go, he said a week ago he was standing by it and all that he’s done now is he’s been caught out but in trying to put in the fix, he’s just stuffed it up even more because for your listeners, if you just allow me to, because it can be a bit of a complicated issue and I’ll try and make it pretty simple, if you invest in a company and that company has paid tax when they send you your dividend then you don’t have to pay tax on that again because they’ve already paid tax on it. Now, everyone in the tax system – doesn’t matter what your income is, what your circumstances are, you should be able to get the same benefit of having invested in a company that’s already paid tax and you shouldn’t have to pay it twice. Now, what he’s saying is if you’re on a big income, you can offset, you can use the whole value of that benefit but if you’re a self-funded retiree or if you’re a pensioner who puts your money in a self-managed super fund, no, you won’t get a tax refund. Now this just simply doesn’t make any sense, it’s not fair, Labor thinks a tax refund is a welfare payment. In the Parliament today, they said it’s not their money, they haven’t paid any tax, these are self-funded retirees who have paid taxes their entire lives and they’re not even taking a welfare payment in the form of a pension and they’re saying, “No tax refund for you”.

FORDHAM:

Let me ask you about another tax and that’s the company tax cut. We’re sailing pretty close to the edge here, aren’t we? Because Parliament wraps up this week and then it’s not back for a while and you’re putting together the Budget at the moment. How close are you to getting everyone on board with the company tax cuts?

TREASURER:

Shot clock’s still on, Ben, and it will run until the end of tomorrow and we’re obviously working as we have been for the past two years with the crossbench. Now, that shouldn’t have been necessary if the Labor Party just voted the way that every single Labor Treasurer has said for the last 20 years and more that reducing the tax burden on businesses actually helps them invest more, lift wages and employ more people. Now, everybody from Chris Bowen going back to Paul Keating – and I suspect before that – has thought that was a good idea. Now, if they had just voted for that, we wouldn’t have a problem but…

FORDHAM:

Are you going to get it tied up this week?

TREASURER:

We’ll find out by the end of tomorrow night.

FORDHAM:

We’ll see. Now, I could play you the full audio of that sledge from Malcolm Turnbull on Bill Shorten but I suspect that in your quiet moments, you probably watch it back time and time again in your office on YouTube, do you?

TREASURER:

[LAUGHS] No, I’m a little busy.

FORDHAM:

Alright, I’ll leave you and play it for everyone else. Good to talk to you.

TREASURER:

Thanks a lot, Ben.