29 March 2016
Transcript - #2016038, 2016

Interview with Ray Hadley, 2GB

SUBJECTS: Budget; polls; COAG; Australian Building and Construction Commission Bill; federal election; education portfolio; social services portfolio.

RAY HADLEY:

Treasurer, good morning.

TREASURER:

G'day Ray.

HADLEY:

Well, I think we have to go back in time to all the things that happened last Monday week. You were on my program of course before the announcement. You were on exactly the time you are on now, approaching half past the hour, half past nine here and half past eight in Queensland.

TREASURER:

The usual time.

HADLEY:

Within an hour there had been an announcement that we were going, or then we were going to a double dissolution now we may not be. Can you explain the circumstances on how you, because I know you phoned my staff after, when I was on air, and said, 'look I really didn't know anything about this,' otherwise, you know, it would have been difficult and we, of course, played the audio over and over that you kept saying March 10 and I…

TREASURER:

May 10.

HADLEY:

May 10, I'm sorry. And I kept saying I've got this email from your old school mate who said you always got your homework in early and we laughed about that. I had a tip that it would be May 3, not May 10 but I didn't pressure because it wasn't rock solid. Someone said in Canberra, I think they are aiming for May 3 not May 10. Can you explain to listeners the circumstances on how you didn't know when you spoke to me last week what was going to happen an hour later?

TREASURER:

Well, the Cabinet didn't meet until 10, Ray, and that is when the Prime Minister informed the Cabinet that he had been to see the Governor-General and that is when I was advised of him doing that. Now, obviously for some months there had been contingencies put in place to do exactly that but something is not changed until it is changed. At the time you and I were speaking on that day there had been no change to that arrangement, that change, I was advised of at 10 o'clock and now it is on May 3.

HADLEY:

But having said that, and we accept that, will you also accept that the night before, being the Sunday night, that Michaelia Cash, the Minister responsible for the ABCC legislation, the Attorney-General who must have given advice on the legality of going to see the Governor-General…

TREASURER:

As you would expect, yes.

HADLEY:

And Arthur Sinodinos were in the loop and you were not.

TREASURER:

Well, in terms of the overall scheme of what we were attempting to do then obviously I had been part of that planning for some months but the final decision which involved going to see the Governor-General and being across the constitutional issues they are things for the Attorney-General to be advising on…

HADLEY:

But they're not for Arthur Sinodinos or Michaelia Cash to be in the loop.

TREASURER:

It is part of arranging for the Cabinet meeting the next day and of course the Bill relates to Senator Cash. In terms of the Budget the Prime Minister knew well that the end deadline which he would have to work to to make an announcement to enable us to bring that Budget forward, I had been very clear about when he needed to do that by which was by the end of the first week of April. So, we are well inside that timeframe. So, there were no logistical issues and look it is as it is Ray and I want to be transparent about that.

HADLEY:

Ok, but…

TREASURER:

The Budget is on May 3 and I am looking forward to bringing it down.

HADLEY:

Ok, you are all buddy-buddy now but the next day the Prime Minister did tell the Today program, Lisa Wilkinson, that you were not part of the small circle being included in the knowledge of what was happening prior to the 10 o'clock hook-up with Cabinet.

TREASURER:

Well, in terms of the trip out to the Governor-General, I mean that is what the record shows, but in terms of the planning to bring forward the Budget that is something he and I had been working through since early February.

HADLEY:

People will still suspect that you were not in the loop and at the very least you should have been in the loop as the Treasurer.

TREASURER:

Well, they can make that commentary but the bottom line is that the Budget is on May 3 and that is when it will be brought down and I am looking forward to bringing that down because it is a very important Budget. This is a Budget where we have to ensure that we continue the successful transition that is occurring in our economy. This is the biggest economic challenge facing the country today and there are many things that go into managing that transition and frankly getting our construction industry being more productive by bringing back the ABCC is an important part of that plan.

HADLEY:

Many critics of the Prime Minister, including me, thought he showed a steely resolve last Monday week to do what he did and yet we are now told today that he has made approaches, and that has been confirmed by Bob Day on the Alan Jones program to open negotiations. As recently as five or ten minutes ago I played the audio of when Lenore Taylor asked him that question and he said no this is what it is all about they don't agree we are not making any changes, all of a sudden…

TREASURER:

Well, he didn't say that, Ray, to be fair.

HADLEY:

What did he say then?

TREASURER:

He said that the time has come to pass the Bill and that is true, the time has come to pass the Bill. Now, I have been involved in getting a lot of legislation through the Senate and what you do is you know when they are playing you and you know when they are seriously engaging.

HADLEY:

So, did he play then did he?

TREASURER:

No, what I am saying is that some Senators, when they are going through this process, play games and you know they have no serious intention of passing a Bill and you don't waste your time on them. If there are others who are seriously going to engage with you well you would be a mug not to listen to them and work with them and I think that is what the Australian people would expect. We want the ABCC Bill passed, if it is not passed and the Prime Minister has made it absolutely clear that we are going to a double dissolution election. So, they have got three weeks to sort it out and if they can sort it out – good; and if they can't then we are off to the polls.

HADLEY:

According to Bob Day talking to Alan Jones this morning what he is looking for now is yes it not being altered the ABCC Bill however he may make some concessions to the crossbenches to allow them to get a promising note from him that they will look at other industries where there may be corruption because it appears that some of them are worried about that. They need six of the crossbenches to agree to that. What it appears to me is, and you are talking about people playing you as a government, I think he is playing them. I think he has, all of a sudden, given them a week and a bit to think about the fact that they won't have a job possibly after July 2 and the other alternative is to cooperate with the Government if they get a little bit of encouragement through other areas and they have got a job for four years, those who came into the Senate at the last election.

TREASURER:

Well, the litmus test is, I think, pretty clear. I don't think we could be any clearer. If the ABCC Bill is not passed, and there has been ample opportunity given for them to do just that, then the Prime Minister has said he is going to call a double dissolution election.

HADLEY:

According to Bob Day there is now encouragement for them to do that on the basis…

TREASURER:

There always has been Ray.

HADLEY:

Well, that was not enunciated last Monday week by the Prime Minister.

TREASURER:

[Inaudible] the opportunity for the crossbench to pass this Bill and work with the Government but they haven't done that. Now, they have got three weeks to do it and if they don't do it, well, that will be that.

HADLEY:

But you have put a carrot on a stick in front of them and said…

TREASURER:

We want to pass the Bill, Ray.

HADLEY:

Yeah, but if you want to keep your job pass the Bill however if you have concerns about other industries, well, we will look at that and we promise we will look at…

TREASURER:

Well, why wouldn't you? That's what we are trying to do is pass a Bill. This isn't about a double dissolution election. It is about passing the Bill.

HADLEY:

No, I thought it was about a double dissolution. That is what I thought it was about.

TREASURER:

No, it is about passing the ABCC Bill. That is what we want to see done. That is the whole point…

HADLEY:

It is not about a bad poll in The Australian yesterday in Queensland and News South Wales where you will lose a lot of seats?

TREASURER:

No and they were old polls by the way. That was just analysis of old polls going back over a few months. It is about…

HADLEY:

It's still bad news for you whether it is old polls or new polls.

TREASURER:

Ray, what we are focussed on is trying to make sure that our economy is more productive and particularly in the construction sector. When the Labor Party got rid of the ABCC what we saw happen was an increase in the level of industrial disputation. We saw a decline in the productivity of our construction sector and that means that the cost of building things goes up and the ability to employ people gets less and we want to change that. So, we are about changing a law which brings back the rule of law into the building and construction industry. That is our goal. It is not about a double dissolution, if they pass the Bill you don't need to go to a double dissolution.

HADLEY:

Ok. Now, today it is leaked everywhere that you and the Prime Minister are working together to remove health funding as an election issue. The Prime Minister is prepared to offer states $5 billion when he meets with the Premiers later this week on Thursday and Friday. You spoke to the Prime Minister about the health funding issue yesterday. Will you offer the states that $5 billion as stated in every newspaper today?

TREASURER:

Well, we will have our discussion with the states…

HADLEY:

Yes but obviously someone has leaked it to the papers. So, it will obviously happen.

TREASURER:

Well, we will see what happens on Friday, Ray, but we will have that discussion on Friday. We will have it directly with the Treasurers and the Premiers. The Prime Minister and I have been working through this issue not just yesterday but for many months and going back to last year when we were working through issues with the state Treasurers and Premiers. Back then what they wanted us to do was put the GST up and just give them a bag of money. I said pretty bluntly 'no' as did the Prime Minister when it came to raising the GST just to give states a bag of money.

HADLEY:

Well, we had the pretend email from your old school mate last week. Let's have a pretend…

TREASURER:

I've got to find this school mate!

HADLEY:

Yeah, nah, I made it up – I told you. Let's get the $5 billion, pretending, let's pretend you are going to give it to them on Thursday and Friday – pretending. Where will you get the money from?

TREASURER:

Well Ray, you're jumping ahead, you're just jumping ahead. The Budget will set out all the areas where we've been able to make further gains on, you know, getting expenditure under control and address all the issues in relation to revenue. But the issues we're focusing on is making sure that if we have to spend more money, then we find the savings to do that. And if we're going to have any increases in revenue then we will use that wherever, and always to reduce taxes in other areas. So, they're the principals we work off. Our opponents what they do is they hike up taxes, to hike up spending and that is a spiral you get into which basically means you can never consolidate your budget in the future and that undermines the successful transition we're having in our economy – that's the biggest risk. That's the biggest risk to what is happening at the moment, is Labor get back in and tax and spend like there's no tomorrow.  And we know they do that, we've seen them do it before.

HADLEY:

Ok, will you be inviting former Prime Minister Tony Abbott to come to your Sutherland Shire seat for the next federal election, be it on July 2 or a date unknown into the future to help you campaign?

TREASURER:

Well, I get on pretty well with the Shire. And we enjoyed a good win last night over the Storm which you would have seen…

HADLEY:

I'll take that as a no…

TREASURER:

I don't get too many people coming up to campaign with me. I find that the Shire and I get on just fine. And I've got a new area coming into my electorate, as you may know just across the Georges River. And I'll be campaigning over there.

HADLEY:

It's a long winded no, Treasurer…

TREASURER:

Well, he hasn't come in elections before either…

HADLEY:

No, well could I give you a little tip and you can take it…

TREASURER:

He's come to functions when he's been the Prime Minister before elections but…

HADLEY:

But I could give you a little tip, leave all former Prime Ministers and current Prime Ministers out of any election campaigns you may be…

TREASURER:

I have no plans for the Prime Minister to visit the Shire in this election either…

HADLEY:

Well, that would be a good idea I think if you want to be re-elected….

TREASURER:

I tend to make sure we wash our own face down in the Shire, that's what we're like…

HADLEY:

Ok, a couple of other things doing the rounds today quickly. Would you look at lowering the threshold at which people have to start repaying their HECS loans, the money loaned to them by the government to pay for tertiary education? Apparently it could save half a billion dollars a year, I mean there's a lot of money outstanding and the current threshold means that they don't have to pay it till they get to a certain level of income.

TREASURER:

Well, Simon Birmingham is looking at this. You may know that last year, in last year's budget we introduced a new measure, which for those people who travel overseas, and then don't pay back their HECS debt from 1 July next year that ends, and they've got another six months to register where they are, and then we look at their, you know what they're earning overseas to make sure that if they go over the Australian dollar threshold for earnings then they will have to pay that back. Now, this is something we need to keep looking at. I mean the whole point of these HELP Loans is that people get to go and study so they can go and get a job and then they can pay it back. Now, we've got a lot of people out there who are on HELP Loans, that have gone and got a tertiary education and aren't in a job where they can pay back the debt. Well, I think that's the bigger problem.

HADLEY:

Just one final thing, comment. You would have heard my story about the bloke who has been on the drip, the government drip for a number of years, until a halt was brought to that last year. As a former immigration minister and social services minister…

TREASURER:

This is Julian Burnside's tenant…

HADLEY:

Yes he's… well, I don't know that he paid rent…

TREASURER:

He may not have, I don't know.

HADLEY:

But he managed to go overseas. I mean most people who are listening to the program struggle to go for an overseas holiday occasionally. Occasionally. But this bloke seemed to be on a Contiki tour for most of his time since he became a citizen about six years ago and coming here in 2004. Sixteen overseas trips in the past six years, on a DSP until they revoked it last year. The question would be why did it take so long, and congratulations to the Admin Appeals Tribunal member who said no more.

TREASURER:

Well you'll recall when I was social services minister we introduced provisions which said that if you were away more than four weeks in a year and you're on the DSP, so you're overseas for more than four weeks in the year, we turn it off. We introduced that. And this is the Government that has, for the first time, seen the number of people on the DSP decrease because of the changes that we've put in place. I don't know the exact details of this chap's case but it would seem to me that he's been caught up in the net that we have set for that. And obviously the AAT are working through the consequences of him having the gall to repeal it. But, they'll do their job. That's why it's so important that you just keep tightening the net on these issues around welfare. Fairness goes both ways, it's got to be fair, obviously, to those who need it but it's also got to be fair to those who pay for it – which is the taxpayer. That's what those measures are designed to protect.

HADLEY:

I'd imagine he's not the only one in the net, I think he'd have plenty of mates.

TREASURER:

There'd be a number, but that's why we introduced the law, that's why we introduced the change which said you've got to go to a commonwealth approved doctor, you can't go down to some dodgy mate who'll give you a doctors certificate and somehow get you the DSP. We've changed that as well, particularly for those under the age of 35.

HADLEY:

Now, just so that no one can misinterpret this interview today, you will be very, very busy in the lead up to a double dissolution election on July 2, or preparing for the Budget on May 3, so you will not be appearing, I'm instructed by your staff, every Monday, but where possible you will appear.

TREASURER:

We'll do our best to keep the date, Ray, but as you know, particularly in the lead up to the Budget, whether there is a July double dissolution election depends on what happens in the senate, and I don't think, well I'm certainly not leaping ahead of that conclusion. But I look forward to catching up.

HADLEY:

It's amazing how correct your old school mate was with the fact that Scott Morrison always gets his homework in a week early isn't it…

TREASURER:

Well, they can expect me to be delivering that on May 3, and I'm really looking forward to doing that. But anyway… two good wins on the weekend… One for the Sharks…

HADLEY:

No listen, every time, every time it gets a little bit uncomfortable you refer to Cronulla and someone else having, southern districts or something rugby…

TREASURER:

Huge win over West Tigers on the weekend.

HADLEY:

Huge win.

TREASURER:

Huge win.

HADLEY:

No one cares about that they care about a whole range of other issues. Thanks for your time.

TREASURER:

Good on you, Ray.