18 April 2018
Transcript - #2018044, 2018

Doorstop interview, Sydney

Subjects: Labor’s retiree tax; IMF’s positive outlook for Australia’s economy; Financial Services Royal Commission; Budget 2018; GST distribution; Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility.

TREASURER:

Good morning everyone. There are three things I wanted to speak to today. First, is the report, which I can confirm, regarding the impact of Labor's retiree tax. Not only on retirees and small businesses and farmers but continuing to impact pensioners that hold their money in superannuation funds, APRA approved funds. I also want to discuss the IMF's report today which shows the continued strengthening of the Australian economy and thirdly I wanted to make a number of remarks regarding AMP and the evidence before the Royal Commission and investigations ongoing by ASIC.

Firstly on the issue of Labor's retire tax. Whether it is the Shadow Treasurer's incompetence or whether it is Bill Shorten's menace, under Labor Australians will pay more. They will pay more for their electricity bills, they will pay more for their rent, they will pay more for their private health insurance and they will pay more in taxes and they will pay more particularly with Labor's retiree tax.

The figures based on the 2015/16 tax data show that it isn't just self-managed super funds, if you're a pensioner in there, where you'll get hit. If you're a pensioner and you have money in APRA approved funds. In fact one in five of the larger APRA funds is receiving these tax refunds currently of some $235 million just in that one year. Of the smaller funds which are regulated by APRA, 83 per cent of those funds or some $74 million. What that means over 10 years, which is what Labor say they have been costing this policy over, that is ripping some $3.7 billion of savings away from Australian retirees, from pensioners, from people with their investments in super funds, and Labor keep saying that it's not impacting anyone but as each day goes on, the smell just gets greater from this brutal and thieving tax of Labor on denying people their tax refunds. So Labor just has to come clean about this. Bill Shorten has got to stop being shifty about his tax increases on the Australian public because under Bill Shorten Australians will definitely pay more.

Let me turn to the issue of the economy. It is very encouraging to see, yet again, the IMF has upgraded its outlook for the Australian economy. It's consistent with the outlook that both the Government and the Reserve Bank have been speaking to now for some time. Those outlooks obviously are underpinning the position of the Budget and we'll be having a lot more to say about that obviously in just under three weeks' time when the Budget is released. But what it shows is that the Government's plan to create a stronger economy is working. It's a stronger economy that delivers the essential services that Australians rely on. It's a stronger economy that is producing the 1,100 jobs a day that have been delivered over the past 12 months under the economic policies of the Turnbull Government. And it's a stronger economy that ensures that we continue on our credible path back to a Budget balance projected for 2021. So we welcome that information from the IMF which puts us by their description among the top performing economies in the world.

Now, it's important that we ensure that the benefits of that flow through to all Australians and that means we need to stick to the plan. In this Budget we will be sticking to that plan for a stronger economy to guarantee the essential services that Australians rely on.

Let me deal with the matter of ASIC and AMP. I can advise that ASIC has been investigating and

continues to investigate the matters that were raised in the Royal Commission this week. I can confirm that that investigation has been underway for some time and that as part of that investigation ASIC has received many thousands of documents as it has undertaken a number of examinations of AMP staff. ASIC is also pursuing full compensation of impacted AMP clients. ASIC takes these allegations of false or misleading statements very seriously as does the Government and this is a significant aspect of the investigation. As you can clearly see, ASIC has been engaging closely with the Royal Commission on a range of matters including current and ongoing investigations. ASIC's identification of the suspected illegal conduct gives me great confidence that ASIC will continue to deal with this matter and of course the Royal Commission will as well.

What has occurred here and what has been admitted to in the Royal Commission by AMP is deeply disturbing. They have said that they basically charged people for services they didn't provide and they have admitted to statements that were misleading to ASIC and to their own customers, and this is deeply distressing. This type of behaviour can attract penalties which include gaol time. That's how serious these things are. I am very reassured by the fact that these matters were already being pursued by ASIC and will continue to be pursued by ASIC. I understand ASIC will be making a statement on this matter later today, and that will be obviously available to you, and the Minister for Revenue and Financial Services who has responsibility for ASIC will also be available, I think, to respond to those issues as well. Minister O'Dwyer has been doing a very strong job in giving ASIC the powers. We have new Deputy Commissioner coming into ASIC who starts later this year who will have those specific powers and that specific backing to be out there prosecuting on these types of cases.

There are a range of other measures, the Enforcement Review that is under way which is looking at strengthening penalties and powers as well in relation to these issues. We have already given ASIC greater resources. We have the Financial Complaints Authority which is coming in later this year. So, there is a very strong check list of things that are being done.

I think it also demonstrate that the Government was right to ensure that when the Commission was put in place that it wasn't just looking at the banks, which is what those who had been arguing for from the Opposition was asking for, that it needed to be a broader inquiry which looked certainly at these issues and also superannuation which is yet to appear before the Commission. We will allow the Commission to continue to do their work and ASIC will get on with their job of dealing with what are very serious admissions by AMP at the Royal Commission and they'll get on with that job immediately as they have already been doing.

QUESTION:

The IMF also overnight urged the Government that now is the time to prepare for leaner times. Has the Government taken that warning, and are they taking the appropriate steps to prepare for leaner times and will we see any of those measures in place?

TREASURER:

The Government has always been delivering budgets that ensure we live within our means and we will continue to do that. This is the Government that has brought savings into the Budget, savings that I stress were resisted by the Labor Opposition. This is the Government that has now, for five successive statements and with the Budget to come, a consistent projection for the Budget returning to surplus in 2021 and that 2021 projected surplus strengthening on each occasion. Australians continue to ensure their belts are tightened and the Government will continue to do the same thing. We will continue to exercise that restraint which is necessary and we will also continue to invest in what creates a stronger economy. You cannot rely on the services that you need without a strong economy. And that's why the Government is so focused on driving investment and driving jobs growth and the Budget will be focused on driving that stronger economy so Australians can have confidence about the services that a stronger economy delivers.

QUESTION:

Just on the Budget, there's obviously been a little bit of confusion around the Government's Budget message.

TREASURER:

None.

QUESTION:

Would you say you are good Santa, bad Santa or the Grinch?

TREASURER:

I think everybody's had their fun when it comes to Santa analogies. My kids particularly enjoyed The Telegraph's front pages. That's all a lot of fun. I think none of us take ourselves that seriously not to have a good chuckle about it but the serious message is this. Is the one I have just talked about, and that is the Government takes its responsibility in how we acquit ourselves on taxpayers' money very, very seriously and we are ensuring in this Budget that we continue to live within our means. The Labor Party does not know how to live within its means. The Labor Party has demonstrated when they're in Government they do not know how to live within their means. They have demonstrated in Opposition they don't know how to live within our means because they continue to oppose and reject things that would improve the Budget bottom line position. We know how to do that, we know how to drive a stronger economy. Our plans is delivering on that and that guarantees the essential services that Australians rely on and that is what this Budget will be doing.

QUESTION:

Treasurer, there has been some developing news about the arrest of an IS terrorist today involved in the plane bomb plot. Can you shed any light on it, when, how, where, [inaudible] have they been detained and what charges if any will they face in Australia?

TREASURER:

No, I am not in a position to make any comments on those matters at this time.

QUESTION:

Are you concerned the Royal Commission is damaging Australia's reputation as a safe and strong place to do business?

TREASURER:

I think Commissioner Hayne is conducting this Royal Commission in an outstanding way. I think it's very businesslike and professional. I think he is ensuring that this is not characterised by dramatisations. I think it's a very frank review that he's conducting and he's getting to the heart of issues as we have seen not just this week but on earlier hearings. He's getting about the task in a timely way which is what we would hope he has done and ensure that this is delivering on his terms of reference.

QUESTION:

The Northern Territory Government lifted its fracking moratorium. Has the Federal

Government been holding its government to ransom with fracking in exchange for financial assistance?

TREASURER:

No, we haven't. You would have heard the remarks I made at the last meeting of state treasures where I expressed a great deal of concern about the latest GST distribution for the Northern Territory in no way did I want the decision that the Northern Territory Government was going to make on fracking to be influenced one way or another about this either by coming to a conclusion on that issue of what the Government might do, which would see them potentially make an alternate decision or vice versa. They've made their decision on its merits. I welcome that decision. It's important that we get more gas from under the ground to get electricity prices down. It's important that we have sensible energy policies to put downward pressure and to reduce electricity prices. That's what the National Energy Guarantee is all about. It will reduce electricity prices for households. Labor's policies of a 50 per cent Renewable Energy Target, of a 45 per cent emissions reduction target, all that will mean under Labor is people will pay more for their electricity bills. So, I welcome what the Northern Territory Government has said in relation to releasing important gas resources to get electricity prices down and I'll continue to have the discussions I've been having with Treasurer Manison now for some time and I hope we're able to conclude those shortly.

QUESTION:

The Northern Territory Government needs between $20 million and $40 million for fracking baseline assessments will the Federal Government commit to funding that or offering any other kind of assistance?

TREASURER:

No, look, I'm in separate discussions with the Treasurer about the issues around GST. I hope to conclude those shortly. It is very much now a matter for the Northern Territory. They are a sovereign Government developing their own resources for the betterment of their own people, and these are matters that rest entirely in their jurisdiction.

QUESTION:

Minister Canavan has flagged that the 50 per cent cap on the amount of debt the Commonwealth can take for Northern Australian infrastructure is [inaudible]. How many more projects do you expect will be funded [inaudible] fast track Budget projects [inaudible]?

TREASURER:

The revised mandate for the NAIF was something that was developed in consultation with myself and the Minister for Finance and I think this will ensure a more effective NAIF, a more flexible NAIF that will see a lot more projects able to proceed. I should stress though that the NAIF has well and truly ruled on the issue of the Adani application. That's not on the table. It's off the table. They made that decision. This change in no way resuscitates that. That's done. It's over. Not proceeding.

OK, thank you.