27 March 2017
Transcript - #2017049, 2017

Interview with Ray Hadley, 2GB

SUBJECTS: Fairfax-Ipsos poll; ACCC inquiry into energy prices; Federal Budget

RAY HADLEY:

Treasurer Scott Morrison joins me on the program every Monday. He’s in the Canberra studio. Treasurer, good morning.

TREASURER:

Good morning, Ray.

HADLEY:

You had some relief in the polls last week but, of course, it didn’t last long according to the Ipsos poll today.

TREASURER:

Well, you follow these a little more closely than I do, Ray. My answer’s the same as it was last week, we just get on with the job of government and doing the things that need to be done and today, we’re announcing that we’re going to be doing the right thing by electricity consumers. That’s where our focus always is and the other result I liked on the weekend was 26 over Parramatta – just saying. The hotel patrons up at Kirrawee were very happy.

HADLEY:

Just saying. Hang on a sec, you do this to me every time I talk about the polls. The Prime Minister cited the polls as the reason he needed to replace Tony Abbott – plus economic policy. So it’s no good you waxing lyrical miracle every week and saying, ‘well, Ray, you take more interest’. Because let me assure you, apparently Mr Turnbull did or used to take a lot of interest in the polls and nobody takes as much interest these days.

TREASURER:

The only thing you can assume from the last few weeks, in particular, is that they are very volatile, Ray. So the point is, you focus on your job. That’s what you focus on and that’s exactly what we’re doing and I think our announcement today, which is all about trying to put downward pressure on rising electricity prices to make sure that the right regulations are in place and that large electricity retailers aren’t taking consumers for a ride. That is an important issue to families and households and that’s what we’re doing.

HADLEY:

What are you physically doing? How do you achieve that?

TREASURER:

The ACCC, as you know, has very significant powers to demand information out of the electricity retailers and there has been some work done recently which shows the profit margins, at least on the surface, are looking strangely high when you look at how that compares with the wholesale prices and other things. So, whether it’s going ahead on major infrastructure like Snowy 2.0 or it’s getting all the gas suppliers in a room to make sure that they can meet the demand domestically during peak periods or making sure the regulator, which is the ACCC, or the regulator from the point of view of studies like this, is doing the work like they did on the east coast gas. That’s what a good Government does and that’s what we’re doing.

HADLEY:

Now, this report, this assessment by Tony Shepherd, was reported on the front page of The Australian. He’s saying that the Federal Budget is unsustainable and you can’t get it back in the black in such a short period, and he says you can’t do it in four years. And he also says that Australia’s welfare system is too complex – I think you’d agree with that.

TREASURER:

I would.

HADLEY:

…confusing, leaving taxpayers and recipients worse off. Now, Christian Porter is obviously doing a lot of work on this whole system but when can we expect it to be more refined and less complex?

TREASURER:

Already we’ve got rid of a number of supplements and that was done while I was there and Christian’s working on other ways to make the system simpler. It’s not an easy task. I mean, you’re trying to do that with the Bills that were before the Parliament last week and they were rejected. I mean, remember the Family Tax Benefit supplements? The Parliament would not support those changes. So, you’ve just got to do the work with the Parliament which we’ve been endeavouring to do. Last week, we were able to get the savings through which enable us to put in place the biggest reforms to childcare we’ve seen in a long time and for, particularly, families on lower incomes and middle incomes. They’re getting a much better deal out of the childcare arrangements now with what we were able to achieve last week. So yes, it is a complex system – welfare. There are 20 separate payments. There are over 50 different supplements. We’ve been trying to get those down and the Labor Party keep stopping us because the Labor Party wants taxpayers to pay more for higher welfare bills.

HADLEY:

Did you think this Wilmar thing had been sorted? Because I must have been working a little bit harder than normal, I thought I had woken up and was in a middle of a bad dream when I picked up the papers this morning to see that Pauline Hanson won’t vote on any legislation until Wilmar and QSL is sorted. I thought Barnaby had taken the big stick, I thought the PM had taken an even bigger stick and now I found out that Wilmar has not been cooperating in any way, shape or form. And these poor blighters in North Queensland are about to get wiped out by tropical Cyclone Debbie to add insult to injury, but they mightn’t have any sugar cane to sell to Wilmar anyway.

TREASURER:

I think One Nation have looked behind the play on this one. You’re right. The first time round we were able to get them both finally in a room. We did that by pressure through the Queensland Government and the Queensland Parliament, and they were able to come to an agreement several weeks ago. They’re now under the process of just having that reduced to writing which they always said would take about four to six weeks. There’s a draft agreement that will be on the table today for QSL, I’m told. So that’s in accordance with the time table that they’d set out. For example, here’s one of the key terms: they wanted a much longer term for this agreement and we got Wilmar to move from six years to 12 years. Now, there aren’t too many agreements running around that length and the Government was able to actually achieve that result by putting the pressure on and so we’re bringing One Nation up to speed with what’s been achieved there. The issue about a code of practice is this: there is Queensland legislation that forces binding arbitration where the parties can’t agree. Now, the parties have agreed and now they have to bring this and reduce it to writing and ink it. But on top of that, there’s a view – should there be a belts and braces approach at the federal level as well? That’s a matter the Government has been considering for some time. But the priority was getting QSL – that is, Queensland Sugar Limited – that’s the company, the cooperative, that sells sugar overseas and Wilmar – which is the cane crusher that mills it – who also sells cane, to actually come to an agreement so that growers could do their deal and get their cane crushed. That’s what we’ve been working on for some weeks and I think we’ve made a lot of progress. Now, in the Parliament today, the Senate will vote on the Diverted Profits Tax – this is to ensure that multinationals, if they try to shift money offshore with their profits, get taxed at a penalty rate of 40 per cent. I would have thought One Nation would want to vote for that – so it’s not a day to go on strike.

HADLEY:

Well, obviously you’ll talk to her office and say that [inaudible] and things will be done. Well, that will mean then, because you need her help with company tax and obviously there will be phone calls made after this conversation to say, “hang on a sec, Pauline. It’s going as well as we thought it would. So, we’re looking alright, aren’t we for the company tax cuts? If you, in fact, agree to them?”

TREASURER:

Certainly they’ve indicated support up to $10 million, so it’d be a bit of an odd week if they didn’t vote for multinationals to pay their fair share of tax and voted against small businesses paying less tax.

HADLEY:

As long as they’re convinced that Wilmar are in good faith coming to the table, have signed some sort of agreement that is now being carved in stone so they can’t wriggle their way out of it. But in the meantime, you’ve got 1,500 cane farmers unable to crush their cane ahead of this season and that mightn’t matter because if Cyclone Debbie hits at Eyre and Home Hill where many of these cane farmers are between there and Townsville, the poor blighters are going to be wiped out anyway.

TREASURER:

That’s where, I think, the immediate focus must be and that is the safety of everybody in North Queensland as they prepare for this cyclone. So, we’ve got to be careful that there aren’t political games being played here because there are very serious risks that people in that part of Australia face at the moment. And work has been going well on this agreement and it has been frustrating. It’s been two years, Ray, and after two years between the Prime Minister, myself, Barnaby Joyce and George Christensen – supported by Tim Nicholls in Queensland up there who did everything that he could – we actually finally got them to agree to something. That’s good news so let’s just get on with it and stop all the games.

HADLEY:

Okay, we’ll go back then, now who have you upset on the frontbench? Someone said that The Sunday Telegraph yesterday…

TREASURER:

I’m such a congenial fellow, mate.

HADLEY:

Well, exactly, but someone on the frontbench told The Sunday Telegraph that you’ll need to perform or you’re gone.

TREASURER:

Well, that’s the case for everybody.

HADLEY:

As Treasurer of the Budget, I’m referring to, not just your general demeanour. But you’ll deliver a Budget that they’re happy with otherwise you’re out the door.

TREASURER:

Well, that’s always the case and whether it was stopping the boats or reforming the welfare system, or in the last Budget – which focused on the growth that we needed in our economy – getting the changes in our tax system and personal income tax cuts through and all of this. I’m happy to be judged on my performance, Ray. It’s there for everybody to see. Well, we all are. You are. I am. Everybody is and in politics, so long as you’re getting the results as you do and as I believe I do, then you get the support of the Australian people. But you’ve just got to focus on the job and not worry about people going on.

HADLEY:

Of all the frontbenchers, who likes you the least?

TREASURER:

I’m the guy, with Mathias Cormann, who sits down every day or so reviewing everybody’s expenditures, so, you know, from time to time…

HADLEY:

Well, with Minister Cormann, we can rule him out. It’s not the Prime Minister…

TREASURER:

We prepare the Budget together but look, I don’t go into it, mate. I’m just focused on the job…

HADLEY:

When you picked up the paper yesterday and thought – because we’re all human beings, “Now who have I upset? There must have been someone I’ve topped off…”

TREASURER:

[laughs] I’m not that precious.

HADLEY:

“No, there must be someone I’ve topped off or done something to, or told on, or tattle taled on or something so they’re cranky with me.”

TREASURER:

Well, certainly not the last point you’ve made but look, honestly Ray, there are plenty of people who say nice things and plenty of people who say horrible things and the only thing that matters for the Australian people is; “Is he focused on my job? Is he focused on how much I’m getting paid? Is he trying to get the debt under control?” Which we are, we’ve reduced it from the growth under Labor of growing it by more than a third and we’ve cut that by 20 per cent. These are big outcomes. We’ve reduced the growth in the expenditure – to go to your point about Tony Shepherd’s report. We are getting the Budget under control. We have the current projection to get it back into balance in 2021. That hasn’t shifted a day since I’ve become Treasurer and we remain very focused on that, and it’s made harder by the fact that Bill Shorten and his stop-stop sign wants to undermine the Budget by stopping all of our savings. He has only one intention in mind and that is to trash the AAA credit rating for his own political gain.

HADLEY:

On that note, we’ll leave you. Thanks very much.

TREASURER:

Thanks very much, Ray. Always good to be with you.