19 November 2015
Transcript - #2015051, 2015

Joint press conference, Sydney

SUBJECTS: Visit to ASX Customer Support Centre; North Sydney by-election, the Treasurer’s decision to prevent sale of S. Kidman & Co. Limited; foreign investment; travel allowances

TRENT ZIMMERMAN:

My name is Trent Zimmerman I am the Liberal candidate for the North Sydney by-election and I can I say that we are absolutely delighted that the Treasurer, Scott Morrison, has been able to join us this morning. This is a world class facility operated by the ASX as its customer service facility. For me it is emblematic of what is happening in the North Sydney community. We are rapidly becoming an IT hub and that is going to provide the jobs of the future for our local community, particularly as we take advantage of the enormous service export opportunities that are opening up as a result of our free trade agreements in the region with China, Korea and Japan. So I am really delighted that the Treasurer has been able to join us this morning to see what is truly a world class facility and I would like to hand over to him to make a few remarks.

TREASURER:

Thank you very much Trent it is great to be here supporting you particularly as we lead up to the by-election in North Sydney. You are absolutely right, the service sector, particularly in finance and property services and other services in the financial sector are so critical to this part of the country, this part of Sydney. But it's also critical to the national interest. Coming into the role some months ago, I set about meeting with our country's leading figures in the finance community and it's great to be here with Elmer Funke Kupper today and I want to congratulate him on the leadership that he has displayed at the ASX and particularly bringing this facility together. This is a nerve centre for our financial system, it is a centre which is improving and fast tracking our way to being an even greater financial powerhouse around the world, particularly in this part of the region. What you are seeing around me here is innovation. That innovation, as the Prime Minister has said, is the centrepiece for Australia's economic growth going forward. What we have already seen is the growth in our services sector, new opportunities opening up as a result of our free trade agreements but particularly here in this city of Sydney and in North Sydney in particular, we have seen the real benefits of that growth, that job-intensive growth. I know there are many of Trent’s prospective and hopefully constituents working here but even one of my constituents from the Shire who are also working here. So it is exciting we are seeing that job opportunity spread right across. I commend the ASX for their leadership in pulling this centre together. It is some time now since it's been opened and the benefits that they projected would be realised, are indeed being realised. Well done to the team here. It is great to see innovation in action here in North Sydney.

QUESTION:

Treasurer, can you tell us about your decision to prevent the sale of the Kidman land farm?

TREASURER:

The Australian Government welcomes foreign investment to Australia. It has been a key part of this country's development ever since the First Fleet arrived. It is important we maintain an open view on foreign investment but foreign investment in Australia always has to be on national interest terms. I as Treasurer, as my predecessor has also, will always ensure foreign investment is done in the national interest. The parcel of land we are talking about, which is affected by these interests, is some 1.3% of Australia's land mass, some 2.5% of the agricultural land in this country. It is adjacent, in one of those significant parcels - the largest single parcel within that group - to the Woomera Prohibited Area and, the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB), as well as the other agencies that were consulted, have made recommendations in this respect which I have been pleased to accept. We welcome foreign investment but, as Treasurer I will always ensure that that foreign investment is done in Australia's national interest and when there are national interest issues that need to be protected, I think the Australian people know, whether it's in this portfolio or other portfolios that I've held, I will always act in that national interest.

QUESTION:

Would you consider the partial sale of Kidman if it is away from that munitions area?

TREASURER:

It's up now to the vendor, I think, to recalibrate how they would like to go forward. I have said in my statement today that I am pleased to consider new applications around this but, in terms of what was put to the Government, that is a holus bolus package of this magnitude, then that was not something that we believed was in the national interest and there is an opportunity now to reconsider these issues and, of course, the FIRB and the Government will work with any applicant in that regard.

QUESTION:

Will the new owner needs to pass a national security assessment?

TREASURER:

National interest is the test here. A large range of measures are considered in any of these decisions. Whether it’s national security issues or other issues that come to the fore in considering any particular application, that's what we will do. We are always pleased to work with those who are seeking to work through the FIRB process and that will continue.

QUESTION:

Is this inconsistent with the sale of Darwin Port?

TREASURER:

The sale of Darwin Port was not a FIRB decision. The sale of Darwin Port was a decision of the Northern Territory Government. Under the relevant legislation, the sale of Darwin Port was not captured by the FIRB process. It was under the threshold and on the test on State-owned enterprises; it did not tick that box. That was a decision of the Northern Territory Government. FIRB made no recommendation on the issue of the Darwin Port. I note that the Secretary of Defence though, has been very forthright in setting out what he believes the issues are in terms of any compromising of the national interest, particularly when it comes to defence issues and the Secretary of Defence has made his view and his Department's view well known to the Northern Territory Government and they've taken some decisions.

QUESTION:

Is it embarrassing that the US President chided - reportedly chided the PM on the lease deal?

TREASURER:

I don't accept the premise of your question. It's quite loaded. We enjoy a very strong relationship with the United States. I think that's been on display in recent times. I meet with the Ambassador about these issues from time to time as all Ministers do about various issues. We enjoy an exceptional relationship. The Port of Darwin decision was a decision of the Northern Territory Government, not the Australian Government.

QUESTION:

Is there a way the sale could be repackaged that you would find acceptable?

TREASURER:

Again that’s up to the vendor. It is not the FIRB's job or the Australian Government's job to write people's applications. It is our job to ensure the national interest when it comes to foreign investment is maintained, preserved and advanced.

QUESTION:

Can I ask about travel allowances Mr Morrison?

TREASURER:

Why don't we just stay with one topic…

QUESTION:

I was just going to ask you about US interest rates, would you welcome the US Federal Reserve increasing interest rates next month?

TREASURER:

I don't commentate on interest rates. I don't commentate on these things. There are plenty of other commentators who do those sorts of things; I will leave them to do that. What we are focused on is the policy settings of the Australian Government and the policy settings of the Australian Government which, Trent, I know is prosecuting hard here in North Sydney because his potential constituents here will benefit greatly from this, is on how do we grow the economy and continue to grow jobs in the economy? Since the last election, the rate of job growth in this country is up more than 10 times, more than 10 times. We are particularly seeing that in service industries represented by where we are standing today and where the benefit of that service industry growth will be particularly, I think, felt positively in electorates like North Sydney but right across the country. We are focused on what we do. Other countries, other central bank governors or others they will make their decisions and we will deal with those decisions as they're made.

QUESTION:

Treasurer, you flagged there could be new measures for dealing with the sale of nationally-strategic assets. What measures were you thinking of?

TREASURER:

When measures are agreed and when measures are determined then they'll be announced. I'm not making any announcements on that today. There are some consultations that are taking place at the moment with States and Territories in relation to those matters. Remember, there are constitutional issues around the sovereignty around particular critical infrastructure assets which are held by States and Territories so it's not something that the Commonwealth Government can simply move on unilaterally and that's the process I'm engaged in. So when there are announcements, there will be announcements.

QUESTION:

Were there any measures that were worked through for the Kidman & Co pastoral position?

TREASURER:

Well it was captured by the current legislation, so the normal processes applied.

QUESTION:

Your decision comes very timely with the heightened terror alert around the world. Do you think it would have been different if we didn't see these deadly attacks in Paris and around the world?

TREASURER:

No, the two issues aren't related.

QUESTION:

Even if we are talking about the weapons munitions range at all, you mentioned it before?

TREASURER:

The two issues aren’t related and to draw a parallel between those two, I'm not sure what the connection is.

QUESTION:

So with the ramped up security in Australia we have seen because of these and we have had the PM comment, yourself and other Ministers, in the interest of national security, it didn't have anything to do with that?

TREASURER:

My decision is based on the national interest and the national interest relates to defence interests, other strategic interests. This was a very, very large parcel of Australian land. Not all of it is what you describe as prime. I think that's fairly well understood. But it was an extremely large holding. When you have holdings as large as that that does tend to limit the pool of purchasers that are available and obviously limit the pool of any potential Australian purchasers that might have been available. My job is to focus on the national interest which encompasses many dimensions but in terms of the terrible incidents that have taken place in Paris, we have our focus on our response to those issues and you have heard the Prime Minister speaking on that as well as the Attorney-General and the Foreign Minister as have I on occasion. We can focus on all of those issues at the one time but this one is very much focused on normal process and the decision was taken in the national interest.

QUESTION:

On travel allowances, on one occasion you spent $3,600 flying your family to Melbourne last year. Do you think taxpayers should be footing the bill for that?

TREASURER:

All of my entitlements and all of my travel records and all of these things are a matter for public record. They have always been done in accordance with the rules. Thank you.