30 November 2015
Transcript - #2015058, 2015

Doorstop interview, Canberra

SUBJECTS: Prime Minister; Budget; MYEFO; Bill Shorten and Labor’s job crunching, economy munching carbon tax on steroids

TREASURER:

Well apart from confirming the fact that the Taylor Swift concert was absolutely awesome in Sydney on Saturday night and I am sure people will have a wonderful time in Adelaide and Melbourne over the course of the week, it’s over to you.

QUESTION:

Did you have a phone call with Malcolm Turnbull in February…

TREASURER:

This is all terribly old news. It was a conversation of no consequence and no conclusion and no arrangement. This is an old story. Sam Maiden wrote about it, Ray Hadley talked about it, it has been regurgitated again. It is an issue of no consequence.

QUESTION:

We had a Prime Minister eventually rolled seven months later. Isn't that a consequence of what happened?

TREASURER:

I will leave you to go through all the tin foil hat conspiracies but frankly I think it is embarrassing to put those sorts of questions and make those connections. What happened in February and what happened later in the year were completely different issues and you should ‘shake it off’.

QUESTION:

If it was inconsequential, can you tell us what you actually did talk about?

TREASURER:

It has already been canvassed, already been reported - a conversation of no consequence - of no consequence, of no arrangement, and no conclusion. That's it.

QUESTION:

Did you talk about football?

TREASURER:

It's all been well canvassed. I'm not going to waste a lot of time talking any further about it. I think I've addressed it.

QUESTION:

Do you agree with Josh Frydenberg that there is a problem within Islam and this problem is resulting in terror attacks?

TREASURER:

I think all religions go through phases in this country, my own, many others. Over a period of time I think religions become more indigenised in Australia. The cultural component of our religious faiths I think become more indigenised. There is the pure religion side of things, the teachings and so on but then that is how it is expressed in a particular culture and that is true of Christianity as it is of the Jewish faith, and as it is of the Muslim faith. The cultural representation of Islam in the Middle East is different to what it is in Malaysia, in Indonesia, or Africa or different parts of the world. I think one of the positive things about Australia is it's such an overwhelming cultural set of values that those always have an influence over time and I'm sure that will continue to be the case and that will lead I think to a more accessible and a more open and transparent way of doing things. That's been the case with other religions. I have no reason to believe it won't be the case with Islam.

QUESTION:

When you talk to Muslim leaders in Australia, do you think they are facing up to the problems within Islam that are highlighted by events like the Paris terrorist attack? Do you think Muslim leaders in Australia are facing up to that?

TREASURER:

Look, there are many different leaders within the Islamic community. It is not the sort of representational structure that you see in other organised religions in Australia. It's quite different. I think the commentary that assumes very similar structures fails to get it, frankly. The Grand Mufti is not like the senior Cardinal in Australia or whoever. It is a very different structure. So they are working through those issues. They are matters for them. I think they're positive discussions, particularly among younger people of the Muslim faith. They have very different views to their leaders as well about how things should be managed. That's a positive discussion for them to have. Look, I think that's the reality of it. I think there is not an Australian of any faith who was naive to the very real risks of terrorism and the very real risk of extremism and how that can lead to violent extremism. That's why I think all Australians should be on their watch, whatever faith they are a part of or of no faith at all. The best thing we can do is continue to strive to further improve the great cohesiveness we have as a society. This is our greatest defence against extremism - the cohesive nature of Australia. We are the most successful immigrant country on earth.

QUESTION:

Comments like what Mr Frydenberg said yesterday undermine that social cohesion, by pointing the finger of blame at one religion over another?

TREASURER:

No, I don't think that's what he did and I think what doesn't help is those sorts of characterisations of what he said.

QUESTION:

Are you comfortable with forecasts that say the budget will never return to surplus under current conditions and also that the deficits are $38 billion worse than forecast?

TREASURER:

The Government will release MYEFO next month after the national accounts. That's where the Government will confirm its position on the budget. I will leave that process to really answer the question. I think what the Deloitte report shows today is the stressors and pressures that are on the budget. They note particularly, in terms of the global situation, commodity prices, changes in China, that's not new to anyone. Australians are very aware of the global volatility that's out there. Australians are very aware that our economy is going through a transition from the investment phase of the mining boom to the phase we are now in. We will see the further lift in non-mining activity in this country. We are certainly seeing that from a demand point of view already which the Reserve Bank Governor has noted. That hasn't flowed through to the investment side of the non-mining sector yet. That's something I think we have to look forward to. But Australians are not naive to those challenges. That's why they've been very welcoming of the government's focus of what we need to do to grow the economy and grow jobs. That's why we are having a discussion about the tax system, that’s why we are having a discussion about federation, that's why there will be an innovation statement, that's why we are responding to the Harper Report by ensuring we are focused on micro economic reforms, that’s why we responded to the Financial System Inquiry with the great strength that we did. All of these things will provide a strong platform for growth and jobs. Australians know that's what we have to focus on. That's why it is bemusing to me why the opposition would go into a job crunching, economy munching carbon tax on steroids to meet a 45% target. It is really quite reckless.

QUESTION:

So if the national accounts echoes what Deloitte Access Economics has said today and we are going to be faced with, this financial year, an extra $5 billion deficit, is the government prepared to make further cuts?

TREASURER:

I am going to give you a challenge - could you get about eight more assumptions into that question? I mean seriously, we wait for the figures to come in, we make assessments on them, we release the MYEFO and that's the process. I don't think Australians appreciate governments speculating on things and jumping at all these sorts of points of data. What we do is we look at these things in the normal process, we make our assessment of the budget position, we don't respond to matters of speculation around particular numbers and that's the way you appropriately manage the Government's finances.

QUESTION:

Can we assume at this stage, given what Glenn Stevens has said in recent weeks and so forth that the growth figures in the budget, the forward-looking growth figures, are going to be downgraded in MYEFO?

TREASURER:

The growth figures will be presented in MYEFO but I think what you have seen from Nigel Ray's presentation is there has been a change to one of the key pieces of information that goes into the growth forecasts. That wasn't a growth forecast itself. What Nigel's presentation talked about from Treasury was the rate of growth, which is called potential rate of growth, at which full employment is maintained. That is a key factor that goes into the forecasting model and the projections model. There has been a change to that based largely around the changes in population growth and immigration and net overseas migration. The numbers move around on those sorts of things and that changes how they put their model together. But I want to stress this: what you will get from me as Treasurer, what you will get from the Prime Minister, what you will get from this Government is a very honest and sober view about where we are heading but an optimistic view which is based on realism. You won't hear me making ambitious targets around these issues on when we return the budget to surplus. What we will do is the work that is needed to be done every day to return the budget to surplus. The projections of that will be subject to many variables, some of which go well beyond the government's control. Previous governments have stood there hairy-chested at the despatch box and promised four years of surpluses. Treasurer Swan as a result looked quite foolish. I am not going to go down that path. I will just go on about the work of restoring the budget. I am working to see savings measures passed through the Senate, working to ensure our budget lives within its means. If you do that and grow the economy, you end up in the right place.

QUESTION:

From tomorrow, foreign investors will be hit by big fees even before FIRB considers any application, for instance a $10 million farm, $100,000 fee. Are you comfortable with the fees that are going to be imposed from tomorrow?

TREASURER:

Yes, I am.

QUESTION:

Why is that?

TREASURER:

Because it is government policy and it reflects where the Australian people would want us to be making these sorts of assessments and ensuring we have the resources to apply the proper scrutiny to the foreign investment proposals that come before us. We are custodians of these decisions and these resources that are being raised from these fees are ensuring we have the resources in FIRB, the Australian Tax Office and other places to ensure we follow through on implementation. What's the point of having a law if you don't enforce it? That's what was happening under Labor, particularly when it came to residential real estate. They were allowing things to go off unchecked. We are not doing that. We are applying the law. I think that is what gives Australians confidence, whether it is on our borders or whether it is on foreign investment or wherever it is, you enforce the laws. When you do that, Australians can have a much greater level of confidence about the decisions the Government is taking when it comes to foreign investment. Now there was quite a shout - I will allow one more.

QUESTION:

Child care. It is going into Parliament this week, the child care package, is it so important for families that you would legislate it even if you don't get the savings on family tax benefits which are still stuck in the Senate?

TREASURER:

We have made it very clear that we pay for our commitments. You don't run a budget by announcing more spending and proceeding with the spending without making the saves. Jenny Macklin said: ‘these things have to be paid for somehow’. Well we have our somehow bill before the Parliament. You don't get to have your cake and eat it when it comes to important government services. You have to be able to pay for them. We have a clear plan, a clear set of measures that will pay for one of the biggest changes to child care access and affordability the country has seen in a very long time. It has to be paid for. We have made some adjustments to it based on the feedback we have had and further discussions with crossbenchers and the opposition when it comes to things around grandparents, single parents and some of the other changes made to what the Labor Party was prepared to accept on Family Tax Benefits. But those changes have to be paid for too. So we have done that by amending the eligibility and means testing arrangements for access to those subsidies. We have a package which is paid for. We have a package that is costed. We have a package that is deliverable.

QUESTION:

So is it all or nothing?

TREASURER:

We pay for our promises. That's the bottom line.

QUESTION:

Do you think the changes will be more palatable for Labor and the crossbench, the changes to reduce subsidies for high-income earners?

TREASURER:

You'd have to ask them. That's for them to decide. What I'm interested in is what is achievable and how we can actually deliver these important increases in affordability of child care for the vast majority of Australian families who are going to work every day, who want to work more, save more, invest more and they are being held back by the unaffordable cost of child care. Our package delivers on that. But you have to pay for it. If you don't pay for it, you end up where the Labor Government left us. If we had kept on their spending trajectory from 2012/13, then the budget today would be almost $80 billion worse off than it is now. We have been able to get that under control and we are correcting - we have got the growth down in expenditure and we are going to continue to pursue that - but you don't do that by just running off and spending money without being able to pay for it. Just like on issues of emissions reductions targets, we have a clear target going into this conference of 26-28%. The five-year review, this is all the policy that was agreed prior to the change of Prime Minister, nothing has changed on that, that's what's being prosecuted over there. There will be no changes to the position that was put in Paris. The opposition has a policy which will bring back a carbon tax with full fury and that is really the difference between how both sides of politics I think are approaching the growth challenge that we have. Whether it is Deloitte's figures or whether it is paying for our promises and commitments on child care or any of these areas, all of this relies on ensuring growth and jobs in our economy. That's what we are 100% focused on. Thanks for your time.