10 May 2017
Transcript - #2017090, 2017

Interview with John Laws, 2SM

SUBJECTS: Budget 2017

JOHN LAWS:

The Treasurer Scott Morrison has delivered the Budget overnight and, hopefully, he’s on the line. Scott Morrison, good morning.

TREASURER:

G’day, John.

LAWS:

What don’t you like about your Budget, Scott?

TREASURER:

Well, there’s a lot to like in this Budget, John.

LAWS:

No, no, what don’t you like?

TREASURER:

Well, I like it all, John.

LAWS:

[laughs] Come on.

TREASURER:

And I’ll tell you why I like it all, because what this Budget does is deal with the problems that are in front of us. I mean we’ve had to make some difficult decisions, as you know. I mean, you’ve seen a lot of Budgets, John, you’ve talked to a lot of Treasurers.

LAWS:

I have.

TREASURER:

And every single one of those Treasurers has had to deal with the problems that are in front of them and one of the big challenges we had when we came into this Budget is the Senate had said they weren’t going to support some $13.5 billion worth of savings that were going to improve the Budget. So you start from behind the line and you’ve got to make that up. And that’s what we’ve had to do. And we’ve been able to keep spending growth at less than two per cent, so we’ve kept our word on that. It comes down to 25 per cent of the economy. But at the same time we’ve invested in the infrastructure needs of the country, particularly in regional areas, which is very important to grow those economies in regional areas.

LAWS:

Very important.

TREASURER:

And we’re supporting services, Medicare, schools funding, hospitals, that’s all getting the support that Australians expect and rely on. We’re putting downward pressure on the cost of living with our investments in energy infrastructure. But not just that, in the housing area, it doesn’t matter whether you are in a regional area, a major capital city or elsewhere. People, if they’re renting, still struggle with their rent, if they’re on a low income and we’re supporting them while giving first home buyers, wherever they are, the chance to accelerate their savings by around 30 per cent with the tax cuts we’re giving them on their first home savings deposits.

LAWS:

Ok, but surely you know the good old Liberal Party can never claim to be about smaller government and lower taxes again can it?

TREASURER:

That’s all just ideology, John. I mean this is a fair Budget, it’s dealing with the problems in front of us…

LAWS:

Hang on, hang on a minute…

TREASURER:

In Canberra, they go on about that sort of stuff, John. And in the real world they just want problems solved and that’s what we’re doing.

LAWS:

Scott, when you say that’s all ideological stuff, what do you mean by that?

TREASURER:

Well I mean that’s what politics and political commentators talk about. Australians just want the problems fixed, and what they’ve said to me is that they’re concerned about the services that they rely on and they want them to be assured. And I’ve done that. And secondly, they want to see reducing pressure on costs of living. They know the Government can’t solve all those problems, but they expect them to do what they can and that’s what we’ve done in this Budget. And we’ve done it by bringing it back into balance also by 2020-21. And these are the things we’ve had to do in this Budget. I do believe, quite sincerely John, that down the track, not far from now, we are seeing improvements in the global economy which will benefit here in Australia because we’ve set ourselves up well. But it won’t happen on its own, we’ve got to make these right choices that we have to do in this Budget. And, I mean Malcolm and I, I mean, forget all the ideology, people just want us to focus on getting the job done and in this Parliament that’s difficult as we know so we’ve invited the rest of the Parliament to meet us in the middle here. Because that’s where you get stuff done.

LAWS:

That’s the only way you can get it done with a Parliament like you’ve got.

TREASURER:

Well, that’s right. So you’ve to be practical John. So all of that other stuff that people on the left and, you know, on the right and all that, they can go and have their, I don’t know, their political ideology seminars, I’ll just keep focused on the job for regional Australia and the country as a whole.

LAWS:

The Medicare levy’s become a pretty soft target, I mean it’s already been increased by Julia Gillard to help fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and now you’re going to raise it by another half a per cent in July 2019. What’s the justification for that, Scott?

TREASURER:

Exactly the same purpose. The National Disability Insurance Scheme which supports half a million Australians who, through no fault of their own, find themselves with a disability that they’re living with, and as you point out impacts on their families, their carers, their friends and we owe it to them to deliver that scheme and there’s a $55 billion hole in its funding over the next ten years. Now we’ve got to stop these political disputes over how we’re going to fund it. When we start from behind the line by $13.5 billion, we tried to get savings through the Parliament to fund this gap. The Senate said no and I couldn’t go into this Budget and say to Australians with a disability, no you’re going to have to live with further uncertainty about how this program is going to be funded. So I’m asking the Labor Party, I’m asking the Greens, I’m asking the crossbenchers, can we please put the politics aside and just agree that Australians have got a big heart and they like to help their mates, and that’s particularly people with disabilities. Let’s ensure they don’t have anxiety over this program. Let’s focus on delivering it, making sure that it’s well run and delivers the services they expect and end all the political toing and froing over this. I just want to ensure that the disabled Australians get the program.

LAWS:

Yep, well I can’t think of a single Australian who wouldn’t applaud all that. I think that that is immensely important.

TREASURER:

And that levy is just for that, John, it’s for no other reason, it’s just to fund that and we only bring it in when the higher bills come in and that’s in two years’ time.

LAWS:

The whack on the banks, now really that’s a levy on bank customers, isn’t it? I mean they’re bound to pass it on, the customers will end up paying.

TREASURER:

It’s not a levy on bank customers at all. I mean there was a bank deposits tax. It was introduced by the previous government and that was abolished for that reason. It was a tax actually on bank deposits, including on the regional and smaller banks.

LAWS:

Ok.

TREASURER:

This is only on the top banks.

LAWS:

If the banks have got to pay more, they’re going to pass that additional cost onto somebody, and somebody is going to be the customers.

TREASURER:

Well, I think if they do that John, they’ll just be confirming in the minds of Australians why so many Australians are so angry with the banks. And you know, the banks value increases when they do the right thing by their customers. Their profits this year are $30 billion and this is a levy which goes to just $1.5 billion. Now if they want to slug their own customers with that, then if I was one of their customers, well A, the ACCC will be watching them to make sure they are honest about what they’re doing if they do that. I’d be taking my money to the Bendigo Bank or the IMB Bank or the Bank of Queensland or one of the smaller and regional banks who this evens up the playing field for, who’d be in the position to do the right thing by them.

LAWS:

Well, it might be a good idea to do that anyway.

TREASURER:

Well, it may well be John because, I mean, if the banks want to send a message to Australia, that they want to horde this level of profit to themselves and not do their fair share to support budget repair, they can make that decision but they [inaudible] when the Australian people say, “Gee, these banks are greedy.”

LAWS:

True, very true. That whack on banks, is that your version of the mining super profit tax, because instead of going after the big banks, including Macquarie, you’ve gone, you know is…

TREASURER:

There’s a big difference, John. That didn’t make any money. That didn’t raise any money, it was the most unusual levy as it didn’t actually raise any revenue.

LAWS:

Why?

TREASURER:

Because they stuffed it up basically, and what we’ve done here is a very well calibrated policy. We’ve looked at what’s being done around the world. This levy is fairly standard in countries around the world, and we have a strong banking sector, I want a strong banking sector. But I want a fairer and more competitive banking sector as well. And as you know, we have other measures which will act now, we don’t want lawyers trooping around the country for five years holding hearings and all that sort of thing. We know what we need to do now, and that’s what we are doing. On executive accountability, we’re introducing a regime that those holding senior executive positions, if they do the wrong thing, they will be deregistered and we’ll claw back their bonuses. The penalties for banks for doing the wrong thing for the on the big ones are now set at $200 million so we’ve heard the Australian people on this issue, we’ve taken action. Others just want to run around and have a lawyer’s picnic for a few years.

LAWS:

When asked about the cost pressure on banks you’ve stated they can “cry me a river”, which was a wonderful song incidentally. But everyone is dealing with a bank and they already pay more than $11 billion in taxes every year, don’t they?

TREASURER:

Oh well, I’m not certainly going to, I mean the only people that are going to be paying more tax on 1 July this year, John, are the big banks and our continuing crackdown on multinationals and of course the foreign investors who are buying into the particularly the Sydney and Melbourne property markets. So that’s where we’ve focused a lot of that revenue attention. The other issue I’ve already addressed, that’s about standing by our mates with disabilities that’s specifically for that purpose.

LAWS:

Good, well that’s good as I said. Most people will have [inaudible] as part of their super I presume and the mere suggestion that this levy was coming in wiped something like [inaudible] billion dollars of the value of banks since yesterday alone. You know that’s mum and dad investors who’s super’s taken a big hit, and a big hit overnight, how do you justify that?

TREASURER:

Well look markets are volatile and I think you have to look at these things over a longer period of time…

LAWS:

Yes, but certainly that was caused by what you said you were prepared to do.

TREASURER:

Well these announcements can have those immediate impacts but then over time these things [inaudible] measure out, we’ve seen that in markets over a long period of time. But let me tell you where I think [inaudible] the bank is that builds shareholder value – doing the right thing by your customers, and so there’s a test for the banks, are they going to do that or not?

LAWS:

Alright ok, and if they don’t do it, what’s it called the other bank you’re talking…

TREASURER:

Yeah, there’s plenty of other smaller and regional banks that do a great job and over the last twelve years the big banks have increased their share of the Australian [inaudible]. And it’s good to have strong banks, but they’ve got to be fairer, they’ve got to be more competitive and there are a lot of other banking players out there, there are a lot of other banking services that are out there that are offering good products, good services and putting their community [inaudible] the other options and good for them.

LAWS:

The one that I particularly like, because it’s been something that’s bothered me for a great number of years now but this idea of yours, drug testing dole bludgers I think is a terrific idea and I would think that the hardworking group who are in Australia listening to this would agree as well. Drug test those dole bludgers, but what are the practicalities of that, how will often will it be done and how will it be done and who are you going to target?

TREASURER:

Well we’re starting small, John, it’s a trial, it’s not going right across the system I mean we started a trial a couple of years ago on a thing called the cashless debit card in a number of quite vulnerable communities and that was to ensure that, you know, people’s welfare payments were going to the right things, for food for the kids, you know, paying for the things that need to happen in the household. Now when we introduced that, all the people who always go on about these sort of things, John, you know who they are.

LAWS:

The civil libertarians.

TREASURER:

That’s the one. They said oh they can’t do that, this depriving them of their liberty and all the rest of that, well that was absolute bunkum and guess what it’s working, it’s actually working and we’re expanding it beyond in this Budget. But this is the same approach – we’ll give this a go and if it doesn’t work, well we won’t keep doing it, what do you do if it doesn’t work. I mean this isn’t about pursuing some ideological agenda, this is just trying to practically deal with the problem where you’ve got people who are drug and alcohol addicted which is keeping them out of a job and the best form of welfare is a job.

LAWS:

Yeah. [inaudible]

TREASURER:

It may have been you, John.

LAWS:

It was.

TREASURER:

Younger when I heard it for the first time I suspect.

LAWS:

Yes I’ve said it forever, the best thing you can give a man is a job.

TREASURER:

Well [inaudible] keep the dream alive John.

LAWS:

That’s what it’s doing, Scott. You’re lifting the freeze on the Medicare rebates, is this an expensive way of combatting Labor’s “Mediscare” arguments?

TREASURER:

Well, Australians wanted to hear a clear guarantee from us on Medicare and you know when your wages aren’t going up, you’re a lot more sensitive to [inaudible] Medicare, schools funding and hospitals and so on and what I’ve sought to do in this Budget is give them that guarantee, that the Turnbull Government will be ensuring that those things are protected and that gives you a confidence. I mean to go out there every day and do what you do whether you run a small business, you’re a contractor, you’re working locally or something like that, you know, you’ve got to keep your spirits up and you need to know the Government’s got your back on these services and that’s what we’re doing.

LAWS:

Let me ask you a question – do you really like [inaudible] or do you just use me?

TREASURER:

That’s a strange question John. I’ve actually listened to your program on and off for, I don’t know, 30 years. We met many, many years ago, you may not remember but look, the people who are listening to us now, John, that’s who I like and you and I want to talk to them, and I want to talk to them to let them know what we’re seeking to do and I think we probably share a lot of values in common and maybe some things we disagree about, but that’s you know that’s Australia, that’s why we love the place. But your listeners I want them to know what’s in this Budget for them because it’s designed for them not for not for the squads of the ideologues not for the peanut gallery or anything like that, it’s about them and I’m just focusing on what they need.

LAWS:

The reason I asked the question, and as you said it’s a peculiar question, is you often say ‘oh yeah they only come on the program, they were only nice to you because they know you’ve got a big audience’. So I simply ask you the question, do you are you using me or do you actually like coming on the program?

TREASURER:

Well, it’s always good to have a natter, John.

LAWS:

Oh, well, that’s…

TREASURER:

I always find you entertaining to listen to whether we’re talking directly or it’s on radio.

LAWS:

Well, that’s good to know. I hope that, it seems to me looking at the papers today that the Budget has been well accepted, probably better accepted than any other Budget in living memory. It would appear there aren’t too many complaints about it. There will be but there aren’t too many so far.

TREASURER:

I hope it encourages Australians, that’s what I want to do more than anything. They’ve been doing it tough, a lot of people, particularly in regional Australia and I want them to know keep going, this is an incredible country, we’re blessed to live here. I want to support families, family is such an important thing, John, and with economic pressures on families when I hear the stories about families breaking apart it breaks our heart and that’s Liberals, Nationals, we’re about the family and the best way to protect families is to ensure they’ve got a job, they’ve got their services and that the Government lives within its means.

LAWS:

What do you feel about it’s almost a necessity now for two members of the family to earn a living?

TREASURER:

That’s just a reality, particularly in our major metropolitan areas. I mean, the percentage of two income two parent families has increased a lot and part of that is the fact that it’s really hard to save and to buy a house as well. You know, a lot of families still choose to have one parent remain at home and look after the kids, sometimes you don’t have much of a choice. We’ve done a lot on childcare for those who are forced into the situation of two parents having to work but we all make our own choices. In my own family, you know, Jenny’s been raising our kids while I’ve been involved heavily as a Parliamentarian and as a Minister and I really sort of love and appreciate what she does for me in raising our two beautiful girls, but that keeps you pretty grounded, that and, you know, I like to get along to the footy and cheering on [inaudible].

LAWS:

Yeah, well, good on you that’s the way to do it, it really is the way to do it and it would appear that you’re doing it pretty well. I appreciate your time, it’s good to talk to you I always enjoy having a chat and let’s do it again fairly soon. I know you’ve got other appointments now, you’ve got to go to Parliament.

TREASURER:

Thanks a lot, John, good to be with you mate.

LAWS:

Ok, good to talk to you.