19 May 2017
Transcript - #2017112, 2017

Joint doorstop interview, Brisbane

SUBJECTS: Budget 2017

TREVOR EVANS (MEMBER FOR BRISBANE):

Well, good morning, everybody and thank you for joining us. It’s a huge privilege to introduce to you in a moment to the Treasurer of the Commonwealth of Australia here to talk to us about all manner of things I’m sure but with a particular focus on affordable housing. We’re here with George here at Zest Apartments, he’s the Chairman of the National Affordable Housing Consortium and we’ve been having a look through some of the apartments here and talking about some of the financial mechanisms that can be used and whether the Federal Government can collaborate with different levels of government and different not-for-profit sector participants to make all housing affordable. And just before I introduce the Treasurer, I would like to say just a couple of things about the affordable housing debate nationally. Obviously, it was a very big part of the Budget that happened just last week and the Treasurer will make some certain comments in relation to key aspects of those announcements. But here in Brisbane, it’s very important to recognise that some of those headline themes of the national affordable housing debate don’t necessarily resonate, we’ve got a great city here with a very mixed stock of housing supply. If you have a look at some of the real estate websites right now and search for properties under $150,000 in the inner city, you’ll find more than a dozen of them here around the city, if you look for under $200,000 you’ll find dozens and dozens and dozens. This is a great city for coming and buying your first home, I’d like to encourage everybody to get in there and have a look at that. And on that note I’ll pass over to the Treasurer. Thank you, Treasurer.

TREASURER:

Thank you very much, Trevor. It’s great to be with you here and in your hometown and I’m pleased to be here with the National Affordable Housing Association who’s doing some really innovative work. Our housing package that we announced in the Budget works across the whole spectrum of Australian housing needs, it deals with everyone who slept rough last night in Brisbane through to those who are seeking to buy their first home in the private market, whether it’s here in Brisbane or anywhere else in the country, through to those who later in life are looking to downsize. There’s no silver bullet when it comes to housing affordability and anyone who tells you that is having a loan of you. But there are a whole host of things that the Commonwealth Government can do, working together with state and territory governments, with local governments but importantly with community housing associations, which in my experience have been some of the most innovative players when it comes to housing development and addressing social needs in this country. In the Budget, we announced a number of key measures. We’re establishing the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation that will provide low-cost, long-term finances to organisations like community housing associations that are represented here today, so they can go and build and develop and invest in their rental stock that can put a roof over ahead of thousands and thousands of Australians. Let’s not forget, 30 per cent or thereabouts of Australians live in households that are rented, not everybody in Australia ultimately gets to buy their own home and it’s important for those particularly on low incomes that we have a comprehensive set of policies that supports them, as much as we do addressing the issues in the private housing market where people are seeking to buy their first home. But on top of that, we introduced new tax incentives for Australians to invest in affordable housing – included with that is we’ve got tax incentives even for foreign investors to invest in affordable housing rather than compete with buying homes against first home buyers out there in the private market, what we’re saying to them is we’ve set up a structure which means they can come and buy affordable housing which supports putting an affordable roof over the heads of Australians whether it’s here in Brisbane or anywhere else. So much of the housing debate, people have focused on places like Sydney and Melbourne, but one of the reasons I’ve come to Brisbane today is to demonstrate that the housing challenges exist all around the country. They exist for people who are on low incomes here in Brisbane and what is being done here through NAHA is providing two opportunities which are very important for people on low incomes. They can buy a home, they can realise home ownership through the shared equity scheme that has been pioneered here using things like social impact investing to support what they’re doing here. In the Budget, we announced new initiatives to support social impact investing and social impact bonds. In addition to that, they’re developing accommodation that will be available for people who are looking for affordable rentals. And the support whether it’s through our tax incentives, our finance that we’re making available or even simple things that makes it more attractive to investors by being able to directly deduct the rent from welfare payments and the Commonwealth Rental Assistance means that the investors that are making these more affordable homes available get the certainty of their returns. So it’s an important package that’s addressing not just the needs of people buying in the private housing market and as you know we are doing things on that with the First Home Super Savers Account, which makes their savings go more than 30 per cent further because of the tax cuts we’re giving them, but we’re also doing things for people on low incomes to ensure that those Australians can get an affordable roof over their head as NAHA is showing right here in the middle of Brisbane with quality affordable rental accommodation, whether it’s for singles or ultimately for families in other locations. This is an exciting plan, it’s a plan that we’re backing in with what we announced in the Budget for housing.

QUESTION:

Treasurer, could you please do Queenslanders a favour today, who’s telling the truth on Cross River Rail, Jackie…

TREASURER:

Why don’t we stay on housing for a sec? We’re here talking about affordable housing, if people are interested in affordable housing which I know there in Brisbane, why don’t we have a few questions on that and then I’m happy to deal with other political issues? Well, it would seem that people in Brisbane are interested in affordable housing, the media’s interested in some other things today so why don’t we go to the political questions?

QUESTION:

Cross River Rail, who’s telling the truth?

TREASURER:

What’s your question?

QUESTION:

The question is Jackie Trad is saying that the reason why the Turnbull Government hasn’t given extra money for Cross River Rail is because you want to use the policy so that is using the value capture argument to say that this is what we want to tax Queenslanders ahead of their upcoming election [inaudible].

TREASURER:

The Queensland Government’s just got to stop playing politics with infrastructure, we’ve already demonstrated, we’ve sat down with the Western Australian Government and got more done with them since they were elected in a matter of weeks than we’ve been able to achieve in Queensland. And the Western Australians just had a pretty practical approach, they didn’t want to have a fight with us, they just wanted to work with us. And we’re happy to work with state and territory governments that want to get things done rather than play politics. We’re getting a lot done in New South Wales too because they just want to work with us and we welcome that approach and we would welcome that here in Queensland. Look, our priorities for infrastructure in Queensland were set out in the Budget and I think they’re reflected in the views of what Queenslanders want too. We’re investing in the Bruce Highway where, yesterday I was up at the Deception Bay Flyover, where we’re investing $120 million to remove a significant bottleneck. There’s $530 million going into boost the Bruce from Pine River up to Caloundra, we’re investing in the M1 south of Brisbane, I mean, these are our priorities and this is where we’re putting out our money. Now, we’ve also put together a $10 billion National Rail Fund which can support proven cases where they meet the priorities of the Commonwealth Government working with state and territory governments. There’s the Brisbane Metro proposal which also could potentially work into that. But what we’re saying to Queenslanders is you can see our priorities and what we put in this Budget. We’re investing in those important road projects to the north and south of Brisbane which is going to make a real difference to the lives of those commuters and those businesses getting around, trying to get around South East Queensland which is a lot busier because the economy’s growing and I wish it would grow more, and I think it would grow more with stronger leadership here in Queensland.

QUESTION:

Mr Treasurer, at least one of the big banks this week has calculated that the levy, that it won’t raise as much…

TREASURER:

This is the latest thing from the banks?

QUESTION:

Are you confident in Treasury’s calculations that it will raise $1.5 billion a year?

TREASURER:

Of course, the banks come up with a new thing every day as to why we shouldn’t go ahead with this tax. One day it’s the process, one day it’s the money that won’t be raised, one day this happened or that happened – guess what? The bank levy’s coming in. They can kick up as much dust as they like but the Australian people know this is a fair tax, it’ll be introduced into the Parliament during the next sitting fortnight, we’ve been working with them over the last few days and I know the banks don’t want us to put a tax on them. I know they don’t want us to do that, but we’re not going to get involved in all their delaying tactics and them trying to spook Australians about the nature of the tax. This is a very straight forward tax, it’s been put in place in many other jurisdictions around the world. It’s a fair tax, it’s a very fair tax and it’s going to support things like pensions, schools, hospitals and I think it’s fair enough that the banks pay their bit to ensure that we are able to achieve all of those things. Our AAA credit rating was maintained by all three agencies following the Budget. Now, National Australia Bank themselves admitted before the Budget that if we’d lost that AAA credit rating that would have cost them 10 basis points and they said that was largely insubstantial, that it was something they could deal with. But you put a six basis point tax on their liabilities and the world’s coming to an end.

QUESTION:

Will you consider extending the levy to foreign banks?

TREASURER:

That’s a separate matter but what I do know is when Paul Keating invited the foreign banks into Australia, he invited those foreign banks into Australia to boost competition in our banking system and we want our banking system to be more competitive. One of the reasons it needs to be more competitive is the banks think they can just pass on costs to the consumers every other day. So I repeat my invitation to the banks, who’s going to be the first to actually give Australians a fair go when it comes on this? They can absorb this, they know they can absorb it, they ask small businesses to absorb costs that they impose on them everyday and Australian households, and so who’s going to be the first bank to show their not the big bad bank that so many Australians seem to think that they are. I don’t think that’s really what’s in their DNA and I think they have the opportunity to demonstrate that.

QUESTION:

Chris Bowen’s basically laying the foundation for perhaps a delay of not supporting the levy saying that the draft legislation’s too rushed, will this be a massive backflip by the Labor Party who were previously going in so strong against the banks?

TREASURER:

Look, it’s clear Chris Bowen’s getting the wibble wobbles on the bank tax. And you know he can’t decide where he wants to be on this thing. He’s in a position where he’s saying, “Oh yes, I’m very much for the bank tax.” And then he wants to run all the lines that the banks are running about oh the process is wrong, and all these sorts of things which the banks use to try and delay or try and frustrate its introduction. Well, I think Chris Bowen should stop trying to run the bank’s lines when it comes to the bank levy and he should stop running his lines on the deficit levy where he wants to see Australians when they do work one day for the Government and work one day for themselves. So I don’t know where he stands Chris Bowen on this issue, he’s clearly got the wibble wobbles on this as my good colleague Mathias Cormann would say and he needs to steady up his stance.

QUESTION:

If the Parliament rejects your plan to lift the Medicare levy will you take it to the next election?

TREASURER:

I’m very confident that the Parliament will support what we’re doing on the Medicare levy. The Medicare levy change two years from now is to support the full funding of the National Disability Insurance Scheme and I’m so proud of the way not surprisingly that Australians have responded in a big hearted way, I think to support this measure. Now, let’s not forget the Labor Party is not increasing the Medicare levy to fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Chris Bowen said that at the Press Club this week and the Shadow Assistant Minister to the Treasurer said it last week. So be under no mistake, Labor is not increasing the Medicare levy to fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme, they’re just doing it to increase a tax. The only reason we are increasing the Medicare levy by 0.5 per cent two years from now is to ensure that the National Disability Insurance Scheme is fully funded. We wouldn’t be doing it for any other reason, there’s a $55.7 billion black hole which Labor left behind on the National Disability Insurance Scheme. They don’t even believe the hole exists so if they don’t believe the hole exists, why would they be wanting to increase the Medicare levy other than for the reason that they just like jacking up taxes for the sake of it? Thank you.