7 September 2016
Transcript - #2016124, 2016

Interview with Leigh Sales, ABC 7.30

SUBJECTS: Senator Dastyari; National Accounts - 25 years of uninterrupted economic growth; Turnbull Government; women in Parliament

LEIGH SALES:

The Government considers Sam Dastyari's scalp its own. I spoke to the Treasurer Scott Morrison in Sydney a short time ago about this and other stories in the news today, including the release of Australia's national accounts figures. Scott Morrison thank you for being with us.

TREASURER:

Thank you Leigh.

SALES:

As we've heard the latest Senator, Sam Dastyari has resigned. Does this set a benchmark or sound a warning for any politician who is getting a little bit too cosy with donors or other interested parties?

TREASURER:

Well, firstly, who would have thought that Sam Dastyari had higher standards than Bill Shorten. It is Sam Dastyari who has taken the decision today. It was Bill Shorten who was continuing to defend him and there was no new information. All of that was very clear so Sam has taken that decision today and Bill Shorten was nowhere to be seen. I think that's disappointing because Bill Shorten should have had this sorted days ago because the facts of this matter were uncontested. But the issue here about broader issues of donations, that is not really what has happened here. This is about an individual who got a donor with whom they must have had a very, very tight relationship to cover off a debt. Now that's complicated by the fact that it was also a donor with links to the Chinese government, and there are all those other issues around the statements and other things he had done in relation to Chinese foreign policy. So this was quite an extraordinary instance and it was just surprising it took the Labor party so long that there was a problem.

SALES:

But nonetheless, don't you think that the discussion it's opened up shows that voters are a little bit uncomfortable with this idea that companies, individuals, can donate money to political parties when they have a vested interest in the outcome of policies that those politicians manufacture?

TREASURER:

Well, this is why we have donation disclosure laws and all those sorts of things. But again, Leigh, I stress this is a very different circumstance to what you're talking about, which is general donations…

SALES:

It has morphed into a broader discussion though.

TREASURER:

Sure, it raises those questions and particularly now that he's resigned as he should have.

SALES:

Do you think there is a need for reform of the broader donations regime?           

TREASURER:

Well, I think the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters and the Special Minister for State is open to go and look at those questions and we've been saying over the last couple of days, well that's a very legitimate area of discussion, enquiry and debate.

SALES:

Do you think foreign donations should be banned?

TREASURER:

Well, I'm happy for the Special Minister of State and the Joint Standing Committee, I used to sit on that committee at one point…

SALES:

So you must have an opinion, so what do you reckon?

TREASURER:

We will allow that committee to follow its process, take submissions if that's what they wish to do and I think there are obvious questions that you can now entertain but Labor was seeking to raise those issues as a distraction from what Senator Dastyari had done and Bill Shorten is still nowhere to be seen.

SALES:

Let's head to the national accounts figures that came out today. It's Government spending that helped boost the economy in the June quarter. How does that square with your rhetoric that we need to cut government spending?

TREASURER:

It was government public final new demand in one quarter. Over the course of the year the contribution of growth of that element was 0.7 per cent. Net exports was 1.6. Household consumption was 1.5. Dwelling investment just under that 0.7 figure. So what overwhelmingly drove growth over the course of the past year, was as I said today, Australians going out to work every day, Australians starting and running businesses, Australians getting jobs, Australians going out there and fighting for every inch of growth that is out there in the global economy. So public final demand, particularly in areas of infrastructure, which has been important but there were two quite unique items that went into this one and that was the PBS listing of the Hep-C drugs and in addition to that, there was also the Chinook helicopter procurement. Now they are unique issues but on top of that you have got infrastructure which also is driving investment more broadly in the economy.

SALES:

Nonetheless, wouldn't this show that if you, some of the things you mentioned there like people going out and finding jobs, that is due also to government spending. Is the lesson here not that you have to be very cautious about cutting government spending too hard?

TREASURER:

Well, you don't create jobs by just expanding the welfare system, you don't create jobs by having expenditure that is not fit the purpose and programs that aren't doing their jobs and seeing expenditure grow at a rate that it shouldn't be growing it and that's the expenditure we need to get under control. Everything we look at in in the budget, every revenue measure we look at in the budget, expenditure and revenue, it must be fit for purpose, it must be sustainable, it must do its job and if it's not doing it, then you've got to change it.

SALES:

The Foreign Investor Register that you released shows that about 13 per cent of Australian agricultural land is owned by foreign investors. The National Party leader Barnaby Joyce points out that that size of land is more than twice the size of Victoria. Is that too much in your view, about right? Too little?

TREASURER:

What I do know is that foreign investment in Australia and it comes in at the rate of almost $200 billion a year, $3 trillion worth of foreign investment in stock in the country, this has been an important part of Australia's economic success not just recently but over hundreds of years. I think the register today puts some facts into the debate and those facts are that the biggest investors in agricultural land are actually the British, and the Americans, and the Dutch and Chinese investment is actually a very small component of that at present.

SALES:

Nonetheless...

TREASURER:

This is an important factor. The other point I would make, Leigh, is that the overwhelming majority of that agricultural land holdings, more than 80 per cent is in leasehold, not freehold.

SALES:

Nonetheless, that figure that I raised about 13 per cent, do you think that that's about right? Does the Government for example, think okay, well there is an upper limit, we wouldn't want to sell more than 50 per cent, more than 25 per cent?

TREASURER:

Well, that's not the purpose of the register. What the register does is helps us inform government policy and decision making. We have I think a very robust framework…

SALES:

Sorry to interrupt but don't you have, as a government, a broader sense of well how much land do we think is appropriate to have foreign investment?

TREASURER:

Those figures as presented in that register I don't think cause us any great reason for concern. But it's important to have the register, monitor that. We have a very tight foreign investment control on agricultural land - a threshold cumulative of $15 million, which is what we put that in place. Now I think that is appropriate to deal with holdings of that size.

SALES:

It's one year next week since Malcolm Turnbull became the Prime Minister and you became the Treasurer. What is your one signature achievement of that period? Not something you're planning to do, something that you have actually achieved in that one year?

TREASURER:

I think one of the most important things we have done over this period is we've continued to manage the successful transition of our economy, Leigh. This has been critical. I mean the fact that today in the national accounts we've seen growth real running at 3.3 per cent through the year and that has been the product of ensuring a consistency of policy, rising levels of business conditions, increased levels of business confidence and providing the surety of a plan that is taking our economy through this transition. That is the leadership, that is the direction that Malcolm Turnbull promised to bring and that is what he's delivering.

SALES:

You say you've had a successful, managing the successful transition yet again if we look at the benchmarks that the Liberals promised before you came into government, that the Coalition promised, it was to cut debt and deficit and we haven't seen any progress in that regard?

TREASURER:

Well, that is why I'm highlighting that arresting the debt is our challenge in this term and in this parliamentary term we have the opportunity through getting control of government expenditure, by flattening that growth curve, in government expenditure, that we can arrest the debt, which will cripple future generations with higher taxes and lesser services. Now we must avoid that and that's why we put the bills we have into the Parliament. They went in last week, there will be more and that will ensure if we can pass those bills, that we can arrest that growth in debt and we can ensure that we can put Australia on a much more resilient fiscal footing into the future. Married with that is the idea of continuing to strengthen our financial system. One of the first things Malcolm Turnbull did as Prime Minister was to respond to the Financial System Inquiry.

SALES:

Let me ask you a question before we run out of time about a speech that the former Prime Minister John Howard gave today. He said that he thinks women are unlikely to ever hold 50 per cent of jobs in the Federal Parliament because women still carry the greater responsibility to care for children. What do you think about that?

TREASURER:

Well, it's true in my home, but that's the choice of our home and my wife and I, and our family we agree what is right for our family but I'm not going to make that choice for any other family and I'm not going to make that choice for the Australian Parliament.

SALES:

Do you think that it's a factor in not being able to get to the 50 per cent?

TREASURER:

I think it is very challenging for women in Parliament. This is why I celebrate the success of the Minister for Revenue and Financial Services, Kelly O'Dwyer. She is making this a reality in her life and for her little daughter Olivia and I think she's a great example of what can be achieved and I'd like to see more of that.

SALES:

Isn't the answer to encourage more men to take on an equal share of child care and managing home responsibilities?

TREASURER:

Well, Kelly would agree and that's has happened in her case. But these are decisions for families and it's not for me or anyone else to determine the choices of other families and how they wish to deal with this. But Kelly and her husband have come to a way of making this happen and I think that's a great example of what can be achieved and she's doing a fantastic job.

SALES:

Treasurer, thank you very much.

TREASURER:

Thanks a lot.