20 July 2017
Transcript - #2017137, 2017

Interview with Leigh Sales, 7.30 ABC

SUBJECTS: The Australian economy; Employment data; GST on tampons; Home Affairs Department; Tony Abbott

LEIGH SALES:

Scott Morrison, thanks for joining us.

TREASURER:

Thanks, Leigh.

SALES:

You said today that there is a sense of confidence coming back to the economy. For the average person, though, does that translate into more affordable housing, lower electricity bills, lower health insurance premiums or bigger pay packets?

TREASURER:

Well, that's certainly the challenge that we have, but what it does say is that the better days ahead that I spoke of in the Budget, we are now starting to see those data points which are giving effect to that observation, and it is not just me. The Reserve Bank in their minutes this week used positive references on eight occasions. So this is a good sign, but the results you are talking about are the things we need to look forward to and that we need to achieve.

SALES:

But when you say "better days ahead" does that mean those things that I referred to?

TREASURER:

Well, it does. It means to ensure that when your economy is growing at a much greater rate, that you are seeing improvement in profits which means an improvement in wages, and as we have talked about many times, that's the key thing I want to see move. We've had very good job figures today. Over 60,000 people went out to get a full-time job in June and got one, and that's very good news. Over 230,000 jobs created in the last 12 months, and that was the year that we said we would focus on jobs and growth, and we've certainly got the jobs, and the growth continues. If you have a look at the decades-long figures on full-time employment, it is still down on a decade ago. There has been this continuing trend that as you point out in the last year has been arrested.

SALES:

Is that something that will continue to have inroads made into so we can see full-time employment around the levels that it used to be?

TREASURER:

We are seeing improvement in full-time employment and particularly in the first half of this year and that's encouraging, but what we need to see more of are hours that are worked. There was a slight improvement in that today which is welcome, and we need to see an improvement in wages as well, and these are observations again that aren't just mine, they are the observations that are being made not just by the Reserve Bank but other key consensus forecasters.

SALES:

Let me whip around other economic issues with you. Let me ask you a question on behalf of the women of Australia. As Treasurer are you prepared to campaign to have the GST on tampons taken off so that they are in line with other health products rather than considered a non-essential luxury item?

TREASURER:

It is not something we are progressing at the moment, but how these are addressed in the future Leigh, well, we’ll address that when…

SALES:

As Treasurer would you prepared to take that up as something?

TREASURER:

It’s not on the agenda, no. Not at the moment.

SALES:

And why is that it isn’t on the agenda given that it affects so many women and clearly tampons are not a non-essential luxury item?

TREASURER:

Leigh, it is a matter that has been canvassed before, it’s a matter that the states and territories haven't shown a great willingness to act on either. I'm dealing with a pretty difficult Budget setting at the moment and to ensure that we retain the strength and fiscal position which our credit rating heavily depends on. Look, it is a tough job and there are many issues we would like to address, Leigh, but that is not one that previous Treasurers have addressed and not one sitting on the Government's agenda presently.

SALES:

The new Home Affairs Department announced this week, will that cost more or less than the current arrangement?

TREASURER:

It will cost the same and in fact I would hope there would be efficiencies that would flow from that as well, but let's not forget they are separate, stand-alone statutory authorities, have their own heads, commissioners and whatnot and they will continue to operate within the budget provided but let me stress, in recent times it has been the Turnbull Government that has increased our investment in intelligence. Just recently, as the Prime Minister said the other day with the setting up of the National Intelligence Office, that that office will get additional resources to support its work. We've already increased resources for the Australian Federal Police in the last Budget, and other key security agencies, and since we were first elected we've put an enormous investment into our security agencies to restore the last six years of Labor.

SALES:

On the point that you say it will cost the same, presumably there has to be some sort of cost in terms of merging these things though over the next year?

TREASURER:

Why is that?

SALES:

Because there are things like changing letterhead.

TREASURER:

That's done digitally.

SALES:

Move people into other offices?

TREASURER:

No, not necessarily.

SALES:

So you don’t think there will be any special costs involved? There won't be a Budget item that involves this additional cost?

TREASURER:

No, this is something that can be absorbed within all current allocations. What this is, Leigh, is achieving something that you know probably that I've been a keen advocate for, for many years. When we stopped the boats, the key factor in stopping the boats was how we set up Operation Sovereign Borders with a clear chain of command, with single ministerial responsibility, reporting directly into a Prime Minister. Now, that's what this Home Affairs arrangement achieves. We've got great results by implementing this type of central chain of command previously, particularly at a ministerial level, and I have great confidence that this will achieve similar results for the Government, and I commend the Prime Minister for taking it on.

SALES:

On the point about stopping the boats, you are alluding to the period during which you were the Immigration Minister under Tony Abbott, so I wonder if you could help clear up a factual matter for us relating to that era. This week Mr Abbott said that regarding the Home Affairs department, the advice back then was that we didn't need it but a couple of days ago on this show  your successor Peter Dutton said "I know from my discussions with Tony when he was PM, that he supported the concept”. Did Tony Abbott want a Home Affairs office or not when he was PM?

TREASURER:

Well, he didn't implement one. So that’s the record that matters and he chose not to do that.

SALES:

But did he want one?

TREASURER:

You would have to ask him.

SALES:

You were part of the National Security Committee?

TREASURER:

I don't go into those discussions Leigh. Malcolm Turnbull has chosen to do it and that's consistent with the advice he has received by his own department as he has said today.

SALES:

National Security is an area - a lot of it is done in secrecy and nothing speaks to the way a nation conducts itself than things that are done in secrecy, so that’s why I’m probing you on this particular point about what happened historically. Was there advice at the time that a Home Affairs Office was not needed? I didn't have advice of that nature, but what advice the then Prime Minister had only he could speak to, but what I do know, and I want to stress this, is that the Prime Minister Turnbull, as he said today, has acted consistent with the advice he received from his own department a year ago. There will be all sorts of views but at the end of the day someone has to make a decision and this Prime Minister has taken a decision in what is, I think, a game-changing reform to how national security is run in this country. It draws on a time-honoured example in the Home Office in the United Kingdom, which has not been just around for a few decades, it’s been around for centuries.

SALES:

The Liberal Party’s Federal President Nick Greiner said this week said that Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull need to sit down for a meeting. Do you think they should?

TREASURER:

Look, clearly, Leigh, the fact that you are even in a position that you're asking me this question suggests that these things aren't helping and it would obviously be terribly disappointing if that was the intent, but what the Government has to do is frankly just keep on with the job of governing. I'm not denying the fact that this stuff is unhelpful, but what I am saying very clearly is the Government, from the Prime Minister all the way through, is not distracted by it, we are focused on the job governing and we are just going to get on with it.

SALES:

Do you think that the intent of Tony Abbott is to disrupt the Government and Malcolm Turnbull's leadership?

TREASURER:

Well, it would be disappointing if it was.

SALES:

Do you think it is? You know him well?

TREASURER:

Well, I don't know Leigh, I would hope it wasn't.

SALES:

Does Tony Abbott have any broad support in the parliamentary party to return to the prime ministership?

TREASURER:

Leigh, you would have to ask him.

SALES:

No, I'm asking you. You’re a senior member of the parliamentary party I wouldn't ask him because I’d ask you, because I'm asking you what your colleagues think.

TREASURER:

What would I even know?

SALES:

Because you are friends presumably with your parliamentary colleagues.

TREASURER:

The Prime Minister has the absolute broad support of the parliamentary party and that's what matters and the Prime Minister is getting on with the job. Our job is not to go around frankly chasing votes for some sort of superficial populist exercise. Our job is to earn votes by our record of achievement. We've had 17 bills passed by the last Parliament since the last time you and I spoke since the Budget. That means our Budget is passing the parliament. This is a Parliament remember where nothing was supposed to be able to get done. On top of that, we've passed 126 pieces of legislation. That's two bills every day the Parliament has sat since we were re-elected at the last election. Now, that's a government getting on with the job, whether it's childcare, whether it's the education reforms, whether it is the tax cuts for small business, the reforms to the building sites where we've restored the rule of law, particularly here in Victoria where I am tonight. These are big achievements and they will pay a dividend for the Government because it will be earning the support of the country, because it's getting things done.

SALES:

Scott Morrison, we're out of time, thanks very much.

TREASURER:

Thanks a lot, Leigh. Great to be with you.