26 July 2017
Transcript - #2017141, 2017

Interview with Leon Byner, 5AA

Subjects: 2017 Budget delivering fairness for Australians; Senator Canavan; Murray-Darling Basin; Bill Shorten’s politics of envy; South Australian economy; the Turnbull Government’s plan to deliver more reliable, more affordable and more sustainable energy; no jab, no pay

LEON BYNER:

It is my pleasure to welcome to 5AA, the Federal Treasurer, Scott Morrison. Scott, good morning.

TREASURER:

Hello, Leon.

BYNER:

How long are you in town for?

TREASURER:

I’m here for a couple of days.

BYNER:

And why did you come?

TREASURER:

To see you, Leon…

BYNER:

Of course.

TREASURER:

To talk to your listeners and to be here and it’s always a great opportunity to do that. I’m speaking tomorrow morning at a breakfast here in Adelaide and I’ll have a bit to say about how the Turnbull Government’s Budget is delivering greater fairness for all Australians. We’ll be talking about that and catching up with a few crossbenchers while I’m in town and a few other colleagues.

BYNER:

Alright, now, right now…

TREASURER:

Catching up with Tony Pasin actually and some of the issues he’s dealing with up in his electorate.

BYNER:

We’ve got this issue now where you’ve got a senator, Matt Canavan, who has discovered that he’s got a dual citizenship and he’s obviously been taken by surprise. Do you think there are more that are going to come forward on all this?

TREASURER:

I have no idea and this has been a surprise clearly to Matt and for him and his family. Matt is an outstanding minister. He really is a great member of the team and we’re hoping and looking forward to his return. He’s dealing with some of the really big issues at the moment, particularly when it comes to ensuring our gas stays here in Australia, the development of Northern Australia, he’s from North Queensland himself, and apart from always backing the North Queensland Cowboys over my Sharks, we agree on most things.

BYNER:

Alright, so he’s resigned from Cabinet but not the Senate?

TREASURER:

He’s stood aside, I should say, from his position as Minister and he’s responsibilities will be able to be looked after by Barnaby.

BYNER:

So, obviously there’s going to be a High Court ruling on what’s going to happen here?

TREASURER:

Yeah, that’s right. I mean , clearly as he said himself he had no knowledge of this and it does strike me as just bizarre that someone could be made a citizen of a country that they’ve never applied for or never signed any paperwork for. So, I think that does set his circumstances out a little bit differently from others. He was born in Australia – I think this has come as a bolt out of the blue. So, look, it’s disappointing that this has happened, particularly for Matt, but we’ll just deal with it and the proper place for that is what the Attorney-General has been doing and the matter being referred to the High Court and hopefully, common sense will prevail.

BYNER:

So, Matt will stay in the Senate until the High Court decides?

TREASURER:

Well, yeah, that will determine the matter and then we’ll deal with what the High Court determines.

BYNER:

Look, I want to talk about a story that broke a couple of days ago on Four Corners, where it is alleged that there’s been high level interference in water metering in New South Wales and again some people have used “fraud” – that water has virtually been stolen from the environment. Now, what are you doing to respond to these allegations so that this matter can actually be sorted out?

TREASURER:

Letting the compliance authorities of New South Wales who have responsibility for compliance –if there’s been illegal activity, which has been alleged, and this is very serious – then the authorities need to deal with it. And that’s the first step.

BYNER:

Yes, but isn’t it…

TREASURER:

That’s what’s happening. The minister there has referred the matter, as he should, and that is now going to be dealt with by the proper authorities, as it should, to see exactly what’s happened. I think the allegations are incredibly serious but Barnaby Joyce – the Water Minister – this morning I thought made some important observations. The Murray-Darling Basin has a catchment of some 32,000 gigalitres, this involves activity of 10 gigalitres, so we’ve got to put it into perspective. That’s not to say it’s not serious – it is – and it must be dealt with by the proper authorities and that’s what’s happening. I don’t think we need to sort of radically recalibrate the Murray-Darling scheme…

BYNER:

So you wouldn’t want a judicial inquiry?

TREASURER:

I don’t think we want to take over states’ rights on water which, frankly, seemed to be the impression we were getting out of the South Australian Government…

BYNER:

No, well…

TREASURER:

That couldn’t surely be what they’re suggesting…

BYNER:

Minister, what appears to be the case is that Jay Weatherill, our premier, has contacted the Prime Minister and said, “We want a full and open judicial inquiry into this.” You don’t want that?

TREASURER:

I want the New South Wales Government to do its job and that’s what it should do and let’s see what happens from there.

BYNER:

Because one of the allegations is that they’ve been complicit in this so wouldn’t it be…

TREASURER:

That the New South Wales Government has been complicit in it?

BYNER:

Well…

TREASURER:

That’s not the allegation as I understand it. It sounds to me that…

BYNER:

Well, that knowingly – this so-called stealing of water was known and not acted on.

TREASURER:

The authorities will deal will this at the appropriate level of jurisdiction. That’s where it should always be address in the first instance, so let’s see what comes of that, Leon, and let’s get on with implementing the Murray-Darling Basin Plan – which is exactly what we’re doing, by the way. We’re implementing that plan. It’s a good plan and we remain absolutely committed to it and delivering it. But one thing, Jay Weatherill can’t just be running off to Malcolm Turnbull all the time. He’s the premier of this state and he should be dealing with those issues within his jurisdiction and I don’t think he would want the Federal Government coming in and being heavy-handed with his responsibilities here in South Australia...

BYNER:

Given the Four Corners...

TREASURER:

...They’re responsible state governments, they’ve got to live up to their responsibilities.

BYNER:

I take your point but given that it was a media organisation that exposed this would suggest that the regulatory have been asleep a bit.

TREASURER:

No, I don’t think that’s the case...

BYNER:

No?

TREASURER:

It’s not uncommon for issues like this to be ventilated in the media, from being exposed in the media. As a case in point, the Don Dale issues up in the Northern Territory – there are some good investigative journalists out there who do a good job but when you respond to these things, you do it in a measured way and you make sure you go through a proper process and you keep it in perspective and you remain focused on the core job. Our core job is to implement the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and to ensure its integrity – and that’s what we’ll continue to do.

BYNER:

Former Water Minister and former Liberal, Mark Brindal, has called in. Mark, you obviously know Scott Morrison, what’s your question or comment?

MARK BRINDAL:

Well, Scott, I’m a little bit disappointed with Barnaby’s comments especially – 32,000 gigalitres represents a value of about $32 million. Water is private property, or water rights are now private property, and that water which isn’t assigned to people, to individuals belongs to the Crown, to the people of Australia. Not just the people of New South Wales but the people of the whole system. Now, Leon or I stole $32 million, the police would be beating down our door. This all seems to be a cute little matter for regulation. It’s not, it’s a serious matter. You created, we created, all the governments of Australia, water as a property right. That property has been stolen in a law abiding country, it is a serious matter. It needs to be addressed and because this crossed the state boundaries, it needs to be addressed by your Government.

BYNER:

What do you say, Scott?

TREASURER:

Well, we’ll send in the authorities that are responsible for this and that is in New South Wales and they’ll go and deal with it then we’ll take it from there. I don’t disagree with the points that are being made about the seriousness of this, of course it’s serious. But the appropriate place for this to be responded to in the first instance is by the responsible authority, and that’s in New South Wales. If it had happened in South Australia, I would expect the South Australian Government to take action – so that’s where you start. We worked the Murray-Darling Basin Plan as a team and each member of that team is responsible for the things it’s responsible for and New South Wales is responsible for dealing with this.

BYNER:

Now Scott, as Treasurer, Labor have got you in the gun because they’re going to use the inequality card very strongly between now and the next election. And I see that Jim Chalmers, the Finance Labor spokesman, says that they’re not looking at abolishing trusts and I think there’s something like 800,000 of them – but they’re going to make tax arrangements more fair. Do you think there’s anything in what they’re saying or do you totally disagree with them?

TREASURER:

We already have a Trusts Taskforce to deal with integrity issues that has raised almost $1 billion in additional liabilities since it was set up some years ago. So, integrity issues with trusts – fair enough – and we are already addressing those, should continue to address those like we do in any other area – whether it’s negative gearing or whatever part of the tax system. But what this is about is this, Bill Shorten thinks that fairness is about: “You can only do better if someone else does worse.” So long as it’s not Bill Shorten by the way. Bill Shorten is saying to Australians that we’re not a fair country. Now, this is the land of the fair-go and the statistics actually don’t bear out Bill’s argument – which is not a surprise. I know that Australians are doing it tough, we all know that, and that not all of Australians, and particularly here in South Australia, have experienced and felt the growth that other parts of the country have…

BYNER:

Why do you think our growth is behind the national average? What do you put that down to?

TREASURER:

In South Australia?

BYNER:

Yeah.

TREASURER:

Well, there’s a number of issues. Population growth for a start has been weaker here than it has in all the other states. The levels of investment that have been going in have also not matched what it is in other states…

BYNER:

What do you attribute that to?

TREASURER:

Well, you need a State Government that has a clear plan to grow the state economy, that’s an important ingredient, and that will attract people and investment here to South Australia. I mean, the Federal Government, the Commonwealth Government, has focused on South Australia – this one, the Turnbull Government – like no other Government. Our commitment to the submarines project, to the frigates project out to 2020, and the patrol boats – our defence investment alone. Now, you put that together with what we’re doing in health, what we’re doing in education, the Turnbull Government is very focused on the challenges here in South Australia. But they’re the challenges that we face here and it’s a state that has been at the cutting edge of the economic changes that we have seen happen in the global economy, not just Australia.

BYNER:

Why would you think that in polling – and I know I’m not going to get you to comment on polls in general – but there is a reality here that the Federal Government are quite weak in SA, compared to other states. Why do you think that is if what you’re saying that you’re giving SA a real leg-up, doing as much as possible, why is that not converting to support?

TREASURER:

Well, governments – whether it’s the state government here, which is certainly on the nose – governments are held responsible, as they should be, for where people are right now. And in South Australia, people would like to be feeling a lot better off than they are, I have no doubt about that. So I’m not surprised that people will look to whether it’s a state government or a federal government, and be asking those questions. My answer to those questions is pretty clear – whether it’s the North-South Corridor investment and infrastructure or what I’ve just talked about by our massive Defence commitment here in South Australia – remember, for six years, Leon, the Labor Party when they were in office federally didn’t make a decision to build a ferry, let alone a submarine…

BYNER:

Yes, but I still get back to the point that with all these investment the Federal Government have put South Australia’s way, why do you think it is that you’re not getting the popular support that you should be getting?

TREASURER:

That’s not for me to judge, Leon, to be honest. What’s my job is to keep making the investments, to keep putting the right policy settings into place, and that’s exactly what we’re doing and to play the long game. And the long game is to make the decisions which grow the economy, not to engage in populist, superficial politics. See, we believe in the economics of opportunity – that’s what we believe in as a Turnbull Government. Bill Shorten believes in the politics of envy and that’s what he’s appealing to. He’s embraced populism with both hands, both feet and both faces. That’s Bill Shorten.

BYNER:

What do you think of the announcement? I’m interested to know Cabinet’s reaction when Elon Musk came to Adelaide and announced that he wants to build a battery and if he can’t do it in 100 days then it’s for free. It’s going to power – when it is finished – 30,000 homes with enough energy for an hour and the State Government are also going to build gas-fired generator, which will be used as a picking plant. Do you think that’s good for SA?

TREASURER:

It’s not enough. I mean, good on Elon Musk – it was a bit of Hollywood, it was a bit of showbiz – but the outcome would not enable 30,000 South Australian households to watch Australia’s Ninja Warrior to the conclusion. It was what it was and I think we should call it for what it is. By all means, do it but it’s not solving the problem, and equally, I think the broader plan here in South Australia is a bit of a patch-up. What we’re working on nationally, and to their credit, South Australia is part of this process, is about getting the gas back here in Australia. That’s what we’ve already taken decisions on and that’s what Matt Canavan was actually implementing.

BYNER:

It’s still very expensive.

TREASURER:

Well, of course, but you don’t turn this tank around overnight. People have been playing politics with energy policy for a decade and that’s going to have a consequence. So long as it’s politics as usual, it will mean business as usual and energy policy which means one thing: prices go up. The Turnbull Government is turning that around and going in a different direction.

BYNER:

I’ve got a question, it’s not your portfolio, but I know Cabinet would have signed off on this. We’ve had a lot of reaction in the last few days about the ‘No Jab, No Play’ policy. Why did we decide to go down the path of saying to people, “If you don’t immunise your child, we’re going to take some of your Centrelink benefits away from you.” And then as a caller pointed out today, there is a form they sign when they do these vaccinations called ‘Informed Choice’ but it is under duress. Why did Cabinet decide to sign off on, “Let’s have a punitive response if people don’t do it.”?

TREASURER:

Because they’re putting other kids at risk. It’s as simple as that. If you want to access Government benefits, if you want to be part of the Australian team, then you’ve got to play by the rules. If you want to choose to do that for your own reasons, well, it’s a free country, but that doesn’t give you the right to put other families and other kids at risk. There’s the herd immunisation as well which is critically important. I took that decision as the Social Services Minister and I feel pretty passionately about it, and I think it was here in South Australia – it may have been here when I was walking off a plane once and a fellow said to me once, “thank you for doing that.” He actually has a problem with not being able to have immunisations for medical reasons. He relies on the herd immunisation of the Australian population so it’s just good health policy, it’s common sense.

BYNER:

So, you stand by the duress element?

TREASURER:

I make no apologies for it whatsoever…

BYNER:

But wasn’t there a recommendation by a committee constituted by your Government that said, “that’s not the way to go.”?

TREASURER:

No, not to my knowledge?

BYNER:

No?

TREASURER:

No, I never received any advice along those lines. In fact, the decision was strongly supported in the advice I received. This is common sense. This is protecting Australians who are vulnerable because of their own medical conditions. It’s protecting young children. We don’t want preschools and child care centres to be germ factories. Any of us who have kids knows what it’s like when they come home with a cold. You just count the day before you go down yourself, that’s always my case. But we’re talking about even more serious things here and I’m not going to put kids at risk.

BYNER:

Alright, do you see South Australia as a centre for space research, investigation, maybe launching a satellite going to Mars?

TREASURER:

Well, if the investment can be supported I’d like to see any and all of these things as possibilities. The opportunities that we have in South Australia, particularly around the very strong university and science and research community here, are outstanding. It is one of the great strengths. The health research, the health sector industry here in South Australia is world-class and we just put $68 million, as you know, into the purchase of accelerator equipment and the two treatment rooms and supported the establishment of the proton beam facility here in South Australia. We’re making those investments too. Look, I think this is a smart state, I think it can be an even smarter state, I think that is a big part of South Australia’s economic future.

BYNER:

When you make your energy announcement tomorrow, I’d love to catch up again because I know you don’t want to break a story just to us – which is a pity.

TREASURER:

I’m happy to tell you what I’m going to say tomorrow. I’ve already said part of it, I’m reinforcing the five point plan that the Prime Minister has outlined, I articulated it in the Budget. A big part of that is making sure that – and the Finkel Report recommends this – that we have got to sweat our existing coal assets for longer. I know there’s a lot of talk about new coal-fired power stations and all that sort of thing – fair enough – I don’t have any issue with that, so long as it can be supported economically. But none of those are going to turn up any time soon and put your power prices down. But keeping our existing baseload, dispatchable energy source in coal-fired power stations, which are already there, around for longer and not allowing them to close down without a plan for what happens next, that is a huge piece and I think that’s something that we’re very focused on, the Prime Minister’s very focused on, and we’ll continue to pursue that as part of our plan.

BYNER:

Thanks for coming in.

TREASURER:

Great to be here, Leon.