28 September 2016
Transcript - #2016142, 2016

Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News

SUBJECTS: Better Working Holiday Maker tax arrangements; Budget savings; Enterprise Tax Plan; Same sex marriage plebiscite; Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks reach NRL Grand Final.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Treasurer, a lot to talk about including a reduction in the backpacker tax, I want to start with a criticism from an industry you know well, the tourism industry. They’re saying that you’re using it as a cash cow to fund the reduction in the backpacker tax, what do you say to your former colleagues?

TREASURER:

I don’t share that view. The backpacker industry is $5 billion a year or there about for the tourism industry. The measures we announced yesterday, which includes a $50 reduction in the visa application charge for backpackers, and to make the tax rate, pull that from 32.5 down to 19 cents. All of this is going to support tourism. These backpackers are spending this money on the tourism industry and regions all across the country, so they are the principal beneficiary of these measures and these measures have to wash their face, they were the ones particularly arguing that this had to be addressed, because this was not good for tourism, so we’ve done that but at the same time, we’re not going to have the Budget impaired, and just like we did on superannuation, when we resolve these issues, we do it without impairing the budget.

GILBERT:

The departure tax affects every tourist, that’s the point that they’re making.

TREASURER:

It’s a $5 change. It hasn’t been changed since 2012. Since then we’ve spent hundreds of millions of dollars on airports around the country, on e-gates, we didn’t go and touch the passenger movement charge for that. We’ve banned surcharging for credit cards and debit cards, so that means if you get in a cab, if you book a flight, if you go to a concert, you check into a hotel, those excessive credit card surcharges, which travellers would have been getting, will no longer be getting those. Those they will have saved even more on that. So look, we’ve done a lot I think to reduce the burden on travellers in Australia. A $5 increase, the only increase since 2012 since all of that, the price moves by more than that the day you go onto Webjet or something like that. I think that argument is predictable, but at the end of the day the tourism industry benefits from this. That’s not going to be done at the expense of the Budget, because other Australian tax payers would have to pay it.

GILBERT:

So the Government, do you concede, the Government got it wrong with the amount that you wanted to charge backpackers that would have had unintended consequences for the farmers around the…

TREASURER:

I’ll say we’ve made sure we’ve got it better in the solution we’ve got here today. It was important that measures were introduced and when Joe introduced that in the 15/16 Budget he was doing it to address a hole in the revenue that had been opened up by Labor’s decision to increase the tax free threshold. What Labor did, is they gave working holiday makers a tax holiday when they came to Australia. Now that had to be fixed. Joe put that forward, I was part of the ERC that did that. Now, I think we’ve made the measure better with what we’ve announced yesterday.

GILBERT:

Cory Bernardi has made some comments overnight saying that the Liberal Party, the Coalition, needs to discuss and focus on policies similar to One Nation. He says with more delicacy more nuisance but, that’s the focus you need to have. What’s your take on that. He says in response to some of that focus on innovation, where he says most people don’t get what you’re talking about.

TREASURER:

The Government needs to get on with the job of governing. The Government needs to continue to do what we’re doing to support jobs in the economy. Support growth in the economy. In the last 12 months, we’ve had jobs and growth. We’ve had 3.3 per cent growth in the economy and around about 200,000 jobs that are created. So that’s what the Government is delivering. We need to keep delivering that jobs and growth and make sure that those economic gains are being felt as broadly right across the Australian community and we’re getting people into work. Our task is economic, our task is get the Budget under control. Our task is to make sure our economy and our banking and financial system is as resilient as it can be, in the event of any external shocks that come down the way. We need to help Australians earn more, and see their real wages lifted to ensure that companies can earn more and their profits can be lifted…

GILBERT:

But do you accept the point that Senator Bernardi is making?

TREASURER:

It’s a commentary position. I’m the Treasurer. We’re governing. Australians want to see us govern. What they saw yesterday, another issue that we had to resolve, improve, we’ve done that. It hasn’t even been 100 days yet, and we’re just getting through and we’re sorting these things out and we’re getting on with the job of governing.

GILBERT:

The BCA is urging you to push ahead with your ten year company tax cut plan and saying that if you don’t, if you do separate the bill and have the cuts for small business not going to the high end, that you won’t get the global competiveness dividend that you’re aiming for.

TREASURER:

Well that’s not our plan. The only people who would want to do that are the Labor Party and the Greens and the crossbenchers, and they have the numbers to do that in the Senate if that’s what they wish to do. The issue is not with the Government. The issue with those who oppose these measures. We were the ones that introduced them. I introduced the Bill myself, and it was the whole package. Everything we took to the last election. Everything I put in the Budget in May, and that’s what we’ve done.

GILBERT:

Buy you might have to separate the Bill, that’s the reality isn’t it?

TREASURER:

Well, the Government is not separating the Bill. The Government wouldn’t be separating the Bill. In the Senate, crossbenchers and Labor and the Greens can work together to do that if that’s what they choose to do. So I think that the conversation the BCA has to have is with those who are opposing the Government’s policy. The policy that they support is the one that we put in place, we took to an election and I’ve introduced to the parliament in full.

GILBERT:

The IMF is warning of a China contagion if it doesn’t deal with its debt, its growing debt. You spoke about this in August of this year from memory. This has huge implications for us. If China gets a cold, we get pneumonia.

TREASURER:

It’s very important that we keep a watching eye on this. There’s not a lot Australia can do about this. These are matters for the Chinese Government and I don’t think they would welcome lectures from Australia on how they need to manage that. It’s important for us to be mindful of those vulnerabilities. I think it’s within the wit and the means of the Chinese Government to resolve those issues.

GILBERT:

Do you think so?

TREASURER:

Of course.

GILBERT:

It’s a huge ask though.

TREASURER:

Well they certainly have the resources to do that. They are self-funding in terms of their own financial position. This will be a matter of where the debt sits within the Chinese economy. Whether it sits in the SOEs directly and the local government and administrations or it sits in the central government level. At the central government level their debt issues are far less dramatic, the debt issues arise in a lot of those other agencies. Particularly in government but also in the private sector in China. So we need to be wary of that. But what does that mean for us? It means that we’ve got five years or so to ensure that we increase our resilience. We need to do that by getting the Budget back into balance. And that’s why we’re focusing on expenditure. It was good to get the $6.3 billion through, on the Omnibus Bill. But that is just the start. We’ve got another $6 billion dollars in social services measures, which the Labor Party continues to oppose. So they’re not getting on board with that. We’ll work the crossbench on that. In total, we’ve got some $40 billion worth of Budget improvement measures. We’ve already got through over a quarter of those, getting that through the parliament in these few weeks. Within the first 100 days of government, getting stuff done.

GILBERT:

One last issue before I get your prediction for weekend’s events. The plebiscite on same-sex marriage. Newspoll shows more people now want a parliamentary vote. Do you see any sign of Malcolm Turnbull wavering on this?

TREASURER:

The policy we took to the election and won, that was a fairly significant poll. The election. The election was where we took that policy of a plebiscite to the Australian people. It was endorsed at a general election. Now that’s our policy. The Labor party, and others, advocates for a different position want the Government to break its promise on this that we made to the Australian people. We made that commitment and we took it to an election, and it was endorsed. That is the Government’s position. We’re seeking to engage with the opposition on this matter. I don’t think their engagement is genuine at present. Our policy on what the Bill is, is there. That’s what our proposal is. The other day, we had Mark Dreyfus turn up with not one suggestion about one thing he would like to see changed in order that would enable him to support the Bill. Our proposal is out there. What we’ve got on the table is there. Labor needs to engage with this because I think we need to get this matter resolved so people can have their say, because this is not the number one issue in the country at the moment. For people their jobs, and their security and all these sorts of issues, that’s what we’re focused on. We have to deal with this issue of a plebiscite…

GILBERT:

Do you think voters get frustrated by the fact that this isn’t a number one issue in their minds and yet it dominates a lot of the talk and the coverage and the fact that you can’t get it done.

TREASURER:

I think it does dominate a lot of media commentary on this issue. It certainly doesn’t dominate my commentary. I’m interested in getting the Budget back into balance. I’m interested in arresting the debt. I’m interested in growing the economy. I mean Stephen Ciobo is over in Iran, over in new offices there, getting on with the trade arrangements. Christopher Pyne is getting on with the Defence Procurement Plan. We’re getting on with it. This is an issue that needs to be resolved. The only person talking about same-sex marriage every single day is Bill Shorten, he’s obsessed. What we need to do is get to a landing he can support a plebiscite which we took to the election, he took his pitch to the election, he didn’t win, despite his confected victory lap. I think that was a victory lap over Anthony Albanese, not over the Government. That’s a matter for him to sort out. I say to them, get genuine. Front up, tell us what changes they think are necessary to secure support for the Bill. Otherwise, it’s just a stunt.

GILBERT:

Finally a big event this weekend for you and your region, the Shire, the Sharks. Are they going to get there?

TREASURER:

I believe so. I think this is it. But we don’t want to hex it or spook it or all the rest of it. Just to see the kids yesterday down at Shark Park at training sessions, to see the smiles on people’s faces. I mean one family repainted their house in the Shire the other day, which is just great. That’s the great fun of grand finals. This is something that the community is going to remember for a long time, and they want to remember it for one extra thing, this weekend. Black, white and blue. I’ve issued the challenge; black, white and blue sausages from our Shire butchers by the end of the week. We’ve got the cake. Very excited and Shane Flanagan for Daly M coach of the year this year. 

GILBERT:

I think there’s a very fair chance of that as much as I like Cameron Smith and the Storm crew, I’m on board. Go the Sharks.

TREASURER:

Get on the bandwagon. Good man.

GILBERT:

Thanks for your time.