20 October 2016
Transcript - #2016147, 2016

Doorstop Interview, Canberra

SUBJECTS: Australia’s triple-A credit rating; jobs data; Census; Senate negotiations; MYEFO; Labor’s refusal to back tax relief for Australian small businesses.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible]

TREASURER:

There is no change to these things in terms of what needs to be achieved here. All three credit rating agencies have affirmed Australia's triple-A credit rating since the election and of course S&P placed Australia on a negative watch which means over the next six to 12 months to two years or thereabouts they will continue to monitor our progress in implementing our plan to return the Budget to balance. Mr Chambers said to me when I was in New York, he knows the Government has a clear plan to get us back to balance and he didn't suggest or refer that other measures were required other than what we have in our plan. So, it is important that we make progress in implementing that plan. We have already, in just these first few sitting weeks of the Parliament been able to legislate more than a quarter by value of the Budget improvement measures that are part of that plan and that is very encouraging and it was good to be able to go to New York and tell that story. We did and obviously the eyes will continue to fix on the Senate in particular but the Parliament and the opposition to see whether they have the willingness to support a plan that gets us back to Budget balance by getting expenditure under control. I want to stress this point. The lazy way which is what the opposition is suggesting and they even put it to me in Question Time is, "don't worry about getting expenditure under control. Just jack up taxes." It is bad enough that they have got their productivity crushing opposition to the Australian Building and Construction Commission but to add to an economy sapping approach of just trying to raise taxes because they haven't got the meddle to control expenditure I think is poor economic policy and the Government won't be going down that plan and we call on the Parliament on the good sensible people in the Parliament to understand that this plan gets us back into balance, underpins out triple-A position and ensures our greater financial resilience which is critical to the Australian economy and the jobs that it supports.

QUESTION:

According to the article today Treasury seems to be suggesting that they are not taking into account the spike in coal prices. They are looking through those price hikes because they may not last.

TREASURER:

The parameter estimates will be struck and the forecasts as we get closer to the Mid-Year Update at the end of this year. I note that that will come right into December because we have to wait for the September Quarter National Accounts which don't come out I think till the 8th of December of thereabouts. So, our Mid-Year Update will be provided after that time but we will be moving quickly to get that out obviously before Christmas. Whether it is met coal or the iron ore price or any of these things there has been variability on these now for many years and that has been one of the issues when you put the updates in these budgets together so I am not going to speculate too much on that at this point. I think we will have to wait till things settle it a bit more. On the met coal price certainly, it is not at record levels but it is very, very high compared at where we assessed it at the last Budget and we need to ensure that when we look at both the forecasts and the projections that we appropriately reflect what we think the impact of that will be on the Budget over the budget period and the Forward Estimates.

QUESTION:

Treasurer, job data is out today what are you expecting?

TREASURER:

Well, I am expecting to read them when they come out.

QUESTION:

Any hints?

TREASURER:

No, I don't have any more hints than you do but what I do know is that over the course of the last three years we have increased the rate of job growth ten-fold. In the last year over 200,000 people have got jobs. Over the last year we have grown our economy at 3.3 per cent, one of the highest rates in the advanced world. What this Government is delivering for Australians is jobs and growth and what we intend to keep delivering is jobs and growth but to do that you have got to improve your resilience, you need a strong banking and financial system and you need to have policies that support that. You need to ensure that you increase your fiscal resilience by getting the Budget back into balance, by getting spending under control. You need to continue to drive investment in our economy whether it is through our innovation and science programs, defence procurement, export trade deals, our tax plan which will drive particularly support for small business in the short term and you need to continue to commit to trade, investment and foreign investment and domestic investment as well as having positive immigration policies.

QUESTION:

Overnight the Boss of the ABS said that the Census debacle cost $30 million. When are heads going to roll on this issue?

TREASURER:

The report by Mr MacGibbon if with the government, is on its way and these matters are continuing to be reflected on by the Government. I am addressing with the Treasury Secretary the amount which he referred to and ensuring that the taxpayers are left no worse off.

QUESTION:

Crossbench, are you worried about negotiating with people like David Leyonhjelm? He is saying that it is going to become a lot more difficult to negotiate with him because he has been dudded on issues such as the firearm laws.

TREASURER:

I have had a lot of dealings with Senator Leyonhjelm and I have always known him to be a fellow of very good faith in my dealings with him. I have found him always to be a very professional politician to work with and I will continue to hold that view. There are always issues you need to work through in the Parliament. We all feel passionately about various issues. He feels very passionately about that issue as other Senators do about theirs. I think what the Government has consistently done and certainly what Prime Minister Turnbull has done, I think this has been a real mark of his Prime Ministership, is the respect and engagement that he has undertaken with the crossbenches. So, you don't need to agree

QUESTION:

In your experience is it feasible that members of your staff would negotiate with crossbench senators, come to agreements on regulations and sign off on them without your knowledge?

TREASURER:

I can only speak for what happens in the way I undertake my discussions and of course discussions are held between offices as well as between principals and discussions between staff don't constitute any final arrangement. The only thing that constitutes a final arrangement is a discussion between principals but often staff can reflect those discussions between principals as well.

QUESTION:

Something like a sunset clause?

TREASURER:

I know what you are getting at but I am not in a position to make commentary on that matter because I wasn't involved in any of those discussions or have awareness of what the discussions were between the principals and their staff.

QUESTION:

Do you think it was right for Tony Abbott to be setting the record straight on this? Or is he just being mischievous?

TREASURER:

It is a matter for Mr Abbott to set right and to comment on whatever he wishes to comment on. He is a member of the Parliament and he is continuing to make a very positive contribution.

QUESTION:

Treasurer, $215,000 of taxpayer money to send DFAT staff to Paris to talk about how to save money. Does that seem excessive to you? Do we need to be reconsidering some of the expenditure that some public servants are making?

TREASURER:

One of the things that we do every Budget update, and I have heard the commentary which says, "the way you need to get the Budget back into balance is you have got to go through every single line item, you have got to sit down and look at every single thing". We do that twice a year, every year in the lead up to the mid-year update with a full team across the Cabinet, all Cabinet Ministers going through line by line by line and all Cabinet Ministers, all Ministers are responsible for the spending that takes place in their portfolios and for the bringing forward of improvements and savings or other initiatives which improve the effectiveness that they are delivering to the Australian taxpayer. Now, we do that twice a year and governments have been doing that for as long as Budgets have been put together and this Government will continue to do that and every area of government expenditure is under scrutiny by me and the Finance Minister and other members of the Expenditure Review Committee as it is indeed under the microscope of the Ministers who are responsible for that expenditure.

QUESTION:

But is this an example of excessive spending?

TREASURER:

I will leave that to the Ministers who are specifically responsible for those matters and who know the specifics of the issue that you are referring to. My principle is to examine all of these measures to ensure their effectiveness and for Ministers to give the ERC and the Cabinet their assurances that these expenditures are in the best interest of the taxpayer.

QUESTION:

Just on the company tax cuts you just said that the cost of cuts for businesses with a turnover of up to $10 million was $1.4…

TREASURER:

It's around about that.

QUESTION:

Was that over four years or ten?

TREASURER:

Over four. Ok, thank you.