14 August 2018
Transcript - #2018161, 2018

Interview with Leigh Sales, ABC 730

Subjects: National Energy Guarantee; Tony Abbott; The Great Barrier Reef

LEIGH SALES:

The Treasurer joins me now from Canberra. Treasurer, I'll come to Tony Abbott's contribution in a moment but let's start with the next steps for the NEG. Is it going to get through the Parliament given that even some members of your own team suggest they'll cross the floor?

TREASURER:

The first thing I should say is the states have met with the Energy Minister tonight over the phone and that legislation is now being circulated which was the understanding and agreement reached last Friday. That was on the basis of it going through our party room and that's what has happened today. That process is now under way. We've kept our part of the bargain on that and they're keeping theirs. But when it comes to the legislation…

SALES:

Can I pick you up on that for half a second then we’ll go back to my first question. Given that, how long have the states got to let you know if they're onboard with it?

TREASURER:

That consultation process is around four weeks. That legislation is out there for comment. That will come back and then they'll consider it again and then it goes through the process that Josh Frydenberg, the Minister, has outlined.

SALES:

So then return to the first question about the Federal Parliament?

TREASURER:

In our Parliament, those voting for this National Energy Guarantee are voting for lower electricity prices and I believe that's what the parliament will do. It's the one plan that actually can deliver that but also affordable, reliable and sustainable energy. That's what Australians want. That's what this plan delivers. That's why I believe it will succeed in the House of Representatives.

SALES:

You've got to, have you done the calculations and figured out if you have the cold hard numbers?

TREASURER:

I believe it will be supported. And I believe there's a big question for the Labor Party in this as well. We had a good discussion about it today. That legislation will be introduced and my understanding is over the next week or so. And there will be an opportunity for that to be debated in the Parliament. On top of that there are very important issues discussed about the ACCC report which I commissioned which basically gives you the National Energy Guarantee plus and deals with things like retail pricing, dealing with transmission and network issues, not just with the states, but where that involves Commonwealth. On top of that ensuring that new power generation can get access to finance to be built. All of that, I believe, will result in a package which will get the support of the parliament. What we don't know is will the Labor Party vote for lower electricity prices and be part of this sliding doors moment? It's one opportunity. We've got to take it.

SALES:

As we heard in Laura Tingle’s story, the former Prime Minister Tony Abbott has been the most vocal coalition MP to attack the NEG. How do the majority of his parliamentary colleagues feel about his behaviour since he lost the Prime Ministership?

TREASURER:

I don't know. I don’t spend any time thinking about it or talking about it. 

SALES:

What do you think about it then?

TREASURER:

I hope that Tony, like all members of the team, are about the re-election of the Government to ensure that we can have lower electricity prices, that we can…

SALES:

Do you think he is about the re-election of the Government?

TREASURER:

I hope he is. Yes.

SALES:

What do you think is his primary motivation?

TREASURER:

I would think that it’s the same as every member of the Coalition and that is to do the right thing by their constituents and to see the re-election of the Coalition Government so we can have a stronger economy to guarantee the services that all Australians rely on.

SALES:

Do you agree with Mr Abbott's statement on this program last night he has not sniped or undermined since losing the Prime Ministership?

TREASURER:

I hope that's true.

SALES:

Should Mr Abbott stand again at the next federal election or is it time to make way for new blood?

TREASURER:

He is standing at the next election.

SALES:

On another matter, in order to get your company tax cuts through the Senate, are you prepared to fast track the existing plan to cut taxes for business with turnovers of up to $50 million?

TREASURER:

I took, together with the Government, the Prime Minister, our plan for competitive business taxes right across the board to the last election. We made that promise. That was a promise we made and we secured at election winning result and that's what we're seeking to implement. That's what will be put to the Senate.

SALES:

Politics is the art of compromise. So what I’m getting to, what are you prepared to compromise in order to be able to get some of your package through if you can't get all of it through?

TREASURER:

They're discussions we have directly with members of the Senate. I don't have them here. I know you wouldn't expect me to. We have those directly. I want to stress this, Leigh - we took that policy to the last election. We made a promise that we were going to deliver more competitive business taxes for Australia which meant that they could create more jobs, invest more and grow our economy. We remain as committed to that today as we were on the day we promised it and on the day we were elected to implement it.

SALES:

If you are that committed to it will you then take it to the next election if you can't get it through this parliament?

TREASURER:

It still has to go to the parliament. It still has to have its final vote Leigh.

SALES:

That’s my point, I said if you need to, if it can't get through the parliament will you take it to the next election?

TREASURER:

I’m not engaging in hypotheticals. People didn’t think the Sharks were going to beat Melbourne on the weekend but they did.

SALES:

You’re either committed or you’re not committed to getting it through?

TREASURER:

I'm committed to this.

SALES:

If it doesn’t get through then therefore will you take it to the next election? It’s a pretty simple question.

TREASURER:

I’m committed to competitive business taxes Leigh and that’s what we took to the last election, and that’s what we’re fighting for.

SALES:

It's telling that you won't say ‘yes we are so committed to this we'll take it to the next election’?

TREASURER:

No, that's just the usual thing interviewers do to try and trap people into saying what they want them to say. I’m not going to do that Leigh. I'm for lower business taxes and making them more competitive. That’s what we took to the last election, that’s the mandate we’ve got. I'm looking to keep the promise we made.

SALES:

Let me ask you about the grant given to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation. As Treasurer, do you consider handing out $500 million without a competitive tender process to be effective management of the money that the Australian taxpayers handover?

TREASURER:

That's not how it worked. The Minister brought a proposal the ERC back in March. That proposal was to do two things. One, to provide funding to support the reef. Two, to do that in partnership in a collaboration. It was our idea as a Government to do this in this method.

SALES:

Exactly, and it's not a tender process.

TREASURER:

No, we were looking specifically to partner with an organisation…

SALES:

Why wouldn't you open it up to tender to be certain you have the best partner?

TREASURER:

They had a good track record. The Labor Party gave them $17 million under a very similar process.

SALES:

But we have to take your word on that because there was no tender process.

TREASURER:

No we don’t. No actually we don't because the department ran a full evaluation and ensured the ultimate agreement that was signed with the organisation fulfilled all the requirements of the Act including value for money and that was the department's assessment. We're investing in supporting the reef which supports thousands of jobs in North Queensland and we have provided that money to an organisation that has a great track record of ensuring the money gets where it needs to go to make a difference. So we're glad to be supporting the reef. We're glad to be doing it in partnership with an organisation that has a track record for achieving it. It was our idea to have that partnership and that collaboration. We initiated it and we’re really pleased we were able to secure it.

SALES:

Scott Morrison we're out of time. Thank you very much for joining us.

TREASURER:

Thanks a lot Leigh, great to be here.