6 September 2017
Transcript - #2017175, 2017

Interview with Paul Murray, Sky

SUBJECTS: Immigration; National Accounts June Quarter 2017; The Turnbull Government’s comprehensive plan to put downward pressure on electricity prices for households and businesses; same-sex marriage.

PAUL MURRAY:

Treasurer, g’day – ahead of the football finals, good luck for Cronulla and all the rest of it but nice to see you. How are you, Scott Morrison?

TREASURER:

Very well, Paul, good to be with you and looking forward to that game against the Queensland Cowboys and good luck to all the boys.

MURRAY:

Alright. Let’s have a chat about a couple of big issues. Before I get to the economy issue, we just had the news there that taxpayers are going to have to spend $70 million because of the mistakes of the Rudd Government back in 2013. You’re the bloke who stopped the boats, how does it feel that now as the Treasurer, you’ve got to write a cheque for $70 million because of the way the Rudd Government set the whole show up?

TREASURER:

It’s gutting, in short, Paul. It really is, but at the end of the day, we did exactly as you just said. We did stop the boats and with the 50,000 people that turned up on all those boats, there was always going to be one legacy of cost and a whole range of other issues and we said that’s what would happen and that still is with us now and it just goes to show that you can’t let the muppets run the country again because they’ll do all of that madness again. It should be a reminder – that settlement – that that’s what happens when you let muppets like the Labor Party run your borders.

MURRAY:

Absolutely. Now the growth figures came out today, it shows our economy is growing, is getting better, the June quarter number was 0.8 of 1 per cent and the annual growth is at 1.9. Which bit of the economy is impressing you the most about how it’s moving forward?

TREASURER:

The bit I took most encouragement from was the lift in private new investment, so that’s businesses investing. That’s something we’ve been targeting our policies to for some years now and to see that pick up 1.5 per cent through the year, that’s the first time we’ve seen private new investment grow over a full year now since the peak of the mining investment boom. So, when you see businesses investing, we’ve also seen them taking on a lot more staff – we’ve had 240,000 people get a job last year and that’s going to put more pressure on the labour market which obviously leads to wage rises. In the agricultural sector, we saw exports grow by 18.6 per cent and that’s been a very strong growth sector for our economy over the last year, and if you go to Tamworth, if you go to [inaudible], you go to places like this, you’ll see the benefits of those trade deals – go to Tasmania, you’ll see the same thing – where you see the benefits of those exports in agriculture that are really delivering. The services exports have been growing now for 7 per cent a year for the last three years so we’ve seen investment, exports, we’ve seen the increase in the jobs, and that’s why we saw those better days ahead, well, we’re now seeing the evidence that that’s emerging now.

MURRAY:

But we hear about things like the economy starts to grow at a certain level of speed, the Reserve Bank gets involved and starts putting up interest rates, we know mortgage stress is a very significant issue for an awful lot of Australians, rates have never been lower – how big of a concern to you is that the downside of growth is that at some point interest rates go up and there’s an awful lot of people who, as they say, they have no margin to move within?

TREASURER:

They are obviously more likely to go than down and the Bank itself has been very constant now for some period of time but what the sort of scenario you’re forecasting is one where the economy has improved, wages improving, unemployment is going down so there’s a lot of compensating factors to that. The other thing about in the housing market, particularly housing debt, is in the main many Australians have been getting ahead of their mortgage so there’s a reserve capacity to draw on a lot of their mortgages and this is demonstrated in numbers from the Reserve Bank and the banks themselves that Australians have taken the opportunity in the main trying to get ahead of their mortgages and that’s a good thing. So, they’ve built a bit of a buffer for that type of event taking place and at some point, obviously that’s going to happen but Australians have been pretty prudent. But the things that they can’t control are things like interest rates and the things they can’t control are electricity prices and that’s why we have to do everything within our power to put downward pressure on them.

MURRAY:

So, there’s this battle on at the moment with AGL. The Prime Minister says there was a conversation about trying to take over one of these plants in New South Wales. The boss of AGL bangs it out on Twitter and says, “No, not interested. We’re jumping out of coal.” But give it 24 hours and now there are companies that are willing to buy. What role is the Government playing here that forced a private company to offload something it doesn’t want earlier than it planned to shut it down?

TREASURER:

First of all, I was in the room when he said it. It’s not like he sort of wrote it out in secret ink and passed it under the table and no one saw it. There was a clear statement made in the room in front of many of the retail competitors and all the Ministers and I’m not having a go at it, I was there so I know what was said and they’re able to sell it to – what they referred to as – a responsible party. But you’re right, there are a number of companies who are interested in taking on that asset, it’s not like the Hazelwood asset, the Hazelwood asset was far more advanced and had far more problems, and there is a real capacity for Liddell to go well beyond the timetable that AGL had set and it’s important that we maintain that baseload power through coal-fired power stations, existing coal-fired power stations, for as long as possible and that’s what we’ve got to achieve and how we achieve that, well, we’re going to have to work through that over the next few years to ensure that we deliver on that and obviously the best way for that to happen is that an alternative private investor to take it on.

MURRAY:

Will there ever be a day where a Government that you’re a Treasurer in will spend money to build or buy a coal-fired power station if a private company wouldn’t?

TREASURER:

I don’t rule it out and I don’t think that’s the proposition that’s been put in front of us right now. What we do need to ensure though is that we don’t see more of these closed and the difference with Liddell is that we’ve got quite a big lead time on this one and that enables us to work together to make sure that Liddell and those that follow – whether it’s Bayswater or others – are able to stay online. Now, Delta bought Vales Point up there in Lake Macquarie and they’ve got on with that so these things can happen but we need to keep them open. I was quite disappointed today that the Labor Party sort of parades around up there in the Hunter Valley and they’re not helping anyone up there, they’re not helping anyone up in Swansea, they’re not helping anyone up in Cessnock. Malcolm, I thought, nailed them today, ‘no coal Joel’ – Joel Fitzgibbon in Parliament today, he put up the white flag on coal before breakfast this morning and we’re definitely not going to do that. We haven’t got any issues at all with the existing coal-fired power stations running through as long as possible, making sure that the energy commerciality of that makes sense because we need baseload power and we need it now and we need it for the foreseeable future.

MURRAY:

And just finally, I know we’ll all respect the Court hasn’t made its decision yet but if they decide to say that the instrument that has been used to fund the same-sex marriage postal survey is the wrong one, is there any way that the Government – either through you as Treasurer or the relevant Minister – will be able to tell the ABS to use the money it already has to make sure this postal survey happens?

TREASURER:

Well, the High Court is considering all these things that you just talked about so they’re going to be making a ruling on that tomorrow and we’ll await the outcome for that. I just want Australians to have their say, Paul, and that’s what I promised my electorate, that’s what we promised the country. People have different views on this, you and I have different views on this, it’s ok to say no is my view and people who feel that way, they shouldn’t feel intimidated not to and they should have their right to have their say as much as anyone else and I look forward to them having that opportunity and I hope that the High Court will confirm what I think has been a very lawful and appropriate decision that we have made as a Government to keep a promise and give Australians their say. What’s so problematic about that?

MURRAY:

I agree with you and as you said, we disagree so I say yes. See? Respectful debate done between two people live on television. All the best, good luck on the weekend.

TREASURER:

Up, up Cronulla.