8 September 2017
Transcript - #2017176, 2017

Doorstop interview, Sydney

SUBJECTS: Laker Inquiry; National Accounts June Quarter 2017; RBA meeting; same-sex marriage; the Turnbull Government’s comprehensive plan to put downward pressure on electricity prices for households and businesses; mobility scooters.

TREASURER:

Good morning everyone. I am very pleased to support, very strongly, the Laker Inquiry that has been announced this morning into the CBA, ably assisted by Professor Samuel and Gillian Broadbent. So, we have a former head of APRA. We have a former head of the ACCC and a very, very experienced board director who will be conducting a very thorough and wide-ranging inquiry into the events at CBA, and as we know, APRA has the powers and authority, not only to get the information it needs to conduct this inquiry, but equally, it has many remedies available to it should it need to do so under its existing powers. This is a real inquiry that's taking action right now in the measures that it can move forward with, should it need to. But in the first instance, to getting to those facts. Now, it's going well beyond the specific instances to look at the broader issues of how issues are managed, how issues are escalated. How the board themselves have dealt with these actions and, as you know, APRA is in a position to actually remove directors from boards, to senior managers, to even limit how people are remunerated and it has quite a wide range of powers to deal with this. So, I commend Wayne Byres on the action that he has taken as our regulator in the banking sector by putting the Laker Inquiry in place. And I think that is a very significant way to respond to the issues that we've seen. Now, in addition to that, I've just completed my regular briefing session with the senior executive of the Reserve Bank and, as you know, going into the National Accounts, there's been a lot of harmony between what the Governor and I have been saying about the positive outlook for the Australian economy. And what we saw in the National Accounts this year, for the year just finished, in the June quarter that we just saw this week, was a real improvement in business investment. Something that we've been looking to see now over some years and that improved outlook in business investment and particularly going forward into this financial year from the earlier surveys. Over the last few years, we've seen now a 10 per cent increase in this area of non-mining investment outlook and what has been occurring. So, this is a very welcome development for the Australian economy and that's why it gives me that confidence about the better days ahead that is the emerging national economic consensus. There is also in the data that we've seen a soft landing, if you like, in what we're seeing in the housing market, particularly in the eastern states. And that is in response I think to the very calibrated measures we've seen APRA take as the regulator. So using the scalpel, not the chainsaw, is proving to be effective. Obviously there is more time to pass on this and we'll continue to monitor it very, very closely, both with the bank and the regulators.

QUESTION:

Treasurer, can you spell out the specifics on the Same Sex Marriage advertising legislation [inaudible]?

TREASURER:

These matters are being consulted on over the weekend, as you know, by the Acting Special Minister of State and we're working closely together with all of the parties and I imagine that will ensure that the necessary complementary measures that are needed will be put in place. But isn't it great that all Australians are going to get to have their say. It's something that we promised. They get to have their say. I'm very pleased that all Australians will get to have their say. I watched Bill Shorten yesterday get the news that Australians were going to get to have their say and he looked like he'd swallowed a frog he was so disappointed. I'm pleased that they're going to have their say. I'm optimistic and confident about the way that Australians will engage in this discussion in a very respectful and, indeed, a graceful way. And I would encourage all Australians to do that. But I know that that is how they will conduct themselves in the main and will be able to let them have their say and we can get on with this.

QUESTION:

Can you confirm the legislation will go before Parliament?

TREASURER:

They're matters for the Acting Minister of State and he'll be consulting on those measures and working forward with those as soon as possible.

QUESTION:

With the Comm Bank inquiry, is there any loose timeline on when we can expect to see any results from that?

TREASURER:

Well, there's an interim report at the end of January, which is outlined today in APRA's statement and I think that that gives them plenty of time to make the interim reports and then there would be subsequent reports a few months after that.

QUESTION:

Does this go far enough? Just looking into one bank? Labor is calling for all banks to be looked into?

TREASURER:

Labor is interested in the politics of this. We're taking action now when it comes to the banks. Just this week, I introduced legislation which dealt with the manipulation of the financial benchmarks like the bank bill swap rate. That's more tangible action that the Government has been taking to deal with issues in our banking and financial system. While at the same time, ensuring that our banking and financial system is unquestionably strong. It is a strong banking system. It underpins our economy and has proved to be incredibly resilient and will continue to be. But it does require the regulator to take action like we've seen today appointing the Laker Inquiry, ably supported by former ACCC chair Graeme Samuel and Gillian Broadbent (whom) I think will be able to get to the heart of the real issues which have occurred here. They're dealing with very practical issues and things that have actually happened. It's not some general fishing expedition into alleged wickedness which has no meaning or definition – that's just politics. What this is, is practical action, taking action now on the issues that need to be addressed at CBA and that's what APRA will be doing through this inquiry.

QUESTION:

Going back to the same-sex marriage postal vote. The Prime Minister is encouraging people to vote yes. Where do you stand?

TREASURER:

It's ok to say no, that's my view. And I would hope that people would equally respect those who hold that position as those who hold the position of saying no would respect those who want to vote yes.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible]

TREASURER:

My job is Treasurer. I'm interested in the financial management of the country and the improving better news we're seeing coming out of the economy. I'll confine my comments on this to when I'm asked questions like I usually am at these sorts of press conferences, but within my own electorate and I will be listening closely to my own electorate as I always do. But it is ok to say no and I don't think that any Australian should feel intimidated about having their say in this debate and I encourage them all, though, to make sure that they fill in the form and send it back, which they'll be going out next Tuesday, I understand.

QUESTION:

Mathias Cormann said it would align roughly with the advertising [inaudible]

TREASURER:

Look, I'll leave all those matters to the Special Minister of State. I'm focused on the issues which are important to our economy. And one of the most important issues to our economy is the cost of energy and what is needed to put downward pressure on rising energy prices. Not just for households, of course, but also for businesses. This can be, and will be, a real game changer for many businesses if we're unable to get that pressure down on rising energy prices. And we are taking action now when it comes to energy prices, both with our measures to ensure that Australian gas is reserved here for Australian use, to get those prices down in the short-term. The work we're doing with the retail companies to ensure that Australians are getting the best possible deal. That's the short-term action we are taking now. But we also need to address the medium and long-term and in that term, we need to keep our existing coal-fired power stations open, particularly in Liddell. Now, if Bill Shorten is interested in having lower power prices or putting pressure down on power prices then he needs to come clean on coal and he needs to back in keeping those coal-fired power stations in the Hunter Valley open. He needs to be straight, particularly the many, many Labor Party supporters, who have relied on the Labor Party up there in the Hunter Valley for their jobs and they're walking away from them. They've put up the white flag on coal-fired power in the Hunter Valley and they're selling them out. It's a no coal Coalition from Labor in the Hunter.

QUESTION:

Do you think mobility scooters should be prevented from travelling above 6 kmph as Wacka Williams has suggested?

TREASURER:

I understand Senator Williams is going to be raising that with his colleagues at the National Party Conference over the next couple of days and I think that is the appropriate place for that discussion to start. And I understand that John has had some very personal experience of this with the injuries to his wife. And I can understand why he would be taking such a keen interest on that. And John is well known for thinking carefully through the suggestions that he would be making on many policy areas. I've listened to John on a lot of issues, particularly in the banking area, where he's been a very effective contributor. So, I'm sure he'll make an effective contribution on that topic over the next couple of days. Thank you very much.