12 October 2017
Transcript - #2017194, 2017

Interview with Virginia Trioli, ABC News Breakfast

SUBJECTS: IMF Global Growth Forecasts; Turnbull Government’s Enterprise Tax Plan to drive economic growth; Business Council of Australia; energy policy; same-sex marriage survey

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

The Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison joins us now from Washington. Treasurer, good morning and welcome to News Breakfast.

TREASURER:

G'day, Virginia.

TRIOLI:

The IMF, as we mentioned, has upgraded global forecasts again but it expects economic growth in Australia to slow to 2.2 per cent in 2017 compared to 2.5 per cent in 2016. Is that the Federal Government’s view too?

TREASURER:

Our forecasts are always updated in the midyear statement and that will come out at the end of the year but as I said in a speech to the Business Council a few weeks ago, what we're seeing is a very strong pick-up in employment and we're seeing growth tracking about where we had expected it to.

TRIOLI:

Now, the IMF also believes there's a global environment for opportunity. It says, and this is the quote, "for ambitious policies that will support growth". So, what are the ambitious policies that you want to see supporting growth in Australia?

TREASURER:

Well, as I announced in the Budget, a $75 billion infrastructure program over the next 10 years and we've got a strong pipeline of infrastructure now which is something the Reserve Bank Governor has highlighted. On top of that, there's our Enterprise Tax Plan, half of which we've already been able to legislate, very big tax cuts for small businesses in particular, the instant asset write-off, the defence industry plan, which is of great interest here where I am in the United States of course, where we're taking defence expenditure back up to 2 per cent and that's a significant procurement which drives the defence industry supply chain right through the system. Of course, we're continuing to expand our export trade agreements as well. All of these are pro-growth policies and we've also had our five-year productivity review, which I've received back from the Productivity Commission and in the weeks ahead I'll have the opportunity to make that available and that sets out some, I think, very encouraging directions in health and education, which will also play a key role in driving productivity.

TRIOLI:

So, if we look back on the discussion we're having today at the end of the year, can we see that maybe Australia will have defied that trend? That our growth will stay higher than 2.2 per cent as suggested by the IMF? Is that what you're suggesting this morning?

TREASURER:

Well, what I'm saying is what we set out in the Budget, the Government remains committed to. We'll obviously revise and review that as necessary as we go into the mid-year statement. That's the time to do that. But on current data, and you know, that data has been very encouraging. I mean just this week we have had the NAB Business Survey which showed an improvement in business confidence and business conditions being, what they described as being, rock solid. On top of that, we had the best consumer confidence figures that we've seen in about 11 months, where we've got more optimists than pessimists that are out there on the Australian economy. So, the better days ahead I spoke about in the Budget is being borne out by this evidence and data. Let's not forget 325,000 Australians getting a job last year.

TRIOLI:

I want to talk about some of the comments made recently by Jennifer Westacott from the Business Council of Australia. She's certainly come out and supported the business tax cuts that are going to be debated in the Senate and you'd like to see the Senate support, but she's also calling for this lifelong skills account to be created for all working Australians and for VET training and TAFEs to be elevated and elevated higher than they are in the discussion right now when it comes to university funding. What do you think of that?

TREASURER:

Well, one of the areas where we obviously have to continue to improve is in the skills capacity of our workforce. I mean, particularly, as you're moving to a more services industries-based workforce, then obviously the skills of that workforce are critical. Now, investment in vocational education in particular is a key part of that program and that's certainly something we've been seeking to achieve. Now, what you need is you need people getting the skills they need to be, you know, successful in tomorrow’s workforce.

TRIOLI:

Yes.

TREASURER:

And I think that's the point Jennifer is making. The Government doesn't have a disagreement with that. The question is how you go about it, how you fund it and how you make it sustainable and how you can have the changes in the VET sector as well as in the university sector that actually gets better outcomes for the significant investments that are being made, not just by the government, but by those who are getting the education, the families and the parents and the students that are paying for it. I mean they need to get better outcomes for what they're paying for.

TRIOLI:

So you're interested actually in funding something like that lifelong skills program?

TREASURER:

Well, I'm not responding to that suggestion specifically. I'm just saying that a future productivity agenda obviously has to go to the skills of the workforce and how you're achieving that. It's one of the reasons we introduced the Skilling Australians Fund in the last Budget, which was funding vocational education on an ongoing basis in every state and territory, replacing what was non-permanent funding and that provides a funding base to support those programs. But the programs have to be well structured and well delivered and there's a big onus on the states who are the deliverers of those programs.

TRIOLI:

The Business Council of Australia has also said if the Government is walking away from a clean energy target then business needs to know and know quickly what the alternative might be and they want a seat at the table in figuring out the alternative. Do you agree with that?

TREASURER:

Well, the Government has been working steadily on this issue all year and, you know, we've been taking soundings from the business community, but right across the board from the energy security board, from AEMO, from the energy regulators, from the ACCC, I mean there's been an enormous amount of work that's been done in this area and the energy sub-committee of Cabinet was set up at the beginning of this year...

TRIOLI:

But clearly, the Business Council wants more than that...

TREASURER:

Let's just wait to see once they see where the Government is going. The Government has made an enormous amount of progress and we understand the need to provide investment certainty and a framework for investment certainty and that's exactly what we're working to deliver.

TRIOLI:

On that issue, do you value Tony Abbott's interventions in climate policy?

TREASURER:

Well, I don't commentate on them.

TRIOLI:

But do you appreciate them? Do you find them useful?

TREASURER:

Well, I'll leave you to make those judgements, Virginia. That’s your job, you’re the commentator not me.

TRIOLI:

I'm not in government. He is. He's a member of the Government and he's making the comments. Do you find them useful?

TREASURER:

I am in government and I make decisions in government. I don't commentate on my colleagues. Colleagues are free to say what they say. What I'm focused on is making the decisions that are necessary to provide investment certainty in the energy sector and to ensure that we have an all-of-the-above approach which draws on all of the resources we have available to us, makes the most of those, ensures we meet our targets when it comes to our commitments in Paris but most importantly that we have a reliability and affordability for energy. That's what we're working to deliver. Others will have a range of views on that and they're free to express them and the Government will make decisions based on our careful evaluation and assessments and the best possible advice.

TRIOLI:

Just finally, Scott Morrison, both sides of the yes/no debate, including Minister Peter Dutton, now saying that the same-sex postal marriage survey looks like it will return a "yes" majority. You're a vocal supporter of traditional marriage. Will Parliament quickly legislate to echo the view of the people, do you think, if that's the case?

TREASURER:

Well, I'm going to wait for the results to come in first, Virginia. I mean Australians are having their say at the moment. That's what I wanted them to have. I wanted them to have their say on this issue and the Parliament then, I imagine, will definitely, from the Government's point of view, move, if it does resolve a yes, then we'll do what we said we'd do and that is facilitate a private member's Bill to be considered by the Parliament. That's what we promised. That's what we'd do.

TRIOLI:

On that, Mr Dutton, in discussing that just yesterday, also said he wanted to one day lead the Liberal Party and said that he had those ambitions to be leader. Would you be happy to see him as leader of the party one day?

TREASURER:

I'm happy to see Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister and he's doing a great job and I want him to continue to be able to do that for the benefit of all Australians, because if Bill Shorten gets elected Prime Minister, the Australian economy will be whacked with more than $150 billion in taxes which will only give our economy a great leap backwards.

TRIOLI:

Alright. Good to talk to you this morning, Treasurer. Thanks so much.

TREASURER:

Thanks, Virginia.