1 November 2017
Transcript - #2017209, 2017

Interview with Tom Elliott, 3AW

SUBJECTS: National Energy Guarantee to deliver affordable, reliable electricity; citizenship; Turnbull Government’s take-action-now approach to the banks.

TOM ELLIOTT:

Mr Morrison, good afternoon.

TREASURER:

Hey Tom, good to be here.

ELLIOTT:

Firstly, you say you’ve got a plan to reduce people’s energy bills. Now, I have spoken to your colleague, Josh Frydenberg, about that. Has the plan evolved? Is it concrete enough now that people can feel confident that their bills will go down $115 to $120 a year as promised?

TREASURER:

I believe so. There’s more work to be done to back that in, the modelling that will be done by the Energy Security Board. That’s their first initial estimate and it’s for a simple reason, we’re stripping the subsidies out and we’re basically saying that we need to sell energy from retailers which is meeting the reliability which keeps the lights on and so, more of what is done in the energy market is contracted. So, it’s not subject to all that volatility and people buying the spot price, which drives prices up. But at the same time, we’re meeting the emissions reductions target and the difference between us and the Labor Party, when it comes to energy, is that our emissions reductions target is 26, theirs is 45…

ELLIOTT:

As in per cent?

TREASURER:

Yes, and that’s where you’re reducing the emissions. So, basically theirs will cost almost twice as much as ours and that’s why electricity prices will always be higher under Labor than us.

ELLIOTT:

There was a rumour that Labor might actually back your proposal, has that come to anything?

TREASURER:

Not yet, but I think they’re leaving the door open to do that and I honestly hope that they do. It’s time to end the climate wars. This is a very sensible scheme that’s been developed by independent experts and it works off the back of the Finkel Report and comes up with the best of all solutions. I know industry are very keen for it to be landed because they want to invest in energy in this country and whether that’s from traditional sources or intermittent renewables or other things like pumped hydro and so on, we just need to get on with it.

ELLIOTT:

I agree with you on that but when will people actually notice the difference?

TREASURER:

The Energy Guarantee is what I call a medium-term part of the plan. The ‘right now-here’ part of the plan is what we’re doing on gas and getting gas into the market now. What we’re doing right here, right now is what we’re doing with the retailers to ensure that people know that they can be on a better deal and get on a better deal. They’re the right here, right now sort of responses…

ELLIOTT:

Well, people getting on a better deal, people if they can be bothered searching can always get a better deal, that’s up to the consumer to do that…

TREASURER:

Not if they don’t know if they can be on one…

ELLIOTT:

Well, that’s right but all you can do is say to people, “We think this is a good idea.” You can’t make them do it. But gas here in Victoria; there is sort of a moratorium on gas exploration, can you change that though?

TREASURER:

What we’ve done is secured, for the next two years, the gas that Australia needs for its domestic market which was previously not committed, and we secured that agreement with the big gas companies some weeks ago, now with the Prime Minister, Josh and Barnaby.

ELLIOTT:

Can I turn your mind now to the citizenship issue? Now, yesterday, Senator Parry who is President of the Senate had to step down because he’s revealed he might be a secret Pom. How many more are there?

TREASURER:

It’s up to every member, at the end of the day, to ensure that they’re compliant with our electoral laws. The same way we’re responsible for keeping up with our disclosures…

ELLIOTT:

But people haven’t been, for example, he kept that secret for the last six weeks since this scandal started brewing.

TREASURER:

I can’t speak for Stephen…

ELLIOTT:

He is a colleague of yours.

TREASURER:

He is a colleague of mine and he’s a friend of mine but he’s in a position now where he has a very clear ruling from the High Court. I think the position with the Court has been clarified and that was a bit uncertain before. It’s clarified now and these things are up to individual members…

ELLIOTT:

But he’s got to go back to the High Court now, because they’re all individuals. Out of the seven who previously went to the High Court, two have been allowed to stay in – Matt Canavan and Nick Xenophon – and five got booted out, and as I understand now, Stephen Parry has to go separately to the High Court to see what they think about his situation?

TREASURER:

We’ll see how that process plays out. That was the process followed for the others but let’s not forget that these people self-identified. They weren’t flushed out, they personally took responsibility for what they understood their situation to be…

ELLIOTT:

He kept it as a secret for a while.

TREASURER:

I can only go from his own statement, but once he had seen the clear ruling of the Court, then he’s come forward. Look, we’re all responsible for our own decisions…

ELLIOTT:

Sure, but it must be making life difficult for you.

TREASURER:

I think it’s distracting in the public attention. There are some things in politics you can control and some things you can’t but it doesn’t change what I go to work and do every day which is do everything I can to make sure more Australians are getting jobs – and that’s certainly happening – and that businesses are investing more which gives more people jobs.

ELLIOTT:

Ok, but you need to get things passed through the Parliament and that’s got more difficult now. Could we consider something like, like in corporate life we have a thing called a cleansing statement where you come out and confess to things. Could every Member of Parliament stand up and say, “I have no foreign allegiances and if I do, I now publicly renounce them.” And just get the whole lot?

TREASURER:

I did that at the last election. I signed a form to that effect.

ELLIOTT:

Well, all these other people would have signed those forms too.

TREASURER:

And to the extent that they have found themselves in breach, they’ve identified and it’s been resolved. So, there is whole range of things…

ELLIOTT:

But what if everybody just stands up and they just do it all en masse?

TREASURER:

So everyone’s guilty until they prove their innocence?

ELLIOTT:

Sort of, yes.

TREASURER:

I don’t think that’s how we roll.

ELLIOTT:

People don’t think much of politicians anyway and why not…

TREASURER:

You think we’re a great bunch of people and you love spending time with us.

ELLIOTT:

Well, I do. I enjoy spending time with you here. Well, what about another one of your MPs? He’s a Nationals MP but he’s in the Coalition – George Christensen. Now, he appears to be more amenable to the idea of having a Royal Commission into the banks. If he crosses the floor, you could lose that vote and I spoke to Senator Richard Di Natale the other day and they want to push this in the Parliament. Do you think there will be a Royal Commission into the banks and should there be?

TREASURER:

Only the Government can actually institute a Royal Commission. It’s an action of an Executive Government. It’s not an action of the Parliament. So, no, I can’t see how a Royal Commission can arise from that. But George and I have spoken about these issues from time to time and the fact is we’re doing a lot on this front. You can wait three to five years, spend a lot of money on a Royal Commission that actually doesn’t solve anybody’s problems, or you can do what I’ve done and that is increase the powers and resources for ASIC to go after malfeasance in the banking industry. You can introduce new legislation which makes banking executives accountable – which I’ve done. You can create a new Financial Complaints System which is binding on the banks and you don’t need an army of lawyers to actually get your case heard – that’s what Kelly O’Dwyer’s done. And then there are issues of some legacy cases and how we deal with some of those which the Ramsay Review has been looking at and that is coming back to us. The other thing you’ve got to do is you’ve got to make the banking system more competitive. We’re looking to make banking more open. We’ve allowed small organisations, small banks now to call themselves banks, to be more competitive. We’ve got crowd-sourced equity funding rules that are now in place for both private and public companies. The private companies are still working its way through the Parliament, so we’re making banks more competitive. We’re making them more accountable. We’re making them stronger too – by the way – and that means they’re fairer.

ELLIOTT:

Yeah, but the reality is there that the Global Financial Crisis, the best part of a decade ago pretty much – it didn’t wipe out the smaller banks but it pushed people back to the bigger ones because they were seen as being safer…

TREASURER:

Their market share increased, that’s true.

ELLIOTT:

Well, their market share’s 85 to 90 per cent.

TREASURER:

Well, it wasn’t too much south of 75 before…

ELLIOTT:

Yeah, but now it’s even higher than that.

TREASURER:

It improved which you would have expected it to after a big jolt and shock, and the fact that our banking system was so strong during the Financial Crisis which was courtesy of us and good management on their part, but also what Peter Costello did when he was Treasurer and put in that good regulation when the good days were in place. So, before the stern turned up, he put the rigs in and then we had a strong financial system so we didn’t have the Great Recession that they had in the Northern Hemisphere…

ELLIOTT:

Former Treasurer Wayne Swan claims a lot of the credit for having managed that crisis. How do you…

TREASURER:

Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan, they claim lots of credit for everything, tell him he’s dreaming.

ELLIOTT:

I will next time I speak to him. The only time I’ve ever, in person met him, was actually at a Rugby League game – would you believe?

TREASURER:

He’s a big Broncos fan and that’s something he’s fair dinkum about.

ELLIOTT:

I had a New South Wales scarf on and he took it off and made me wear a Queensland one.

TREASURER:

Wayne Swan is responsible for the debt we have. He’s the one who went on the big cash splash during the Global Financial Crisis…

ELLIOTT:

The debt has continued to climb under your stewardship.

TREASURER:

Yes, and it’s slowed in its growth by two-thirds and we’ll get it back into balance under our plan. It was never coming under…

ELLIOTT:

Still 2020-21?

TREASURER:

Yes, that’s right. That’s the projection and that hasn’t shifted.

ELLIOTT:

Malcolm Turnbull is in Israel at the moment and he was asked by a journalist over there to reflect upon the citizenship issues and so forth and he said, “I’ve never had so much fun in my life.” Are you enjoying life at the moment? Is this what you would call fun?

TREASURER:

I love this job. It’s the best job I’ve ever had and it’s a privilege to do it.

ELLIOTT:

But do you love waking up and finding your colleagues have to resign from Parliament?

TREASURER:

There are distractions and annoyances in politics. That happens in any job and the key to a Government’s success is whether it’s distracted by it or it keeps getting things done. And we’ve had the strongest full-time growth in jobs in the last 12 months in 40 years. We’ve had 316,000 people get a full-time job in the last 12 months. We’ve had 65,000 young people get a job. The unemployment rate has fallen by over half a per cent. That’s what gets me up in the morning and I’m thrilled to see those results and I’m sure Australians are too.

ELLIOTT:

Well, there you go, fun in life. Scott Morrison, I know you’ve got to go. Thank you for joining us.

TREASURER:

Thanks, Tom, great to be here.