21 November 2017
Transcript - #2017222, 2017

Interview with Leigh Sales, 7.30 ABC

SUBJECTS: Turnbull Government’s Enterprise Tax Plan to drive economic growth; strongest growth in full time employment in 40 years; almost 300,000 jobs created since January 2017; Turnbull Government’s take-action-now approach to the banks; same-sex marriage.

LEIGH SALES:

The Treasurer, Scott Morrison, joined me in the Sydney studio a short time ago. Good to have you in.

TREASURER:

Thanks Leigh.

SALES:

Why is it necessary for the Government to make such an unusual intervention to have to have to urge business to do more to back in your policy agenda?

TREASURER:

We're basically calling on the business community and the Business Council themselves today have released information demonstrating once again the wisdom of why these changes are necessary, to grow our economy and support investment.

SALES:

But why do you feel the need, though, to make that request to them?

TREASURER:

Look, I think in the business community, often there's a view that engaging in a debate like this, they'll be pinned as being partisan or something like that. It isn't a partisan interest. This is about the interest of our economy, of which they are a major shareholder in, and the employees they put in a job. So. I'm saying don't be intimidated out of expressing your view about the need for this being good for the economy because it might upset the Labor Party, who have taken a very opportunistic, political position on this. They used to believe these exact tax cuts were good for the economy and have said so themselves.

SALES:

Maybe it's less that they're scared of how the Labor Party might react and more that they're upset at your government because you've taken a few opportunities to target big business, such as the banks with your bank levy?

TREASURER:

I don't think that's the case at all. We took to the last election an enterprise tax plan that was a brave plan in that context but a necessary one because we know it's important to drive investment that supports the jobs. As you know, from the start of this year, we've had, just 2,000 shy of 300,000 jobs created this year. Now that is a 40-year record. And we want to see more of those jobs and that comes by having those incentives there for investment which will continue to drive those jobs.

SALES:

But you haven't been able to get your full tax plan through. I mentioned the bank levy…

TREASURER:

We're still voting for it. Guess who is not voting for it.

SALES:

But you still haven't been able to get it through. I mentioned the bank levy, you also had to put pressure on gas producers by threatening further regulation if they didn't toe the line on certain things that you wanted. Can you see why there might be a perception in the business community that you haven't exactly been a great friend to business?

TREASURER:

There's been two sectors – there has been the banking sector, where yes we've had the levy and we've been forcing greater accountability on banking executives, a new complaints authority which the Senate could be voting on to support that coming into being, as well as the increased resources for ASIC. So, we're doing a lot in terms of taking action now on banks. But the banking sector is a heavily regulated sector, just like the energy sector is a heavily regulated sector. I draw a real distinction between those types of businesses where regulation is a fact of life and say a mining business or a retail business, where they're very much more at the cutting edge of the free market. I don't think you can call what's happening in our energy markets or our banking sector what you call free markets, writ large. They are heavily regulated sectors and there are special obligations on those sectors. So, I'm pleased we have got a better deal out of the retail companies and I'm pleased we're getting better deals out of the banks today. That's happening because of the decisions, actions and pressures that we've applied.

SALES:

On the banks, the Government is postponing the return of parliament by one week. Is that about minimising the opportunity for Labor to marshal the numbers to get through its banking royal commission?

TREASURER:

No that's Bill Shorten's whinge. What this is about is we said we would have a marriage survey – a plebiscite. Which became the marriage survey, and then we said when that comes back, if that comes back a yes we'll legislate, that will be the priority, and that's what we're doing. Next week the Senate will focus on finalising that Bill and enabling it to come to the House of Representatives and we will use the time we have, the fortnight we have, to focus on getting that done. Now, that's the priority, that's the promise we made, that's what we'll get done.

SALES:

But there's tonnes of other legislation you could be dealing with in the Reps while the Senate is focusing on that?

TREASURER:

We've got 42 pieces of legislation in the Senate. Adding another piece of legislation for the Senate, which they won't get time to pass this year will not change that. I mean, the Senate, once they've dealt with the same-sex marriage bill, they've got legislation like the first home super savers bill. I mean they can vote for a tax cut, they can vote to support the new Financial Complaints Authority. There are 42 bills there for the Senate to get moving on once we've finished with same-sex marriage. And the House, then we can deal with same-sex marriage and we can deal with any potential actions following the declaration received from members.

SALES:

Is the Government scared without Barnaby Joyce and John Alexander in the House of Representatives that you're potentially going to lose control of the floor?

TREASURER:

No, this is a practical measure to ensure that we fulfil our commitments and our promises.

SALES:

Well some of your own MPs have said they'd support the banking royal commission, so if Labor moves that it could get up?

TREASURER:

Well, a royal commission is actually done by an executive government, it's not done by the parliament. A commission of inquiry is what has been mooted in the Senate. I mean the Greens have already moved a commission of inquiry motion and that wasn't supported in the House of Representatives previously. What we're doing is taking action now on the banks and as you said before, the banks have been taking notice and we've been able to get some good outcomes.

SALES:

You gave an interview on the weekend in which you said you'd be fighting hard to protect religious freedoms in the same-sex marriage bill. But in an interview in July you said, you wouldn't be buying into any discussion on same-sex marriage because, quote, "I've got a job, it's called being Treasurer, and focusing on the things that are impacting on people's kitchen tables and their businesses. That's what I'm solely focused on." What's changed then?

TREASURER:

Correct, we've had the plebiscite, it's finished and now it's for the parliament to deal with the legislation.

SALES:

But you're still the Treasurer, so how come you didn't want to engage then but you do now?

TREASURER:

Because at that point, we hadn't had the plebiscite and it wasn't my job at that point to focus on the details of particular bills or those issues because I wanted the Australian people to have their say. I think the politicians had their say. Now, that the Australian people have had their say, we've got these remaining weeks in parliament to finalise some legislation and from my perspective and many other members of parliament, we want to ensure that that also provides religious protection. We want a bill that's not for 61 per cent of Australians. We want a bill for 100 per cent of Australians. But have no fear, my primary focus, as we have the mid-year update which is due before Christmas, and that's my primary focus as the Treasurer as you would expect. But as a member of the parliament these things also need to now be considered by members individually and I'll do that as the Member for Cook.

SALES:

You say the legislation has to represent 100 per cent of Australians. It is 40 per cent of Australians that you're representing perhaps with your point of view there – the banking royal commission –

TREASURER:

No.

SALES:

Sixty per cent of Australians want a banking royal commission, how come you're so worried about the 40 per cent there but not the 60 per cent on banking?

TREASURER:

Let me stop you there. I don't believe that only 40 per cent of Australians believe there should be protections for religious freedom in this Bill. I think that that figure is much higher.

SALES:

60 per cent of Australians though voted for it regardless of what happens with religious freedoms.

TREASURER:

Same-sex marriage is now a done deal. It's a finished debate. It's been going on for a long time and it has come to a conclusion. That debate has concluded. Now, we have to finalise a bill that recognises that, legislates that and then now adds to that, religious protections as much as can be supported by the parliament and that's what I'll be pursuing. I don't accept for a second that just because only 40 per cent of people or just under that voted not to proceed with same-sex marriage, that's not the only people who care about religious freedoms and freedom of speech in this country. I say that figure is well over half the population and about probably at the same level or greater than voted for same-sex marriage.

SALES:

What do you say to the suggestion that the reason you're taking a leading role in this is because you've seen an opportunity to burnish your leadership credentials at a time when Malcolm Turnbull is languishing in the polls and Julie Bishop seems to be firming as the preferred leadership alternative?

TREASURER:

Well, I know you wouldn't suggest that Leigh because you know me better than that, and you know that I have had a consistent and principled position on this issue for as long as I've been in public life and longer. I'm acting on my own personal convictions here and people know that about me. And other people who might say that about me, don't know me.

SALES:

Let me ask you something I asked Julie Bishop last time she was on. Politicians are often ambitious. You're ambitious, and you've risen up fairly quickly through the ranks. Are you ambitious enough to see yourself as leader one day?

TREASURER:

I'm ambitious for more than 300,000 Australians to get a job this year. We're already at almost 300,000, I suspect we've already passed that mark. And as Treasurer working with Malcolm, this has been the greatest responsibility and privilege I've had in my life in public service. I love doing it. I love doing this job every day and I'm going to keep doing it to the benefits of all Australians.

SALES:

Scott Morrison, thanks very much for joining us.

TREASURER:

Thanks, Leigh.