20 November 2017
Transcript - #2017223, 2017

Interview with Ross Greenwood, 2GB

SUBJECTS: Turnbull Government’s take-action-now approach to the banks; Turnbull Government’s Enterprise Tax Plan to drive economic growth; Small Business Digitisation Taskforce.

ROSS GREENWOOD:

Let's go to our Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison who is on the line right now, many thanks for your time Treasurer.

TREASURER:

Hi Ross.

GREENWOOD:

In regards to this, Bill Shorten today, he basically says that the Government is chicken, that your know that it's likely that you'll get some form of legislation up for a Commission of Inquiry into the banks, that you don't want to face this while the numbers are against you. Is there validity in what he's saying?

TREASURER:

No. Bill Shorten as usual is just a self-serving trouble maker. For that to occur, the Senate would have had to first actually have passed a Commission of Inquiry which they wouldn't be able to do because they're focusing on the same-sex marriage legislation. So he's got the whole thing upside down. What we've decided to do is what we've promised the Australian people we'd do. First of all, the sitting is only being postponed a week, it's not being cancelled. It's being pushed back a week. We can sit those two weeks if that's what's necessary and we said we would have a plebiscite and then we would act on the results of that plebiscite. The Senate has the first go at that. They've already had the Bill introduced into the Senate. They'll work through the amendments next week that will come to us. We can focus on getting that done and dealing with the citizenship issues, and that's just the Parliament doing its job. Bill Shorten is just having a big sook.

GREENWOOD:

Ok, so I spoke to the Nationals Senator Barry O'Sullivan last week. He's one who's adamant that there should be some form of banking inquiry. Here's what Bally O'Sullivan told me last week.

BARRY O'SULLIVAN:

It is so long overdue and I've heard the comments of the Treasurer and the Finance Minister. They need to be careful indicating that the Government wouldn't fund an inquiry even if both houses of the Parliament were to recommend it. That would be a fatal blow for the Government of the day without question.

GREENWOOD:

A fatal blow. He says you've got to listen carefully. Would it be a situation where the Government would be prepared to fund it, if there were indeed a majority in both houses of parliament?

TREASURER:

I don't think people should get ahead of themselves. The Parliament next week will be dealing with enacting the same-sex marriage legislation in the Senate, and then that Bill will come down to the house. So that's all happening next week. In the following week in the Senate, they may well, or may not, whatever the Senate wishes to do. We've got Bills that we'd like them to pass to give first home savers a tax cut. I think that's pretty important. I'd like to see that get some priority. There are a range of Bills that are jacked up there in the Senate which they need to work through for the good Government of Australia. We're getting on with the job of taking action now on issues with the banks, and everything from the Executive Accountability Regime, the Bank Levy earlier in the year, we've got the Complains Tribunal, which actually gives people to outcomes when they have complains with Banks. They could pass that next week as well. So there are plenty of things for them to do, including taking action on the banks with legislation the Government is asking them to support. So, that's what is necessary.

GREENWOOD:

But you'd appreciate there is a mood for some form of inquiry. Now, as even for example Barry O'Sullivan says, it's not a Royal Commission, it's a Commission of Inquiry that would report to the Parliament. Now, you've also got say, for example, George Christiansen in the House of Representatives. He's actually given a pledge not to cross the floor while Barnaby Joyce is out of the House. But he's also said on December 4, the day that the Parliament would now sit, the House of Representatives - that will be the day he could cause political damage, and again he says it's all about the Commission of Inquiry into the banks.

TREASURER:

The Parliament will take its course. I, like anyone else, respects the Parliament. I'm a member of the Parliament. But I don't think it's the job of Parliament to be a destructive force, or anything like that. I'm sure that it's not George's attempt to be a destructive force in the Parliament. I think he would work with his colleagues and seek to do what is in the best interests of all Australians. Look, we will just work through this in a careful and measured, and patient way. And keep getting on with the job of things I just talked about. The Senate has already passed the motion, a bill on a Commission of Inquiry. That happened some time ago. So, that wouldn't be a first and it's not the first time that Barry has expressed these concerns, but we will continue taking action and getting things done now which means that we can get access to people getting resolution to some matters, but also setting up the disciplines that need to be there to ensure that our banking system is fair, that it is accountable, that it is competitive and we have spoken about that before Ross with comprehensive credit reporting and opening up mutuals and cooperatives and so on and making sure that they can get a look in. The best thing we can do with people dealing with the banks who want to buy a home in the Senate is we can pass the tax cut bill for first home deposit savers.

GREENWOOD:

Ok, but it still comes back to the Parliament because there is so much of the timing involved here. Say for example by pushing the Parliament back by one week, effectively now the members having to get their documentation ready to prove their citizenship that gets pushed back to December 5 – 8pm. It leaves only two days for referrals to the High Court. There could be by December 5 – one day after the Parliament reconvenes there could be a whole bunch of other members of our Parliament who may be ineligible. So, again that throws the numbers around.

TREASURER:

Look, again, I don't think we should get ahead of ourselves. We have got a process; people submit their form, I will do that. It was just the other week you were saying that people should be able to do them over night. So, there you go. Forms will be in front of the Parliament and the Parliament will be able to deal with them and that is the process which is set out and it is our absolute intention to ensure that these things get resolved by the time we rise before Christmas. That is what this postponement of a week better enables us to do. So we can get on with that. Now, Bill Shorten wants to have big whinge about that because he wants to carry on and all the rest of it. Well, he is acting in his own interests - but that is Bill Shorten.

GREENWOOD:

But the most important thing, surely Treasurer, is the believability, the public's believability in this Parliament. That it is actually operating. That it is working properly because of course you've now got people whose citizenship is very much up in the air. We have got questions about whether there are numbers there or not for a banking inquiry. There is obviously the same sex legislation to get through.

TREASURER:

With respect, a lot of that noise is just being made. People are making that noise and speculating and saying if this happens this could happen and if this person puts in a form than this could happen. None of those things that people are referring to have happened. The Senate will sit. They will actually finalise it is our intention a bill on same sex marriage fulfilling the promise we made that we would act on the plebiscite, on the marriage survey, as it ended up being and then we will take that in the House of Representatives and if the Senate wants to send another Bill on another topic to the House of Representatives they can and then we will also importantly deal with any outstanding issues on citizenship as a result of the process that we have put in place to deal with that. So, I would just suggest everybody take a breath and the Parliament will keep on doing its job. We have passed 100 pieces, or thereabouts of legislation since the election – less than 18 months ago in a Parliament that all the histrionics said wouldn't be able to pass a thing. So, the lived experience since the election is that we have got things done. We have had 300,000 people get a job since 1 January this year. I am pretty happy about that and we will continue to go to work every day to make sure we add to that number.

GREENWOOD:

Ok, let's go to the business of Australia right now because the International Monetary Fund this afternoon has put out its latest forecasts and also its latest view of Australia. Its mission is to come to Australia and do this and it actually says that the growth pick up in Australia will be modest, but it would be fair to say that its growth outlook for Australia is probably more modest than the Reserve Banks and the Federal Governments at this time. It has also indicated very strongly that it believes Australia needs tax reform is it is to start to pick up and get stronger growth into the future. Would that play to your narrative as well?

TREASURER:

Well, particularly when it comes to reducing taxes both for companies and as we have already cut taxes on two occasions for individuals and I would love to see when or if we are in a position to afford further tax cuts for individuals but that depends very much on the ability to afford those things.

GREENWOOD:

But the individuals need the tax cuts because tax breaks…

TREASURER:

I suspect they do, Ross. People listening to this program I am sure would.

GREENWOOD:

Because bracket creep is eventually going to push them up into higher tax brackets as you and I have both talked about before. It's a way ultimately that the Government gets the Budget back into surplus is off the back of working Australians with bracket creep basically pushing them up into higher tax brackets.

TREASURER:

That's why in my first Budget I lifted the tax-free tax threshold from $80,000 to $87,000 and I did that because full-time average ordinary earnings for a year was going to click over $80,000 and we could not have a situation in this country where people were earning average full-time ordinary earnings were going to be in the second highest tax bracket. So that was – I put that in my first Budget and now we've had the deficit levy come off and there was enormous pressure on the Government from people outside and the Labor party and others to say that we shouldn't get rid of that deficit levy. Well, we did because we believe in lower taxes and we believe that we've already got the tax cuts through for small and medium sized businesses up to $50 million in turnover and we want to make sure that Australia remains competitive right across the board to ensure that our corporate tax rate comes down to 25 per cent. Now, that's where France is going, the US want to go to 20 albeit their headline rate isn't directly comparable to ours, the UK are going to 17 so we need to be competitive. Now, Billy Shorten used to think this was a good idea and now he says the opposite – so who knows what he thinks? I don't know what he thinks…

GREENWOOD:

Okay, before I let you go tonight, I just want to get something I know you're announcing this evening and that is also with the Minister for Small Business and also the Assistant Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science – and that is the three of you have hired Mark Bouris to head up a committee that is going to try and encourage more small businesses to get online to digitise as it were. Why is that important to the country?

TREASURER:

Because businesses that heavily digitise what they're doing – and that doesn't mean a FinTech start-up or something like that – it just means you're using digital systems for your invoicing for your accounts, you might be using cloud accounting, payment systems and so on. The businesses that do this are eight times more likely to create a job. They earn one and a half times more what other businesses can earn on their growth and their earnings. The digitising of your business can really help lift the performance of your business…

GREENWOOD:

So will this be a handout to those businesses or not?

TREASURER:

No, there's no suggestion that that's needed at all. The reason I went to Mark and said, "You're hired, mate" is to say to Mark, "Look, here's a guy I think is looked to by small businesses around the country as a very successful entrepreneur." And Mark's going to lead the taskforce of people which is going to look at where people are digitising their businesses, what that is delivering for their businesses, how much time that is giving back to them to focus on their business or, indeed, give some time back to their family which is a real strain for people working in small business. We've already seen from work we've done that isn't really regulatory impediments that is really stopping people but for them to have a good sense of the benefits by taking these decisions. Now, there's a myriad of products out there already. We've confirmed to offer our support whether it's in accounting or other systems to help people digitise and we believe that if we can help small business do that then we're going to get a lift in their productivity, more and better paid jobs, them earning more – it's win-win everywhere and Mark, we think, will lead a really good process. It won't be a traditional inquiry, I've got to tell you. There won't be people turning up with transcripts and suits and taking evidence. Mark will be doing hackathons, he'll be engaging over social media, trying to get to where small business people are and talk to them and find out what's in the way for them. So, I thank Mark for doing it, it's going to be a great panel and I think they're going to do a great job.

GREENWOOD:

Yes, the taskforce reports to Government by February 28, 2018 – so not too much time there and people, if they've got ideas or businesses, go to industry.gov.au.

TREASURER:

That's it.

GREENWOOD:

It's going to be a fascinating couple of weeks when the numbers get balanced up in our Parliament, Treasurer Scott Morrison, and I wish you all the very best for these next two weeks.

TREASURER:

Thanks a lot, Ross, always good to be with you. Cheers, mate.