22 November 2017
Transcript - #2017114, 2017

Doorstop interview, Canberra

SUBJECTS: National Energy Guarantee to deliver affordable, reliable electricity; parliament sitting calendar; Turnbull Government’s take-action-now approach to the banks; same sex marriage; personal income tax cuts

TREASURER:

Later his week the COAG Energy Council will consider further work that is being done on the National Energy Guarantee. The good news for Australian families is the National Energy Guarantee, as recommended by the Energy Security Board and supported by the Turnbull Government, will be delivering a $400 a year drop in their electricity prices from where they are today. That's what the modelling shows. So, that is far beyond the initial estimate that was provided by John Pierce from the Energy Security Board when the policy was first proposed some weeks ago.

So, I think this is great news for Australian families. It is also great news for Australian businesses who are dealing with rising electricity prices in their businesses. It is based on greater contracting for energy within the market. It is based on increased supply of energy in the market which is exactly what the National Energy Guarantee is designed to do. So, this is about putting, not just downward pressure on rising cost of living. This is actually about reducing electricity prices. That is what the independent modelling by the Energy Security Board is showing and with savings around $400 a year for households, that is a big saving in today's dollars. That is something we welcome and I think just doubles down on why COAG and the whole country needs to come together, support the Energy Security Board recommendation. So, we can get on with dealing with lower electricity prices for Australian families and Australian businesses.

QUESTION:

Will it be any easier to convince any of the states to support it now that you have this modelling?

TREASURER:

I think it makes a very good case. Apparently the previous estimate of $115 was not strong enough for Bill Shorten. He thinks having $115, paying less for your electricity bills, each year is trivial. Well, he might be on a big salary, but most Australians aren't. So, I think that was a good saving. This is almost four times that. And the policies that he was pursuing wouldn't have delivered those savings at all. So, what we're talking about is real money in the pockets of Australian families and relieving pressure on Australian businesses, so they can invest more in their businesses. That is supported by the tax cuts that we've already put in place for small and medium-sized businesses, and of course, the broader tax cuts people want to see. Not just for businesses, but as the Prime Minister has said, it's our priority to ensure we're delivering tax cuts for middle-income Australians as well. And we're doing the work on that. While I'm working on cutting taxes for middle-income Australians, Chris Bowen is working on how he can increase taxes, not just for businesses but for all Australians.

QUESTION:

Is Tony Abbott's criticism helpful?

TREASURER:

You'd have to specify what you're talking about.

QUESTION:

Is it frustrating that he has criticised the decision to cancel next week's sitting of the lower house?

TREASURER:

Look, I'm not focused on those things.

QUESTION:

Is it taking away from your focus on energy?

TREASURER:

No.

QUESTION:

What would be your message to him?

TREASURER:

I don't have one.

QUESTION:

Do you think it's right he's criticised the decision? Do you stand by the Government's delaying the sitting of the lower house?

TREASURER:

Yes.

QUESTION:

Why is it the right decision?

TREASURER:

Because, as we've already explained, the Senate next week will deal with the same-sex marriage bill, and then that will come into the House, and then we will have the opportunity to then deal with that bill in the time that we have remaining over the balance of the year. There are some 42 bills in the Senate right now. It's not like the Senate does not have enough work to get on with, with important bills, whether that's the complaints authority, for handling banking complaints, they can pass that. You want to pass something on banking – pass the new complaints authority. If you want to deal with people struggling to save for their first home, pass the law that the House has passed, which is in the Senate, which will give first home savers a tax cut and make them able to save for their first home 30 per cent faster. I mean, there's a lot of great work that the Senate can get on with, once it has dealt with the same-sex marriage bill. And there are a lot of bills we would like to see them pass. I would encourage them to move on to those. And we've already had around 180 bills passed by this Parliament since the last election, and there's a whole bunch more they can pass by the end of the year.

QUESTION:

Does the Government have any duty to stick with the sitting week schedule as it is designed at the start of the year?

TREASURER:

No.

QUESTION:

And why do we need a review of religious freedoms that's been announced this morning, to be headed by Philip Ruddock?

TREASURER:

I strongly welcome the review that the Prime Minister has announced today, appointing Philip Ruddock, to look over the full spectrum of where religious freedoms can be under threat under our existing law. There are well over 4 million Australians who took a different view on the marriage survey. And I think there are many more Australians who would want to be confident that Australia's religious freedoms, as expressed in our law, are satisfactory in today's environment. Now, this is not a replacement for the need to make amendments that members will wish to make to the same-sex marriage bill that will go before the Senate, the Smith Bill, as well as it coming into the House. This does not replace that process. And that is a matter for individual members of the House and of the Senate. That isn't a Government issue, that is a Parliament issue. But the Government is responding and acting on this issue of religious freedoms by ensuring there is a thorough process, a careful process, considering all the potential consequences, and the restrictions that can be imposed on people's religious freedom, but at the same time doing it in a sensible way. Now, Philip is a former Attorney-General. He is one of the most respected Australian public figures in Australia's ethnic and religious communities. He has the gravitas, the intellect, and I think the empathy to listen carefully to the real anxieties and concerns that many Australians in religious communities across the country are now feeling. And so the Government is acknowledging that and the Government is saying, 'we are going to listen'. We've appointed Philip Ruddock, someone who's the best listener in the business when it comes to these issues. And I know he has very high standing in those communities, and I look forward to that process being well supported.

QUESTION:

Do you think any religious freedoms are under threat?

TREASURER:

Well, I do, and that's why I'll be dealing with those in the House of Representatives as a Member of Parliament.

QUESTION:

Can you outline those again?

TREASURER:

I've already outlined the fact that there are three key areas that I would like to see addressed. The first of those is to ensure that parental rights are protected in any changes that occur in this bill, in terms of the instruction of their children in schools. Secondly, I want to ensure that nobody, no religious organisation, or any organisation, for that matter, who has a particular view on the traditional form of marriage should be penalised in terms of their charitable gift status or in terms of their access to public funding for other works that they do, completely unrelated to their view on marriage. And, thirdly, you shouldn't not be appointed to a job, not be appointed to a board, not be excluded because you have an association with an organisation that might have a traditional view of marriage. You shouldn't be penalised for your views when it comes to religion on these questions. And also, actually, if you're a marriage celebrant, not a religious marriage celebrant, but just a civil marriage celebrant, you may also have a religious faith, and you should have the same right to a conscientious objection that a pastor, a priest or an Imam or a Rabbi or someone like that would have, which is afforded under the Smith Bill. I don't think any of those things open up the door to Sharia law, I don't think any of those things open up the door to religious extremism. I think they're sensible things that I would be encouraging my colleagues in the Parliament to support. But my first job is as Treasurer, and as Treasurer, the key thing I will be focused on between now and the end of the year is the delivery of the mid-year statement and the work on delivering those personal income tax cuts for middle income Australians. That is the work I have been doing now for some time and I will continue to do that with the Prime Minister and my colleagues.

Thanks very much.