22 November 2017
Transcript - #2017226, 2017

Interview with Tom Elliott, 3AW

SUBJECTS: Personal income tax cuts; new principles-based work expenses framework for Parliamentarians; same-sex marriage.

TOM ELLIOTT:

Joining us now, hopefully to explain this is the Federal treasurer Scott Morrison. Mr Morrison good afternoon.

TREASURER:

Happy Birthday Tom.

ELLIOTT:

Thank you very much, that's very kind. Now, if I were a low to middle income earner and I heard the Prime Minister on Monday night talk about tax cuts for people like me. What would I have to look forward to? What have you got planned?

TREASURER:

We're still doing that work Tom, and it will be sometime yet before we are able to get into that detail, but what the Prime Minister was doing was letting people know that's what our priority is and that's exactly what I'm working on, and have been now for some time. You were right in your introduction to say well, the Budget is under a lot of pressure at the moment and our absolute focus is to retain the AAA credit rating, and make sure that we maintain that path way to get the Budget back into balance by 2021. That's the projection, so they're the guard rails, they're the tests that have to be met in order to achieve this, but I'm sort of tinkering away out there in the shed, in the Budget shed, working away, what people know I'm working on is to ensure that I can do those things, and with a priority to provide some middle-income tax relief.

ELLIOTT:

Let's look at some of the possibilities, I mean, currently the tax-free threshold extends up to $18,200. Now no one will want to try and live on that amount of money. Would you perhaps lift the tax-free threshold to say $20,000 or $21,000? Is that a possibility?

TREASURER:

I'm not going to go 20 questions on it. We haven't worked this detail yet to that level. What the Prime Minister has done is indicated the priority and that's simply all we said.

ELLIOTT:

Can you say how much you might give back, will it be 3, 4, 5 billion dollars a year?

TREASURER:

No I can't. Not at this point. What I am saying, we won't be doing it at the cost of our AAA credit rating, or bringing the Budget back into balance on the plan we currently have.

ELLIOTT:

Is the detail not going to emerge until May next year, six months away on Budget night? Is that when we're going to find out about this?

TREASURER:

We're working on it now. When we're able to deliver it, that's when we'll make the announcement.

ELLIOTT:

What I find odd Mr Morrison, is you know, everybody knows that you're struggling in the opinion polls…

TREASURER:

You sound very formal. You should call me Scott, Scomo or whatever.

ELLIOTT:

You've never said call me Scott so now I will. Scott…

TREASURER:

Please do.

ELLIOTT:

Scott can I tell you that you're struggling in the opinion polls, a bit of good news I would have thought, your cabinet, your backbenchers would love it if you've got some tax cuts planned, tell us what they are. Can you guarantee that someone, who's struggling along on $45,000 a year, in six months, will the Government's hand be slightly less in their pocket?

TREASURER:

What I can guarantee is what we're working on is to provide that tax relief for middle income earners, and the Labor Party isn't. They confirmed that yesterday. That's what I'm working on, that's what we're seeking to provide.

ELLIOTT:

Can you guarantee that people on lower incomes will get a tax cut?

TREASURER:

That's what the Prime Minister said, that we're working to deliver.

ELLIOTT:

I know but saying it is one thing, doing it is another.

TREASURER:

They'll see the delivery once we make announcements. And once we're in a position to do that in a responsible way that meets that other criteria, then that's when we'll make that announcement. But I think it's important that people know what our priorities are and what we're trying to achieve and where we go next. Where we go next is bring the Budget back to the balance and as part of that process, where we can provide that middle income tax relief, that's a priority for us.

ELLIOTT:

Did you know the Prime Minister was going to talk about this in his speech to the Business Council on Monday night?

TREASURER:

Yes.

ELLIOTT:

You did, so it's not a surprise?

TREASURER:

No.

ELLIOTT:

Don't you think though if the Prime Minister is going to release this bit of information, that it would be good to have the detailed work already done?

TREASURER:

That wasn't the intention at this point. The intention at this point was to let people know that the Turnbull Government, our next objective when it comes to the Budget, is to deliver middle-income tax relief, because for some years now it's been a while since Australians have had a decent pay rise and they need to know what we've planned to do about that…

ELLIOTT:

I know. That's why I'm asking you these questions.

TREASURER:

I know and I think they're very fair questions – don't get me wrong – I think they're very fair questions, but at this point, what we're able to say is that's what we're working on and when we're in a position to provide further detail, I certainly will.

ELLIOTT:

Alright, well, another issue, Scott, that I'd like to ask you. I've got a press release from your colleague Mathias Cormann, the Minister for Finance, and he's said under the parliamentary business resources regulation 317, "parliamentarians will only be able to make a claim" – this is for politicians' expenses – "if their expenditure is made in order to conduct parliamentary business, provides value for money and meets the specified guidelines." Now, can I tell you off the record, I have spoken to a senior member of your Government – someone who is in Cabinet, not you, not Mathias Cormann – and I have learnt that at the moment, if a politician says that an airfare or a hotel bill or a limousine or whatever it is, is for parliamentary business, that's the only question that's asked. As a result, we've got rorting of expenses – is that going to be changed?

TREASURER:

It's changing to exactly what you just said from 1 January, that's when the key implementation date comes in for the new rules and if people are found not to have complied with that, they can face a 25 per cent penalty on top of having to repay the amount…

ELLIOTT:

Okay and that's good but my point is that one of your colleagues – member of Federal Cabinet – has said to me that all a politician has to do next year is say, "This is for parliamentary business." And that is simply the text, well, will it go further than that? Will someone independent look at the expenditure claims?

TREASURER:

The new tribunal that is overseeing parliamentary expenses that we announced earlier this year, they are the judge and jury on this and if they believe it hasn't been done for that purpose – and I should stress the dominant purpose too – so if you've invited me to your 50th birthday party and I've come down there and just had a five minute meeting, then that wouldn't qualify.

ELLIOTT:

Right, so someone in this independent tribunal would look at your claim to my birthday party and say, "That's not on. You didn't discuss any business. You pay for it yourself or suffer the consequences."?

TREASURER:

Yes, and I'll get hit with a 25 per cent penalty on the repayment.

ELLIOTT:

So is that the end of the rorting of people taking their kids on holiday and flying to look at investment properties and all that sort of thing?

TREASURER:

I think that's what it's designed to do, yes. Yes.

ELLIOTT:

Alright, good.

TREASURER:

People have to obey the rules – like you've got to cross when the lights are green too but people still cross the lights when they aren't green…

ELLIOTT:

Well, they do, but there's a red light camera sitting there making sure that if you cross when it's red, you get sent a fine in the mail.

TREASURER:

Yes and I think that's a very fair comparison.

ELLIOTT:

Alright now, finally, there has been a lot of discussion around the same-sex marriage bill. The Prime Minister wants to get it done before Christmas. I know that more conservative members of the party like you are concerned to enshrine religious protection in the bill. Is that going to happen?

TREASURER:

That's what I'm going to work towards. I can't guarantee that all members of Parliament will support me in it, but that's certainly what I'm going to be arguing for. But it will be passed by the end of the year – there's no doubt about that. But I and many other members – both in the Senate and the House – will be seeking to put some practical protections in there for religious freedom. Here's a pretty obvious one, if you're a marriage celebrant – you're not a priest, you're not a rabbi, you're not an imam, you're just a marriage celebrant registered and you happen to be a person who has strong religious convictions – you should be able to conscientiously object to being forced to marry someone if that's not what you wanted to do…

ELLIOTT:

I've heard different interpretations. Some say it's only people who are formally religious like a priest who can claim their exemption…

TREASURER:

That's what's in the Smith Bill. That's what's in the bill that's before the Senate and I'm saying that courtesy, that protection should be extended to marriage celebrants, not just priests and imams and all the rest of it because, amazingly, people other than priests and imams and pastors and so on have religious convictions. That's not going to lead to Sharia law coming into Australia, that's just a pretty common sense change. I think it's pretty common sense to ensure that you've got an organisation like – I don't want to [inaudible] them, but let's just follow the argument – let's say, St Vincent de Paul, they do tremendous work in our community. Homelessness and cash assistance and so on, a lot of the work they do is actually supported by government funds, they have charitable deductibility status, gift deductibility status – well, if the Catholic church has a view about same-sex marriage and maintains a traditional view, we shouldn't stop giving them money and giving them tax deductions to help homeless people.

ELLIOTT:

Indeed.

TREASURER:

They're the practical sorts of things I'm talking about…

ELLIOTT:

But it will be done by Christmas?

TREASURER:

The bill will be passed by Christmas, I just hope it will have those protections and I'll be fighting very hard to ensure they do. Not as the Treasurer but as the member for Cook in southern Sydney, and there'll be other members of the Parliament who I'm very confident will be doing the same. But let's hope for at least those who agree with me that we can have enough of them to agree with us to achieve it.

ELLIOTT:

Scott, thank you for your time.

TREASURER:

Thanks a lot, Tom, and have a good one.