23 November 2017
Transcript - #2017227, 2017

Doorstop interview, Sydney

SUBJECTS: BlueCHP Affordable Housing Development Macarthur opening; affordable housing; Turnbull Government’s Budget delivering on the essentials for Australians; National Energy Guarantee to bring average household energy bills down by $400 a year; Manus Island; Turnbull Government’s take-action-now approach to the banks; 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper.

TREASURER:

Well it's great to be here with Charles Northcote and BlueCHP out here in Campbelltown today. This is a very exciting affordable housing project and it has been my great pleasure to open it here today. In the last Budget what I said was we were putting downward pressure on rising costs of living for Australians. I said we were guaranteeing the essentials that Australians rely on and over the course of this year we have been delivering on them. We have delivered on the essentials of education funding and ending the funding wars on education. We have delivered on the Medicare guarantee and the PBS guarantee. On rising costs of living we delivered a housing affordability package which is designed to see projects like this one be supported into the future and at a scale that we haven't seen before with tax incentives and a new finance and investment corporation to support these projects, a housing infrastructure fund which deals with many of the infrastructure issues that can frustrate projects like this, that brings the team together that is needed at state, local and federal level, whether it's with the private sector and the community housing sector to deliver projects like this. The National Energy Guarantee that we announced some weeks ago from the Energy Security Board and the findings yesterday of their modelling which shows the National Energy Guarantee will reduce peoples electricity bills on average for households by $400 a year. That is putting downward pressure on people's rising living costs. That's lowering their living costs. So whether it's housing, or whether it's electricity, or as the Prime Minister announced earlier this week, finding ways to reduce the tax burden on middle-income families and working to that end as we are, day and night, to ensure that we can reduce the pressure on Australian families, that's what we're delivering as a Government. That's what we're focused on as a Government. That's what Australians expect of us as a Government and that's what they're getting from us as a Government.

QUESTION:

Did Cabinet know that Manus Island Detention Centre would be cleared today? Was that something that was approved?

TREASURER:

I don't discuss what has happened in Cabinet but you'll have some knowledge of the events taking place at present and it's best for me to leave commentary on those issues to Minister Dutton and I understand he has already made some comments on those issues. I remember as the Minister for Immigration when we came in in 2013 we inherited the Manus Processing Centre. That was a processing centre that the Labor party sent children and families to. They sent children and families to Manus Island, not the Coalition Government, that was never our plan. It was never our plan to actually have Manus Island in the first place. That was a Kevin Rudd special and a special deal to boot with the Papua New Guinean Government. So, this is a process that has been difficult and hard and there are events that are taking place there today which are matters for the Papua New Guinean Government and Minister Dutton has already made comment on that.

QUESTION:

Julie Bishop is calling for a formal investigation into Cabinet leaks. Do you support this?

TREASURER:

I think it's incredibly important that these issues are resolved and that's a matter I'm sure the Prime Minister has well in hand.

QUESTION:

Have you asked for a meeting with the big four banks and what would you like to discuss with them?

TREASURER:

I meet with the banks on a regular basis. That's one of my responsibilities as Treasurer and I do so in particular with the chairs. I speak to their CEOs, I speak to their executives as you would expect me to do. I meet every month with the Reserve Bank. I meet every month with the head of APRA, as you'd expect me to do. I meet with the Council of Financial Regulators, and one of the things we did at the Council of Financial Regulators earlier this year is we put in place the new measures around interest-only lending and that measure on interest-only lending has been incredibly successful. It has taken the heat, the pressure, the steam out of surging housing markets, particularly here in Sydney, and in Melbourne, and is improving housing affordability. We've seen first time owners coming back into the market as a result of what we've been doing, working with regulators to ensure that banks are not creating interest-only loans, which can have the effect of driving up house prices to investors and exacerbating the supply-demand problem we have. That initiative has been credited by international ratings agencies, the IMF and others, as being a surgical, calibrated intervention which is getting a result when it comes to cooling overheated housing markets. The Labor party's approach is to take a sledgehammer to that issue, which would only see a crisis in confidence in our housing market, which would have significant impacts on employment and growth in our economy and would hurt ordinary working people in Australia, whether they are themselves investing in the housing market for their own future, or trying to pay the rent like they are here in Campbelltown in the project that we're at today. I meet with them all the time, I'll be having further discussions with a number of them today. For some years now I've been talking to the banks about resolving some legacy cases where people have had issues. These cases have been raised in various fora. I've been impressing upon them for some time now the need for those cases to be resolved and, like in other meetings I've had with them, I'll continue to have those discussions as well as on other matters.

QUESTION:

With the release of the Foreign Policy White Paper today, what threat does the rise of China pose to Australia's economy?

TREASURER:

Again, that's a foreign policy issue. I'm the Treasurer. Most of my focus is on domestic matters and I know that Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop and the Prime Minister will be making comments on that today. Can I commend Julie Bishop on her outstanding leadership on bringing that white paper forward and obviously the Cabinet was very pleased to support it as the Prime Minister was. She has a very strong vision for the country, when it comes to particularly how we're engaging with Asia – and particularly ASEAN countries – that's been one of the focuses of Julie's leadership on foreign affairs as the Foreign Affairs Minister. But China is our biggest trading partner, China is our biggest customer and, as the Treasurer, that is something that I focus on a lot and that trade is creating jobs. The China-Australia Free Trade Agreement is creating jobs and boosting incomes in Australia. Remember this was a free trade agreement which the Labor party had to be dragged kicking and screaming to, which the unions, which bankroll the ALP, funded to run campaigns against the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement and so I think when it comes to understanding the economic opportunities of Asia, the Coalition Government, the Turnbull Government gets it and the approach we have taken is creating Australian jobs by having national interest led trade arrangements with China that put our interests first and gets outcomes for Australians.

QUESTION:

Opportunities, but also potentially risks, are there any risks that come or anything that we should be aware of for our own economy?

TREASURER:

I think these issues are canvassed well in the white paper and I refer you to that. It's not for me to go into details on those strategic issues but Australia manages our strategic national interests in the region extremely well. We've done it over a very long period of time. Today's white paper just further reinforces the wisdom and the careful and calibrated approach that we have to managing our strategic interests while at the same time continuing to see our trade relationships and our people-to-people relationships expanded in the region. We are incredibly well-respected in the region and that is demonstrated both through our engagement, our partnerships and our trade and as a country that has grown prosperous from the way we've engaged with the rest of the world, I think today's white paper is a further chapter in how we can see that prosperity and engagement continue.

Thanks very much.