7 December 2017
Transcript - #2017241, 2017

Interview with Ross Greenwood, 2GB

SUBJECTS: Citizenship; Royal Commission – Banks and Financial Services; September Quarter National Accounts

ROSS GREENWOOD:

How can you expect manage the economy, manage the Parliament given the citizenship crisis going through it right now?

TREASURER:

Well absolutely. Barnaby Joyce returned to the Parliament today. We've been settling these issues, we've had that by-election and he was returned with a thumping, big majority. I mean the swing to Barnaby was bigger than the Labor vote on its own. On top of that we've got the Bennelong by-election and we are very focussed on that as well, and that will happen before the end of the year, and that is all the matters for our members. The problem today is Bill Shorten; he made all these big promises, talked a big game – "oh the Labor system was perfect" and all this sorts of thing and I think he's been caught out on this and looks a complete fool.

GREENWOOD:

Okay, there could be as many as four Labor members that will be referred to the High Court, that's how it seems as we sit here right now. Do you believe there will be more members of the Coalition that could be referred to the High Court as well?

TREASURER:

No I don't believe so. They have all put forward their declarations today. I mean the problem Labor has is what they've admitted in their declarations. What they have admitted in their declarations is that people hadn't been able to confirm their citizenship, and not being a dual citizen before the close of nominations. I mean that's not me alleging that, this is what they have admitted to, on the facts, in their own submissions. In your own introduction Ross you made the right point. We are focussed on getting on with running the country. I mean last night, in the Parliament, we passed the bill that will give first home savers, for their deposit, a tax cut. A very significant tax cut which will mean they will be able to save for their first home deposit 30 per cent faster, which means they can take from their wage, before they pay any tax, they will be able to put up to $30,000 of their extra savings into their superannuation account, on top of their normal superannuation contributions, and they will only have to pay those lower rates of tax. Now we got that through the Senate last night with the support of the crossbench. No surprise, that the Labor party voted against it. So if you are trying to buy a house in Epping or Eastwood or Ermington or any of these places up in Bennelong, don't forget the Labor party voted against giving you a tax cut last night, so remember that when you go to vote in the Bennelong by-election.

GREENWOOD:

Okay, but then again, this whole dislocation of the parliament as a result of the citizenship crisis that saw Barnaby Joyce and also John Alexander out of the Parliament, really allowed, what you'd have to call, a fracture inside the Coalition. The Nationals clearly got the bill through that ultimately resulted in the Royal Commission. But even before then …

TREASURER:

They didn't get the bill through. There was no bill passed.

GREENWOOD:

Well, no, no,no, but they were able to get it into the Parliament to try to bring it through …

TREASURER:

They put in a bill but the bill was never passed and the bill was dropped and we resolved that issue last week.

GREENWOOD:

By having a Royal Commission, which the former Prime Minister, John Howard, said this about:

JOHN HOWARD:

I would be staggered if the Coalition proposed a Banking Royal Commission. That is rank socialism.

GREENWOOD:

So, rank socialism from a former Prime Minister and obviously a Government great. So is it rank socialism or not?

TREASURER:

No, at the end of the day, as I said last week, this was regrettably necessary because what was going to come out of the Senate would have been far worse and would have undermined confidence in our banking and financial system upon what every job in the country depends, and we took the decision in the right interests of the national economy. At the end of the day, you have to deal with what is in front of you. You can't deal with it as you'd like it to be, you've got to deal with it as it is.

GREENWOOD:

On the Banking Royal Commission, who wrote the terms of reference?

TREASURER:

Oh that's been developed now over some period of time …

GREENWOOD:

Okay but hang on, if that's been developed over a period of time …

TREASURER:

Not over a long period of time …

GREENWOOD:

… why is it that you and the Prime Minister continually said there would be no Royal Commission if you had written the terms of reference over a period of time.

TREASURER:

There were absolutely no plans to hold a Royal Commission at all Ross, and the Prime Minister said just last Tuesday week that we would not be doing that and that was absolutely the Government's position.

GREENWOOD:

But you had written the terms of reference.

TREASURER:

No we hadn't written the terms of reference.

GREENWOOD:

So they were written just a day before when you announced it?

TREASURER:

The terms of reference are still being finalised with letters patent to the Governor General even as we speak. So that was a big brouhaha story in the media that frankly ….

GREENWOOD:

Well I'm trying to get to the bottom of that. Because the terms of reference obviously say that Royal Commission cannot cut across and investigate where there is already an investigation or a legal proceeding underway. Which would be, say for example, the Commonwealth Bank and AUSTRAC. It will look at regulation, and as you have pointed out previously, there has been moves made to improve the lot of regulators and their ability to inquire. What I am wondering is, when we come back in 12 months' time, or 18 months' time, whatever it may be that the Royal Commission hands it down, it could very well be a big tick tick for the banking system, a big tick for the regulators, in other words nothing to see here. Is that what we might get out of a Royal Commission?

TREASURER:

Well that could very much be the result Ross, I am not going to pre-empt the result of it, but we've been taking action now, as you know, on the issues within the banking and financial sector now for the last two years. Everything from increasing the powers and resources of ASIC, the Banking Executive Accountability Regime, the new complaints authority that has binding decisions on the banks. We've just been getting on with it. Now, if we had just gone along with what Bill Shorten said we should have done two years ago, none of that would have happened. So, this Royal Commission will proceed, it became regrettably necessary because of the damage politics was doing, and so that is regrettable. But at the end of the day you have got to deal with what's in front of you in the best interests of the National economy. The Government had no plans, at all, to have a Royal Commission, but events proved that became necessary, regrettably, at the end of last week.

GREENWOOD:

Okay, you often tell me proudly, when we last spoke, that almost than 360,000 jobs created in Australia over the last 12 months. What we can see is there is some small evidence that salaries are starting to move a little. Do you think people around Australia should walk into their boss' office and demand a pay rise?

TREASURER:

Well the labour market is certainly tightening. In the September quarter, in the National Accounts that came down today, for the September quarter, what happened in the September quarter was that more than 100,000 jobs were created. That's more than 1000 jobs a day, and the growth rate for the year lifted from 1.9 per cent to 2.8 per cent. And what was driving that was the very strong growth in new private business investment which hit 7.5 per cent. Now just two years ago that was going backwards by 11 per cent. We have turned the investment ship around, in the national economy, and that is what's driving that growth, despite what you rightly say, the very soft figures we've had on consumption. Householders were very cautious in that September quarter and they were concerned about rising costs of living, particularly on things on energy prices and the like. And you could see that in the numbers; they really pulled back to the essentials. So I was pleased that in the budget I guaranteed the essentials around Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and the funding we put in for public school education and education more broadly. I understand that consumers were very, very concerned in that quarter, and look, some of that remains today. But the October retail figures were much stronger than what we saw in the September quarter. So in the September we saw jobs and growth, and that is what we promised at the last election …

GREENWOOD:

Jobs and growth which should equal a pay rise, so should a person in Australia go in and have a chat with their boss and say 'look we think the labour market is tightening, there are plenty of jobs out there right now, the Treasurer tells me so, you know, I need a pay rise'. Should people be asking for one?

TREASURER:

Ultimately that's between them and their employer. But what I can tell you, in those sectors where the labour market is getting much tighter, then we are seeing those outcomes on wages already. But the wages bill totally in the country lifted by three per cent over the last year and the key reason for that was the highest growth on record in jobs and in full time jobs over that period of time. So there are lot of jobs being created in the economy, we've seen unemployment fall now to 5.4 per cent. When I became Treasurer a couple of years ago it was over six per cent and over 500,000 jobs have been created over that time, we've seen private business investment turn around, we are on track for our projected balance on the budget ….

GREENWOOD:

And tax cuts, are they on the agenda as well?

TREASURER:

Tax cuts are on the agenda, and tax cuts for business have already been delivered as have tax cuts for people on middle incomes by lifting that threshold on the tax system from $80,000 to $87,000. The deficit levy which gave us one of the highest top marginal tax rates in the world, that's come down two per cent. So, anywhere and every time I get the opportunity to cut taxes for Australians I will do it. Because I know if I can put more money in their pockets, it's going to go further than in the pocket of the Government.

GREENWOOD:

Now before I let you go, just one thing. And this has come out today from the Chinese embassy in Australia. The spokesperson there has issued a statement which I think is quite astonishing in some ways. It talks about "some media in Australia have repeatedly fabricated news stories about the so-called Chinese influence and infiltration in Australia. These reports, which were made up out of thin air and filled with Cold War mentality and ideological bias, reflected a typical anti-China hysteria and paranoia. The relevant reports not only made unjustifiable accusations against the Chinese Government, but also unscrupulously vilified the Chinese students as well as the Chinese community in Australia with racial prejudice." Their words, not mine. Do you believe this type of accusation against Chinese influence in Australia's economy is justified or not?

TREASURER:

All I know is Sam Dastyari has betrayed his country. That's what I know. We've got a member, the first pick of Bill Shorten in the Senate for NSW is Sam Dastyari. Now this is a bloke that has been caught out cheating on his country. I said this in the Parliament this week, it is metaphorically being caught between the sheets. The guy should pack his bags, get out of the house and never come back. And we had Chris Bowen, now this is the bloke who wants to be Treasurer of this country. He is on the record saying Sam Dastyari is a loyal and wonderful Australian. And he has totally vested all of his credibility on Sam Dastyari.

GREENWOOD:

Importantly on the other side, do you believe the Chinese Government or its agents seek to have political or other influence in Australia?

TREASURER:

Well they never have over me, and that doesn't really concern me, because it has never really been an issue for me. But I do think it is important we have right type of transparent rules in place to protect against these things, and that's what we announced we were introducing and that the Prime Minister said this week. We have a fantastic Chinese community here in Australia who are passionately loyal Australians and have achieved great things for Australia, and I think we should celebrate that. I mean, the Chinese New Year, these days, has become an Australian celebration, and I think that is one of the evidences of the fact of the intermingling of that being part of Australian life. But at the same time, we're a sovereign country, China is a sovereign country, and they should both keep to their sides of the fence. If any Australian thinks they can somehow betray their country, well they've got another thing coming, and Sam Dastyari should have another thing coming, and if Bill Shorten, if he had any mettle, he would sack him out of the Labor party and remove the shame and the stain that Sam Dastyari puts on the Labor party and the Australian Parliament.

GREENWOOD:

Treasurer Scott Morrison, we appreciate your time.

TREASURER:

Thanks mate.