27 January 2015
Transcript - #2015003, 2015

Interview with Ben Fordham, Sydney Live, 2GB

BEN FORDHAM:

Joining me on the line is the Federal Treasurer, Joe Hockey. Mr Hockey, good afternoon.

TREASURER:

Good afternoon Ben and happy new year.

BEN FORDHAM:

Is it a happy new year?

TREASURER:

Australia is stronger this time of the year than it was last year at the same time. We have had more jobs created. Last year we had a record number of new businesses start up. We are underway with a whole lot of new infrastructure and we are starting to get the debt and deficit problem that we inherited under control, but there is more work to be done.

BEN FORDHAM:

Should we be surprised that this is something Bill Shorten isn’t keen to talk about?

TREASURER:

No. No, because Labor created the problem, they don’t want to talk about the problem but you would think they would help us to try and fix it, and they are not. They control the Senate; the Senate is controlled by the Labor Party and the Greens. Let’s be fair dinkum about that, and they are doing everything they can to stop us fixing the mess that was created by the previous Government.

BEN FORDHAM:

Considering the hostile nature of the Senate, should you have pulled a double dissolution somewhere along the way to put it back to the people and let them decide if they want a Parliament that is going to do something about the debt instead of, you know, the crew that we have got in the Senate at the moment, which includes a Palmer United Party as well who, you know, everyone just seems to be happy to sit back and listen to the bomb ticking away?

TREASURER:

Going back to the Australian people would only work if whoever controls the Senate after the next election, respected the will of the Australian people. Now, I don’t think anyone could argue that we didn’t get the support of the Australian people to get rid of the Carbon Tax and get rid of the Mining Tax. No one would suggest that we held that light behind the bushel or under the bushel, so that no one could see it. No one would suggest that. Yet, the Labor Party and the Greens have no respect for the will of the Australian people. So, what would change? Well, nothing. We respected their mandate in relation to the repeal of Work Choices but they never respected our mandate and the vote of the Australian people on getting rid of the Carbon Tax, the Mining Tax and fixing the Budget mess that we were left with.

BEN FORDHAM:

Jennifer Westacott makes a valid point, doesn’t she? She says that, you know, this is not some kind of book keeping entry. This is money we cannot spend in areas where we need it. So, if we are stuck paying interest instead of putting money into roads and hospitals, doesn’t that put the community at risk?

TREASURER:

Absolutely right. Look, the Royal North Shore Hospital – the new Royal North Shore Hospital, that I visited – not by choice necessarily – over the Christmas period, that cost around $800 million to build. Now, we could build 12, 13 of those for our debt repayment each year. We get 13 new Royal North Shore Hospitals each year in Australia if we didn’t have to repay just the interest on the debt that we inherited, and it is rising debt. Currently, we are paying around 2.5 per cent interest on government debt. Interest rates at some point are going to rise; our repayments are going to rise. That is going to be a greater burden on taxpayers in the future. If we don’t start the payback on the debt now, if we don’t pay it down, if we don’t get the Budget under control, if we don’t live within our means, then we are passing on a massive burden to those that follow us and there will be very little to show for it.

BEN FORDHAM:

Now and it is not just about future generations – yes, they will be left carrying the can but we are missing out now – that is the point of the whole thing. We are missing out now because key things that we need to live our lives are not receiving the kind of funds that we need them to receive because the money is going elsewhere in servicing the debt.

TREASURER:

Well, absolutely right. There will always be a new drug that would save peoples lives that a government would love to be able to pay for but hasn’t got the money for, or new roads to be built, or better quality education, or better quality aged care services. There is always something where money can get you an even better outcome. It applies in our own lives and it applies to a country as well and we are seeing countries that have had this [inaudible] dysfunctional governments and dysfunctional parliaments that are now wrestling with a legacy left by years of an inability to deal with a crisis at hand. Greece is a classic example. You look at Italy; you look at a range of different countries that have failed to deal with a crisis of debt. Australia must do everything it can to avoid those sort of challenges in the future and we have to start now.

BEN FORDHAM:

It is hard to see a light at the end of the tunnel on this for you guys. I mean, Bill Shorten doesn’t have much interest in helping you guys get the debt under control because the worse it gets for you, the better it looks for him.

TREASURER:

It is always more popular to spend money than to save money and it is very hard for governments to say, no, we can’t afford this. It is very hard. It is very popular to say, yes, we will spend it on everything you want. But you have to do what is right in Government and Tony Abbott, myself and the Coalition team, are absolutely determined to ensure that we can strengthen the Budget, strengthen the economy, help to create more jobs. Ultimately, business creates job – business employs people, but everyone knows in their heart of hearts in Australia, that if you live within your means, then you will benefit in the long run and that is exactly what we are trying to do with the Budget.

BEN FORDHAM:

Okay, let me pick up on a couple of things you have just mentioned. First of all, you talk about the ease of spending money and you say, ‘it is harder to say we can’t afford it’. One of Tony Abbott’s own mates, Tom Switzer, argues in the Sydney Morning Herald today that, ‘there is plenty that the Coalition can do to help the situation too, starting with dumping the hugely expensive and over-generous Paid Parental Leave Scheme’. So, while we are pressing Bill Shorten to show some responsibility, why don’t you guys have the ticker to kill off the PPL until we are in a position to afford it?

TREASURER:

Well, Tony Abbot said before Christmas – which might have been lost – that we are going to reformat the Paid Parental Leave Scheme and integrate it with a childcare package that gives greater flexibility to parents. Now, we need to address this issue of how we can help people get back into work. What has changed then between our parents’ generation and our generation is that you can’t grow up in a city, basically, on one income. You know, it is very hard to buy a house and pay a mortgage on one income in Sydney or Melbourne or Brisbane, or most parts of Australia. You actually do need two incomes, and when a working mum goes on maternity leave and doesn’t have replacement salary, the bills still keep coming in. The mortgage doesn’t get discounted by the bank. The electricity company doesn’t discount the bills because mum’s on maternity leave. The bills still keep coming in. Now, we are trying to work out a way to deliver a plan that helps those mums and those families during that period when they don’t have a full household income. We are also, importantly, helping to address some of the challenges of getting back to work, and flexibility in childcare. We are going through it methodically. We will have more to say about that during the course of the next few months.

BEN FORDHAM:

Okay, you mentioned the importance of business doing well – you know, more revenue for government and that allows us to reduce the debt. So, why have we got a scenario where restaurants are having to pay staff $59 an hour on a public holiday and most businesses just end up just shutting up shop as a result? There is a lady on the front page of the Financial Review today from Melbourne, she has had to get her friends to work for her on Australian Day because she will go backwards having to pay staff double time and a half.

TREASURER:

Well, it is not uncommon.  I mean, it wasn’t just Australia Day. I mean, in my discussions will small business people over the holiday break; I mean many of them are family business [inaudible].

BEN FORDHAM:

But we have spoken about this before though, many times. When are we going to do something about it? Or are we too afraid of doing anything about it because there will be another Work Choices-style campaign against it? Are we afraid, are we?

TREASURER:

I mean, the Australian people made a decision in 2007. Labor reversed a lot of the industrial relations changes that were put in place under the Howard Government. They had a mandate to do that; we respected their mandate in a way they don’t respect our mandates. But, having said that, in May of 2013, Tony Abbott announced, when we were in Opposition, that we were going to have an independent Productivity Commission review of the workplace relations system. Whatever comes out of that independent review, together with a policy formulation and consultations of the Government, we will take to the next election. We want to seek the support of the Australian people on this sort of change. What is happening in our everyday lives Ben, is our everyday lives are going 24/7, and you know what is interesting? As I said last year, we had the largest number of new businesses started up in Australia’s history. And why? Small business people don’t clock on at 9.00 in the morning and close at 5.00. That’s not the way small business operates. Small business – home-based businesses, offer a flexibility that you can’t necessarily get in a paid employee position. So, people are marching with their feet looking for flexibility and what we want to do is work with the Australian people to identify ways that we can make the workplace system more flexible to suit the needs of everyday Australians.

BEN FORDHAM:

Okay look, I do have to run. Can I get a yes or no answer from you on a final question?

TREASURER:

Depends what the question is Ben.

BEN FORDHAM:

Come on.

TREASURER:

Well mate, I mean I can ask you – how’s parenthood going?

BEN FORDHAM:

Great. Now that I gave you a one-word answer, I will get one from you on this: if you were Prime Minister, would you have given Prince Phillip a knighthood?

TREASURER:

I am not Prime Minister, Ben.

BEN FORDHAM:

That is not a one-word answer?

TREASURER:

Well, it is multi-word answer so you got value for your money there.

BEN FORDHAM:

Righto, ducking questions. Thanks for your time Mr Hockey.

TREASURER:

Thanks very much.

BEN FORDHAM:

Joe Hockey, the Federal Treasurer.