3 February 2015
Transcript - #2015007, 2015

Interview with Alison Carabine, Radio National

ALISON CARABINE:

Joe Hockey, thanks for coming in.

TREASURER:

Good to see you Alison and happy New Year.

ALISON CARABINE:

And to you; thank you Joe Hockey. We will get to the Budget and economic issues in a moment, but first, Tony Abbott told the Press Club that he is the best person to lead the Government. Now considering the Government's fractured relationship with the electorate, what does that say about the rest of you?

TREASURER:

Well, it says that we’ve got to work harder for the Australian people to ensure that they get more jobs, better quality of life and have hope for the future. Now, we've seen over the last 12 months, a significant surge in employment, running at three times the speed of what it was under Labor; nearly 600 jobs created each day last year compared to around 200 the year before. But we still have challenges in terms of the Budget and the economy. At the moment, we are spending over $100 million a day more than we're collecting in revenue. Now that's unsustainable, particularly given we're spending nearly $40 million a day on the interest on the debt that we have.

ALISON CARABINE:

And Joe Hockey, they are very worthwhile issues to discuss…

TREASURER:

Well, they're the ones that matter to the Australian people.

ALISON CARABINE:

They do matter to the Australian people but the leadership issue is, as Peter Reith has written this morning, ‘the leadership genie is now out of the bottle’. Won't the leadership have to be settled before it is allowed to drag on too long and so it will enable you to get back to those issues that matter?

TREASURER:

Well, you see Alison, there's lots of commentators; there's lots of commentary from former Members of Parliament…

ALISON CARABINE:

And current Members of your Party Room…

TREASURER:

…And I would say to everyone, focus on your own job and doing your job at your best rather than speculating about other jobs. You know, what matters – what matters to everyone, is how we are going to make Australia better and that's what we're focused on.

ALISON CARABINE:

And your name has not been mentioned as one of the possible contenders for the job, if indeed Tony Abbott departs. Do you still harbour ambitions to lead the Liberal Party?

TREASURER:

You know what my ambition is, to make Australia better.

ALISON CARABINE:

And what about leadership?

TREASURER:

We've had five governments – five governments in eight years, Alison. Australians want stability and certainty and that's what we are offering with a policy platform that fixes up the mess we inherited and builds jobs for Australians. I would say to everyone, if you continue to worry about your own job as a Member of Parliament, you will surely lose that job. You've got to focus on others.

ALISON CARABINE:

And Tony Abbott is one MP who is clearly worried about his job. He said yesterday to the Press Club that he can only be fired by the voters, not by his colleagues. Is he making himself immune to party authority?

TREASURER:

Hang on, hang on, when the Labor Party had a rotating leadership, all the Members of the Liberal Party prosecuted the argument that Kevin Rudd was elected by the people, Kevin Rudd should be fired by the people.

ALISON CARABINE:

That's not John Howard's view on leadership [inaudible].

TREASURER:

Whatever – other people can have views. That was the line we prosecuted, that's the line we believe. Now, there is no good that can come from having constant change in leadership when Australians want us to focus on what's good for them rather than what's good for ourselves. So, let me be very blunt: we want to focus on small businesses, on families. Tony Abbott made a number of important announcements yesterday about cracking down on unlawful foreign ownership of Australian residential real estate, about having a proper register for agricultural investment by foreigners, and importantly, lowering the threshold for approvals. Things like this make a difference to people's lives because ultimately we want to lower the cost of living; make Australia more prosperous.

ALISON CARABINE:

And that's fair enough but many within the Liberal Party are still vexed by the fallout from the Queensland election. It's not just Peter Reith who has had his say this morning, so too Peter Costello. He says the Queensland Government was mangled by the Federal Government, not just the $20 Medicare co-payment, but also the knighthood for Prince Philip. He’s described that – or he's written about it being the barbecue stopper of the century. Can you afford to ignore the sentiments of someone like Peter Costello?

TREASURER:

I think Tony Abbott dealt with that yesterday by saying that all the honours for Australia would be given to an independent council where Australians have the opportunity to nominate and it's made by that independent council, not by any single Member in the Government or any Prime Minister or anyone else. So, that's been dealt with. But let's focus on what matters to every day Australians. We've got lower electricity prices, we've got fuel prices that have dropped so significantly they're equivalent to two interest rate cuts, and we've got low interest rates that may well end up even lower over time. So, the challenge for every day government is to focus on what matters to the Australian people, not on what matters for the self-interest of local Members.

ALISON CARABINE:

And some of your MPs are focusing still on knighthoods though. You've got a couple of back-benchers proposing a Private Members Bill to abolish imperial honours all together. You're a Republican; will you be supporting that Bill?

TREASURER:

Look Alison, we'll see what comes forward in the circumstances but, you know, that's a side issue – that's a side issue.

ALISON CARABINE:

It's a bit of an attack on the Prime Minister’s authority, isn't it?

TREASURER:

Do you know what my job is? To focus on the fact that we're spending – as a government – $100 million more everyday than we're collecting. The fact that every day, we're spending $40 million on interest, on the debt Labor left behind, and that interest bill is growing. So, that's my job. I would urge everyone to focus, in government, on their job. Do your best for Australia and stop focusing on self-interest.

ALISON CARABINE:

And it is your job to put together the next Budget, which will come down in May. The Prime Minister said yesterday that the Commonwealth Budget will not be put together at the expense of the household budget. Are you ruling out any fresh savings measures akin to say, the GP co-payment or the higher education reforms? In other words, will this be a pain-free Budget for households?

TREASURER:

That's what we are endeavouring to do. The challenge, as I said, is that we are spending $100 million more every day, than we are collecting in revenue. Now, the Labor Party keeps standing in the way of our attempts to reduce that spending. We are trying to do our best to get that level of expenditure down, because if we lower the level of expenditure, we don't have to increase taxes…

ALISON CARABINE:

[Inaudible]

TREASURER:

…And yesterday, the Prime Minister said, we want to do everything we can to lower the taxes for small business because that is the engine room of the Australian economy. And if we can free up the taxation and regulatory burden on small business, I think what you will see, Alison, is a compelling story that helps to deliver greater growth and more jobs for everyday Australians.

ALISON CARABINE:

And what about the tax burden on bigger business? The Government is reframing its policy agenda. The Paid Parental Leave Scheme is gone, but the 1.5 per cent levy on big business to pay for it; can you clarify if that Levy will still be applied?

TREASURER:

We'll have more to say, as we get to the Budget, about that. We want to, obviously lower all taxes – company tax, personal income tax. We want to lower the burden but we've got to also lower expenditure over time. Now, in relation to the levy, we are working that through but I'd say to you, Alison, again, one of the things the Prime Minister focused on yesterday was childcare and you know, it is a big issue for families. If we can lift the level of workforce participation of women in Australia – the same level as that of Canada, our economy would be $25 billion a year bigger, which means more jobs and greater wealth for everyday Australians. So, what we've got to do is invest more and focus more on a flexible childcare system, and importantly, give women greater choice.

ALISON CARABINE:

And you'd like to see big business help pay for it?

TREASURER:

Big business will be the beneficiary of a stronger economy. You know, that's the fact. Big business and shareholders benefit from a stronger Australian economy. There's many levers that are available to government but we are working that through to build the prosperity people expect.

ALISON CARABINE:

And Treasurer, that takes us to economic reform. Queensland voters quite emphatically rejected Campbell Newman's privatisation program. Won't that mean that other governments will be more reluctant to pursue asset sales, infrastructure reform? Where does that leave your policy of asset recycling? You must be worried that voters are spurning the idea?

TREASURER:

We have been approached by the ACT Labor Government to be the first signatory to our Asset Recycling Program. And why? Because governments haven't got the discretionary money to be able to build the infrastructure that Australia really needs. Now, either you recycle the money you have and still keep assets in the hands of the Australian people or investors. I mean obviously, you know, you can't pick up a road or an electricity grid and take it overseas. It will still perform its function and people spend a lot of money buying those assets – it's still got to deliver electricity or water or traffic. So, what we are focused on is how we can get the best out of taxpayers' money and build more. Now, our Asset Recycling Program does that. It is absolutely essential for NSW, which is, you know, the beacon of strength in the Australian economy at the moment. I can't believe the East-West Link in Melbourne; I mean, how absurd that the Victorian Government by cancelling East-West, is about to spend $1.2 billion not to have a road, and if they spend $1.5 billion they would have a massive road.

ALISON CARABINE:

But is there going to be the political heart among these governments to pursue these reforms considering the voter backlash? Don't you need to reassure voters, for example, that asset sales won't necessarily mean higher prices? That's what people are worried about.

TREASURER:

I think that is important, you make a good point, Alison. I think we need to work harder on communication, there's no doubt about that. Last year, we spent the year with our heads buried in the books trying to make things add up, trying to deliver the change that strengthens the Australian economy over time. Now, because we did create three times the number of jobs every day that occurred under the last year of Labor, it started to work but there's more work to be done and obviously communication is part of that. When we release the Intergenerational Report in a few weeks’ time, that will engage – through that –  we will engage in a detailed conversation at every street corner, at every town hall with the Australian people about how we can collectively meet head on the challenges of the future and embrace them.

ALISON CARABINE:

And are you prepared to have that conversation in the NSW election, which is next month? It's your home State, so too the Prime Minister’s. Have you both been invited to campaign to help out Mike Baird?

TREASURER:

I've already been campaigning and the Prime Minister was with Mike Baird the other day [inaudible].

ALISON CARABINE:

He was unsighted in Queensland; would you expect him to be welcome in the NSW campaign?

TREASURER:

He's the Prime Minister for the whole of Australia; I'm the Treasurer for the whole of Australia. I'm not someone who is parochial about State interests, Alison. I don't see State borders. I put the whole country first and I expect others would do the same.

ALISON CARABINE:

And Cabinet meets today; will Peta Credlin have a seat at the Cabinet table?

TREASURER:

Look, I'm not going to get into sort of speculation about speculation. Alison, look, I think we need to get back to the basics and that is to focus on what's in the best interests of the Australian people and that's what we’re going to do.

ALISON CARABINE:

Joe Hockey, thanks so much for your time.

TREASURER:

Thanks Alison. Thank you.