5 February 2015
Transcript - #2015013, 2015

Interview with Marius Benson, ABC NewsRadio

MARIUS BENSON:

Joe Hockey, good morning.

TREASURER:

Morning Marius. Sorry about that.

MARIUS BENSON:

That’s okay, these things happen. It is a confusing time.

TREASURER:

No it isn’t, no it isn’t. It is coming down to phone coverage, sorry.

MARIUS BENSON:

No worries. I want to ask you about the leadership obviously, but can I begin with you as Treasurer on some Budget issues, particularly a Financial Review story this morning, which is headed, ‘Hockey’s Budget Retreat’, and reports that you have abandoned the search for big May Budget savings and you won’t meet your forecast for a 2018 return to surplus. True?

TREASURER:

Not quite true actually. It is not true at all in a sense because what the headline suggests is just dead wrong. The fact is that we are focused on getting the Budget back to surplus so that Australia can start to live within its means. Now, we are currently spending more than $100 million a day more than we collect in revenue. We have to borrow money to make up that difference. Our interest bill, at the moment, is $40 million a day and it will continue to grow. In fact, it will triple within a decade. So, the fundamental challenge is to get the savings through the Parliament and ensure that Australia can live within its means.

MARIUS BENSON:

That’s been the familiar refrain for a year now, or nearly a year since the May Budget, but is it true you’re not searching for savings in the May Budget to come?

TREASURER:

No, it is not true. We are of course searching for savings. We look everywhere for savings. As Tony Abbott said, we are going to be careful not to have any impact on households because at the moment, households are getting the benefit of a significant cut in petrol prices. That is the equivalent of more than half a percent cut in interest rates. The Reserve Bank just cut interest rates by a quarter of a percent and we expect all the banks to pass that through, not just in home loans but also business loans and credit cards as well. At the same time as the Reserve Bank recognised, the Carbon Tax has reduced the cost of living for everyday Australians – $550 a year…

MARIUS BENSON:

Can I ask you not to go down that road because it has been part of every interview recently and ask you…

TREASURER:

Hang on Marius, Marius. This is the sort of stuff the Australian people want to hear. They don’t want to hear about the gossip of Canberra. They want to hear how we are making a difference to their bottom line.

MARIUS BENSON:

That is the past; can I take you to the future? Is it highly unlikely – as the Fin Review reports – that you’ll offer tax cuts in the next Federal election?

TREASURER:

No, it is not highly unlikely. We are obviously always focused on reducing the tax burden on Australians. We made that commitment. We have work to do, but we are absolutely determined to lower the tax burden on Australian households.

MARIUS BENSON:

How much danger is Tony Abbott’s leadership now in, in your reading of the numbers in your Party?

TREASURER:

The only numbers I do are the numbers on the Budget and the numbers on the Budget are my focus and how I can lift some of the cost burdens off everyday Australians. Mate I tell you, the commentary is extraordinary and the gossip is extraordinary. Everyone needs to focus on doing the job they have.

MARIUS BENSON:

Yeah, it is not just gossip though is it when Arthur Sinodinos, a very substantial figure in the Party, says – when asked – if Tony Abbott will be there next week, ‘comrade, ask me next week’. He is in danger, do you accept that?

TREASURER:

No I don’t, no I don’t and quite frankly, I would say to everyone: please do the job you have. I say to everyone: we recognise – we collectively, as a Government recognise – we need to do better, but the policies are right for Australia. The policies are right for Australia. That’s why we are able to reduce the cost of living and it’s flowing through right now. The plan is to get the Budget back to surplus, to start to pay down the debt, to live within our means and make sure that we do more to help families, small business and focus on the opportunities for growth.

MARIUS BENSON:

But all of those things are secondary if there is actually doubt about the person who is going to lead the Party. Are you saying there is no doubt about Tony Abbott’s future?

TREASURER:

There is no doubt. There is no doubt because Australians will not tolerate a Government at war with itself. We do not want to end up like the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd Government. The Labor formula does not work. The Labor formula does not win elections. So you cannot have instability and expect to win an election – it will not happen. The Australian people will correctly punish a Government that is at war with itself.

MARIUS BENSON:

But you are clearly at war with yourself right now, aren’t you? There are four backbenchers out there directly questioning the Prime Minister’s position. There is a senior former Minister in the form of Arthur Sinodinos – a very respected figure – saying that he has got ‘qualified support’ for the Prime Minister. You are at open war with yourself.

TREASURER:

No, I don’t accept that. There are 102 people in the Party Room. There will always be some people that are upset for various reasons, Marius, various reasons.

MARIUS BENSON:

But very rare for politicians to go public questioning their leader. It’s a significant deal.

TREASURER:

I think over the last few years we have seen a lot of that. And Marius, for some of us that have been around quite some time, we remember back in 1997, when John Howard had sacked seven Ministers, three backbenchers had gone to the crossbenches as independents. We were at a very low point and then we went on to win the next election with John Howard. Now I say to you Marius, that was further down the track. That was further into the first term of the Howard Government than we are in the first term of the Abbott Government.

MARIUS BENSON:

But not as low as you are now and not as low as the Prime Minister is now.

TREASURER:

Polls are volatile and quite frankly, nothing illustrates that better than what just happened in Queensland. You can be at a very low point and you can get to a very high point and it comes down to what you present to the Australian people. If you are a united focused Government, as we must be, then the Australian people will reward you at the ballot box. But if you are a Government at war with yourself, then you will pay a price and we want to be a focused Government.

MARIUS BENSON:

Joe Hockey, thanks very much.

TREASURER:

Thanks very much Marius.