8 February 2015
Transcript - #2015018, 2015

Interview with David Speers, Sky News

DAVID SPEERS:

Mr Hockey, thank you for your time this afternoon.

TREASURER:

A great way to spend a Sunday afternoon – with you, David.

DAVID SPEERS:

Indeed it is. I can’t think of a better way. Can I begin with the shift in the timing of the Party Room meeting? Malcolm Turnbull this morning said the Party Room vote should be held on Tuesday so that MPs have a chance to talk to each other about this in Canberra tomorrow on Monday. Does he have a point?

TREASURER:

No, because I think there has been enough talk about this issue. I think everyone needs to get on with the job of governing for the people of Australia. It is not as if there hasn’t been any commentary or any comment on and off the record for some days now, David. I think the moment we walk into the Parliament tomorrow is the moment when we need to get on with the job of doing what is right for Australia, what is right for Australia.  I don’t think people should be sitting in Parliament talking about leadership issues. I think they should be siting in Parliament working on legislation, delivering policy that improves the country.

DAVID SPEERS:

Well, Malcolm Turnbull also suggested this was a ‘captain’s call’ shifting the meeting – not a very subtle dig.

TREASURER:

It’s just not true. There was discussion with a number of members of the Liberal Party leadership group and as Julie Bishop has confirmed, she was consulted this morning on the final decision. So, I am not sure where that has come from – that suggestion.

DAVID SPEERS:

Now, do you think all 35 frontbenchers and six Whips in the Party Room should be required to vote against the spill? Is that really fair?

TREASURER:

Yes, it is fair because they were appointed by the Prime Minister and the fact is David that under the Westminster system, if you do not support the Prime Minister, you cannot serve in his or her Cabinet. Now, that is the simple rule. Now, in Cabinet last Monday, everyone indicated their support for the Prime Minister for stability. There was loyalty from everyone around the table. There was no suggestions of disloyalty and you would assume that that would flow through to the Ministry and the Parliamentary Secretaries because after all, that is the Westminster System and that is the tradition. Now, if people do not support that position, it is their obligation to resign from the frontbench. Over the last few days, no one has resigned from the frontbench. In fact, it has taken some days for people to publicly declare their support for the spill-motion. I think it needs to be resolved. I think everyone is of that view and I think the Australian people wanted it resolved, David. I think – let’s get on with running the country and dealing with the challenges we have.

DAVID SPEERS:

So, anyone who actually supports this spill-motion on the frontbench should resign?

TREASURER:

That is the obligation. That is the obligation but there is no one that has suggested that because well, certainly, at the Cabinet level and the other day at a Cabinet level, there was a very clear indication from every Cabinet member that they supported the Prime Minister, that they supported the leader of the Liberal Party, Julie Bishop and that is it. We are getting on with the job.

DAVID SPEERS:

And do you think that is still the case?

TREASURER:

Sure, absolutely.

DAVID SPEERS:

Do you think that is still the case based off your conversations and what you have seen and heard?

TREASURER:

Absolutely.

DAVID SPEERS:

Because there are a number of even Cabinet Ministers, as you know, who haven’t said much at all these last few days?

TREASURER:

Because it is assumed and they said it the other day in Cabinet.

DAVID SPEERS:

All right. So you have no doubt about their support?

TREASURER:

No, and I say this David why? Because if people do not support the Prime Minister or the Foreign Minister as Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, then they should say it and they should say it to their faces. Everyone was given the opportunity – everyone was given the opportunity, to declare that they did not support the leadership. No one did, no one did. No, in fact it was the opposite. I trust Malcolm Turnbull at his word that he is loyal. I trust Julie Bishop at her word that she is loyal. I trust every single Cabinet Minister at their word that they are loyal and…

DAVID SPEERS:

Scott Morrison?

TREASURER:

Scott Morrison – everyone. I trust that they are all loyal because they have all indicated loyalty and if you are going to be disloyal to someone, you should front them. You know David, the interesting thing about these moments in politics, it is a bit like sport, these moments in politics reveal character, they don’t define character, they reveal character. Quite frankly, I have no doubt that all my colleagues are loyal to the Australian people who elected Tony Abbott as Prime Minister, Julie Bishop as Foreign Minister, Joe Hockey as Treasurer, Malcolm Turnbull as Communications Minister and so on. I have no doubt, no doubt, that the instinct of colleagues is loyalty because if you have disloyalty, you have no trust and if you have no trust, it is very hard to run a government.

DAVID SPEERS:

Let me just tease this out. Should frontbenchers even be taking part in the ballot at all if, as you say, they are all on board with Tony Abbott – they would have to resign if they were going to back a spill-motion? Should they take part in this at all?

TREASURER:

Of course they should. We are all Members of Parliament; we are all Members of Parliament, David. Come on, I am the Member of North Sydney and my people in North Sydney want me to vote on issues, as they should. I mean, it is no different, and if I disagreed with the Prime Minister, and if I believed he wasn’t the best person to lead the team, then I would step down from the Cabinet. That is the appropriate thing to do.

DAVID SPEERS:

Given there then are around then 40, 41 frontbenchers and Whips that are going to vote for Tony Abbott apparently, that does give him a big head start in getting to the 52 majority to defeat this motion. The people who are counting numbers for Tony Abbott are telling me that there will be at least 60 votes against this spill. So, he will be safe. That would still mean that roughly 40 MPs voting for this spill; is that really tenable for the Prime Minister to go on with that level of dissatisfaction?

TREASURER:

David, when these issues are being discussed, there will always be a third of the Party Room or around that area, that are upset about one thing or another. Their concerns need to be heard – that is appropriate but they will always be upset about something and that may motivate their vote. I honestly don’t know…

DAVID SPEERS:

So, about a third voting for a spill is no bad thing for the Prime Minister?

TREASURER:

I am not going to get into commentary on what the vote will be or so on – I don’t know. I leave that to the Party Room. All I say, David, is this…

DAVID SPEERS:

Sure, but I am just trying to establish if there is a magic number that you think that makes life untenable for the Prime Minister?

TREASURER:

If he loses – that’s about it. I’d expect that would make life a bit untenable but David, the Prime Minister is not going to lose, he is going to win. I think if the Liberal Party – if the Liberal Party, continues to focus on good policy, on dealing with the challenges that we actually have as a Government, which is, you know, we are spending $100 million a day more than we are collecting in revenue. That is a big challenge for a government. Now, if we don’t go ahead with our higher education reforms and fixing up Medicare and strengthening Medicare, if we don’t go ahead with welfare changes, then it is not going to be $100 million shortfall every day that we have to borrow, it is going to be closer to $150 million a day where we receive less money than we actually spend. Now, that is not sustainable, that is not sustainable. These are difficult days to govern, David.

DAVID SPEERS:

So, what you are saying, you are not going to slow down on the need to get the Budget back into surplus? Because what we have heard from the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister and many others is that you will be slowing down the pace of reform and the pace of Budget repair.

TREASURER:

No, no, David, if there was a silver bullet to fix the mess that we were left by Labor, I would have fired it, and fired it again and again and again, but there is no silver bullet. There is no magic wand; these are hard decisions but it is when these hard decisions…

DAVID SPEERS:

So, the pace of Budget repair has to stay the same?

TREASURER:

We have no choice because we are borrowing $100 million a day just to pay for our daily bills and it keeps growing. We are spending $40 million a day just on the interest on our existing borrowings. Now, if our borrowings keep going, we will end up spending more and more on interest. So, quite obviously…

DAVID SPEERS:

But was your Budget last year unfair?

TREASURER:

That is a subjective analysis. I’ll tell you what is unfair; my view about unfairness is saddling a young Australian, an old Australian, every Australian born in 10 years with $25,000 of government debt the day they are born. That’s unfair. It is unfair for me to pay for my lifestyle today on borrowed money that I am taking from my children. That’s unfair and that is exactly what we have at the moment.

DAVID SPEERS:

Now, the story this morning in News Corp papers that you might be sacrificed as Treasurer for Malcolm Turnbull as a – I guess – a peace deal. Most seem to be ruling this out. Was it news to you? Have you received any assurances that wont happen?

TREASURER:

David, I thought the unsourced gossip yesterday was that Malcolm Turnbull wanted the Prime Minister’s job; the unsourced gossip today is that Malcolm Turnbull wants my job. I think everyone should do the jobs that they have and properly serve the Australian people, not engage in commentary on gossip but get on with the job of running the country. That’s what’s expected of us. We do not want to be like the Labor Party. You know, this is the sort of thing that enveloped the Labor Party. It never ends well if it goes the wrong way and I would say to you, the only way to deliver good policy is to have strong leadership and Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop and the entire team are providing strong leadership at a difficult time to govern.

DAVID SPEERS:

And do you accept if Tony Abbott were to be defeated this week that your position is also under great threat as Treasurer?

TREASURER:

I am not worried about myself. I am actually worried about my country. That’s what I went into politics for – for others, in the service of others, and frankly, I think that everyone should focus on properly serving the Australian people, put self-interest aside and focus on what is in the best interest of our people and our nation, and that includes making difficult decisions on policy but, by god, I haven’t seen any alternate policies presented by anyone that will fix up the mess that Labor left.

DAVID SPEERS:

Treasurer Joe Hockey, enjoy what is left of the weekend and thank you for that. We’ll see you back here in Canberra soon enough.

TREASURER:

See you then.