27 February 2015
Transcript - #2015035, 2015

Interview with Stuart Bocking, 2UE

STUART BOCKING:

The Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey. Treasurer, good morning.

TREASURER:

Great to be with you, Stuart. 

STUART BOCKING:

It’s nice to see you again. Thank you.

TREASURER:

I’m sorry for running late but the roads are gridlocked with rain around here.

STUART BOCKING:

All the rain and everything else; all the more reason for Mike Baird’s congestion-busting plan, I’m assuming?

TREASURER:

Absolutely. Well, all the more reason, absolutely, because Mike Baird has a plan for New South Wales and for Sydney – it’s very exciting. It keeps the economic momentum going, the jobs going and it’s going to make our lives a lot easier. 

STUART BOCKING:

The $2 billion from the asset-recycling that you’re promising as part of that deal; it hasn’t had the approval of the Senate. Can you guarantee that that $2 billion will come from the Commonwealth regardless of what happens in the Senate?

TREASURER:

Absolutely, because we can appropriate the money unless the Labor Party’s going to block supply, which they’ve said they would not do, then we can appropriate the money to New South Wales, as we’ve done with the ACT-Labor Government. The ACT-Labor Government is the first government to sign up to the asset-recycling scheme and they’re selling public housing and the TAB in Canberra and using the proceeds to go into a light rail and they’ve now qualified for our asset-recycling program. So, we’re giving them money so there’s great irony that the first government in Australia to sign up to privatisation has been a Labor government.

STUART BOCKING:

It’s also the city with the best infrastructure in the country.

TREASURER:

Well, that’s right.

STUART BOCKING:

All of those politicians – it seems to be pretty well looked after, Canberra.

TREASURER:

Well, mate, let me tell you, I’m pretty happy to be back in Sydney.

STUART BOCKING:

In the congestion and everything else. You probably wouldn’t be happy with all of this leadership speculation again; it’s the story that won’t go away. How long have you got left in the job?

TREASURER:

As long as the Australian people believe I should be in the job. Look, the Liberal Party chose Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop to be the leaders of the Liberal Party. The Australian people chose them to be Prime Minister and Foreign Minister. Now, it’s the Australian people that have the right to remove a Prime Minister, not anyone else. This is – it’s been captured by the gossip-mongers in Canberra. We’re getting on with the job, we’re getting on with the job this week. We had an important announcement about foreign investment and residential real estate – something that is of concern to those people listening to your show. We had an important announcement about food labelling, something that is important to many people that listen to your show. We’ve had important announcements about national security and we’ve had a raft of different announcements about getting on with the job of government. The Prime Minister last night was in Yeppoon visiting families who still have no electricity as a result of the cyclone. Today he’s in New Zealand discussing key issues relating to our security matters in Iraq and those Prime Ministerial discussions are very important. We’re getting on with the job.

STUART BOCKING:

You’ve had a bounce back in the polls as well. Given all of that, how is that here we are on Friday morning, this story comes around again. Immediately within days after the leadership spill being defeated six or seven Ministers had broken ranks… 

TREASURER:

Not true.

STUART BOCKING:

Not true? 

TREASURER:

Not true. 

STUART BOCKING:

Well, what about the idea – I mean there’s been one story after another. You were upstaged at a drinks function post-Budget last year by Peta Credlin, the story that Tony Abbott was talking about unilaterally invading Iraq…

TREASURER:

Not true.

STUART BOCKING:

But the point is, true or not, the leaks keep coming. Somebody within your Party is out to end yours and Tony Abbott’s job and it’s well beyond us the voters now. We have no say in any of this. This is happening from within.

TREASURER:

Well, I think journalists have a responsibility not only to report the truth but to check the truth and a lot of things that have been said about myself and Tony Abbott are not true and in many cases, have not even been raised with us to verify whether they’re true or not. [Inaudible] Now, good journalists do ring and ask us whether something is true. Those who are not up to scratch, those that are just repeating gossip – and let’s face it there’s a lot of gossip, a lot of gossip – those that just repeat gossip and present it as fact, they rarely ring you. Now, one very senior journalist rang me this morning and said, ‘this is being said about you’, and I said, ‘not true, and I can prove it to you’, but for example that story last Saturday about the Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister chairing the Expenditure Review Committee in Cabinet, well that was completely untrue. It was never put to me as the Treasurer or the Finance Minister who sits in it, or the Deputy Prime Minister, or anyone else. 

STUART BOCKING:

The point I’m getting at – someone’s obviously told that reporter and he’s an experienced reporter; someone within your Party has told – why are these stories being generated? Happy effective governments – there’ll always be gossip but not with this degree of vindictiveness that seems determined now to bring you and Tony Abbott down and it’s not about us the voters.

TREASURER:

No, no, it’s not about you, it’s about the self-interest of some, whether they’re reporting the news or whether they’re actually in the Party and thinking that somehow they’ll advance if there’s change. Our solemn duty should be always, and only, the national interest. That’s what every Member of Parliament should be focused on. Self-interest must be cast aside. It’s only about the national interest. Tony Abbott, myself and the serious Members of the team are getting on with the job of running the country.

STUART BOCKING:

It seems to me though it’s so similar to many of those Rudd-inspired leaks we saw against Julia Gillard in the lead up to the 2010 election. I mean, you’ve got to see the similarities there yourself?

TREASURER:

But Stuart, there are big differences. We have not made the policy mistakes or errors that Gillard and Rudd did; there’s been no $900 cheques going out; there’s been no boats coming to our shores; there’s been no children dying at sea on those boats; there has been no Carbon Tax, there has been no Mining Tax. There has been over-priced school halls. The list goes on; there have been no cancellations of live cattle movements to Indonesia overnight. All the things that we have done have strengthened the economy, have strengthened the nation. We’ve been repairing the mistakes of the previous Government. For some people, they’re not satisfied; they feel as though their own interests should be put ahead of the national interest but on policy grounds alone, we deserve the right to get on with the job and serve the Australian people.

STUART BOCKING:

And all of those things that you say – they’re the things we know about and they’re all laudable achievements so far. There must be something else that we don’t know about that has other colleagues out of their gear that rightly or wrongly their phoning reporters, their contacting them; they’re creating the sorts of destabilisation that we saw Julia Gillard suffer?

TREASURER:

Well, it is a hard period to govern, Stuart, it’s a hard period, but we’re up to it and we’re actually getting on with the job of delivering the things that people want. Now, just this week we announced a major new initiative in relation to foreign investment and residential real estate. It is unlawful for a foreigner to come in and buy an existing standing home in Sydney or Melbourne or wherever the case might be, but there has been evidence that that has been occurring but it was never enforced – the law was never enforced. So, this week the Prime Minister and I announced civil penalties and massive fines and application fees for anyone that is going down the path of wanting to buy a property in Australia or buys it unlawfully in Australia. Now, that’s very reassuring. This Saturday there are going to be thousands of your listeners going out looking at buying maybe their first home or buying an upgraded home. They want to be reassured that they’re competing on a level-playing field in a lawful environment. We’ve announced that we’re getting on with the job of cracking down of unlawful activity in relation to the purchasing of homes, but also, we’re making sure that anyone from overseas that wants to buy a business or a property in Australia pays for the service of getting access to the market.

STUART BOCKING:

A lot of the property groups are very annoyed with the announcements made this week. Is that pure self-interest on their part?

TREASURER:

Well, they’re entitled to a view and we’re giving everyone four weeks to respond, but at the moment, we’re processing through the Foreign Investment Review Board applications; it’s a free service. If you buy a home or a unit in Sydney for around $900,000 you pay $37,000 in stamp duty plus you pay your conveyancing fees and so on. We’ve said for that, for a foreign investor, there’d be a $5,000 fee to apply if they were to buy that property. Now, of course, they’re not allowed to buy existing real estate, they can only buy new real estate. If they do unlawfully buy existing real estate and we find out about it, we can fine them up to 25 per cent of the value of the property because there may well be the thought in their mind that they can just put the money there, if they’re caught they’ll pay a small penalty or something or they’ll just have to sell the property [inaudible].

STUART BOCKING:

[Inaudible] The Foreign Investment Review Board hasn’t made a conviction on this front since 2006.

TREASURER:

That’s right, exactly right and so there is much more to be done in that regard. Part of the problem is we have no database; we’ve got – unbelievably – we’ve got no database.

STUART BOCKING:

My understanding is the Immigration Department isn’t able to speak to the Foreign Investment Review Board. So, they can’t get some of the information on when visas have expired, say for temporary residents who then move back overseas, determining as to when they should then have to sell up a property under the rules.

TREASURER:

Exactly right, exactly right, and that’s incredibly frustrating.

STUART BOCKING:

So, does this change that ‘cause we can throw as much money…

TREASURER:

That’s what we’re doing…

STUART BOCKING:

….as we want but if government agencies aren’t able to talk to each other, it counts for nothing.

TREASURER:

Well, the starting point is I am putting the register in the Australian Taxation Office. Now, the ATO has more than 20,000 employees. It’s got literally thousands of people in compliance; they know how to get information, they know where to get information and that’s going to be a massive, massive opportunity for us to find out whose rorting the system in relation to foreign investment. Now, let me emphasise, we want foreign investment, Australia needs foreign investment, but we have to have integrity about the system.

STUART BOCKING:

You flew to Sydney in the Prime Ministerial jet for that announcement in Kogarah the other day with the local MP Nickolas Varvaris, yourself and the Prime Minister. Could you not have held that news conference in Queanbeyan or somewhere around Canberra rather than getting on board for a 20 minute news conference in Sydney and then flying back to Canberra?

TREASURER:

Stuart, this is the beltway argument from journalists, right? We actually – he’s the Prime Minister for all Australia not just Canberra, not just the Canberra press gallery. I’m the Treasurer for all of Australia not just Canberra, not just the Canberra press gallery. We wanted to show a home in an area where this really matters. I mean, this is a place that is up for sale, these were real home buyers with real agents – not out at Canberra and not building TV sets in Canberra to portray it as such. We actually do get out – we need to get out and when we do get out we get criticised for it.

STUART BOCKING:

You could have gone 10 minutes down the road to Hurstville where you’d have had no trouble finding a whole heap of Asian investors and others and get their thoughts on it.

TREASURER:

But I don’t want to stereotype the Asian investor. I mean, I’ve got…

STUART BOCKING:

But that’s what’s been driving the latest argument, isn’t it?

TREASURER:

Well, there is an argument about it, but you know I have many Asian Australian friends who have a longer family history in Australia than me, I can tell you. I mean, my father was a migrant. Some of them are fourth and fifth generation Australians. So, you know, I don’t want to stereotype people.

STUART BOCKING:

Tell me, we were told, you know, good government started a couple of weeks back. How do you turn then a clear advantage on what we all concede is the issue of border security into suddenly a debate over whether this Human Rights Commission President Gillian Triggs was offered an inducement to leave the place? Isn’t it symptomatic of some of the problems that you’re facing? A clear advantage – you’ve stopped the boats, the number of children in detention is much lower now than it was under Labor, but somehow you’ve turned it into an argument about whether Triggs should have the job or not?

TREASURER:

Hang on, we didn’t turn it into that argument.

STUART BOCKING:

Well, that’s how it ended up. 

TREASURER:

Well, we didn’t turn it into that. I mean, it was a combination of evidence to the Senate and the Labor Party making unfounded accusations and various others feeling as though they could run commentary on it. The bottom line is that the Human Rights Commission approached the Labor Party when they were in government and said, ‘look, you have 2,000 children in detention. We’re concerned about it, we want to have an investigation into it but we’re worried that it’ll look political’ – this is to a Labor Party Minister – ‘we’re worried that it’ll look political if the Human Rights Commission looks into this’…

STUART BOCKING:

Yeah I know, yeah.

TREASURER:

…and of course they said, ‘no well don’t do that’, and of course the Human Rights Commission, which is meant to be an independent authority, said ‘okay, because its political, we won’t look into it’. We come into government, we stop the boats, we get children out of detention centres – not because only that we’ve stopped the boats, but because we’re compassionate about this, we’ve done it before. So, we get the numbers down from the peak of 2,000 down to just over 100 and every day we’re trying to get more and more out of those detention centres, but then the Human Rights Commission, without consulting the Liberal Minister says, ‘we’re going to have an inquiry’. Hang on, how does that work?

STUART BOCKING: 

And it doesn’t work, but the take out from this has been it has all become about whether Triggs should be there or not. Simple argument would have been…

TREASURER:

Seriously, I ask you the question: would you have faith in the independence of the authority under those circumstances?

STUART BOCKING:

I wouldn’t have a Human Rights Commission, I would abolish the whole thing. I’m serious, I’ve said it…

TREASURER:

[Inaudible] further than us…

STUART BOCKING:

I know, I said earlier in the week, in a first world country like Australia where we’ve got the Greens and Labor [inaudible] I’d be abolishing the Human Rights Commission. But the point is, all you needed to say was, ‘yes, we’ve seen the report and this just highlights how important it is for us to stop the boats, to have strong boarder security and the good news is now that under us, the number of kids in detention is much lower than it was under Labor’, end of story, end of story. 

TREASURER:

Well, that’s right, but I but I just asked you what would you do and you said you’d abolish the whole Human Rights Commission…

STUART BOCKING:

I would, I would.

TREASURER:

…that’s a lot further than saying you haven’t got confidence.

STUART BOCKING:

I understand that, but you turned it into a debate over whether Gillian Triggs – it was embarrassing yesterday for Julie Bishop in Question Time to then have to admit that, well, there was a suggestion of an international posting and back and forth its gone, and to me its symptomatic of some of the problems you face that it’s your clear number one advantage; you have stopped the boats, there are fewer children in detention, all ticks, ticks, ticks, but you end the week in this morass of argument back and forwards over trivialities.

TREASURER:

Stuart, Stuart, calm down. We can’t control the commentary, we can’t control the commentary, alright? That’s what all the commentary – there’s lots of commentary around, we can’t control the commentary. All we can do is get on with the job and getting on with the job means that you stop the boats and you continue to stop the boats and if there’s a change of government, the boats will be back and the children will be back in detention centres, we know that. So, all we can do – I’d love to control the commentary, Tony Abbott would love to control the commentary, but we don’t so people can make whatever statements they want, they can ask whatever questions they want. We try and be as open as possible, in fact, we are as open as possible but we can’t control commentary. 

STUART BOCKING:

There was a case study in the Telegraph yesterday – you might have seen that featured a single mother of six who’s now 30. She hasn’t worked since holding a part-time job as a teen at the Easter Show. You look at these cases, and there are many similar ones like that, and I’m sure she’s doing the best she can, but she hasn’t worked since her teens part-time at the Easter Show. How do we reform the welfare system now so that we get back to it being the safety net it was intended to be rather than just becoming a way of life for so many young people who you’d think have plenty to offer the country?

TREASURER:

The starting point is you have to create more jobs and that’s exactly what we’re trying to do. Under us, you’ve got three times as many jobs created every day as were under the last year of Labor. So, we’ve got around 600 new jobs being created every day in Australia. There’s more work to be done. The Prime Minister said we’re going to be announcing a small business package coming up and jobs package. Small business will be the engine room of job growth over the next few years, there’s no doubt about that. So, we’re looking at ways that we can incentivise small business to go out and have a go. A lot of mums actually are starting up their own business – their own home-based business, in fact…

STUART BOCKING:

Yeah, on the net.

TREASURER:

…and that’s a very exciting opportunity for growth so we want to facilitate that. We have a vast number of training programs obviously in relation to Job Network, we’re going through a new tender process for Job Network to streamline it and make it more effective in helping people to get into work. And it might not apply to that mum in particular but we have a massive infrastructure program in partnership with Mike Baird here in New South Wales that is going to create a lot of jobs, a lot of jobs. Now she might not be a concreter or a truck driver, but she may well have the capacity to be an administrative assistant for a concreter or a truck driver or whatever the case might be in a trucking firm. So, this is how you create jobs. The second thing is, we do have on the table in the Senate changes to welfare that are about saying to people, well, once your youngest child is of school age, we want you back into work – we want you, at school age when they first go to school. Now, my youngest started school this year and you know, I can see that we’ve got – well, I haven’t got more time actually I [inaudible]

STUART BOCKING:

Melissa’s got more time.

TREASURER:

I wouldn’t even dare say that actually. I’m digging myself into [inaudible] I’m in real trouble.

STUART BOCKING:

[Inaudible] She’s working harder than you.

TREASURER:

She’s off at work, that’s right, that’s right. Oh lord, it’s always home that gets you in trouble [inaudible] but look, there is a bit more time and therefore, when the youngest goes to school we want to provide incentives but also support and that’s why we’re announcing a childcare package that’s coming up, which will also, not only focus on more traditional childcare but I would expect would deal with issues like afterschool care and so on.

STUART BOCKING:

Okay. Now, you’ll release this Intergenerational Report next week. There’ll be a lot of talk about that; just for our listeners, a thumbnail sketch as to what the Intergenerational Report is about?

TREASURER:

Under the law, every five years under the Charter of Budget Honesty, the government has to release a 40 year horizon look at where the country’s heading and its demographics, but also in its Budget.

STUART BOCKING:

Treasury can’t get it right year to year.

TREASURER:

Well that’s right, but having said that, they generally get the trends right because what we do know, and we should celebrate this is that we’re going to live longer. So, you know, just after New Year I did an interview with Neil Mitchell – 3AW, and I said, ‘Neil, it’s possible a child is being born today that could live to 150’, and of course, you know, I was heavily criticised…

STUART BOCKING:

I couldn’t understand that I must admit. I could understand exactly what you were saying.

TREASURER:

Exactly, and the front page of Time Magazine this week has a child on the front that says, ‘Could this child live to 142?’ Okay, well I was eight years out, right, but the truth is this is a debate that is going on because, thank God, we are living longer and we have a better quality of life. Now, for example, when the age pension was introduced in the early 1900s for men and women aged 65, life expectancy was 58 – 58! Now, life expectancy – I think you’ll see it come out in this report – life expectancy is going close to 100 in 40 years’ time – close to 100. So, you know if you’ve still got an age pension kicking in at 65 or 67 or even 70, how’s the community going to pay for it? And what we want to do is talk about the opportunities of ageing, talk about the opportunities that come with the changing demographics of Australia and the world and how can we reshape policy to fit in with it. For example, you know, I went to Bunnings last week…

STUART BOCKING:

Yes, with the older workers.

TREASURER:

…and announced the [inaudible] firstly, I realised that I qualify as a senior in August, which is quite startling…

STUART BOCKING:

Liberating! 

TREASURER:

Liberating! 

STUART BOCKING:

I don’t want you getting in more trouble at home. It’s liberating!

TREASURER:

I didn’t realise I qualified, firstly, but the second thing is…

STUART BOCKING:

You’re a mature-aged worker.

TREASURER:

That’s right but there was a man there who is 83 still working at Bunnings and he was full of life, you know? At that’s fantastic and people want to keep working longer and if we’re living longer, we do want to keep working longer. Now, if all of our laws are shaped around retiring at 65 and accessing your pension at a – your superannuation at a particular age and so on, then governments switch off about helping people to have an active life after that age.

STUART BOCKING:

And one front on that, you’re going to have to talk with the other states the next COAG meeting because you look around most states, beyond 65, a worker can’t workers compensation.

TREASURER:

It’s not just workers’ compensation, it’s about whether you can continue – I mean, I got a letter from someone the other day saying they’re not able to continue to contribute to superannuation…

STUART BOCKING:

All of those things.

TREASURER:

…after a certain age. So we’ve got to have this debate about where we’re going, how the laws should be structured to meet the changing demographics of the nation, and importantly, what we can do to make sure that we have the same, maybe better, quality of life in the future than we have today. That means how do we afford the healthcare, the age care, the education services and the welfare that is going to give us – help to give us a decent quality of life in the future; it’s exciting stuff. 

STUART BOCKING:

So, we’ll hear more about that next Thursday.

TREASURER:

That’s right. 

STUART BOCKING:

Given the Qantas profit announcement yesterday, are you feeling vindicated that when they were there on bended-knee looking for various favours you said no?

TREASURER:

We did our homework at that time. It wasn’t a kneejerk reaction with Qantas, we went through their books, I went through their – I had people go through their books twice and we worked with them under the circumstances and the Prime Minister took a very firm view, as we all did, that we cannot be in the business of subsidising someone to profit, but obviously we were giving whatever support we could without writing out a cheque from the government – from taxpayers to Qantas. As a result, Qantas took its destiny in its own hands to the great credit of Alan Joyce, who I believe is one of the finest CEOs in the country. He has turned it around, and with a steely determination and the support of his board, he’s been able to do it. He’s also had a little help along the way getting rid of the Carbon Tax - $59 million difference to the bottom line of Qantas – that’s a huge difference. And what it proves is that the best job security you’re ever going to have is when you have an employer that is making money. Employers that lose money, end up losing jobs. Employers that make money actually end up creating jobs and that’s the lesson from Qantas and that’s the lesson from virtually every business that has been…

STUART BOCKING:

It’s a lesson for the Commonwealth of Australia as well, which is what [inaudible]

TREASURER:

Exactly right. We had to – when we came into government, we had to lay off a lot of workers at the Commonwealth level because as it stands, as of today, the Commonwealth Government is borrowing $100 million today just to pay its daily bills and it’s doing it every day – $100 million just to pay the daily bills. Now, that’s unsustainable. You can’t keep having a shortfall between what you spend and what you collect because you have to borrow the difference and what we borrow – a lot of it is coming from people that actually live overseas. We don’t borrow it from Australians, we borrow it from people overseas, so we have to repay it to those people overseas. So, it is unsustainable to keep that way – it would have been a lot more if Labor had of been re-elected and if our bills had of been higher. But we are coming back; we’re getting that daily borrowing cost down. There is still more work to be done.

STUART BOCKING:

So, you’re getting on with the job, the Prime Minister’s getting on with the job. We still hear all of this leadership stuff. What’s the message you have for wavering colleagues who could be on the phone to each other at the weekend?

TREASURER:

Put the national interest ahead of self-interest. This is about Australia, it’s about Australians. It’s not about any individual, it is about the best interest of the people of Australia and we’re getting on with the job of doing what’s best for the people of Australia. 

STUART BOCKING:

Look, it’s always great chatting with you. Thank you for braving the weather and congestion this morning [inaudible]

TREASURER:

I’m still wet.

STUART BOCKING:

I hope you’re not in too much trouble at home and look forward to seeing you again soon as the Treasurer of Australia.

TREASURER:

Thanks, of course. Thanks, thanks.