6 March 2015
Transcript - #2015045, 2015

Interview with Neil Mitchell, 3AW

MITCHELL:

I caught up with Joe Hockey earlier this morning.

TREASURER:

Good morning Neil.

MITCHELL:

Driverless cars – what are you on about? Driverless cars, how are they going to save Australia?

TREASURER:

Driverless cars won’t save Australia. You know the new technology that is in the pipeline is remarkable and it is going to change our lives. I just made reference to it because there’s a widespread expectation they’ll be in mass production by 2020 –  in about 5 years’ time – in the United States and they’ll get here eventually and it’s going to change the way we live our lives.

MITCHELL:

What for elderly people you mean, specifically?

TREASURER:

Well, yeah, it can – my parents are in their mid-eighties, and their biggest events are hopping in a car and driving to the shops and to the doctor. It will give them a lot more chance to live in their home for longer if they’ve got a driverless car, that’s one part of the technology. There’s amazing apps around at the moment where people in local neighbourhoods can indicate that they’ll mind your dog over the weekend and a lot of retirees are offering those sorts of services or other services. So, previously they wouldn’t have a facility that would be able to get that sort of service out. Technology will change our lives. It will give us a better quality of life, but importantly, we’ve got more work to do.

MITCHELL:

And create opportunities, that’s your point is it?

TREASURER:

Absolutely, and what we’ve got to do is change attitudes. Change attitudes so that if older Australians do want to work, they can work. We’ve got to change the attitude of employers. We’ve also got to change the laws to accommodate it.

MITCHELL:

That’s what I wanted to look at. I don’t mean driverless cars, I’m driving a car at the moment that parks itself, and I don’t trust it. Could you trust your car to park itself?

TREASURER:

Well, I’m the same. I’ve got a Holden, and you press a button and it parks itself. I haven’t had the courage yet to press that button, I keep daring myself to do it, but I’ll get there like you.

MITCHELL:

[Inaudible]

TREASURER:

Well that’s right. I mean, it’s exciting. All I’m saying is that technology is changing the way we live our lives. We’ve got to use technology to give us a better quality of life. And that in turn, helps us to have better health care, better aged care, better education, and overall makes us richer.

MITCHELL:

Okay. Let’s talk about realities. Even the term ‘Intergenerational Report’ seems to make the eyes glaze [inaudible]. You want more women and you want more people in the workforce, how, how do you do it? How do encourage it? What do you do with the 45 year old labourer whose body has gone. How does he keep working for another 30 years?

TREASURER:

Well, that’s right. Inevitably some people will have career changes. I mean a labourer that’s 45, we need to work harder to help retrain them to give them the opportunity to reskill. A labourer who’s 45 may have a terrific role as, for example, a property manager in a real estate agent.

MITCHELL:

But what does government do, what do you do to encourage this? What do you do to encourage more women and older people, plenty of older people ring me, they want to work, they can’t get jobs.

TREASURER:

Well I mean it’s an attitudinal change. We also have a programme called Restart, where we will pay employers $10,000 over two years if they employ someone over the age of 50 and whose been on a disability pension for a while. But we need to work further in tailoring these programmes to make it more accessible to employers. It’s also the case that as technology improves, there’s less manual labour that is necessary and more smarts that are necessary, and that’s going to bring people with wisdom and experience to the fore. Now, technology change helps. In relation to women, unquestionably childcare is really important, but it’s got to be flexible and affordable childcare and we’re currently working on a package in that regard.

MITCHELL:

Okay. Now, what about sort of grey zones, older workers in particular? If you can get them off the pension, you get them working. What about giving back a bit by taxing them less, that way the employer doesn’t have to pay them much? So, the employer pays less, you tax them less but the person is still getting a good wage. What about those sort of ideas?

TREASURER:

We are prepared to have a conversation about every proposal. I mean, there’s merit in that proposal. I think what we’ve got to do is look at how helping one cohort also helps everyone else. You can have incentives for older Australians to go into work, you also look at how we can get younger Australians into work as well, which is a looming challenge. And that’s why we’ve had a focus on earn or learn, but there’s more work to be done.

MITCHELL:

Okay, tax cuts have gone for years, what about tax increases, are they likely?

TREASURER:

No, I instinctively don’t like tax increases, because at the end of the day, in total it will slow down economic growth and that reduces our wealth and reduces our taxable income. So, we’ve got to look at how we can afford our future. The biggest challenge has been that government spending has been growing much faster than any potential growth in the economy. And if the government gets bigger then the wealth of individuals gets smaller. So, what we’ve got to do is find ways to provide incentives in various parts of the economy. One area is small business. We’ve said we’ll have tax cuts for small business. There’s no doubt in this new age of technology, small business is going to be the engine room not just for the economy, but of job growth.

MITCHELL:

Does all this flavour your next budget?

TREASURER: Yes it does, yes, of course it does. But it’s not just my Budget, it’s budgets for years.

MITCHELL:

But how do you get a tough budget through in this environment? I mean your last Budget which was considered tough has been emasculated. How do you get it through?

TREASURER:

It hasn’t been emasculated. We tried to do, as this Intergenerational Report shows, we tried to do 40 years of budget repair in one budget. Now, we bit off too much and I think that’s accepted. But we got half way there, we got half way there and that is hugely important. There’s more work to be done. Neil, we are open to offers from the opposition, if they’re prepared to work with us, we would love to work with them to help to solve these challenges. We are making a genuine offer. As the Prime Minister said, we’re appealing to their better angels, because they control the Senate, we are appealing to their better angels to help us to make sure that Australia can afford its future. Because the numbers, whether it’s Liberal or Labor in government, the numbers are the same and the challenges are the same.

MITCHELL: Okay, a couple of other quick things if I may. There is speculation today that interest rates cuts no longer stimulate the economy. Do you think that’s right?

TREASURER:

Well, it does put money back into the economy although it does make it harder for people with savings accounts who are relying on those savings.

MITCHELL:

But are interest rates gone as an economic tool in that sense, they’re not going to be a stimulant?

TREASURER:

No, I don’t think they’re gone as an economic tool because what’s moved on us is what’s happening overseas. There are countries in the world that you actually have to pay the bank to put money in the bank because they don’t want your money. There is so much money floating around in the world, the question is how we get people to use it to build things?

MITCHELL:

This Senate inquiry into former executives in places like BHP Billiton, Leighton Holdings – accusations of bribery, what’s your view of that?

TREASURER:

I’ve got to confess I haven’t caught up with that. If there’s any bribery anywhere, my god we’ve got to go after it. Corruption is a cancer on society. Corruption is a cancer on society and wherever it lurks we need to hunt it down immediately.

MITCHELL:

Okay, have you caught up with the other one that’s being raised today, there’s a report on alcohol – the damage alcohol causes. We all understand that now, but some of the experts are arguing for a levy on alcohol to pay for the damage it causes. Do you think that would work?

TREASURER:

Well, there’s lots of things that cause us damage when consumed or used to excess. We’ve got to encourage people to be moderate in their behaviour but at the same time we’re going to have to have a health safety check. I mean alcohol is already heavily taxed, but alcohol is not the same as tobacco; if it’s consumed to excess yes it does have evil consequences but if it’s drunk in moderation than it’s perfectly acceptable.

MITCHELL:

Indonesia – I know we have got to tread carefully but those photographs were obscene weren’t they? The police official with Andrew Chan.

TREASURER:

Awful, macabre. I never understood when they took photos of prison guards laughing with the Bali terrorists, you remember those photos? It’s a culture that sometimes I just don’t understand. Having smiling photos with someone that’s about to be executed, it is macabre, it is unacceptable, it is gut wrenching, it is everything we abhor. But you know it’s a different culture. I feel for the families, I feel for everyone in this because the crimes they committed were heinous.  You know, I’ve had friends that have died from drug overdoses and the grief that that causes is horrendous.

MITCHELL:

Does all this rattle our relationship with Indonesia, though? I see the business leaders saying business on both sides are going very carefully at the moment, does this rattle our relationship?

TREASURER:

Sure it does, sure it does. It does rattle it, but it’s much more important to us to continue the nation-to-nation relationship. Look, there are Indonesians that are horrified at this too. Let’s not forget that there are many moderate Indonesians and many people in the leadership in Indonesia that are horrified by this behaviour as well and we shouldn’t forget that, and we shouldn’t abandon them, because they’re expressing a good view about this.

MITCHELL:

Just finally, a week of backflips; good week?

TREASURER:

[Inaudible]

MITCHELL:

Well it was a week of backflips, wasn’t it?

TREASURER:

Well no, not so much backflips...

MITCHELL:

Readjustments.

TREASURER:

…well, we listen, we learn, we get on with the job of running the country.

MITCHELL:

Okay, thank you very much for your time.

TREASURER:

See you, Neil.