11 June 2015
Transcript - #2015147, 2015

Doorstop interview, Longreach

JOURNALIST:

Firstly, just tell us a bit about your trip to Western Queensland?

TREASURER:

Well we’ve come to Longreach today to meet with locals, to learn more about the fantastic tourism opportunities here in Longreach and in the region, but also to meet firsthand with farmers like Dominic and Vicki who are taking good advantage of the new funding that we’ve provided through $333 million in drought assistance funding, particularly for new fencing in the region, but, also in our Budget we’ve delivered instant asset write off for new fencing and I’m hoping that Dominic and Vicki will take advantage of that, and that helps to improve the productivity of the land. That’s a great story. This is real on the ground policy at work. And we want to work hand in hand with local farmers to get the very best out of the land and to ensure that they can cope best with pretty adverse weather conditions.

JOURNALIST:

What’s been your impression of the land?

TREASURER:

Well it’s a tough area, but there are tough people here who are resilient. What I admire most is that the resilience displayed by many locals is indicative of the resilience that Australia was built on, and from our perspective we want to do everything we can to partner with locals, to help them during these really awful drought conditions. I think people in the city sometimes forget that there is a significant drought in regional Australia, so we can never give up visiting. We can never give up caring. And importantly, never give up helping.

JOURNALIST:

One of the major things announced in your drought assistance package was concessional loans, with less than half of those taken up do you think that it’s meeting the mark?

TREASURER:

Well I’m very confident that the program will continue to work, and obviously it’s part of a multi-tiered program. The fact is that drought assistance is never going to take one form over another. It’s got to be a combination of factors, and importantly we’ve also got to prepare for the next drought. So, our Budget initiatives that provide accelerated depreciation for fodder storage and water facilities - also importantly the instant asset write off on fencing, make a big difference.

If I can touch on another issue, the unemployment numbers came out today for the month of May. They were good numbers. They were good numbers. And as I’ve said before, the Australian economy is strengthening. To have over 40 thousand new jobs created in one month, to have the unemployment rate fall to 6 per cent, is not an accident. It is an endorsement of our Budget. It is an endorsement of our economic plan. And it further illustrates that we are on track to strengthen the Australian economy, despite whatever adverse headwinds may come from overseas.

JOURNALIST:

You’re here in Longreach today, some have called it the centre of hell being on its third consecutive [inaudible]. Do you think that more could be done for these areas?

TREASURER:

Well you can always do more but it’s got to be strategic. I might say I don’t agree with that suggestion that Longreach is what you said. I’ve been to many parts of Australia doing it tough, and some that are even doing it tougher than here. Walgett for example and other parts of Southern Queensland are doing it really tough [inaudible]. You know, every day is a day closer to rain. Flying out of the south this morning I gathered all the clouds I could behind the plane and hopefully brought them along with us.

JOURNALIST:

More clouds today than we’ve seen in a while.

TREASURER:

Yeah, that’s good, there you go it’s working! So far [inaudible].

JOURNALIST:

Talking more about drought policy, where’s your government at in looking at long term drought policy in Australia?

TREASURER:

Well, there’s two things. One is we have an Agricultural Paper that we’re going to be releasing soon, it’s going to have real money behind it. We’re looking for common sense initiatives to be implemented, such as the instant asset write off for fencing, which helps with things like pest control. Putting real money into pest control and also preparing for the next drought, as I’ve said before.

But the second thing is we are here on the border of Northern Australia, the genuine border of Northern Australia. And Northern Australia represents huge opportunities for the future of Australia. We want it to be not only the engine room for agricultural production in the Asian region over the next hundred years. But also, there’s a great opportunity to extend beyond traditional agriculture in a range of areas. The $5 billion package that I announced on Budget night is specifically for areas like Longreach, where there are partnerships between the private sector, State Government and the Federal Government, to build the infrastructure that ensures that Longreach and in fact, the whole of Western Queensland, and in fact the whole of Northern Australia is more successful and viable to the benefit of all Australians.

JOURNALIST:

The Queensland [inaudible] recent tour of the North West, highlighted a couple of key factors for developing the North, they were roads, water, looking at the cost of electricity and of course communications. Which of these things will be highlighted in your Ag. White Paper?

TREASURER:

All of them in one form or another. All of them in one form or another. Certainly communications has been an issue that Bruce Scott’s been raising and he had the Minister for Communications, Malcolm Turnbull here recently, so we’re very aware of that. I visited the long distance education facility here in Longreach and that’s a great story, went there this morning. We can always do more. We’re looking to do more within reason. It’s going to be a partnership between the community, Local Government, State Government, Federal Government, but we’re all going to work together to strengthen every area that you’ve identified.

JOURNALIST:

Many people were pretty sceptical that they’ve been talking about developing the North for many years, do you think your government will be the one that will kick start it?

TREASURER:

Well, we’ve already started putting more money into cattle routes, in Northern Australia that the Prime Minister has announced. It’s hugely important, particularly during the wet season when it’s very difficult to get cattle around, you know roads that are blocked. And you’ve got to be a regular supplier of markets. The second thing is we’ve reopened the cattle trade with Indonesia. From time to time it can have its moments, but live cattle trade is hugely important as an alternate purchaser of meat from a lot of the cattlemen in Northern Australia.  And I announced on Budget night a $5 billion infrastructure facility. Now, I’ve seen a letter today from the Treasurer of Queensland, he’s suggested a number of projects that may be able to access that. I’m prepared to work with the Queensland Government, the Prime Minister is prepared to work with the Premier, to build the infrastructure which helps to grow not only Northern Queensland but Northern Australia.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Hockey, the average house price in Longreach was about $236 dollars – thousand dollars – which is quite a bit cheaper than Sydney but people need one thing, jobs, and perhaps tax incentives to want to come out here. Can you offer them anything in the way of that?

TREASURER:

Well, it is about jobs, jobs, jobs…

JOURNALIST:

But the jobs aren’t being created out here.

TREASURER:

Well, we’ve got to look at creating jobs in the Northern Australia paper, which is going to be a big investment in Northern Australia. It’s going to be about helping to create jobs right across the North, including here in Longreach. And obviously when you have a significant drought that goes for some period of time it is going to have an impact on jobs associated with agriculture. Having said that, we put over $5 million into the Stockman’s Hall of Fame, which is a lot to put into an initiative that is in one town, one region, and by doing so I was there as the tourists were flocking through. And they don’t only visit that, they went to visit the Qantas Museum and a range of other things

JOURNALIST:

Not every town has that…

TREASURER:

Not every town has that. That’s exactly right, and that’s what we’ve got to do. Increase tourism numbers as well and we’ve been doing that particularly with China, but there’s new opportunities especially with the low Australian dollar for tourists to come.

JOURNALIST:

Further on your advice for property seekers, what’s your advice to graziers out West who thanks to falling property prices are seeing equity in their properties diminish off and banks foreclosing? In one case up in Linton, we had a bloke who never once missed a payment get thrown off his property.

TREASURER:

Well, when I hear those cases, in one part of the country people are finding it very very difficult with falling property prices directly as a result of drought. In some parts of the country, others are finding it very difficult because their homes have dropped in value.

JOURNALIST:

So, what’s your advice to graziers who are facing foreclosure? That’s my question.

TREASURER:

I mean, whenever those cases have been raised with us, we have spoken with the banks about them specifically, if there are any individual case examples, I’m prepared to take them up.

JOURNALIST:

So your advice to graziers is to contact you is it?

TREASURER:

Or their local member. And in certain cases, obviously we will take it up with, wherever we can, with the banks. The banks are private sector organisations that earn money. I’ll just say about the banks and famers. The banks are cutting their own throats if they’re foreclosing on farmers, because ultimately they’ll be selling the asset into a market where there are a lot of other assets for sale. So there is no long term benefit in banks foreclosing on farmers, without it being a perilous case.

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible]

TREASURER:

You’ll need to speak to the individual banks about that but certainly I know, because one head of a bank was interviewed on the Alan Jones program. I was involved in that specifically and Alan Jones went in to bat for some farmers that had been unfairly treated by the bank and the bank responded.

JOURNALIST:

What discussions have taken place around further possible military [inaudible]

TREASURER:

I’m not prepared to respond to that. The Prime Minister and the Defence Minister will be responsible in that area. 

JOURNALIST:

Tony Abbott said today that he wished John Howard had never created the renewable energy target, do you agree?

TREASURER:

Look. Well, it’s a long way from Canberra for me to comment on those sorts of things. Longreach is a very long way from those sorts of things…

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible] the PM’s comments may have the potential to hurt small business in the sector?

TREASURER:

The best thing that ever happened for small business in recent times certainly was the Budget we brought down and we’re starting to see the real benefits of that Budget now with some terrific improvements in the unemployment rate, but there’s still much work to be done.

JOURNALIST:

Christopher Pyne has said Bill Shorten needs to give a detailed explanation about a controversial union deal. What more is needed?

TREASURER:

Well, I agree with Christopher Pyne.

JOURNALIST:

Did the Government consider banning the practice of companies paying union fees on behalf of workers?

TREASURER:

That’s for another forum.

JOURNALIST:

And why are you having a wide ranging tax review without ruling any changes to negative gearing?

TREASURER:

The bottom line is, the key thing is about the supply of residential real estate in various parts of Australia. Some parts of Australia still have a glut of residential real estate compared to demand. But in places like Sydney and Melbourne, it’s about increasing supply. It’s the supply side of the equation that needs to be addressed and we want to build, build, build. We’ll work with the State Governments by providing money for infrastructure so that they can get more housing in place, that’s what we’re doing. But also the State Government has a taskforce, we’re working with that taskforce headed up by the Treasurer of Victoria. I expect that the Treasurer of Victoria will report on behalf of the taskforce to the meeting of Treasurers in July. In doing so, will give us a roadmap to help to build more supply of housing, so that first homeowners get a fair chance to get into the market.