19 August 2015
Transcript - #2015169, 2015

Interview with Neil Mitchell, 3AW

NEIL MITCHELL:

Joe Hockey, good morning.

TREASURER:

Good morning Neil.

NEIL MITCHELL:

We’ll get to that in a moment, but have you got a bit of a problem in Cabinet? I see the Prime Minister’s calling for unity. Is there something other than unity going on within your Party?

TREASURER:

Well, I’m working closely with the Prime Minister and colleagues to get on with the job, to create jobs. There has been a temptation for some to pass comment on other issues, but I think everyone knows that the Australian people expect us to focus on their best interests and that’s exactly what I’m doing.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But did you see the leak to Channel 7 last night?

TREASURER:

No…

NEIL MITCHELL:

About the Cabinet meeting on Monday - nothing of substance was discussed. Next Monday’s meeting’s been cancelled.

TREASURER:

Well, that’s wrong. We actually did discuss at length substantive issues…

NEIL MITCHELL:

Which you can’t tell us?

TREASURER:

No, I can tell you what it was. We had a very extensive discussion about the fact that an environmental group located 600 kilometres from the Adani mine in Queensland had successfully challenged the mine in the Federal Court, putting 10,000 jobs at risk in Queensland. And this is ridiculous where someone with absolutely no relationship to a proposal is able to take the matter to court and stop a project that’s already got environmental approval. We spent well over an hour and a half on that.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So, did you discuss unity and sticking together and problems with the polls and those sort of things?

TREASURER:

We are focussed…

NEIL MITCHELL:

Did you discuss those things?

TREASURER:

Well, you asked me what substance we talked about, I know where you’re going here Neil…

NEIL MITCHELL:

You’re just telling me what suits you.

TREASURER:

Well, that’s true [laughter]. True. I can’t deny that. Yes, you’re right. The thing that matters is talking about what’s important to the Australian people.

NEIL MITCHELL:

That’s part of the problem. There’s no narrative for the Government. Is Tony Abbott safe?

TREASURER:

Neil, I’m not even going to entertain that. The Australian people are the ones that we work for, and so far as I’m concerned it is jobs, jobs, jobs. That’s what I’m focused on. Everything I’m doing is directed at that - and the same with Tony Abbott. All the things that we’ve been doing are about focusing on creating more jobs - and it’s working Neil, it is working.

NEIL MITCHELL:

There is a jobs crisis though, isn’t there?

TREASURER:

There’s more work to be done, unquestionably, there’s more work to be done. But since we came to office there’s been over 100,000 Victorians extra in work. So we’ve created an extra 100,000 jobs in Victoria since we came to office. That’s good. Before we came to office the average around Australia was 3,600 a month, and now last month 38,000 jobs were created.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But John Howard seems not to agree with you. He said we’re entering a period of sub-par growth, and that it really is time for growth [inaudible] policies. Is John Howard wrong?

TREASURER:

No, we’ve got to work harder. We’ve got to work harder to get growth…

NEIL MITCHELL:

So, we are going into a period of sub-par growth?

TREASURER:

I don’t accept that. There’s no way I’m going to give up on it, and I’ll tell you why. We’ve faced some headwinds, some significant headwinds. You see the mining sector in Australia which is around 10 per cent of our economy, it only employs two per cent of the Australian workforce, but it is 55 per cent of our exports. What we’ve got to do is lift the rest of the economy, such as manufacturing, such as healthcare, education and so on, because they’re the massive employers and what we’re doing to help to grow that sector is to expand our international opportunities - particularly with the free trade agreements in China, Korea and Japan - that opens the doors for our exports which creates more jobs.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I don’t think anybody disagrees with that. The point is how do you do it? And surely what you need is tax reform and workplace relations reform, and it seems that both are too hard, particularly workplace reform…

TREASURER:

Let’s go back. For example, in Parliament this week we actually wanted to reintroduce the Australian Building and Construction Commission. There are a quarter of a million people working in the construction industry in Victoria, as you know it’s a huge industry. And you can see the militancy of the CFMEU and the impact it’s having on some levels of confidence in the construction sector. We wanted to bring back the Australian Building and Construction Commission, which is a strong cop on the beat. It was voted down in the Senate, because of people like Jacqui Lambie and Glenn Lazarus - and the Labor Party oppose anything that brings the union leaders to heel.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But what about some basic industrial reform like the penalty rates issue. We’re ducking and diving around that.

TREASURER:

Well, we’ve got a Productivity Commission draft report, which for example, makes a recommendation that penalty rates should be the same on Saturday and Sunday, because one of the things that you think - it was only a few weeks ago I was driving around Bendigo and up at Echuca as well and there were some places that were closed on Sunday. When I asked down the road why was the coffee shop closed, they said well, penalty rates.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But have you got the political will to fix it? Or is it people say work choices and half the Government puts its head under the desk?

TREASURER:

Well, we have the political will to do what is right for the Australian economy and creating jobs. Absolutely - that’s why we took the decision to get rid of the carbon tax, it was a handbrake on jobs and growth. That’s why we got rid of the mining tax, that’s why in the last Budget I had a major announcement about small business – the $20,000 instant asset write-off…

NEIL MITCHELL:

So will you have the political will to take on penalty rates?

TREASURER:

We’ve got plenty of political will to do what is right…

NEIL MITCHELL:

Is it right to take on penalty rates?

TREASURER:

You’re asking me to give you the detail of the next step in our economic plan…

NEIL MITCHELL:

Just a principle.

TREASURER:

You’re asking me to give you the details of the next step in our plans…

NEIL MITCHELL:

No I’m not.

TREASURER:

Yes you are Neil…

NEIL MITCHELL:

I’m asking you for a simple point on principle. Do you want to address the punitive penalty rates regime?

TREASURER:

Well, what I want is the first step which is implementing our plan as it stands today, to get the Australian Building and Construction Commission back in, and also to have proper supervision of the union movement through the registered organisations bill, which as well, was blocked by the Labor Party and the Greens yesterday in the Senate.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Can I ask a couple of other quick things before we get to the housing issue? Do you support the Senate inquiry recommendation naming and shaming companies involved in tax avoidance?

TREASURER:

I must admit I haven’t had a chance to read the report. But I’d just say to you this, later this year companies will be required to reveal the tax they pay, and that based on comparable information will indicate whether they are paying their fair share of tax. I’ve spoken to you before Neil, but I introduced in the middle of the Budget speech legislation that is going to go after multinationals that are not paying their tax. We have embedded Tax Office officials in 30 companies, and we’ve tracked the money going to Ireland, the Netherlands, the Bahamas and so on. I’ll be introducing that legislation in the next sitting fortnight, which we’ve formed in partnership with the UK Government to go after these companies that aren’t paying their tax.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So are we being significantly ripped off or not?

TREASURER:

Well it depends. It depends on the companies and the way it’s done. For those companies, and a lot of them are internet based companies that have operations in Australia and don’t pay their tax, I believe they are ripping us off. But there are other companies that are paying their fair share of tax. In fact, a number of mining companies operating in Australia are amongst the biggest taxpayers in Australia. It becomes a case by case basis when you get to that level of tax.

NEIL MITCHELL:

As you know, the issue of foreign buyers of real estate has been really a very contentious one, a very important one to my audience and audiences around Australia. With your new regulations, your new laws coming in, who’s going to enforce them? Because people have been laughing at the laws in the past.

TREASURER:

Yeah – Well, I mean that’s right. And what we’ve done is take the compliance enforcement out of the Treasury, which is a department based in Canberra, and put it into the Tax Office, it has more than 20,000 employees. Importantly we’ve got 50 officers operating around the country now. We’ve given them an extra, nearly $50 million, to now go after people that are unlawfully buying real estate in Australia.

NEIL MITCHELL:

How many have been nabbed?

TREASURER:

Well in the last few weeks I’ve announced the forced sale of seven properties. We’re investigating 462 and I can tell you that 207 investigations are underway in Victoria, which is the highest number of any state.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So under what circumstances will a foreigner be able to buy real estate in Australia?

TREASURER:

Only if it’s new, only if it’s new real estate. They are the rules. And what’s happened is that some foreigners have either bought real estate that is existing real estate, and they’re not allowed to do that, or they’ve got permission to buy existing real estate and when they’ve left the country they haven’t sold it and they have to do that. So what we did was we set up an amnesty, and they’ve got until 30 November to notify us. I have, as I said, forced sales of seven properties in three different states. Contrary to some of the perceptions, they come from a number of countries. In those cases they came from the Philippines, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia and China.

NEIL MITCHELL:

There’s probably tens of thousands of houses sitting around, illegally owned, aren’t there?

TREASURER:

That’s why we are going after those people.

NEIL MITCHELL:

What happens when they all go on the market?

TREASURER:

Well, it might bring down the price of real estate for people. I want to emphasise we do need foreign investment because it helps to create jobs. I mean there’s 62,000 dwellings under construction in Victoria at the moment. That creates jobs for plumbers, electricians, brickies, concreters and the like. If foreigners are buying new properties, that helps to create those jobs. Importantly, a number of people in those professions lost their jobs with the fall in mining construction. So, you know there were people as you know who fly in, fly out from Melbourne, right around the country, doing work in the mines, building the mines. They come back to Melbourne and they’re looking for work. The growth in the construction sector’s fantastic.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Say you’ve got tens of thousands of houses are illegally owned, if they come forward before November, do they get to keep them?

TREASURER:

No, they have to sell them, but they can keep the proceeds and after 30 November not only will they be forced to sell, but we will claim any capital gain they’ve made or 25 per cent of the value of the property.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I just want to ask you quickly, will you be campaigning in the by-election in Canning in Western Australia?

TREASURER:

I expect I will.

NEIL MITCHELL:

It’s a pretty important one, you need to win.

TREASURER:

You need to win every election in order to hold government. That’s what I’ve learned over 20 years. You know, the thing that wins elections is good policy. That’s what wins elections and getting on with the job and creating jobs. That’s what matters.

NEIL MITCHELL:

A report from Oxford University on Malcolm Turnbull when he was there said he was arrogant and didn’t suffer from shyness. Does that surprise you?

TREASURER:

I didn’t know him at the time.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Do you remember any of your school reports?

TREASURER:

[laughter] You shouldn’t have asked about that…

NEIL MITCHELL:

Go on - I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.

TREASURER:

I had to move office the other day and for some reason I had my school report from when I was 10, and the rest of my team in my office got a copy of it and pinned it up on the board. And my singing teacher said, Joseph is unruly and his behaviour is puzzling.

NEIL MITCHELL:

[laughter] Can you sing?

TREASURER:

No!

NEIL MITCHELL:

Thank you very much for your time, the Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey.