31 August 2015
Transcript - #2015188, 2015

Interview with Ben Fordham, 2GB

BEN FORDHAM:

Mr Hockey, good afternoon to you.

TREASURER:

Great to be with you, Ben.

BEN FORDHAM:

Thank you for coming into the studio this afternoon, quite a lot to talk about. We’ll kick off with Justice Dyson Heydon, who will remain as the head of the Royal Commission into Union Corruption. He has dismissed the application from unions to stand down. They were requesting that the former high court judge should step down over perceived bias, after he accepted an invitation to speak at a Liberal Party event. He has dismissed that request but the unions are still claiming that the Royal Commission is terminally tarnished. Where do you stand on where the Royal Commission is at, and your reaction to Justice Heydon’s decision today?

TREASURER:

Well, we welcome the decision by Mr Justice Heydon to continue in his role as a Royal Commissioner. That is his call, and he weighed up carefully all the details. I haven’t read the judgment, it only just came down, but quite frankly the Royal Commission is already doing exceptional work in weeding out the corruption in the union movement. Obviously, there are union leaders that want to stop the spotlight being put on their behaviour. They’ve gone after the man in this circumstance. If they don’t like the decision he’s made, they are able to appeal it in the Federal Court.

BEN FORDHAM:

I had a look down the list at some of the charges that have been laid as a result of the Commission so far, we see perjury, blackmail, assault and more. When you weigh those serious charges up against what this bloke was alleged to have done, which is accept a lunch invitation and then not even go to that lunch, it doesn’t really stack up, does it?

TREASURER:

Look, the fundamental point is that this is a long overdue Royal Commission into the behaviour of parts of the union movement…

BEN FORDHAM:

Do you think the reaction has been over the top from the unions and also the Labor Party in trying to…

TREASURER:

The Labor Party is the best friend of the union movement, and in parts, their only friend. They’re the ones that continue to defend the actions of some union leaders. The actions that are just irreprehensible in a modern economy, in a modern society. I welcome the fact that the Royal Commission can now get on with the job of rooting out the corruption, the blackmail, the threats associated with union activity in Australia.

BEN FORDHAM:

The Federal Liberal Party has a small group trying to blow the joint up from within. Any time anything happens these days, they get on the phones and text members of the Press Gallery and despite what we’ve seen happen to the ALP in chopping down leaders, there are some who want to do the same to Tony Abbott, and one way to bring down Abbott is to bring down Hockey. If they bring you down, they bring the PM down too. The Sydney Morning Herald today quotes two cabinet ministers, who suggest the Prime Minister is being urged to dump you as Treasurer if the Canning by-election goes badly. One of the anonymous cabinet ministers says it’s possible you’ll be thrown to the wolves, you, Joe Hockey, to protect the Prime Minister’s leadership. Now Tony Abbott doesn’t really strike me as the kind of person who’s going to throw Joe Hockey under the bus, but you know him better than I do, is that in his makeup?

TREASURER:

Well, no and it’s just gossip. It’s just gossip parading as journalism. It’s all it is. Gossip. And what you’ve got to do is focus on what matters, Ben. It’s not about my job; it’s about the jobs of everyday Australians. About creating more jobs, giving people hope tomorrow’s better. We’re working damn hard at that. We’ve got to deliver more growth into the Australian economy, which we’re absolutely focused on, but you know, the rest of it is really just gossip mate.

BEN FORDHAM:

Well why are some of your colleagues engaging in it, and fanning the flames?

TREASURER:

Well, you know, I can’t explain that. But you’re always going to have some fringe-whingers, and the fact is, you’ve just got to push on and focus on what matters. And what matters is creating jobs in the economy, helping to get prosperity right across the community and the way to do that is to focus on your job, the job you have.

BEN FORDHAM:

They’re doing their best to keep your focus off those things.

TREASURER:

It’s not working.

BEN FORDHAM:

So is that what they are, they’re fringe-whingers?

TREASURER:

Where-ever they are, whoever the critics are, they will always be loud. The bottom line is, what matters is what you are doing to improve the lives of everyday Australians. And that’s what I am sleepless about at night, that’s what I work at during the day, that’s what I discuss with the Prime Minister. I’ve had numerous discussions with him over the weekend. This is about - we are focused on the job of governing properly.

BEN FORDHAM:

Did the Prime Minister call you to reassure you that these stories are not true?

TREASURER:

He called me about a number of issues and in passing he said there’s a lot of gossip around, and it is complete rubbish. As he said today, it was complete rubbish. No one’s approached him about it. It’s just a complete fabrication and therefore we talk about the issues that actually matter.

BEN FORDHAM:

The frustrating thing for you is that it’s not the media that is instigating this stuff…

TREASURER:

Well, maybe…

BEN FORDHAM:

It’s not the Labor Party that’s doing it, it’s not the union movement or whatever. You’ve got people within your own party who are doing it. They’re spoiling for a fight; they’re spoiling for some kind of trigger that will bring on some change.

TREASURER:

Well this is the horrible legacy of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years. That none of the journos want to miss a story about any disruption to government, and they are attempting, combined with a few other fringe dwellers, to undermine our focus on what is important for everyday Australians which is jobs and growth. That’s what they’re trying to do. Mate, it doesn’t work with me. I’ve spent the whole day in meetings on the economy, on tax reform, on helping start-ups to get up and running in Australia, to create new jobs. I spent the day focusing on cabinet decisions for tomorrow which are going to be pretty significant in a range of different areas and also we’ve got the National Accounts on Wednesday and then I have to fly to the G20 in Turkey to discuss with other Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors the future of the world economy, which affects the jobs on the ground here in Australia.

BEN FORDHAM:

When your boss Tony Abbott was under the pump earlier this year, you came out very strongly in supporting him. I think you were probably the strongest out of all of your senior colleagues in coming out and saying to people back off, get away from him, how loyal is Tony Abbott?

TREASURER:

Absolutely, he’s that sort of person. He’s a very loyal person. Never been any doubt in my mind about [inaudible]. If you’re focused on your job, which we are, we’re focused on doing the job we’ve got, and frankly, the Australian people would be right to be angry with us if we were focussed on anything other than delivering the things to help to create prosperity in the nation.

BEN FORDHAM:

So you’re standing out the front of the house at the moment saying, nothing to see here, move on, and let’s get back to business?

TREASURER:

No mate, I am focused on what I can do as the Treasurer of Australia to create more jobs, to build greater prosperity, to give people a better future.

BEN FORDHAM:

Alright, I’m onto that in a moment. Very quickly, Arthur Sinodinos, a senior Liberal, has come out today and said any senior ministers or staff who leak should be sacked. But I mean, when people are leaking to the media they are doing it anonymously anyway, as if you can actually track people down and sack people for leaking. Do you agree?

TREASURER:

Look, every country in the world has leaks. Every country in the world has gossip in one form or another. Every media outlet in the world can choose to report gossip or leaks or whatever the case is. What matters to everyday Australians is what is the Government doing to make my life better? Helping to make life better, and that is what we’re focused on, I can’t emphasise that enough.

BEN FORDHAM:

Okay. Trade unions are campaigning hard against the China Free Trade Agreement ahead of the Canning by-election, which is under three weeks now. The $18 billion deal will give farmers, wine makers, service industries unprecedented access to one of the biggest economies in the world. But you’ve got the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten having a bob each way, well certainly not supporting it, saying he wants to see the detail. The unions scaring people that Chinese workers could come in and steal their jobs. Do you know how much money is being spent by the union movement in trying to destabilise this deal?

TREASURER:

Well we’re advised that the union movement are now spending around $9 million campaigning against the China Free Trade Agreement that is actually going to deliver more jobs for Australians. It is outrageous, absolutely outrageous. And Bill Shorten for the first time as a Labor Leader is party to this. Because we know Bill Shorten is run by the union movement, we know that, right. But when you’ve got Bob Hawke, Bob Carr, Simon Crean, Martin Ferguson, all these sensible Labor people coming out and saying, hang on, this is really important for Australia and Australian jobs. Then you start to realise how much Bill Shorten is on the fringe. And he is only on the fringe because he is put there, paid for and controlled by the union movement and the most radical elements of the union movement. We saw it on the front page of the Tele today. You saw Bill Shorten, campaign for Leader of the Labor Party, receiving funding previously undisclosed. That says everything.

BEN FORDHAM:

His office says today on that donation that he didn’t have to disclose it, it was $5,000…

TREASURER:

Well, from a probity perspective you would think that it would be appropriate that he now come clean about everything that he received from every different union, in order to run his campaign against Anthony Albanese. But the fundamental point is this, the China Free Trade Agreement is going to deliver more jobs for Australians. I was just in northern Tasmania. Tasmanians according to a Roy Morgan survey, around 75 per cent of the Tasmanian people support the Free Trade Agreement with China, why? Because they can see the benefits. Dairy products, the Chinese are going to abolish a tax on our dairy products of up to 20 per cent. Beef, they’re going to abolish a tax on our beef imports into China of up to 25 per cent, lamb, 23 per cent. They’re abolishing the taxes they apply to our exports, which means more jobs for Australians, more wealth for Australians.

BEN FORDHAM:

Income tax. You were talking about income tax cuts last week, and I’ve got to admit that I didn’t cover it on my program on the day you discussed it because I thought, I’ve heard Mr Hockey discussing this before, I think it might have been with Andrew Bolt on the Bolt Report. And it struck me that I think people seem to be in a state of limbo at the moment, as far as trying to understand the messages you’re getting across with the economy because we’ve been hearing for so long about the need for discussion about things like tax reform but we really don’t see a hell of a lot of detail. Is it the case that we’re going to have to sit around and wait until the next election and have a number of frantic weeks where all of this detail is dumped in the lead up to the election? Or can you see that the Australian people have heard enough of the talk or the need for a conversation, and they now just want to see the detail. What kind of tax cuts are we going to get?

TREASURER:

Well the starting point is to recognise that we’ve got a looming problem and that is, there is a growing disincentive for people to work harder, to earn more money, to then re-invest in jobs for other Australians. And if income tax becomes more a burden for individuals, then it becomes a disincentive.

BEN FORDHAM:

You’ve sold us on it…

TREASURER:

Hang on, not everyone’s there. Because in the next two years, in two to three years’ time, you will see Australians earning the equivalent of average weekly earnings going into the second highest tax bracket, which is 37 cents in the dollar when they go over $80,000 a year. Now under that scenario, there’s going to be a perfect storm that works against an incentive to work, and that’s what we’ve got to fight against. So now is the time for us to start preparing the ground. We started it last year by getting the Budget back towards surplus, hugely important. Secondly, we did it in the last Budget with tax cuts for small business. And we were able to deliver those and they’ve come through in the retail sales figures and everybody said it was well received. We delivered that tax cut for small business. At the same time we were improving the Budget bottom line.

BEN FORDHAM:

When will we get some detail on your plans for income tax, it’ll be right before the election?

TREASURER:

Well, it’s going to be part of a package of measures that focus on how we can build a stronger and more prosperous economy.

BEN FORDHAM:

Sure, but in reality, it’s going to be the six weeks leading up to the election?

TREASURER:

Well, it may well be before that. We’re in discussions with the states. I’ve received 850 submissions from the general public. We said we’d release a discussion paper in the not too distant future which provides a whole lot of information. It gives people a chance to work out what sort of tax mix they think is appropriate for the Australian economy, for them as well, individually, for their businesses. And also, importantly, it shows how by changing the tax mix, by changing the relationship between the taxes and the level of taxes, we can actually improve economic growth and create more jobs.

BEN FORDHAM:

Does it feel to you that we’ve been talking about the economy, and talking about plans to resurrect things for the economy, all of our household budgets and cost of living, we’ve been talking about it ever since you’re first Budget and while there have been changes along the way, and you’ve been frustrated by the Senate, it feels like the Australian public at the moment is sick of the talk [inaudible] and that doesn’t fit in with your electoral cycle because we know that politicians hold things back and you dump it on us in the lead up to the election. But it feels to me that people are being teased for so long about this is what we might do, this is what we may do, but we don’t get the detail.

TREASURER:

Well, Ben, we are delivering reform as we go along. We abolished the Carbon Tax, the Mining Tax, as you know, we stopped paying industry subsidies as you know, we have negotiated these Free Trade Agreements. A lot of the commentariat say, well, where is the reform. I say to you, get out there and argue for the Free Trade Agreement with China because this is now, here and now, a reform that delivers jobs for Australians. So for all the critics, and all the commentariat, if you do care about economic reform then now is the time to go out there and advocate for reform with the Free Trade Agreement with China. In the interim, we are also working away at tax reform, we’re continuing to improve the Budget bottom line, we’ve got the biggest infrastructure rollout in Australia’s history. There are 72 cranes registered in the Sydney CBD right here and now, 72 cranes. And these things are happening because we’ve got momentum in the Australian economy, it goes up and down from time to time, but we have momentum that is helping to create jobs. You can’t wave a wand and fix things overnight but what you can do is build the foundations for prosperity, but it comes step by step, and that’s exactly what we’re doing on tax and we’re doing it on the China Free Trade Agreement.

BEN FORDHAM:

We’ll talk again soon, before I let you go, did you know there’s a joint in Sydney selling a $22 toasted cheese sandwich?

TREASURER:

No.

BEN FORDHAM:

Have you tried it yet, Treasurer?

TREASURER:

No, I didn’t know that. Frankly, I reckon I can do a pretty good ham and cheese toastie at home for a lot less.

BEN FORDHAM:

Cheaper than $22?

TREASURER:

Well, it depends what by charge out rate is Ben. If I could bump it up and get that profit margin, then I would fix the Budget deficit pretty quickly.

BEN FORDHAM:

Thanks for coming into the studio.

TREASURER:

Thanks mate.