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Transcript of interview with Hugh Riminton: Meet the press: 5 August 2012: Tasmanian ALP Conference; Cairns to host the G20 Finance Ministers Meeting; Gonski Review; National Disability Insurance Scheme; John Button Lecture; Minerals Resource Rent Tax; Job creation under Labor
THE HON WAYNE SWAN MP Deputy Prime Minister Treasurer
INTERVIEW MEET THE PRESS
5 AUGUST 2012
SUBJECTS: Tasmanian ALP Conference; Cairns to host the G20 Finance Ministers Meeting; Gonski Review; National Disability Insurance Scheme; John Button Lecture; Minerals Resource Rent Tax; Job creation under Labor
RIMINTON: And now welcome Wayne Swan, Treasurer, coming to us from Cairns this morning. Good morning.
TREASURER: Good morning, Hugh.
RIMINTON: Now you were with Premier Giddings yesterday in Tasmania. Did she discuss the same-sex marriage matter with you then?
TREASUER: I was aware of the issue, and I was aware that it was going to be debated at the conference, but I had left the conference before it was debated. I’d given a keynote address. I didn't have a discussion with the Premier about what the conference was going to decide.
RIMINTON: So do you welcome Tasmania potentially going it alone on same-sex marriage?
TREASURER: Well our policy is for a conscience vote in the Parliament, and that's what we will pursue.
RIMINTON: So is this welcome or unwelcome, that Tasmania is saying "Well look, whatever you do in Canberra, we are moving on with it"?
TREASURER: Well Tasmania will do what it wants to do, Hugh, but what we will do in Canberra is that we’ll have a conscience vote on this issue in the Parliament. I think that's the way to handle the issue in the national Parliament, and that’s what we’re going to do.
RIMINTON: Plainly they’re acting in Tasmania on the assumption that the conscience vote won't get up. A question - if they proceed with this, would those marriages in Tasmania have legal status in the rest of Australia?
TREASURER: Well I'm not in a position to give legal advice on the program this morning, particularly for an event that hasn't happened yet. So we'll go through our processes in the national Parliament, and I guess they'll go through theirs in Tasmania. But we haven't seen the outcome of that yet. So it's far too early to draw a conclusion on that matter.
RIMINTON: OK, well you are in Far North Queensland, in Cairns today. It happens that the Prime Minister is also in the same neighbourhood. Presumably that's not entirely coincidental.
TREASURER: Well I can certainly confirm on Meet The Press this morning that Cairns will host a G20 Finance Ministers meeting, prior to the leaders meeting in Brisbane in 2014. This is a tremendous opportunity to showcase North Queensland, and particularly Far North Queensland, to the world. The reef, the tropical rainforests - it's a tremendous opportunity to showcase a part of Australia which is really the gateway to the emerging world in Asia.
RIMINTON: Do you have any idea how much direct money that is likely to bring into Far North Queensland when they have it?
TREASURER: It will be a very significant boost to the economy here. It could bring as many as 2,000 people in for a meeting of that size. Fortunately the tourism industry here is now lifting again after a period where it's been difficult. So this is a wonderful opportunity for North Queensland, and particularly Far North Queensland, to showcase itself to the world. A G20 Finance Ministers meeting is very substantial. It brings together the Finance Ministers or Treasurers from both the developed and developing economies in the G20. It's a fantastic opportunity for Far North Queensland.
RIMINTON: OK, well let's talk about things that are seriously substantial. You are going to go into the next election with two major, big-spending reforms. Your response to the Gonski education report, talking about billions of dollars going into public education, but also the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Joe Hockey, who will quite possibly be the Treasurer who has to get this thing into action, was sounding far less than completely convinced on the The Bolt Report, here he was:
JOE HOCKEY: We want to make sure that anything we promise is deliverable. Now we will have to find money, there is no doubt about that. We’ll have to find money.
ANDREW BOLT: So was that a yes? You will commit?
JOE HOCKEY: Well I'm not going to tell you what the Budget is going look like in 2018.
RIMINTON: Fundamentally, no reform is a reform unless it sticks, and it sounds as though this is going to have a great deal of difficulty sticking.
TREASURER: Well, first of all, Joe Hockey has got a really big hole in his Budget bottom line as well.
RIMINTON: Well all the more reason why he’s not going to be able to stump up $8 billion a year in future, to manage a Labor policy.
TREASURER: Well he is not in a position to promise support for anything, because he starts with a very significant crater in his Budget bottom line, which he admitted on breakfast television. But this Government has put in place a strict fiscal policy, and we
found in our Budget $1 billion to put in place the launch sites for the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
RIMINTON: Yeah, over four years, and that's a trifling amount relative to the scheme. And in fairness, you can't say you have committed to the National Disability Insurance Scheme, if you can't tell us how you’re going to fund it, and right now there's no detail on how it’s going to be funded.
TREASURER: Well I’m sorry, there is, Hugh. There's $1 billion on the table at the moment..
RIMINTON: For a trial phase.
TREASURER: Yeah, that's right, and because it’s going to take some time to introduce. So we are going to go through the launch sites, we will learn from the trials if that's what you want to call them. But we are committed to funding this scheme for the long term, working with the States, because this is a joint exercise, and to put this in place for the long term. We have got a demonstrated record of putting in place savings in our Budget to fund important priorities. We will continue to do that.
RIMINTON: The fact of it is though that until there's a funding model for the $8 billion a year extra that is going to be represented by the NDIS, this is not a policy, surely it is simply an aspiration.
TREASURER: I completely reject that. We will make the room in our Budget to fund this scheme for the long term, because this is a priority. But you have got the Opposition who have got this huge crater in their Budget bottom line already. They are not in a position to tell Australia anything about how they will fund new priorities. The fact is if they were elected to Government given that they’re going to get rid of the Resource-Rent Tax, the Minerals Resource-Rent Tax, they're going to get rid of that. They are not in a position to tell us how they’re going to fund anything without huge cuts to health and education. So they’re certainly not in a position to say that they’re committed to an NDIS, or for that matter, anything else.
RIMINTON: Welcome back, this is Meet The Press. Our guest is the Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan. Welcome now to our panel - Tim Colebatch from The Age, and Melissa Clark from ABC 24, good morning.
COLEBATCH: Treasurer, this week you’ve been channelling Bruce Springsteen for the Labor cause, and it's stirring rhetoric and as you point out a lot of stirring ballads he sang. But what can you do as Treasurer to give voice to the kind of sentiments Springsteen expresses?
TREASURER: Well, I have always believed, Tim, that when we create prosperity we should be spreading opportunity, which is why we have committed in the first place to the Minerals Resource Rent Tax, so we can use the revenue from that to spread the opportunities and the bounty of the mining boom broadly around our community. And that is precisely what we are doing. Precisely what we’re doing in terms of the Schoolkids Bonus, precisely what we are doing in terms of the boost to superannuation, particularly for low-paid workers, the fact that a 30-year-old with the increase in the SG and the increased
contribution that we are making will have $100,000 extra in their retirement if they are on average incomes. It's spreading the benefits of the boom.
COLEBATCH: Is that it? Is there more to come? Is there more that you can do?
TREASURER: There's a lot we have done, and there's more we can do. For example, all of the reforms that we have put in place in terms of education, from early childhood all the way through. Our commitment to the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and the approach which will govern the implementation of the Gonski recommendations, plus all of the tax reforms, we’ve put in place the tripling for example of the tax-free threshold.
CLARKE: Treasurer, your criticism, though, has been of mining magnates, and others who are in powerful positions and using their wealth to have political and social power. Those elements don't necessarily address that directly, do you have any plans for anything more interventionist or preventative when it comes to your criticisms of the social and political power that the wealthy wield?
TREASURER: Well the reason I highlighted three of those mining billionaires in the first place was their opposition to the Minerals Resource Rent Tax, which we are using to spread the opportunities of the mining boom more broadly around our community. And what I was saying was that they are seeking to have an excessive say in our public debate. What I want to see is more people to have a greater say in our public debate, and more Australians, or all Australians, to have a greater stake in our prosperity.
COLEBATCH: What about the people who are on the bottom, I mean the people really on the bottom are the unemployed, who are living on $35 a day. Surely some of that wealth from the MRRT should be spread to them?
TREASURER: Tim, there's nothing that I am prouder of, and that the Labor Government is prouder of, than the fact that our economy is 10% larger now than it was prior to the Global Financial Crisis.
COLEBATCH: There's still 600,000 people unemployed.
TREASURER: Or the fact we have created over 800,000 jobs, and that unemployment in historical terms is very, very low. That doesn't mean to say that more cannot be done, and that's why, Tim, we have put in place, particularly in some critical areas, fundamental welfare reform.
COLEBATCH: Treasurer, there is a broad-based movement to try and get - a lot of people from all sides of politics said this is just not fair. $35 a day, you can't expect people to live on that, can you really?
TREASURER: Tim, I respect the fact that you have written about this issue of wealth distribution, and how we make our community a fairer place. I respect that enormously. And I think you would respect that what has driven this Labor Government has been putting jobs first and giving people a capacity to stand on their own two feet. To get a decent job, to provide the training opportunities, to provide all of the backup assistance that we can, so that people can earn a decent wage with fair working conditions, and have access to affordable health and education. That's the very foundation of Labor Party philosophy and Labor values, and it’s one that we’ve implemented. You look around the world - our
intervention here saved lots of Australians and lots of small businesses from the destruction that we have seen elsewhere in the world, where unemployment, even now in the United States, is still 8%. You see it at levels of 10%, 15% in Europe. What we have done here - we have done an enormous amount by avoiding the tragic events elsewhere, supporting our economy during the Global Financial Crisis, and that's had a big impact on opportunity, and also on the social cohesion in our society.
RIMINTON: OK, well former Treasury Secretary, Ken Henry, gave a speech last week. He’s been reflecting on the future, and what he sees is higher taxes. Here’s what he said:
KEN HENRY: It is more likely that over time tax revenue will have to be expanded in order to meet the future needs of Government, in part because of the ageing of the population.
CLARKE: Treasurer Wayne Swan, aren't you in a bit of a bind if you are not willing to put up taxes, and you have to fund promises like a National Disability Insurance Scheme, and the Gonski review? If you are talking about maintaining a strict fiscal position, which you mentioned just before, is it time that you start reviewing some areas of spending on things like elite athletes, if you’re going to prioritise what you say is Labor values, isn’t it time that we look at how much is spent on things like elite athletes?
TREASURER: Well, the first thing is we have been dealing with the ageing of our population by modernising both our tax system, and our transfer payment system. And once again, the Minerals Resource Rent Tax that we are putting in place was the number one recommendation of the Ken Henry Review. But what we’re doing particularly in the area of superannuation is absolutely driven by our concern about the ageing of the population, and making sure that more Australians have dignity in their retirement, with a decent income. That is exactly what is driving the actions of the Government in a broad range of areas, and also, most particularly, in what we have done in terms of health reform and mental health reform and so on. We are acting on a broad range of areas, and also what we are doing in terms of implementation of the report from Everald Compton about the ageing of our population and the need to remove workforce discrimination for mature-aged workers. So we are acting in a broad front when it comes to the ageing of our population and tax and transfer payment reforms.
COLEBATCH: One of the ageing issues though, as Ken pointed out, is it is going to impose a lot more costs, and the Government is going to have to tighten up. You have already moved on pensions, to increase the pension age in future. John Brogden last week, former NSW Liberal leader, now with the financial services industry, argued that the age at which people can take their super should be lifted from 60 to 62. Is that something that you would entertain?
TREASURER: No, the Government is not contemplating that at all. But we do understand that we have to keep in place a very strict fiscal policy. It's very important when you have got an economy growing at trend like ours is, when you have got a very big investment pipeline, when you have got contained inflation and lower interest rates, you should be running surpluses, and that's what the Government is determined to do. We have shown over time that we have the capacity to change our priorities, make substantial savings
in the Budget process, put in place a very strict fiscal discipline, and also make room for important priorities like the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
RIMINTON: OK, Treasurer, before we let you go, your love letter on YouTube to Bruce Springsteen certainly got headlines around the world. Have you heard anything back from The Boss?
TREASURER: No, I haven't heard from The Boss. But I’ve heard a lot from those Tea Party Republicans in the US who are in the pockets of the billionaires in the US. We heard a lot from them, but I haven’t heard back from The Boss.
RIMINTON: Oh well, keep checking the inbox, I'm sure it will come sooner or later. Wayne Swan, thanks very much for joining us today from Cairns.
TREASURER: Thank you.
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