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Transcript of joint press conference: Sydney: 8 May 2013: Federal Budget; Julia Gillard's carbon tax; the Coalition's $1.5 billion commitment to Melbourne's East West Link; the Coalition's Real Solutions Plan for a stronger Australia; the Coalition's plan for paid parental leave; public service



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LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION THE HON. TONY ABBOTT MHR FEDERAL MEMBER FOR WARRINGAH

8 May 2013

TRANSCRIPT OF THE HON. TONY ABBOTT MHR JOINT PRESS CONFERENCE WITH THE HON. JOE HOCKEY MHR, SHADOW TREASURER, SYDNEY

Subjects: Federal Budget; Julia Gillard’s carbon tax; the Coalition’s $1.5 billion commitment to Melbourne’s East West Link; the Coalition’s Real Solutions Plan for a stronger Australia; the Coalition's plan for paid parental leave; public service.

E&OE……………………….……………………………………………………………

TONY ABBOTT:

It’s terrific to be here with Joe Hockey, the Shadow Treasurer, less than a week before this year’s Budget and as far as the Budget preparations are concerned things are going from bad to worse for this government. It is chaotic, it is confused, it is shambolic, it is unworthy of a competent Australian government. Certainly, it is almost unimaginable that any government over the last 30-odd years would have conducted its pre-Budget preparations the way the current government has. Over the last two days we have had the Government announce that two measures that were absolute rock solid commitments in last year’s Budget have been junked. Yesterday they announced that the increases to the Family Tax Benefit Part A that was so much a part of last year’s Budget were gone. Today, they announced that the tax cuts in 2015 associated with the carbon tax are gone.

The essential point that the Australian people are coming to understand is this: if you couldn’t trust last year’s Budget, why should you trust this year’s Budget? If you couldn’t trust last year’s Budget why should you trust this year’s Budget? Now, about a month ago, Joe and I were in this very room and we said there were five tests that the Budget needed to pass. First, is it based on honest and credible assumptions? Well, the revenue forecasts have been downgraded three times in the past fortnight - first by $7 billion, then by $12 billion, now by $17 billion. The second test, does it demonstrate a speedy path back to surplus? Well, we had the Secretary of the Treasury a little while ago predict deficits as far as the eye can see. Third, does it bring debt under control? Well, plainly the Government is going to be asking the Parliament to increase the debt limit in this year’s Budget. Fourth, does it rule out new tax grabs? Well, the Prime Minister earlier this week said that everything that had previously been ruled out was now back on the table and fifth, does it detail how Labor will pay for big spending initiatives such as the NDIS? Well, again, earlier this week the Prime Minister announced a levy for the NDIS but the problem is that the levy will fund about 40 per cent of the estimated cost and the problem with a scheme which is only part-funded is that presumably it can only be part-operated and that is why we have consistently said that the Prime Minister needs to demonstrate how the scheme will be fully funded and exactly what will be covered and yet the government, the Prime Minister is asking for three more years. Why would any Australian want three more years of this kind of chaos, incompetence and untrustworthiness?

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A couple of years back the Prime Minister said that “you can’t run the country if you can’t manage the Budget.” Well, plainly, this Government has failed its own test.

I am going to ask Joe to say a few words and then we will take some questions.

JOE HOCKEY:

Thanks very much, Tony. Another day another broken promise and it is the second time the Labor Party has dumped LAW tax cuts. The first time under Paul Keating now this time legislated tax cuts under Julia Gillard are to be dumped. So, for all their words and all their legislated action you just cannot trust Labor. That’s the bottom line. For example, at the People’s Forum Julia Gillard said all of the household assistance that is being delivered is staying absolutely and of course Greg Combet, no wonder he looked so uncomfortable this morning. The household assistance is permanent and fully funded he said and in a press conference on the 28th of August 2012 Greg Combet said when asked if the price comes down will you cut the household assistance package as well or will people be further compensated? Combet: “no, we will not be cutting any household assistance, we are committed to it and you might recall that there are further tax cuts that have been legislated from 2015 as well”. I mean, there are a sea of quotes where the Labor Party says emphatically that they are the Party delivering the tax cuts and they’ve whacked us around the head when we’ve suggested that they can’t be delivered. Well, they’re not being delivered. Again, Labor has broken the bond of trust with the Australian people. I’ve said before and I’ll say it again: whatever is said next Tuesday night is simply unbelievable. They are the documents produced by the Treasurer Wayne Swan and the Minister for Finance Penny Wong. They do not belong to the Treasury or the Ministry, the Department of Finance. The only document that comes close to being believable will be the pre-election fiscal outlook released by the Department, by the public servants, ten days into the election campaign.

So, when the document comes out next week we will methodically, carefully, go through the numbers; seek to separate out the spin and the smoke which will inevitably come and which certainly will not be believed by the Australian people and we will focus on the detail and that’s what we are going to do.

TONY ABBOTT:

Ok, any questions?

QUESTION:

You say you want to balance the Budget, has the Government done you a favour by deferring these tax cuts?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, yet again the Government has ripped off the Australian people. Yet again the Government has demonstrated that you simply can’t trust them. I return to the fundamental point: if you couldn’t trust last year’s Budget, why should you trust this year’s Budget?

QUESTION:

Have you identified any savings?

TONY ABBOTT:

The short answer is yes and quite a few of them have already been shared with you. For instance, we won’t be continuing the so-called school kids bonus because that is a cash splash with borrowed money that’s got nothing to do with education. We’re not going ahead with the increase in the size of the humanitarian intake, because it would just be filled by the people smugglers under this Government’s policies. We’re abolishing

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the Department of Climate Change. There are a whole range of savings that the Coalition has already identified. Our better, more affordable version of the National Broadband Network will cost $60 billion less than Labor’s. So, look, we’ve identified many and there’s certainly others to come.

QUESTION:

Should we believe that these tax cuts are not dumped, but deferred?

TONY ABBOTT:

The trouble with this Government is that it just doesn’t have the revenue to pay for its promises. This is a Government which legislates the spending, but it never legislates the revenue. This is a Government which spends the money, but then never makes the savings. This is a Government which has achieved the unprecedented feat of bringing in new taxes - in the case of the mining tax - which had raised virtually no revenue. So, in the case of the mining tax, it’s a lose-lose tax - damaged investment, damaged confidence, damaged Australia’s place as a country hitherto largely free of sovereign risk, and yet hardly raised any revenue at all. So, this is a Government which can’t get anything right.

QUESTION:

Are you planning on getting rid of the tax cuts anyway?

TONY ABBOTT:

What we’ve said is that the Coalition will deliver tax cuts without a carbon tax and we’ve said that we would fund tax cuts and benefit increases through sensible reductions in government spending, rather than through a carbon tax and we stand by that.

QUESTION:

You’ve committed $1.5 billion for Victoria’s East West Link should you win in September. Do you stand by that promise today?

TONY ABBOTT:

Absolutely. That’s a very important piece of economic infrastructure. What we need is less unnecessary spending so that we can crack on with the necessary spending that Australia needs and there is no doubt that infrastructure has been very badly neglected by state and federal Labor Governments over the last decade. The East West Link is so obviously a crying need for Melbourne and for Victoria. It’s an important piece of national infrastructure and yes, we will spend $1.5 billion to ensure that that goes ahead within twelve months of a Coalition Government. We’ll spend $1.5 billion to ensure WestConnex goes ahead within twelve months of a Coalition Government being elected in Canberra. We’ll spend a billion dollars to ensure that the Gateway Motorway upgrade in Brisbane goes ahead within twelve months of a Coalition Government. We’ll spend $500 million on upgrading South Road in Adelaide so that within a decade or so there’ll be a proper arterial link, North South Link in Adelaide, we’ve said that we will have the Pacific Highway duplicated from Newcastle to the Queensland border by the end of the decade and we’ll have more to say on the Bruce Highway in the weeks ahead. These are all very important bits of economic infrastructure and frankly, we need these sorts of national roads much more urgently than we need the additional bureaucrats in Canberra that we’ve had under this Government.

QUESTION:

How much will your paid parental leave scheme cost?

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TONY ABBOTT:

We’ll have much more to say on that between now and polling day.

QUESTION:

Has the cost gone up since the last election?

TONY ABBOTT:

We’ll have much more to say between now and polling day and I just want to say about paid parental leave that this is a very important economic policy. The wealth of a country depends upon three things - population, participation and productivity - and our paid parental leave policy does good things for everything. First, it encourages women to have children. Second, it encourages women to stay in the workforce and third, it encourages some of our best workers to stay in the workforce. So, it’s a very important policy. It shows that the Coalition gets it when it comes to the reality of the modern Australian family, which means more than one income mostly to survive. It shows that we understand the reality for the modern Australian woman who wants to have a career and often a family, too. It shows that we are serious about building the strong economy for the future that is necessary if we are to have the better services, the higher prosperity, that every Australian is entitled to.

QUESTION:

What did you mean yesterday when you said that women of calibre should be encouraged to have a family?

TONY ABBOTT:

What I meant was that we have got to give a fair dinkum paid parental leave scheme to the families of Australia. Let me repeat what I said yesterday: if it’s right for the bloke on holiday to get paid at his real wage; if it’s right for the bloke on sick leave to get paid at his real wage, why isn’t it right for the woman on parental leave to get paid at her real wage? And that’s the challenge. That’s the challenge I lay down for members of the Government. Are they really saying that public servants in Canberra should go on parental leave at their real wage but not the nurses, the teachers, the child care workers, the shop assistants, the factory workers of Australia?

QUESTION:

What the difference between a woman and a woman of calibre?

TONY ABBOTT:

I think I’ve given a pretty comprehensive answer to that question.

QUESTION:

Are you concerned about these Treasury forecasts which seem to be differing wildly from what they initially projected and how would you fix that, should you get in?

JOE HOCKEY:

Well, yes. We’ve been alarmed but I’m reluctant to blame Treasury because the forecasts that are published in a Budget are the forecasts of the Treasurer and the Minister for Finance. They’re not necessarily the Treasury’s numbers. Now, quite clearly, we don’t know what the real opinion of the Treasury is about the numbers because they are servants of the Government, so I’m prepared to give them the better of the doubt.

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But the numbers have been so wrong every year for the last five years. How can we believe what’s said next Tuesday? There’s not a shred of credibility as the basis for next Tuesday’s Budget statement. I mean, Wayne Swan, I urge people to have a look at what he said last year and compare it with what was actually done and you will see that Wayne Swan has nothing left, not a shred of credibility. He is the most incompetent Treasurer Australia has ever had and at this crucial moment we need a sensible, believable, honest Treasurer to deliver a Budget.

QUESTION:

Just back on the tax cut issue, it’s the falling global carbon price that the Government’s pointing to today. What about the setting of the Australian carbon price under Labor? Was proper advice taken or was that a political decision, setting that price?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, it’s interesting you should raise that because what this Government has done is make economic policy in Australia hostage to decisions being made in Europe. When the Government in panic twelve months or so back explicitly linked our price to the price in Europe, tied our price to the price in Europe, they subcontracted out to the Europeans important economic decision making here in Australia. A bizarre decision, a truly bizarre decision. This is a government that talks about living in the Asian century and yet they gave economic policy decision making in Australia over to the Europeans - an absolutely bizarre decision and it shows why this whole carbon tax apparatus should just be got rid of in the interests of the security of Australian jobs and the welfare of Australian families.

JOE HOCKEY:

Just to add to that - quite clearly, the Germans are torn on this issue at the moment, the Europeans are torn on whether they support their carbon price. So, what Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan have done is subcontract out to the domestic policies of Europe the fate of the Australian Budget, which is absolutely bizarre. I mean, this is a moment when we should be moving away from European policy-making rather than linking ourselves with it. No wonder our Budget’s a mess and no wonder the carbon revenues are guessable next Tuesday night.

QUESTION:

So if Labor’s re-elected, do you think we might one day see these tax cuts?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, what you’ll get from the Coalition is the immediate move to abolish the carbon tax, the immediate move to abolish the mining tax. We very much want to see within the first term of a Coalition government a modest company tax cut. Our constant aspiration is for taxes that are lower, simpler, fairer. That’s in our DNA. That’s in our DNA because what we are attempting to do with every policy that we’re putting forward is to strengthen our economy and promote economic growth because the only answer to the quest for prosperity, the quest for improvement that is that the heart of every Australian and every Australian family is a stronger, more productive economy and that’s why we want to start tax reform by getting rid of the carbon tax, getting rid of the mining tax, a modest company tax cut and then over time, yes, we want to see further income tax cuts.

QUESTION:

A new report indicates that public service shed more than 2,000 jobs last year. Does that change your plans to cut 12,000 public service jobs?

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TONY ABBOTT:

No it doesn’t because the public sector payroll in Canberra is about 20,000 more than it was in 2007 and the fact that under this Government, there’s been a very slight reduction in numbers demonstrates that it can be done and it will be done much better and much more effectively under a Coalition government.

JOE HOCKEY:

And doesn’t it just again illustrate the hypocrisy of the Labor Party giving us a lecture about cuts to the public service and then they do it themselves? It says it all.

TONY ABBOTT:

Thank you.

JOE HOCKEY:

Thank you.

[ends]