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Transcript of interview with Annabel Crabb: ABC, The Drum: 5 September 2013: Coalition costings

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E & O E - PROOF ONLY _____________________________________________________________

Subjects: Coalition costings. _____________________________________________________________

CRABB: Senator Wong, thank you very much for joining us on this, on The Drum and welcome.

WONG: It's good to be with you. I’m going to remember Sean said that.

CRABB: Are you and Sean still okay? Is that alright?

WONG: Yeah, yeah, just.

CRABB: This costings release has been enthusiastically promo-ed by the Government over the course of this campaign as the greatest horror movie ever made. Now that you've seen it, did it warrant the advanced publicity?

WONG: Oh well, let's understand what we've seen today. Today I think this release of costings is the last dance in really an extraordinary farce that the Coalition have been engaged in. Undemocratic because they have been focusing not on, you know, what to do should they win government, but focusing on how to hide what they would do should they win government. It is extraordinary the lengths to which Tony Abbott has gone to, to hide the true costs of his policies from the Australian people and the reason costings are important is not just because numbers are important. They're important because that's how you know how decisions will impact Australian -

CRABB: Sure, so -

WONG: So I'm happy to go through. Sorry -

CRABB: Sorry, I’m just asking a basic question here about whether today's revelations were shocking because they were a revelation or do you think there is still hidden stuff?

WONG: Oh, there is absolutely still hidden stuff, and let me give you some examples. First, in - what we do know from what they've released today, they have confirmed they’re going to retrospectively tax over three million Australian workers, that's not actually in the document but we can work it out from the costing and that is the tax hike on people's superannuation.

CRABB: Because the only way they can make that money is to get it back from people who have received it.

WONG: Exactly, and what is also not in the document is what we know is that they are going to double tax mum and dad investors, superannuants who own shares.

CRABB: But that's the franking. We knew about that too already.

WONG: But I'm making a point about here about what’s hidden. The only reason we know about the double tax issue is because there was actually a focus on it and Joe Hockey had to concede it eventually. We wouldn't know it from the document that was put out today because that document does not include the details about how you actually fund the policy. And this is the point I think that is perhaps some of the media haven't picked up on, is that, when we lodge policy costings, we actually say how we'll fund it. So we say, ‘this is what we'll cut or this is what we'll save, this is what we will do to fund this policy.’

That is the information the Coalition have been hiding. And they continue to hide it and I think the only thing Australians can conclude is Tony Abbott has something to hide and I think today he told them what it was. He was asked specifically when he has a Commission of Audit should be he be elected - this is a Commission of Audit after the election to find out all of the things that need to be cut - will anything be quarantined? He was asked that twice. He said ‘no, everything is on the table for cuts should the Coalition be elected.’ It was a rare moment of honesty from Tony Abbott when it comes to the budget.

CRABB: So the figures that the Coalition put out today suggest that, and I'm aware that you will see this as a contestable suggestion, that the Coalition will leave the Budget around about $6 billion better off over four years. It is not a massive difference, is it, between what purports to be their bottom line and yours?

WONG: Well, what I would say is again is we’ve had Tony Abbott running around the country, Joe Hockey running around the country, telling everybody how much they needed to cut. How much they needed to cut for three years, haven't you

heard Joe Hockey? Who can forget the ending of the age of entitlement? Now they're asking you to believe that actually they're not really going to do anything like that. Now, it's just not believable, particularly when you lay it against the backdrop of a campaign and the costings released today - extraordinary, not only 48 hours before an election, but selectively briefed out to some journos, I don't know if you were among the lucky few?

CRABB: I never am, Penny. I never am.

WONG: You know a couple of interviews I had today they were amongst the lucky few, briefed out and then finally very very close to deadline for the papers and also the news, you know Joe Hockey and Andrew Robb sort of stand up and say, ‘This is fine, we’ve done all of this.’ It’s a farce.

CRABB: Just let me get this straight, and I apologise if I am asking stupid questions but this is kind of, you know a very serpentine debate. So your dispute -

WONG: That's a good word.

CRABB: It is. It’s perfectly appropriate I think at this juncture. They've put out a bunch of new spending promises they’re going to make. They’ve put out a bunch of specific cuts and they kind of you know match up in terms of the of figures that

they've given. Your concern is there are more cuts that haven't even been floated to pay for, what?

WONG: Oh well, I'm saying two things. I think some of the cuts that are released here, had they been released earlier, I think Australians would be pretty concerned. You are a South Australian girl, a woman I should say. One in three of every dollar spent on buying back water for the River Murray has, by stroke of a pen, just been junked.

CRABB: Can you explain this re-profiling thing to me because -

WONG: It means you don't spend the money in a particular year, you put it off into the future, so it means you are no longer making a commitment in that year to spend it.

CRABB: But you guys are pretty ferocious re-profilers yourselves?

WONG: Well, one of the things we made sure we kept on track was the Murray-Darling Plan, not only because I'm from South Australia, although that helps, but because we understood how many years - a century of wrangling has bedeviled this river system - and that for the good of the nation as well as the good of the downstream states, we had to make sure that plan is kept on track. Unilaterally, they’ve just said they’re not going to buy back as much water. You know whose

agenda that is? It's Barnaby Joyce's and the National Party. What it says, and what we know from the cuts document released, is that Barnaby Joyce and the National Party in the interests of the upstream states are what will dictate should Tony Abbott become Prime Minister, the policy on the Murray-Darling.

CRABB: What do you make of the foreign aid announcement today?

WONG: Well, I think it's interesting in terms of what it says about, I mean, I think it's extremely sad because despite Tom's sort of airy dismissal of academic literature, this does help real people, children, in countries with extraordinary poverty, and we maintained that the time-frame for the commitment to the MDG goal, the 0.5 per cent of gross national income -

CRABB: You deferred it for a year, I think.

WONG: Yes, we did and we changed the trajectory, but in the most recent update, we maintained the date because we think that's important and there was bipartisanship around it. I think what is most telling at a political level about this decision is how little influence Julie Bishop clearly has because she came out very strongly saying it was a bipartisan deal, that this aid commitment was bipartisan. What she has now copped is a never ever - and that's what the document says, that they’re never ever going to get to the 0.5 per cent, or they refuse to give a date. Again, Barnaby Joyce winning out over Julie Bishop.

CRABB: You dipped into your foreign aid spending to finance detention centres and processing asylum seekers on Australian soil -

WONG: Come on, Annabel, that is a completely different level we're talking about in terms of how much money the Coalition are actually cutting. And I would remind you that the spending we allocated to foreign aid in terms of those projects is consistent with the same standards that countries like Sweden apply. So I know the Greens like to talk that up as some major crime, they should probably have a discussion with some countries who are known for their humanitarian reputation about the same issue then.

CRABB: How much is it going to cost to introduce a new company tax regime for the Northern Territory?

WONG: Well, I know that is a line Joe Hockey used today in the press conference as a bit of cover for the fact that -

CRABB: I thought it myself, I assure you.

WONG: Sorry, Annabel, I'm not accusing you of not being original, you are the Kitchen Cabinet woman, so you're obviously incredibly original. But I’d make the point that if Joe Hockey is complaining that we haven't costed a policy that

doesn't start and hasn't been finalised yet, out beyond the Forward Estimates, perhaps he could explain to you why he hasn't set out his costing or sent to the Parliamentary Budget Office his policy for the National Broadband Network, his policy to stop the boats or his policy on climate change, none of which have been the subject of any policy costing.

CRABB: Okay. I will finish with you in a moment, Penny Wong and thank you very much for your patience -

WONG: That sounds scary.

CRABB: No, it wasn't meant to sound scary. I will finish with you!

WONG: I was going to say tougher people than you might have tried, Annabel. I seem to still be here.

CRABB: You are still here and you have retained a terrifying freshness over the course of the campaign -

WONG: That’s the make-up. It's the ABC make-up room.

CRABB: I wanted to ask you just about your group press conference about the $10 billion hole in the costings last week. I mean, in retrospect, are you happy with the way you collectively handled that during the campaign?

WONG: Look, I think it was really important and is really important for us to call out the Opposition for the deception they're engaging in, because I do think it’s deception when you're not upfront people. And I would make this point: one of the points we actually made in that press conference has been confirmed today. We said that we asked Treasury and Finance to cost Coalition policy on the basis of stated policy and that if the assumptions differed the costing would change, and we gave the example of superannuation where he removed the higher tax on 3.6 million workers on their superannuation that the Coalition had promised. We said they could probably make that costing work out if they retrospectively taxed Australians. They’re going to retrospectively tax 3.6 million Australians but that's only come out today.

CRABB: It obviously made some senior public servants feel very awkward. Do you regret that in retrospect?

WONG: Look, I think it is in the nation's interests for us to call out Tony Abbott on what his real plans are because he has refused to tell people and that's the reality of this campaign and that’s the reality of how he has approached his three years as Opposition Leader.

CRABB: Thank you very much for joining us Finance Minister Penny Wong we are finished with you now and go with our thanks.

WONG: I’m quaking in my shoes.

CRABB: (laughs)

WONG: Great to be with you again.

CRABB: Thank you Penny.


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