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Transcript of interview with Kieran Gilbert: Sky News: 27 July 2016: Royal Commission into allegations of abuse in Northern Territory juvenile detention centres; Normandy attack; Labor's debt and deficit legacy; Operation Sovereign Borders

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The Hon. Scott Morrison MP Treasurer




Subjects: Royal commission into allegations of abuse in Northern Territory juvenile detention centres; Normandy attack; Labor’s debt and deficit legacy; Operation Sovereign Boarders

KIERAN GILBERT: Mr Morrison is the Government open to these ideas of broadening the inquiry beyond just the Northern Territory?

TREASURER: Well the Prime Minister has acted very swiftly on this matter and those terms of reference will be finalised over the period of time we have now. Cabinet will be meeting later this week as we know, and of course we’re engaging with many stakeholders on this issue. So I think the key focus here is Kieran, is to make sure we get this well targeted to ensure we work with those who are obviously key to finding the solutions and to understanding what has occurred here, and to keep it very focused on those issues and the Prime Minister I know if fully attentive to that.

GILBERT: And so will the issue of broadening it, do you think, be something that will be discussed by your cabinet colleagues tomorrow?

TREASURER: Well the Prime Minister, as I’ve said, has moved very swiftly on this, with a great deal of purpose and he’s very keen to ensure this focuses on the issues that need to be addressed. There are of course more immediate issues that need to be flagged in working with the Chief Minister in the Northern Territory. These would need to be addressed also, and these things need to happen in parallel. Setting up the Royal Commission is not a small exercise and you can be sure the cabinet will give due consideration to all the things that need to be included and what it needs to focus on predominantly.

GILBERT: I want to talk about a few other issues, of course some economic matters, in just a moment as well, I also want to get your reaction to this latest terrorist attack this time in Normandy in France, a priest had his throat cut in morning mass, they really are using all sorts of approaches in terms of their terror, we saw that in Nice and now morning mass, a priest killed.

TREASURER: It’s horrific, it’s barbaric, it’s intended to abhor and shock, that’s its purpose and the response that the Government and, I think like-minded countries all around the world, is to continue to show to stoicism that we have, continue to apply our resources and efforts in the areas that make the biggest difference, and keep Australians and other citizens around the world safe. That means continuing to have the very strong measures that we put in place, I mean this Government has added hundreds of millions of additional resources particularly into our security intelligence agencies. And to continue to work with our partners around the world, but also to ensure at home, we’re taking all efforts to engage with the communities where we need to, to ensure we get the best access to the information and ensure that we protect Australians and keep them safe. I mean that’s what our focus is. This event is horrific, it’s barbaric, it’s shocking, and it disturbs us all. But it is


intended to try and distract us, and divide us, from the things that we know will be effective in keeping Australians safe and that’s what the Government is focused on.

GILBERT: Let’s look to the economy now and a report today suggesting that Australia has been the least successful in the advanced G20 nations in terms of controlling spending since the global financial crisis. What’s your reaction to that? Is this a fair assessment?

TREASURER: Well the numbers speak for themselves, if there are deficits and they are sustained for the period of time that they have, then obviously the debt goes up. That’s what’s occurred. And this Government inherited that spending profile. Now we’ve slowed that rate of spending growth. But this is why I’ve been consistent ever since coming into this role, the issue we have to address is spending. That is what’s undermining our ability to get the Budget back into balance and that is what we’ve been focused on. Now that’s why I’ll be continuing to work with the crossbench in the senate, in this new senate, to develop an understanding and appreciation of the real objective here in getting the Budget back into balance and that is to get expenditures under control. Treasury’s advice is very clear; and that is that Australia can not continue to provide the level of the cost of the services we are providing I should say, and either not increase taxes or see the budget go into further disrepair. Now we’re not a Government that believes higher taxes are good for the economy. We think that actually retards growth and puts people’s jobs at risk. So that means we need to continue to work to get spending under control and under the Budget I handed down in May, that saw Government spending fall from 25.8 per cent down to 25.2. And that’s the trajectory we must remain on.

GILBERT: Does is frustrate you as Treasurer, that, as this report suggests by a former figure from the IMF that we as a nation have had comparatively strong economic growth. Is this a missed opportunity since the global financial crisis when we should have been reining in spending as a percentage of GDP?

TREASURER: Well I can’t change what the previous Government did. They did it.

GILBERT: Or your predecessor…

TREASURER: No, I’m not including my predecessor in that. You all remember the 2014/15 Budget, we certainly do. And our efforts to try and rein that in and so it wasn’t bad enough that the Labor party when they were in Government blew up the Budget. But beyond that they continued to sabotage our efforts to fix the Budget, and we continue to remain focused on fixing the Budget, and the question for the Labor party going into this term of Parliament; is will they continue to engage in acts of sabotage on the Federal Budget or will they actually now start working with the Government to ensure that we can get it back into balance now we have measures that we will continue to pursue through the Parliament. We will work constructively with the cross bench, this Government both under Prime Minister Abbott and Turnbull and under Treasurers Hockey and myself have sought to rein in government spending from day one; and we will continue on that task. The question is: will the opposition engage constructively in the national interest…

GILBERT: And your colleagues in terms of the super changes, surely some of your own colleagues need to heed this lesson as well in terms of wanting you to capitulate on some savings in super.

TREASURER: You’re right to say the changes we’ve made to superannuation in the Budget do a number of things; they make the superannuation system more fair, they make it more sustainable, and they make a significant contribution to bringing the Budget back towards balance. Now that obviously has positive implications for reassuring rating agencies; but that alone will not be sufficient I think to address that concern. We need to go far beyond just that single measure, there are many other measures that are in the Budget that go towards achieving that task; that is why we are pursuing these changes. Not just in superannuation but the welfare system and more broadly across


Government expenditure, we need to ensure we continue to get this under control, otherwise the deficits will be higher, debt will be higher or taxes will inevitably rise. Now that is not something the Government has an interest in pursuing. We have an interest in keeping expenditure under control. But for all that, despite that position that is set out in that report today Kieran, we still remain in the G20, the country with one of the lowest debt to GDP ratios, we still remain the country that has one of the highest rates of economic growth of all the G20 countries, and I was just there on the weekend as you know. Frankly, sitting in the Australian seat was the best seat to be sitting in around that table when it comes to the economy.

GILBERT: But you’ve got to move now and continue the efforts in terms of reining in the spending, and you say it’s one element but just quickly, if you do capitulate on this this obviously it’s one element, but obviously it sends a message more broadly doesn’t it, you’re willing to be pressured by vested interests really is what it is here, in terms of some of your colleagues worried about the base.

TREASURER: It’s easy to put measures through a Budget that are designed to get expenditure under control and designed to get the Budget back to balance. Budget repair is not a popular task. It never has been and I don’t suspect it will continue to be in the future, but that’s my responsibility, that’s our responsibility as a Government. We went to the last election and the election before that saying we need to get this under control and we have received two mandates now to do that, and I would be pointing that out to the opposition that the sabotage they’ve inflicted on the Budget over the past three years, it’s time to stop that sort of negative approach and engage in the national interest in getting the Budget back into the black.

GILBERT: Now it’s gone two years to the day since people smugglers have had a successful venture to Australia, that an asylum seeker boat has arrived here, has had to be processed and so on. Can you claim victory now for Operation Sovereign Boarders, as the person who put it in place?

TREASURER: There’s no doubt that Operation Sovereign Borders has been a success. Its first task was to stop the boats, and people said that couldn’t be achieved. The measures we introduced when we came to power in 2013 under Prime Minister Abbott of course, and I was the Minister for Immigration at the time, I think that’s a task that was very much achieved. But keeping them stopped, remains a daily task and I commend Minister Dutton, Peter Dutton, on the great job he has done; and the Prime Minister working together. I mean this is something you need to continue to win everyday. Our Government’s polices, the structures we put in place when we came to Government, which was the fundamental criteria I think for getting success in this area and maintaining it, well that needs to be maintained, you can’t move an inch. You’ve got to maintain the discipline, and the focus and Peter Dutton has done that and he has done it very well. But I particularly commend the men and women who work in the Australian Border Force, those who work across all these Operation Sovereign Border Agencies, the people in the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. They have done an outstanding job, and as we know they’ve often done it under quite vitriolic criticism from people who commentate on these issues. We have saved thousands of lives I have no doubt. That has not been an easy task, not at all, but the outcomes here are things that we very much hope to achieve. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t come without cost, and it hasn’t come without some very difficult issues to manage, but…

GILBERT: It doesn’t mean the boats have stopped coming does it, because they’re just being turned back…

TREASURER: Well, there’s been some 28 or 29 occurrences where we’ve successfully implemented that policy without incident in terms of loss of life. It’s been done safely. Because I remember when we were advocating this policy we were in opposition Kieran, they said turn backs couldn’t be done, and they couldn’t’ be done safely. Well all of those people who said that, were absolutely wrong. And the reason we’re able to achieve it successfully is that we put the careful thought into how we do this, and had the incredibly good work all of those agencies which I mentioned before to ensure it


could be done safely, and the fact it has been done safely I think is a real credit to their skill and their bravery.

GILBERT: Treasurer thanks for your time.

TREASURER: Thanks a lot Kieran, good to be with you.


Further information: Kate Williams 0429 584 675