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Transcript of doorstop interview: Canberra: 27 August 2012: Mr Howard’s speech on WorkChoices and endorsing the strength of the Australian economy; industrial relations; Mr Howard’s suggestion that the GST should be applied to food; polls; NT election

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THE HON WAYNE SWAN MP Deputy Prime Minister Treasurer


27 AUGUST 2012


SUBJECTS: Mr Howard’s speech on WorkChoices and endorsing the strength of the Australian economy, industrial relations, Mr Howard’s suggestion that the GST should be applied to food, polls, NT election

TREASURER: This morning we’ve got the publication of a remarkable speech from John Howard in this morning’s Financial Review, where John Howard has talked about the strength of the Australian economy, its stand out performance, our levels of debt and of course our low levels of unemployment.

I’d just like to quote from that speech, “When the Prime Minister and the Treasurer say that the Australian economy is doing better than most, they’re right. I agree with them. There’s no doubt that the Australian economy is doing better than most, our unemployment is remarkably low, our debt to GDP compares very favourably on all the measurements, our inflation is low.”

Well if it’s good enough for John Howard to acknowledge the strength of the Australian economy, it ought to be good enough for Tony Abbott. I think what John Howard is saying this morning is that enough is enough.

Tony Abbott should stop talking down the Australian economy and [start] telling the truth about it. Because when a political leader like Mr Abbott trashes our economy day-in, day-out, that does have an impact on confidence.

Now he’s been out there saying that the carbon price will put a wrecking ball through our economy. He’s been out there saying it month after month after month. It’s about time Tony Abbott started telling the truth. We saw on Saturday that Tony Abbott has finally been mugged by reality and he started to walk back a little bit on his outrageous claims about carbon pricing.

But I think what we can see in this speech from Mr Howard today is some honesty about the economy. It’s about time we had some from Mr Abbott - enough is enough.

Now we’ve also seen today some further honesty if you like from Mr Howard talking about how the Liberals ought to bring back WorkChoices. He says “I think we have to address this issue again.”

I think you can bet your bottom dollar that Mr Howard, who was a Liberal Prime Minister for 12 years, is talking about bringing back WorkChoices, then you can bet your bottom dollar that Mr Abbott is bringing back WorkChoices.

I think we can see in the speech from Mr Howard overnight the traditional Liberal commitment to ripping away workers’ wages and working conditions. You can see him expose Mr Abbott when it comes to the economy and the scare campaign he’s been running on carbon pricing.

But I think there’s a couple of things that run through all this, particularly when you look to Queensland. You can see up there the big cuts to public services, the big cuts to jobs. You can see Mr Abbott in recent days talking about taking the axe to education. And now you can see the Liberals calling again for the reintroduction of WorkChoices.

That is the Liberal agenda. You can see it in operation in Queensland. And Liberals do what Liberals always do - which is attack the wages and working conditions of working people and slash their services, particularly in health and education.

JOURNALIST: Do you think that the details of this speech were leaked would indicate that someone’s trying to wedge Tony Abbott?

TREASURER: I can’t speak for how the..

JOURNALIST: That’s how it does appear though?

TREASURER: I think what’s most important here is the substance. The Australian economy is in good nick, its economic fundamentals are strong. Despite all of that we’ve had this scare campaign from Mr Abbott talking our economy down, month in, month out.

Today, Mr Howard, a Liberal Prime Minister for 12 years has belled the cat on those scare tactics. This should be severely embarrassing to Mr Abbott. I think what we should have from Mr Abbott is an apology for the scare campaign and the talking down of our economy that we’ve seen over the past 12 months.

JOURNALIST: On industrial relations, we’ve got Daniel Grollo talking about a campaign, a systemic long-term threat against his company by unions. We’ve seen the Grollo scab posters pop up in Melbourne. Something obviously needs to be done here.

TREASURER: We’ve got a report which has come to us into the Fair Work Act, we’re responding to that. There are measures that are open to Mr Grollo through the legal system, he ought to take them.

JOURNALIST: Mr Howard suggested we return to an IR system, the IR system that we had in this country from 1996 to 2005, where there was a form of individual contracts. Is that something the Labor Government will consider reintroducing?

TREASURER: No. We would never consider that. We got rid of Workchoices which was a fundamental attack on wages and working conditions. Not only is Mr Howard talking about bringing back Workchoices, he’s also talking about bringing back the GST on food. I think we ought to see what Mr Abbott has got to say about that.

But I can tell you from the Labor perspective, we would never consider touching the level or the base of the GST. Unlike the Liberals, who’ve always harboured a secret desire to lift up the GST, to jack it up and spread the base.

JOURNALIST: Labor’s had another positive result in the polls this morning. Your primary votes gone up. 67 per cent support offshore processing on Nauru. Do you think that that has been a major factor in today’s poll?

TREASURER: I’m not going to break the habit I’ve discussed with you on many occasions. I don't comment on the polls, whether they’re going up or whether they’re going down for that matter.

The fact is that what we have to have in this country is a contest of ideas and a contest of policies. And this Government has put in place some fundamental reforms which will make our economy more prosperous for the future and in that we’ve been opposed by the Liberal Party tooth and nail and their fraudulent campaign has today been exposed by the former Prime Minister, Mr Howard.

JOURNALIST: Just had a poll on Saturday in the Northern Territory. What are the lessons for Labor out of that?

TREASURER: I think that was largely decided on local factors.

JOURNALIST: What about Indigenous Australians abandoning Labor?

TREASURER: I think that was largely decided on local factors.

JOURNALIST: Could you live on $35 a day, Treasurer?

TREASURER: I think there’s a debate we’ll have on the level of payments and our social security system when it comes to people who are unemployed. What this Government has focused on is getting people into jobs, 800,000..

JOURNALIST: Could you live on $35 a day?

TREASURER: 800,000 Australians are in work and we’ve put massive amounts of resources into ensuring that more people get into work and that’s been the Government’s priority. Plus, in the budget there was an increase in supplementary payments for people on unemployment benefits recognising that they needed additional assistance.

JOURNALIST: Just on the poll. Do you think the carbon tax has been the circuit breaker that you spoke about and the Prime Minister spoke about?

TREASURER: I think what we’ve seen is that the outcomes following the introduction of the price on carbon have put a wrecking ball through Tony Abbott’s credibility.