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Budget 2017: Transcript of interview with Alice Workman: Buzzfeed: 11 May 2017: Budget 2017

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The Hon. Scott Morrison MP Treasurer





Subjects: Budget 2017.

ALICE WORKMAN: I’m joined now by Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison. Scott Morrison, welcome to BuzzFeed News.

TREASURER: I’m very pleased to be here.

WORKMAN: Or should I say, this is the first informal meeting of the Parliamentary Friends of the Tina Arena Fan Club?

TREASURER: That’s it, that’s it. That’s absolutely it, there are others who are there as we know but they’re not as out about it as we are.

WORKMAN: Did you use any Tina Arena songs to pump you up before the Budget speech? Any Sorrento Moon or Chains?

TREASURER: I love Chains, but I love Overload, Symphony of Life. Every time she plays, Jenny and I go along, it’s a fantastic night. And I got to meet her after one of the last concerts we went to, and I was like, you know, a teenager.

WORKMAN: Well, Tina Arena, if you’ve got any questions for the Treasurer, please feel free to “hashtag” ScoMo Live to us and we’ll throw them at him. Well, Treasurer, just to recap over the last six months, we’ve had penalty rates go for weekend workers, we’ve had uni fees going up in this budget, youth unemployment is high, underemployment is at a forty year high. Is the Government waging a war on young people?

TREASURER: No, absolutely not. I mean we’ve got the biggest package of funding for schools that we’ve seen. $18.6 billion and finally doing it on a fair, needs based assessment. I mean, everyone should be on the same wicket when it comes to schools funding. And whether you’re in a public school, whether you’re in a private school, I mean, I went to public schools. Jenny and I both did, all the way through high school and in primary school. But whatever choices parents are making with their kids, whatever education you’re getting, then it has to be on a fair basis. And when it comes to young people, particularly trying to get into work. In fact, in last year’s Budget, I announced the Youth PaTH Program and that was really trying…

WORKMAN: Which was passed by the Senate yesterday.

TREASURER: Well, yeah, this was all about trying to get young people who had been more longer term unemployed, getting them over some of the big hurdles they have. I mean, we get it, if you’ve been out of work for a while there are just some basic things you need with help, to get into that first job, and to make it stick and make it work, and that all came out of a program that I saw


working really effectively in down in the Illawarra. There was this wonderful group who were taking people. It started off just by meeting kids who were there at the food bank, and then they worked out well they’ve got difficulties getting jobs and they started these pre-work training programs and I said that’s what we’ve got to do and so I’m so pleased the Senate passed it. It means it’s going national, but in this Budget we’ve done an extension for parents next and that’s particularly for largely young mums, and there are some young dads that are part of that. But it’s been a successful program, linking them up to child care support, understanding their education opportunities, helping them work through. I mean if you’re eighteen, you’ve got a young bub, I mean you’re at great risk of spending the rest of your life on welfare unless you can make some choices that get you in a different direction which includes education, training, mentoring support, child care. So we’ve expanded that to 20 more locations. Tens of thousands more places, and particularly in indigenous communities which are also, you know, struggling with that challenge.

WORKMAN: Let’s talk a bit about welfare. One of the big measures in the Budget is the drug testing of 5,000 people on Newstart and Youth Allowance and if people test positive they’ll be put on a cashless card. Now this measure’s been described as random, but the Department of Social Services says that they’ll be using profiling and data and risk assessment to pick the people so isn’t it a more accurate description that you’ll be picking 5,000 people who you suspect or know use drugs and drug testing them?

TREASURER: No, what this is, is a trial, number one.


TREASURER: What we do as a government, is if we’ve got an innovative idea, we’ll try it out in just a couple of communities. Now we did this with the cashless debit card, Alan Tudge did this, and we went into some particular communities and we engaged with those communities. They welcomed us in to run this trial and they proved to be very successful and there were a lot of critics when we tried to do that. But the cashless debit card has proved to be a real help to people to get control of their expenditures, to better use the welfare that is made available to them. Which is there to help them be able to move ahead and make better decisions for the future. So we’re going to trial this with just 5,000 people and if it doesn’t work we’ll stop it and if it does work and it’s helping people well we’ll keep doing it, we’d be silly not to.

WORKMAN: Absolutely, but it’s not university students who may have smoked a joint on the weekend that are going to be tested, it’s people in areas where there is high drug use that will be targeted.

TREASURER: Well, this is where we’ll start the trial, in particular areas where we know that that’s the best place to start a program like this. And it is all about helping people and it’s, I mean drug and alcohol abuse can stop you from getting a job, it can stop you from meeting your mutual obligation requirement, it you can stop you from being in a position to make good choices for the rest of your life and we want to do practical things to help people get over that issue and to be able to have a better future.

WORKMAN: Now, we understand that you’re using national waste water testing results in order to pick the areas of the country where people are using drugs, so is the Government using toilet water to pick where these trials are going to be held?

TREASURER: Well we’re an innovative, agile and flexible Government that looks at all sort of new ways of better targeting…

WORKMAN: New ways and new waste.


TREASURER: We’ve got be smarter. Look, it’s not unlike when in Victoria a few years ago, they’ve introduced a new, basically an empty flat tax on foreign investors, and we’ve got a similar measure in this Budget, and one of the ways you can try and work those things out at a state level is that they go and look and see whether the water’s been turned on or whether the electricity’s been switched on and that’s a way of working out whether those flats are being held empty, which means that’s a flat that a student couldn’t rent or a family couldn’t rent and that does put up the pressure on rents, particularly in Melbourne. I mean, vacancy rates for rental accommodation in Melbourne, I mean people talk about buying homes and yeah that’s tough but 30 per cent of people in this country live in homes that are rented. That’s a lot of people and it’s a lot of young people and in this Budget we also put funding into homelessness support, it used to be temporary and as social services minister I renewed that funding for a few extra years and as Treasurer I’ve made it permanent. And I’ve asked them and told them, I should say, you know I’m not that subtle, I’ve said I want the money to focus on youth homelessness and domestic violence related homelessness. And I did that as social services minister and we’ve seen some really good results. Place like Adelaide for example. When I was in that sector I was blown away by the innovation of a lot of these not-for-profit organisations. I mean it’s sort of a bit like it is a business, you’ve got a really hard problem, you’ve got limited resources, people get pretty innovative and I’ve found some of those organisations probably the most innovative I’ve met in private or not-for-profit sector.

WORKMAN: Well we’ll get to housing affordability in just a minute, but first up we’ve got a question from Twitter you can send us your questions with “hashtag” ScoMo Live, “at Satdsf” says, “Why can’t we drug test politicians? They take taxpayer money just like people on welfare.” And I guess that gets to the heart of what some people…

TREASURER: Show me the bag, I’ll blow in it. Happy to.

WORKMAN: The Treasurer says he’s happy to take a drug test, everyone.

TREASURER: Yeah, get the swab.

WORKMAN: Well, I guess it gets to the heart of what some people are concerned about…

TREASURER: Caffeine’s probably the only thing you’ll find.

WORKMAN: Well, I think some people are concerned that people who aren’t addicts they may be, you know, recreational users might get picked up in these drug tests. Have you ever…

TREASURER: Sorry, recreational users of illicit drugs?

WORKMAN: Like one or two time users who maybe did it months ago…

TREASURER: Of illicit drugs.

WORKMAN: Of Illegal drugs, that’s right.

TREASURER: Illegal drugs, I don’t give a green light to illicit drugs.

WORKMAN: Well, have you ever smoked pot?


WORKMAN: Have you ever used any illicit drugs?



WORKMAN: Would you ever?



TREASURER: Can I ask you the same question?

WORKMAN: Yeah, absolutely not, there we go. Alright, let’s…

TREASURER: There we go, have you ever?

WORKMAN: I would love to take a drug test, let’s do it right now.

TREASURER: Sorry, she didn’t answer that question. Ok, fair enough, you can ask me but anyway.

WORKMAN: Ok, well, let’s move on to housing affordability. So, one of the core things in your Budget plan this week was housing affordability. Young people can take $30,000 and put it into their super accounts to help them save for a deposit. A lot of people, young people out there who earn $50,000, $60,000. They’re saying, “This isn’t realistic for us, we don’t have that money, we’re already paying tax, we’re already putting money into super.” How can they stump up the money to afford a housing deposit?

TREASURER: Well, the Government can’t create money that isn’t there.

WORKMAN: Absolutely.

TREASURER: What we are doing though, is for those who are in a position to save and are saving is we want to give them a tax cut on their savings.


TREASURER: There are other proposals which other people have put forward, and that was the redirecting of compulsory superannuation and things like that. Well you know, that is a topic that has been debated, but what we decided to do, and the Labor Party strongly opposes doing that, what we’ve said is, we will allow people who are salary sacrificing already, but they’re just putting the money in a bank account which won’t get as much earnings as they’ll get in the superannuation fund and you pay more tax. So we’re taking what people are already doing and making it go 30 per cent further.

WORKMAN: Are you saying that $30,000 is all people really need, because…

TREASURER: No. I’m saying that’s…

WORKMAN: How much do you think someone would need realistically, a first home owner, in their bank account to put a deposit down?

TREASURER: It all depends on where you’re buying a house. If you’re buying one in Sydney or you’re buying one in Tamworth, or you’re buying one in Bunbury, or in Hobart, or Launceston, or in Townsville.

WORKMAN: But if you take 20 per cent of a deposit that you need, and you say $30,000 that could only afford something less than $200,000. So if you’re trying to buy…


TREASURER: Well, it can also be for a couple. So it’s two…

WORKMAN: Absolutely. So that’s $60,000.

TREASURER: That’s $60,000. We’re not saying this creates your deposit. We’re simply saying that you’re already making savings and we’ll make it go 30 per cent further. And so that is a help.

WORKMAN: You’ve got two daughters. You live in Cronulla. I think the average house price in Cronulla is around $2 million, the apartments are around $700,000. Would your kids be able to afford to buy there?

TREASURER: Well, we’ll find out down the track, and my kids are fortunate to live in a wonderful part of the world. We think it’s the best part of the country…

WORKMAN: The Shire.

TREASURER: But every part of the country says the same thing.

WORKMAN: “Hashtag” blessed.

TREASURER: “Hashtag” blessed, that’s right. Look, it’s a wonderful part of the country and this is a challenge facing all young people. In Sydney, it’s been that way for ages. I mean, I grew up in a home, we lived with my great aunt and we shared a home with her. My dad was a police officer and my mum worked in admin. When we went to school, there wasn’t child care support back then, and these sorts of things…

WORKMAN: Do you think young people are being too picky about where they want to buy?

TREASURER: I think young people do have it tough. Yes, it is true that these days, and the Labor Party brought in HECS fees right at the end when I was at university and they pay that today. They pay compulsory superannuation today. That wasn’t the case for my parents’ generation, so you know, things have changed and I think there genuinely are a lot of cost pressures on younger people today than existed in the past. But there are also tremendous opportunities at the same time that the current generation has that previous generations didn’t. So I think intergenerational equity is a fair-dinkum conversation. In last year’s Budget, I was attacked for changes I made to superannuation. Now those superannuation changes meant that for a decade, people with superannuation balances over $1.6 million each paid no tax on the balances above those earnings. I didn’t think that was actually fair to younger people. People going through the system now, because there’ll be more people of pension age in the future and the generation coming through now will be paying the taxes to support that. And so the changes we made to the pension assets test in the 2015-16 Budget which I put forward for that Budget, I know I’ve been criticised for, but you know, I stand up for policies that I believe in and I’ve implemented, and then superannuation the next year. That was all about trying to level it up, particularly for younger people coming through are going to be born with those, hit with taxes to pay for what will be services for a growing and ageing population.

WORKMAN: Alright, well we've got one for question from twitter. It’s about a Budget measure that was actually announced last week, it’s about universities.


WORKMAN: So, the plan is that university fees will be going up over the next four years. Someone asks if I’m someone…


TREASURER: Well, the share of the debt. The share of the cost of debt for education for students will go up and the repayment threshold will be brought down. But both of those are true, but the taxpayers will still be paying for more than half on average the cost for every single student’s education.

WORKMAN: So, the question is, “If I’m a university student looking to start a six year degree next year, should I be worried that after the four year plan, which has been announced has passed, at the end of my degree, will fees go up again?” Basically, the question is what’s going to happen after the next four years? Will fees go up in another four years’ time?

TREASURER: Well no, we have no plans for that. I mean, what we've simply done in this Budget is funded the promises that we’ve made for the funding the Gonski 2.0 schools program, the funding for hospitals and guaranteeing Medicare, we’ve made specific provisions with the Medicare levy, to ensure that we can fully fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme once and for all, end all the political fights over that. So, what we’ve put in this Budget, we've funded, we've made affordable, we can do it.


TREASURER: But the only risk, I would have thought, to people down the track would be if spending got out of control, or people make promises they couldn’t pay for. And the only people I know who are at risk of doing that is the Labor Party.

WORKMAN: Ok, so, if you’re Treasurer in four years’ time, will you make a guarantee for uni students that fees won’t go up again in four years?

TREASURER: Well, you keep saying fees are going up - that’s not right.

WORKMAN: Sorry, so there will be a change in the amount of either or whether it be the proportion that they pay or any changes to the amount it costs them to go to university?

TREASURER: All things being equal, if we continue to keep on the Budget track that we’re on, there would be no need for that.

WORKMAN: Ok, my final question to you is about a man you mentioned yesterday who you said was Australia’s greatest Treasurer, Peter Costello. One of his famous policies was that people should have three kids, one for themselves, one for their partner…

TREASURER: Yeah, I’m one short.

WORKMAN: And one for the country - you are one short.

TREASURER: I’m one short.

WORKMAN: Do you think that Australians should still be popping out three kids? Are you going to pop one out for the country?

TREASURER: Well, you may not know, but our journey of having our two kids was quite a journey of blessing. We had tremendous difficulties - like many, many young people have and to those who are going through that and are watching this at the moment, I know it’s really tough and I hope you’ll be blessed in the same way that Jenny and I have been. But, you know, there is no greater blessing in life than your kids. There isn’t. It is the most joyous part of my life and Jenny’s life. The girls were with me the other day, my two little ones, they just had them there beaming - their smiles back at


me the other night. You know it was just really special, but that’s, you know, that’s a gushing dad talking, which I am, and I think all dads are, particularly when they have girls.

WORKMAN: Well Treasurer, thanks so much for joining us live on BuzzFeed news and I think I say on behalf of both of us. Let’s go, Sharks!

TREASURER: Up, up Cronulla!


Further information: Kate Williams 0429 584 675, Sonia Gentile 0455 050 007