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Budget 2011: Transcript of joint doorstop interview: Canberra: 11 May 2011: 2011-12 Budget; World Cup bid

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Transcript of joint doorstop interview, Canberra WED 11 MAY 2011

Prime Minister

Subject(s): 2011-12 Budget; World Cup bid

PM: It’s great to be here with the Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer Wayne Swan and I’m also joined by Chris Evans, who very importantly fulfils the Ministerial role dealing with skills. I’ve just had the opportunity to meet some young apprentices here in this fantastic trades training facility. These are young people doing exactly the right thing, they are here getting skills, they are here getting the skills that they will need to have a job for the rest of their life.

We want to make sure that Australians around the nation get the benefit of this kind of opportunity, and that’s been at the centre of what the budget is all about. The budget’s about getting the economic settings right, we are bringing the budget to surplus in 2012-13, back into the black exactly as promised. But at the centre of this budget are jobs and opportunities

for Australians. We want Australians to have the benefits of work, we’ve created 750,000 jobs and we’re proud of that, and we look forward to creating half a million more in the next couple of years.

And we want to use this opportunity to make sure that the benefits of work can come to Australians who have been disadvantaged, who have been left out of the mainstream of Australian life, and who at risk of facing a lifetime of disadvantage if they don’t get skills, don’t get a job, don’t get into the workforce.

There are some very special measures in this budget for apprenticeships, as part of our $3 billion skills package. We know that the great apprentices we’ve seen here today are doing the right thing to get a ticket and get a trade for life, but unfortunately at the moment around only 50 per cent of our apprentices stay the course and complete the journey and end up leaving with that trade ticket in their hand. We want to make a difference to that. Mentoring is really important to helping young people, stay the course and stay the journey. So in this budget we’ve allocated around $100 million to support mentors who will work with apprentices and help them get through, an older person, a guiding hand who will help them

get to the end of their apprenticeship.

And out of that $100 million we’ll also be funding expert advice, because of the reasons people don’t complete is they didn’t pick the right trade at the start, so better advice will mean people are more likely to get into a trade that they love and that they complete.

Also in this budget we will be changing the apprenticeship system so that it meets more of the needs of the modern day. We don’t want people just serving the time, we want people to get the skills, which is why competency based progression in apprenticeships is an important new reform - if you can get the skills more quickly, then you can move through more quickly, and a lot of people now come to apprenticeships having had some basic training, maybe through a school based program or through part time work, and they can get that recognised and move them through the apprenticeship more quickly.

Now these are two measures as part of our $3 billion skills package, but it all adds up to is a budget that is focused on jobs and focused on opportunity, with the resources boom in this country, we’ve got an historic time in our nation’s history to make a difference to opportunity

for Australians right around the nation, we don’t want to see people left behind and putting jobs and skills and opportunity at the centre of this budget is about spreading the benefits of the boom.

We’re very happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you promised a tough budget. Why is that the Government couldn’t match the $50 billion in cuts that Opposition says they can get?

PM: Because they were a figment of Joe Hockey’s imagination. We’ve been dealing with real figures, real money, and making it all add up.

This Budget’s got $22 billion of savings in it. This Budget has, on average over the four years, expenditure growing at one per cent when the economy will be growing at times by four per cent. Happy to do the track record comparisons: the Howard Government, on average, was increasing expenditure by more than three per cent.

Now, at some point Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey have to stop just making things up, and that point’s going to come on Thursday night, when Mr Abbott has to walk into the Parliament as the Leader of the Opposition and give his Budget reply. He needs to present figures that add up.

He has a challenge. His Shadow Treasurer has said he can bring the budget back into surplus a year earlier than the Government in this Budget.

Well, he’s got to show us the cut backs that make that possible on Thursday night.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the West Australian Premier has said that you shouldn’t be milking the mining companies for their profits, and that West Australia and Queensland need a fair share of that revenue. What do you say to that?

PM: Well, the Western Australian Premier, of course, is referring to the Minerals Resources Tax that is in this Budget which will provide benefits to Western Australia: benefits in the form of infrastructure; benefits in the form of company tax relief, particularly for small

businesses first; and benefits in the form of what government needs to do to back in

superannuation for working people, and I’m sure the Premier of Western Australia is pleased to see, in this Budget, the measures which will get more Australians into work with the skills they need. He leads a State that’s hungry for more workers; hungry for more skills; hungry for more infrastructure, and in this Budget we are investing in skills, in working people, in creating jobs and in providing infrastructure.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, what is the economic benefit of giving pensioners free set top boxes, and have you learnt nothing from the insulation scheme where giving away things for free caused a lot of industry problems?

PM: Well, with this program with set top boxes, we have already rolled out 38,000 of them to pensioners - 38,000 already done.

We are going to have a digital switchover in this country, and we’ve decided to assist the poorest pensioners, the ones on the full pension, who are least able to make the switch themselves.

Now, I know from being at home with my mum and dad - I had the opportunity to see them last week - they’re in their early 80s, they’re not great adapters to new technology, that’s the truth. We sit there with my niece and nephew and they look in absolute wonder at the iPad, and they’ve got no idea how to operate it.

Now, of course, they are not pensioners on the full rate of the pension, but I think all of us intuitively know from common sense that a lot of older Australians find it hard to keep up with the relentless pressure of change with new technology. Well, poor Australians, full rate of the pensions, not necessarily able to adapt themselves. I’m not, as Prime Minister, going to have them wake up the day after the digital switchover with no TV.

JOURNALIST: Any chance of answering the question?

PM: Well, I am answering the question.

For many older Australians, the TV is their companion. They live at home by themselves. They’re not that mobile anymore, and the TV is their window on the world. Well, it’s the right thing to do to help them through into the new era of TV - 38,000 rolled out already, and I’ve got the letters in my office from pensioners that have thanked us for doing it.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, just on the measures in the Budget, which are considerable, to provide support for the ongoing mining boom - you’ve got infrastructure, skilled migrants - Bob Brown said the other day that skilled migrants coming into the country were queue jumpers. You’ve got to negotiate your Budget through the Senate in negotiation with the Greens. How can you deal with a crowd that don’t seem, at least in that respect, to be very interested in supporting and maintenance of the mining boom?

PM: Well, you’re making an assumption, and the assumption is that Tony Abbott will be completely irresponsible about this Budget. The weight, first and foremost, is on Tony Abbott’s shoulders.

Now, we have presented a Budget that is right for our economy now; presented a Budget which is all about keeping the economy strong. We presented a Budget which will see half a

million jobs created. We presented a Budget that will get more Australians from disadvantaged circumstances into work, invest in skills, deliver new migrants where they’re needed, as well as show the basic respect and care and concern I think Australians want to show for each other through the mental health package.

Now, Tony Abbott can wander around with his criticisms, but at the end of the day he’s got to make a decision - if he himself can’t add a budget up, and we’ve seen no evidence that he can, then he should pass this Budget, which is right for our economy now.

And let’s be very clear about this - Tony Abbott’s failed the test three times of adding: an $11 billion black hole during the election campaign; a shambles when he tried to put his flood funding package through; a farce last year when he delivered Budget reply speech, deferred to Joe Hockey on the figures who deferred to Andrew Robb who then engaged in a press conference even his press secretary couldn’t bear to watch.

Well, the standard on Thursday night is more than that. If Mr Abbott wants to put a view about this Budget, if he reckons he doesn’t like a cut back in this Budget, he’s got to nominate an alternate cut back which passes the Treasury test.

So, first and foremost, you need to ask Tony Abbott how big a risk is he going to be to our strong economy; how big a risk is he going to be to the jobs of Australians; how big a risk is he going to be to the services Australians need funded from this Budget.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, I’m really not trying to be rude or disrespectful, but I asked you about the Greens, and you-

PM: -And the question becomes relevant only if Tony Abbott is grossly irresponsible about this Budget, so let’s deal with it in sequence.

JOURNALIST: On mental health, your plan, the $2.2 billion seems to include some re-prioritised spending. Are you able to state exactly how much new spending that’s been included?

PM: The mental health package does include re-prioritised spending, that’s right. It also includes new spending over the forward estimates, and we believe that that’s the right thing to do. We believe that services needed to be done better, and that’s been the advice to us from the mental health community and constituency that works on this all the time, but we have allocated new money. Very happy to give you all of the break downs.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

PM: Well, there’s a billion dollars over the forward estimates that we are spending. There is a program that is making way because the view of the community that works in this area is that it wasn’t an effective program.

JOURNALIST: Is the billion new, or is that existing?

PM: Well, the billion dollars is a new investment in the sense that we’ve put it into this package. There is another program we have determined to end because it just simply wasn’t effective.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister would you consider a household with a combined income of $150,000 to be rich?

PM: I’d consider them to be a household that probably wants to have their child go to a great school, which is why we’ve more than doubled the amount of funding going into school education - so their child can go to a great school.

I consider them a household that probably really wants the public hospital system to respond to their needs. If they had an emergency health situation then they would want the public hospital to meet their needs in a timely way. That’s why we’ve invested billions of dollars more in health, and we’ve engaged in health reform.

I’d consider them to be a family that wants assistance with their childcare costs, which is why we’ve increased the childcare tax rebate and under this Budget we will commence to pay it fortnightly. I’d consider them to be a family that’s worried about cost of living, and so it’s the right thing to do to bring the Budget to surplus in 2012-13, as promised, so [AUDIO BREAK] is not adding to inflationary pressures which will be in the economy as we move to

full capacity. That would show in people’s cost of living.

So, I’d consider them to be a family that’s probably got some of those things on their mind as they look at the household bills and make everything add up.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, just on another issue, there’s reports today that the World Cup soccer bid might have been rorted by bidders. Australia spent millions of dollars on that bid. Are you concerned that we were dudded out of the World Cup?

PM: Well, we pursued the World Cup bid. Frank, who worked with us, Frank Lowy, worked long and hard on the World Cup bid. We wanted to see this come to Australia. It’s the world’s biggest sporting event. I’m not here to give a critique on World Cup voting systems, but we were very disappointed, but we believed we put a bid in which was impressive, and we pursued that bid in an ethical and appropriate way.

JOURNALIST: Should they have another look at it, do you think. There’s some very serious questions being raised about the ethics of other bidders, so there’s an unfair playing field.

PM: Ultimately, this is a question that needs to be directed to FIFA, the governing body. What I can tell you is about the Australian bid, which was a quality bid, and of course we pursued it in an ethical way.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, how many families are affected by the changes to the family assistance benefits?

PM: Well, I’m happy-

TREASURER: Yeah, sure.

There’s a pause with the indexation of the top threshold, and around 40,000 families would be affected by that.

JOURNALIST: As there’s bracket creep, won’t that mean that more families, thousands more families, will be affected?

TREASURER: Certainly, over time that number will increase because the pause runs for some years. That’s the case, but what we have to do is to target our payments, and we’re targeting our payments to families on modest incomes.

You raised a figure before of about $150,000 a year. I don’t believe those people are rich, but there are plenty of families on income of $60,000 or $70,000 a year, and, for example, a typical household will have a primary income winner, say $50,000 to $70,000 or $80,000 a year, and maybe a part time bread winner as well, so families come in different shapes and sizes and with different incomes, but what we do is we pay generous benefits to families on modest incomes and it goes a long way up the income scale, even when you combine those incomes.

We believe the pause here is justified in the circumstances we are in. We fundamentally believe in the family payment system. We believe in it because we think parents are doing the most important job in the country - bringing up the next generation of young Australians, but sometimes we have to tighten our belt a bit, and that’s what we’re doing with family payments at the top end.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, do you think that skilled migrants are queue jumpers?

PM: No, of course I don’t.

And Latika, last question.

JOURNALIST: Thank you. Why has the cost of your Computers in Schools program raised again? Why is that cost higher than initially forecast?

PM: Well, we’ve continued to provide computers in schools. We made an allocation some time back to provide the on costs, so there’s a continued investment in that program, which is doing a lot of good work to provide computers to kids in schools.

Now, I know that our opponents like to look to this area for cut backs. Tony Abbott wants to rip $3 billion, almost, out of schools, and he still hasn’t produced Budget papers which show that he can deliver a surplus.

Thanks very much.