Source: Australia Government Ministerial Statements
RICK NEWNHAM: I want to ask you about election night, it’s around about 8pm on election night, you would have been watching results coming in from around the country, and you would have realised that the swing was on and that you were likely to have been elected, your Government would be re-elected but you needed WA to bring it home. In that moment, how glad were you that you fixed the GST?
PRIME MINISTER: Very. Very, but for a whole range of different reasons. We worked closely with the Chamber, and really with the whole team here, to fix what was a difficult problem that hadn’t been addressed for a long period of time. So it want just about fixing the GST and not just about fixing it, from a broken [inaudible] it was about a Government that was prepared to take on difficult challenges, and we did, and we worked together and we got it done. I think what that said more broadly was about the nature of our Government, and how we can apply ourselves practically, but more important than that it shows that when we all work together and we have great support from Western Australians more broadly, but equally we work together with other states as well and we worked through those issues that they were raising and we just made our way through it. We also took our time, and this was a process that took several years, as you particularly know, and so when we were given the time and space and the cooperation actually to apply ourselves to what was a difficult policy change, we got the result. You know, in the throw away society that we often have these days where people want economic reform and drive through, you are taking away the opportunity, I think, to make some longer term changes. So I think that’s just how we have to approach not just economic reforms into the future… I mean, Australians are very wised up to this whole idea of reform. It can be a fairly frightening word, productivity can be a very frightening word. Often times I think Australians hear, whether its business or politicians or economists or others and they hear productivity and they think, “Oh that means for me, they’re going to pay me less to do more.” No. It is about earning more from actually having to put in the same effort, that’s what productivity actually produces and so I think as we talk about these changes we have to constantly reassure Australians that the changes we are seeking to make are about boosting their incomes, by making our economy even more competitive, even more open, and that the opportunities that are out there, that are in our ability to deal with the many challenges that come our way. So I was very happy. I was particularly waiting, as soon as it got to about 8 o’clock, I don’t know how many times I hit the refresh button on Swan, Steve, but it was getting a good workout.
NEWNHAM: How important will business organisations like the Chamber of Commerce and others be to making that case nationally for reform?
PRIME MINISTER: No one who has an interest in this can afford to sit on the sidelines and expect others to do the heavy lifting. I think this is what the GST issue demonstrated. We all put our shoulder to the wheel together, dealt with the issues that came up together. In this job I get a lot of helpful advice, and that’s great, it’s well intentioned, it’s well meaning, and a lot of it’s pretty good, and you listen to that. But you’re also looking for partners, and I think the Chamber here in my experience, and I don’t just say this here by the way, I say in other parts of the country, the Chamber has demonstrated, I think, a way it should be done, to just work constructively with Government. I know you do the same thing with State Government, a different political colour, but it’s about the issue you’re working on and once you commit to something we know that the Chamber is not going to wander away.
NEWNHAM: So you’ll be heading to the G20 later this week, and meeting a raft of world leaders. One meeting that’s watched particularly, or speculated about particularly, is Xi and President Trump. How important is that meeting, and are you worried about a full blown trade war between those nations and its impact on Australia?
PRIME MINISTER: Well of course I’m very concerned, as are I think all leaders that sit around the G20 table, of the impact that the trade tensions are having on the broader global economy. Because I said in my presentation, the fundamentals more broadly are quite sound, right, I mean far more sound than they were when I was sitting around the Finance Ministers’ table at the G20 a few years ago when we were very concerned about the very slow growth that we were seeing emerge in Australia at the time, and that we saw this as a key thing that really needed to be turned around in the global economy Now the only sort of barrier to that is actually political. And I don’t mean in a partisan sense, I mean by the actions of these key players in at this stage not being able to resolve some pretty significant issues. Now, what I’ve sought to do is, and I think it’s not reasonable for Australia or any other country to be drawn into that dispute. It’s between China and the United States and I think we all believe that we’d like them to resolve this as quickly and as effectively as they can. Now, whether that occurs at this G20 meeting or soon after that, we’ll see. There were the same hopes and I held them when we went to the Buenos Aires meeting last year, which looked promising at first but ultimately didn’t get there. So we’ll continue, I think, to just press the urgency of the need for this to be resolved. Because it is impacting on confidence, it is impacting on investment. It the same time I think that’s why it underscores the need for Australia to reassure investors about the stability that we have and the outlook that we have and the presentation I provided today is intended to make it very clear that our Government is very much about welcoming investment, driving investment, doing what we can to facilitate and ease the process, so if that capital is looking for other places to go then it’s always very welcome here.
NEWNHAM: Top question on Slido is from Warren Pearce from AMEC and it goes with your announcements today. And his question is, the WA Government and many state governments are developing climate change policies. As this is a federal responsibility, what is your advice to these governments?
PRIME MINISTER: On climate change policy? Look, I’d say this – the election, I think, affirmed the clear demand by the Australian people that Australia continue to take action on climate change. It wasn’t an election about to take or not to take action. Both sides of politics put forward plans to take action on climate change. Those who think it was a repudiation of that I think have misread what occurred at that election. We put forward a very credible plan to address climate change. With Melissa, and with Angus Taylor, and the point about it, it’s a very practical issue. There are targets, you set them, and then you have programmes to meet them. You count the cost of doing that, and you weigh that up as part of your broader economic and environmental balance of policies. Now as early as I think, Melissa I remember it was February we presented that down in Melbourne and we set it out, tonne by tonne, how we would achieve it. And so I think that is the certainty that’s required. What’s the target? Now our target hasn’t changed, it’s been I think 26 per cent ever since it was first set under the Abbott Government. Maintained under Malcolm Turnbull’s Prime Ministership, and maintained under mine. So that 26 per cent has not altered. The debate is between 26 per cent and 45 per cent, and what Labor were unable to do during that election was to spell out what the cost of that was, and how they were going to achieve it. So not surprisingly, no one bought that pup at the election. Now, we must continue to take action on climate change and we will. But I think Australians will know that we’ll keep a healthy balance in how we go about that. So we are committed to it, and we are committed to the plans we’ve laid down. And we will work closely with the states and territories in what they do to also meet those goals.
NEWNHAM: To go to your income tax cuts that you took to the election, what impact do you think the economy… it would have on the economy if those aren’t passed in full? How do you think Labor’s going to play it in the sitting week?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, the impact would be obvious, it would be a real blow to consumer confidence. As I said, the tax cuts that are available in that first phase are the equivalent of 225 basis point rate cuts, and I think that does respond very well, I think, to the… I wouldn’t call it the challenge, but I’d call it the invitation by the Reserve Bank on government policy more broadly, I meet quite regularly with the Governor, and the Treasurer meets even more regularly, and we’ve always understood that to drive the economy to the place we need it to go and in some difficult headwinds that we need the infrastructure, we need to be opening up your trade, you need to be dealing with our regulatory barriers, you need to do all of these things, that’s the bit we have to do because there is a limit to what monetary policy can do. And when you sit around the G20 table, particular with Finance Ministers, I think is one of the real virtues of the G20 because it originally started as a Finance Minister’s initiative, you also have all central bank governors there and they have been making the point for some years now that monetary policy can’t do it all, it has to roll, and the stability that has come out of the Budget reforms and all of these things has been very positive to inoculate the financial system from the types of risks that we saw in place, you know, a decade ago. But on the economic reform side, we need to continue to do the lifting.
NEWNHAM: So you’re saying the RBA have been suggesting they can’t do it all on their own [inaudible] the government’s got a pretty good balance sheet, pretty low cost of borrowing, would you consider further infrastructure spending to pick that up even more in the future?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, there’s one part I missed out in response to your question, what will Labor do on tax cuts. Well, look I think they’ll continue to make excuses, they’ll continue to tear themselves apart over this. And all they’re saying to the Australian people is that they haven’t listened to the one-in-a-hundred year message that they’ve just sent them. So I don’t think… Labor sees tax cuts as a cost, but you pay tax to the government. It’s a cost that you pick up. We don’t send you the money. You send us the money. So when you get to keep more of it, that’s you keeping your own money. And I think Labor has always struggled with this idea. When I was Treasurer, I abolished the word ‘tax expenditure’, I never liked it. Because a tax cut is just Australians keeping more of what they earnt and that they are not then obliged to pass on to the Government, which means they will spend it themselves, on what they think is most important. Labor always thinks that your money’s better off in their pockets, so they can spend it plus a bit more and drive us into debt. So that’s where I think Labor are still wrestling. They don’t get the aspiration side of what the package is about, they don’t get the fact that making a change to reduce the 32.5 cent tax rate down to 30, you know, for people earning between $45,000 and $200,000 is a significant change, but fiscally it has to be absorbed over time and that’s what we’ve done with our three-stage plan. First, we legislated the first part of that three stage plan a year ago, and they said they were never going to support that either, but the Parliament did and we’ll continue to work closely with the Parliament. But at the end of the day I would hope that Labor would, you know, have a conversation with reality and come to the table and do what Australian’s have asked them to do. Now on the other issue of infrastructure, we’ve already got a hundred billion dollar plan. There are right now more projects than you can literally poke a stick at, and the projects that we now must focus on are the ones that are there. So the focus of our infrastructure programme is very much on implementation. We’ve got a very big pipeline of projects and now it’s just about execution and that’s why I’m meeting with the Premier today and meeting with the Premiers’ of New South Wales and Victoria as I will with Queensland and SA and Tasmania and so on. It’s important that we now just get it done. And so if anything, it’s not about increasing the size of the envelope, it’s just about increasing the capability for these projects to roll out. That’s where I’d say the focus is on to. We’re not in want of more projects, I think, what we’re in want of is increasing our capability to actually get them happening.
NEWNHAM: So I said this would be a wide ranging interview, did you enjoy the State of Origin last night? Obvious question really given the outcome, but can you see it being Perth being a permanent fixture?
PRIME MINISTER: Well the first part of your question is an obvious answer, I had a wonderful time. Commiserations to Queensland, but no doubt they’ll come back as strong as they always do in the decider in Sydney in a few weeks time. I had the opportunity last night to meet with players from both of the teams and I have no doubt, looking at that steely determination in a few of those Queenlander’s eyes last night, that they’ll be back with interest in a couple of weeks. And my Blues with Freddy will have them more than ready. But for Perth I thought it was a spectacular event, even with the weather I thought it was great to have a record crowd there at the stadium. I mean, this is a tremendous legacy of Colin Barnett that he’s left to this state and I pay tribute to him for that and Perth now has, I think, a very righteous claim as being an events capital of Australia and it will continue to compete strongly with the other cities in Melbourne, and Sydney, and Brisbane, and Adelaide, and so I think you’ve made a huge claim last night and the fact that so many east-coasters came across and to see all of those supporters there last night fully engaging and Western Australian’s embracing it. I mean, the numbers… I was talking to Cam Smith last night, a Queensland Origin legend, and we were talking about how much it felt like the first time Origin went to Melbourne and the way the city, even though it wasn’t a rugby league city, embraced the game and embraced the event. So the event is not just about what happens in the stadium on the night and how good the fixture is. It’s the leadup to the week, it’s the atmosphere that’s created and the buzz around the city and the media coverage and all that, that’s what creates, I think, a great vibe and I thought Perth delivered that in spades.
NEWNHAM: I’m going to acknowledge the Opposition Leader Liza Harvey is here today and her role in getting that built.
PRIME MINISTER: You did Liza, that’s a tremendous legacy.
NEWNHAM: One last question, and we’re almost out of time, it’s about the importance of delivering on election commitments now you’ve won the election. It’s a particular commitment in the seat of Pearce, and I know the Attorney-General is here today. I’m not sure if you’re aware Prime Minister but the Attorney-General committed to getting a tattoo if his margin increased, and it did, and I just wanted to let the Attorney-General know that we’ve got a tattoo artist waiting outside in case he hasn’t, and do you think it’s an important commitment to deliver on Prime Minister?
CHRISTIAN PORTER: PM, I already did it.
PRIME MINISTER: There you go. He’s already ahead of the curve. Christian is always ahead of the curve.
PORTER: It was a core promise.
PRIME MINISTER: On the serious issue of the commitments we made during the election, obviously in Steve’s electorate and the other things we committed, this is an important part of the compact that you have. The commitments that we made during the election were carefully considered, and the core job that I’ve given to all of our members, and Vince Connolly, I’m not sure if Vince is here, the new member for Stirling, all of our members, their job is to make sure that our Government delivers these on the ground and they will be the shepherds of that process in terms of their own electorates. And they know they can walk in to my door anytime if any of these projects are falling behind the timetable. We made those commitments and when you make them, you keep them. I made a commitment to fix the GST and we did. You can expect the same sort of follow through from my Government on these electorate level commitments as you can on the big ticket items.