Source: Prime Minister of Australia
PRIME MINISTER: Great to be here in Adelaide, Leon, and great to be back here on the program.
LEON BYNER: Why are you here, by the way?
PRIME MINISTER: We’re out with the Premier today. We’re announcing the Bickford’s new plant out there which we’re doing together. We put some investment into that project, over $2 million. This is all about driving jobs, driving innovation, supporting local businesses and industries.
BYNER: Well that’s good because the great performer of our economy is the huge surge in mineral and energy exports. We’ve got a $5.5 billion more than we thought we’d get, which is very good. Does that give you a little bit of armoury if you want to further stimulate the economy?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, what we’re seeing – and it wasn’t just that, I mean consumption grew by 0.4 per cent yesterday in the national accounts – so that, combined with a very strong exports performance and you’re right, the minerals sector played a huge part of that. And so why you would do anything that undermined your minerals sector is beyond me and certainly our Government won’t be. We’re very supportive of the resources sector and we want to see that continue. And one particular area we’re keen to see developed is the critical minerals area, the rare earths, these types of things. They’re a quite a boutique area of the minerals sector but there are particular clients for that, particularly in the United States, that’s something we’ve been talking to them about and Japan and other places. So we want to see that grow. But our current account, we’re in a surplus for the first time since 1975. Skyhooks were topping the charts last time that happened. And it’s great to see our export performance being as strong as it is and that doesn’t happen by accident. I mean, we’ve been building our share of trade that’s covered by our deals now from less than 30 per cent to 70 per cent and now we’re working on deals with the European Union and the UK.
BYNER: With regards to the UK, you’ve got this amazing tussle going on as we speak.
PRIME MINISTER: Yeah.
BYNER: Where Boris Johnson wants now to call an election because he wants out, conditional or unconditional, that’s it. How are you viewing this?
PRIME MINISTER: Well look, it’s not for us to interfere in the internal processes of the United Kingdom. I mean, obviously we watch these matters closely. It doesn’t have a big impact on Australia and our own economy. Our own economy is growing. I know it is not growing as much as it has been but the UK economy went backwards in the last quarter. So did Germany, by the way, no slouch of an economy, and so did Singapore, by the way. So in the context of other economies that have gone backwards, Australia has continued to grow. But, you know, he’s got, as I described it yesterday,0 he’s dealing with a bag of full of angry cats at the moment and that’s a pretty difficult challenge for him. But the sooner, I suppose, that the matter can stabilize and be reconciled then that’s in the interests of the broader global economy. But it seems like there’s still a fair way to go.
BYNER: All right. My question of the $5.9 billion more than what you thought you’d get surplus is predicated on this, that you’ve now put in a lot of tax cuts which you would hope will kick in. But the evidence, Prime Minister, suggests that so far people are using it to pay down debt and if they do that, that is not necessarily going to stimulate the economy, is it?
PRIME MINISTER: Well look, it all goes to support people’s overall level of confidence. I mean, if you’re able to… what people do with their own money is up to them.
PRIME MINISTER: We said at the election that we want people to keep more of what they earn and what they do with it it’s up to them. See, I trust their own judgment about what they want to do.
BYNER: Yes, but you’re hoping to stimulate the economy though, aren’t you? Particularly retail.
PRIME MINISTER: I want people to keep more of what they earn. That’s what I really want. They earned it and it’s for them and how they invest it and the decisions they make and if that means they’re reducing the financial pressures on them by reducing their debt burden then that frees them up as well. So look, there are always positives, and only positives in my view, by letting people keep more of their own money. Now, the figures that came out yesterday they were for the end of June. Now, the tax cuts didn’t come in until July and they’ve been sort of rolling out.
BYNER: So you’re hoping for a bump, aren’t you?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, you’d expect that things would improve in the next quarter. And not only that, it didn’t have the full impact of the cash rate reductions either. The first cash rate deduction came in in June, the second one came in in July. And let’s not forget for the overwhelming majority of that quarter we were in an election campaign and people thought $387 billion worth of higher taxes will come on the economy, including on smashing the housing market. And I’m pleased that more recently we’ve seen the housing market stabilize, particularly in the eastern states. I know it’s been tough in South Australia for some time and we’ve seen some improvement there and that’s welcome.
BYNER: After you won the election you made a promise that I always remembered because for me it happened to be something that I’d been talking about a lot here and that is the payment of bills by the public sector but also the private sector. Now, you did say in a speech – and you’d remember this because it was completely your prerogative to do that – that you would demand all Australian companies set out their payment terms and you promised not to deal with companies that do not pay within say 20 days.
PRIME MINISTER: That was for the Commonwealth small and medium-sized businesses, that kicked in on the 1st of July this year.
BYNER: So $550 billion is out there that should be paid sooner. Are we going to see the result of this?
PRIME MINISTER: Yeah this started on the 1st of July from the Commonwealth and the state governments I got their agreement last December that they would give us a timetable of when we’re going to do it now. New South Wales has already moved to that…
BYNER: What about us?
PRIME MINISTER: …and 20 days. I couldn’t tell you off the top of my head, Leon. I’d have to check what the response has been from South Australia. But I do know the Commonwealth, as we promised, moved to that on the 1st of July this year.
BYNER: So you are now saying – just to be clear on this – that as of now if there are companies that are not paying within 20 days….
PRIME MINISTER: No, no, the Commonwealth Government.
BYNER: Yes, but there is also a side of private business to this as well.
PRIME MINISTER: I know, and we can’t compel those businesses on their payment terms.
PRIME MINISTER: What we did is the Business Council of Australia, they have committed and have been signing people up to 30 days and in that speech you’re referring to I was encouraging them to join us at 20 days. But you know, I think you’d do better than that. One of the reasons I’m so keen to see the economy digitised, for people to go to all do electronic and digital payment systems, is if you’re on a real-time payment system what’s called the new payments platform, it came in early last year. Then you can get paid in seconds, not 20 days. You can get paid in seconds.
BYNER: Are you confident that the private companies that haven’t signed up to the Business Council yet are going to do what you’re asking because there is a lot of money outstanding.
PRIME MINISTER: I think we’ll continue to name them where they haven’t. I’m happy to provide you with whatever list we have of those who don’t and we can get that from the Business Council.
BYNER: You’re going to name and shame them?
PRIME MINISTER: Why wouldn’t we? I mean, if you’re a big company and you’re not paying small businesses, you know, in a reasonable timeframe and for, you know… 20 days is a reasonable timeframe, then you’re borrowing money from them at zero interest.
PRIME MINISTER: And that’s not right. They’re not banks.
BYNER: Labor had a go at you and your religion over your refusal to intervene in the Tamil family case. Now, I want to point out, a lot of people don’t know this. Justice Kirton in the decision that the Justice made observed that Nades the father of the family had returned to Sri Lanka three times and therefore rejected the claim that it was unsafe to go back. So are you still going to hold your position here?
PRIME MINISTER: The courts have made their decision and there are still matters going before the courts and I respect the decision of the courts. That’s how we roll in this country. And the decision of those courts have been to find that there is no asylum claim here. Now, on that basis… I mean, it was Labor who said that no one who came to the country illegally by boat would settle here. Well, we’re doing that. I mean, there are about 6,000 others who are going through a similar process that Labor let in. They’ve all had their claims assessed. They’ve been found not to be refugees. They’re going through the appeals process and that’s why when it comes to border protection you just have to be consistent and you have to have clear rules and clear principles. Now we do. If you illegally entered Australia by boat and there was, you know, 50,000 people who turned up this way under the Labor Party, then you have your claim assessed. That’s happened. You can appeal that through the process. That’s happening. But, you know, when it’s done, it’s done. And I understand people’s feeling about this. I understand what motivates them about it and it’s compassion, it’s sincere sympathy for people’s circumstances. I understand that. But, you know, that type of thinking last time led Kevin Rudd to turn the whole show to absolute chaos and tragedy.
BYNER: So even though there are 4,000 examples approximately where the Minister intervened, is the problem, Prime Minister, that this case is now so high profile that you’d be building a rod for your own back by making any intervention?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, it would only exacerbate the first problem. I mean, the first problem is that we have a clear set of rules here and we have a clear policy and so we’re not about to violate that policy. But this would only amplify that even further and I think that’s what shows the inconsistency. I mean, Anthony Albanese said in 2013 that anyone who came illegally by boat shouldn’t be settled here. And then last week he said no, no we should make an exception on this case. Well which is it? I mean, what I learnt through experience in what we did to stop those boats coming is you have to be consistent. You have to be strong. You have to understand that Australians will feel very empathetically about these issues. But they will also, I think, respect the Government simply for being consistent because they know that if we were to fail to do that then the problems of the past would quickly resurface.
BYNER: Prime Minister, our state has had the unfortunate distinction of having two consecutive quarters of negative growth, which is not good. Now, you would be aware that the property sector in this state is in panic mode as our government seeks to extract more land tax from them. And given that you’re trying to stimulate the economy and you’re trying to get people to spend, what is your feeling? Because there’s a re-evaluation going on too so even forgetting the amalgamation policy, people now are getting higher council bills, higher water bills, higher NRM levies. So in one sense, the Federal Government are giving them extra money but our State Government are taking it off them.
PRIME MINISTER: Well, we’re for lower taxes and we’re for taking the pressure off people wherever we can do so. I’m working constructively with all state governments of both political colours. Yesterday I was in Victoria with Dan Andrews where we were announcing additional funding for some infrastructure, a major project there. And today I’m standing with the South Australian Premier and we’re announcing additional funding for Bickfords which is pursuing that project. We’ve got funding, $1.9 billion over the next four years which we’re investing in local infrastructure projects here. The north-south corridor upgrades, all of these projects. So we’re working with them to do what we can to play our role as part of our national economic plan to see South Australia move ahead. And we’ve known here for some time and you’ve spoken about it often, Leon. South Australia has its economic challenges and that’s why our migration program when we’re making further announcements about that today that there are some 23,000 visas which will be targeted towards regional areas which includes all of South Australia. So our plan, our national economic plan, is designed to have a positive impact here in South Australia. But for matters of the South Australian Government and how they’re setting their tax arrangements and these things I’m going to leave to Steven Marshall. I’ll be seeing him later today, I’m sure he’s quite aware of the discussion…
BYNER: Do you have an opinion on this in general?
PRIME MINISTER: Look, I’m not going to second guess his tax policy. I understand it actually results in a lower tax take on land tax.
BYNER: I can show you the budget papers, they don’t say that.
PRIME MINISTER: But my understanding is it results in a lower tax take from land tax. So he’s actually going to get less revenue.
BYNER: Well, $54 million extra on the documents I’ve got. Prime Minister, the situation is that we’ve got terrible delays within NDIS and home care packages in terms of getting them out there to where it’s needed. Of course, that’s got a big effect on the way the economy is working. Are you going to try and do something about it?
PRIME MINISTER: Absolutely. I mean, we’ll have… I’m here today with the Minister for the NDIS Stuart Robert. We’ll be catching up with Nicolle Flint a little later today. We’re sitting down with people who are dealing with the NDIS.
BYNER: There’s a long wait.
PRIME MINISTER: There is and we’re reducing those waiting times. But I don’t disagree that there needs to be more work done. We’ll have 30,000 people here in South Australia who are fully on the scheme and that’s, you know, that’s quite an achievement to get to that. But the scheme is still far from perfect and we need to reduce these waiting times on in-home care packages as it relates to aged care. This is our top priority when it comes to aged care.
BYNER: What have you said to the bureaucracy about this?
PRIME MINISTER: Get it fixed. Reduce the time, improve the paperwork, get the system right.
BYNER: Prime Minister, people are going into aged care because they’re waiting for their packages and they haven’t fronted.
PRIME MINISTER: We’ve increased the number of in-home care packages over the last 18 months to two years in the thousands. But the demand is also great and it’s much better to have people receiving care in-home than the cost of them going into residential aged care. We understand that as well. That’s why we’ve been increasing the number of places and we’re going to keep increasing the number of places.
BYNER: Do you acknowledge that it may be necessary and you’ll wait and see obviously, but do you acknowledge that it may be necessary to offer some further stimulus to the Australian economy that is still very soft? I know we’re all hoping that those tax cuts will cut in and do what you want them to do but if they don’t, do we have a plan B?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, we have a Plan A and it’s being implemented and I mean… see, what is happening in the global economy and the Australian economy now is not a surprise to me or the Treasurer or the Finance Minister, for that matter. We were aware of those circumstances and that’s why we put in place the Budget we did in May. And in that Budget in May it wasn’t just the tax cuts. It was investments in additional skills development, we upped the infrastructure spend by about $25 billion and brought spending forward into the forward estimates. Of that, over $100 billion almost half of that comes within the next four years. So much so that we’ve now got price pressures within the civil construction area because of the amount of work that we’re pushing through the system on infrastructure. So there is a very significant investment being made and so what we will do is we will continue to monitor this closely, but we have a plan. We’re putting it in place. And I’ve heard the Labor Party, as usual, they run around and they throw their arms around and they go into panic mode. That’s not what Australia needs. They just need the sensible, calm implementation of the plan that we put in the Budget, that we took to the Australian people. We’re putting that in place and we will continue to monitor how that’s progressing. We’ll see what happens in the September quarter and that’ll play into what happens in our mid-year economic statement at the end of the year. But look, Labor have often panicked in these circumstances and they’ve run up tens of billions if not hundreds of billions of worth of debt when they were in government when they did panic and we’ll be paying that off for the next 10 years.
BYNER: Can we say, Prime Minister, that you trying to stimulate the economy with your side, the Federal side, that you’re wanting to whip the states into gear to get them to speed up their infrastructure spending because they’re the ones who ultimately spend the money.
PRIME MINISTER: That’s true. And that’s one of the first things I did after the election was sit down with all the Premiers one-on-one and we worked through the entire infrastructure schedule with them and then particularly on urban infrastructure. Alan Tudge the Minister has been then following that up with his counterparts. Michael McCormack has been doing the same with his counterparts with the states and territories to get those infrastructure programs rolling out. So yes, that’s exactly what we’re doing, Leon, and that’s exactly what we should do.
BYNER: Given what’s happening with China do you think you might need another miracle?
PRIME MINISTER: In what sense? Everybody always needs miracles in their daily life, no doubt.
BYNER: But we rely so much on their economy and so are you a little trepidatious about what’s going to happen?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, obviously the tensions between China and the United States on trade are having a big impact on global economic confidence. I mean, the truth is that as these things unfold there are opportunities that present along the way as well. And this is one of the reasons I was up in Vietnam. There are other countries in our region with which our trade relationship is growing. Our relationship with Indonesia is another important one. India is another one and I’ve been engaging with all of those countries and also of course with the United States where we have a great relationship. I’ll be in the White House in a few weeks’ time. So you’ve got to diversify. That’s what you’ve got to do. But that’s not something we’ve just decided to do. We’ve been doing it for five and a half years as a Government in spreading our trade base and that’s why one of the reasons I took up that invitation from the French President Emmanuel Macron to go to the G7 was because I wanted to press the issues of the EU agreement with the German Chancellor and the Italian Prime Minister and of course the new UK Prime Minister in terms of advancing an agreement with the UK.
BYNER: Thank you for coming in today. Straight from the airport, I know it was a bit of a rush but appreciate the fact that you can talk to our state and let’s hope you can get what you’re hoping for.
PRIME MINISTER: Well, that is in everyone’s interests. Our economy is growing and we will always do well, I think, while people are working hard and that’s what the people are certainly doing here in South Australia.