The Minister for Financial Services and Regulation
21 October 1998 - 26 November 2001
Interview with Mark Willacy
26 February 2001
SUBJECTS: Labor policy, banking
COMPERE: Back to Australian politics and Opposition Leader Kim Beazley describes them as the 'outrageous comments of a buffoon'. But the Financial Services' Minister Joe Hockey is standing by his warning that the election of a Labor Government would unsettle foreign investors.
Mr Hockey told a gathering of US business people last week that institutional investors were concerned Labor would move to re-regulate banking and use Telstra as a social policy tool.
When he was asked if the Australian dollar would fall if the government changed, the Minister said that's what the markets were saying.
Joe Hockey spoke to Mark Willacy in Canberra.
MARK WILLACY: Mr Hockey, haven't you broken with protocol in running down our political opposition to US business people while you're on what was supposed to be a promotional tour for Australia, not your own government essentially?
JOE HOCKEY: Well in fact what I said was that after speaking with a number of institutions in the United States, for the first time they were asking questions about the Labor Party and what it stands for and, in fact, I didn't have the answers and Kim Beazley hasn't told us what the answers are.
MARK WILLACY: So what was your interpretation of Labor's policy and how did you communicate that to US business people when you addressed them?
JOE HOCKEY: Well I said what is, in fact, the truth. That the Labor Party has no policy at the moment. The perception of the United States' institutions is that well here you have the Labor Party that could possibly be elected on One Nation preferences - that is, the Left Wing Party of Australian politics being elected on the preferences of the far Right. And they seemed to know more about the policies of Pauline Hanson than they do about Kim Beazley's policies.
MARK WILLACY: But did you warn that basically the election of a Labor Government would see the flight of foreign capital which would suggest then that the Australian dollar would be hurt and shares in banks and Telstra would be depressed?
JOE HOCKEY: Well absolutely not. That was a second-hand and third-hand interpretation of what I said. I pointed out that Australia has some fantastic fundamentals at the moment, that we've got strong economic growth, we've got low inflation, that we are a very safe haven for investment.
I also pointed out that the government is continued to continuing with reform committed to continuing with reform. Reform that is going to deliver a stronger and more stable Australian economy.
Now, that is the sort of story that they are aware of but after the results in Queensland and Western Australia, international investors in Australia are starting to ask questions about what the alternate government might stand for.
MARK WILLACY: It's been suggested in one newspaper this morning that your comments in the US were backed by the government at the highest level. Is that right?
JOE HOCKEY: I'm not going to go into that.
MARK WILLACY: It's a simple question, though. Did you have the support of your leadership to make those comments to US business people?
JOE HOCKEY: Well I'm not in the business of discussing my conversations with anyone else in the government.
MARK WILLACY: If we turn to petrol, obviously that's an issue that's still on the boil, especially with your back-bench. The Prime Minister has softened his stance on that. Is it a case that the government is looking at options there for some sort of relief for motorists?
JOE HOCKEY: Well I think the government's always looking at options but petrol, in fact, is a good example of what Kim Beazley doesn't stand for. Kim Beazley's indicated that whilst in Opposition he will oppose excise increases but he won't commit, if he's elected into government, to stopping excise increases.
MARK WILLACY: But is there anything the government can do now to ease the pain at the bowser, if we can put it that way?
JOE HOCKEY: This government is committed to doing the right thing by consumers. We are putting consumers first. We have made our commitment in relation to petrol and that's where it stands.
COMPERE: The Financial Services Minister, Joe Hockey, with Mark Willacy in Canberra.