The Crest of the Commonwealth of Australia Treasury Portfolio Ministers
Picture of Wayne Swan

Wayne Swan

Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer

3 December 2007 - 27 June 2013

29 May 2008

Interview with
Lyndal Curtis

ABC Radio
AM Program

29 May 2008

SUBJECT: FuelWatch

EASTLEY:    

The Treasurer, Wayne Swan, has been forced to defend the Government’s decision to ignore the advice and to push ahead with a national FuelWatch scheme.  He told Chief Political Correspondent, Lyndal Curtis, why the Government decided to reject the advice of four of its departments.

TREASURER:

There was a full presentation to the Cabinet by the Chairman of the ACCC and the Petrol Commissioner.  We went through our normal processes in the Cabinet and the Cabinet strongly backed FuelWatch because it does have the capacity to make the market more competitive and to give knowledge to consumers.  And in this market, knowledge is power.

CURTIS:

You’ve said that the advice from the departments was bureaucratic, that it was not practical and not realistic.  How then can you trust advice from these four departments on other matters?

TREASURER:

We have a full and frank exchange in a Cabinet process.  All ideas are tested.  And on this occasion we went with the advice of the consumer watchdog, which is the expert in the area.  We welcome diversity of views and it’s not uncommon for there to be diversity of views from departments and where departments will not hold the same position as their Ministers.  That’s the integrity of the Cabinet process.  What matters in the end is that all views are contested and the decision is taken in the best interest of the nation.  And on this occasion, Ministers strongly backed the FuelWatch scheme because it has worked on the ground in Western Australia and it will work right across Australia.  It will deliver benefits to consumers out there that cannot be delivered by any other scheme.

CURTIS:

We already know that Martin Ferguson, the Resources Minister, put a position to Cabinet that concurred with his Department.  Did the other two Ministers, the Finance Minister and the Industry Minister, put positions different to those advocated by their Department?

TREASURER:

I’m not speculating about what Ministers said.   We have a Cabinet process and people put their views there and they put them there frankly.  What we then do is take a decision in the interest of the country.  Now, it’s no secret that not everybody agreed with the policy decision.  There’s nothing unusual about that, nothing unusual about a diversity of views.  That happens in a healthy Cabinet debate.

CURTIS:

This is the second leak, second serious Cabinet leak in as many days.  Do you have a problem with a leaker, and will this be investigated?

TREASURER:

Of course it will be investigated.  The law has been broken.  Cabinet documents have been leaked.  The normal procedures will click in and of course it will be investigated.

CURTIS:

This also brings a big political problem for you.  You’ve already had the Opposition saying it will block the part of the FuelWatch scheme which says that prices should be set 24 hours in advance, and that was one of the options the Department recommended.  How big a political problem is this for you and how much tougher does it make you trying to argue that FuelWatch is the right way to go?

TREASURER:

No, what the Opposition have indicated is that they have rejected FuelWatch.  They have rejected the essential basis on which it is constructed.  They’re not supporting it and they have no solutions.  All they’ve got is a series of unfunded, uncosted promises.  Last year, barely six months ago, they didn’t think petrol prices in the Australian community were a problem.  They thought Australians had never been better off and they weren’t concerned about financial pressures around the kitchen table.  They’ve had a sudden conversion.  The problem is they don’t have any policies to match that conversion.  And when they talk about this issue, it is all hollow because they don’t have the capacity to deliver an alternative.

CURTIS:

And it’s the right one, that it won’t lead to petrol price rises?

TREASURER:

The Cabinet is convinced, on the basis of the evidence presented to it, particularly the evidence from the ACCC, that this is the correct course of action in the national interest and in the interests of motorists.

CURTIS:

Will we see more Cabinet leaks?

TREASURER:

We’ll have to wait and see.

CURTIS:

Wayne Swan, thank you very much for your time.

TREASURER:

Thank you.