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Wayne Swan

Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer

3 December 2007 - 27 June 2013

31 January 2011

Interview with Madonna King

ABC Radio Brisbane

31 January 2011

SUBJECTS: Flood Rebuild, RBA Board

KING:

Wayne Swan is the Federal Treasurer. Good morning and welcome to 612 ABC Brisbane.

TREASURER:

Good morning Madonna. Good to be with you.

KING:

Senator Barnaby Joyce says five out of the six projects to be delayed in Queensland are in Coalition seats. Is that a coincidence?

TREASURER:

Madonna, the decisions that we took have got nothing to do with who represents any particular electorate and frankly I find the suggestions from Mr Truss and Barnaby Joyce disgusting. The fact is the Government has worked very closely with Members of Parliament from all political parties and we approach this issue based on where the damage has been done and we approach it from the point of view of dealing with all Australians and all Queenslanders on the same basis. In terms of the delays, the decisions have been taken in terms of those projects which were not contracted at the time and absolutely nothing to do with the colour of the electorate. I just find it offensive.

KING:

Well, Senator Barnaby Joyce says three of them relate to flood proofing the highway in north Queensland. Given it's cyclone season and there's two cyclones bearing down on us, is that a wise thing to do?

TREASURER:

Yes, it was a wise thing to do. In the case of one of the projects that I'm familiar with, the decision has been taken is to put in place a better solution than the one that has been previously planned. What we've done is sit down with the Queensland Government and come up with a plan for the future recognising that in rebuilding Queensland some projects will have to be slowed down because we have to get stuck into rebuilding Queensland. This is just a common sense approach it's got nothing to do with who represents what particular region. We have all worked out in these regions irrespective of the Members of Parliament that represent them and we've got stuck in and we are putting enormous resources into those parts of the state that need them and it's not based on political colour.

KING:

So how did you decide what projects in Queensland or indeed interstate to delay and what not. Was that you or was it the Queensland government making that decision?

TREASURER:

No, it was our Infrastructure Minister working with the Queensland authorities, the Queensland Government, sitting down and working out which projects would be delayed and what our priorities will be for the future. That's how it was done and that's how it is being done with other governments around the country.

KING:

You're trying to sell this flood levy this morning. Why do you think people are so opposed to it?

TREASURER:

Well, Madonna can I just say there was a fantastic spirit out at the Gabba yesterday. People came out, they donated generously. You could see that people were very supportive of all of the generous support that has been forthcoming and will continue to be forthcoming. That support which goes to the Premier's fund is being used to rebuild households, to support those households that have been devastated. The levy here is actually to rebuild the communities. You see, rebuilding doesn't stop at the gate. Rebuilding extends to the community and this levy will be funding the reconstruction of absolutely essential community infrastructure. So there are two purposes here Madonna. We do need the in-kind donations from business that were evident yesterday. Are evident in places like Goodna where I was on Saturday we do need all of the volunteers and are going to continue to need them for months to come.

KING:

No one disputes that. That wasn't my question. My question was why is this levy so hard to sell? Why are people opposed to it?

TREASURER:

Madonna, I don't accept the premise of your question. Out there at the Gabba yesterday there was a very positive response from Queenslanders. They understand that this has been an unprecedented natural disaster. In economic terms, probably the biggest in our history and it is going to require very substantial resources but we will need the in-kind donations from business, the generous support of people who are donating but we'll also require this government response.

KING:

But no one doubts that Treasurer.

TREASURER:

But it has to be funded Madonna.

KING:

Yes, but with respect you're saying people are very generous at the Gabba. People have been so generous across the board but that's into the Premiers Flood Appeal. I'm talking about the levy that you announced last week where people don't have an option to pay it. Why are people opposed to the levy?

TREASURER:

Madonna, you are asserting that everybody is opposed to the levy. I'm saying that is not the experience that I am having. I'm talking to people who absolutely understand that we have to on the one hand provide support to households but rebuilding doesn't stop at the front gate of the household. What we've got to do is to rebuild the essential community infrastructure. The Federal Government is responsible for 75 per cent of the cost of rebuilding the roads, rebuilding the rail and rebuilding the schools and that is what the levy is going to fund.

KING:

The levy you're exempt from paying if you have been flood affected.

TREASURER:

That's right.

KING:

Does that also include people whose electricity was off for 48 hours?

TREASURER:

Well, it may Madonna. It will depend on the circumstances but the disaster payment that is paid to people, one of the criteria does relate to the electricity being off.

KING:

Can I ask you about that because there have been claims here – that's a $1,000 payment for each adult, $400 for each child. It's non-means tested, it's given out by Centrelink if your power was off for 48 hours. Dozens of examples now of millionaires or of people who were sitting in their beach houses on the Gold Coast when the flood happened of Centrelink almost giving to you as you walk in the door of an evacuation centre. Would it have been better off in retrospect directing that money to pay for the rebuilding or to tighten up the criteria?

TREASURER:

Well, Madonna, I was listening to your conversation at the end of last week with Hank Jongen about this question. I'd like to make a couple of points. If there are people who have been eligible for the levy who haven't required it and have gone in and claimed it then I think they are simply low-life. The fact is that people are in need and the reason that there is a payment, designed as it is, is to deal with the circumstances. You see what occurs in a flood is that people may face all sorts of extraordinary circumstances; they may not have personal identification and so on. And if we were to get really bureaucratic with really rigid rules in the first 48 hours or so then we would be having an entirely different discussion about how we were too rigid and weren't paying people who were in dire need and there will be Madonna, a grey area in the middle.

KING:

So to help all those really in need, some of these are going to slip through the system.

TREASURER:

Yes, some may slip through the system but I tell you what, people in the community won't appreciate the behaviour of people like that, if there are people like that. I've heard one or two stories as well and I've got nothing but disgust for people who do that.

KING:

And just before you go Reserve Bank Board member Warwick McKibbin has challenged you to reappoint him. I think his term expires in July. He's criticised the flood levy. Is there intention to give him another go?

TREASURER:

Well, I don't speculate about our Reserve Bank Board appointments process, but I just make a couple of points. The fact is that we need a degree of continuity on the one hand on the Board and of course we need new blood. I think McKibbin has served two terms, that's a pretty long stint on the Reserve Bank Board. The Government hasn't taken a final decision about board membership as we go forward and we'll come to that decision by picking the best person that's available.

KING:

By saying there is a place for new blood are you indicating there that two terms is a sufficient term to serve?

TREASURER:

Well, I'm not indicating that at all but I think it's just common sense in the case of a very important body like the Reserve Bank Board that it has a degree of continuity but also from time to time will need some new blood.

KING:

Wayne Swan, thank you.

TREASURER:

Good to be with you.