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

31 January 2011

Interview with Neil Mitchell

Radio 3AW, Melbourne

31 January 2011

SUBJECTS: Floods Rebuild, RBA Board, Tax Forum

MITCHELL:

Wayne Swan, good morning.

TREASURER:

Good morning Neil. How are you going?

MITCHELL:

I'm well thanks. Why are you here? I thought we sorted this out with your boss on Friday.

TREASURER:

Well, I thought I'd have a yarn about it because the Government has got a pretty good case to put and I've been talking to people right around Australia, as I was on Friday, and right over the weekend.

MITCHELL:

Okay. Key question from me: who's going to count the pennies? Who is responsible for the spending? You haven't got a great record of overseeing spending efficiently.

TREASURER:

Well, the reconstruction authority up in Queensland will be the responsible body that will be implementing the policy, implementing the reconstruction and that's where the principle oversight will happen, but naturally at the end of the day political leaders who take decisions about allocating money and raising money are always judged by the public as we should be.

MITCHELL:

So how can you guarantee that it won't be wasted like the insulation program or the Building the Education Revolution?

TREASURER:

Well, can I just go through a couple of those, the Building the Education Revolution in my view has produced terrific value for Australia and wherever I go around the country there's great stories. But of course when you do 20,000 or 30,000 projects then of course there will be some projects where there will be problems. Of course, after all Neil, it's the building industry. So yes, we do need close supervision.

MITCHELL:

But doesn't that underline why you need to watch these dollars carefully in Queensland?

TREASURER:

Too right it does.

MITCHELL:

But you're going to have a soldier in charge of it. Now, with due respect to him, he's a very good soldier, but he's not an accountant and he's not a money manager.

TREASURER:

No, that's right and there will be others on the board and they will be very important. Business expertise –

MITCHELL:

Who?

TREASURER:

Well, the full details of the announcement of the board are coming and I think that when we've put all those announcements out there plus all the checks and balances that I think that the public want, that you're calling for, and that we're committed to, I'm happy to have a further conversation with you about the personnel and all of those arrangements because we're committed to value for money as well.

You see, many people have given very generously and of course through the levy which we're raising to invest in the key community infrastructure we need to get the best value for money. No doubt about that, not contested at all.

MITCHELL:

Is it set in stone or will you compromise and negotiate this through with the Independents and perhaps change it?

TREASURER:

Well, we've got a proposition there which is a $5.6 billion package and $1.8 billion comes from the levy. Something like 60 per cent of taxpayers will pay less than $1. I mean, if you are on $80,000 a year it will be $2.88 more a week. That's less than the cost of a cup of coffee. That's all important. It is important to fund this properly because I think, as the Prime Minister would have said on Friday, we've got twin objectives here. We've got to rebuild Queensland but we've also got to do the right thing by our economy.

MITCHELL:

Well, with due respect to quote Jesus Christ Superstar: that is not an answer. Are you willing to compromise it or not?

TREASURER:

Well, we're going to put the package up. We need the package. It needs to be funded. We're committed to our goal of bringing the budget back to surplus. So we're going into talks with the Independents this week to talk to them. I'd actually like to see some common sense come from the Opposition on this question rather than trying to use it, as they have, as some form of political advantage.

MITCHELL:

So you'll talk to the Independents and you might change if necessary?

TREASURER:

No, no I'm not forecasting any changes at all.

MITCHELL:

What's the point in talking –

TREASURER:

I beg your pardon?

MITCHELL:

What's the point in talking to them then?

TREASURER:

Because we've got a very strong case on the need to rebuild Queensland to provide certainty to Queenslanders. I mean, they're not going to accept it just because we've made an announcement that they should agree immediately. Just like you, legitimately on this program, [they will be] asking me questions not just about the amount but also about the administration. So we'll go through those discussions with them. That's the point in talking to them, going through all of the details.

MITCHELL:

You're a climate change believer, I assume.

TREASURER:

I am, yes.

MITCHELL:

So why don't we need a permanent disaster fund?

TREASURER:

Well, I think there is a case but what we're concentrating on at the moment is on the immediate recovery and the rebuilding. The Independents and others have made the commonsense observation that we are a land of extremes but, of course what we've had on this occasion has been a natural disaster which is sort of unprecedented in our history, particularly in economic terms. So people will want to have that discussion but we can't let it cloud the immediate need to get stuck into the rebuilding.

MITCHELL:

How much will be cut from Victoria spending?

TREASURER:

Well, we're talking to the Victorian government about infrastructure and the phasing of infrastructure projects in that state because there's going to be a fair bit of rebuilding required there and that's part of the package as well.

MITCHELL:

You don't know how much will be cut in Victoria?

TREASURER:

No, I can't give you a figure on that. Our infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese is talking to the Victorians, but cut isn't the right word, Neil. What we're talking about here in Queensland and in Victoria is delaying some projects because other projects will have to have a higher priority because of the events of recent weeks.

MITCHELL:

Well, Victoria seems to think $400 million could be delayed.

TREASURER:

That's what Anthony Albanese will be talking to the Victorians about and that's the normal process.

MITCHELL:

Can I just ask you about another thing quickly. GST – will that be on, now be on the table for discussion at your tax review?

TREASURER:

Well, Neil I'm looking forward to the tax forum that we'll have later in the year but I've made it very clear, the government has made it very clear, that we're not in the cart for raising the GFC or changing its base. I see today there's a call to put the GST on food. Well, the government won't be in that.

MITCHELL:

So no GST on food, but it also won't be reviewed as part of this tax summit if you like?

TREASURER:

Well, the government is absolutely determined and made it very clear that we're not in the business of either lifting the rate of the GST or changing its base. We made that clear from the very beginning but we're very interested in having a pretty informed discussion about many of the recommendations that came through in Henry. We said that was a decade-long process. We are already implementing a number of those very important recommendations and there will be more to be done in the years ahead.

MITCHELL:

Thank you very much for your time.

TREASURER:

Good to be with you.