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

18 February 2011

Doorstop Interview

London

18 February 2011 (Australia)

SUBJECTS: G20; AWU Conference Comments; Flood Levy; Meeting with Chancellor Osborne

TREASURER:

Well, it is good to be here in London. The relationship with the UK is highly valued by Australia, and to that end this afternoon I have met with the Chancellor, Mr George Osborne, for the first time on his home turf, as well as meeting with business people and investors this afternoon talking about the strength of the Australian economy, and although while we have had some impacts from the floods and cyclone, the underlying fundamentals of the Australian economy are strong.

I am also here because I am going to the G20 meeting in Paris – and of course, the G20 met here two years ago to take some fundamental decisions which have been responsible for the recovery around the globe from the global financial crisis and the global recession. But of course, more work needs to be done this weekend to make sure that we put in place the settings for the years ahead.

I guess being here is a reminder of just how significant the global recession has been in terms of its impact. In Australia, we recovered quickly – we have a strong economy, and there could be no figure which is more important than the fact that in Australia unemployment is 5 per cent, but here in the euro zone it remains high at 10 per cent. That is why the meetings this weekend are important to make sure that the policy settings, particularly when it comes to the Framework for Strong and Balanced Growth are right for the future.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Swan, can you tell us just a little bit more about the investors that you met with today, what you were talking about and who you met with?

TREASURER:

Well, I met with a group of investors from a variety of companies and talked about the underlying strength of the Australian economy and why Australia is such a great place to invest. I pointed out that unemployment is 5 per cent, very low by international standards; that we have a strong pipeline of investment; the fact that public debt, net debt in Australia is very low; and that we are bringing our Budget back to surplus in 2012-13. They are all very good reasons for investors to look at Australia and to invest there, because it is a good place to invest and a good place to do business.

JOURNALIST:

And what was the response?

TREASURER:

Well, I think that the Australian story is widely understood, particularly in this region. Many people have looked at Australia and wondered why Australia did so well during the global financial crisis and the global recession. I took some time to talk about the strength of our public finances, to talk about the good work that has been done by our regulators, the fact that the Government is bringing the Budget back to surplus in 2012-13, and the fact that we are located in Asia which is increasingly going to supply a greater proportion of global growth. They are all very good reasons to invest in our region and particularly in our country.

JOURNALIST:

You have pruned $360 million I think off your proposed savings to fund the…

TREASURER:

No, I think that the correct figure is $100 million, we have said that we will make that adjustment as we go through to the Budget. We have said that we will make further savings in the Budget and we will do that, and we will outline that on Budget Night.

JOURNALIST:

So you don't know yet where that money is going to come from?

TREASURER:

Well I have said that we would find further savings in the Budget as it has become clear that following the announcement of our $5.6 billion dollar package in response to the flood crisis, that more would need to be done – particularly given the fact that we have had Cyclone Yasi, a category five cyclone. We will find further savings in the Budget and make the adjustment there as we do.

JOURNALIST:

You said on Tuesday that what you have learnt from the AWU about fairness still guides you in your political life. Was it fair for the AWU this week to attack Rio in the way that they have, to you know, saying that they would be ‘better managed by monkeys' and that they are trying to rip off their workers?

TREASURER:

Look, I absolutely believe that we do need strong public debate in this country. Some commentary has been made this week by union leaders at the AWU about people in business. I made it really clear when I spoke to the AWU conference that as we go forward in terms of industrial relations, that negotiation and co-operation is the way to go. Now there has been a few things said about a few people about other people. Most of those people are big enough and ugly enough to look after themselves. I am not going to referee those sorts of stoushes from halfway around the world.

JOURNALIST:

But the Prime Minister and several senior Ministers have come to Mr Emerson's defence, you do not feel the need to do that?

TREASURER:

I think that Mr Emerson is a great Minister, he is a very good Minister in a good government, and he does his job very well. The fact is that from time to time, people will express opinions – I have had plenty expressed about me and vice versa from time to time. That is the way that public debate goes. The most important thing that we need when it comes to industrial relations is goodwill, negotiation and co-operation – and those were comments that I made at the AWU conference.

JOURNALIST:

When you don't want to defend Mr Emerson in that way…

TREASURER:

I am sorry, I am defending Mr Emerson. I think that Mr Emerson is a good Minister…

JOURNALIST:

So sorry, so you are criticising the AWU's comments?

TREASURER:

What I am saying is that we have strong and spirited public debate in the country. There are plenty of people that will make commentary about me, other Ministers and vice versa. It happens all of the time. Mr Emerson is a good Minister in a good government.

JOURNALIST:

Because Joe Hockey says that you are basically in the pay of the AWU and you are too much of a coward to criticise them.

TREASURER:

Does anybody (seriously) take Mr Hockey seriously anymore?

JOURNALIST:

Are you sitting on the fence with this issue? Is that what you would say?

TREASURER:

I hardly think... I am halfway around the world. Craig Emerson is a good Minister, there has been a spirited debate, there has been a few colourful descriptions used. They are all big enough and ugly enough to look after themselves.

JOURNALIST:

At the G20, if we could get to the G20, Christine Lagarde says that she would like to see some sort of tax on financial transactions, even if America is not on board. Would you support that, do you think that is a goer?

TREASURER:

Well, first of all a tax on financial transactions will not work unless everybody is on board. So we should be very clear about that. It will be one of the matters that will be on the table this weekend. But I don't intend to pre-empt the outcome of the meeting.

JOURNALIST:

So you would support a tax, but not without the Americans?

TREASURER:

No, I am not supporting a transactions tax, but I have not seen the debate, I have not seen the commentary. I just make the very simple point that you couldn't have one unless everyone was on board. I am not supporting a transaction tax, I haven't been in the cart for it, but I will go along to the meeting and have the discussions with the people that are there.

JOURNALIST:

We've heard of some Greens support for the flood levy in Australia. On another front, the Greens are proposing that there be scrapped transaction fees on ATMs. Are you up on that issue and can you give us your take?

TREASURER:

Well, I am not going to engage in a commentary on everything that has been said halfway around the world overnight, but I will make this point about ATM fees. Substantial reforms have already been put in place, which have resulted in very significant savings for Australian consumers. What we do need to do is to make sure is that system delivers good value to Australian consumers, and that is the subject of further work and scrutiny from the Reserve Bank.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Swan, can you tell us what the Chancellor George Osborne wanted to know from you today, when you had your chat? Did he ask for any advice?

TREASURER:

Look, we had a good chat about the G20, we had a good chat about economic conditions in Europe, a good chat about economic conditions in Australia, I brought him up to speed on [tape break]

JOURNALIST:

(Inaudible) when you get to Paris?

TREASURER:

Well, I certainly think that Australians appreciate the support that they have received, particularly from people in the UK but more broadly around the world at this time of very great stress and need for so many of our communities which have been shattered by both flood and cyclone. They very much appreciate that support and I have found in the very short time that I have been here, and I am sure when I am talking to Ministers tomorrow, that I will receive that yet again. But I also have to make the point that Australia is still open for business. We are a big country, we have got a strong economy and everyone who is thinking of coming to Australia should still come because there is plenty to see, plenty to do, and a pretty healthy economy.

JOURNALIST:

So on an international platform, you'd like to move past the natural disaster focus?

TREASURER:

No, I think that it is only natural that people will talk about those issues. But I think that we also have to keep in mind that there are plenty of people who work in our tourist industry, and they need tourists to continue to visit Australia. The fact is that whilst there has been a substantial impact in some communities, that has hurt a lot of people, the economy is still open for business and there is still plenty to do.