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

21 April 2011

Doorstop Interview

Cairns

21 April 2011

SUBJECTS: Far North Queensland; Budget; Mental Health; Villawood

TREASURER:

It's a great pleasure to be here in Far North Queensland. This is a truly spectacular part of Australia and it's really good to be able to be here to help support the local tourism industry, which has done it really tough, really tough in recent years. The global financial crisis first of all, and of course in recent times we've had Cyclone Yasi, and of course now we've got a higher dollar so some big challenges for tourist regions particularly like Far North Queensland but this is a truly spectacular part of our country. And when I travel internationally I make sure that I tell people that we're open for business, particularly in places like Cairns because the impression the world got during the cyclone and the floods was that a lot of Queensland wasn't open for business that it was all flooded or parts of it had been destroyed. The fact is there's a vibrant community here, a range of great opportunities whether it's rainforest or the reef.

So coming up here as Acting Prime Minister, supporting the tourist industry I think demonstrates how important a place like this is, not just to all of the local residents, not just to the state of Queensland, but to our country. So it's been good to get up here and spend some time talking to some of our local business leaders today about some of the challenges they face and what they think ought to be done well into the future. We've already been putting in a lot of effort in this region in recent years. We've put in place investment, particularly in the local community to keep jobs ticking over during the global financial crisis and we also understand there's more we need to do to promote our tourist attractions not just in this region, but right across the state. So it's good to get an update on how they're seeing our local community.

JOURNALIST:

What parts of the region will you be touring with your family?

TREASURER:

Well, I've got a bit of work to do so I've set up office in the hotel and what I'll be doing there is looking at some of the final aspects of the Budget. I'll be dealing with the normal work that comes across the desk of an Acting Prime Minister and in between all of that I want to spend some time with my family. I certainly hope to get out on the reef one day. Maybe up to the rainforest another. So I think there will be plenty to do.

JOURNALIST:

Treasurer, obviously this is coming at quite an opportune time, you are doing up the Budget. Having seen just how dire some of the situations are in Cairns and the Far North region after speaking to some of the bodies even just today, is that highlighting some of them perhaps and will they be considered a little bit more strongly in the Budget?

TREASURER:

You would have noticed that I've been talking a lot about the patchwork economy in recent weeks and recent months. We have a strong economy on the back of a strong pipeline of investment and strong job creation nationally, but that doesn't necessarily flow to every region of the country or to every business. Some parts of the country are in the fast lane and others have been somewhat softer and of course what's occurred in the last six months is that we've had the full impact of the floods in Queensland and Cyclone Yasi which have reduced economic growth and that is particularly felt acutely in regions like this. So we've got to respond to all of those conditions when we bring down our budget. There's a couple of points I've made about the Budget which are really important for the future. It's really important we bring our budget back to surplus in 2012-13 when that investment pipeline is strong. It's also really important that we make sure that we fund government programs in a sustainable way.

Now I've noticed Mr Abbott today has written a half a billion dollar blank cheque when it comes to his proposals in mental health. The fact is that if you are going to support these programs, do what you can to assist communities, you've got to have a sustainable fiscal position. So for Mr Abbott today to go out and commit half a billion dollars without any sign of how he's going to fund it is an example of just how reckless the Liberals have become when it comes to economic management. During the last election campaign they were found by the departments of Treasury and Finance to have an $11 billion black hole in their costings. What I'm absolutely going to focus upon in this budget is making sure that our fiscal bottom line, our budget bottom line, our budget coming back to black is absolutely fundamental to our future prosperity and that's what we intend to do in 2012-13. It's not something Mr Abbott can do, who would have deficits in every year of the forward estimates and that's not good for the economy.

JOURNALIST:

So has Tony Abbott outbid you on mental health?

TREASURER:

I don't believe so because he can't fund it. He doesn't have a proposal unless he puts forward the financing of it. It's simply not possible to fund it out of thin air.

JOURNALIST:

Are you ruling out a similar size package then?

TREASURER:

The Government said that putting additional resources into mental health was a very important second-term priority. That's our position. We've put additional resources into mental health last term. We also made some strong commitments during the election campaign. So it's a very important priority for us, but for Mr Abbott to claim that he's got half a billion dollars and not tell people how he's going to fund it shows how reckless he has become.

JOURNALIST:

And isn't it time to put more money into mental health given experts are saying $2 billion is needed?

TREASURER:

Well, Mr Abbott doesn't have any money to put into mental health.

JOURNALIST:

What about the Government?

TREASURER:

What the Government will do will be respond to the challenges in mental health and other areas of social expenditure in our budget and what we've said clearly is that mental health is a key priority for us in this term of Government. We've been working with the sector and with advisors in the sector to make sure we can put in place the appropriate settings for the future. We'll do that and we'll announce that in our budget and it will be financed in a responsible way, not the way Mr Abbott is carrying on at the moment in a reckless way.

JOURNALIST:

Treasurer, is it time to rethink Australia's immigration detention centre system given the riots at Villawood?

TREASURER:

Well certainly there's been some really disturbing unacceptable behaviour by some of those at Villawood. We will thoroughly examine events there and respond appropriately but that sort of behaviour can't be tolerated.

JOURNALIST:

Treasurer, what commitments will you be making to Far North Queensland in the Budget?

TREASURER:

Well, I don't speculate about what we're going to be putting in the Budget. I can talk to local communities like I'm doing now and that's why I've been up here. The most important thing is to make sure Australia has a prosperous economy well into the future and to do that we've got to deal with the economic challenges that are before us and bringing the budget back to the black in 2012-13 is a critical part of that.

JOURNALIST:

Treasurer, some people have said that in previous budgets it's taken a long time for funds to actually get here in terms of there's been forums and things like that. There is call for people to see results immediately, immediate funding for projects. Is that something you'd be looking at given how dire the situation is up here in the Far North?

TREASURER:

We have put a lot of money very quickly into Far North Queensland. We did so during the global financial crisis and the global recession and the consequence of that was that many more businesses and many more people were employed who otherwise would not have been. So we have acted across the board, right across Australia, very quickly when conditions have demanded it. There are particular challenges in Far North Queensland and the business people I've just spoken with understand that they are long-term challenges. They're not something that is solved by one particular action overnight at all. There's been a structural change in the nature of the tourism market that has impacted upon Cairns. We are now living with a far higher dollar and that has particular challenges for the tourist sector. They raised with me a series of other issues, but I don't think anyone here associated with commerce and business thinks there's some overnight solution for the challenges facing the local economy here.

We've been working directly with the business sector here for some period of time to respond to those challenges. We did so during the last election campaign and we made our commitment to the Entertainment Centre, then the Cultural Centre when we were here during the campaign. We have responded in a variety of ways. We are in the process of appointing a fly-in fly-out coordinator because the business community here has identified that there are lots of opportunities in terms of the growth in the resources sector particularly to our north. There are a range of things that have been done. Funding of local business centres has been put in place. There's a hell of a lot of things that we have put in place working with the local business community to respond to the current situation here, but there will always be more that can be done but there is no overnight solution. What we need is a sustainable set of solutions, responding to the challenging economic circumstances that we face. Thanks a lot.