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

6 September 2011

Interview with Sabra Lane

ABC Radio, AM Program

6 September 2011

SUBJECTS: Opinion polls; people smuggling; NSW Budget increasing electricity prices; Don Argus

LANE:

Wayne Swan, good morning. Welcome to AM.

TREASURER:

Good morning Sabra.

LANE:

First to Newspoll.  The Prime Minister's personal approval rating is at a new low.  Ms Gillard is now at a net approval rating of -45 [points]. Tony Abbott is 9 points clear as preferred Prime Minister.  The PM's figures almost match Paul Keating at his most unpopular.  They're pretty grim figures.

TREASURER:

Well, Sabra, I don't think anybody would be surprised with the opinion polls we've seen today given the last couple of weeks that we've had.  Putting in place the most important reforms in a generation in this country was always going to be very hard and indeed it has been.  I mean, we‘ve had a kick in the guts from the High Court for example.  They unexpectedly changed direction.  We're going to go back now and study those legal opinions and do our very best to put in place a policy and a framework that works for Australia.  Julia Gillard is doing the hard yards.  She's got the long-term national interest to the very forefront of her policy agenda and the Government's policy agenda and we're going to fight for it.  Julia Gillard and I didn't get into politics to shirk the hard decisions.

LANE:

Kevin Rudd's now 33 points ahead of Ms Gillard as the best candidate to lead Labor.  Is there any way you would countenance a return of a Rudd Prime Ministership?

TREASURER:

Julia Gillard is tough as nails.  She's up for the job because she understands the importance of these very significant reforms for the long-term national interest of this country and she's going to fight very hard for them and she's a leader that's got the Party's support 100 per cent.

LANE:

Nice try.  Would you like to answer the question?

TREASURER:

Well, I have answered the question.

LANE:

Is there any chance of a return of Kevin Rudd?

TREASURER:

There's no chance of us doing anything other than getting stuck in there behind Julia Gillard and putting in place these really hard reforms.

LANE:

The Party is not for changing.  You'll stand by Ms Gillard no matter what even if you - on today's figures, Newspoll figures - you stand to lose 30 seats including nine Ministers?

TREASURER:

Look I don't govern, Julia Gillard doesn't govern, the Labor Party doesn't govern by opinion polls.  What's most important is to get decisions right for the country.  How would we look our kids in the eye in 20 years time and say that we shirked a very big reform like carbon pricing because of the odd opinion poll?

LANE:

Cabinet met for three and a half hours yesterday to discuss what to do following last week's High Court ruling.  Have you decided how to fix this issue?

TREASURER:

Well, we're working our way through the implications of the High Court decision.  That's the important thing to do in these circumstances.  We will go through that methodically, work our way through, consult widely with the community, consult with our Caucus members, and the Cabinet will take a decision about this.  It's a very important decision.  The Malaysian decision that we took is the best option, in the view of the Government, to break the people smugglers' model and to put in place a set of arrangements which is sustainable and workable over time.

LANE:

Are you determined to amend the law to try and make this Malaysia solution work?

TREASURER:

Well, it's fairly clear that the law will have to be amended if there is going to be overseas processing.

LANE:

The Prime Minister is off to the Pacific Island Forum in New Zealand today.  Will she meet with Nauru's President?

TREASURER:

Well, I'm not aware of her program while she's there but I gather there's going to be a lot of dignitaries there and I'm sure she'll be talking to all of them.

LANE:

The New South Wales State Government will hand down its budget today.  It's lifting its mining royalties by nearly a billion over four years.  WA did the same thing earlier this year and under the mining tax proposals that are yet to go before Parliament. The Commonwealth has promised to refund the mining companies that money.  How is this not a money-go-round…

TREASURER:

Well, we haven't seen the detail as yet but as I understand it from the papers Mr O'Farrell is going to jack up electricity prices substantially and is going to be running a relatively large deficit.  I think he's simply looking for a distraction.  We'll look at the detail but of course the MRRT is very important.  It makes sure that Australians get a fair share of the profits which come from very profitable mining companies and what we're doing with that revenue is giving a company tax cut, a very big tax cut to small business, but also most importantly - particularly for New South Wales - is that we are going to provide funding for critical infrastructure in mining regions.  Now, if Mr O'Farrell wants to take this action then that will simply mean less money for infrastructure in places like New South Wales.

LANE:

Alright so you're threatening to strip them of…

TREASURER:

No, I'm not threatening to strip them of anything.  The fact is that we announced the MRRT.  It's a very important reform in terms of mining taxation in Australia and Mr O'Farrell wants to go down that road.  That will simply mean there is less money and most particularly less money for the investment in infrastructure.

LANE:

Well, when Western Australia did this earlier this year you retaliated by saying that possibly their GST payments could be cut and their infrastructure as well.

TREASURER:

No, I'm sorry that's not right. 

LANE: 

You're on the record.

TREASURER:

I mean, the fact is the GST arrangements are matters for the Grants Commission but what we did say is that there will be less money around for other purposes and that's what I'm saying here.  But I think really what we've got here is Mr O'Farrell looking for a gigantic distraction from his decision obviously to jack up electricity prices substantially and for the fact that he's running a budget deficit. 

LANE:

Respected businessman Don Argus says there's been way too little thought on how you spend the proceeds of the mining tax, that productivity growth is woeful and industrial relations has gone backwards under Labor and he says this government, your government has a lazy approach to reform.

TREASURER:

Well, I've had a bit of time for Mr Argus over the years but he doesn't always get everything right and I certainly don't agree with him in terms of that commentary.  The most important thing about the MRRT is that we are going to put in place a cut in company tax.  It's very important for all of those companies that aren't in the fast lane of the mining boom.  A very big tax cut for small business, that's pretty important.  But also when it comes to our most recent budget at the core of our most recent budget were a whole host of initiatives in skills and training and labour force participation which had the broad support of the business community because it's been an important part of our productivity agenda.  Sometimes I think we just have to be a bit careful not to talk our country down.  The glass is more than half full in Australia, it is most certainly not half empty.