The Crest of the Commonwealth of Australia Treasury Portfolio Ministers
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Wayne Swan

Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer

3 December 2007 - 27 June 2013

14 September 2011

Interview with Marius Benson

ABC News Radio

14 September 2011

SUBJECTS: Parliamentary Budget Office; Opposition's negativity; media inquiry

BENSON:

Treasurer, good morning.

TREASURER:

Good morning Marius, good to be with you.

BENSON:

Good to have you with us.  Let me explain that we are speaking about, not some of the issues I was just covering with Melissa, but another issue that was debated in parliament yesterday, this is the Parliamentary Budget Office.  This is a body which would cost election promises and policies put forward by both the Government and the Opposition.  The plan did have bipartisan support but Joe Hockey, the Shadow Treasurer, now says he wants to amend proposals for this office, which costs around $25 million – a substantial office.  He does want costings kept confidential in the white heat of an election campaign.  Is that a reasonable thing?  I mean, you're lobbing up policies to this independent body, you don't want to decide on the policies until you get the costings, just keep them quiet until we make up our mind.

TREASURER:

That is absolutely outrageous.  The whole point of an independent costing service is that the Australian public can see during an election campaign whether the financial estimates and costings put forward by both the Government or the Opposition are accurate.  And we know what happened in the last election campaign: an $11 billion black hole in the budget estimates of the Opposition which wasn't revealed until after the election.  And because that occurred we agreed with the independents and the minor parties, and I thought we'd agreed with the Liberal Party, that we would establish an independent costing service so that in the next election campaign there would be full openness, full transparency so the Australian public could see the independent costings of the Opposition and the Government from either the Treasury or from the independent costing service, the Parliamentary Budget Office.  And then last night and yesterday, through yesterday, Mr Hockey said they were not going to participate in this despite the fact they sat on the committee which recommended the legislation, which has been put in there in full, faithful to the deliberations of the committee on which two Liberal Party Shadow Ministers sat.

BENSON:

But what about the Hockey argument, as I understand it, which is that we've got a policy, it might be a good policy, but let's see what it costs.  Let's send it to the independent body.  When they come back and say for example it costs $20 billion – okay that's not our policy.  But keep that process confidential because you don't want to be attacked for policies that you haven't adopted yet.

TREASURER:

Well, the fact is they can go to the independent costing service prior to the election and test all of those propositions, okay.  But the most important thing that we need to have is openness and transparency about the costings during the election campaign so the Australian people can make a choice. 

Now the fact is they've changed their mind because they've discovered they've got a $70 billion crater in their Budget estimates before they even prepare a new policy for the next election.  Mr Hockey has said that on television and Mr Robb has said it on many occasions because they've got this $70 billion hole or crater in their budget estimates they've now changed their mind about participating in the independent costing service.

BENSON:

Can I ask you a more general question about relations with the Opposition?  You are a minority government and you may rely, you do rely, on the Opposition's support in the key area of asylum seekers at the moment and things don't seem to be terribly comfortable between the leaders of the Government and the Opposition.  With the Opposition Leader saying yesterday all I get from you, Julia Gillard, is bile and her reply: poor petal.  Is person management skills, are they lacking in the Government at the moment?

TREASURER:

Oh not at all.  This is the most negative Opposition that I've seen in all of my time in parliament and in fact in the whole of my political life.  They say no to everything.  We've been getting our legislation through the parliament - well over 180 bills through the House of Representatives and much of that has been opposed tooth and nail by the Liberal and National parties irrespective of whether they actually agree with it or not because there's just an ocean of negativity when you look at what the Liberal Party is doing on just about every area of policy. 

Now yesterday we put the proposition to them that Mr Abbott should stick with what he said just a week ago, that is that he would defend the right of the executive to make decisions when it comes to people smuggling for offshore processing.  He said he would do that and he's walked back from that every day of the week since then.  What they do is just shamelessly ignore the facts and simply say no to everything.

BENSON:

Just quickly Treasurer, on another issue in the news, a media inquiry. The Government is moving to establish one but it won't look at the question of ownership of the media.  Many in Labor ranks feel that with Rupert Murdoch owning about 70 per cent of the print media it's time to look at that.  What do you think?

TREASURER:

Well, I don't think it's a surprise that there's a high degree of concentration in the Australian print media.  I don't think anyone is surprised by that but Minister Conroy, the Communications Minister, will be making an announcement this morning about an inquiry.  I think it's a very important inquiry.  I think it's one in which all Australians are deeply interested.  The terms of reference for that will be outlined this morning and I think we'll have to talk about those terms of reference after they have been released. 

BENSON:

Just quickly Treasurer, do you think the Murdoch press is biased against the Government?

TREASURER:

Look I think all of us from time to time will contest a story here or a story there, and it won't just be in one particular outlet of the press.  It could well be right across the electronic media.  But this is not an inquiry that in the first instance is about bias.  It's not politicians making judgements about that.  What this is about is having a look at the proper accountability mechanisms we have in media coverage so everybody can have some faith that if somebody feels like they have been wronged then they've got some means of redressing it.  That's just one of the objectives of the inquiry but it's not about any particular organisation or outlet.

BENSON:

Wayne Swan, thanks very much. 

TREASURER:

Good to be with you.