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 March 2012

Interview with Lisa Wilkinson

Channel 9, Today

SUBJECTS: Vested Interests Debate, The Australian Fair Go, MRRT.

Wilkinson: 

Good morning to you, Treasurer.

Treasurer:

Good morning, Lisa.

Wilkinson: 

Now I think everyone agrees that billionaires are pretty easy targets, nobody's going to feel terribly sorry for them.  Is this your new election strategy which is classic old Labor, Robin Hood strategy?

Treasurer:

No it's not.  I want more people to have a say in our national debate and I want more people to have a stake in our economic success.  I would really urge your viewers to read the essay because there have been characterisations, such as the one that you just put before us, but the fact is what I'm saying is we need to keep the essence of a fair go in Australia and we shouldn't see public policy distorted by people with really deep pockets who want to parade their self-interest as the national interest. That's the point that I made.

Wilkinson: 

You've questioned the influence of a handful of billionaires in this country. But didn't Labor change its mining tax after being lobbied heavily publicly by some of those billionaires and drop its pokies policy for similar reasons, both policies becoming victims of vested interests?

Treasurer:

No I don't accept that at all.  We sat down and negotiated the Minerals Resource Rent Tax with the industry.  It was a pretty bruising experience, but I think we got a good policy that came out the other end.  That's been through the House of Representatives and is about to go to the Senate and the revenue from that is going to boost superannuation accounts of Australian workers and give a tax cut to small business.

But some of these billionaires have been continuing to campaign against the resource rent tax and spending a lot of money to distort the public debate.  That was the point I was making. On poker machines, there certainly has been an extensive lobbying effort and we are bringing to the Parliament an important package of reforms, the first in our history.

Wilkinson: 

We were looking there just then at how much the richest people in Australia earn.  We've got Gina Rinehart $10.3 billion, Ivan Glasenberg $8.8 [billion], Andrew Forrest $6.1 [billion], Anthony Pratt and his family $5.1 [billion], Clive Palmer $5.05 [billion].  In total, they make over $35.5 billion.  How much of that wealth should they be contributing?  What do you think is fair, in your view?

Treasurer:

Well what we want to see them do is pay their fair share of tax and most wealthy people in Australia do pay their fair share of tax, but they don't go around the place trying to distort public policy the way that some of the mining magnates have been doing in recent times. The mining industry is responsible…

Wilkinson: 

Are you saying that they're tax evaders, Treasurer?

Treasurer:

No I didn't say that at all, I've never made that claim. What I've said is, particularly about Mr Forrest, is that he's been campaigning against the resource rent tax when in fact over time he's paid very little company tax.  He will pay that in the future because he's in a big investment phase. 

The point I'm making is it's entirely appropriate that people who are entrepreneurs, who invest their money, make a fair return, but it's also fair that they pay a fair proportion of tax and some of these people have opposed a new tax, a new tax which is revenue from the resources Australians own 100 per cent and which can only be mined once. 

Now the mining industry as a whole has accepted that tax.  It's just that some of these others have not accepted it and that's the point I'm making.  They've been seeking to distort the public debate because they've got very deep pockets and Exhibit A is the ad that Mr Forrest is running in the newspapers today.

Wilkinson:

Isn't there some hypocrisy in you questioning mining profits, and yet the Government also tells us we have to have 12 per cent of our income going straight into super and those same super funds are making a lot of their money off the back of the mining boom and those mining company's profits.  So you surely want the mining companies to be as profitable as possible?

Treasurer:

Well, I do.  I'm not questioning mining profits.  There's nothing in the essay or nothing that I've said that is questioning mining profits.  Mining is a very important industry for Australia.  It is very profitable but those resources are owned by the Australian people 100 per cent and they can only be dug up once, and that's why we've got to have an appropriate taxation regime.  That's the debate that we've had over the last couple of years and the outcome of that has been contested by a couple of the billionaires not only opposing that but other long-term reforms for the good of the economy.  The point I made in the essay, and I really urge all of your viewers to read it, is that they shouldn't accept the claims made by these people when they dress up their self-interest as national interest.

Wilkinson: 

Well Joe Hockey has tweeted: ‘Swan belts up aspiration, he treats it all like a political game. All his taxes have targeted aspiration and ambition. He loves mediocrity.' What is your response to that?

Treasurer:

Well, I just think that is really silly.  The essay is about opportunity.  So that as an optimistic country, wherever you are born, whatever the circumstances that you are in, you've got an opportunity to succeed if you work hard.  The whole essay is about aspiration.  My aspiration and the Labor Party's aspiration for this country is to have a very strong middle class society.  What the essay is about is how that is disappearing in other developed economies because powerful vested interests are exercising too much power.  I want to see the middle class grow and I want to see aspiration at the very core of everything we do.  That aspiration, that opportunity is being distorted by the activities of some very powerful people in our country.

Wilkinson: 

Is this your new election strategy, Treasurer?

Treasurer:

Not at all.  I've been talking about these issues for over 40 years in my public life.  I wrote a book about these issues over seven years ago.  I've been talking about them for a long time and I'll keep talking about them because they're so important to our future.  We've got a very great future ahead of us in this country given the Asian century and we can turn it into the Australian century if we get our policies right. It's all about optimism and opportunity.

Wilkinson:

Okay, thank you very much for your time this morning.

Treasurer:

Thank you.