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Wayne Swan

Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer

3 December 2007 - 27 June 2013

6 March 2012

Interview with Leon Byner

Radio FIVEaa, Adelaide

SUBJECTS: Inequality and vested interests; coal industry; interest rates

BYNER:

Wayne, thanks for your time.

TREASURER:

Good morning Leon.

BYNER:

Look there's a major story on the front page of today's Australian – I'll get to the three miners that you've singled out in a sec but this is a real concern – where you've got the green left funding a campaign to try and destroy and disrupt Australia's coal industry.

TREASURER:

Yes, I find it pretty disturbing because the coal industry is a very important industry in Australia. I'm a very big supporter of the coal industry. It's a very important part of the economy in my home state of Queensland but it's very important in our national economy. And I've been working with the coal industry to make sure that it is sustainable over time. Yes we have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but the coal industry is very important. It will be a very important supplier of power to the global economy for many years to come. So this is just completely irrational and destructive.

BYNER:

Are you going to target some of the people responsible for this including a benefactor that started Wotif who has already given the Greens $1.6 million in donations.

TREASURER:

Well, I've only seen those reports today but I think it's a disturbing development and I think it's deeply irresponsible. As I said, the coal industry is a very important part of our national economy. It's a very important of our energy supply and it's very important to the global economy.

I think many people confuse the fact that whilst we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we've got to keep the lights on and the power flowing, and of course coal is a very important part of that equation. That's why I fought so hard to put a price on carbon because what it does do overall is reduce our emissions. But we've got to recognise within that, that coal plays a very important part as an energy source in our economy and in the global economy.

BYNER:

But you're close to the Greens who - well, put it this way, you're a government because of them Wayne – so the point is that three miners have really got your spine up in the last 48 hours. Are you going to give the same venal response to the people who are trying to do this?

TREASURER:

I think I just did. I just said that the story I've seen today is deeply irresponsible and it is something that is the type of activity that nobody should support or could support, and I don't. So I can make that very clear.

But when it comes back to the miners, and it comes back to a couple of our very wealthy individuals, I made some very important points because I think it's very important people have a say in this debate and in this conversation and that people have a stake in our future economic growth. And the point that I was making about those three individuals is that they are trying to have a disproportionate say in our national debate and they are trying to skew national public policies and dress their own self-interest up as the national interest, and that was the point I made. Have you read the essay, Leon?

BYNER:

Yes I have. One point I make though, Twiggy Forrest has been a very generous benefactor particularly to the aboriginal community.

TREASURER:

Sure.

BYNER:

So when you start singling out individuals, they are the people who employ, who build infrastructure. The mining sector has saved Australia, along with agricultural sector from the GFC.

TREASURER:

Well, I'm a big supporter of the mining industry, that's the whole point, but you'll find there are various views in the mining industry about various individuals as well. There's no universal view. The point I'm making here is that charity is not a substitute for a valid and effective taxation system, and the reason that I'm talking about Mr Forrest, Mr Palmer, and Ms Rinehart is they've been continuing to use their considerable private resources to oppose the introduction in this country of a mining resource rent tax which gives a fair return to the Australian people for the mineral resources that they own 100 per cent and which can only be mined once.

That's why I've written the essay because there's a very clear demonstration here of behaviour from vested interests dressed up as the national interest which to some extent has skewed our national conversation. You see, everybody has got a vote but not everybody has got the capacity like Twiggy Forrest when someone criticises him to take out full page ads the very next day, thereby proving my point – exhibit A.

BYNER:

The point is you wouldn't complain about the union movement or Getup taking out ads supporting the Government. You'd find that acceptable, wouldn't you?

TREASURER:

Well, it's normal lobbying activity. The point I'm making here is that when it comes to mining taxation in Australia they have behaved in a way in which I think ought to be called for what it is.

BYNER:

Okay. Now, are you accusing them of minimising tax or evading tax?

TREASURER:

No I haven't been accusing them of either minimising or evading tax. I've been talking about their behaviour towards the development of, and implementation of, a resource rent tax for Australia and a very important reform in our taxation system that gives Australians fair value for the resources they own and the revenue stream for which we're using to boost superannuation of workers and give tax cuts to small companies. And I'm also highlighting the fact that we've got Tony Abbott taking sides with them, wanting to give a tax cut to Gina Rinehart and Mr Palmer and Mr Forrest, and not giving a tax cut to small business.

BYNER:

I put this to you. You talk a lot about vested interests. We've had – and I know you're Treasurer, so it's not strictly your portfolio – but just as an observation you would appreciate this, Wayne: that is that, we had a food labelling inquiry and there was some very strong lobbying for the Government not to change anything from big business. So it's not as if the mining sector is the only sector that will take out ads or put pressure on governments.

TREASURER:

No that's true. That's true, there's normal lobbying activity going on all of the time and that's appropriate. What I'm highlighting here is a particular period in our national debate where people with enormous wealth are seeking to dress up their self-interest as the national interest. Yes, they donate money to charity, I welcome that. Wealthy people in Australia do it all of the time. It's one of the great things about Australia and the characterisation of what I've said has been anti-entrepreneur or anti people with wealth is not true. I have many friends who are wealthy people. That's not the point that I'm trying to make. I'm making an entirely different point: around the world middle-class societies are being attacked by growing inequality and behind that growing inequality are a lot of powerful vested interests.

BYNER:

Well, multi nationalism, Wayne, is our great challenge because those companies have the power. I mean, you know yourself, as Treasurer, there are shelf companies here who can get away legally with not paying hundreds of millions of dollars worth of tax.

TREASURER:

Well, that's just not so, and we can have a talk about corporate taxation. What I say there is we do need to be vigilant all of the time, making sure corporates, whether they're domestic or international, are paying their fair share of tax. But the point I'm making here is that we have had a debate about a very important national policy and there has been a disproportionate amount of communication, noise, media coverage and so on, uncritical about what has been said by a number of these people who've got very deep pockets and a very big sway in the national media debate and I'm highlighting that.

BYNER:

Okay. So you'll show the same vigour against the left who are trying to stop the coal industry?

TREASURER:

Well, absolutely. I think that that is deeply irresponsible, the reports that I've read this morning, and by the way I'm continuously on the record for condemning these sorts of activities. So it's nothing that I haven't said before. I've seen the report this morning. I don't know how accurate it is but I certainly condemn anyone who would be seeking to disrupt one of our most important industries and wealth creators in the country.

BYNER:

Now, just quickly, interest rates. Do you see them staying flat?

TREASURER:

Entirely a matter today for the Reserve Bank, Leon. We'll have to wait and see what the Reserve Bank says.

BYNER:

And in terms of the economy and those doing it tough and facing bills, the huge increase in utility bills, is there anything we are going to be able to do to help people who are really struggling with energy bills particularly?

TREASURER:

Well, what we've been trying to do over time is put in place a range of measures from the tax cuts, and we had three lots of tax cuts in a row, some of the measures we've done to help families particularly the increase in Family Tax Benefit A for parents with teenagers. What we've done with the education tax rebate for families and particularly school uniforms, all those sorts of things. Then we've got the trebling of the tax free threshold which comes in on 1 July this year. So there's a few things we're doing.

BYNER:

Wayne thanks for your time.

TREASURER:

Good to talk to you.