Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer
3 December 2007 - 27 June 2013
SUBJECTS: The fair go, Clive Palmer and Tony Abbott, Liberal Party and vested interests, budget speculation
Welcome everyone. I just wanted to say a few words this is morning about our political debate. I want to make a few remarks about the commentary from Mr Palmer. I want to say a few things about the Government's commitment to policy and the importance of continuing to create prosperity and to spread opportunity to every corner of our country.
Now there's a big debate in this country about fairness and equality and what sort of community we want to be. Now this is a debate I care deeply about and it's motivated me every day of my public life and it's why I wrote the article in The Monthly earlier this year.
Now, I got into politics because I believe deeply, in the dignity of work, in respect for those people who work hard, who go to work every day, work hard, come home, cook the tea, get up and do it the next day and go back again and ask for nothing more than a fair go. A fair go at work with decent wages and working conditions, and access to affordable health and education. That's why I'm a member of the Labor Party. I believe in the dignity of working people and the need for a community like ours to respect what they do.
I believe we live in a community, not in a corporation, and in this Government, this Labor Government, believes that the tremendous opportunities of the Asian century and the mining boom should be shared fairly with all Australians, not just captured by a fortunate few.
Now, I pointed to the power, the growing power of vested interests in my Monthly article earlier this year and how certain individuals with deep pockets can not only distort public policy debates but also public policy outcomes. And at the same time, we've seen Mr Palmer and the Liberal Party fight tooth and nail to stop Australians from sharing in the benefits of the mining boom.
So I will be absolutely thrilled to fight for the tens of thousands of small businesses, not just in Lilley, but right across this country, for the thousands of workers not just in Lilley but right across this country, who will benefit and share in the bounty of the mining boom through policies of this Government. Boosting superannuation for Australian workers, giving a decent tax benefit to small business while Mr Abbott and Mr Palmer fight to protect the vested interests of people like Mr Palmer.
I think it is pretty much official today that the Liberal Party, particularly in my home state, is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Mr Palmer. Mr Palmer will use his very considerable resources, and has used his very considerable resources to capture the Liberal Party of Queensland and he now intends to use them if he's pre-selected in the contest between myself and Mr Palmer. I relish the prospect of that contest. I care deeply about ideas and what sort of country we want to be, what sort of country we want to hand to our children and to our grandchildren. In that country that I see for our children and grandchildren the land of the fair go is absolutely essential. I don't want to see this country go down the American road where in recent decades the middle class has shrunk and big money in politics has dominated the political debate.
I have a vision for this country where there is a very broad middle class, where people who work hard get fairly rewarded, where there's an optimism that comes with social mobility. That has disappeared in many other western countries. What I'm proudest of, as Treasurer in this Labor Government, is everything that we did during the global financial crisis to prevent this country from going into recession, to keep people in work, to stop the skill destruction that comes with massive unemployment. All of those policies were based on the values of a fair go.
Now, we've seen a couple of other statements this morning from Mr Palmer, which are also somewhat alarming. He's repeated his bizarre conspiracy theories about the CIA and he's also said that Australia is too close to the United States. Mr Abbott must immediately repudiate those statements by Mr Palmer this morning. He also indicated that he might find the time just to be a part-time Member of Parliament and would continue to run his business interests. I noted from what he said this morning that he last visited the electorate of Lilley in 1986, thereby indicating not a close connection with the electorate of Lilley. He probably is unaware of it, but the closest he gets to it usually is when he flies into Brisbane Airport on his jet.
So the Gillard Government will continue to fight for working Australians. I relish the prospect of fighting for working Australians in this contest with Mr Palmer and the Liberal Party who simply represent vested interests and not the great mass of working people in this country. Over to you. Just one second, I'm in the middle of a budget so I'm not going to be around too long.
Mr Swan, do you believe that the working families you talk about are getting the best standard of government, the standard of government they deserve from the Gillard Government?
I believe that every day this Government has been in power we've represented the interests of working Australians, whether it's what we've done in tax, whether it is what we've done in terms of the provision of additional benefits for childcare, whether it's what we've done with family payments, whether it's what we've done during the global financial crisis to keep people in work. Every single day we have fought hard for working Australians and what we've seen recently in the Opposition since Tony Abbott took it over, is an opposition party which will throw any amount of mud and which will oppose any particular policy which is there for the benefit of the great mass of working people, and is only prepared to represent its own political self-interest and other vested interests in our society. How else you can explain why they would be opposing the MRRT, the mining tax revenue which we're going to use to give a tax break to 2.7 million small businesses and a boost to super for something like 8 million working Australians?
I believe that in our time in Government we have vigorously represented the interests of low and middle-income earning Australians and we'll continue to do that and I'm proud of what we've done and I'm proud of the Prime Minister who has done an outstanding job fighting for working Australians. And what we're seeing today from Mr Palmer is the real nature of the Opposition that we are facing.
Mr Swan, isn't Clive Palmer doing precisely what people should do if they want to have an influence over politics to stand for Parliament and...
... if your Government was in a stronger position couldn't you afford to treat him as nothing other than a nuisance candidate? Isn't it the weakness of the Government that makes his potential threat to be taken seriously?
Not at all. When I published the essay in The Monthly I called for a full public debate about all of these issues and Mr Palmer is now bringing this very, very clearly into focus. What I said at the time, and I'll repeat it again today, I want more Australians to participate in this debate and I want more Australians to have a stake in our future prosperity. And the reason I wrote the essay was I was extremely concerned by the behaviour, not just Mr Palmer, but Mr Forrest and Ms Rinehart, about the disproportionate say that they were seeking to have in our political debate and the risk that that posed to the distribution of wealth and social mobility in our society. So I welcome this contest from that point of view and it pre-dates any of our current political debates.
Mr Swan, given that Labor's (inaudible) is Ms Gillard the right leader of the Labor Party to connect with the working people that you are...
I think she's an outstanding leader and we have a program which goes directly to the future prosperity of working Australians and we now see a very clear contrast between the leadership of our Prime Minister and the leadership of the Liberal Party which is now beholden to the likes of Mr Palmer. Opposing essential tax breaks for 2.7 million small businesses, opposing what we're doing to boost the superannuation savings of working Australians, and it's all out there now in the open.
Mr Swan, you're quite right that you've got a significantly wide range of policies across a range of areas that address the areas that you've been talking about, but nonetheless the polls continue to indicate that it's not biting with the Australian people. Is the problem the way you're communicating it?
Matthew, I think I've had this conversation with you on numerous occasions. I don't respond to daily, weekly, monthly, opinion polls. What I spend my time doing and the numbers I spend my time concentrating on are the numbers of Australians in work, 700,000 plus since we were first elected, the growth rates for this country which will exceed those of every major advanced economy, the numbers for the investment boom that's going on, these are the numbers that I spend my time looking at and seriously analysing.
I don't spend a lot of time fretting over opinion polls and I don't think you should either. I mean, there's a lot of breathless commentary around today about all manner of things including the polls. Well, what the Government is doing is getting on with the job of bringing down a budget to secure all of the objectives that I've spoken about already today in this press conference.
Treasurer, just on the budget, I know you won't speculate about too much that's in it, but can you say to the working Australians that you've talked about today that one aspect in particular, negative gearing rules, will be safe?
Well, I'm not getting into the ruling in or ruling out game because as we go through to the budget it will all be there on budget night. I never do that. But what I will say is this, I'll say this very clearly and I've said it consistently, this will be a budget which comes back to surplus and that's entirely appropriate because we are growing around trend or we're coming back to trend growth. This will be a budget in which there will need to be substantial savings found for the reasons that I've outlined at some length but what we will do in finding those savings is to make sure we do our utmost to protect low and middle-income earning Australians as we go about that savings exercise. That's what I can say to you today.
Can I ask you about a billionaire, it's not Clive Palmer, Andrew Forrest was on the radio again today saying that he doubted that he would be paying much MRRT. I know that's not new because they were saying it's $20 million last year, which is not much by his standards.
But he was claiming some time ago that he was going to be paying a lot and the other miners weren't going to be paying any.
(Inaudible). BHP executives have been running around town saying they're not going to pay much. Have you gone back to Treasury to ask them at least to double-check their facts and figures so that your budget is not on quick sand?
Well, let me say this, all of our estimates in the budget are updated in the budget in the normal way and they'll all be there on budget night. Thanks very much.