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

17 May 2012

Doorstop Interview

Joint doorstop interview with
the HON Penny Wong MP,
Minister for Finance and Deregulation

Adelaide

SUBJECTS: Spreading the benefits of the boom, dental blitz, Olympic Dam, NDIS; Business Tax Working Group; Craig Thomson; Mr Hockey's threats against senior public servants; Europe

TREASURER:

It's great to be here at the Adelaide Dental Hospital with the Finance Minister, Penny Wong.  She, like myself, put a lot of work into this Budget and it's just satisfying to see here today what we can do to further to assist people with challenges when it comes to their oral health.  I will leave it to Penny to say a few words about that, but I want to talk generally about the Budget and its impact in South Australia because an essential objective of the Budget is to spread the benefits of the mining boom to every corner of our country and of course right across South Australia.

There's a lot of people who don't feel like they're in the middle of a boom, they feel like it's somebody else's boom, but in this Budget we've found room to support families, to provide additional family payments from 1 July next year.  We've also found room for a Schoolkids Bonus to assist families with the cost of educating their kids.  This is going to be pretty important in June when those payments come through because when you try to buy a jumper or buy a calculator, these payments will really help a lot of families out there with something like 170,000 students who will be the beneficiaries of these payments.

So here in South Australia, spreading the benefits of the boom, also to small business.  Something like 200,000 small businesses in South Australia will benefit from the $6,500 instant asset write-off.  That's going to be a big boost to small business in South Australia as well.  I might throw to Penny to talk a bit about the dental school.

WONG: 

Thanks very much, Wayne.  Great to be here with you.  In this Budget we did make space in a pretty tight Budget for a number important areas of priority and one of them was dental care.  We understand that there is a waiting list in terms of public dental services and so there is an investment in the Budget of over $500 million for looking at waiting list blitz.  And today what we've been told is that additional funding will make a big dent into the waiting lists here at the Adelaide Dental Hospital, a big dent as a result of the investment by the Federal Government.

I just want to make the point that's on top of a lot of other investments that the Federal Government is making here in South Australia.  We've effectively doubled the infrastructure spend per South Australian.  We've effectively doubled that.  That's an investment in this state, and of course on top of that are the things that the Treasurer has been talking about, the payments to families, low and middle-income Australians, and of course the support for small business. Over to you.

JOURNALIST:         

Treasurer, judging from the rhetoric here yesterday, one of those who don't feel they're in a boom is BHP.  Do you see those words as brinkmanship or is there a serious problem with their investment outlook particularly in relation to Olympic Dam here in South Australia?

TREASURER:

No, I certainly don't see it that way.  I read the speech from Mr Nasser ,who is a well-respected businessman in this country and internationally.  He expressed his concerns about the uncertainty in the global outlook, and he talked a bit about the challenges of having such a strong investment pipeline.  And there are challenges, and that's why the Government, in this Budget in particular, is focusing on coming back to surplus.  Mr Nasser endorsed that commitment in his remarks yesterday. 

He did talk about the challenges of lifting productivity in our economy and the Government is absolutely focused on lifting productivity, on investing in skills and education more broadly and as Penny was saying before, investing in infrastructure.  So we see ourselves very much working with large companies to do everything we possibly can to enhance the environment where they will invest. 

BHP is a huge investor in Australia, and certainly from the Federal Government's perspective, we will do everything we possibly can to ensure that when they take their decision here in South Australia, it's a positive one for South Australia.  I know the South Australian Government shares that objective as well, but these are entirely a matter for the BHP board.  But I can tell you what, both the South Australian Government and the Federal Government have done everything we possibly can to encourage that project.

JOURNALIST:         

But do you fear that BHP is now looking upon Australia as not being as friendly as it used to be for investment?

TREASURER:

No, I don't have those fears.  I think BHP will take its decisions in a commercial way, as it usually does.  It's a huge investor in Australia.  It has got a huge commitment here in South Australia through what it's already put into the Olympic Dam project, but of course they will assess their commercial opportunities and they will do that in the context of what is happening globally, as well as nationally.  I certainly will be doing everything I possibly can to encourage them to continue to invest right throughout the country as indeed they are.

JOURNALIST:         

(Inaudible) National Disability Insurance Scheme, calling it a cruel hoax that the Federal Government is promising that they will be bringing forward the implementation of it.  What are your comments?

TREASURER:

Look, I was sickened by Mr Hockey's comments, to be frank.  We have put $1 billion on the table for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, a fundamental commitment to the first stage of the rollout of an overdue social reform for Australia, and this is a very big advance, and I was frankly gobsmacked by the attitude of Mr Hockey who effectively repudiated some of the earlier comments of his leader.

The fact is this is something that has to get done in this country, to deliver some justice to Australians with disability.  We've got $1 billion dollars on the table.  It's stage one.  It's very important that we all work together, state governments, the Federal Government, and the community sector, to make this a reality.  I might just throw to Penny, and I bet she's got a couple of things she'd like to say.

WONG: 

Well, the other thing I would say is this: Mr Hockey talks about a cruel hoax.  The cruel hoax is Tony Abbott telling Australians with a disability that he was going to be Dr Yes when it comes to the National Disability Insurance Scheme.  Well, Joe Hockey yesterday made it very clear that that was the hoax.

JOURANLIST:         

(Inaudible)?

TREASURER:

Sorry, the Commonwealth has put $1 billion on the table, and of course the states are the dominant funders of disability right now, and we've said we will put $1 billion dollars on the table to rollout stage one and run a number of trials if you like, around the country in cooperation with the states.  It can't be done without the states, and as an article of faith, we have put $1 billion on the table for the first four years in the most difficult Budget outlook that we've faced in years.
It's true the states also have a difficult outlook, but we've shown our commitment to the scheme by putting that money on the table, and we do want to sit down with the states to work together to do this, because it can't be done without the states.  To pretend that the states shouldn't be in it or don't want to be in it, that's not the way this thing will proceed.  We have to work with the states. 

We're putting money on the table.  The states have a big commitment.  We're working in an area where they're already spending money and we've got to sit down and work out how we will do that, but I fear what we are seeing here, particularly from the Liberal Party, is crab-walking backwards from the commitment to this scheme, and I think a lot of people will be pretty appalled by that if that's what happens in terms of the Liberal Party and some state governments.

JOURNALIST: 

(Inaudible)… raise the funds for the NDIS?

TREASURER:

Look, we've made it abundantly clear that we've got $1 billion on the table for stage one of the scheme.  As we go through stage one of the scheme, we'll learn a lot about its operation, about its structure, about arrangements with the states and the community sector.  Let's not put the cart before the horse.  The $1 billion is down, we now have to work with the states and the community sector to make this a reality so we can learn from the first stage as we go about constructing the scheme for the long term.

JOURNALIST: 

Back on investor confidence, one of the recurring themes at the (inaudible) conference this week was that investors got the wobbles every time there were changes to fiscal and regulatory regimes in Australia and that included during negotiations over the mining tax.  How would you assure global investors that there is stable, long-term fiscal security?

TREASURER:

There could be nothing which sends a clearer message to the world about the stability we have in Australia than returning our Budget to surplus and building those surpluses over the future.  There's no other developed economy doing that and that says our economic fundamentals are strong. 

We have had a process which we put in place at the request of the business community coming out of the Tax Forum last year, a Business Tax Working Group, that has gone away to look at how we can further reform the business tax system. They produced a report about those matters.  Now I'm hearing that some people in the business community don't want that process to continue.  We will sit down sensibly and talk to the business community about the future of tax reform in Australia, and we'll do it in a sensible way.  But there have been in recent months, all sorts of rumours circulated in the business community and elsewhere, about what may or may not happen. Well, none of those rumours happened in the Budget. That ought to be the answer to those who are concerned about those matters and they didn't come from the Government.

For our part, what we want is a growing economy, and we have a strong and growing economy compared to other developed economies and economic settings which promote investments.  That's why we went for Loss Carry-back in the Budget.  That will encourage investment in small business. The instant asset write-off – that will encourage investment in small business.  We'll work with the business community on these matters, free of all of those rumours and so on which circulated about the future of tax policy.  We'll sit down and talk to them about these matters in a sensible way. That's what we always do and that's what we'll continue to do.

JOURANLIST:

Mr Nasser yesterday was highly critical of the high tax regime and our industrial relations.

TREASURER:

Well, you can take your interpretation.  I had a discussion with Mr Nasser the night before, a quite constructive discussion about Australia, where we're going, what we're doing, and I was pretty happy with the outcome of that conversation.

JOURANLIST:

Treasurer, do you agree with John Faulkner that the New South Wales ALP should disclose what money has been spent on Mr Thomson's legal fees?

TREASURER:

That's a matter for the New South Wales ALP.

JOURNALIST:

The Coalition (inaudible) slipperiness of Treasury's figures.  Are they getting ahead of themselves and is...

TREASURER:

I was somewhat surprised to see some of this commentary from the Liberal Party because Mr Parkinson served the former Liberal Government at very senior levels in the Treasury, as indeed did Dr Henry.  The fact is that there's no institution, or no individual, that the Coalition won't trash in their attempt to seize political power.  It's just being negative all the time.  Running down very senior and professional public servants has become their mode of operation over the last couple of years.  It's on a par with their talking down of the economy. It's on a par with Mr Abbott's Budget Reply where he pretended that the economy wasn't growing.  I mean they'll just do anything to talk down the economy, to talk down our institutions, because they haven't actually got anything positive to say.

JOURANLIST:

(Inaudible) some significant changes in Europe since you've handed down your Budget a few weeks ago.  Do you see there is any (inaudible) or any potential need for a Budget update?

TREASURER:

No, because in our Budget, if you actually have a look at the detail, we forecast a recession in Europe.  We forecast negative growth of three quarters of a per cent in Europe, and growth in Europe is not yet at that level at all.  You would have seen a couple of nights ago that growth in Europe was stalled, it wasn't negative.  But we've put into our forecasts an outlook for Europe which sees it as having a long and painful adjustment.  So we've already accounted for those outcomes in our forecasts, and therefore recent events in Europe do not have a dramatic impact on our forecasts or our outlook.

JOURANLIST:

Treasurer, you addressed Mr Nasser's concern about the tax regime, but maybe if you could address his comments about the industrial relations situation.

TREASURER:

Well, he has some concerns about industrial relations which he mentioned in his speech and that is why we have put in place a review of the Fair Work Act.  The business community said that they were looking for a review.  We think that's appropriate and we've put that in place.

I tell you what we won't be doing. We won't be going down Mr Abbott's road of slashing wages and working conditions under the guise of pretending to do something about productivity.  We certainly won't be going down that road.

JOURANLIST:

(Inaudible)?

TREASURER:

I just said we're having a review of the Fair Work Act to look at all of the issues that have been raised by all of our players in our industrial relations system.  That's going on at the moment.  Thanks.