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

31 January 2013

Interview with Chris Uhlmann

SUBJECTS: Election 2013; Policy costings; Budget 2013

UHLMANN:

The Prime Minister's announcement of the election date caught most of her colleagues by surprise. One who was in the loop was Wayne Swan, the Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer. He joined me earlier from Canberra. Wayne Swan, welcome.

TREASURER:

Good to be with you, Chris.

UHLMANN:

Why you have decided to run the longest election campaign in Australia political history?

TREASURER:

Well we're not doing that, Chris. I think the Prime Minister made it very clear today that in the interests of certainty, but most particularly in the interests of having a full public policy debate, it was important to get rid of this furphy out there that occurs in election year. Chris, you and I have been around a long time and we know that in election years a large amount of the time is simply chewed up with a whole lot of useless debate about when the election is going to be. The Government is very proud of our record and we've got a very big policy agenda for the future and what we do want to have is a very substantial policy debate as we go through this year. Now when we get to August we can then get into the campaigning. But what we want to do is have a policy debate, a contest of ideas, and this takes away the uncertainty that comes with the debate about election timing.

UHLMANN:

Treasurer, this is now a campaign, no matter what you say. Do you think people will believe you when you say that this isn't part of an election strategy and announcing the date today wasn't part of an election strategy?

TREASURER:

No, what it's about is having a debate about policy. What it's about is having a debate about ideas. The Government has made it very clear we've got some very big policy proposals to put to the Australian people. They have to be funded, they have to be sustainable and we want to see a really clear focus on the big policy ideas. And of course, we want the debate about our ideas and our policies, but if you're going to have that debate, there has to be policies from the Opposition. So we'd like to see a real focus on the policies of both sides of politics. I think that's what the Australian people want.

UHLMANN:

Absolutely. In order to do that we have to establish dome baselines. You're Treasurer. Will there be a surplus or deficit this financial year?

TREASURER:

Well we'll be providing all of the new budget forecasts in the budget in May. Of course, as you know, at the end of last year, revenues dropped substantially and because they dropped substantially, I said it would be unlikely that we would have a surplus in 2012-13. We will go through the early part of this year, we'll provide some guidance on what may be happening with revenue and the international economic situation, but full forecasts will be provided in the budget in May and everyone will be able to see what the baseline is for this contest of ideas. I mean, there's nothing to stop the Opposition putting out costed policies now, but they're determined not to do that.

UHLMANN:

There's nothing to stop you giving us a baseline now and surely you can't demand of them that they put out costings now when you don't have your own out?

TREASURER:

Well, I think we go through developing our forecasts in a methodical way. We saw a very big hit to revenue at the end of last year which would have threatened jobs and growth had we cut to make up for that. The Government is absolutely focused on jobs and growth and the forecasts will be there in the May budget and from the May budget on, there is absolutely no excuse for the Opposition to fail to put forward costed policies. And failure to do so, I think, will actually very clearly indicate what their agenda is, which is not to put out detailed policies based on forecasts and information either from the budget or from the Parliamentary Budget Office.

UHLMANN:

Can we put some meat on the bones of the things that you're promising? How much will it cost to fund your education reform and the National Disability Insurance Scheme each financial year from the time that you start?

TREASURER:

Right. Well, Chris, at the time of announcement we'll detail all of that and then we'll account for that in the budget in the normal way. That's our commitment. And that's the responsible thing to do -

UHLMANN:

But you won't say now what those costs will be. You must have an idea?

TREASURER:

What I'm indicating to you is our timetable in terms of education reform. Now as you know, there are substantial discussions still to take place with the states on sharing the revenue load there, so those discussions will also go to COAG in April. All of this, including the NDIS, which we've already funded for the trials, all of those matters will be dealt with in the budget.

UHLMANN:

Alright, but you'll have to, you agree, find billions of dollars' worth of savings to do both of those things. Where will you be looking for those savings?

TREASURER:

Well, we've made it very clear and we've made it very clear for a long period of time that there will be structural saves in the budgets to accommodate -

UHLMANN:

Whereabouts?

TREASURER:

Well, we'll detail all of that as we go through our process in a methodical way. And when we bring down our budget, when we make our announcements, all of those matters will be out there for people to clearly see. And that stands in stark contrast to the approach of the Opposition who are going to hide behind a commission of audit which will hide the truth about what they're really up to rather than point towards it. Because their whole strategy is not to tell the Australian people what they're up to. I mean, they're out there saying - they're out there saying that they'll have lower deficits, they'll have lower taxes and of course they'll have more spending. I mean, that's just a magic pudding. So, what we know now is they will have all the budget material there. They know the election date. They cannot be allowed to get to the election without detailing the costing of their policies.

UHLMANN:

But Treasurer, I think it's become evident through the course of this at this stage you can't tell us how much your policies are going to cost or where you're going to find the money for that. Will you be changing the superannuation rules?

TREASURER:

Well what I can tell you is that we will be providing all of that information and I've given you the trigger points for that. That stands in pretty stark contrast to what the Opposition has been saying. And I'm not going to deliver the next budget on this program tonight.

UHLMANN:

But will you be looking for -

TREASURER:

It will be there for all Australians to see.

UHLMANN:

Will you be looking at retirement savings as somewhere you might find some money from high income earners.

TREASURER:

As we go through the normal budget process, we do identify savings and then we account for them in the budget. We don't rule in and we don't rule out in the lead-up to the budget.

UHLMANN:

You rightly criticised the Coalition last time for having $11 billion deficit on the promises that they had at the last election. And yet the Government, will all the resources of Treasury, can't tell us from one year to the next how much money there is in the bank?

TREASURER:

Well, I mean, when you're dealing with volatility in the global economy such as the volatility we experienced at the end of last year and the very big crash in commodity prices that had an impact on taxation across the board, the Prime Minister spoke at length about that. We did the responsible thing and indicated the challenge that that posed to growth and jobs, which is why I made the announcement at the end of last year. We'll provide up-to-date forecasts in the budget in May. That's the baseline that people will be working from. And we'll account for our new expenditure with structural savings in the budget.

UHLMANN:

And when we look at the policies that are released this year, you released a national security strategy last week and in that you said that Defence spending was $26 billion. In fact you were relying on figures from the 2011-12, when for this budgetary year it's $2 billion less than that. So is that the standard that we are to expect from the Government this year?

TREASURER:

No, you will get the standard that is always delivered by governments advised by Treasury and the people that advise this government are the same advisers that advised the former government who worked with many of the people in the Opposition. All of that is accounted for in the budget in the normal way.

UHLMANN:

The Prime Minister said that you've got a plan to withstand the strong dollar into the future. What is that plan?

TREASURER:

Well it's making our economy much more competitive, which was the whole point that the Prime Minister has made repeatedly. We've got to lift our productivity in the face of some of the pressures that are impacting on our economy. And one of the principal ways of doing that is investing in education, which is why the school improvement program recommended by the Gonski review we see as being so important. Important in terms of the future of the economy and future productivity and also important in terms of social outcomes that every Australian child gets access to the best possible education for the future of them and their family. But it brings with it a very big economic dividend as well.

UHLMANN:

Treasurer, thank you.

TREASURER:

Thank you.