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

16 May 2013

Interview with Lyndal Curtis

ABC News Breakfast

SUBJECTS: Budget 2013-14; Tony Abbott's Secret Savage Cuts.

CURTIS:

Treasurer Wayne Swan welcome to news breakfast. In your budget there is nearly half a billion dollars for decisions taken not yet announced, is that your election war chest?

TREASURER:

No, it is not. It is very normal to have Decisions Taken But Not Yet Announced and there can be a variety of reasons for that. Some of them can be commercial matters in confidence, a whole range of things. That's not a large amount of money in terms of decision taken not announced

CURTIS:

So you're not squirreling away money for campaign announcements??

TREASURER:

No.

CURTIS:

The Coalition leader will deliver his budget reply tonight. If the Coalition commits to not opposing your saving measures, will you legislate them before Parliament rises at the end of June?

TREASURER:

Well I think what we will see tonight is every excuse under the sun to hide the truth. What we will do is bring forward our legislative program and we will get through the legislation that we can. For example the Medicare [Levy] legislation is going through the parliament very quickly. I am pleased that is the case and we will bring on legislation and we will do as much as we can.

CURTIS:

So you will put as much of the Budget legislation as you can through before the end of June?

TREASURER:

Well we will be doing what we normally do. We get the legislation drafted, we put it through the Parliament – there are parliamentary procedures, we are not just dealing with the House of Representatives here, we're also dealing with the Senate. There are limited sitting days for the Senate, but we will do what we can.

CURTIS:

Will you do the major legislation, the things you need to put both your education funding and disability care on a long-term sustainable footing?

TREASURER:

Look, we are keen to do that and that's what the Medicare legislation is about. That's a very big chunk of what we are doing with DisabilityCare.

CURTIS:

You have called on the Coalition to outline all its spending and savings promises. As we have just discussed, you will be announcing things during the election campaign. Why should the Coalition put everything out there now when you won't?

TREASURER:

Well, we have put everything out there; we've got a Budget out there. The fact is we will see every excuse under the sun from Mr Abbott tonight to hide the truth about the cuts that he is planning. You see, the Coalition has made a lot about Budget figures but the truth is that Mr Hockey himself announced two years ago now that at that stage they were $70 billion below the Budget bottom line. That was two years ago. I don't think we will hear from Mr Abbott tonight [about] his real plans. He is a man for three-word slogans - I think the three-word slogan that will lie behind Mr Abbott's approach tonight is: secret savage cuts.

CURTIS:

But the Opposition has been saying that your Budget numbers can't be believed. They want to wait for the pre-election fiscal outlook. Greg Hunt has told AM this morning he bumped into a senior public service official who told him the only true set of figures over three years which are truly the bureaucracy's are the pre-election fiscal outlook. Do you choose the figures you want for the Budget?

TREASURER:

This is a despicable attack on professional forecasters and on the public services. There are not two sets of figures. The professional forecasters that work in the Treasury work for this Government as they worked for the previous Government. Their forecasts, that they put together at Treasury. are the ones that are published in the Budget papers. This attack on the forecasts is all about undermining the very big investments we are making in education and in disability and it's a way that the Opposition is seeking to avoid responsibility for the fact that they won't bring forward their real plans for savage cuts.

CURTIS:

So you are not presented during the pre-budget process with a range of figures and you get to choose from the high-end or the low-end or you lock the high-end or low-end off and present the average?

TREASURER:

I'm presented with the figures by The Treasury and those are the ones that are published. They are The Treasury figures and the forecasts they make are the ones that are published. I don't pick and choose, these are professional forecasts.

CURTIS:

So you would expect the Pre-Election Fiscal Outlook to show either the same or similar numbers?

TREASURER:

If it was published tomorrow, it would be showing what is in the Budget. I can't absolutely predict that because it is done by The Treasury, the Department of Finance under the guidelines for PEFO. But given these are the forecasts that were given to the Government, I would expect they would be the same today as they were yesterday.

CURTIS:

You are going to legislate to have the Parliamentary Budget office force parties to have election policies that have a material impact on the Budget costed in a report released after the election is over. Why are you doing that?

TREASURER:

I think everybody knows what happened last time. Because after the election we found out there was an $11 billion hole in the Liberal Party's costings that they had deliberately hidden from the Australian people. As a consequence of that, we've set up the Parliamentary Budget Office. But even now, the Liberal Party is not saying it is going to use that properly and publish the costings of its policies. He wants to run through to the election, not announce its policies and pretend it's going to have an Audit Commission and have that Audit Commission after the election if they are successful. That's the Newman play book from Queensland. Of course, the PBO through the legislation we are putting in the House will be able to ask the parties for their policies before the election. If they are not supplied by the parties, they will prepare a list themselves and publish that list and the costings 30 days after the election.

CURTIS:

Doesn't it look a little bit like you are so worried about losing, you are using all the machinery of Government, including the PBO to force the Coalition to do what you have wanted?

TREASURER:

Far from it. We've had a long-term commitment to funding disability, to funding improved schools. We have brought all that together in this Budget and three years ago we had that debacle with the Liberal Party's costings where they had hidden the true costs of their policies from the Australian people. We set up the PBO well over 12 months ago to be independent, to be there, to be an auditor, if you like, a checker of the facts, and we are strengthening that legislation today.

CURTIS:

Will all your policy costings be out well before election day?

TREASURER:

Of course -

CURTIS:

Will you announce them before the election?

TREASURER:

We have put a whole Budget out there which has a 10-year plan for investing in education and investing in disability. What we know about the Liberal Party is that two years ago, they were $70 billion in their hole. Now we don't know where they are now. We will not hear about that tonight because Mr Abbott has got a plan for very savage and vicious cuts.

CURTIS:

A final question. You talked yesterday about the problem of portraying uncertainty in economic forecasts, saying everyone is looking for certainty, everyone wants everything to be in black and white. Don't people deal with uncertainty in their daily lives and can't an educated and informed public understand you can't always accurately forecast in an imperfect world?

TREASURER:

Well that is what I've been saying. That's the reason why last December I went the Australian people and said given what had occurred with revenues, it would be unlikely we would come back to surplus in 2012-13. Then through the early part of this year and then again in the Budget, that's precisely what I've been saying. Forecasting is a science, but from time to time there are unpredictable events. There are events which occur which can't be predicted or forecast. The Global Financial Crisis, the collapse of Lehmann Brothers and of course the events of last year and this year where we have had slow nominal growth in the economy and the very savage impact that has had on all profits-based revenue and profits-based taxes.

CURTIS:

Wayne Swan, thank you for your time.

TREASURER:

Thank you.