5 September 2019

Interview with Peter Stefanovic, Sky News

Note

Subjects:  National Accounts June Quarter 2019; Brexit; Infrastructure; Newstart; Freedom of Speech

PETER STEFANOVIC:

I want to bring in the Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, who's joining us live from Canberra now. Treasurer, good morning to you.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Good morning.

PETER STEFANOVIC:

What are your thoughts on the developments that have taken place in London in the last hour or so?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, Australia's looking like an island of tranquillity in comparison to what's going on there in the United Kingdom. You know, Boris Johnson, he did write a book about Winston Churchill - the man who singlehandedly changed history, and I think he'll have to challenge the great man right now and fight them on the beaches, not over the Channel, but he'll be having to fight his political opponents there at home. But from Australia's perspective, we value deeply the relationship we have with the United Kingdom and we see really good economic opportunities with a post-Brexit Britain, particularly a Free Trade Agreement.

PETER STEFANOVIC:

Alright, just on the economy -  issues closer to home, Treasurer. Are you borrowing an English phrase at the moment, 'Keep Calm and Carry On?'

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, we certainly have our economic plan and we're implementing it, and what the numbers showed yesterday was the remarkable resilience of the Australian economy and it was a repudiation of all those, particularly in the Labor Party, who sought to talk down the Australian economy. We continue to grow, we're in our now 29th consecutive year of economic growth. That's a record that's been unmatched by any other developed nations. And while Singapore and Germany and the United Kingdom and Sweden and others all experienced negative results in the June Quarter, we have continued to grow. And that Quarter did not include the $14 plus billion that has flowed to Australian households from the tax cuts that passed the Parliament and did not include the full impact of the 50 basis point rate cut that the RBA has announced.

PETER STEFANOVIC:

The truth is though that growth is slowest since it's been in 2009, in fact it's halved over the last twelve months. So you can't really say that the economy is healthy. It's not completely sick either. But what kind of surgery is needed, in your opinion?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, for example the tax cuts are very significant. They're the most significant passed by the Parliament in more than twenty years and that is a lot of money that is now flowing through to households and that will play out in terms of economic activity. The Prime Minister has also written to the State Premiers about which infrastructure projects could be potentially brought forward. We have a ten year $100 billion pipeline of infrastructure projects creating thousands of jobs, busting congestion in our cities, unlocking the potential of our regions, and where it's appropriate, we can potentially bring those projects forward. We're creating 80,000 new apprenticeships and we're investing heavily in skills, we've got record funding going out the door in education and in health, and I'm engaged in a discussion now with the business community about possible investment incentives. So we know the challenges that are ahead of us. We were aware of them when we put the Budget together in April. But we've also seen Australia maintain its AAA credit rating, we've seen employment growth that is now more than three times what we inherited, and we will be delivering a surplus for the first time in more than a decade.

PETER STEFANOVIC:

So, would you consider bringing the tax cuts forward? Those longer term tax cuts, would you consider bringing those forward? I mean, and is raising Newstart, is that still on the table?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well our tax cuts were outlined in the Budget and were taken to the Australian people and they endorsed them. We passed them through the Parliament, against the wishes of the Labor Party and now you've got the Labor Party asking us to bring tax cuts forward that they were against. I mean they just don't make sense. In fact, it's still on their books, Pete, to have $387 billion of higher taxes. I mean the retirees tax and the housing tax are still on the Labor Party's books so they just simply can't count and they are always the party of higher taxes. When it comes to Newstart, our goal there is to create more jobs, to get people off welfare and into employment. And what we've seen is the majority of people do move off within twelve months, and we have seen more than 1.4 million new jobs being created, without eight out of every ten jobs being created in the last year being fulltime. So that's our priority and that's the policies that we have in place to deliver.

PETER STEFANOVIC:

So, no plan to increase Newstart at this stage?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, the Prime Minister and I, and others, have made it very clear that what our policy is and in terms of benefitting people on Newstart, the best thing we can do is to get them into a job.

PETER STEFANOVIC:

You must be very pleased with the mining sector, almost clapping your hands at the moment with that, it's propping up the rest of the economy.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, in terms of iron ore prices, they've certainly been elevated. Let's not forget that we were pretty conservative in the Budget with our forecasts for the iron ore price, it was at $55 a tonne, now it's at $75 a tonne, at one stage it got over to $120 a tonne, and the benefits to our terms of trade have been one of the factors that have led Australia to have a current account surplus for the first time since 1975. So the mining sector is critically important. Again though, if you look across the political divide, our opponents want to tie up the mining sector in more red tape, more regulation, and when it came to major projects during the election they sat on the fence, whereas we've been very supportive of Australia's mining sector and the jobs that it creates.

PETER STEFANOVIC:

Treasurer, one last question before you go. There were these raids which took place in Canberra yesterday. I know you must be restricted in what you can say. I know it's not your portfolio as well, but as Deputy Liberal Leader, I'm wondering if you have any concerns about the freedom of whistle-blowers at the moment?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Look, we have legislation in place to deal with these matters and again, freedom of speech is absolutely critical. But so is our national security, and as you know, that particular event that you mentioned yesterday, that will play out in terms of the courts and over the normal course of events, and so, what I say, I'm very limited in what I say. But of course, freedom of speech is critically important but so too is our national security.

PETER STEFANOVIC:

Alright, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, I really appreciate your time this morning, thanks for joining us.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Good to be with you.