2 May 2021

Interview with Andrew Clennell, Sky News Sunday Agenda

Note

Topics: Federal Budget 2021

Andrew Clennell:

I spoke to the Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Housing, Michael Sukkar, late last week.

Michael Sukkar, thanks for joining us.

Minister Sukkar:

Good to be with you, Andrew.

Andrew Clennell:

If you were to sum up this Budget, what’s it about?

Minister Sukkar:

Andrew, this Budget is about jobs. It’s about locking in the significant gains that we’ve made in the middle of a pandemic. It’s about ensuring that the phenomenal economic growth that we’ve seen over the last two quarters, continues. It’s about banking those gains and making sure that we keep the foot on the economic accelerator to make sure more people can get into jobs and that businesses thrive as they’re recovering from the devastating effects of the pandemic.

Andrew Clennell:

Is it also about the next election because there’s no austerity push here, there’s no push really for a surplus, its more stimulus? You couldn’t do anything else politically, could you?

Minister Sukkar:

Well, Andrew, what we’ve done throughout this pandemic – and let’s remember that we’re still in the midst of it, we’ve still got Covid raging in parts of the world – is we are taking a consistent approach as we have throughout and that’s addressing the immediate issues for the economy, getting people back into jobs, supporting businesses. Now that we’re seeing a recovery, it’s about really locking in those gains and pushing forward.

Andrew Clennell:

Well, you’re right, Australia’s record is remarkable. Why aren’t you further ahead in the polls?

Minister Sukkar:

Andrew, I think if there’s anything that the 2019 election should have taught us – indeed that elections around the world should have taught us – is not to focus too much on polls. I know that it’s a big focus for many people inside Parliament House, particularly in the media, but from our perspective we are focussed on delivering for the Australian people. As John Howard always said, “a good policy is good politics”. Having a strong economy, having more people in work, supporting jobs, as we’ve seen throughout the pandemic, whether it was JobKeeper or HomeBuilder, supporting businesses get to the other side, in the end, those things are always judged fairly by the Australian people. And in the end, we were focussed on delivering for them and everything else normally looks after itself.

Andrew Clennell:

You’ve quoted John Howard, let me quote Peter Costello, him saying last year that we need to do something about this debt. Now you were always on about debt and deficit and Labor’s debt and deficit. There’s no approach in this budget towards tackling the debt. When is it going to happen?

Minister Sukkar:

Well Andrew the Treasurer has been very clear with the Australian people around the markers that we would use to engage on budget repair. I think no Australian would fairly criticise the government for the fiscal support that we put in place during the pandemic. Whether it was the $100 billion JobKeeper program, $2.5 billion HomeBuilder program, JobSeeker, the list goes on and on. I don’t think that anyone can fairly criticise the government for doing what we did. Now, what are the fruits of that? What’s the product of that effort, Andrew? Well, it’s an unemployment rate at 5.6 per cent, it’s employment levels above where they were pre-pandemic. That’s our focus.

Andrew Clennell:

Will the Child Care Subsidy be increased in the Budget? Will there be more money for childcare?

Minister Sukkar:

Andrew, I know that you’ve got to ask all these questions. You will see it all on the night. We have made significant investments into childcare. We have been a Government that has invested heavily and reformed childcare in really significant ways. But you’ll see all of that in the Budget, the Budget all hangs together.

Andrew Clennell:

How important is it to show women that you’re on their side in this Budget?

Minister Sukkar:

Andrew, I think that it’s always incumbent on the Government to appeal to every Australian and certainly women being 51 per cent of the population is a group that we have put an extraordinary effort into. If you look at the gender wage gap and where that has gone under our Government as far as narrowing, whether you look at the recovered jobs since the pandemic that have disproportionately recovered for women. Women’s economic security is going to be a significant focus. Broader security is going to be a significant focus. I think that we need to speak to all Australians, particularly women, but all Australians about why, in the end, that we’re backing them and we’re going to support them in having a go and that we’re going to do everything that we possibly can to improve their prosperity.

Andrew Clennell:

How much of a focus will there be of infrastructure? We know that we’ve had these supports such as JobKeeper just to keep the economy up while you’ve had lockdowns and the rest. Isn’t it now the time to invest in an asset going forward?

Minister Sukkar:

Andrew, we, in the October budget, increased and brought forward significant infrastructure investment – over $100 billion over ten years. We’ve really put our shoulder to the wheel on infrastructure but of course, infrastructure investment is a key focus of every Morrison Budget. We’ll have more to say on infrastructure, but I can tell you that we have put our best foot forward in bringing forward a lot of expenditure in infrastructure just as recently as the October Budget.

Andrew Clennell:

Just briefly on that, will there be any measures to deal with housing affordability in the Budget?

Minister Sukkar:

What you’ve seen for a number of years from us, Andrew, is a focus on housing. When the Prime Minister was Treasurer and I was his Assistant Minister, we handed down a really significant Budget that involved housing and housing affordability issues. Ever since then it has been a focus of the Budget and this will be no different. It will of course include housing related measures. We’ve had great success in housing whether it’s the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme allowing people to purchase their first home with a five per cent deposit. The HomeBuilder program with $25,000 grants that have now got an industry busier than it was pre-pandemic. We’ll continue to support first home buyers and the residential; construction industry, absolutely, in the Budget.

Andrew Clennell:

The iron ore price. That’s been very important for you in what I expect to be deficits which are much less than what you forecast, even in December. Would you agree with that, that you’ve been quite lucky there?

Minister Sukkar:

I wouldn’t call it luck, Andrew. I think that it’s an outstanding industry and from our perspective, we’ve been very prudent in the way that we’ve budgeted the iron ore price and it’s exceeded that price and there’s a bottom-line dividend for the Budget which is a good thing.

Andrew Clennell:

What did you make of Michael Pezzullo’s comments about the drumbeats of war and are we likely to see a khaki election?

Minister Sukkar:

Andrew I’m not going to add to those comments. In the end, we’re a Government who fiercely defends our sovereignty. But we’re also a Government that works really hard and strives really hard to maintain fantastic relationships with our neighbours and with our trading partners. It’s hard sometimes to walk that fine line but I think that the Government has done a very good job at that. We’ll always defend our sovereignty but as Australians would expect of us, we always strive as hard as we can to have great relationships with all of our neighbours and I think that, to a large extent, we’ve been successful. There are clearly challengers and there’ll be more challengers on the horizon, but we will continue to make decisions in our national interest and do it in a way that is respectful of our neighbours and that seeks to always achieve good outcomes for all parties.

Andrew Clennell:

Mr Sukkar, thanks so much for your time.

Minister Sukkar:

Thanks for having me.