Interview with Sabra Lane, ABC AM

11 Oct 2018
Prime Minister
Small and medium sized business tax cuts; Immigration and population; Climate change; Religious Freedom Review

SABRA LANE: Scott Morrison, thanks for joining the program.


LANE: Fast tracking this tax relief, what boost in wages will that deliver?

PRIME MINISTER: Well that will always be up to the small and medium sized businesses but what we found last time when we provided business tax relief is that small businesses did provide support for wages in some cases. In other cases, they invested more in their businesses. Because small and medium sized businesses, that’s what they do. They don’t just walk away and put their money in their pocket. They invest back in their businesses and in their people. This is a very big boost to businesses that employ more than half the Australian workforce and last time they reacted very well with strong investment and strong support for their employees, boosting employment and creating new opportunities in local towns right across the country to our big cities.

LANE: Can you quantify though what kind of benefit workers will get, given that it is one of the Government’s biggest weaknesses right now. Workers want to know when the low wages growth they’ve been experiencing will come to an end.

PRIME MINISTER: Well I know that if small businesses and medium sized businesses are paying less tax to the Government, then they are more able to provide better wages to their employees. And I know small and medium sized businesses, they put their employees at the center of their business because they know they are the key to the success of their business. So every business will have that opportunity and will have that decision. But I do know one thing – if they have to pay more tax to the Government, which is what Labor will have them do, then they will have less flexibility to pay their staff more.

LANE: The Senate crossbench approved the original plan, are they on side with this idea to fast track the relief?

PRIME MINISTER: Well they’ll have the opportunity, and they’ll have it fairly soon. I intend to bring forward this legislation next week into the House of Representatives. It’s important that I think small and medium sized businesses employing more than half of Australians around the country should have the opportunity to have that legislated as soon as possible. Under the Liberal Party, under the National Party, small and medium sized businesses’ taxes will fall to 25 per cent. Under the Labor Party, they are currently even going to reverse the legislated tax cuts to 25 per cent currently scheduled to 2026-27. Now we are going to bring that forward by five years. Every business less than $50 million in turnover will have a lower rate of tax in the next term of Parliament down to 25 per cent. Under the Labor Party, it’ll be higher. It’s a pretty clear contrast.

LANE: It’s a contrast that’s also about choices. Labor has opposed, as you mentioned, dropping the tax rate below 27.5 per cent. But it is also promising to boost spending in education and health and voters might actually prefer that plan to yours.

PRIME MINISTER: Labor is going to tax Australians more. They are going to tax Australians more than $250 billion more over the next ten years. Labor’s plan, five point plan, is tax, tax, tax, tax and tax. Every time you hear Bill Shorten talking, he is increasing your taxes. And what we’ve done is keep taxes under control, we’ve kept spending under control, we’re bringing the Budget back into balance, we’ve preserved our Triple A credit rating, more than a million jobs have been created. In the last twelve months, more than 100,000 jobs for young people have been created, the strongest youth jobs growth we’ve seen on economic record in Australia. So our plan of keeping taxes and spending under control, spending wisely in infrastructure and services, that’s the guarantee that people can rely on in services. When you manage a Budget and manage an economy, you can actually deliver those services that Labor promises, but we can guarantee we can pay for.

LANE: We’ve seen in recent by-elections though that voters are really concerned about health spending and Labor’s messages about health spending are resonating with the electorate.

PRIME MINISTER: You can’t trust Labor to be able to meet their promises because they can’t run a strong economy and if you put taxes up, you slow the economy down. Our promises, our commitments, can be guaranteed on essential services because we run a strong economy, we run a strong Budget. That’s the guarantee that Australians need and I think demand. It’s no good talking about it, you’ve got to deliver it, and that’s what our Government has been doing. A strong economy and a strong Budget is the guarantee of essential services and that’s what we can offer.

LANE: There is a discussion right now about cutting the immigration intake. What do you want to see it drop to?

PRIME MINISTER: Well already we’ve seen the permanent intake fall to just over 160,000 and that’s basically the same level it was when the Howard Government left office back in 2007.

LANE: Do you want to see it go further?

PRIME MINISTER: Well we’ve got a cap, we don’t have a target. We changed that a while ago and what this does is largely respond to demand. What we want to do is make sure particularly that the temporary migration program, now that has been what is driving population growth. More than 40 per cent of population growth in Australia has been as a result of temporary migration. Just under 40 per cent has basically been natural increase, and only around 20 per cent of it has been permanent migration. So managing temporary migration is the key to managing population growth, and that’s actually where you’ve got the most levers. That’s why we’ve been talking about using the migration program to back in state and territory plans where they want to see population spread in a different way than it is now, to get people to the places they want them and to ensure that where congestion is a big issue like in Sydney and in Melbourne or I would say even the Central Coast of NSW where I was yesterday, that we can alleviate that pressure.

LANE: I was going to say, but according to respected demographers like Professor Peter McDonald a drop in that immigration rate could see the nation’s growth rate cut, create a worker shortage and an ageing population and shrink the number of taxpayers to foot the bill for the things that we’re going to need in the future like the aged pension. How seriously are you weighing up those things?

PRIME MINISTER: Well you must have misunderstood me, Sabra. What I’m saying it’s a bit like average rainfall is about as useful as the statistic of average population growth. What I’m talking about is managing where the population goes, where the temporary migration goes. That means you can maintain a healthy migration program, but what you’re doing is making sure it’s getting to the places that need it, just like you need rainfall where you need it. There’s no pint talking about national averages, you’ve got to talk about what’s the population growth in Melbourne? What’s the population growth in Adelaide, or in Western Australia? In both of those states, they’re places where they want more people. I was down in Tasmania just last weekend, they have a plan to lift the population of that state and we want our migration program to support it. But you’ve got to have a policy for Sydney, you’ve got to have a policy for Melbourne, for south east Queensland, for Cairns, for Townsville, and that’s what our population policies are about. I mean just to talk about figures at a headline level, I think it’d very superficial and it’d be very misleading and I don’t think that’s the way you actually solve congestion problems in cities where you need to do that or solving the need for more population in others areas where those cities, those towns, those regions are urgently looking for it.

LANE: Mr Morrison, the latest IPCC report on carbon emissions – how reliable do you think it is?

PRIME MINISTER: Well we’re looking at that report and it’s a global report, it’s not a report to Australia I should stress. We take all of those reports seriously, we’re part of that process but we’ve got our commitments and we’re meeting our commitments and we’ll continue to do that. We’re very confident about our ability to meet those. Why? Because we’ve met the targets we’ve already set for ourselves, and we will continue to be able to do that.

LANE: But you’ve said that Australia will meet the 2030 targets in a canter. Who is giving you that advice?

PRIME MINISTER: I believe that is what we’ll meet, because not only the policy…

LANE: But who is giving you… is there a credible, respected independent scientist who backs you on that?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, this is the advice that we’re working through as a Government. But what it’s based on also is we’ve crossed a threshold point, Sabra. No longer in order to see large investment in renewable technologies do you need these heavy subsidies, because it’s now making economic sense all on its own. We have been through a period in the past where those subsidies have been very important to the build-up of the renewable energy sector. But when a sector can stand on its two feet and when you look out over the next decade and you see the investment that is coming in renewables, not because governments are throwing money at it but because it just makes good economic financial sense, then that’s how you start to meet these arrangements. Now also on the demand management side we’ve seen major improvements happening there. We’ve still got the small scale RET and the large scale RET programs, they remain in place. And look, everybody can say what they think is going to happen by 2030, Sabra. I believe, our Government believes we’re going to meet those targets comfortably and in 2030 we can all meet up again and we can sit down and do the interview again, Sabra, but you know we can all have our crystal ball.

LANE: Not sure I’ll be here or you’ll be here.


PRIME MINISTER: Well that’s for the Australian people to judge on us both, isn’t it?

LANE: Prime Minister on religious freedom, your government seems to be intent on tying itself in knots over religious freedoms. What is the problem that needs fixing here?

PRIME MINISTER: In the same way that all Australians, regardless of their gender or their race in Australia, they can go about their lives each day with important protections that protect them from discrimination. What the report, which is yet to go fully through a Cabinet process yet, what the report is saying well those sort of same protections and those sort of freedoms, people of different of faiths, of which there are millions in Australia, should have that same level of confidence. Now we’re working through that report, I’ve only been in the job Sabra as you know for seven weeks or so. This was a report that had been received by the previous Prime Minister and it was held by the Attorney as well. It hadn’t gone to Cabinet, Cabinet Ministers hadn’t seen it at that time. I’ve been working through that, I’ve got a timetable to deal with this by the end of the year, but frankly, my priority immediately was to deal particularly with issues around education which we have been dealing with strongly. We have been dealing with the issues around the economy and the measures I’m announcing today for lower taxes for small businesses and medium sized businesses. I’ve been dealing with issues of the drought, the aged care Royal Commission we announced this week. We’ve had some important priorities we’ve been dealing with.

Religious freedom is an important priority to me as well as all Australians and we’ll work through that in a methodical process but I want to make something really clear, particularly in terms of the reporting that was yesterday. There is no proposal before the Government to in any way weaken the protections that exist for people of same-sex marriages or for people or children who may be gay or lesbian or the many other descriptions. There is no law that is proposing from that report to change that in any negative way. In fact, as Phillip Ruddock made clear yesterday, what the proposal was is to actually put in place better guidelines, more clarity to ensure that the child is at the center of the protection of what that law would do. Now the law that is currently in place was introduced by the Labor Party. Tanya Plibersek sat around the Cabinet table when it was out in place, Bill Shorten was part of the Government that put in place the existing law which reflects the protection that is already there for those schools.

LANE: Alright Prime Minister, thanks for joining the program.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks a lot Sabra.