Radio Interview with Sabra Lane, ABC AM

05 Jul 2019
Prime Minister

SABRA LANE: The Prime Minister joins us now, welcome back to AM. 

PRIME MINISTER: G’day Sabra, nice to be back. 

LANE: Billions will start flowing to taxpayers this year. How keen are you for them to get spending and pump up a sagging economy?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I'm very keen for them to be able to keep more of what they earn and make the choices they want to make with their own money, Sabra. That's what this has always been about. I said last night that this was the Parliament rewarding the aspiration of Australians. I backed them to do what they believe is best for them, their communities, their families. And so that's what they'll be able to do. It's their money, it's not mine. They earned it and I want them to keep it. That's what I told the people at the election and I was pleased to get their support for it and pleased to get the support of the Parliament last night, despite the Labor Party seeking to obstruct and prevent this every single step of the way.

LANE: Do you agree with the Reserve Bank Governor Phil Lowe that there's an urgent need for more government driven activity and that the tax cuts will only go so far?

PRIME MINISTER: Well Phil Lowe has been saying this for a long time, Sabra. Phil and I… he first raised this with me years ago as Treasurer and that's why in the budgets we've been handing down for some years have had a very significant infrastructure package. I mean, right now, this year 2019-20, there's $13.4 billion going into infrastructure projects. We've got another 280 projects currently now underway or in planning. What we've been doing is building this infrastructure pipeline very much consistent with when Phil Lowe first raised is with me. When we went to the election, the plan was to address the circumstances as we know them right now. And we know the challenges. That's why we put this plan together with $100 billion worth of infrastructure, dozens, I would say thousands of projects in fact at a small scale level, at a regional level. The congestion-busting infrastructure package - we’ve just got to get them built, and that's the focus of my attention with the states and territories.

LANE: Mr Lowe couldn't be clearer on the need for more infrastructure, pointing out just how cheap money is right now for the government to borrow and emphasizing that it's a holistic approach that was needed.

PRIME MINISTER: I'm saying we agree and have agreed for a long time. And I think, Sabra, people need to be careful of over interpreting Mr Lowe's remarks. What he's saying is get the infrastructure activity happening and that's exactly what we are doing. That might be a surprise for those who are coming late to this debate. But we have known about this for a long time. That's why we've been announcing these projects - $100 billion. As I say, $13.4 billion this year alone, $48.2 billion over the Budget and the forward estimates. We have already been moving on what Dr Lowe has been saying because we’ve always known about the need.

LANE: If more stimulus is required, is the Government prepared to fork out more money?

PRIME MINISTER: Well as I said, we have those pipelines in place. We took the plan to deal with exactly the circumstances Dr Lowe has been talking about, because the Treasurer and I have been making exactly the same point for a very long time now.

LANE: Sorry, to the question Prime Minister - if more stimulus is required, will the Government be prepared to outlay more money?

PRIME MINISTER: I'll answer it by pointing to our record. We lifted the infrastructure program from $75 billion to $100 billion. Why? We did that because we believe that was necessary to support growth in the Australian economy. We will always take actions that we believe will support the creation of jobs and that's what this does. But it's not just about that. The regulation busting initiative I announced last week when I was in Perth - that was about ensuring that we remove the obstacles to investment. That's what we need to do as well. I mean, there's a whole raft of things - the skills agenda which I laid out at the election, we need to get on with that. The modernisation of our financial services and the digital economy, again making sure that as of the 1st of July we will be ensuring that small businesses, part of our contracting process, get paid in 20 days not 30 days. You need that cash going into the economy as well. So we've always had a very comprehensive plan, Sabra, because we've understood the challenges we need to face. So we're going to implement it.

LANE: Prime Minister, the government says no services will be cut to fund these tax changes. Aren't voters right to be a bit sceptical here? When the Coalition came to power in 2013 the promise was no cuts to education, no cuts to health, no change to pensions, no change to the GST, and no cuts to the ABC or SBS and that wasn’t kept.

PRIME MINISTER: The Pre-election Fiscal Outlook, now that is the report that is provided independently by the Secretaries of Finance and Treasury when you go into an election. That report demonstrated, signed off on, certified that all the spending that we put to the election - the record expenditure on health, on hospitals, on schools, on mental health, on the National Disability Insurance Scheme, on rebuilding our defence industry capability to 2 per cent GDP spending. All of this, all of those projections over the next decade, all of that spending was all taken into account with the full tax plan. So that's why I could assert quite confidently in the House that our spending plans are set out and they are not affected by this personal income tax plan. And it's not my word for it - it's the Secretaries of Treasury and Finance.

LANE: Let's go to the crossbench concerns. Jacqui Lambie says social housing in Tasmania is in crisis. Will you wipe the State Government's housing debt?

PRIME MINISTER: This is an issue that we've already been engaging with the State Government on. In Tasmania I think we have to be aware that over the last particularly two years and more intensively the last 12 months... I mean, Hobart has been leading the house price growth index around the country, and that has produced a very different and new set of circumstances in Tasmania that we're conscious of as well. So…

LANE: OK but to the point of the question, will you wipe the debt? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well that's the issue now where we're going to work through with the state government and that's what Jacqui Lambie has said also. Where there's an overlap of an alignment of what we're trying to work on, there shouldn't be any great surprise that we would seek to work down that path which is what we're doing.

LANE: The Government has set aside a $160 million in the contingency reserve for a referendum on Indigenous recognition. What has to happen for that referendum to actually proceed?

PRIME MINISTER: I think we have to get to a point where we can have some consensus and agreement on what can be put forward in that referendum. And I'm keen to work towards that outcome. I know that Minister Wyatt is and I know that- I believe the Leader of the Opposition is, and I think as is Linda Burney. So you know, I think we started this Parliament with some good faith. I don't want to go out there and sort of precondition this overly. I mean, the Liberal and National parties obviously have and always have had a more conservative constitutional view about these things. But you know, we are keen to progress this. There was the Joint Select Committee on this very issue last year and we accepted their recommendations. I mean, there is the issue of constitutional recognition and there is the issue of greater engagement and a voice into Parliament. And those two things we are advancing, but I'm not going to raise expectations, I'm just going to work constructively and cooperatively. And as I said in the Parliament yesterday, not in a bipartisan way in a-partisan way. I think we need to get everybody on this because if it were to proceed, which I would like, then I would like it to succeed.

LANE: All right. East Timor's former president Xanana Gusmao has urged the federal government drop the case against Lawyer K and Bernard Cleary. Will Australia do that?

PRIME MINISTER: These are the matters that obviously get considered within the Government and with the Attorney-General and based on that advice we'll continue to consider all those matters very cautiously.

LANE: All right. Prime Minister, thanks for joining AM this morning. 

PRIME MINISTER:  Thanks very much Sabra. Good to be with you.