27 August 2018
Transcript - #2018001, 2018

Interview with Jon Faine, Mornings, ABC Radio Melbourne

Subjects: Leadership; Ministry; and the Great Barrier Reef

JON FAINE:

Josh Frydenberg, good morning, congratulations.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Nice to be with you, Jon.

JON FAINE:

What was that about last week?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, look there was a leadership change, I have to say, it came to me as something that was unexpected. Malcolm Turnbull was heading in the right direction, that being said, the change happened and now we've got to draw a line under the events of last week.

JON FAINE:

But what about? What was achieved?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, we have a new Prime Minister and I don't think it's any use to your listeners or indeed for us to talk about the events of the past, we need to talk about the future. Scott Morrison has made a very strong start, he's outlined what his priorities are for the country.

JON FAINE:

I know you don't want to talk about the past, but if you don't understand the past, you can't possibly set a direction for the future. The public want to know whether or not the Liberal Party actually knows what sort of a party it wants to be.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Jon, the public want to see good government. They want to see lower electricity prices, they want to see relief for our drought stricken farmers, they want to see their essential services rolled out in health and education and the National Disability Insurance Scheme and they want to be kept safe by a federal government that is focused on them.

They're all the things that Scott Morrison and his team will do from here on.

JON FAINE:

The first opinion polls are out and they show the damage. Surely, surely, the people, plotters or the insurgents as the ex-Prime Minister called them, surely, they factored that in.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, obviously those polls have gone in the wrong direction, but that's no surprise and my job is not to focus on the poll from fortnight to fortnight, but to focus on outcomes from the Australian people.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister announced his new generation team, there are a lot of new faces including Western Australian Melissa Price into Environment and Queenslander Karen Andrews into Industry, an additional woman into Cabinet which is a positive thing. My fellow Victorian Dan Tehan has got the big job in Education including sitting down with the Catholic sector and resolving those issues as well as bringing in Angus Taylor to get electricity prices down. So, there are some new faces, it's a new generation team…

JON FAINE:

New generation, but I won a wager that you'd get that in within the first minute, Josh Frydenberg – cha-ching!

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, you won that wager against yourself, Jon.

JON FAINE:

We'll come to some of the other shifts in just a moment, but how do you recover from losing Julie Bishop from your front bench, very popular with the public and a very effective representative globally.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, the Prime Minister made it very clear, he wanted Julie Bishop to stay on. She's been an outstanding Foreign Minister, a great friend and colleague and indeed…

JON FAINE:

She's been embarrassed and humiliated by the disclosure that not even the West Australians voted for her in the poll.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, she'll be celebrated for her record and her record as Foreign Minister is outstanding, she's been a great team player, she's been active in Victoria as you know and she's been a role model for millions of Australian women.

So, I look forward to her continuing to play an active role in public life and certainly we can all celebrate her achievements.

JON FAINE:

Your former portfolio has been split into two, environment and energy have been severed, why?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, there is clearly a focus for us on reliability and price when it comes to the electricity system. Now obviously, I tried to integrate that with climate change through the National Energy Guarantee, but that didn't get introduced into the Parliament.

What we do though have is a suite of policy measures to reduce power prices. We've accepted the recommendations from the ACCC which will see new generation and more competition come into the market as well as ensuring that Australians have a standard default offer which will reduce some of the confusion in their power bills. We have got power prices down…

JON FAINE:

So, it take two people to replace you, is that right?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, there were two people in that portfolio, I had an assistant minister, now we've got two senior Cabinet Ministers, one for the Environment in Melissa Price and one for Energy in Angus Taylor.

JON FAINE:

Will this be a less Sydney-centric government than the previous one.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, certainly there's a strong Victorian focus. My colleague Alan Tudge has got a big job as the congestion busting minister involving infrastructure as well as population. Greg Hunt has retained his important role in the Health portfolio. Dan Tehan, I said, in Education and Sarah Henderson comes into the team and she'll be focusing on…

JON FAINE:

As an Assistant Minister. Greg Hunt, your close personal friend, was one of those plotting against Malcolm Turnbull and effectively you.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, like I said, we draw a line under the events of the week past, Greg's been an outstanding Health Minister, really liked by the sector and again with runs on the board in the PBS and other areas and he'll continue his good work.

JON FAINE:

Still on the reshuffle Josh Frydenberg, does this please or placate the insurgents, Tony Abbott, Kevin Andrews, Eric Abetz?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, there is continuity, people like Peter Dutton and Mathias Cormann have retained key portfolios of Home Affairs and Finance, Christian Porter in Attorney Generals and you mentioned Greg Hunt and as well Michaela Cash and Steve Ciobo stay in the Cabinet.

JON FAINE:

Michael Sukkar has been dumped and Michaela Cash has been demoted.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, Michael Sukkar again has made a fantastic contribution…

JON FAINE:

He'd lose his seat on the news poll published in the paper today.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

He won't lose his seat. He's a very good local member, he did a really good job as an assistant minister in Treasury and he's going to have a long and successful career in public life.

JON FAINE:

Alright, you didn't specifically address the Tony Abbott question I put to you though. Tony Abbott does not get a special envoy role the way Barnaby Joyce does, never did much about the drought when he was in charge of the National Party, now he's a special envoy for it.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

We can disagree about that.

JON FAINE:

Do you appease Tony Abbott? What do you do?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, the Prime Minister is talking to Tony Abbott about a potential role that he could play, but that's a discussion that they will have. No one denies the fact that the former Prime Minister has particular skills and those skills need to be brought to bear to help us get re-elected at the next election.

JON FAINE:

You sought advice on Saturday morning from Peter Costello, a previous Victorian and Treasury. What did he advise? What did he say?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, he talked about the challenges of the portfolio, the importance of the productivity agenda, getting continuous job growth, bearing in mind we've already created one million jobs and unemployment is down to its lowest level since 2012, and the importance of meeting with some the senior agency heads in that portfolio.

So, I sought his advice as Australia's most successful Treasurer who delivered 10 Budget surpluses and then we had a chat too about Question Time. If I can be as half as entertaining in that chamber as he was then I'm on my way.

JON FAINE:

Did he give you advice about ultimately gaining the top job which he of course never did?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

No, he didn't and nor did I seek that because my job as I have been in my previous ministerial roles both to Tony Abbott and to Malcolm Turnbull is to be loyal to the leader. I'll continue to do that.

My job as the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party is to support the Prime Minister, support the Party and help us get re-elected at the next election, so we can continue to deliver good government to the people of Australia.

JON FAINE:

I don't think I'm breaking much news here though in saying you do entertain ambition, you would like to be Prime Minister one day, would you not?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, that is certainly not top of my mind, my focus is….

JON FAINE:

No, but in the back of your mind, one day, and I'm not trying to undermine a newly sworn in Prime Minister, but one day, you would see yourself in that top job, would you not?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

I am not entertaining such ambitions, Jon. My focus is on being a good Treasurer and a good member of the Morrison Government and ensuring that the Australian people get the essential services that they need, the jobs growth that they need, deal with some of the difficult issues, like drought and of course keep them safe because we do live in challenging times.

JON FAINE:

Peter Dutton has been stripped of the immigration part of the Home Affairs portfolio. The Senate last week, whilst people weren't really watching because there was some other things going on, the Senate voted to conduct an enquiry into the au pair affair.

The granting of two visas, work visas, to two French au pairs who arrived here and within 20 minutes of being detained by immigration officials, they were magically given permission to stay. Is that potential trip over point for Peter Dutton?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

No.

JON FAINE:

Why not?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Because he has been a very good minister, he's explained all that situation in the Parliament previously…

JON FAINE:

Never adequately or satisfactory at all.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Maybe not to your liking, Jon. But, there's obviously going to be continuous mud-raking from those opposite. If they want to play the man, not the ball, then that's to their disadvantage.

JON FAINE:

Well, I think there's a bit of both in it. Undoubtedly, they'd like to see him – and I'm sure there are people in the Liberal Party – that would like to see him cut down. But, it's also about policy.

Who else has ever been granted, whilst in detention, permission to stay and on what basis? It's a fair question for the public to ask from a government and a minister in particular who's been so rigid deciding who's allowed to stay in Australia and who's not to.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Look, on that issue, I refer you to his answers in the Parliament and I say that he's been an outstanding and successful Home Affairs Minister and that's why he's continuing in the role.

JON FAINE:

Do you trust him?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Yes.

JON FAINE:

Two other quick things, if I may, you were in the room with Malcolm Turnbull when he decided to give half a billion dollars to an almost unknown organisation about to do work on the Barrier Reef. Are you going to revisit that decision?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

No and what is very clear about that decision is that it went through the Expenditure Review Committee process and that it represented the single largest financial commitment to the Barrier Reef in Australia's history.

It's actually an investment that is important to helping save the Reef. That's why it was welcomed by the Chairperson of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority as a game-changer, that's why the Chief Scientist of Australia Alan Finkel described the announcement as a great day for science and that's why the head of tourism operators in the region described it as underpinning regional jobs.

JON FAINE:

So, as Treasurer, you're happy for people to hand out half a billion dollars with no due diligence, no background, no application, no tender, no proposal, no business plan? You're happy with that?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, Jon, there actually was due diligence and my department at the time recommended to me in writing that this would be to the benefit of the Reef and meet the Government's objectives, that it represented value for money and that it complied with the guidelines. So, you might want to talk about this issue from that perspective, but the reality is, there are going to be lots of farmers, lots of scientists, lots of jobs in Queensland that will benefit from this investment.

Let's not forget that when the Labor Party were last in office, the Barrier Reef went on the in-danger watch list, you actually saw five dredge disposal projects for the marine park being planned by Labor and they had no long term investment strategy for the Reef.

We changed all of that. We banned capital dredge disposal in the marine park. We got it off the in-danger watch list back to a normal reporting process and we put in place a $2 billion Reef 2050 Plan with the Queensland Government in which this $500 million in addition to that. So, I stand by our Reef investments, knowing that our focus is on ensuring this great wonder of the world is protected for future generations.

JON FAINE:

I know I'm taking up a lot of time, two more very quick issues though. First of all…

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Two have turned into ten, but there we go.

JON FAINE:

Company tax cuts, yes or no?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Look, we're focusing on delivering tax relief, I'm going to be sitting down with Treasury in the coming days and to get full briefings, but we have already delivered significant tax cuts for a number of businesses by the way which Labor would seek to reverse if they were in office.

JON FAINE:

Alright and finally the outgoing Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, the former Prime Minister, blamed certain people in the media, particularly Sky News and also the Murdoch newspaper empire in part for his demise. Do you agree with his analysis?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Like all those issues of the past week, I've drawn a line under that. My job is to be a successful Treasurer and Deputy Leader and ensure that the Morrison Government delivers for the people of Australia and for the people of course listening to your program in Victoria.

We've already made significant ground under Malcolm Turnbull with a lot of achievements to our name and Scott Morrison will continue with that success in the days and months ahead.

JON FAINE:

Sounds to me like you're not trying to pick a fight with those same powerful people described as bullies.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Look, I leave that to ABC commentators to talk about the News Limited and other media outlets, my job…

JON FAINE:

Not just ABC commentators it needs to be said.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, you can go talk to them about it, but I won't be a commentator on the media. What I will do though is continue to deliver good government.

JON FAINE:

From one JF to another, we'll wait and see how that pans out and how long it is before we all go back to the polls which is now widely expected early next year. Good luck is all I can say and thank you for your time this morning.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Always a pleasure to be with you, Jon.