27 August 2018
Transcript - #2018003, 2018

Interview with Neil Mitchell, Mornings, 3AW

Subjects: Polls; leadership; Ministry; energy; population; and education.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Josh Frydenberg, good morning.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Nice to be with you, Neil.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Are you still a bit stunned?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, it did all happen very quickly. Clearly, I wouldn't have liked to come to this role in the circumstances which occurred over the past week because I did support Malcolm Turnbull to the end.

That being said, we need to draw a line under the events of last week and move on. Scott Morrison has made a very strong start and my job is to support him and to support the government deliver for all Australians.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I imagine your briefings from Treasury and the rest have just started, so we'll leave the detail to another time.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Not even started yet.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay, but the polls are appalling, how do you turn them around? The polls today are just shocking.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, the poll today is as big a surprise as the sun coming up tomorrow. I mean, the last week was a very difficult week for the party and for my colleagues, but we do need to move on.

Since the election by the party room of Scott Morrison as our leader last Friday, he has made a very strong start. He has outlined what his priorities are, to support the drought stricken farmers, to continue the strong jobs growth and grow the economy so we can deliver the essential services of health and education and the National Disability Insurance Scheme and to keep Australians safe.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Somebody's briefed you on the list. The brand has been damaged though, it must've been a depressing week. There's no question that the Liberal brand has been damaged, is there?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, both sides of politics in the last decade have tumultuous events like the past week. We saw that with the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years and I do believe, as you say, it reduces the public's confidence in the system and their political leaders and that is in no one's interest.

But, what has occurred, has occurred and what we need to do now is to move on and the announcement of the new team by Scott Morrison yesterday is a chance to reset.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Do you seriously believe that you're a chance to win the next election?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Absolutely.

NEIL MITCHELL:

How? Why? Where?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, I do believe we have the best policies to continue the strong economy…

NEIL MITCHELL:

But, what's going to turn it around? You're in deep trouble, what's going to turn it around?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, there's two things that we'll focus on. One is our policy agenda and you have to say Malcolm Turnbull did get runs on the board. I mean, he helped create one million new jobs and he introduced a whole range of new legislation and funding initiatives to support our defence industries and to protect people on the streets.

Now, when it comes to the alternative government, that's Bill Shorten and we know that it's left leaning, it's union dominated and it is not the answer to the challenges Australia faces.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But, what do you think people care about? I mean, Malcolm Turnbull used to go on about growth and jobs and innovation and it was a pretty complex and confusing message. What is the message from the new team on what matters to the people of Australia?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, what people want is to keep a job or to get a job and what Morrison said is that if you have a go, you'll get a go. That is his understanding and terminology around fairness.

We do know that lower taxes are a way to grow the economy, we do know that people expect their essential services, education and health, and we're investing record amounts in that, and the National Disability Insurance Scheme is to provide support for those who need it most.

We also know that electricity prices have been rising and what we did do in the announcement yesterday of the new team was to separate environment from energy. I had both portfolios when I was a Cabinet minister. Now, Melissa Price who is a new face in the Cabinet team from Western Australia, she'll have Environment and Angus Taylor from New South Wales will have Energy.

His job is to get prices down, to work with the states to build the reliability of the system up because, Neil, as we know as Victorians after the closure of Hazelwood, we saw an 80 per cent spike in the price of electricity. And we've just heard in recent days from the head of the Australian Energy Market Operator that Victoria has a high chance of load-shedding and load-shedding is a euphemism for blackouts and Victoria should've never been allowed to get into that spot that it's in.

Daniel Andrews has a lot to answer for and certainly the Federal Government will be driving an agenda there to create a more affordable and reliable energy system.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So, is it too late to avoid blackouts or the possibility, the danger of blackouts in Victoria this summer?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

It's never too late, but what you do need is sensible decision-making and that's been missing at the state level and you can have your own state-based renewable energy targets, but if you don't have enough storage and back up, then when the wind's not blowing and the sun's not shining, power will not be generated.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Population, I mean that is a thing that keeps coming through, population and immigration, will there be a rethink there?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, certainly around population and infrastructure, we see an important link. That's why Victorian Alan Tudge has been given that important role.

I do think we do need to prepare better than what we have done in the past for increased population and the burden that places on infrastructure, particularly transport infrastructure. We've seen those pressures in Victoria.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Do you, I know the Prime Minister wouldn't tell you, but think there's any chance of an early election?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

No.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Why?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Because we need the time to lay out our agenda and the Australian people elected us to serve a full term and that's our intention.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Barnacles to clear, what are they?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Education.

NEIL MITCHELL:

What? The Catholic funding?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Yes, we do need to sit down and resolve that issue quickly.

NEIL MITCHELL:

An omnishambles your mate Tim Smith called it, correct?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, Dan Tehan, another Victorian, has got that challenging role and I have great confidence in his ability to resolve that. But, education is one.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Tax cuts?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, we'll obviously get the full briefings, but we have delivered tax cuts already for millions of Australian businesses. Labor wants to roll them back and we know that reducing the tax cuts, particularly for those small and medium-sized businesses, gives them a leg up.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay, but the decision on tax cuts stands, on business tax cuts, I assume?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Look, we've made our positions clear and Scott Morrison has a clear view of where he wants to take the economy. We do have unemployment down to its lowest level since 2012 at 5.3 per cent. There is more to do and like I said, if we can grow the economy, we can deliver those essential services: education, health and the NDIS.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I'll just play you something Tony Abbott said earlier this morning.

[Excerpt]

TONY ABBOTT:

I am full of enthusiasm for the new government. I'm delighted that we've got now a Prime Minister who can leave the backstabbing and the leaking behind.

[End of excerpt]

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay, sounds like he's back in the tent. Do you want him back in?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

The Prime Minister, yesterday, and I as well had a chat with Tony Abbott. He's certainly got political skills and he was a prime minister and to have him play a role in the Morrison Government is something that I think would be of benefit.

NEIL MITCHELL:

It's reported that he could be a special envoy in Aboriginal affairs. Are you able to confirm that?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, there is discussions about a particular role helping in the Indigenous affairs area and this is something that Tony's been passionate about for a long period of time and I do think he has something to bring to the table and I hope that those discussion are fruitful.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Have you talked to Julie Bishop yet?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

I have spoken to Julie Bishop over recent days. She's again been an outstanding friend, colleague and Foreign Minister and has a strong role to play still in public life even though she won't be continuing in that role which by the way Scott Morrison made it very clear that he would like her to stay in, but she made a personal decision not to.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I got a message from a senior Liberal yesterday, here in Victoria: you can't move on til Abbott, Abetz and Andrews go, what's your response to that?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

No, I don't believe that's the case. As you heard from Tony Abbott, he's already strongly endorsed the Morrison Government. Last week, as I said, was a very difficult one, we draw a line under it, we have a new generation, we have a new team, there are a lot of new faces, including more women into Cabinet, which I think also is an important decision.

We have some challenging issues, but we have as well the continuity of having Peter Dutton in Home Affairs, Mathias Cormann in Finance, Greg Hunt in Health, so I think we've got the balance right between a new generation team and the stability of the previous Cabinet.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I'm sure this is something you'll hear a lot about if it gets any leaks, Kevin Rudd writing in Fairfax papers today, wants a Royal Commission into media. Any response?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, I don't think we're about to jump at that. The media play an important role as the fourth estate. You certainly won't agree with them all the time, but having a strong, open media is critical to our democracy.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Just a couple of other quick things, is it relevant that you're Victorian? We haven't had a Victorian in this position for some time, is it relevant?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, I'm a proud Victorian and a proud Carlton supporter, although I've had less to cheer about than you lately on that, Neil. But, I had the real pleasure to catch up with Peter Costello over the weekend and Peter was Australia's greatest Treasurer, he delivered 10 Budget surpluses and with John Howard brought great stability to the nation.

So, I think that team of a New South Welshman and Victorian as Leader and Deputy was a great time for the party and a great time for the country. Hopefully, Scott and I can go some way to living up to that past and deliver for the future.

NEIL MITCHELL:

You were on the tennis circuit, well a version of the tennis circuit for a year in your gap year, so you must've been able to play a bit, what did that teach you? What did playing tennis at the high level teach you?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, certainly my ambitions when it came to tennis were far greater than my talents, Neil. I did give it a go, but then the apple dropped from the tree and hit me on the head with a dose of reality.

NEIL MITCHELL:

C'mon, you beat Mark Philippoussis! You kept telling the world that.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

In doubles! In doubles! And went to a tie-breaker with Pat Rafter who I know quite well. But, look they were good times, I certainly had more hair then and less holes on the belt.

NEIL MITCHELL:

You're also a photographer?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, a very try hard type of one.

NEIL MITCHELL:

You've had an exhibition, haven't you?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

I had before I went into Parliament, that's true.

NEIL MITCHELL:

How'd that go? Sell anything?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Yeah, sold it all. The money just went to charity, but what I did do is I took a few photos and haven't really done much since.

But, when you asked me about tennis, I think there is an important lesson from sport for life which is that you win some days, you don't get ahead of yourself when you do and when you lose, you learn from it. And for me, the best thing I learnt from my time playing tennis was persistence, was about preparation and training and discipline. But, when you win and you lose, you've got to treat those two [indistinct] just the same.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well, it's good to speak with you. I must say that moment with the cleaner at Parliament House…

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Anna.

NEIL MITCHELL:

…Anna Jancevski, was one of the most extraordinary things I've seen in politics. You come out of a party room and the first person you kiss is the cleaner.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, I've known her for more than a decade because I served in the building previously in different capacities. She's a lovely lady and always gives me a big kiss on the cheek and I return the favour.

NEIL MITCHELL:

My Joshy, she called you!

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Yeh, well I've known her, she's a beautiful lady and I hope when people saw that that they saw it doesn't matter if you're now the Treasurer or you're the cleaner, we're all on the same page in Australia and it doesn't matter from where you come, we've all got a job to do and I think Scott Morrison summed it up when he said when you have a go, you get a go. This our understanding of fairness and that's what we'll do as a government.

NEIL MITCHELL:

A lot of calls coming through on the Paris Agreement, will you cancel it? Will you review it?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Look, we've got a commitment under Paris to reduce our emissions, but we're not going to do that to the expense of our economy and that's the key, we're not going to have a recklessly high target. What we are going to do is be a good global citizen, but ensure that Australians are always first and that jobs are being created and we don't do anything that damages the economy.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Thank you for your time, apart from going to the football yesterday, I did speak to a lot of senior Liberals in Victoria and asked them one thing they'd advise you to do. Do you know what came through?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Put my head down and tail up?

NEIL MITCHELL:

No, shave your head.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, Peter Dutton tried that, I'm not sure it's working, is it?

NEIL MITCHELL:

Thank you very much.