10 October 2018
Transcript - #2018038, 2018

Doorstop interview, Kofsky Optometry, Sydney

Subjects: Wentworth by-election; G20; Ruddock Review; population plan; jobs; drought taskforce; and energy policy.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

It is great to be here at a local optometrist here in Wentworth with Dave Sharma our great candidate for Wentworth who has great vision for this electorate.

You don't need glasses to see the great danger and risk that Bill Shorten poses to the Australian economy.

Dave on the other hand is a son of a migrant to Australia and he has become an ambassador for Australia. He is very passionate about this electorate and just the other day we were at Centennial Park where it was placed on the National Heritage List which was long overdue. So Dave I wish you all the best here in Wentworth.

This by-election is very important because there is just a one-seat majority in the parliament. And a vote for the independent is as good as a vote for the Labor Party, which will put at risk our economy and bring uncertainty to the parliament.

Tomorrow, I go to Bali for a G20 meeting of Finance Ministers. I will be taking two messages. First, that the Australian economy is strong, having grown 3.4% through the year, having our AAA credit rating re-affirmed, and having produced the smallest budget deficit in a decade. The other message I will take is that the trade tensions between the United States and Australia (Sic – correction: China) can't get out of control. To date there has been little macroeconomic impact as it has been confined to about 2% of world trade. But Australia is a big exporter. It supports nearly one in five Australian jobs. It supports our farmers, it supports our factory workers, it supports our professionals, and it supports our tourism and education industries.

So my message to my fellow G20 Finance Ministers will be that free trade equals more jobs, free trade equals more investment and free trade means higher economic growth. Dave?

DAVE SHARMA:

Thank you Treasurer, well it is great to have you here in Wentworth. I'm sorry about the weather, but I don't think it has dampened our enthusiasm for talking to small businesses and, as you said, talking about our vision for Wentworth. It will be a very close by-election and we are not taking anything for granted, but a lot depends on this by-election, it's not just who holds the seat of Wentworth, of course,  but it's the uncertainty that a loss of this seat will create in our national parliament in Canberra. 

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Great, any questions?

QUESTION:

How unhelpful was the release of the Ruddock Report just before the Wentworth by-election which suggests that students would be discriminated against? 

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well the first thing I would say is it's a report to government not a report by government; it is yet to be considered by Cabinet. So as the Prime Minister has said we will respond in a considered way once it has been properly looked through and discussed at Cabinet level.

QUESTION:

Do any of you endorse the idea?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Look, again you are jumping the gun. The report hasn't even been considered by Cabinet and we will wait for that proper process. But one thing you can be sure of is that we will always get the balance right and we will always do what is best for the Australian public.

QUESTION:

But surely you have a personal view, Mr Frydenberg?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

About? 

QUESTION:

About the idea of discriminating against, allowing private schools to not accept gay children?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, Scott Morrison made it clear in his earlier remarks this morning. There are existing laws that allow for that to happen in certain circumstances and we are not proposing to change the existing laws and I haven't heard Bill Shorten talk about changing the existing laws.

QUESTION:

Can I ask Mr Sharma would that be a breach of Australian's international human rights obligation?

DAVE SHARMA:

I'll just say on this on a personal level, I mean I would be opposed to any new measures that impose forms of discrimination on the basis of gender or sexual orientation or anything else for that matter.

QUESTION:

Can we ask then also about population? The Premier of New South Wales today said that she would push for a halving of the immigration levels to NSW. What's your position on that at a federal level? 

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well as you have seen from Alan Tudge, the Minister for Population in recent days, he made a significant speech, and there is no doubt that our population has been increasing quite dramatically. We are adding a city the size of Canberra each and every year. Melbourne is growing by 2,700 people a week, and 75% of the increase in population in the last five years has been in our capital cities. This is creating real challenges, challenges particularly around important transport services and the congestion on our cities. That's why we have a minister for congestion busting in Alan Tudge. That's why we have assigned more than a billion dollars to this role. This is why we're rolling out $75 billion worth of infrastructure projects across the country, and we are now looking at how to ensure that people who come as prospective migrants to this country spend time in smaller states and in regional areas where there are jobs and which it could be of great benefit to them and also to the economy.

So what we are focused on is ensuring that Australia manages the changes in population to the best possible effect and we are working through a number of options for government. 

QUESTION:

Is Gladys Berejiklian's proposal appropriate? She wants to halve the number of immigrants coming to NSW. It's not just about moving them to the regions, it is significantly lowering the number that actually come to this state.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well what I would say to Gladys Berejiklian is that we stand ready to work with you to invest in the necessary infrastructure to ensure that this great state of New South Wales has the right services and the right infrastructure to support the population that it has.

Now, when it comes to the number of permanent visas to this country, they have fallen to the lowest level in nearly a decade. So we are taking steps to ensure that our population numbers are properly managed, but we do so in a way that supports the economy and supports the community. 

QUESTION:

So you are, so you won't considering cutting immigration?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well what I have said is the number of permanent visas has come down quite significantly. We are a very proud migrant nation and it's pretty apt that I'm standing here with Dave Sharma; his family is a migrant success story. Mine is, my mother was born in Hungary, and my grandparents were born in Europe, and they came to Australia as stateless people, and this country created enormous opportunity. So from me you will always hear a positive word about immigration, a positive word about multiculturalism. But that's different to the issue about managing population growth, and it is fair to say governments, state and federal over the years could have done better in order to manage the population growth that we're seeing. 

QUESTION:

Mr Sharma how difficult has it been for you to follow in the footsteps of an incredibly popular candidate who was basically disposed of in quite a brutal fashion. Have you found that people coming up to you and saying that this it is something they are unhappy about? Or do you feel like you've got enough of a profile to overcome that?

DAVE SHARMA:

Well I would say Malcolm Turnbull was an incredibly well-liked and respected and regarded Local Member, Minister and Prime Minister too. Frankly people are disappointed at some of the debates that have happened in Canberra over the last several years and going ten years in fact – you know political instability in Canberra and politicians talking about themselves, rather the issues that matter to Australians. That is why I have gotten into this is and this is what I hope to achieve. I hope to contribute to a more positive tone to the national debate in Canberra and help stabilise the parliament.

QUESTION:

Does the Liberal Party have anything to offer young people?

DAVE SHARMA:

I think the Liberal Party has plenty to offer the young people. I mean if you see the people who are out with me on the streets or train stations or doorknocking - there is a stack of young Liberal people. There is a volunteer down the road who takes the train from Marrickville every morning and then the bus to get down here. There is a lot of young people enthused about – you know the Liberal Party is all about opportunities and I was the beneficiaries of those opportunities Australia provides. People from all walks of life who are from humble backgrounds, from exotic backgrounds, from low means and you can make something of yourself in Australia and that's what I think makes Australia a great country and that's why I'm standing. 

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

I can just say in terms of young people. You know one of the greatest achievements of this Coalition Government has been the 1 million plus jobs that we have created since coming into office. And one of the greatest areas of jobs growth has been for young people. Last year over 100,000 young people in Australia got a job. That was the greatest number since records were first kept. So when young people are entering into the workforce for the first time they know that a Coalition Government – a Liberal and National Government – with Scott Morrison at the helm provides the best chance for them to get a good job.

Now the economy doesn't run on autopilot. Bill Shorten is promising $200 billion of new taxes; higher taxes on your income, higher taxes on your company, higher taxes on your property, higher taxes on your savings, and higher taxes on your electricity. That's what you will get with Bill Shorten.

But you will also be giving the ACTU and the unions a seat at the Cabinet table. The unions are getting ready for a feast at the Cabinet table and it will be the Australian taxpayer who is footing the bill. And under Bill Shorten, these union law-breakers will become union law-makers, and a re-regulation of the labour market, greater industrial disputation will do one thing - it will create less jobs and lower economic growth and it will scare off investment. That's what you will get with Bill Shorten. Our 27 years of consecutive economic growth is really something that must be protected and supported, and Bill Shorten and his high-tax and spend agenda is a real threat to that growth.

QUESTION:

Former Liberal leader John Hewson says the Liberals should get voted out of Wentworth because your party is not doing enough on climate change. What do you make of that?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, I obviously disagree with John Hewson on this. Because as I said, very clearly, a vote for an Independent here in Wentworth is as good as a vote for the Labor Party. It will bring uncertainty to the parliament and it will bring Bill Shorten one step closer to The Lodge. Now, what we've done on climate is seen that emissions on a per capita and GDP basis have come down to their lowest level in 28 years. That's the record. Now, renewable investment, renewable energy investment has never been higher in Australia - never been higher. I mean 20% of Australian homes have solar panels on their roofs. We've seen large-scale renewable projects. We've got Snowy Hydro, which will be the largest pumped hydro facility in the Southern Hemisphere. These are Coalition achievements. These are Coalition initiatives. These are things that we should be proud of, rather than the rhetoric and the reckless targets and policies of Labor and the Greens. 

QUESTION:

Just on the drought taskforce and the banks. What actual power does the government have to demand bank behaviour and drought affected customers?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, by providing this taskforce where banks and the National Farmers Federation, my colleagues David Littleproud, Barnaby Joyce, John McVeigh and myself will be sitting around with the banks and working on initiatives to ensure access to finance for these drought-stricken communities.

You see, they are going through a really tough time. While the economy is strong and employment in jobs growth is very strong, there are parts of this country where families and communities are doing it tough and no tougher than in the drought-stricken areas particularly of Queensland and New South Wales. That is why Scott Morrison in his first press conference as Prime Minister made that his number one priority, that was his first visit, to a drought stricken community. That is why we are putting $1. 8 billion to work, to help these communities.

Now, when it comes to the taskforce, we will be sitting down with the banks, working through a number of options to ensure that these communities, these farmers, these local businesses that have been affected by the drought get the best possible go from the banks, because this is the wrong time to be hitting them with extra charges. This is the wrong time to be foreclosing on them. This is the wrong time to do anything which makes their viability as a business that much more difficult.

QUESTION:

Just on the Saudi journalist missing in Turkey. What action has the Australian Government taken in relation to assist with his disappearance?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

I will leave that to the Foreign Minister. 

QUESTION:

Mr Sharma just back on climate change. Do you think your party doing enough there or do you think there is more to do?

DAVE SHARMA:

I think our party is doing enough and I do think we do have a good record on climate change. As the Treasurer said emissions on a per capita basis, on GDP basis, are at their lowest level in 28 years. We are on track to meet our Paris commitments and I believe we will meet our Paris commitments and we are also addressing energy affordability and energy reliability. And these are all in part measures of a sustainable and coherent energy policy. 

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Can I just say and put some facts on the table here. It is an area because I was the former Environment Minister and Energy Minister and I know a little bit about. The reality is that when the Labor Party was in government they were on track to miss the 2020 target of emissions reduction. We are now on track to beat it by nearly 300 million tonnes. Now 1 million tonnes of abatement is the equivalent of taking 300,000 cars off the road for a year - this is a very significant achievement. When it comes to our 2030 target we have improved our task by 60% from when the Labor Party was in government, since we have come to government.

Now, Dave is absolutely right, the Labor Party have a reckless target of 50% renewables and 45% emissions reduction, and they haven't come clean with the Australian people to tell them what the real costs will be on their  energy bills. We do know that when the Labor Party were last in  government, energy prices doubled, and we know that they have a recipe and a plan and a policy which will see people pay more for their power, and that is not what Australians  want.

QUESTION:  

Ok, so the IPCC report has said that we should phase out coal fired power stations by 2050. Can I ask you both what your positions are on that?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well my position and I've said this publicly is clear, coal is an important part of the energy mix, where we need to be technology agnostic, where we need to have fossil fuels playing a key role; coal and gas. And we also need to have a growing role for renewables.

If we were to take coal out of the system the lights would go out on the east coast of Australia overnight. It provides more than 60% of our power. When the Victorian Labor Government forced the closure of Hazelwood, wholesale prices went up 80% - that was Labor's record. In South Australia, when the then Labor Weatherill Government oversaw the closure of the Northern Power Station, wholesale prices went up 80%. So while it is a noble ambition for people to say let's change our energy mix, what they have to bear in mind is the true cost to businesses and families. And you survey any businesses along this strip in Wentworth and they will tell you that their power bills are an issue and Labor will only send them up and we are driving them down.

QUESTION:

So you are saying they are wrong that we heading towards a catastrophe if we don't achieve that no coal by 2050?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

That's their words not ours. Our key message on climate change and emissions reductions is you need to do it in a way which reduces your carbon footprint, that is cost effective and that pays paramount importance to what the impact on the businesses and the households that rely on their energy for their sustainability, for their viability, and we are very focused on the impact of any policies in this regard.

Thank you very much.