31 March 2019
Transcript - #2019050, 2019

Interview with Tim Lester, Channel 7 News, Channel 7

Subjects: Budget 2019; and Kooyong.

TIM LESTER:

Treasurer, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. First, give us three words that you think crystallise this Budget, that sum it up.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Building a stronger economy that is a few more than three, but that is what it is about.

TIM LESTER:

That is the core mission?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Absolutely, it’s building a stronger economy to secure a better future for all Australians. It is about easing the cost of living pressures, it’s about funding and building new infrastructure projects that bust congestion in our cities and unlocks the potential of our regions and it is about guaranteeing the essential services of hospitals, schools, drugs on the PBS, disability support. A dividend from a strong economy is a secure job and better services. That is what we have been delivering and that is what we will continue to deliver from this Budget.

TIM LESTER:

Where does a one-off Energy Assistance Payment, cash in the bank account of four million Australians, fit into that?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, it acknowledges the cost of living pressures that our aged pensioners, that the people on the disability support pension, people on carers payments, Veterans payments, and single parenting payments are currently going through. We have taken action across the board to drive energy prices lower and we saw prices come down last July, we saw prices come down from the 1st of January by up to 15 per cent for people on standing offers. And we are going to see a default offer come in from July of this year, which will see families save up to a couple of hundred dollars. So, we are taking action on a number of fronts, but we also acknowledge the cost of living pressures that many Australians are going through.

TIM LESTER:

And you are encouraging the energy companies to match you? What’s that about?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, we obviously are focussed on driving prices down. That’s why we have a number of measures across the board. And we say to the energy companies, you have got to put your customers first and that you’ve got to ensure the prices are always as low as possible.

TIM LESTER:

The payment is a one-off payment…

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Correct.

TIM LESTER:

…energy bills aren’t, they’re for eternity, every quarter. Isn’t this transparently a pitch about the election, more than it is really a pitch about energy?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, the Government’s previously had energy support payments such as this and $75 for singles and $125 for couples acknowledges the cost of the living pressures that they are feeling. At the same time, we are taking action on a number of fronts to reduce people’s power bills by investing in Snowy 2.0, by underwriting new generation, by taking on the energy network companies, by getting more gas into the system, by putting in place a default offer and a number of other initiatives.

TIM LESTER:

The Prime Minister voted against it, this is the one-off Energy Payment…

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

I don’t…

TIM LESTER:

…the newspapers say as they understand that the Prime Minister…

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, Tim…

TIM LESTER:

…voted against this.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

But, Tim, I think you know better than believing everything you read in the newspapers. What you need to focus on is that the Government has had this payment before and that what we are doing now is acknowledging, so the cost of living pressures, but also it complements the work that we are doing to drive power prices down.

TIM LESTER:

Isn’t the problem though with energy, not the lack of one-off payments, but the lack of a cohesive policy that takes in emissions, connects emissions to the considerations and gives companies the confidence that they can invest. That’s the nut of the problem, isn’t it?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, Tim, as I said, we are taking action on a number of fronts in relation to networks, to gas supply, to the retail pricing. We are focussed on underwriting new generation in accordance with the recommendation of the ACCC. On the other hand, Bill Shorten has reckless policies, which will only drive prices higher, and given there track record when they were last in Government, their energy prices doubled. Australians have a lot to be afraid of when it comes to Bill Shorten putting up their energy bill.

TIM LESTER:

We still don’t have an energy policy that connects the emissions question and even the energy companies and the industries say we need that to have confidence to invest to go forward. Isn’t that the great glaring emission of this Government, the failure to do, in essence, the National Energy Guarantee?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, Tim, what we are doing is faithfully implementing the recommendations of the ACCC to drive prices down. When it comes to our emission targets, we will beat our 2030 target just as we beat our first Kyoto target and we are on track to beat our second Kyoto target. We take our emissions reduction obligations seriously and at the same time we are doing all we can to drive power bills down. This is in stark contrast to the virtue signalling you get from the Labor, with their unfunded policies, which will only drive power prices up.

TIM LESTER:

How hands on has Scott Morrison been as you prepared this Budget?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

He has been a terrific Prime Minister in supporting me. He has had a lot of experience when it comes to Budgets.

TIM LESTER:

So, he’s involved?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

He is absolutely involved and he chairs what is called the ERC process and we work very closely together, and obviously his experience has been a great asset through this process.

TIM LESTER:

Right, so he hasn’t been ‘I’ll let Josh take the reins and go with this’. He has been in there watching the decisions, knowing everything that is going to on and…

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

As you would expect a Prime Minister to be. I think…

TIM LESTER

: Sticking in his two bobs worth.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

I think, Tim, you know, for me it has been a great benefit having a Prime Minister who understands the process having been a Treasurer, but who also respects the position of Treasurer and has given me, obviously, plenty of opportunities in that regard.

TIM LESTER:

It is one thing to get the Budget back to surplus, it’s another to lock in the kind of Budget measures that give you confidence of a surplus for a decade or longer. Where should we look in the Budget on Tuesday? What numbers, what evidence will there be in there, not that you get back to surplus, but that you are capable of staying there long term.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, the fact that we will be in surplus in 2019-20 is a very significant development, because it has been 12 years since Australia had a Budget surplus. Labor promised them, they never delivered them. In fact the last time the Labor Party delivered a surplus was 30 years ago. We came to Government when growth was lower than it is today, unemployment was higher and debt was taking off like a jet fighter. And what we have done is actually brought the Budget under control. It has taken us five and a half years and this surplus is the product of difficult, but necessary decisions over the last five and a half years. The Budget will ensure that the cost of living pressures are eased, that more jobs are created, that we guarantee the essential services of hospitals and schools, drugs on the PBS, aged care, disability support. At the same time helping to build the infrastructure that will unlock the potential of our regions and bust the congestion in our cities.

TIM LESTER:

Is it a Budget of giveaways? Because, it’s five or six weeks before an election and it’s looking at one-off payments in to bank accounts for four million Australians today. It looks and feels like a Budget of giveaways.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, Tim, Just the other day we announced over a $2 billion road safety package, with important infrastructure to deal with black spots, to deal with roads to recovery, to deal with more bridges and heavy freight. There will be plenty of other infrastructure announcements to come. We’re assisting people with breast cancer by reducing some of their out of pocket expenses with announcements to date. Just yesterday, we saw Minister Fletcher announce that there will be an additional $850 million for providers under the National Disability Insurance Scheme. What we have seen with the Prime Minister’s announcement about more funding for women’s changing rooms, is something that will affect every local community. There has been plenty of things that have already been announced, but there is even more in the Budget on Tuesday night.

TIM LESTER:

Yes, but they’re spending measures, they’re spending measures, so as worthy as they are they do give the feel of a Budget that is six weeks from an election. How much will this Budget suffer as a result of you having primary responsibility to deliver a document that gets a Government re-elected.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Tim, this Budget is in surplus, something that the Labor Party was never able to achieve. That means that spending has come under control. We inherited spending and debt that was taking off like a jet fighter and we have reined that in through responsible decision making. That is what you are going to see in this Budget. You are going to see the next stage of our economic plan that builds a stronger economy and secures a better future for all Australians. The dividend of a strong Australian economy is better services and a secure job. You can only provide that when you have the finances intact. The Labor Party was spending wilfully on the nation’s credit card. We have actually introduced a number of targeted, responsible policies, the product of which will be revealed on Budget night.

TIM LESTER:

Will the size of the Budget surplus surprise us?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, that’s for you.

TIM LESTER:

No, I mean, do you think, you have a view on whether it’s a really promising number and a surprising number. I’m not asking for the number.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Tim, you can ask me that same question on Budget night. What I can tell you, is that the Budget is a responsible one, it’s the next stage of our economic plan, it secures a better future, it will deliver more jobs, higher wages, ease the cost of living, build the infrastructure that is necessary and guarantee the essential services of hospitals and schools.

TIM LESTER:

To close, you have a job of selling the Budget, in an election environment now over the next six weeks or so. You also have a seat to save, is Kooyong in danger? Is there a real chance that Josh Frydenberg could lose his seat and if there is, as plenty of people are saying, doesn’t leave you an awful lot of time to do the job of selling the Budget in the Treasurer’s job, does it?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, I have actually been strongly supported by the people of Kooyong over the last three elections, but I take nothing for granted, and what I am focussed on is continuing to deliver for them, as well as in my position as Treasurer delivering for all Australians. And I have to say, as I move about my electorate, the feedback has been very positive, people acknowledge the challenges that the country faces, but they also acknowledge the runs we have on the board and Tuesday night will be the next stage of our economic plan to lock in those gains, to secure our future.

TIM LESTER:

So, where will you spend the next six weeks? In Kooyong, or around the country?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

As you would expect, I will be both traveling around the country, as well as spending time in my electorate.

TIM LESTER:

Got a take on which one matters more? Which one gets most of Josh Frydenberg’s hard sweat and toil?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, Tim, obviously both my responsibilities to be a strong local member as well as to be a Treasurer that is taking to the Australian people our economic plan to the next election and beyond.

TIM LESTER:

Treasurer, we appreciate your time.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Good to be with you, Tim.

TIM LESTER:

Good luck and all the best.