7 April 2019
Transcript - #2019066, 2019

Interview with Barrie Cassidy, Insiders, ABC TV

Subjects: 2019-20 Budget.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

Josh Frydenberg, good morning, welcome.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Good morning, Barrie.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

Just to pick up on the underfunding of the NDIS, as Chris Bowen says, it's important. I mean, the savings here could have been the difference between a credible surplus and a marginal one.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, look, firstly, the Budget is in surplus for the first time in more than a decade. It's the first payment on Labor's debt, it’s the product of a strong economy with more people in work and fewer people on welfare. But Labor's claims about the NDIS are an ugly lie and reminiscent of Mediscare. The reality is the Commonwealth will meet every single cent of its obligations to the NDIS. But it is a program where the Government pays based on the number of people who are in the program. And today it's 250,000. It lifts to 460,000 over time, and it's no different in the Budget papers than how Labor treated carers, veterans, hospitals and schools.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

But, you say that it's a Labor lie. You only have to listen to radio to get anecdotally a different story. I mean, a lot of people are saying they're being jerked around, that they blame the system and say it's a maize and they can't find their way through it?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, it’s one of the biggest policy reforms that this country has ever seen, and 250,000 people are now in the NDIS. 78,000 of whom have never received disability support before. Now, there are 10,000 people, both within the NDIA and in terms of community workers who are helping coordinate this program. That's an enormous number of people we have on the ground trying to get this to work, and we are absolutely committed, in a bipartisan way, to the NDIS.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

But, do you accept that there might be some people out there who have just failed to access this scheme, when they should be accessing it?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, there has been issues in the implementation. There's no doubt about that, because it is a scheme in transition.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

And that's where some of the underfunding comes from?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

But, the reality is with the underfunding it relates to the number of people who are in the program. So, for example, in this Budget, we found $1.9 billion extra in order to meet more demand for hospitals. So, we've met every single cent of our obligations, based on the number of people in the program. We have not underfunded the NDIS. We will meet every cost of it and we have $140 billion allocated in this Budget to meet the NDIS payments over time.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

Are you prepared to at least consider perhaps better resourcing the NDIS, so that people aren't finding it so difficult to negotiate?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, as I said, we have 10,000 people within the NDIA and community coordinators who are working on this particular program. We'll do everything possible to ensure that people get the services that they need. We believe in the NDIS. We have funded the NDIS, and we have treated it in the Budget papers no different to how Labor has treated other demand-driven programs for carers, for veterans, for hospitals and schools, where they also had major estimate variations in Wayne Swan's Budgets.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

On your tax cuts, Peter Costello has said that it's a waste of time promising tax cuts any further than two or three years out. A couple of elections are going to intervene in some cases and they'll easily vanish. What do you say to that? What’s the point of promising tax cuts that are four years away?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, Peter Costello has actually made it very clear that the Government has come back in this Budget to the core narrative, which is lower taxes and paying back Labor's debt, something that he knows about. So, in terms…

BARRIE CASSIDY:

But on his criticism...

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

In terms of the tax plan that we've laid out, it's got two stages to it. It’s got the immediate relief, so up to $1,080 into the pockets of people earning up to $126,000. So, if you're a tradie and you’re a teacher you’re earning $60,000 each, you'll get $2,160 in your pocket in just 13 weeks’ time. And then there's the structural reform, which flattens out and simplifies our system, with changes to the tax brackets to ensure that 95 per cent of tax payers pay no more than 30 cents in the dollar.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

That's the four years from now stage. And that's what Peter Costello's criticism that it's a waste of time talking about that because nobody is going to believe it.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, the fact is under our plan, 95 per cent of people who currently pay tax will actually pay lower taxes and as NATSEM independent research modelling has shown, the average worker in Australia will be $1,000 a year better off under us than they will be under Labor. So, Labor is all about smoke and mirrors, they will actually tax people more. Not just on your income, but other areas…

BARRIE CASSIDY:

But that's the immediate stuff. But you're ignoring part of it that I raised that what's the value of talking about tax cuts four years away?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, we have to put in place structural changes. That's the reality. We have to prepare the system for those major changes to bring 95 per cent of tax payers to the point where they are paying no more than 30 cents in the dollar.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

Labor is saying that they'll produce bigger surpluses, they’ll pay down the debt faster, they’ll put more money into health and education. Are you starting to appreciate what you can do with $200 billion?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, every time Bill Shorten opens his wallet, people need to check theirs. Because every single promise of his is funded by higher taxes. You see, he's even talking about introducing the deficit levy, and at the other end of his mouth, he’s talking about surpluses. It doesn't make sense. Paul Keating is right, Barrie. Labor has lost the ability to speak aspirationally to Australians and to fashion the policies to do so.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

Yeah, but do you accept though, that their dividend is starting to become obvious now? That sure, there's the extra $200 billion, but now the public will get to see what you can do with that kind of money?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, the social dividend is very clear from our Budget. Record spending on hospitals and schools, nearly three quarters of a billion for mental health, respite for carers, when you are investing in a major skills package and of course, the congestion busting infrastructure, which is being rolled out across the country in record amounts. This is the social dividend that you get from a strong economy, a strong economy is not an end in itself. It's not a trophy, as the Prime Minister says, to put up on the kitchen cabinet. What it is is a means to an end to deliver and guarantee essential services of hospitals and schools, drugs on the PBS, aged-care and disability support.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

And at the same time, Labor is now promising cancer sufferers that for most of them, they won't be out of pocket at all in dealing with their treatment. That one seemed to come out of left field. Did it surprise you? Are you impressed by it?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, we've got a series of measures in this Budget to actually improve the conditions for cancer sufferers. No Government has done more than we have for cancer drugs….

BARRIE CASSIDY:

Well, it looks as if the next Government, if Labor was to be elected, will do more by making it virtually free, the treatment free. Are you impressed by that initiative?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, what I'm focused on is getting better outcomes for cancer sufferers. And let me explain to you what's in this Budget. There is a new and first cancer Children's Hospital in Sydney. There's money for Peter McCallum here in Melbourne. There's new drugs that are listed on the PBS for kidney, skin, bladder, lung and blood cancer. There's more money for bowel cancer nurses, for breast cancer nurses, and there are free MRI scans for breast cancer patients. This is all in our Budget, plus $400 million for genomics research, including for a 5,000 cancer patient trial. We're doing more than any Government to deliver the best possible healthcare to cancer sufferers.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

Now that Labor has put this out there though, would you ever think about matching it?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, we're focused on delivering our plan that's been outlined in the Budget, Barrie, and I think it's a very strong plan.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

On Christmas Island, you spent $187 million reopening it. Was that now based on an alarmist view of what the impact of the Medevac legislation would be?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

No, what it’s been based on is expert advice, and Christmas Island being reopened is ensuring that people don't game the system, that’s the evidence that….

BARRIE CASSIDY:

But that expert advice, though, it can't have been that accurate, I mean, given that one person in six weeks has been transferred as a result of the Medevac legislation? If you’ve got everything ready to go on Christmas Island and you're not using it?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, you could see it the other way around, which is the so-called emergency that everyone else was talking about hadn't actually eventuated. Because what we've done by reopening Christmas Island is send a deterrent to people who would try to game the system. What we have done, whether it's in our turn backs, whether it’s offshore processing or whether it's with Christmas Island, we are absolutely focused on ensuring there is no repeat of Labor's disastrous border protection policies which, saw a $17 billion border Budget blowout, which saw new detention centres being opened across the country, and tragically, people losing their lives at sea.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

So, if it has sent that signal, then are you convinced that you won't need Christmas Island between now and when you plan to close it in July?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, our policy is to close it in July, that's our publicly stated position and we'll do so when given the first opportunity.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

On the Adani mine, the Environment Department, as I understand it, has granted the approval. It just needs the Minister to sign off on it. What's the delay? What's holding that up?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, Barrie, you're right that the major approvals have already been given some years ago with 180 rigorous environmental conditions attached, both state and federal. Now, it's going through the process of sub approvals and the Minister is following the normal statutory process. But from our perspective, we support resources projects and we support them going through the EPBC process. On the other side of politics, you've got Tony Burke saying, I'm not going to pre-judge a decision, you’ve got Mark Butler saying that it is not in the national interest for Adani's to go ahead, and you’ve got Chris Bowen saying sovereign risk will be raised if it’s cancelled. So, Labor is all a mess. What we will not do is what Bill Shorten is saying, which is one message to the baristas of Batman and another to the miners of Mackay.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

You want to get this signed off before the election don’t you?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, look it’s going through the normal statutory process…

BARRIE CASSIDY:

Can it be signed off before the election?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, again, that's in the hands of the Minister who is talking to the scientists, because the scientists are the ones who need to...

BARRIE CASSIDY:

Don't you need to get a move on. Because if Labor is to be re-elected, it might never go ahead?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, like I said, the Labor Party doesn't know if it is Arthur or Martha on this. You’ve got Bill Shorten saying one message in Queensland and another in Victoria. You’ve got Chris Bowen, Mark Butler and Tony Burke...

BARRIE CASSIDY:

Now suddenly the shoe is on the other foot, now your party is being accused of that, of trying to adopt a position that pleases both the Queenslanders and the Victorians?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, Barrie, we're going through the statutory processes by the Minister responsible.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

Alright. The Budget is done. When is the election going to be called?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

There's no haste, there's no delay. We are confident in our Budget plan and we are explaining that and unpacking that to the people of Australia. But Bill Shorten's already measuring up the curtains in The Lodge, and my message to him is, don't go and buy those curtains, because just like he ran a victory lap after the last election until someone tapped him on shoulder and said, Bill, you haven't actually lost this election, you haven’t won it. This time around, we are going to take to the people our economic plan in a bid to win their trust to keep governing.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

And is May 18 the last date? You're not toying with May 25?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, there's always been three dates that have been toyed about in the media, the 11th, the 18th and the 25th and obviously that's a decision for the Prime Minister.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

They are all opened. And how much money will you be spending on Government advertising this week?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, we'll continue to spend on government advertising, just like the Labor Party spent half a billion dollars on government advertising. But I’ll tell you what we won’t…

BARRIE CASSIDY:

Do you know what the figure is? You're the Treasurer. What are you likely to spend this week?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, money is being spent in accordance with approved processes and that's all transparent. But what we won't be doing is spending $100,000 like Labor did, on three fake kitchens, which could have been better sent on people in need.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

It's not so transparent that you can give me the figure now?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, all of that information will be available.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

Alright, thanks for your time this morning.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Good to be with you, Barrie.