9 December 2018
Transcript - #2018086, 2018

Interview with Barrie Cassidy, Insiders, ABC TV

Subjects: Border protection; MYEFO; Australian economy and National Accounts.

BARRIE CASSIDY:
Treasurer, good morning, welcome.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:
Nice to be with you, Barrie.

BARRIE CASSIDY:
Why didn't parliament sit just a little longer to deal with this Medical Evacuation Bill?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:
Well, parliament rose in accordance with its normal schedule. What took the time of the Senate was the amendments that both the Government and the crossbenchers moved. Labor guillotined debate and when the Labor Party puts up bad policy, policy which will unravel our offshore protection procedures as we know it, we'll fight them every step of the way. We won’t green light it. And I have to say, when you look at what Labor said would happen over the last week, they didn't meet any of their objectives. They briefed out that Dutton was going to be referred to the High Court. They said we wouldn't have the support of the crossbenchers when it came to energy. They said we were going to be forced to accept their amendments to the Encryption Bill, that we would suffer the defeat on border protection, that we will be cornered on religious freedoms. None of that occurred, in fact it was Labor, who even in the words of Guardian, unconditionally surrendered on national security.

BARRIE CASSIDY:
You talk about that you weren’t going to green light this legislation. We know very well that you were going to red light it, but you didn't have the numbers. Is that why you avoided the vote?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:
Well, we had to move amendments, because we're not going to allow a bad piece of policy to go through unamended. So, we moved that, but it was the Labor Party, Barrie, who actually guillotined debate in the Senate.

BARRIE CASSIDY:
But, you could have waited. I mean, it's not unusual for the House to wait an hour or two and wait on the Senate?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:
Well, I mean, let’s put it in perspective, forget about the procedure, let's talk about the substance. When we came to Government, there were 2,000 children in detention. We’ve removed the children from detention, closed down 17 detention centres. Stopped people dying at sea and stopped the boats coming.

What we're now seeing from Bill Shorten is Kevin Rudd all over again. Kevin Rudd told the Australian people that he would be an imitation of John Howard when it came to border protection. Well, 50,000 unauthorised arrivals came on his watch. We have three pillars to our border protection policy. We have the turn back the boats, which Labor says they will do, but so did Kevin Rudd. You’ve also got offshore protection, which now they are promising to unravel, and you’ve got the temporary protection visas, which they've already said that they'll unravel.

BARRIE CASSIDY:
Let's talk about the middle one. You say that it will unravel offshore processing as we know it. If you change the administrative arrangements over how you deal with sick kids on Nauru, how is that throwing the whole policy overboard?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:
Well, you see this is the distraction. It's actually not about the kids on Nauru. There are ten kids on Nauru and four are soon to go off to the United States. This is about around the 1,000 males who are largely Iranian on Nauru and Manus…

BARRIE CASSIDY:
Alright, again, what's wrong with treating them more compassionately when they fall ill?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:
Ok, so, in the legislation that has been put forward by the Greens and the Labor Party, the Minister's discretion, decision, can be overturned by an independent panel. So, no longer is the Minister now the final decision maker. Secondly, when it comes...

BARRIE CASSIDY:
Well, just on that point. What's wrong with an independent panel overruling an individual?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:
Well, the Minister has a broad discretion here. But, what we're seeing is the Minister not being able to stop someone coming to Australia with, on broad character grounds, which you can do on a whole series of visas. The security grounds in this legislation are confined to the definition in the ASIO Act and not the broader definition of character grounds. You don't even have to be ill to be coming to Australia. What you need to be, needed to do was to come here for assessment. So, there are some details in the legislation which I don't think that the public are aware of that would see the border protection policy unravel.

BARRIE CASSIDY:
The details, though, and Government Ministers are saying that this is an end to offshore processing as we know it. Why would you throw your hands in the air and say, well, this would end offshore processing when it is just an administrative arrangement about how you deal with ill people. That's the message that your Government is sending to the people smugglers, that this is the end of offshore processing?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:
Well, as you know, this is a most, most difficult issue. People would have the best of intentions but end up delivering the worst of results. We have to have a strong deterrent in place. That's the history of this issue, Barrie, and we were cleaning up Labor's mess…

BARRIE CASSIDY:
But, hang on, you were saying there's a deterrent factor in this. So, you punish genuine refugees to deter others?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:
Well, actually, a lot of the people, that a 1,000 cohort, who are mainly male, are not refugees. And I said, they're the ones who this legislation is targeted at. Not the children. I mean, we've got 2,000 children out of detention. What I'm saying is, when it comes to the history of this policy, we have to remain strong. We have to be resilient. We can't respond to whatever motions are being put up at the latest Labor National Conference. If you do, you will see a repeat of the failure we saw after the…

BARRIE CASSIDY:
You will have to face it in February. Just putting off the inevitable. As I mentioned earlier, you could lose a vote on the floor of the Parliament on legislation for the first time in 90 years very close to an election.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:
Well, Barrie, I've heard predictions about what would happen in the Senate and the House many times over the course of this year. They said that we wouldn't get through our legislated tax cuts...

BARRIE CASSIDY:
I think you believe this prediction. That's why you avoided the vote?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:
Well, no, what was taking up the time in the Senate, as I said, was the amendments that were being moved by both the crossbench and by the Government, because we're not green lighting a bad policy. But, it's not about the procedure here, it's actually about the substance of the issue. And Labor is now putting up the white flag to the people smugglers and in the process, they are going to weaken our borders.

BARRIE CASSIDY:
Are you so anxious to avoid this vote in February that you might, in fact, go to an early election? In March?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:
Well, the Prime Minister has laid out very clearly that our intention is to deliver a budget and a budget surplus, the first in more than a decade on April 2. And then there would be an election in the normal course after that.

BARRIE CASSIDY:
So, that's a guarantee?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:
Well, ultimately, the decision about the timing of the Federal Election is the Prime Minister's. But, that is what his stated, public intention has been to date.

BARRIE CASSIDY:
He's said that so it would take a lot to go back on his word?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:
Well, I think it's important that we have the opportunity to deliver a budget because the Australian economy is strong. We've recently seen the National Account numbers come in where Australia is growing at 2.8 per cent, faster than of any G7 country, except the United States. Bearing in mind, that when Labor was last in office, they thought that the economy was strong at 2.1 per cent GDP growth and unemployment under Labor which was at 5.7 per cent, it's now fallen to 5 per cent. And we're delivering on our economic plan of cutting taxes and more than a million new jobs.

BARRIE CASSIDY:
You say you're anxious to bring down a budget. You've got MYEFO coming up tomorrow week. Will that be simply a picture of where the economy is right now? Or will that also contain some measures, some initiatives?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:
Well, there's always measures within MYEFO, but it's also a good indication of where those headline numbers are. And as I said, we will be delivering a surplus in 2019-2020. But, we've also already made a number of announcements about important funding decisions, more money for school funding, more money for drought assistance. We got the historic change to the GST distribution, which Labor said pigs would fly before that was done. Well, we did it and got a better deal for every state and territory as a result. All of those numbers will play out in the MYEFO numbers.

BARRIE CASSIDY:
They're all known, but is there anything down the track perhaps, more tax cuts or something that you might, would you take that opportunity with MYEFO to make some announcements around that?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:
Look, Barrie, I know that you would like me to reveal to you what's going to be in MYEFO…

BARRIE CASSIDY:

Not the details, just the strategy. Would you make announcements about….

JOSH FRYDENBERG:
Look, look.

BARRIE CASSIDY:
There might be something new in there?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:
Well, the Government makes decisions about spending and revenue over the course of business. But, we obviously have announced a number of things already, including substantial benefits for small business, including cutting red tape, getting big businesses to pay small businesses on time, putting in place a $2 billion fund to increase their access to finance. A number of those things have already been announced.

BARRIE CASSIDY:
The last growth figures showed a bit of a slowing in the economy. The next growth figures are out on March 6. Is there in prospect that that might show a further slowing? In other words, the further we go towards April, the less rosy the picture will be?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:
Actually, the economic fundamentals of the Australian economy are very good and no lesser authority than the Reserve Bank Governor has said that. He said that the outlook for the labour market is positive and we've seen wages growth of 2.3 per cent in recent weeks, which was the biggest jump in three years. We've seen business and investment confidence growing and being strong and we've seen unemployment levels fall to the lowest level in six years. So, the fundamentals are good, and as I said, we're growing faster than any G7 country, except the United States. So, I'm confident that we're on the right track…

BARRIE CASSIDY:
But, Is that right?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:
Yes, it is.

BARRIE CASSIDY:
In that comparison, when I saw another figure the other day that we're 106 in the world?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:
No, we're at 2.8 per cent. No other G7 country, except the United States, which is growing at 3 per cent, is higher.

BARRIE CASSIDY:
Depends how you calculate it, because the last one was 0.3.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:
Well, if you're talking about the last quarter, we did see growth in both household consumption, we saw growth in exports, we saw growth in housing construction, and we also saw strong investment both in Commonwealth and state levels and infrastructure. So, when you look at the overall economy, the numbers are good and as I say, 2.8 per cent compares to Labor's last year in office at 2.1 per cent. And what will be a real wet blanket over the Australian economy is the $200 billion of taxes that Bill Shorten is promising. And we've seen in recent days, real confusion about one of their signature policies which is to abolish negative gearing, as we know it, which couldn't come at a worse time for the housing market.

BARRIE CASSIDY:
Alright, thanks for coming in and have a good break when you finally get one.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:
Thank you, Barrie.