6 December 2018
Transcript - #2018088, 2018

Interview with Jon Faine, Mornings, ABC Radio Melbourne

Subjects: Victorian state election results; Sex Discrimination Act; National Accounts; and Toondah Harbour.

JON FAINE:

Josh Frydenberg, good morning to you.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Good morning. Nice to be with you, Jon.

JON FAINE:

Your state Liberal colleague, or former parliamentary colleague, John Pesutto, has lost the battle to retain the seat of Hawthorn. Here is what he told us on air yesterday morning about what he thinks went wrong.

[EXCERPT]

As Matthew, myself and others have said over recent days, two leadership changes during the course of the last four years at a federal level didn’t help us. Now, it is not the only reason, let me hasten to say, it is not the only reason. But, it was a big factor and I can’t tell you how many times I encountered voters, particularly in the last fortnight when people were really starting to tune into the election that they were really upset about what had happened federally. And I just implore federal colleagues to just come together and start placing the focus on the Australian people. Because there are lots of lessons out of Victoria for my federal colleagues.

[END OF EXCERPT]

JON FAINE:

What lessons do you take out of the state election, Josh Frydenberg?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, Dan Andrew’s was quite effective in communicating to the people of Victoria, some of the projects that he had underway and also some of the promise projects. So, I think it’s really important when we come to our federal election to remind people of our $75 billion infrastructure plan, the fact that we have created more than one million new jobs, the fact that our AAA credit rating has been reaffirmed, and that we are going to deliver a budget surplus next year. So, we will continue to focus on communicating our economic record and the risks that Labor will be to the Australian economy with their high tax, high spend agenda.  

JON FAINE:

And yet, let’s go back to where we were a moment ago. Yesterday’s parliamentary session was as much as anything distracted by debate about discrimination against gay students in schools.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, that was one issue that we are hoping to resolve before the Parliament rises…

JON FAINE:

Then resolve it.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, the Prime Minister has put to Bill Shorten very clearly to allow a conscience vote on this issue. Let’s not forget that the actual restrictions…

JON FAINE:

Why play games with it, Treasurer?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, it’s not at all. The restrictions…

JON FAINE:

It’s up to the Labor Party how they vote. You just worry about your side, let them worry about theirs.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, that is what we are saying. Is allow people to…

JON FAINE:

Well, it’s not. You are trying to impose conditions on the Labor Party before you do something that the community clearly wants you to do.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Jon, back in 2013, the Labor Party imposed restrictions in the Sex Discrimination Act. We are now trying to have those restrictions lifted. We are focusing on ensuring that no student, no child, can be discriminated based on their gender or their sexual disposition…

JON FAINE:

So, why put a third clause in the legislation and why try to tell the Labor Party how they should be made to vote? 

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Why is the Labor Party afraid of the votes of their own members?

JON FAINE:

There you go again.  

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well…

JON FAINE:

Why do you care about the Labor Party? You are supposed to be governing.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, we are. And that is why yesterday, there was other important pieces of legislation before the Parliament, including around energy companies and ensuring that the ACCC can be an effective cop on the beat by deploying a series of penalties for companies that engage in misconduct or manipulate prices. And the Labor Party again is trying to prevent us from passing that legislation. It looks like we have support from the crossbenchers…

JON FAINE:

They are not preventing you. They are simply saying “yes, bring it in. We will vote for it”. You are trying to say, you are trying to tell them how they have to organise their vote. It is completely nonsensical and that is the exactly the sort of issue that is irritating your previously loyal base. 

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, can I tell you that we want to get this issue done…

JON FAINE:

Then do it… 

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

…we are prepared to suspend standing orders to have this vote. Again, it’s actually, as you know a situation where we are in minority government now and we do need the support to get this change through. That is what the Prime Minister has put. But there are other important issues that the Parliament is debating, like the economy and like energy prices…

JON FAINE:

I will come back to that. Still, on this issue given that you acknowledge that you are in minority government, why don’t you behave like a government that is in minority government and negotiate outcomes rather than still behave like you are a majority government? 

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, that is your commentary. Whereas I can tell you that I am talking day in, day out, like my colleagues are, like the Prime Minister is, with the crossbenchers on particular pieces of legislation. For example, the Labor Party tried to amend our ASIC penalties bill that was going to lead to higher penalties on companies that engaged in misconduct and they were defeated on that because we had the support of the crossbenchers. On every piece of legislation it is different, we will approach it that way. But what we are doing, Jon, is ensuring that the economy is growing with the policies that we have legislated and that we are implementing. And yesterday, we had the National Accounts numbers, which shows that the Australian economy is performing well and it is growing faster than any other G7 nation, other than the United States.

JON FAINE:

And I will move to the economy in one more moment, but surely the lesson you draw from the outcome, the absolute routing of your party here in Victoria, to the point where it threatens, maybe not on your 13 per cent margin, but some of your most senior colleagues. You’ll barely have a Victorian Liberal left in parliament if you see those swings replicated. Surely, the lessons you learned have to be urgently applied rather than re-litigated?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

There are lessons out of every election loss and I do want to commend Matthew Guy. And I am very sad to see my colleague and friend, John Pesutto, leave the Parliament because I still think he has much to offer to public life and he has handled himself with great dignity in difficult circumstances. But, at the same time, state elections are quite different to federal elections. The issues are different, the results in Victoria have certainly been different over the years and we have a good case to prosecute between now and the next election around economic and national security. And we will do so.

JON FAINE:

Don’t you have to have an out-and-out fight for control of the Liberal Party with the extreme religious zealots who have dragged you into territory where you are unelectable?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, every member of the Liberal Party is entitled to have a view and a voice. And that is what makes us the broad church with people who do have more conservative views akin to the Edmund Burke conservatism and there are those with small ‘l’ liberal views akin to John Stuart Mill. And that is what has defined the Liberal Party since its inception by Sir Robert Menzies more than 70 years ago. So, we will continue to be a broad church, we will continue to enable all of our members to have a voice. And by the way, that is what distinguishes us from the Labor Party. I mean in the Labor Party, at the federal level, if you cross the floor you are out of the Party. On our side of the fence, everybody is entitled to their view

JON FAINE:

Before we get to the economy and we will get there, I’m fascinated…

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

That is only the third time you have said that.

JON FAINE:

That is right, which is, by way of apology. The private conversations that people in the Liberal Party are having are not being reflected publicly. I have had one of your colleagues say to me that we can’t sort this out because you can’t negotiate with terrorists.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, if you have had private conversations, then I take your word for it. But, my view is that we have been the most successful political party since the war and we have won six out of the last eight federal elections. And while we have lost state elections over that period, we have been very successful at the federal level. And under Scott Morrison…

JON FAINE:

Creating a sense of entitlement and complacency I suggest to you.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Not at all. No one is complacent on our side of the political fence. And, you know, we do look at the polls, we know the challenge is ahead of us. But, we will continue to promote our agenda. And I have to tell you when it comes to the economy, which is my priority as Treasurer, there are some headwinds internationally. Particularly around the trade agenda and what you’ve seen in the tensions between the US and China, so we are asking for cool heads to prevail there. But, we are also looking for new trade opportunities, because one in five Australian jobs are in trade, we are looking to invest in new infrastructure projects around the country, we have got record defence spending, which is creating its own domestic industry, and importantly the AAA credit rating has been reaffirmed, which is good news not just for the federal government, and it’s cost of borrowing, but also for state governments and for households.  

JON FAINE:

Economic growth slowed, almost to the point of stopping, 0.3 per cent in the last quarter, half the forecast rate and the retailers and the economists, everyone is saying it is because of the failure to deliver wages growth, which is now holding back the economy. Do you acknowledge that?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

No, what I can tell you is that at 2.8 per cent the Australian economy is growing faster than any other G7 country except the United States…

JON FAINE:

And slowing by the last quarter, half the expected growth rate in the last quarter.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, the biggest reason for the slowdown was the major reduction in mining investment, just over seven per cent for the quarter and over 13 per cent through-the-year. And this is because some of the large mining and resource projects, particularly LNG projects, one in the Northern Territory, Ichthys project, and one in Western Australian, the Prelude project, have finished the construction phase and are now going into the production phase. So, if anything these figures underline the importance of our mining sector to the strength of the Australian economy.

At the same time, you point to wages growth. We have had in recent weeks the Wages Price Index, which is a euphemism for wages growth, go up by 2.3 per cent, its single biggest jump in three years. And no other, no lesser authority than the Reserve Bank of Australia, Jon, has said that wages will continue to grow as the economy continues to grow and the spare capacity in the labour market is eaten into. So, I am very comfortable with how the economy is tracking, we are seeing good jobs growth, over a million new jobs and next year we will deliver the first budget surplus in more than a decade.

JON FAINE:

Do you acknowledge that a donation from the property developing company, Walker Corporation, of nearly a quarter of a million dollars to the federal Liberal Party, had some impact on your decision making on overruling your own department’s advice and granting approval for a development in South East Brisbane wetlands?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, firstly your statement was actually factually inaccurate.  

JON FAINE:

Which bit?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

There has been no approval for development, what has begun is a process. Now, donations or who the proponent is has nothing to do with the decision. What I took in as a former Environment Minister, was to allow more information to be gathered, which could include potential mitigation or offsets or other conditions that could be applied, no approval to this project was given. Now, the Queensland Labor Government wrote to me as Environment Minister and specifically said that they supported this being declared as a controlled action under Commonwealth legislation, so that the impact of these matters of environmental significance could be assessed on sound evidence. Now, that are the words of the Queensland Labor Government, this was, or this is a project, which has the potential to create thousands of jobs. This is a project, which has been strongly backed by the Queensland Labor Government and…

JON FAINE:

In a conservation RAMSAR bird sanctuary zone…

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, you are absolutely right this is in a RAMSAR wetland and that is why it has to be very, very carefully assessed. Not necessarily approved, but carefully assessed. And all I was doing and this is a power for the Minister, under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity and Conservation Act, was allowing an assessment to take place. So, please understand the full facts, please tell your listeners the full story. It is not about who the proponent is, it is not an approval, it is merely beginning, by the environmental department a proper process, which is transparent, open and will be done in a considered manner.

JON FAINE:

And always important to clarify all of those matters. All the best for the Christmas and Hanukah season. Thank you for being prepared to answer questions on the radio this morning, I look forward to seeing you next year.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, all the best to you and to your listeners and Jon, next year will be a busy political year and I hope…

JON FAINE:

Why? Is there something happening?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, there will be plenty happening and hopefully you and I can join each other in the studio many a time.