2 July 2019
Transcript - #2019088, 2019

Doorstop interview, Parliament House, Canberra

Subjects: Coalition’s tax relief; Labor’s high tax agenda; gas prices; Christopher Pyne; Cubbie Station; interest rates.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

The Labor Party's continued opposition to the tax cuts that we took to the Australian people at the most recent election shows that they've learned nothing from their election defeat and they've heard nothing on their listening tour. This was Anthony Albanese's first test and he has failed and failed badly. The Australian people have voted in favour of tax cuts and they voted against Labor's $387 billion of higher taxes. But unfortunately, Labor continues to be a Party of higher taxes; higher taxes to chase higher spending. That's what has motivated them all along, that's what was rejected by the Australian people and we are going to sit as a Parliament until we pass these tax cuts.

QUESTION:

Centre Alliance wants a guarantee on cheaper gas prices. What are you offering them?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, obviously the details of those discussions remain confidential. But what we are doing is having very constructive discussions with them and we are focused on reducing gas prices. We put in place a gas security mechanism, we saw gas prices fall, we have seen shortfalls that were predicted, averted. But we continue to do everything we can to drive gas prices lower because gas is a critical feedstock for industry. It's also important in power generation.   

QUESTION:

So can we expect something fresh on that front?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Look, again, I'm not going to go into details of those discussions but we're doing everything we can to lower gas prices and we've provided briefings to the crossbenchers as appropriate and we're having good discussions with them.

QUESTION:

Are you confident Jacqui Lambie will get on board as well?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Again, let's just wait and see for these discussions to play out in the Parliament but I've had a constructive discussion with Jacqui Lambie earlier in the process. Mathias Cormann continues to speak to her and the crossbenchers understand that we were very upfront with the Australian people by putting our tax plan clearly in the Budget, but also clearly to them at the election. The Labor Party put a very different alternative and that alternative was rejected.

QUESTION:

Treasurer, isn't it true that the Ministerial Code of Conduct is unenforceable for Ministers once they leave the Parliament?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

No.

QUESTION:

Is there no action that can be taken against Christopher Pyne in this case, though?


JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Are you asking me the question is it unenforceable? The answer is no.

QUESTION:

Well, what action can be taken against Christopher Pyne?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, Christopher Pyne has put out a statement and he's made it very clear that he's not lobbying and he's not seeking to benefit from the information that he was privy to as a Minister and I believe that.

QUESTION:

Doesn't Mr. Pyne have information from his time as Defence Minister that is of value to EY and to other companies in the future? Isn't he in a situation where, inevitably, some of that information gets used? So, are you comfortable with the job that he's taken?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

I'm comfortable with his statements, the commitments that he's given and the way he will go about his business after the Parliament. He is very experienced. He understands his responsibilities and as he made clear in his statement, he has a lot to offer employers because of his deep understanding of the processes of Parliament and of the topical issues of the day.

QUESTION:

Treasurer, can you tell us what the situation is with Cubbie Station? 

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Sure. Well, back a number of years ago, in 2012 in fact, there was approval given on Cubbie Station that was subject to conditions. Those conditions which involve a sell down of part of the majority owner's stake will continue to take place. There is advanced discussions that are underway between the majority owner of Cubbie Station and another commercial party. We're going to allow those advanced negotiations to be completed and the commitment that they have given they will be held to in relation to the sell down of their stake. I don't want to comment anymore on individual cases other than to say that we are actually committed to seeing that sell down as promised by those owners.    

QUESTION:

Leaving Cubbie Station aside, theoretically, what are the penalties for not adhering to the FIRB regulations?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, again, I'm not going to comment on specific circumstances but obviously there is a range of options that are available to the Treasurer that if commitments are not given, then appropriate action can be taken. But, I'm confident that those commitments will be adhered to and we've made that very clear to the company.

QUESTION:

Is it an indictment on Government policy if the Reserve Bank were to cut interest rates again today?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, a couple of things. Firstly, the decision on interest rates is a matter for the independent Reserve Bank, that's very clear. The second thing is when they did reduce rates most recently, they made it very clear that it was not due to a deterioration in the overall economic outlook. Rather, it was a redefinition of their understanding on what is full employment. Full employment has traditionally been seen around five per cent and today it's 5.2 per cent. Now the Reserve Bank is saying it's got a four in front of it which means that there is some spare capacity in the economy that they can encourage greater economic activity, lower unemployment by cutting rates without being concerned about subsequent inflationary pressures. Now, that's the view of the Reserve Bank. That's behind their decision and if they do decide to cut rates again, we would expect that the banks would pass on in full sustained reductions in their funding costs.

QUESTION:

Treasurer, can we just get you to spell it out for people sitting at home wondering what's happening with their tax return. If this gets through in full this week, in terms of money back in your pocket, what does it mean and when?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Okay, so, under the tax cuts that we took to the Australian people, if you earn up to $126,000 a year, you'll get up to $1,080 in your pocket for 2018-19 when you put in your next tax return. Now, I've spoken to the Commissioner of Taxation and he has assured me that if the legislation is passed this week and receives Royal Assent, then tax cuts can flow from next week. They will be making the changes to their system, they've undertaken the preparatory work and this is important for the Australian people to understand; when they put in their next tax return, from next week if the legislation goes through today, then the tax cuts will flow. Now, these tax cuts are the equivalent of two 25 basis point rate cuts. So they will add to household consumption, they'll add to the disposable income of households and it will be good for economic activity. That's why the Reserve Bank Board Governor has endorsed them, that's why we as a Coalition are pushing them through the Parliament and that's why we're confident that our discussions in the Parliament will lead to the passage of this legislation.

QUESTION:

Just further on timing, Treasurer, because it is tax time. Would you be, do you think you could get Royal Assent on Friday or does the Tax Commissioner not even need that once it's through the Parliament, given that people will be lodging their tax returns now?

TREASURER:

Yeah, that is a good question. The Tax Commissioner said he doesn't necessarily need that next step, but we're hoping to get it all done as quickly as possible.