18 March 2014
Transcript - #2014004, 2014

Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News AM Agenda

SUBJECTS: the NSW ICAC hearings, Commission of Audit, and the Budget

JOURNALIST:

With me on AM Agenda this morning is someone who works very closely with Arthur Sinodinos as Assistant Treasurer is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer, Steve Ciobo. Steve Ciobo thanks for your time.

CIOBO:

Good morning Kieran.

JOURNALIST:

Now obviously these are very initial suggestions at the ICAC. No claims made of wrong doing at this stage but surely the Minister would not want these headlines across all the papers, every single paper today.

CIOBO:

Look, I mean of course. In politics the reality is all you want is good news but the reality though in politics is you get slings and arrows. You get good news days, you get bad news days. But I think you hit the nail on the head Kieran; there have been no allegations at all against Senator Sinodinos. Arthur Sinodinos is a political veteran; he's a man of immense talent; a man who's basically seen all you can see in Federal politics and not for one second is there any allegation against him that he's done anything wrong. I think in the fullness of time we'll see there are no allegations he's done anything wrong. Instead we've got a bunch of half-cocked Labor people going out there trying to attempt to sully his name. I think anyone who knows Arthur Sinodinos and knows what an immense contribution he's made in politics, and before in his representative role when he was actually a member of staff of a significant political leader, would know this is a bloke who understands politics and won't have done anything silly. And that's why people say he's a man of fantastic integrity and great intelligence.

JOURNALIST:

He was linked to this company though which had a strong holding by the former Labor powerbroker, now disgraced Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid. Does that reflect a misjudgement to get involved with a company that had associations like that?

CIOBO:

The Obeid family, from what I understand as being an observer from afar through the ICAC process, has been brought to prominence in recent times as a result of the allegations. I'm always very sceptical about people that apply what I call forensic hindsight. The reality is there have been no allegations made against Arthur Sinodinos. He's a political veteran, he's a man whose seen pretty much all you can see in politics and been involved in it, a man of great integrity, a man of intelligence. And I have no doubt whatsoever that in the fullness of time we'll see that there are no allegations made against him and all we've got here are some grubby people trying to grubby him by association; frankly that's a pretty long bow to draw.

JOURNALIST:

What about the suggestion by Labor MP Kelvin Thomson this morning that the Minister should stand aside while this investigation is happening?

CIOBO:

Arthur is a man of terrific integrity; he'll do the right thing. He's already indicated that he's very willing to work with ICAC and be a person of value to them to make sure all the information is on the record so I have no doubt whatsoever he'll make an important contribution, he'll help to clarify any matters. And again, I reassert: there are is no allegation against him; this is just some grubby politics from the Labor Party.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think this is why he missed out on the Cabinet though because these reports were going to emerge?

CIOBO:

You know I'll leave it up to blokes like you Kieran, and others in the media, to speculate about all these different sorts of things. What I know is that Arthur's focus is very much upon the important job he has as Assistant Treasurer. Even last night he and I were in a meeting together discussing the future of financial advice reforms and discussing what's happening in terms of Australia's financial sector. He's very focused on the job; as I said that was at 6pm last night.

JOURNALIST:

Is he personally worried about all this stuff at the moment?

CIOBO:

You would need to put all that to him. Any human being, of course, doesn't want to have their reputation sullied, especially when it's attempted to be done on the door of Parliament House by members of the Labor Party. But look, people expect that of Labor. Labor are in Opposition now, they are going to do everything they can do. They are going to throw every bit of mud they can throw and hope some of it sticks, it's politics 101: if you're in the Labor Party throw mud and hope that some of it sticks.

JOURNALIST:

The Greens, Christine Milne, have said this morning this is a bit tit-for-tat because the Liberals did the same before any investigations were exhausted when it came to Craig Thomson and Peter Slipper.

CIOBO:

I think the circumstances in relation to Craig Thomson are very, very different and I don't for one second accept there is any parallel between this and Craig Thomson. The Greens can go off on their tangents and that's fine but again I reassert: Arthur is a political veteran, he's seen a lot, he's done a lot, I don't think he's got anything to worry about.

JOURNALIST:

As you say there have been no claims of any wrong doing at this stage, just a mention in the opening of that ICAC so let's move on. I want to ask you about this Neilsen survey which has found most people are supportive of a Government focused on job creation over a return to surplus. It was overwhelming; 86 percent supporting a focus on job creation as priority rather than a return to surplus. Will that inform the Government's decision making into the Budget; the knowledge that people don't want deep cuts that might affect jobs?

CIOBO:

Well I don't think it's going to inform what we're doing, because the reality is we made job creation a central part of this Government's focus and we did so before the election. Everybody knows the Prime Minister made it clear that we're going to create a million jobs. And by create I mean create the business conditions that are right for the private sector to employ those million people; that's we're going to do in five years; in ten years we want to increase that. So from a Government perspective what this poll tells me is that we're in step with mainstream opinion about what are the priorities for this nation. And what Australians want to know is: are we a Government that's going to be focused on making sure we get the economic features of our country right? Are we going to get the budget back in balance? Are we going to make sure we have the fiscal settings right to create an environment that is conducive for the private sector to grow jobs? Because that's what has got to happen. We know Labor's track record; $123 billion of budget deficits, $667 billion of debt and 200,000 Australians more on the unemployment queues when Labor took office. That's not going to be our track record; we want to do the opposite of that. We want to have lower unemployment, less debt, and that's what we're focused on.

JOURNALIST:

You also have some big questions to answer in the next month or so, the next couple of months, when it comes to the Commission of Audit. Many in the business community, many close to the Commission of Audit as well, are worried that the Government might not have the back bone to deliver on this. They want you to the structural reforms necessary now and some of those might include some tough decisions. Are you willing to do that? Even if it does not fit with public opinion?

CIOBO:

You know Kieran, if anyone wants to question whether or not the Abbott Government is committed to making the tough choices; doing what we know to be right rather than what we know is necessary popular, they need look no further than what we've done in the last six months. Take, for example, the School Kids Bonus. We said that had to go because that was unaffordable, it was money that was being borrowed from abroad, it was money that was being duchessed out to the electorate, and it's money that Australians couldn't afford. So we've already…

JOURNALIST:

But it's the tip of the iceberg. The Treasurer is going to have to make some really big and tough calls in the medium to longer term if the budget is going to put back on structural footing.

CIOBO:

Kieran we're doing it now; SPC, Qantas, the decision in relation to Holden. As a Coalition Government we have already demonstrated our metal when it comes to these things. If Australians want to be concerned about who in politics doesn't have the spine to make the hard decisions look at the Australian Labor Party. As I said, SPC, Qantas, Holden. On each of these matters we stood our ground and the Labor Party has capitulated and fallen about themselves and said: "quick, borrow more money and hand this money across to these companies, they need more assistance!"

JOURNALIST:

It's one thing when it comes to industry welfare; it's another entirely when it goes to people's pockets. This is the year to make tough calls isn't it? The first year of the electoral cycle, do you recognise that?

CIOBO:

This is the year to start repairing the damage that Labor left behind. People know that the pathway we were on was unstainable. Labor was borrowing more money than they knew what to do with and we had the crazy situation where future generations of Australians will be paying off Labor's debt for decades. We indicated ahead of the last election that's not our approach. So we're going to start making the tough decisions; in fact we have already made tough decisions. We'll of course have more in the May Budget…

JOURNALIST:

Joe Hockey might get it, you might get it, but does the Prime Minister get it? In terms of the cuts necessary because obviously Prime Minister and Treasurers don't always agree when it comes to the extent of these sort of things.

CIOBO:

Kieran, the Prime Minister and the Treasurer work like hand in glove. This is a fantastic partnership between Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey. When it comes to the approach of this Government and Cabinet more broadly, they have been united in terms of the focus that we've had. Now we've had some good discussions about what we think is the way forward but once a decision is taken we all move forward in lock step.

JOURNALIST:

Finally, the claims made by asylum seekers from within Operation Sovereign Borders, this is providing more information in terms of the use of those life boats. Shouldn't the Government allow those that take part in Operation Sovereign Borders, serve in that Government operation, respond to some of the claims made?

CIOBO:

Look we've said consistently from day one we're not going to get involved in comments on operational matters. That's based on the best advice that's put to the Government. You know what Kieran; I think Australians get our policy is working. They see that this isn't just a flight of fancy. Our policy has seen no successful boat arrivals into Australia for 88 days, now contrast that to Labor's track record. I think Australian's get that we are people of our word, we've had a clear and consistent approach from day one, it's yielding results. I think Australian's think that's good policy at work.