23 September 2014
Transcript - #2014033, 2014

Interview with Jonathan Green, ABC Radio National Drive

GREEN:

Joining us now is a man with an eye on that proposition, Steve Ciobo. He is Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer. Steve, welcome.

CIOBO:

Good evening Jonathan.

GREEN:

The negotiations seem to be protracted. We heard last night from crossbench senator, David Leyonhjelm, that the boundaries perhaps between the two debates are blurring a little, that the fight to get budget measures through the senate and the fight to squeeze national security measures through as well. Is there any cross pollination, cross trading going on?

CIOBO:

There's obviously a lot of discussions that are taking place. The government is committed to undertaking the structural reform, that will mean as a nation, we don’t continue to borrow a $1 billion a month just to pay the interest on the debt that Labor’s left behind.

GREEN:

The Medicare levy that goes to research won’t help you with that.

CIOBO:

That is one aspect, but the more important and more fundamental structural changes that we need to arrest the debt trajectory that we are on, the government is firmly committed to. We continue to have discussions with responsible crossbench senators and indeed, with the opposition. Although the opposition have, of course, written themselves out of any progress thus far.

We remain hopeful. These are important reforms that need to be undertaken if we are not going to mortgage, and continue to mortgage, the future of our children.

GREEN:

‘The Ox is slow but the earth is patient,’ as Mick Malthouse once famously said. It’s late September but the budget was in May. What’s the problem here? Why can’t the negotiation be a little bit more forthright, direct and quick?

CIOBO:

Let’s not overstate where things are at. The fact is that more than 98 per cent of the budget has gone through. Let’s not lose sight of that. The vast bulk, more than 98 per cent of the budget has gone through. What we are talking about now are the hard reforms, the tough reforms that frankly, the opposition wants to say to people they don’t need to worry about, they don’t need to be concerned about the need for structural reform, versus the Coalition who recognises that, yep, sure, what we are saying may not make us the most popular people around, but what we’re saying is truthful and it’s factual.

It is about arresting the rapid increase in the debt trajectory that Australia has, which saw us go from having no debt to having debt that was projected to reach $667 billion without policy change.

GREEN:

If these things are so significant in that way, we’re talking about the $7 co-payment, we’re talking about fuel excise increase, we’re talking about higher education changes, what’s your plan B? These must be beginning to have an effect on the budget bottom line. What’s your alternative?

CIOBO:

They are and they aren’t. A number of these reforms are longer term reforms. Take, for example, changes around the indexation of the pension, that’s not until the next term at the parliament, so-

GREEN:

So they won’t be helping in that debt crisis in the immediate term?

CIOBO:

That’s why I say these are about structural reforms. We've already gotten through savings of more than $10 billion, in terms of the budget process that we've put through. We've got to remember Jonathan, that Australia was left in a situation, as I said, we’re borrowing a $1 billion a month just to pay the interest on the debt that’s been left behind, and that forecast is to reach $2.8 billion being borrowed every single month, just to pay the debt.

We’ve got to be realistic about what we are trying to do here. If it was low hanging fruit, if there were easy saves, we’d be doing them. In fact, we have taken that low hanging fruit and we've made savings off the back of that. What we’re talking now about are the harder issues, the ones where we recognise we’re not going to make ourselves super popular as a government. We’re not doing it to be popular. We’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do, and because fundamentally, we are not prepared to stand by and continue to mortgage the future of our children to pay for today’s spending. It might suit the opposition but it doesn’t suit the government.

GREEN:

Speaking of future and speaking of debts, re: university fee deregulation, University Western Australia has said that the fees will jump by 30 per cent under deregulation. Students are going to have big debts. That's going to deter kids from going to university, won’t it?

CIOBO:

No, I don’t believe that's the case at all. In fact, I think it’s wrong and irresponsible to say that every university degree is going to increase in cost, because that simply is not the case, and it simply is unsubstantiated.

GREEN:

Well the university seems to think that very much is the case.

CIOBO:

No, actually, there’s a large number of vice chancellors who have indicated, and indeed pleaded, for university reform to come through. The reason they want deregulation of the tertiary sector is because, for all intents and purposes, we have a deregulated primary and secondary sector, and you don’t see primary and secondary schools charging obscene prices left, right and centre. In fact, the vast bulk of independent schools, at a primary and secondary level, have very reasonable fees.

Similarly, at a federal level, I should say at a tertiary level, the focus on deregulation is to ensure that we provide maximum access for more students, a record of number of Commonwealth scholarships being made available to help the socioeconomically disadvantaged. Also, the freedom for our institutions, our tertiary institutions, to be able to rub shoulders with the very best institutions in the world. I think it’s misleading frankly, of some elements to say this is all about making tertiary degrees worth $100,000. It’s not true. There’s no upfront money required. There will continue to be the opportunity for all students to defer the payment of their HECS debt exactly the same as there is now, until they earn in excess of $50,000 a year.

GREEN:

Steve Ciobo, thanks for your time.

CIOBO:

That's a pleasure, thank you.