24 November 2014
Transcript - #2014044, 2014

Interview with Marius Benson, ABC NewsRadio

MARIUS BENSON:

Steve Ciobo, good morning.

STEVEN CIOBO:

Good morning.

MARIUS BENSON:

A complicated world for the government in the Senate just got more complicated. Are you sorry to see the Palmer United Party seemingly disintegrating?

STEVEN CIOBO:

My focus and that of the government remains on trying to implement the policies we took to the last election to get Australia back on track, the occasional sideshow that takes place in the Senate is part and parcel of the Senate composition and I'm not getting distracted by it.

MARIUS BENSON:

But you need six out of eight senators and Palmer United used to be able to deliver four, seemingly, not anymore.

STEVEN CIOBO:

The fundamental problem remains that we've got an opposition that is unwilling to put the national interest ahead of its own political interest. The fact remains that we wouldn't need to use crossbench senators if the opposition was willing to take decisions that are in Australia's national interests. Decisions like getting a budget back under control, decisions about long-term reforms to make sure that Australia children aren't indebted to the tune of 20 to 30,000 dollars each.

MARIUS BENSON:

You've been putting that case for a long time and the opposition continues to oppose, but it's suggested in some reports today that, in fact, some of your budget measures you may be abandoning. The independents are saying, for example, you haven't been speaking to them about the seven dollar Medicare co-payment for a while. Have you given up on that?

STEVEN CIOBO:

Not at all. The government remains committed to implementing the reforms that are necessary to get Australia back on track. We find it curious that the Labor Party in particular, but more broadly those that stand in opposition to the government, seem unwilling to do the very things that they these have been pushing for.

Take, for example, with respect to the co-payment. It was Labor that introduced the co-payment. Labor supports a co-payment on pharmaceuticals. Yet bizarrely Labor says "No, we will not accept a co-payment in relation to a modest charge when it comes to going to pay the doctor."

These are curious problems that the government faces, but that notwithstanding, we remain absolutely focused on making sure we implement policies that we know to be in Australia's long-term interest.

MARIUS BENSON:

Can you push the co-payment through by regulation rather than depending on legislation if you can't get the legislation through?

STEVEN CIOBO:

The government's made it clear that we are very focused on putting forward the changes that we believe are necessary. There's a variety of ways and means of doing that. Fundamentally though, we remain committed to trying to implement reform through the parliament because we know that that's the best way forward. But what we require is for those in opposition to be methodical about the way in which they're willing to address Australia's long-term structural challenges, to stop their short-term populism. The fact remains that we cannot continue to borrow a billion dollars a month just to pay the interest on the debt that the Labor Party left behind.

MARIUS BENSON:

Sure, but on the seven dollar co-payment, when you say there's a variety of ways and means, does that mean the government may be able to put it through by regulation without going to a vote in Parliament?

STEVEN CIOBO:

I'm not going to go into the various approaches that the government can adopt, Marius. I'm going to continue to make the case, though, about why the government's trying to implement the reforms that we're trying to implement. Obviously we don't need and do not want an opposition that just keeps saying no purely and simply because they think it's in their political interest to do so. What we're going to continue to be advocates for is a calm, considered, rational approach to deciding policy that is in the long-term interests of this nation. Policy which will make a difference to making sure that we don't put future generations of Australians into an unsustainable level of debt.

MARIUS BENSON:

But you've been selling those policies, the budget policies, since May and the public is still not buying them. Normally a government flies at the highest altitude in the polls in its first year after an election, and since the May budget the government has been trailing the opposition. You've been unable to convince the public of the merits of the budget.

STEVEN CIOBO:

That's part of the policy challenge that we face. It's never good to be in a situation where you're having to deliver news that isn't what people want, but that notwithstanding, we're not doing this to be popular. We're doing it because this is the right thing to do. That's been the case since we were elected. We were elected on the basis of saying "We're going to take decisions that are in Australia's long-term interest, and that's what we remain committed to doing.

MARIUS BENSON:

Steve Ciobo, thank you very much.