5 December 2014
Transcript - #2014048, 2014

Interview with Justin Smith, 2UE Drive

JUSTIN SMITH:

Steve, thank you very much for talking to us.

STEVEN CIOBO:

It's a pleasure.

JUSTIN SMITH:

What'd you think when you'd seen the headline?

STEVEN CIOBO:

Well look, unfortunately, there's always a bit of scuttlebutt around, but that's politics. To be honest with you, my focus and indeed the Government’s focus is upon making sure that we remain committed to getting the budget back under control to focus on jobs and growth. If we continue to focus on those core issues of people's jobs and job security and economic growth and we know that over the longer term Australia is going to be in a stronger position.

JUSTIN SMITH:

Yeah. You talk about focus; I think that's an important word to use. Why are other people so focused on this stuff? They're talking about Malcolm Turnbull replacing Joe Hockey; the co-payment has pushed you right down here. Why have we become so focused on that?

STEVEN CIOBO:

I'm not sure that the Government has. I know that that story is more interesting -

JUSTIN SMITH:

Mr Ciobo, if you don't mind, I'm having a little bit of trouble hearing you. If that's all right, are you able to just come a little closer? Is that OK?

STEVEN CIOBO:

Yeah, sure. Is that any better?

JUSTIN SMITH:

Yeah, a little bit. Thank you.

STEVEN CIOBO:

As I was saying, it's not the focus for the Government. The Government is focused on what we were elected to do, which was to get the budget back under control. Now, there will always be speculation. I've been around politics for a long time Justin, and I know that people get worked up about speculating about this and that and will there be a reshuffle or won't there. Truthfully, it's not time that I, or any of my colleagues spend thinking about. We remained focused on the job that we were elected to do.

JUSTIN SMITH:

Aw, come on. No, somebody has fuelled this. A group of back-benchers or somebody has pushed this along. This is being fuelled by somebody; it hasn't just been puffed out of thin air by someone like Simon Benson and The Telegraph.

STEVEN CIOBO:

No. Look, I'm not suggesting that nobody is saying this. There might be one or two ratbags pursuing different agendas to the main agenda, but in terms of the government, and our core focus and what we want to make sure we deliver upon, that's jobs and growth. That's making sure that we do what we need to do to stop borrowing a billion dollars a month just to pay to the interest on the debt Labor left behind.

JUSTIN SMITH:

I understand the Labor debt. I don't think there is one person, even the ratbags, would pick up on the point of the Labor debt, but do the ratbags have a point about the way the budget has been sold? The $7 co-payment has been a disaster. By anybody's standards, it's been a disaster.

STEVEN CIOBO:

Look, we've achieved a lot this year. Now I'm not going to say to you that our communication has been pitch perfect. I'm not going to say to you that we've been able to market ourselves...

JUSTIN SMITH:

You got it wrong, didn't you? You got it wrong.

STEVEN CIOBO:

We haven't marketed ourselves as well as Apple markets itself for example, but that in no way erodes what we've been able to do this year. In 14 months, as a new government-

JUSTIN SMITH:

If you don’t mind Steve. Apple makes phones and you run a country.

STEVEN CIOBO:

No, but what we're talking about here, you're talking to me about the marketing of the message and what I'm saying is yes, we need to improve our marketing of our achievements, but that doesn't in any way erode our actual achievements over these first 14 months. The fact that we've stopped the boats. The fact that we've got a record $50 billion going into infrastructure. The fact that we put through a trillion dollars worth of environmental approval. The fact that we abolished the carbon tax to help people with their cost of living expenses, just like we abolished the mining tax at the exact time that the mining industry needs additional support. Any way you cut it, the Government has done an awful lot this year. We've achieved a hell of a lot. Now, you say to me "Look Steve, you haven't done enough to communicate that message effectively." I will take that-

JUSTIN SMITH:

Hang on. Hang on a sec. It's not me saying this here. You've got a front page like that, and we spoke to a Queensland Liberal Senator last week, or earlier on this week rather, who just said the co-payment ... there is no stomach for the co-payment in the Senate. There is no stomach for it. It is not just a few commentators floating around trying to poke holes in what you're doing. I'm not saying the government haven't achieved things, but these things have been a ruddy disaster.

STEVEN CIOBO:

We need to redouble efforts in that regard, then. The fact remains that there are co-payments in existence when it comes to pharmaceuticals. It didn't destroy the pharmaceutical system; it didn't mean that everyone went without pharmaceuticals. There is a modest co-payment in place on pharmaceuticals. What the government has said, given the very, very high levels of growth in the costs of the health sector in Australia and given the fact that we are spending so much more money than we actually have, in fact, $48 billion more last year than what the Government had, and so we had to borrow every last dollar of that $48 billion.

We need to put in place a small price signal in exactly the same way, like there's a small price signal around pharmaceuticals, and you know what? The Labor Party support the price signal on pharmaceuticals, but they don't support it when it comes to GP visits. Now, I can't logically explain why the Labor Party would be so insistent, but we've got to deal with the debt that's in front of us. We are not doing this because we think that it's a great idea, or we just happened to think of it last night. We're doing it because this is what is in the national interest, to put a small price signal in place to make sure that as a nation, we live within our means.

JUSTIN SMITH:

Are we still looking at $7, is that going to go ahead as is?

STEVEN CIOBO:

Look, as a government, we are going to continue discussions with the crossbench. We are going to continue discussions with the Opposition. Now, they've made it very clear that they don't care that the national interest is best served by having a small co-payment. They've also made it clear that they don't care that they're being inconsistent by supporting a co-payment on pharmaceuticals, but not supporting a co-payment when it comes to doctor's visit, so.

JUSTIN SMITH:

No, I understand that. Where is this going to work out, how is this going to fit in; $5, $4, what's the point that you think you're going to end up on here with the crossbenchers?

STEVEN CIOBO:

Look, I'm not the Health Minister, and so I haven't been involved with those discussions with the cross-benchers to know exactly where it's likely to be. I would love to shed more detailed light for you, I'm just not in a position of doing that, but ultimately, our resolve remains the same. I can talk about the principal, and the principal is this. As a government, we recognise we must make structural changes. We can't continue to borrow against future generations, putting future generations in more debt to pay for today's spending. Really when you boil it down, that's what this conversation is all about, whether it's this issue, or higher education, or work force participation or any one of these issues. It all comes down to this: As a government, we're trying to make sure we don't continue to mortgage the next generations futures to pay for today's spending. What we're trying to ask the Labor Party to do, and the crossbench to do is to recognise that and make some sensible changes that will help us to achieve that.

JUSTIN SMITH:

Yeah, with the greatest of respect to you, Mr Ciobo, you've mentioned the Labor Party six times here and the Australian people had the chance to vote on the Labor party last year, and they didn't do it. They put you in, and you're now in charge of it, so I think mentioning them six times is probably not going to help you out. You get the feeling that it is a government that is right under pressure at the moment. Are you under pressure?

STEVEN CIOBO:

Well no. The reason I'm mentioning them and the reason I'm citing the Labor Party is because we've been talking about Senate opposition and the Senate blocking a number of the Government's reforms. It's not that there's a lack of will on behalf of the Government. We remain-

JUSTIN SMITH:

Steve, it's not just the senate that are against this here, people don't like it. If people wanted it, it would get up, the Senate would feel the pressure, but it's not just the Senate that has no stomach for it. People have no stomach for it.

STEVEN CIOBO:

I recognise that what we're doing and the course that we're charting doesn't make us universally popular. I recognise that, but we're doing this because it's in the national interest. We cannot allow the situation to continue, where we run budget deficits of 40, 50, maybe even $60 billion. That is completely unsustainable. I recognise that people say, "Well we don't like some of these savings initiatives." But you know what? They also say to me that they don't like us stealing from future generations to pay for today's spending. Now how do I reconcile those two? I can't, but what I can do, and what the government is focused on doing, are putting forward reasonable, sensible changes that will over time improve our budget position that will make sure as a nation we start to live within our means.

Now, I recognise that some people won't like the changes that we're trying to implement and indeed that's the very sentiment that the Labor Party desperately try to tap into, to say to people, "Look, there's no need to change. We'll just keep doing what we're doing. Don't worry about it. It will all work out OK." That's not really, what is serving the national interest. It serves them short term politically, but it doesn't serve Australia.

JUSTIN SMITH:

Will you look at regulating the co-payment?

STEVEN CIOBO:

Look, we've got to look at all options in relations to those parts of the budget that we haven't been able to move through the Parliament and in particular obviously to get through the Senate-

JUSTIN SMITH:

That's still on the table?

STEVEN CIOBO:

Of course. We've got to remain committed. If we walk away from the necessary budget reform to make sure that as a nation we start to live within our means, then what we're walking away from is a future that says, "We don't want the next generation to be in more debt to pay for today's spending." Now I'm not prepared to do that. I've got two young boys. I'm not prepared to keep putting them more and more and more into debt because that makes me more popular now. I was elected to do a job and indeed the government was elected to do a job, and that is to stop Australia continuing to rack up more debt. We're trying to do it, and we have to remain absolutely committed to achieving that task.

JUSTIN SMITH:

It's good talking to you. I appreciate you being so up front. Joe Hockey, he's here to stay?

STEVEN CIOBO:

Absolutely. Joe has done an outstanding job. Let's not lose sight of the fact of what Joe Hockey achieved over the past 12 or 14 months. When it comes to the budget, if there had been no changes to the policy settings that Labor had put in place, we were going to reach $667 billion worth of debt and we were going to have $123 billion worth of budget deficits. Now, thanks to Joe Hockey, and of course the Prime Minister and the work that they've undertaken, we have cut that debt amount by $300 billion. So no one should ever, for a second, think that Joe hasn't made outstanding achievements in terms of getting the budget under control and improving Australia, and fundamentally, that means that our kids are $300 billion better off-

JUSTIN SMITH:

Look, and when you talk about the future, I do understand that point, but why is Joe Hockey getting belted around so much? This is not an isolated thing. This is not say, Bill Shorten standing up and giving him a whack. This is a little bit beyond that, isn't it?

STEVEN CIOBO:

Look, if you're in politics you've got to expect a few brick bats, we get the occasional bouquet too. Look, I had dinner with the Treasurer last night. We had a chance to talk about a number of these issues. The important thing is this; none of us are too precious about ourselves. We recognise and we welcome robust discussion, robust debate, and people critique us all the time. Believe you me, I've heard plenty of critiques about myself as well, but the point is we remain focused on the job at hand, what we're elected to do. People will always have pot shots at any one at us, and, in fact, I'm sure there's conservative people that have pot shots at the Labor Party too. That's the nature of politics, but it doesn't distract us from the job that we were elected to do, and that is to restore Australia's budgeting.

JUSTIN SMITH:

It's good to talk to you. Thank you.

STEVEN CIOBO:

A pleasure.