16 December 2014
Transcript - #2014052, 2014

Interview with Patricia Karvelas, ABC 774 Drive

KARVELAS:

The mid-year budget statement released by the treasury yesterday revealed a $10 billion blow out in the deficit. It also forecast higher unemployment and a delayed return to surplus. Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer Steve Ciobo joins us on 774 Drive. Welcome to the program.

CIOBO:

Good afternoon.

KARVELAS:

Nearly $4 billion is being cut from foreign aid to partially offset the big fall in revenue. Is it fair that foreign aid is the first place this government seems to keep going to make cuts?

CIOBO:

It's not the first place. In fact the government has put forward a number of structural savings that we'd like to see achieved. Unfortunately, we're dealing with a Labor Opposition and a Greens Opposition that has completely walked away from the national interest. They seemed to be completely disregarding the fact that we are putting future generation of Australians in more and more debt.

We are trying to restore the budget back into a sustainable basis. The Labor Party and the Greens keep opposing us, so we need to find the money somewhere. We cannot be in a situation where we keep borrowing money from oversees to then pay out oversees. We keep borrowing a billion dollars a month just to pay the interest on the debt that Labor left behind.

KARVELAS:

Aid groups are outraged. They say the government has slashed $11 billion from foreign aid in a year and that it's a broken promise. Is it not a broken promise?

CIOBO:

Look, I have some sympathy for aid groups. They have run there for quite some time, a strong campaign in relation to the millennium development goals and in relation to changes that they’d like to see in terms of increased foreign aid funding but I think that any anger they have is misdirected but the simple fact remains that we are borrowing a billion dollars every single month just to pay the interest on the debt that Labor left behind.

What's more, because of Labor opposition and Green's opposition to the structural saves the government is trying to achieve in the budget, Australia continues to get into more and more debt and more and more debt means that we have to keep borrowing more and more money.

KARVELAS:

You talk about the Greens and Labor, given that they have been so strong in their opposition, it sort of falls on you to negotiate in a better, more effective way with the crossbench in the senate, particularly the Palmer United Party. Why is that you've been so ineffective at convincing that party and the other crossbenches to support some of your measures?

CIOBO:

I reject that assertion entirely. The fact is that we've been able to work with the cross bench very effectively to get a number of reforms through. I mean Labor stood in our way when we were attempting to abolish the world's biggest carbon tax. We were able to get that through. Labor stood in the way with the Greens when we tried to abolish the mining tax; we were able to get that through.

Labor stood in the way in relation to a myriad of other reforms the government sought to make, which we've been able to get through effective negotiation but fundamentally we still run into the problem that the cross bench is only relevant because the Labor party and the Greens party have made themselves irrelevant by refusing to deal with the very significant challenge that we face as a nation of having expenditure far exceeding the amount of revenue government is getting through the door.

KARVELAS:

Chris Bowen, Labor's Shadow Treasurer has accused the government of damaging economic confidence with unfair cuts. Do you accept his premise that you are damaging economic confidence, particularly during this crucial time of Christmas where spending is so important to supporting the economy?

CIOBO:

I would take criticism on board if it was said by someone credible. Unfortunately, Chris Bowen and the Labor party simply are not credible when it comes to budget commentary. I mean this is the Labor party who promised to deliver four years of surplus. This is the Labor party who said that they would limit expenditure to two percent...

KARVELAS:

They certainly did, in fact... Steve Ciobo, you also said that you'd return to surplus and you are now delaying a return to surplus just as the Labor party did. Are you not just doing the same thing that they did?

CIOBO:

No, no, no, no. Very very different. What we said...

KARVELAS:

It's a delay to the surplus, just as they delivered.

CIOBO:

If you're going to ask me a question, I've got to answer it.

KARVELAS:

Fair enough.

CIOBO:

What they said was that they were going to deliver. They promised. They had it in brochures that they were delivering four years of surplus. What we've only ever said and said consistently is that we want to get the budget back on a sustainable pathway to surplus. Now that's what we're trying to do.

KARVELAS:

So yours wasn't as much of a promise because it wasn't in the brochures?

CIOBO:

Well, Patricia, I mean, we're now discussing this because you made an assertion to me that the Coalition's position is the same as Labor's and I'm rejecting that in its entirety. Labor has no credibility when it comes to the budget. They ran massive budget deficits. They had policy settings that would see the budget deficit be even worse that it is projected to be, we as a result of the reforms that we have been able to implement thus far are saving every single Australian over $6,000 in terms of the amount of debt that they will be starting with so I think the Coalition has made important in roads.

We would like to do more but we are forced to deal with a crossbench because the Labor party and the Greens simply want to keep borrowing and spending and borrowing and spending more money.

KARVELAS:

Steve Ciobo, the mini budget also revealed a $2.4 billion blow out in the cost of child care support and also a faster fee rises for many Australian families. This happens at the same time as you're saying that you want to get the budget more sustainable, we're seeing a blow out on child care but at the same time, your government's promising a big package for families and for child care reform and the paid parental leave scheme.

How can you possibly deliver a better sort of package for families that assist them with child care and having children when you're seeing these cost blow outs?

CIOBO:

You're using the phrase blow out but let's be clear about what's taking place. More Australians are eligible to remain with government support, that is tax payer funded support, because wages growth is lower than anticipated. That's what taking place. That's why there's an increase.

That is very very different to what took place for example under Labor, where we literally did see a blow out in for example, border protection costs, by literally billions and billions of dollars because there were more than 50,000 people that came by boat. There's a very big difference between those.

KARVELAS:

Okay, accepting that, let's get back to the child care paid parental leave schemes and the package that Tony Abbott and the Treasurer have certainly promised that they'll be constructing over the summer period.

CIOBO:

Yes.

KARVELAS:

Do you support main's testing to try and take control of the sustainability of these payments?

CIOBO:

Well clearly the government wants to make sure that we are putting in place a frame work for payments and support that is going to several things. The first is to be sustainable. That is absolutely crucial in the current budget context where we see deficits continuing for some time yet and we are continuing to be blocked in our attempts to get spending under control.

The second thing we want to do is make sure that the frame work that we have put in place is more responsive to families' needs, more responsive to what the challenges are that families face in terms of raising children in Australia today. Now, we're going to be looking at that, as the Prime Minister has announced, over the summer period now to make sure that we put forward in place a policy that's going to reflect the desires of the Australian people but also consistent with the government's attempts to make sure it's sustainable.

KARVELAS:

Do you feel that over a long period of time families have come to expect too much support? I'm asking you this in a philosophical frame work if you like, that there has been an expectation that the tax payer provides a level of support that is unsustainable?

CIOBO:

I'm not going to say that families are to blame for that. What I'm going to say is taking place a situation where Australians by and large need to recognise that the amount of money their government is spending exceeds the amount of revenue that government is able to recoup. Now we don't want to become a high spending high taxing country. What we want to make sure that we are as a nation going forward is a country that lives within its means.

There clearly needs to be an adjustment to the amount of spending that government undertakes to better reflect the actual true cost of government that is to tax payers so that we live within our means.

KARVELAS:

Are you of the view that the government has failed in its sales job rather than that substantive policies that you've been offering the electorate in the last, well since the budget was delivered? Is it the sales job that you think is the problem or do you think that some of the policies themselves were problematic?

CIOBO:

I think that the government has had a good strong year of achievement and we've achieved many many things this year so I certainly don't fault our achievements over the past twelve or fourteen months since we were elected. Now, there's no doubt that there are aspects that we could have demonstrated more clearly and appropriately to the Australian people about why we had to make some of the decisions that we have made.

I'm certainly re-doubling my efforts in that regard as I know the government more broadly across the board is going to. We want to make sure that Australians do recognise that as a government, we're trying to take issues that are in the national interest that are sustainable that don't see us continue to borrow more and more money from abroad to pay for today's spending because the only people that suffer in that scenario are future generations of Australians who will have to pay this debt off for decades and decades and decades.

KARVELAS:

Steve Ciobo, the Prime Minister himself has said that wants to clear some of the barnacles that have been causing some political grief for him and your government. Are all the barnacles clear now? Can we expect some other re-vising of other policies? I'll give you one example, one that hasn't been dealt with and it's meant to start on January 1, I imagine it can't now obviously, which is depriving young people under thirty of the dole for six months each year. What's happened to a policy like that? I believe it was meant to save $1.2 billion.

CIOBO:

These are the types of structural reforms the government has been attempting to put in place. We have been having and continue to have mature conversations with the senate crossbench to try to achieve the reform that's necessary. Look, ultimately what we want to do is make sure that we motivate and activate the work force to get as much work force participation as possible. We need to do that to make sure that we've got a strong capable work force going forward. It helps to boost obviously, income tax revenue to the government. It helps to reduce the amount of welfare the government's paying. All of these in turn put Australia on a more sustainable footing into the future.

Patricia Karvelas: I'll ask you this as a final question because it was a discussion we had on the program yesterday. The Prime Minister last week responded to attacks on his chief of staff Peta Credlin, saying that if her name was spelled P-E-T-E-R, ie, she was a man, there'd be a different level of scrutiny on her and that the prism in which you see some of the criticisms is one through the gaze of sexism. Do you agree with the Prime Minister or are you of the view that Julie Bishop has put forward that sexism is not part of this?

CIOBO:

I don't think the two views are inconsistent. The fact is...

KARVELAS:

They are quite different views.

CIOBO:

Well, the fact is that there is no doubt that some people have made comments I believe and agree with the Prime Minister that some people have made comments in relation to capabilities that do seem to be mired in sexism. But more fundamentally than that Patricia, this is the type of discussion that unfortunately happens from time to time within government and within oppositions and by commentators who are obviously looking for any particular angle they can get but let me take this opportunity to re-stress that this is not something that distracts me or the government from the business at hand.

I'm employed and I serve the Australian people to make sure that we take and put forward the national interest and not get caught up in commentary around the Prime Minister's chief of staff or matters like that because you know what, I don't think it matters to the average Australian, it doesn't matter to me. In politics you've got to have a pretty thick hide and I know Peta Credlin is someone who is thick skinned and can wear criticism and so I don't intend to dwell on these issues. Instead, I'm only interested in focusing on the issues that the Australian people have elected us as a government to deal with.

KARVELAS:

Thank you so much for joining the program Steve Ciobo.