29 November, 2018

Subjects: Malcolm Turnbull, budget surplus, the Liberal base, energy policy, tax cuts, Craig Kelly & Victoria state election.



KIERAN GILBERT: Well, where do we start this morning? So many different elements of the Liberal Party discussion right now. Let’s start with Malcolm Turnbull though, front of The Australian today, apparently, in contact, regular contact with Kerryn Phelps. Is that appropriate?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I tell you where I’d like to start, let’s talk about what matters to the Australian people which is the strength of the economy, getting jobs, making sure that their kids have access to world-class education, record funding for health, record funding for education. That’s actually what Australians want to talk about. I realise that there’s a lot of interest in front pages like The Australian, but, truly and honestly, as a government, I have no interest in being part of a discussion about what someone may have done to someone else. My absolute and resolute focus is about making sure our economy continues to grow, that we pay down debt, that we provide record funding off the back of sound economic management.

LAURA JAYES: But, you know Malcolm Turnbull well. You’ve known him for a number of years. Is this his modus operandi, revenge?

STEVEN CIOBO: Again, at the risk of not answering your question, I’m going to answer it by saying that I have no interest in talking about that. If there’s a criticism that we hear from the public, it’s that they say, “stop talking about yourselves”. Well, guess what? I’m stopped talking about ourselves. My focus is upon what matters to Australians. They want to know that we’ve got 3.4% growth. That is the highest economic growth rate in the world in developed economies, better than the G7, better than most other economies. They want to know that we’ve got nearly 1.2 million Australians into jobs. That’s what as a government our track record is.

KIERAN GILBERT: But, it’s a good track record.

STEVEN CIOBO: It’s very good.

KIERAN GILBERT: But, you’ve also had one of your members quit and move over to crossbench this week.

STEVEN CIOBO: Sure. I’m not going to pretend otherwise. Absolutely, there has been, and there’s been untidiness around the edges, but I’m not going to focus on that. I’m not going to come on shows like this and talk about those kinds of issues. Because, I don’t think that’s what matters.

KIERAN GILBERT: But, that’s not the edges though. You’re losing your hold on the Parliament. That’s not the edge. It’s like the centre of the whole thing.

STEVEN CIOBO: We continue to move a very strong legislative agenda. We continue to make sure that we have the numbers on the floor of the Parliament. But, most importantly, why does all that matter? The reason it matters is, because it’s whether or not the government can do what’s required of it to serve the interests of the Australian people. That is precisely what we’re doing. The simple fact is this, unless you have the budget in a strong position, unless you’ve got sound economic management, you cannot deliver the essential services that Australians demand. Our point as a government is to say that we have put behind us now all the debt and deficit that Labor left behind. The next budget is going to be a surplus budget which we deliver in April. That’s going to be a budget that makes sure that we can continue to invest record amounts in schools, in health, in making sure that we’ve got now a $200 billion increase in defence capability. We’re creating 1.2 million jobs. These are all really sound figures, and that’s what matters to Australians.

LAURA JAYES: You’re right. It’s a great economic story. But, people still don’t want to vote for you. Why not?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I don’t think that’s the case. Let’s just see what happens. At the next election, they’re going to have a clear choice. Let’s stop pretending otherwise. This is going to be a choice between Scott Morrison and the sound economic management of the Coalition or Bill Shorten and his $200 billion tax agenda. Australians can look back at what’s happened over the last three years, six years, however long they want to. But, what they see when they actually look at what matters isn’t who’s done what to whom. What they’ll see is a choice between policy approach in this country, whether we go for a big taxing, big spending Labor agenda, or we go for a smaller taxing Liberal Government, that’s got the budget back under control.

KIERAN GILBERT: You don’t want to talk about this, but the fact of the matter is, and it’s been reiterated to Laura and I this morning as well, that some of your colleagues think Turnbull wants you to lose, and he’s trying to make that happen.

STEVEN CIOBO: And I am absolutely determined to make sure that we win. The way that we will win is by focusing on what matters to Australians. What matters to Australians is jobs, 1.2 million new jobs that are being created under this government. Fastest period of job creation in Australia’s history. We’ve got unemployment down to 5%. We’ve got the fastest economic growth rate. We’ve restored the budget back to surplus. Labor hasn’t delivered a budget surplus since the 1980s. The fact is that when we actually talk about what it is that’s going to help us to win, which is what resonates with Australians, it’s not that kind of garbage, and that’s why I’m not going to talk about it.

LAURA JAYES: But, Minister, what do you believe in, we’ve seen the Victorian election, we’ve seen the Wentworth route as well. You have results like this, and some within your party saying, “Wentworth members don’t matter. They’re an aberration. They’re not the base”. Victoria is a Massachusetts of Australia, so where is your base?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, the base is just ordinary Australians, every day Australians that are going about trying to live their lives. They’ve got issues around cost of living, which is why we’ve taken concrete steps to bring down power prices. They want to know that their kids are going to get a good education, which is why we’re providing record funding. They want to know if they get sick that they’re going to get access to health services which is why we have record health funding. And they want to know that they’re going to be able to get a job and pay off their mortgage, which is why economic growth and making sure that we have the fastest growth rate, which is what we’ve delivered, out of any G7 economy is part of the compact that we have with the Australian people.

KIERAN GILBERT: When you look at the polling though that Laura touched on there, in terms of the Victorian election, we’ve seen polling today, commissioned by the CFMMEU understandably, so I should put that out there.

STEVEN CIOBO: Big qualifier.

KIERAN GILBERT: It is a big qualifier, but it’s done by ReachTEL, and they’re, we use that organisation as well from time to time. So, in relation to that polling and Higgins, is that a worry for you? I guess, again it’s an individual seat poll.

STEVEN CIOBO: Sure. This is sort of like about as scientific as Family Feud, as far as I’m concerned, “we surveyed 100 people on the street”. I couldn’t care less what the CFMMEU says that they’ve done in terms of polling. Kelly O’Dwyer is a terrific Member of Parliament. She is such a strong advocate for her seat. She’s someone who has a voice at the cabinet table. She’s one of the leading women when it comes to the Coalition. I have no doubt based on any objective assessment of her performance; she has been a standout performer.

LAURA JAYES: Okay, well, she’s also said that there’s elements in your party that are seen as homophobic, anti-women, and climate deniers. Are you taking those comments seriously?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, that’s reports, that’s been claimed. But, again, if you look at the Coalition, if you look at our track record, I think that the actual runs are on the board.

LAURA JAYES: So you’re not concerned about those assessments of your own party particularly in Victoria?

STEVEN CIOBO: If I was worried about what other people said about the Liberal Party or about the Labor Party, I could just look at Twitter on any hour of any day.

LAURA JAYES: Okay, well I’ll put to you what Tim Wilson said on the record this idea that people hate renewables, and they’re out there hugging coal. He said, “get real”. Do you agree with that?

STEVEN CIOBO: We are getting real, and that’s precisely why, as the Prime Minister said a couple of days ago, dealing with climate change is a very serious consideration for us. We’re making sure that we’re doing it. We’ve got in place the Paris Accord. We’re going to meet our targets there. We have seen all sorts of investment. We’ve seen hundreds of millions of dollars of investment in renewables. Let’s not pretend that this is a black and white thing, and Labor’s about renewables, and the Coalition isn’t. That’s complete garbage. What this comes down to is the economically sound way that you actually introduce new fuel sources over traditional fuel sources. That’s what this debate is about. What we as a government are doing is saying that we can achieve through the inclusion of renewables a sound approach to making sure we have more renewable power, and we’re doing that effectively without damaging the Australian economy. Labor’s approach is very different. Shorten’s approach is to say 45% renewables. We’ve seen what occurs when you get extreme policy choices like Labor is advocating. We saw that in South Australia. Where you effectively saw the collapse of the state grid because of an extreme policy position that Labor’s now advocating. We’re not going to do that.

KIERAN GILBERT: Yup, that’s fine, and it makes sense your argument, but there are others in your party who think that you have to pursue coal.

STEVEN CIOBO: No, no, Kieran, that’s, I’m sorry, that’s just not the case. What people in our party have said is the long –

KIERAN GILBERT: You disagree. You don’t accept that there’s some in your party that want a taxpayer funded coal-fired power station?

STEVEN CIOBO: I’ll tell you what I say. What I’m saying is that there are people in our party, who say fossil fuels, coal, the cheapest form of energy that we can produce, and Australia has a terrific natural advantage, so if we’re genuinely concerned about reducing power prices, coal is an option. That’s what they’re advocating. But, it’s not to say that we shouldn’t do renewables. We’re doing renewables as well. This is the difference. Ours is a mix, we’re saying let’s do renewables, let’s do fossil fuels, because we want to bring down the cost of energy. Labor, like Labor, did in South Australia, has an extreme policy position that says, let’s close down the coal mines, let’s close down coal-fired power, and let’s only have renewables. We’ve seen the consequences of that in South Australia.

LAURA JAYES: Julie Bishop says there needs to be bipartisanship on the NEG. Do you agree?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, you’d look for bipartisanship on any policy issue if you can.

LAURA JAYES: On energy?

STEVEN CIOBO: On any policy issue if you can. The more that we can come together across the Parliament, I think that’s better for the Australian people. But, by the same token we’ve outlined –

LAURA JAYES: What steps should you do? This was your designed NEG. Now, it’s been dumped along with Malcolm Turnbull. Labor’s now using the apparatus. It’s open for you to support it.

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, no, because Labor’s policy is different. What we’ve outlined is what our approach is going to be. We’re largely agnostic. We’re saying, “let the market decide”. We’ve also put down the commitment to make sure that we meet our Paris Agreement. That’s very different to Labor’s position. Let’s not try to portray, as Labor does, that all they’ve done is adopt Coalition policy, which, by the way, if that was the case, they’ve been fighting against it for a hell of a long time. But, what Labor’s actually doing is having a much more extreme position, because they’re desperate to try to secure votes back off the Greens. We saw that in Victoria, and Labor’s policy position is an extreme policy position that’s actually not about what’s good in terms of household budgets when it comes to electricity prices. But, it’s only about what’s good for them politically when they’re up against the Greens.

KIERAN GILBERT: If your chance of doing what you said earlier and getting the focus on the economy and winning over voters in that sense, obviously, the budget, April 2 of next year is going to be pivotal in that.

STEVEN CIOBO: Absolutely.

KIERAN GILBERT: Further speculation this morning that the government will expedite the tax cuts for those on median incomes and over. Is that something you’re looking at?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, we’re going to be delivering a surplus budget. This will be the first surplus budget since the Coalition was last in power. It’s a consequence of sound economic management.

KIERAN GILBERT: You’ll speed up the tax cuts?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, isn’t this a good problem to have? What I mean is, because we’re restoring the budget’s position, we can look at tax cuts. Now, as a government, we’ve made it clear that we believe that there should be a limit on how much tax is imposed. We’ve delivered tax relief, big tax cuts for small business and medium-sized businesses, tax cuts for Australians in the middle income bracket, and we want to continue to provide more tax relief wherever we can. That’s a very different approach. This goes to my point about the next election, our approach, surplus budgets, tax relief, is radically different to Labor’s approach, which will be budget deficits and higher taxes. Australians will have a clear choice.

LAURA JAYES: Given the position of the budget then as you just outlined it, do you think there’s further scope to give larger income tax cuts?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, the stronger the budget position, the more tax relief we can provide. We saw that when the Coalition was in power under John Howard and Peter Costello. We’ve had to do the hard yards now for more than five years to repair the incredible damage that Labor left behind when they were in power for six years. Let’s just never forget, Labor came to office for six years, and in that period, we went from having zero debt to putting us on a debt trajectory which is now nearly half, well, over half a trillion dollars of debt. Now, that’s a consequence of Labor’s policies. We’ve had to make all sorts of really tough decisions to get the budget back under control. We’re getting back into surplus, and when you’re in surplus, you can pay down debt, and you can provide tax relief.

KIERAN GILBERT: Do you think that the looming election, we’re almost at Christmas and then summer, so really, there’s only a couple of months until the election, will that be enough to keep people in the tent, to keep them focused on-

STEVEN CIOBO: Kieran, I absolutely believe that when Australians … I understand that there’s all focus on who’s done what to whom. Labor focused on that, our side. What I know from having been in politics for a while is that what Australians say, very clearly, is, “don’t talk about yourselves, talk about what matters to us”. Well, that’s what we’re doing. The next election will be a clear choice about what Australia looks like for the next three years. That, when you distil it down to its most basic elements, is a choice between a big spending, big taxing agenda that Labor has or less tax and surplus budgets under the Coalition.

LAURA JAYES: I take your point about talking about things that matter to people, but there seems to be a big divide in your party at the moment. You had Craig Kelly out there wearing a Menzies T-shirt, but still threatening to move to the crossbench if he’s-

STEVEN CIOBO: No, he didn’t. No, that’s, not, I’m sorry, but that’s completely wrong. He couldn’t have been any more clear that he’s not doing that.

LAURA JAYES: But, he didn’t rule it out.

STEVEN CIOBO: He could not have been any more clear that he’s sticking with the party.


STEVEN CIOBO: This is part of the problem is that we allow invented thoughts to take root. I’m saying that he’s made very clear-

KIERAN GILBERT: But, he sat where you were, he sat where you are yesterday and he didn’t rule it out. We asked him three times.

STEVEN CIOBO: No, I listened to him on radio this morning. He could not have been more clear. In this fervent speculation that’s going around, it’s rubbish. I put it to one side. He could not have been more clear.

LAURA JAYES: Would voters be looking at your party at the moment and saying, “they need to go into opposition and sort out where they stand”. Because, the party’s divided.

STEVEN CIOBO: Absolutely not. Voters are looking at our party and seeing a sound policy approach that’s going to deliver surplus budgets, tax relief, record health funding, record education funding, and strong economic growth. Their alternative is Bill Shorten and the Labor Party which is going to see us regress to 1970s industrial relations policy. It will have big impact; I have no doubt at all, on matters like inflation. He’s going to see deficit budgets, $200 billion of new taxes. Absolutely, destroy any confidence in the property market because of their negative gearing policy. I actually think that’s going to be far more chaotic than anything else.

LAURA JAYES: It sounds like you’re warning of a recession under Labor.

STEVEN CIOBO: What I’m making clear is that Labor’s policy approach I have no doubt will fail. They were in office for six years. They took us from zero debt, to a trajectory of over half a trillion dollars’ worth of debt. That’s Labor’s track record. You better get a look, every single time Labor’s in office, they promise everything to everyone. They spend, spend, spend, they jack up taxes, and then, we spend about five or 10 years trying to repair the damage.

KIERAN GILBERT: Do you feel that as a Queenslander that Scott Morrison can make up the ground that you lose in the Massachusetts of Australia as John Howard called it, Victoria. Because, obviously, you’ve lost ground there.

STEVEN CIOBO: We absolutely are highly competitive in the next election, and we’re competitive, because we’ve got the right policy approach that aligns with what mainstream, every day Australians are looking for. If we focus on that, if we can continue to be strong advocates about why our policy approach is sound, and why Labor’s policy approach is reckless, then I have no doubt at all that we’ll be extremely competitive.

LAURA JAYES: There were no lessons out of Victoria then?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, the lesson out of Victoria is to make sure that you focus on what it is that every day Australians are after. But, the other thing to is, also, let’s not overplay, the significance of Victoria. It was a state election. It was about the leadership at a state level. It was about decisions taken at a state level. I think it’s important to, of course, look at it, but, also, don’t let it cast a shadow over everything that we’re doing currently.

KIERAN GILBERT: Okay, Minister Steve Ciobo, thanks so much. Talk to you soon.

STEVEN CIOBO: Good speaking to you.