KIERAN GILBERT: Let's get across a few of these issues now with the Trade Minister, Steve Ciobo. Mr Ciobo, great to see you. I want you to broad sense the message of opportunity, fairness, security.
STEVEN CIOBO: That's exactly right.
KIERAN GILBERT: You think it's going to work?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, this is what this Budget is focused on. I mean, we still have a lot of damage to repair from the just completely profligate spending that we saw under the Labor Party. That's a slow incremental process. We've been doing that as a Coalition Government now for a number of years. We'll continue doing that. What people will see tonight, though, is a budget that's directly designed to address cost of living pressures, to make sure that families and older Australians have it easier in the future as a result of government policy. It's about creating a more secure Australia, one where Australians know that we are reducing, as much as we possibly can, the threat of terrorists, or those that might seek to do us harm. It's one about creating opportunity for Australians into the future, and it's one about driving fairness, so that Australians have always known the ethos of our country is ‘a fair go for all’, and they'll see that reflected in tonight's Budget.
KIERAN GILBERT: A slow incremental process is how you put it, in terms of the budget repair. Very different language to what we once heard about the budget debt and deficit crisis under the former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott.
STEVEN CIOBO: This is a different approach to, for example, to what we saw in 2014. The Coalition's listened to Australians, and the approach we're adopting tonight is an approach that reflects the priorities of Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister, Scott Morrison as Treasurer, and one that reflects the feedback that we've all been giving as members of the Coalition.
KIERAN GILBERT: Will it be enough to satisfy the ratings agencies and the economists who say that budget repair is still needed here? Structural reform?
STEVEN CIOBO: I have no doubt that is the case, because they know that when it comes to the Coalition's forecast, when it comes to the decisions that we take, we're prepared to make the hard decisions. You know, the real point of contrast, Kieran, and we'll see it on Thursday night when Bill Shorten has his opportunity to stand up on his feet and say what he would do to the country. What they'll see under the Coalition is reasonable assumptions in a reasonable considered approach to make sure that we do drive security, opportunity, and fairness for all Australians. What we see from the Australian Labor Party though, is this continued big taxing, big spending approach. I mean, I have not seen a single policy, frankly, that Bill Shorten has said that they won't spend more money than us, and the fundamental problem with Labor is that by spending more money, they're going to drive the deficit even further, and they're also going to mean that they're going to have to put up taxes at some stage.
KIERAN GILBERT: So the message will be while you're not going as far as some economists and other experts would like, that you're better than Labor?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, it's more than that. I mean, we certainly are much better economic managers than Labor, but it's also about creating the right environment to give all Australians a fair go.
KIERAN GILBERT: When you say it's a change from the 2014 Budget, what's the key change? Is it about that fairness message?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, there's a lot of speculation, and obviously I'm not in a position to confirm what will or won't be in tonight's Budget, but what it comes down to, Kieran, is the fact that we've listened to the concerns that Australians have raised, and we've incorporated that into our thinking and in terms of our approach with respect to tonight's Budget.
KIERAN GILBERT: As Trade Minister, are you worried that the Government's banking too much on the higher commodity prices, given how transient that could well be?
STEVEN CIOBO: No, I mean we've always been very cautious about that. It's easy to sort of have these far flung expectations, and quite frankly, we saw that under Wayne Swan when he was Treasurer. We've been much more modest with the assumptions that are made in the Budget. They're assumptions that reflect, I think, the right approach for Australia's future, mindful that, like anything, prices can go up, prices can come down.
KIERAN GILBERT: On this issue of welfare and cracking down further on welfare recipients, a two month - well, people will lose their welfare payments for two months if they don't abide by the requirements of their payments under the dole and other measures. Is this something you think will be well received by the electorate?
STEVEN CIOBO: What we want to make sure that we do is, let's hark back to that old principle of mutual obligation. If someone is relying on tax payer support when times are tough, and that's fine - no one begrudges someone from having a helping hand when times are tough - but we also expect that they will do what is asked of them. Now, whether that's out looking for a job, whether it's other requirements that the Government is placing on them on behalf of tax payers, we expect them to honour their half of the deal.
KIERAN GILBERT: When you look at the reaction to Simon Birmingham’s schools reforms, 9,000 schools across the country, a few hundred might be worse off over the next decade, but overall vastly improved, if even in this small area of reform, in terms of a few schools being affected adversely, you hear vested interests and others arcing up about it, including some of your own colleagues in the Party Room, are you confident that you can land the Budget?
STEVEN CIOBO: Look, we are -
KIERAN GILBERT: Like in the school sense, specifically but more broadly if you get vested interests blowing up about such a small impact in terms of the number of schools.
STEVEN CIOBO: Well you know, Kieran, the thing about Government is that you're there to take the decisions for the nation. And if you adopt an approach that says we're going to cherry pick this sector and cherry pick that sector, it's a recipe for failure. What you've got to do is take decisions that are in the national interest. Now on schooling, for example, we've rewritten it. We've rewritten it so that now we have a transparent system that applies to all sectors in Australia when it comes to education. Australians can have confidence and faith that the Coalition’s approach on schooling is one that is about equity and is about seeing a level of transparency now in the formula. Now that's different to approaches in the past. We had a special carve out for the Catholic sector and a special carve out for others. What we wanted to do was make sure that we had a common approach that applied that had equity for all, one that saw extra resources –
KIERAN GILBERT: What do you say to critics internally that might suggest, and have suggested, it could hurt you in terms of the Liberal base?
STEVEN CIOBO: We've got to stick to what we know as the right thing to do. If fundamentally we are putting record funding into education, we're doing it in a way that's sustainable, you see, and this is the other big difference. Historically, we've seen Labor with their big banner announcements about how they're going to fund X amount of dollars into, for example, education, but when you go to the Budget papers the money isn't there. It was never there. It was just all announcement with no subsequent delivery. What we're making sure that we do is we actually make the announcement, we're putting in record funding, but people can see the numbers. We've actually got the money there that will fund our commitments. That is the big difference between the Labor Party, which is all announcement with no follow-through, no actual money on paper in the books, and our approach.
KIERAN GILBERT: When you look at one of the big issues, the barbeque stopper, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne but other areas as well, housing affordability, are you worried that expectations are too high here given, as Chris Richardson from Deloitte Access Economics and many others have pointed out, there is no silver bullet.
STEVEN CIOBO: Look, there is no silver bullet, but our approach is to do what we can to help. The bulk of the housing issue in Australia, and bear in mind too, Kieran, it varies widely from market to market. In Sydney we know there's a housing affordability issue. There's not in WA. Prices in Western Australia are falling. Brisbane price growth has been very constrained, 2 or 3 per cent. So it's important to recognise there are differences in markets, but it's also important to recognise that in Sydney the bulk of the issue is supply-side related. Now, we're not washing our hands of it. The Federal Government does have a role to play and we'll be making some announcements about things that we can do to make it easier for people, but we can't suddenly click our fingers and fix this problem.
KIERAN GILBERT: The other thing that, obviously in the Eastern seaboard particularly where people - it causes many a headache in southeast Queensland, Sydney, Melbourne as well - infrastructure. Is it something that you think will resonate? A big spend here. We're hearing a $10 billion Melbourne to Brisbane freight link, a rail link, also other regional and urban rail projects upwards of well I think it's 10 billion over 10 years so it's a big spend across the next decade.
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, if you look at our track record in this space Kieran we have been unapologetically pro-investment in productive infrastructure. We commissioned extra work to happen in regard to the Inland Railway. That's also a crucial part of getting a lot of heavy freight traffic off our roads, which makes it safer for all Australians. We've invested in those types of projects and a broader vision in terms of the development of northern Australia, in terms of investment in critical infrastructure that we see as being crucial to driving a more productive Australia. We see infrastructure investment as a key stepping stone for stronger growth and more jobs in the future, and we're going to continue to do that.
KIERAN GILBERT: And finally, how important is today and the delivery of this budget in terms of the Turnbull Government's prospects, because there's quite a bit at stake here in a political sense, isn't there?
STEVEN CIOBO: You know Kieran, there's an old saying about if you look after the small things the big things take care of themselves. Every small detail of the Budget, every area that we focus on and the improvements that we make, including in some agencies where we've got to make tough decisions about efficiency dividends and those types of matters, this is all part of building a broader and healthier Australia. An economy that's more resilient, that's less vulnerable to shocks, that has more sustainable growth trajectory, one that's going to drive employment prospects for all Australians. It's got to see continued investment in, for example, infrastructure. These are all the items and if we focus on that then I'm sure the politics will take care of itself.
KIERAN GILBERT: Trade Minister, Steve Ciobo, as always, great to see you. Thanks for that.
STEVEN CIOBO: Thank you.
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