8 February 2016
Transcript - #2016014, 2016

In the role of: Minister for Small Business and Assistant Treasurer [21 September 2015 - 18 July 2016]

Interview with Kieran Gilbert, AM Agenda, Sky News

SUBJECTS: Tax reform, negative gearing, Stuart Robert.

KIERAN GILBERT:

With me this morning the Assistant Treasurer, Kelly O’Dwyer. Mathias Cormann saying that you’re all yet to be persuaded, did the Prime Minister maybe go a step too far in his comments yesterday because most people are looking at it saying it’s off now, the GST, the Prime Minister has baulked?

MINISTER O’DWYER:

Well no, that’s not what the Prime Minister said. The key point here is that the Prime Minister was outlining over the weekend that we need to ensure that for all Australians we lock in high living standards. That’s what they expect, that’s what we need to, as a Government, to deliver. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, our prosperity is not predestined. We’ve had 25 years of uninterrupted economic growth but we need to get the economic settings right going forward to make sure that that continues. We need to do that by looking at our taxation system – we need to consider all of the options on the table. The Prime Minister made a pretty obvious point – he said you need to make sure that if you are going to engage in a tax mix switch that it actually delivers the benefits that you expect it to deliver. 

GILBERT:

He says he’s yet to be convinced. Do you think he can be convinced on it?

MINISTER O’DWYER:

We’re all yet to be convinced on this particular point. The Finance Minister is absolutely right. You actually need to kick the tyres on these options, examine them in detail. Not to do that is really lazy. That’s what the Labor Party engage in, this very lazy economics. They don’t actually look at what the options are and what the outcomes are going to be if you make particular changes…

GILBERT:

You look at the comments from the business community this morning, Jennifer Westacott from the Business Council and others, they’re worried that the Prime Minister is baulking here in the face of this challenge.

MINISTER O’DWYER:

This is not some, you know, masculinity sort of discussion. This is a serious national discussion about our economy and what will help our economy to grow. Because if our economy grows, we will create more jobs and we will lock in that prosperity for years to come. Now it is sensible to actually consider what the implications will be from a tax mix switch. I think it’s a pretty obvious statement of fact that we want our taxes to be lower overall, we want them to be simple, we want them to be fair. Now we are looking at this, we are examining it, no final decisions have been made on it but we are going to do that in a methodical way.

GILBERT:

So do you think the Prime Minister genuinely is still open to the idea of a possible increase in the consumption tax?

MINISTER O’DWYER:

Well he’s quite rightly pointed out – if you’re going to make change, you need to be convinced that that change will be in the national interest. We are a responsible, prudent government and that is how we look at these things. So it needs to be in the national interest…

GILBERT:

So is he still open to that idea?

MINISTER O’DWYER:

The entire Cabinet, the entire Government is open to examining all of the facts. We’re going to have an evidence based discussion on this. This is not simply a political discussion like the Labor Party engage in. Basically the Labor Party have been very clear on their policy, it is to tax and to spend and to ever increase their taxes to catch up with their spending.

GILBERT:

Sure, but what do you say to your colleagues who want to put, in the words of one of your frontbench colleagues to me, they want to put a handbrake on this idea of reform at the moment, that you don’t necessarily have to undertake significant reform?

MINISTER O’DWYER:

You have to always be constantly examining your policy settings to make sure that they are right and that they are in the national interest. That is what being a Government is all about. The Labor Party abrogate their responsibility in this regard, they are very lazy in the way that they approach these sorts of issues. We are not. We are very careful and we are very considered about these things and it’s evidence based. That’s why we’re looking at and examining all these issues before making a final decision.

GILBERT:

The Government’s faced criticism for letting the debate get out of control and not giving more direction. Do you need to get some markers out there soon?

MINISTER O’DWYER:

Well the markers are very clear. I actually don’t accept the criticism that’s implied in your particular question. I think the Government has been very clear. We’ve said that you need to make sure that if you are going to make change that it will have a positive impact on the economy, it will help grow the economy and in so growing the economy, increase jobs, locking in the prosperity for future generations. We’ve said that we want to lower the overall tax burden, we want to get rid of inefficient taxes, we want to make sure that the decisions that are made in respect to tax, address some of the problems that we face today. One example is that the average wage earner is going to be in the second highest tax bracket as of next year, that’s a problem…

GILBERT:

Yeah, that is a problem, but how do you deal with it if you don’t touch the consumption tax?

MINISTER O’DWYER:

That’s why we’re looking and examining all of the options at the moment. Because, you’re quiet right to point out that our options are limited as a result of what we have inherited from the previous Labor Government. We didn’t inherit the situation that they did which is money in the bank – we inherited huge debt from them and huge deficits. We inherited huge exponential growth in spending from them and we have paired that back so we are…

GILBERT:

So they have limited your options. What are they, other than GST?

MINISTER O’DWYER:

Well, there are a number of options around taxation and that’s what we’re examining at the moment. And before the Budget, as the Prime Minister has said, we will be putting options to the Australian people as to what we think is the right path forward for the Australian people.

GILBERT:

You say that you don’t accept the characterisation that the Government hasn’t set the markers. But, do you think that it’s been a bit messy the last week with various backbenchers chiming in? Are there some individuals that you would never please in this debate?

MINISTER O’DWYER:

I welcome a discussion. I actually think that it is a positive thing. I’m not frightened to have a discussion and a debate with people about what’s right for our nation and what’s right for our economy. I actually think that the more people engage in this debate, the better it is. The Prime Minister is not frightened of that either, neither is the Treasurer and neither is the Finance Minister. It is important that everyone takes an interest in this because it will benefit everyone…

GILBERT:

Is negative gearing? If you touch negative gearing, as is suggested in The Australian today, are you worried that it would have a dampening impact on one of the sectors that has held our economy up in recent times as we, in the mining boom, and that is the property market?

MINISTER O’DWYER:

Well, there has been a lot of speculation about the different options and they are just that. As I’ve said to you before there are lots of different options on the table and you have to examine each and every one of them and sometimes a combination of them to see what impact they might have and whether there are unintended consequences that might, as you say, have an impact on our economy that is detrimental. You need to do that in a responsible way. That’s what we’re doing.

GILBERT:

I want to finish off on one story. It relates to your ministerial colleague Stuart Robert, attended a signing in China with a friend, but in a personal capacity he went to the signing. This is from the website of the officials involved and it refers to, and we’ve got the vision on the screen now, and it refers to Stuart Robert as Assistant Minister in the Department of Defence on this visit. So while he might have been there in a personal capacity, according to those officials involved in this signing for Nimrod Resources he was there as the Assistant Minister for the Department of Defence. Is this a good look to be there representing a friend and a corporate individual?

MINISTER O’DWYER:

Well, I’m not familiar with all of the circumstances. I’ve read what you’ve read in the paper today. I presume that you will put those questions to Stuart Robert. My understanding is that he attended in a personal capacity but my knowledge is no greater than yours on this.

GILBERT:

It’s not a good look though, is it, representing a friend from a corporate entity like Nimrod?

MINISTER O’DWYER:

You’re the commentator Kieran, not me.

GILBERT:

OK, but that’s not a ringing endorsement either.

MINISTER O’DWYER:

Well, I said, I’m not aware of the circumstances, so I’m not going to add to the speculation. I’m not aware of the circumstances. That’s a question, you will need to put to him, because otherwise I’m simply engaging in pure speculation.

GILBERT:

Quick break, Kelly O’Dwyer thank you.