Topics: Turnbull Government, Australian Building and Construction Commission, union corruption
Our next guest is the Federal Environment Minister and a regular contributor to this program, Greg Hunt. Good afternoon.
And good afternoon Tom.
Now what's going on at the moment with all these tax plans that get floated and then shot down in just days?
I mean, just over a week ago Malcolm Turnbull came up with this idea of giving income taxing powers back to the states.
He then actually decided to consult the Premiers about it, and they said they weren't exactly enthusiastic. What's actually going on here?
Look, the big picture here – and I can tell you having been with the Prime Minister yesterday, and having been with him just before Easter – it's about jobs and growth and the idea of actually living within your means, not stealing from the next generation, not leaving the bill for the next generation.
And one is – what we inherited from the other side, where they were stealing from the next generation and leaving a massive debt. We are making sure, and it's a fundamental Liberal principle, that we live within our means, that we don't leave a debt.
And then from that we work on creating jobs and creating opportunities. That's the guiding principle, and no apologies for exploring ideas.
No, but that all sounds great, and I mean absolutely getting the deficit down, living within our means, creating opportunities for the next generation.
But what I don't understand is a few months ago it was all about we might have to increase the GST. And I spoke to Scott Morrison about it and was left with a very firm impression that that's what was on the agenda. Suddenly it was off the agenda.
A week and a half ago it's give income taxing powers back to the states as they had before World War II, few days later – off the agenda.
So I mean, at the moment every tax plan or spending plan that gets put up seems to disappear almost as quickly.
What is left on the agenda to achieve these big picture goals that you've just enunciated for us?
Sure, sure, so there are fundamental things. The first is in terms of what you'd call public finance, or the legacy for the next generation – that you spend public money very carefully, you don't leave a bill for the next generation and you don't whack up the cost of electricity and drive down the value of the family home, which is the alternative policy.
The second thing is if you are living within your means as a country you can also then pursue things such as the innovation plan, the defence industry plan, what we're doing in terms of affordable energy, really practical things.
And then cleaning up the building and construction industry, which decreases the cost of construction, which flows through ultimately to a sustainable ability to build and create.
Okay I want to talk about the building and construction plans in just a moment, but you mention not leaving this debt legacy for the next generation.
Now, at the moment even your Government, or the Government of which you are a part, the deficit is still going up. It has not come down since you've been in power, since late 2013.
Does that mean you're actually going to make some spending cuts finally, where federal spending might actually fall, or at least not go up from one year to the next?
Well we've actually made of course very major expenditure reductions, and of course we're always being criticised for that by the ALP or by the Greens.
Sure, but total spending has still increased though. I mean, you've slowed the rate of increase but you haven't actually cut it.
We've dramatically slowed that rate, and – how then do you grow the national pie so as that you are running in the black, not in the red?
Like any business you've got to run it in the black, because yes you can run the Commonwealth credit card bill up for a little bit longer than in the private sector, but in the end it's the current generation, or it's the next generation that has to pay…(indistinct)
Okay, so you're going to try and grow the economy faster so that revenue increases. Is that idea? Because I mean, again…but if you had a magic wand that made the economy suddenly grow faster you'd wave it every day of the week.
Sure, but there’s hard work which gets you there, and these are fair questions, and this is the heart of the national debate, so you're right about it.
The big things you can do as a government – not spend more than you have. Now, you can't turn around that big ship overnight, but boy we have made a dramatic change.
And then the second thing is, allow for private productivity. So the innovation, which is about small businesses being created, what we're doing with the instant asset write-off to assist existing small businesses, defence industry and the focus on Australia.
And then the – one of the central issues is about getting rid of union thuggery. That's not an attack on people who are in unions at all (indistinct)…
It is a bit.
…that you have in the construction sector, undoubtedly a culture, as was found by the royal commission, of standover intimidation, massive cost blowouts, and then that flows through to everyday Australians. So people are paying more than they need to.
All right, so if I've got this straight, if you pass the Australian Building and Construction Commission bill through the Senate that will reduce union thuggery on building sites, and in the long run make it cheaper to put up new office blocks and so forth in cities, but particularly Melbourne.
All right, well that's one thing. Small business – I mean, you've got more tax write-offs.
But Mr Hunt at the moment, I mean, the economy is only growing at about 2.5 per cent per annum, which really is only a little bit above the rate of inflation.
If anything I would say the forecasts for economic growth are a bit sluggish in Australia. We just learned today for example that Arrium Steel might have gone bankrupt overnight.
I mean, is there anything concrete? You don't have to tell us what it is, but anything big that's going to come out of the budget that will make us go – ah yes, that's a change, that's going to make life different, that's going to pay down the deficit? Will there be something like that to look forward to?
Well obviously without pre-empting Scott Morrison's budget, the theme – the fundamental theme – will be about making life easier to create jobs and to build growth. So yes, there will be initiatives that will achieve that.
You'll understand that it's not my job today four weeks out to pre-empt the Treasurer, but those are the fundamental elements.
Secondly, it's very important to look at what the alternative is. I see the difficulties that Arrium faces, and the worst possible thing you could do is what Bill Shorten is planning, of a massive electricity price hike for Australian manufacturers, for Australian workers, and for Australian families.
So fighting against a massive electricity price hike – deliberate, express, intended policy of a Shorten Government – that is something which I think the vast majority of people who care about manufacturing, who care about the viability of Australian firms should rightly be terrified of.
Very quickly, which do you predict – will the Australian Building and Construction Commission legislation be passed, or if it is not passed do you think we'll have an early election, a double dissolution early election? Which will it be?
Well if it's not passed we will certainly have a double dissolution.
I hope that it will be passed. I fear that it won't, but I just don't know what the Senators will do, and we've got very capable people working with them.
Our goal, and I think this is important, is to actually get it passed and it would be preferable if we could do that.
But if not, let's be absolutely clear, the Prime Minister has said to the nation we will go and take this to a double dissolution because it is about fundamental freedoms, and about controlling thuggery and reducing costs.
But on the other side of the equation, the alternative Prime Minister, Mr Shorten, stands against all of those three principles.
We'll leave it there. Greg Hunt, thank you so much for talking with us.