Topics: Trade Union Royal Commission, Budget, Bill Shorten, Green Army
Back for the first of his regular fortnightly spots in 2016 is the Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt.
Mr Hunt, good afternoon.
And good afternoon Tom.
Now 2016, which we are now in, is an election year.
It's also going to be a tough year because the Australian economy is slowing and the budget deficit is growing ever larger.
As a member of Federal Cabinet, what are your Government’s main goals for this year?
Look, the number one goal is job creation.
And then you achieve that through a series of things – innovation, and this is the Prime Minister’s strong suit – it’s his personal history, it’s his policy passion, it’s what he’s already commenced helping to drive.
And that's about creating new firms, new jobs, new opportunities, productivity.
A lot of this comes out of the Trade Union Royal Commission and the extraordinary findings that were there of 93 referrals for proceedings against individuals – so very significant change is needed, that's about creating jobs.
You're right about the budget always continuing to work, and then doing what we can to provide trade opportunities for Australian exporters and lower cost of goods for Australian and listening consumers.
So they're the big things.
Well I mean, they're all good things. Can I firstly address the budget though?
We've seen commodity prices over the past couple of weeks tumble even lower.
Oil is hitting multi-year lows, iron ore is now the lowest it's been for about 10 years, copper, zinc – everything is going down.
Now this has got to be putting even more pressure on Scott Morrison, the Federal Treasurer, is it not?
There's no question that when commodity prices drop there is an impact on the Australian budget – it’s a well established relationship.
That’s one of the challenges, but it’s not an excuse that we as a Government use.
That’s why we’re really trying to do a series of things – improve the resilience of the economy, which means reducing unnecessary expenditure, and it’s always hard, but we are always looking to try to take pressure off the budget.
Then the other things are to create the best environment for new jobs and for new firms, and that's productivity – the ease of employing people, innovation – the capacity through a lot of these deferred tax arrangements or low capital gains, or no capital gains in some cases, for innovation start-ups.
So these are really important things.
Okay now you've mentioned both job creation and creating the environment for job creation.
Does that mean – I have my doubts about Government's ability of any – whether they're council, state or federal to directly create jobs.
I think it's businesses by and large that create jobs, not Government
Oh no, I agree with that.
I agree with that. But what it's about is – and you'll hear this from small businesses around the electorate, or from larger businesses around the country, that people say look if I didn't have union interference I would be able to more safely employ more people, if we could innovate without the tax burden we would take more of a risk of putting capital or investment funds in, which in turn would create jobs.
Now not all of those firms are going to succeed, but the American evidence is the more that try in a favourable environment, the more jobs and the more big successes there are going to be.
Okay now you’ve mentioned unions a couple of times now, and obviously the Royal Commission into Union Corruption.
Now last time the Liberal Party took on the unions, in 2006-2007 with WorkChoices, politically it was a disaster, and in fact John Howard was thrown out of government back then.
Are you going to have another serious crack at union influence in the workplace in 2016?
Well there are two very different things here.
One is peoples' individual conditions, and that's not part of our broad agenda.
What is, is the second point, which is union intimidation, union corruption, and just union heavying in the workplace.
And so – and this is obviously the challenge for Bill Shorten with his party and his background and the links.
But we want to re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission.
The Royal Commission has also recommended strong reforms to improve transparency – so what we've got is the Registered Organisations Bill – it's again rejected by the Opposition in terms of transparency and accountability.
And then there's Taskforce Hercules, which is a federal-state taskforce, and that's going to be funded to continue work investigating referrals.
So they're three big things that we are going to do to try to clamp down, stamp out, and where the police make their findings, ensure that there is the environment that we can deal with union corruption and stamp it out once and for all.
You've mentioned Bill Shorten a couple of times.
Last week he told off the, I think it was the State Premier of New South Wales, for talking about how increased revenue – or revenue from an increased GST – might be divided up.
Are you – you being the Federal Government – set on the policy of increasing and perhaps broadening the GST? Has that been decided?
No, not at all.
And there hasn't been any proposal, policy, preferred option put forward to change the GST.
I know he's sort of running around the country, he was meant to have a year of big ideas last year but that got lost along the way, and he’s desperately looking for something.
I quite like Bill, I have to say I feel sorry for him because I don't think I've ever seen anybody in the Opposition leader's job look as lost as he does now.
Nice guy but just obviously hopelessly out of his depth in terms of seeking to run the country. So he's a bit desperate.
The best thing to do would just be to be a responsible parliamentarian and that is come with us, sit down with us, let's work on dealing with antidotes to union corruption and nothing will do more for the economy.
So let's just be clear though, you're saying – so you and Bill Shorten are mates in Parliament, you say he's a nice guy but he's hopelessly out of his depth. Is that correct?
It is the case and I'm sorry to say that but…
Are you really sorry to say it?
Yeah, I am, I am.
Because I think it's – a good Opposition leader will make their own case, have their own alternative plans for the country, keep the Government to account, but also work to get solutions where there are problems for the country.
That's true – because you're not just a politician – you are first and foremost a parliamentarian, and that's an ongoing and abiding duty.
And what I want to see, whether we're in Opposition or in Government, is solutions for the country's challenges.
Okay, but are you really telling me that you would prefer to see someone in your own view more competent leading the Labor Party and therefore making your life as a Liberal parliamentarian tougher?
Is that what you really want? Surely you're rejoicing in the fact that Bill Shorten is struggling?
No, I never actually feel schadenfreude because – that's the sense of joy at somebody else's pain – because these things come and go.
There are good and bad times for all of us.
But what I do care about – because all of our times in public life, whether we're on radio or fortunate to be in Parliament, are relatively brief in the grand scheme of things.
So at the end of the day, why are you there? You're trying to get good outcomes for the country.
And if you've got a constructive Opposition – and I know for myself I always tried to do that – you try to get solutions and get legislation through or agree on outcomes and agree on packages.
Yes, there's a contest but at the same time there's an even higher purpose which is trying to give people the opportunity for jobs, to make sure that the sort of dark, corrosive forces which will try to tear down a system are beaten, frankly.
And he's a bit much of a prisoner to some of the union movement types and I hope that he can rise above that.
Finally, Mr Hunt, in terms of job creation I noticed that over the new year tucked away in there was a decrease in the size of the Green Army that you run.
How many jobs have been lost in your portfolio?
So none have been lost but it was going to – it's going to grow between now and the end of the year to 5,000 people a year.
Then it'll be capped at that – it was going to go to 15,000 – I think it's better to be absolutely upfront.
And you ask why would you make a change like that?
The program is going well, the more people the better.
But the very point where we started about commodity prices, budgets, having to live within Budget, that's what we had to do…
So money's tight?
And that is an example. You know, these are things that you would in an ideal world rather not have to do.
But the easiest and fairest place to make savings is in proposed additional future expenditure.
And this is one of those additional future expenses which we've said, well we'll continue to grow to 5,000 young people a year but at this point we won't go beyond that.
And that's an honest explanation.
Greg Hunt, I appreciate your Canberra – candour.