EMMA ALBERICI: And for their analysis of the year that was in Canberra, I'm joined now by Steve Ciobo Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer who's in the Gold Coast.
While Labor's finance spokesman Tony Burke is with me here in our Sydney studio. Gentlemen welcome.
TONY BURKE, SHADOW FINANCE MINISTER: Good evening Emma.
STEVE CIOBO: Good evening.
ALBERICI: The Prime Minister has spent the week outlining the Government's achievements but the public is clearly not impressed with the Government now behind in the opinion polls for 12 months.
Steve Ciobo, are you one of those senior MPs who thinks the Government's fortunes might improve if you replace Joe Hockey before Parliament resumes next year?
CIOBO: Look, Emma, as a government, this has been a year of achievement. And I am absolutely determined to make sure that we communicate our achievement better next year because we have done a lot over the last 14 months. And I think that part of the challenge that we've got to embrace is the need to spell out that achievement. The fact that we've stopped the boats, the fact that we abolished the carbon tax which has made household living expenses go down. The fact that we abolished the mining tax at the very time the mining industry needed support. The fact that we fast tracked a trillion dollars’ worth of environmental approvals on major projects to drive jobs and growth.
The fact that we've got a $50 billion infrastructure package that we're rolling out across the country to drive productivity and to drive jobs and growth. The fact that we've got free-trade agreements with Japan, with China, and with Korea. I mean on every level Emma, this has been a year of achievement, and what we need to make sure is that we sell those achievements by highlighting how they are in the long-term interests of our nation.
ALBERICI: I will have another stab at getting you to answer the actual question that I asked you, which, and I will phrase it perhaps this way. You once backed Malcolm Turnbull as a better Liberal leader than Tony Abbott. Do you know think Malcolm Turnbull might make a better Treasurer than Joe Hockey?
CIOBO: You know, Emma, the only people that are interested in talking about reshuffling things like that are the media, with the greatest respect to you, Emma. I can assure you that myself and colleagues are actually focused on the job that we were elected to do.
And the job we were elected to do is to restore the budget, to make sure that we start to live within our means and to make sure we don't continue with Labor's folly of borrowing a billion dollars a month, just to pay the interest on the debt that Labor left behind. So I'm not interested in talking about what are tangential sideshow issues. I'm focused on the main game.
ALBERICI: Tony Burke?
BURKE: Sorry Steve, it's almost like hearing that character from the Lego movie claiming everything is awesome. The stories that are running –
CIOBO: I haven't watched the Lego movie, Tony, sorry.
BURKE: Wait until your kids get older. The stories that are in the papers about instability and senior ministers backgrounding against the Treasurer, surely you're not arguing that that's being made up by journalists 'cause it's not. That's being run across the media, not because the media's making it up but because colleagues like yourself and people senior to you within your party have formed the same view that a whole lot of Australians have formed.
Which is that we've got an incoherent budget strategy from the Government. And you know, you're one of the people who'd benefit if Joe went. You're on the right ladder there you're one of the people who'd move up, but it's not individual ambition that seems to be driving it. It's a view of helplessness that the Government have seen the Budget narrative change every single day. And look, Joe is generally a popular man around the Parliament on both sides. But the truth is, for a job as difficult as Treasury, you cannot do it if you don't have the support of your colleagues.
ALBERICI: Steve Ciobo, when senior MPs and backbenchers start leaking to News Corp tabloids, you start to look just like the Rudd Gillard governments, don't you?
CIOBO: Well, this is the point. I mean as much as I take Tony Burke to be an expert on the Liberal Party and mate with the greatest respect I think you should stick to your knitting. You know, my advice to Tony would be that as a government and this is point I made to you Emma, as a government we're focused on the job that we were elected to do. Now, I'm not going to say that there aren't one or two ratbags. Obviously there are. But that doesn't detract from the fact that the team as a whole are focused on what we've been elected to do.
We've made terrific inroads. You know we've reduced the forecast budget debt, the peak debt that Australia was going to reach by over $300 billion. So when I hear the Labor Party talk about a lack of coherence, the only thing I can question is why isn't the Labor Party claims there is a lack of coherence when we've actually made marked impacts about making sure as a nation we start to live within our means?
Because the fundamental point of difference - and this is a key point - the fundamental point of difference on any policy aspect that you want to talk about Emma, is that in the Coalition, we are trying to live within our means and under Labor, we have a commitment to more debt, to more spending, to $43 billion of additional deficit, if Labor was in power today.
BURKE: But sorry, I just can't let that point go, 'cause your figures there Steve are wrong. You're basing them on what the figures for debt were after Joe Hockey had doubled the deficit months after the election. That's the only way you can arrive at those figures. You're not relying at all on the Charter of Budget Honesty figures which are the figures followed to letter by the public service –
CIOBO: You know Tony, you're a funny guy.
BURKE: He doubled the deficit when he came in.
BURKE: You're including the figures after the Budget parameters had been changed and after the donation had been given to the Reserve Bank which they didn't want so subsequently they could collect dividends.
ALBERICI: It is true though Steve Ciobo that nine-odd billion dollars you gave to the Reserve Bank was not a decision Labor made and that did amplify the budget deficit situation?
CIOBO: You know, I want to tackle this head-on, Emma, because that is the biggest load of rubbish that I've heard from the Labor Party and you know, I think they operate on the basis that if you say it often enough, some people will start to believe it.
The fact is, under the Labor Party, the Reserve Bank's reserve fund reached the lowest level it had been. They desperately were looking for some additional capital to make sure that they had stability. So we gave them the nine billion dollars.
ALBERICI: But with respect, that isn't the argument that I think Tony Burke was making, which I think was just the fact –
CIOBO: Well it is. He's saying that –
ALBERICI: No, no, I don't think it was about whether they needed it. It was about whose books it was on and it was clearly a decision of the coalition, not of the Labor Government?
BURKE: And also within a year of doing it, you collected a dividend of $1.2 billion back from them.
CIOBO: Hang on Tony. That's the same, that is the same as the ridiculous situation Labor left us, with respect to border policy.
Now we know that we had 800 boats and 50,000 people and tragically 500 deaths at sea, but you what –
ALBERICI: Sorry we're getting a little – we're getting a little distracted.
CIOBO: No but Emma, hang on, this is an important point, just bear with me.
BURKE: I'm happy to talk about this issue as well but not as a diversion from –
CIOBO: The point is – the point is Tony –
ALBERICI: I'm sorry I'm going to have –
CIOBO: You left no funding in the Budget –
ALBERICI: I'm going to have to move on because otherwise we're going to get into terrible tangles here.
ALBERICI: Now, Tony Burke, is there any chance that Labor will break with recent orthodoxy and release well ahead of the next election its policies so there can be some genuine public debate about the Opposition's plans?
BURKE: As I think Bill Shorten's made clear a number of times over the last fortnight, this year, the first year, it was important for us to be holding Tony Abbott to account against the words he'd said before the election. Against his own commitments. As the next year goes on, increasingly, we'll start putting out the different principles and policies that we'll be relying on and that will become the effective comparison.
I think the point in terms of broken promises has been well and truly made this year. As next year goes on, the issues in terms of what we stand for and how that stands differently to what the government's about is something that you will see in 2015.
ALBERICI: Because of course, Gough Whitlam was someone who discussed his agenda for years before going to an election, and I'm wondering whether that kind of engagement with voters has vanished?
BURKE: It hasn't vanished but it's also true that you want to make sure that what you say in opposition, you can deliver in government. The state of the economy in 2016 and the state of the budget, the way things are tracking at the moment, may well be quite different to what we're looking at now.
And what we want to make sure is that we don't end up in the situation that Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott ended up in, which is where you say things during opposition that the moment you're into the government benches, you simply can't deliver on. There's probably nothing more striking on that, that when Joe Hockey claimed that Australia had a spending problem, not a revenue problem. And now what's happening is he's preparing his Mini Budget, he is coping with declining revenues.
ALBERICI: Steve Ciobo?
CIOBO: You know I think Labor's legacy speaks volumes. Tony can sit there and attempt to be a snake oil salesman but if he wants to talk about differences between the language spoken and what was delivered, I mean I don't think Australians will remember - will forget any time soon when Wayne Swan stood up and said "The four years of surplus that I announce tonight".
When the Labor Party says the budget deficit is going to be $18 billion. It then deteriorated to $30 billion and we know that it actually ended up being $48 billion –
ALBERICI: So do you really want to have a debate about who's told more lies?
CIOBO: No I don't, but I'm not going to be lectured to by the Australian Labor Party when they turn around and delivered us the biggest deficits in our nation's history and what's more, as a government, they were a complete failure with respect to honesty.
We've always said from day one, Emma, that we were going to restore the budget, that we were going to stop the reckless spending that we saw under the Labor Party. And we're determined to do that because our focus is on jobs and growth –
ALBERICI: Steve Ciobo, we've now – we've now got a government that's increasingly considering enacting policy by executive fiat. We've seen it of course with the petrol tax rise and now we understand it might also occur with the GP co-payment. Is there a risk that in the eyes of voters, the Government looks not only mean, but maybe even a little tricky?
CIOBO: Well I mean the Labor Party did the exact same thing in relation to some of their policies such as, for example, alcohol excise.
But the fact is, Emma, that we are faced with a situation where the Labor Party simply refuses to put national interest ahead of short-term political gain.
Now, I've said before and I will repeat again tonight: we recognise that the announcements that we've made and the decisions we've had to take don't make us the most popular people in the room. We recognise that.
But we're not doing it to be popular. We're making these decisions because these decisions are fundamental to making sure that Australian kids aren't going to have their futures mortgaged to pay for today's spending. And Labor wants to commit to an additional $43 billion of spending and every dollar of that is going to be borrowed.
BURKE: Yeah just quickly if I can. Steve just claimed about biggest deficits. Truth is the deficit is larger now under this government than it was under us. Secondly, where he claimed about –
ALBERICI: But to be fair, if you had not blocked so many of the measures they've proposed it perhaps wouldn't be thus?
BURKE: No, not true at all, Emma. The Budget papers so far and the Mini Budget when it comes out in a few weeks' time will presume that all their measures had made it through the Parliament and the deficit is still higher.
Secondly when it comes to forecast of a surplus the Prime Minister himself, about two-and-a-half months ago, forecast there would be a surplus within the forward estimates. And Joe Hockey already has had to walk away from that statement. So whatever Steve's wanting to throw at us there, they've done worse in this year.
ALBERICI: Let's – let's continue, because I don't want us to run out of time Tony Burke.
On the subject of higher education reforms - isn't it a fact that while successive governments of all stripes have stripped money from the sector, including your own, which took $2.8 billion just last year –
BURKE: To pay for Gonski.
ALBERICI: The Abbott Government – well robbing Peter to pay Paul doesn't make it any better. Now the Abbott Government is the first to actually propose a mechanism by which universities can finally make some money to fill the gap?
BURKE: Well, the mechanism is about taking the money from students.
ALBERICI: It has to come from somewhere, doesn't it?
BURKE: The mechanism itself, though, creates a situation when you're talking about $100,000 degrees you end up with a situation where people of more limited means have to face a decision: am I going to try for a tertiary education or will I end up buying my own home? Those sorts of choices are choices where we don't think it should be one or the other.
ALBERICI: Well where do you think they should find the money - the universities - to sustain the kind of education they want to be able to provide?
BURKE: Well as I say it's not a surprise that you can get a university to say we would like the government to allow us to charge as much as we want.
ALBERICI: But if you take $2.8 billion from them, how are they supposed to make it up?
BURKE: No, no, but it's also the case with any funding model for universities that if you do what this government's wanting to do where you fully deregulate it and you allow an Australian student to effectively be in no different situation to an international student, you might say oh well, people who are running the universities will be happier. But if you care at all about Labor productivity and investment in Australians and believe that those skills are a benefit to the whole nation –
ALBERICI: Where does the money come from?
BURKE: Then that's not the pathway forward. I'm not going to be announcing our tertiary education here tonight on the program.
But let's be in no doubt: what they are doing with tertiary education is unfair and that's why it's being so resoundly rejected.
ALBERICI: Steve Ciobo?
CIOBO: Well, when Tony says resoundingly rejected I think he's only talking about the Labor Party, the Greens and some of the crossbench, because it has not been roundly rejected by the tertiary sector themselves. In fact the tertiary sector overwhelmingly support our reform.
And what's more, when it comes to university funding, we are a government that is committed to doing two things: making sure Australia's tertiary sector can become truly world class, making sure that we can have some universities in the top 20 institutions globally. The Labor Party says well we don't care what the tertiary education sector want, we don't care that universities are calling out for this reform, apparently the Labor Party knows best, despite the fact that when they were in government, they ripped billions of dollars out of the sector.
And the final point I'd make Emma is this: Labor runs this disgraceful, deceitful campaign talking about $100,000 degrees. I note today that QUT said their most expensive degree, a double degree, their most expensive, would be less than $80,000, and the vast bulk of degrees would be tens of thousands of dollars less than that. So you know, I think it's time that Labor stopped lying to the Australian people on these issues, started to recognise that - to answer your question - Labor will not say where the money is going to come from because the only hint they've given is it that they intended to reintroduce a whopping great big carbon tax to pay for the billions of dollars of spending that they want to engage in again.
ALBERICI: Steve Ciobo speaking of lies, isn't it entirely reasonable to suspect that when you lift petrol taxes, introduce a GP tax, deregulate university fees and cut hundreds of millions of dollars from the ABC and SBS, that the Australian people would say all the things you're doing in government, they simply didn't vote for?
CIOBO: Well let's run through that list that you just mentioned Emma. First things first, we're not lifting fuel tax. What we're doing is indexing so that it stops declining. And the reason we're doing that is because Labor said that the budget deficit was going to be $18 million –
ALBERICI: It is effectively an increase.
CIOBO: It turned out to be - no it's not effectively an increase at all. What it actually is –
BURKE: Why did the Budget number go up?
CIOBO: So it's not an increase at all. What's more is that we actually end up with a situation where fuel prices today –
ALBERICI: It's not increase? I'm still struggling with that concept.
CIOBO: No, it's not, it remains a constant. Because instead of it declining –
BURKE: So the numbers go up without increasing? So the numbers in the Budget –
ALBERICI: Hold on, let's let Steve –
CIOBO: Tony, you're meant to be - Tony is meant to be the Shadow Finance Minister. I think you need to get across it a bit more, Tony.
The tax is not going up. It's remaining constant. And the reason why that generates more revenue to government is because the tax stops declining.
So my important point is this: fuel prices are down 16 cents since the May budget. We're talking about 40 cents a week. And the reason that we've had to do this is because Labor left us in a situation where as I said –
ALBERICI: My question was not about why you have to do it, with respect. Pardon me Steve Ciobo.
CIOBO: Sure, sure.
ALBERICI: But the question was not about, you know, why you thought you needed to do it, the question was more to the point that you didn't take this to voters. It was a decision you made after the election you had no mandate necessarily to introduce all these new measures that people didn't know about before the election?
CIOBO: You know, Emma, we have a mandate to restore the budget. We've got a mandate to stop us robbing from future generations to pay for today's spending. Now, we didn't appreciate and we didn't know that Labor was being so dishonest when they said it was going to be an $18 billion deficit and turned out to be a $48 billion deficit.
So we are, yes, of course looking to see what we can do to stop robbing future generations of Australians to pay for today's spending. Now that means that we have had to tighten the belt. And that means we've had to say some things to the Australian public that they may not like to hear. But we're not doing it to be popular, clearly, we're doing it because it's in the national interest.
ALBERICI: And a quick response, Tony Burke because we are out of time?
BURKE: Okay, when it comes to robbing future generations. Robbing future generations is when you cut funding to education. Robbing future generations is when you harm labour productivity, when you cut funding to the CSIRO, when you stop taking effective action on climate change.
If they were serious about wanting to do something in terms of debt and deficit they wouldn't still have their paid parental leave scheme, they still wouldn't be pursuing the Direct Action scheme where you're paying polluters to continue to pollute. What they are doing is they are changing the priorities of the nation. They're doing what they always intended to do, they just weren't game to say it before the election.
ALBERICI: We do have to leave it there. And please let me take this opportunity to wish you both all the best for the festive season. Steve Ciobo, Tony Burke, thank you very much.
BURKE: And we both hope we're back on next year.
CIOBO: Emma, likewise, have a Merry Christmas, thank you.
BURKE: And to you Steve.