SENATOR THE HON PENNY WONG

MINISTER FOR FINANCE AND DEREGULATION

TRANSCRIPT

22 May 2013

PRESS CONFERENCE

TOPICS: AUSTRALIAN TAX OFFICE, BUDGET, CHILDCARE, CORPORATE TAX LOOPHOLES, CROSS RIVER RAIL

E&OE - PROOF ONLY

WONG: I want to make a few comments today, first on Mr Hockey’s National Press Club speech.

What Joe Hockey yet again confirmed today is that the Coalition are not prepared to tell you what’s on the chopping block. They’re not prepared to be upfront with Australians about what their cuts are.

They’re prepared to do a lot of criticism. They’re prepared to throw mud at public servants – like the officials of the Treasury. But what they’re not prepared to do is to tell Australians just what’s on the chopping block were Tony Abbott ever to become Prime Minister.

Now, this is a time where governments and oppositions need to be upfront with Australians about the choices they’re making, and the Government has made very clear our choices. We’ve made responsible savings in the Budget that’s been handed down, and we’re making the important investments for the future – investments in our schools, investments in DisabilityCare, a really important reform.

What we see from Joe Hockey again today is the refusal to be upfront with Australians about his real plans. What he did make clear is that he is prepared to hack into childcare support for families, and Australians remember how much less childcare support was provided under the Coalition when Tony Abbott was a Minister than under this Government.

And Joe Hockey also made clear yet again, his hypocrisy when it comes to company tax and closing corporate loopholes. The facts are that Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey have continued to vote against closing down company tax loopholes that the Government’s engaged in.

Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Minister, Joe Hockey proposed the idea of breaking up the Tax Office into the tax collection and the prosecution functions. Do you see merit in that idea?

WONG: I think that it is always important to have a Tax Office that functions well and that does its job properly. And I think in particular some of the changes made by the new Commissioner of Taxation are really positive and he’s doing a very good job in that area.

But let’s understand what Joe Hockey is also saying. What Joe Hockey is saying is: ‘I’m prepared to vote against the closing down of corporate tax loopholes,’ that’s what he’s telling Australians. And why that’s important is this: He might not be upfront with people about what his real plans are, but you can see some of the values of the Coalition coming through in the things that they support and the things that they oppose.

They support making sure millionaires get their Private Health Insurance Rebates. They support ensuring that there are loopholes in the company tax system. But they are prepared to look at a hike in the GST, which Mr Abbott made very clear today was on the Liberal agenda.

JOURNALIST: Joe Hockey maintains that you’ll cut the SchoolKids Bonus if re-elected. Can you give an iron-clad guarantee that the Bonus won’t go?

WONG: We’re committed to the Bonus, that’s why we put it in the Budget.

JOURNALIST: Christopher Pyne is saying that Kevin Rudd is preparing a June 3 leadership challenge. Any truth in those stories?

WONG: Christopher is known for his dramatic talent and he’s shown that again today.

JOURNALIST: But surely Kevin Rudd’s change of heart on gay marriage … is it him making himself look different to Julia Gillard?

WONG: Look, I know that Christopher wants you to pick up with this and run with it, but seriously. This is his latest flight of fancy. Don’t get drawn into it.

JOURNALIST: Does Martin Parkinson have to defend the Government’s figures because, Joe Hockey says, he’s “a servant of the Government”?

WONG: What happened yesterday when Dr Parkinson – the Secretary of the Treasury, who has served governments of both political persuasions to the best of his ability… what happened yesterday was Dr Parkinson made clear that the Budget numbers are the numbers. He made clear that if the, what’s known as the PEFO, the Pre-Election Fiscal Outlook, had been released on Budget Day, the numbers would have been the same.

You know what that adds up to? It adds up to Joe Hockey’s excuse for not releasing his figures being completely destroyed. That’s what it means. His excuse has been completely destroyed.

JOURNALIST: The Coalition wants a more thorough analysis of the (inaudible) of budget forecasts. Is it time that governments provided more detail about how the figures are calculated?

WONG: Yes, and we have. And I’d refer you to the Treasury paper which was released today and Statement 4 in the Budget papers. But I’d make this point: Before Joe Hockey starts lecturing people about what more he thinks should be in the Budget papers for transparency, how about he tried a little transparency with the Australian people and told you what cuts he’s actually planning. I mean, he’s out there briefing journalists that he’s going to find $75 billion worth of cuts… well, has he told anybody what they are? He’s not prepared to do that.

JOURNALIST: Joe Hockey says the Tax Office has a very adversarial role and should be less adversarial. Would you concede the Tax Office needs to have some kind of reforms to make it less adversarial?

WONG: What I’m saying is the Tax Office already has a lot of oversight and the Commissioner for Taxation has made a number of changes in how he operates the ATO which is obviously at arm’s length from government.

Can I mention something also today about Tony Abbott and the Cross River Rail. As I understand from our Budget announcement and from what Minister Albanese has made clear, what the Government is committed to in terms of the Cross River Rail is what Premier Newman asked for. It seems strange that Tony Abbott is so allergic to supporting public transport that he’s not prepared to support a project that previously had bi-partisan support.

JOURNALIST: The Parliamentary Budget Office has said that the Budget will be in a structural deficit when your Government says it will be back in surplus. Can people be (inaudible) Budget figures that you’ve outlined?

WONG: We have outlined our Budget decisions in numbers that Treasury has made clear are the numbers and we’ve outlined in great detail to the Australian people the decisions that we have made. It puts us in stark contrast to Joe Hockey who continues to refuse to tell people what’s on the chopping block. I mean, come on Joe. Tell Australians what your real plans are.

JOURNALIST: The Office also says that beyond the forward estimates, Gonski and the NDIS (inaudible) downward pressure on the Budget. What will the Government be doing to counteract that?

WONG: Well, I’d make a couple of comments about what the Parliamentary Budget Office has said. The first is their analysis shows a continued steady improvement in the structural position of the Budget, and that’s as a result of a number of things but most particularly important savings this Government has taken over a number of years, many of which were criticised by Tony Abbott. Things like means testing of the Private Health Insurance Rebate, our recent decisions on the Baby Bonus, our closing down of different tax offsets and so forth. So I would make that point.

The second point I’d make in relation to DisabilityCare and the education reforms is that the Government has laid out a ten-year funding plan for those reforms. That’s more than any previous Government has done and the reason we’ve done it is because we want to make sure these reforms are funded sustainably.

And let’s remember what Christopher Pyne and Tony Abbott have made clear is that they want to take $16 billion out of Australia’s schools over the next six years were they to win Government. That’s not smart and that’s not fair.

Thanks very much.

ENDS