January 28, 2016
Transcript - #2016001, 2016

Interview with David Speers, PM Agenda, Sky News

SUBJECTS: Tax reform, GST increase, NDIS funding, Tony Abbott, same sex marriage

DAVID SPEERS:

There are reports today in the Australian Financial Review that the Government won't be extending the GST onto fresh food. This was one of the areas carved out as part of the Howard-Costello negotiations with the Democrats to get the GST package through the Senate when it was first introduced.

So, agreeing not to extend it back onto fresh food, now, is again something of a political compromise. This time it's the Nationals who are very worried about that. We heard that from Michael McCormack just a few minutes ago.

Alex Hawke is the Minister Assisting the Treasurer. He's also a factional leader for the centre right in NSW, and we spoke to him this afternoon about a range of issues, including some of those preselection battles that have been going on in NSW, but first and foremost about the tax package.

Alex Hawke, thanks for your time. Can I start on the tax debate that's going to dominate a lot of this year? Reports today suggest that the Government is shying away from extending the GST to fresh food at least. Do you think that's a good idea?

ALEX HAWKE:

Well look, at the moment the Government's in a conversation with the states, it's a state proposal to extend the rate and the base of the GST, notably South Australia and NSW. We're in a conversation about that with them. The Government hasn't made an announcement that it will increase the GST.

DAVID SPEERS:

But are there any no go areas? Would fresh food be something that you're inclined to steer away from? Because we all know that the Nationals in particular have big concerns about what that might mean for Australian farmers.

ALEX HAWKE:

And it's important that the Government listen to all of these stakeholders, including the Nationals and including the states about what's best for their economies, how we can make the tax system fairer and better. The answer to your question is that we haven't ruled anything out, although the Government's indicated that the Howard Government made choices about health and education. A choice not to include them in the GST.

DAVID SPEERS:

That choice was made on the principle that the private operators in health and education would be disadvantaged if you put the GST on those. Fresh food, however, was a political compromise with the Democrats, to leave that out.

ALEX HAWKE:

Well it's something that will be considered in the mix of things, but no decisions have been taken. We're in good faith negotiations with the states, and they're ongoing, about to restart this year. And of course you see Premier Jay Weatherill very strongly today saying that he won't be gagged by Bill Shorten and the Labor Party on this political question.

And why should a state Premier of any political persuasion be gagged by a Federal leader about speaking about what's best for state?

DAVID SPEERS:

We need revenue for a lot of things, whether it's to be able to cut income tax, company taxes, whether it's to fix the budget. There's also apparently a 5 billion dollar shortfall looming in the NDIS from 2019. How should that be paid for?

ALEX HAWKE:

Well look, the Government's made the point, and the Treasurer's very keen on this point, that we have to control and reign in expenditure, and that's our primary task: to control and reign in that expenditure so that it comes down to more manageable levels.

DAVID SPEERS:

Are you talking about reigning in spending on the NDIS or is that guaranteed?

ALEX HAWKE:

Everything does have to be paid for and what I find most dishonest about what Wayne Swan has said today and the Labor Party is that they are pretending something is fully funded when it is not. Now Christian Porter has pointed out that this will be 20 billion dollars of cost by the time it's fully operational and the Labor Party never had any intention or any plan to fund 20 billion dollars per annum of cost for this vital scheme. Now the Government, we have to be frank with the Australian people and say we've got to be able to fund that. Now if we're able to do that, we've got to reign in expenditure in other areas.

DAVID SPEERS:

Okay, so it will mean spending cuts in other areas?

ALEX HAWKE:

There's always trade-offs in these things and if you want to get to 20 billion dollars expenditure on a single ticket item, and I'm sure we all do, the NDIS is a very good thing and it's the primary function of Government to look after people who can't look after themselves if they need that support.

DAVID SPEERS:

But easier said than done, isn't it? Five billion dollars a year in spending cuts somewhere else is not easy to find.

ALEX HAWKE:

Well that's why Labor's got to answer these questions – they say it's fully funded.

DAVID SPEERS:

You're in Government now.

ALEX HAWKE:

But it clearly is not fully funded and they clearly left it not fully funded, so you've got to be frank with the Australian people and having a conversation about this, and that's what the Government's doing.

We're also keenly aware you've got to provide the growth and the opportunities so that if you get the economy going you're able to get more revenue and able to fund more of these things that are desirable to you.

DAVID SPEERS:

Let me turn to some internal politics, there's been a bit of a civil war going on in the NSW Liberal Party, you're a key factional player there, as the leader of the centre right faction. Has there now been a truce to protect sitting MPs Angus Taylor and Craig Kelly, in particular?

ALEX HAWKE:

Well look, I've been overseas on a family holiday so I came back and found out there was a series of stories. Look.

DAVID SPEERS:

No seriously [unintelligible noise].

ALEX HAWKE:

I'm not sure that there has been a "civil war" in the NSW Division. There's been a civil war in the media, David, between journalists about who has got what story.

DAVID SPEERS:

So you seriously have not had any involvement in any of this?

ALEX HAWKE:

Ah, no, in NSW all that's happened is that we've had a Federal redistribution. Now as a consequence of Federal redistributions, and they happen everywhere, there's been some changes to the seat boundaries. In some cases half of seats moving one way or another. Inevitably that creates clashes between sitting members.

Now of course I'm involved in speaking to my colleagues. And working out who's best to contest which seat sometimes is very difficult when you have a redistribution that radically changes boundaries, as it's done in a number of seats in NSW.

Now those things are being quite well managed. The Prime Minister's intervention with colleagues, has been to ensure all colleagues will be supported by the Prime Minister.

DAVID SPEERS:

So Angus Taylor and Craig Kelly are safe for preselection?

ALEX HAWKE:

They've got my full support, and the full support of the Parliamentary Party.

DAVID SPEERS:

Russel Matheson will have to recontest his seat of MacArthur even though it's now got a 2.8% margin?

ALEX HAWKE:

Sure, but I think it's very important to make this point, we still have a competitive system in the Liberal Party, so we don't pick the candidate and endorse them and say that it's just that person. I've faced three preselection challenges in three preselections. I expect to face a fourth. I'm an advocate of competition policy in our economy and there should be healthy competition inside a political party.

DAVID SPEERS:

Should the preselections be open to a full plebiscite of the rank and file?

ALEX HAWKE:

Look I'm in favour of expanding preselections to greater numbers, I think you've just got to set parameters around genuine membership and certain criteria. But more party members having a vote on who's in Parliament.

DAVID SPEERS:

But not 100% of the rank and file?

ALEX HAWKE:

No, I think there should be entry criteria. Look we could go on all day about this issue, but I'm absolutely, and always have been, an advocate of more people, more genuine, grassroots Party members, having a say.

DAVID SPEERS:

Just a couple of other ones, finally. Do you have any problem with Tony Abbott addressing the forum, the religious right forum that he's going to address in the United States?

ALEX HAWKE:

No, none whatsoever. We don't even know what he will say, so I think this is free speech for you, people go to forums and make their speeches and get judged on the contents of their speech and the manner in which they've said it. His electors and the public will make a decision about what he's said.

DAVID SPEERS:

Kevin Andrews is also going to be addressing a right wing think-tank, but he's actually skipping Parliament next week, or a bit of Parliament next week, to do so.

ALEX HAWKE:

Again, that's his choice, and we all make choices in life, and he'll be judged on his choices and the quality of his choices and the things that he's said.

DAVID SPEERS:

Is it a good choice?

ALEX HAWKE:

Well, it's his choice, you know and.

DAVID SPEERS:

I'm just asking, would you do that?

ALEX HAWKE:

I would not skip Parliament for that reason, but he's made that choice and it's his decision. Again, he fronts his electors with every decision, and says these are the choices I've made, these are the things I've said, and frankly, that's the best system, I mean we're talking about grown, functional adults with good minds who want to make cases about politics and advocacy about issues.

Why would we say you can't speak to certain groups? Now of course if you make a judgement to speak to certain groups and they're radical or people perceive them as out of alignment with the values they believe in then they'll make that judgement about you. I don't see, in this case, that either men don't have a right to go and address these groups. And I think that we've got to come to a common sense view on these things more often. And if left wing members of Parliament want to go and address left wing groups, that's equally just as fine.

DAVID SPEERS:

Now finally, one on same sex marriage. Will you respect the outcome of the plebiscite the Government's promised?

ALEX HAWKE:

Yes I will, and I think most of the Parliament will. I've thought about this deeply and while I advocate for a no vote. And I respect the views of some of my colleagues who say that this has to be a fair contest. We have to make sure that the plebiscite is funded on both sides, the question's fair and there's a real test of the will of the Australian people.

If, those things being equal, I'll be advocating for a no vote in this case, however I will say to my electorate and to everyone out there that if the Australian public votes yes in a fair and balanced plebiscite that we're all happy with up front, then yes I'd be respecting it and I expect most Parliamentarians would respect the will of the Australian people one way or the other. And that's why you have a plebiscite.

And you know I'm not certain why some people are coming out and saying they wouldn't respect the judgment of the Australian people. It's democracy. As long as things are fairly constructed, and it's very important that those questions and those things are fairly made, then I'll be respecting that view.

DAVID SPEERS:

Alex Hawke, thanks for joining us.

ALEX HAWKE:

Thanks David.