PVO News Day
Interview - Sky News Live PVO News Day with Peter Van Onselen
PETER VAN ONSELEN: As promised, we're joined now by Christopher Pyne, my colleague here at Sky News Live from Parliament House. Thanks for your company.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Peter, it's great to be with you.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Also part-time Leader of the House, full-time member of the Sky News family. Let's go into your other role, your role that I'm normally interviewing you here for, starting with the GST. I'm so confused now, I heard the Prime Minister on Insiders, I heard Arthur Sinodinos on Australian Agenda with Paul Kelly, and the Treasurer previously sounded very confident that this was going to happen, but I was worried that he was going to fall over the pot plant behind him in the media conference that he gave a little earlier today from Question Time as he was backtracking. Is this happening or not?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well Peter the Government never made any kind of announcement that we would be increasing the GST. Now, I know that a lot of people in this building have breathlessly been talking it up, including the Labor Party, for months. There have been other people, like state premiers, Jay Weatherill and Mike Baird have been talking up the prospects of increasing the GST, but the Government, neither the Abbott Government nor the Turnbull Government, have ever had a policy of increasing the GST, something I've repeated over and over again, as has Joe Hockey, Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull, Scott Morrison, in Question Time. We were happy to have a national debate, a national discussion about it, we're having that. But I think what the Prime Minister was saying, and I think yesterday he said it, today he said it, we are yet to be convinced that it will make a difference to the economy. Now if all we're doing is making the balance sheet look different by moving taxes from one column to another and apparently getting a tick from editorials or markets that we have a different tax mix switch, well that's not good enough, that's not a good enough reason. If we're going to change the tax system we want to make sure it's fairer, it's simpler, and essentially tax should be lower, as should spending be. And I'm not an enthusiast for taxing those who can least afford to pay it in order to have a tax mix switch to those who can most afford to pay.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: But help me understand this then Mr Pyne, last year when Malcolm Turnbull said about the former Prime Minister that he, quote, has not been capable of providing the economic leadership our nation needs, what's changed?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Sorry who said that about whom? I missed the beginning of that.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Malcolm Turnbull said this about Tony Abbott that he has, quote, not been capable of providing the economic leadership our nation needs. So what's changed?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: I see. Well why is economic leadership defined as increasing the GST by 50 per cent? Who decided that economic leadership is increasing taxes? I mean that's an assumption that maybe you've made, maybe people in the gallery here have made or the Labor Party have made, but increasing the GST is not a sign of economic leadership, it is simply one of the many tax measures that you could do to change the tax mix. Now economic leadership is about creating the circumstances where jobs and growth can thrive in our economy. It's things like the free trade agreements with China, Japan, the Trans Pacific Partnership that Andrew Robb signed last week. It's things like the National Innovation and Science Agenda that I'm responsible for that we announced in December 2015. There'll be things like the Federation White Paper, the Defence White Paper, that will grow our Defence industries and employ Australians. That's economic leadership. It's not just a about increasing tax, that’s the easy way out.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: But if those are the one, two, three …
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: That's what Labor wants to do.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: But if those are the five things that are economic leadership, the free trade agreements were done on Tony Abbott's watch, the TPP was done on his watch, granted your portfolio of innovation is definitely new, but both of the white papers that you mentioned were both organised and started previously. It doesn't seem like if it was such a problem before that much has changed now?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well I'm not sure what your point is. I mean, it sounds like a debating point to me. Now what we're saying is that the Labor Party believes that increasing taxes is an end in itself. They want to increase spending, they want to increase taxes, and where they're short on revenue they want to borrow more money. Now that is not economic leadership that is economic cowardice. What our Treasurer is doing, Scott Morrison, and Malcolm Turnbull, is making the very valid point that we need to reduce our spending, particularly as a percentage of GDP, we need to have the right tax base, and if the states and territories want to increase their spending they have particularly good taxes of their own they could increase. That's a decision that they can make. I'm not defining economic leadership as increasing the GST, I define economic leadership as creating the jobs and growth in our economy that make people's lives much more comfortable.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: But that's my question though, if that's what it's defined as, what is happening on that front that wasn't happening in September last year and before? Because those were very strong words, that the former Prime Minister, quote, has not been capable of providing the economic leadership our nation needs. It implies change.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well we're providing stable government, making sensible decisions, particularly responding to events as they occur. We are implementing the National Innovation and Science Agenda which is over $1 billion, but more importantly it's 24 measures that would change our culture towards an economy that's centred around innovation. We are growing the agricultural sector; Barnaby Joyce has been making the kinds of decisions in that area that means that agriculture is now our second highest export, which is extraordinarily important. I mean we're making really important decisions that are improving our economic strength, and the markets are responding well - confidence is very high, consumer confidence and business confidence. And I think the public are very pleased to not have a Government that talks constantly about change, but actually wants to enter into a period of economic stability where the decisions are made that do improve the economy, but that we don't have to define our greatness dependent on how much we've radically changed the country.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: So let me ask you about the ABCC then if I can, that's one of the things that there is certainly a point of difference with the Labor Party on. What does it mean now that it's gone off to committee in the Senate? Does that in a sense strategically block the capacity for it to become a DD, or a double dissolution trigger?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well Peter it's a very surprising decision by the Opposition in the Senate to send the ABCC bill to a committee stage, because they're exactly the same senators with exactly the same bill, it's exactly the same debate as has been held before, and yet for some reason Labor and the other senators combined to send it to committee, effectively delaying the capacity to the clean up the building and construction industry in Australia and improve productivity, and growth, and jobs. The Senate's made that decision, they're yet to justify it. It looks like a delaying tactic to me, and I think the Australian public and business is crying out for the Senate to allow the Government to get on with its job. Let's not forget, this was a bill or a promise that we took to the 2013 election. We have a very clear mandate to reintroduce the Australian Building and Construction Commission, and the Senate's standing in the way of that, and the Registered Organisation's Commission, also a promise at the last election, are not making the Government keep its promises, they are designed to make the Government break its promises. And the Senate should get on and debate and pass this bill.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: What do you think of David Leyonhjelm's suggestion that he who's naturally predisposed towards something like the changes to the ABCC would vote against it if the Government goes down the path of Senate reform?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well they're two completely different issues. Now the issue of Senate reform is an issue about whether somebody who gets 0.5 per cent of the vote when a quota is 14 per cent should end up being elected to the Senate. That's the issue around Senate reform, where the group voting tickets have become gamed by individuals who are determined to get themselves elected in spite of the will of the people. Now that's a different issue to the issue of cleaning up the building and construction industry to improve productivity and growth and linking the two is simply base politics.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Just one final question if I can on the issue of refugees, we've seen various comments from various Labor premiers, in particular up in Queensland as well as Victoria, writing to the Prime Minister, no less, but the Liberal Premier in Tasmania, Will Hodgman has also jumped in on this. What's going on here? Is the federal side of either party open to these suggestions coming form state premiers?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: No we're not. We have to have a very cool head and a big heart in relation to people who seek to come to Australia. We need to make sure that we humanely and compassionately deal with people who are in Australia left over as a legacy from the previous government. Let's not forget there were 2000 children in detention when we took office. There are now less than 100. We are doing a very good job at ending this unfortunate situation where children are in detention, courtesy of the previous government. What we don't want to do though is send a smoke signal to people smugglers in Indonesia that the market is open again because they will ruthlessly, ruthlessly exploit any weakness from the Government at all. So those premiers and chief ministers who were offering to house these asylum seekers need to very seriously re-evaluate what they are doing because if people smugglers believe that children are the gold standard for smuggling into Australia, then ironically children will become the people the people smugglers want to try and get into Australia unaccompanied without their parents hoping that governments like state and territory- led by state and territory chief ministers will somehow offer to try and house them and that will reopen the people smuggling business again, something we do not want to happen.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: But what's Will Hodgman doing joining in on this? He's a Liberal premier in Tasmania, he should know better, his father was a Federal Shadow Immigration Minister on your side of the Parliament; you were probably in there at the same time as you've been around so long now since being in your mid 20s.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well I wasn't in the Parliament when Michael Hodgman was a Member of Parliament Peter but it's kind of you to think that I might have been. I know I have been on the national scene for quite a while but certainly not that long. Well maybe you should ask Will Hodgman that question. But I can tell you what we don't want- what the Australian public does not want is the people smuggling trade being re-energised and the people dying at sea as they were under the Labor Party because they are trying to get to Australia believing they'll seek permanent residence if they get here. We're not going to let that happen, this is one of the areas of our great success in the last two years and we want to make sure that we're focussed on the things that people want us to be focussed on which is jobs and growth and not fighting another rear guard action against people smugglers because the trade has reopened.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Alright we've been- we've got well over time, Mr Pyne, we always appreciate your company on the Monday of sitting weeks, thanks once again and congrats on the new show.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: I think you'll have to call me Christopher from now on Peter, given I'm in your stable.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: I don't think we're allowed to do that here at Sky News, it’s Mr Pyne all the way. Alright thanks again, cheers.