Transcript: PVO Newsday, Interview with Peter Van Onselen

6 December 2016

The Hon Alan Tudge MP

Minister for Human Services
Topics: 
Backpacker tax, Climate policy, Newspoll
E&OE

PETER VAN ONSELEN:   

We are standing by for the Queensland Premier on this Adani breaking news today. We will bring that to you when she takes to the podium. Hopefully not too soon to interrupt my next guest: the Human Services Minister for the Federal Government, Alan Tudge. He joins us now live from Melbourne. Thanks very much, from the Sydney CBD I should say, thanks very much for your company.

Let me start by asking you, Minister, if I can, about yesterday's splash in The Australian. I had Ed Husic on the program, he was trying to argue as your opposite essentially that oh no, this is all talk no action from the Government about trying to crack down on welfare. Has there been any action?

ALAN TUDGE:   

Well there has, we've identified about $4 billion which we think we can recover and that's $4 billion in overpayments or in deliberate fraud over the last few years and already we've recovered about $650 million of that. So this is real money and it means that taxes can be lower as a result.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:   

Okay you've identified 4 billion, how confident are you that you're going to get to that number? I think you got about 1.5 billion clawed back last year. Why the confidence that you can get that, well such a sizeable increase on what was clawed back last year?

ALAN TUDGE:   

It is. We've got a number of compliance measures now which largely do income matching. Now what this means is that where people tell Centrelink one thing in relation to their income and then when their ATO records at the Tax Office come through they say something different so what we do is, in hindsight we check those records and if there's a discrepancy, then we go to the individual and if they have been overpaid, then a debt notice will be given to them. So we've got a pretty effective process now which is working, which is recovering money and it makes the overall welfare system more sustainable because it's targeted and there's integrity in the system.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:   

Is some of this going to be included in MYEFO or is this something for next year's budget?

ALAN TUDGE:   

No; these have already been incorporated in last year's budget and last year's MYEFO so the figures were already in the Budget and we're now in the implementation phase of identifying the individuals where there's been fraud or overpayment and recovering that money.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:   

So if the figures were already embedded in the Budget, how are you going in terms of matching the claimed amounts to the actuals; are they on target, are they ahead of or slightly behind?

ALAN TUDGE:   

Yeah so in fact they're in front of target. Last year's budget we set ourselves I think it was a $1.5 billion target, which was put into the Forward Estimates and already we're in front of schedule so I think we're at about a $650 million mark already which we weren't supposed to achieve until a little bit later on. So we're in front of schedule, we're confident about what we're doing, we've got a more sophisticated approach now which we've just introduced in the last couple of months and we're confident in recovering a lot of that money.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:   

Just on a couple of other topics if we don't get interrupted by the Queensland Premier for her media conference on this Adani deal. Can I ask you about that deal to start with? How does it work if we're supposed to be driving towards lower emissions to open the world's largest open cut coal mine?

ALAN TUDGE:   

Well at the end day, Peter, it doesn't matter how we reduce emissions, it's a matter of actually reducing them, no matter what the cheapest methodology is and that's what we're all about: we want to reduce emissions by the cheapest possible mechanism but at the same time also ensuring the prices - electricity prices can be as low as possible and that we have good energy security. And what we've been concerned about, particularly the State Government and certainly with the Labor Party's policy is that prioritising, they're prioritising emissions reduction above everything else, they're not taking into account electricity prices, they're not taking into account energy security and all three of those need to be balanced out.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:   

And just sticking to the theme of the environment; Cory Bernardi last night here on Sky News, none too impressed with Minister Josh Frydenberg's review decision which he says is simply - or I think the Prime Minister says is simply an extension of what was promised during the Abbott years. You're seen as a conservative figure within the party somewhat I would have thought. What's your view on this? Who's right? Josh Frydenberg or Cory Bernardi?

ALAN TUDGE:   

Well, this review I think was announced in 2015, or at least we said we were going to do a review in 2015 that would come into play in 2017. So that's exactly what we're doing, and that review will be beginning in February of next year, and it'll be completed by the end of the year. And it will look across the broad spectrum of our climate policies. And again most importantly though, we want to ensure that we hit our emissions reduction targets, but critically we have to make sure that we have good energy security and that we don't jack up electricity prices in the process. And with Labor's policy of a 50 per cent mandatory Renewable Energy Target, all that's going to do is reduce energy security and jack up electricity prices way too high for everyday customers, everyday consumers, and also for businesses, and it could end up putting- sending businesses offshore in the process.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:   

But it looks like the review might well just lead to a scenario where if businesses go above a certain amount of emissions, they get a penalty, which is akin, isn't it, to a carbon tax of sorts?

ALAN TUDGE:   

Well, no, we're not interested in a carbon tax at all, Peter. We've gone through an election campaign on this. We've never had a carbon tax as our policy. That's Labor's policy, and we're not going to be doing a carbon tax like Labor had.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:   

So what is this then, if it's not a tax? I mean, it's an impost. It's a financial burden on businesses of some sort. A fine, if you like. How is it not the equivalent?

ALAN TUDGE:   

Well, at the moment, as you know Peter, we have an Emissions Reduction Fund, and in essence we purchase abatements from the lowest-cost provider. And we've been through this very successfully over the last few years. And on average we've been purchasing a tonne of carbon for about $11.80 per tonne. And that compares with Labor's carbon tax which was about $23.50 per tonne rising to $35 per tonne. So our methodology, actually, of purchasing abatement at the lowest cost is far cheaper than any carbon tax that the Labor Party introduced. It's working so far. We think it can work into the future.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:   

Are you comfortable as a market liberal with the fact that on a backpacker tax, you've got a higher tax rate than Labor wanted and are spending more with the $100 million deal with the Greens?

ALAN TUDGE:   

Peter, I'm comfortable with the approach that we took in relation to the backpacker tax. There's a principle of fairness at play here, and that is that if there's an Australian working alongside an overseas tourist, then they shouldn't be paying more tax than that overseas tourist. That's the core principle at play here, so we think we've struck the right balance, and we don't understand why Labor wanted to give foreigners a lower tax rate than Australians. That doesn't seem right to us.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:   

Any reason to worry about this last Newspoll for the calendar year? It's still got your side of politics behind. I think Malcolm Turnbull's now what, six down with 24 to go before he matches his own excuse for challenging Tony Abbott. People will continue to watch if those numbers start to become more lopsided in the other direction.

ALAN TUDGE:   

Peter, I think you would have seen also our primary vote went up slightly in this Newspoll. But, you know, four or five months ago, we had the most important poll, which was an election, and that polled 15 million people. And on the basis of that poll, we got a million more votes than what the Opposition got. And I think that indicated that the Australian public want us to implement the program which we took to the election, and that's exactly what we're doing. And even the last few weeks, as you know Peter, we've introduced key issues that we took to the election: the Australian Building and Construction Commission, the Registered Trade Organisations Bill. We're starting to get the debt under control with the Omnibus Bill which is through the Parliament. That's what they voted us to do, and that's exactly what we are doing.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:   

Minister Alan Tudge, appreciate you joining us. Have a merry Christmas, talk to you next year.

ALAN TUDGE:   

Likewise. See you Peter.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:   

Thanks for that.

 

[ENDS]