PVO Newshour - interview with Peter Van Onselen

Release Date: 
18 December 2015
Transcript
E&OE

PETER VAN ONSELEN:
Thanks very much for your company.
ALAN TUDGE:
G’day Peter.
PETER VAN ONSELEN:
Let me ask you off the top about MYEFO if I can. My argument is that you guys are as bad as each other. Labor blew the budget, we were all horrified when they were in government. You would have been horrified, I was, Peter Costello certainly was. I reckon Peter Costello would be as horrified with you lot now because more than two years on, it doesn’t really look like anything has really changed.
ALAN TUDGE:
Well a lot has changed actually Peter. We’ve already put through $90 billion worth of savings through the various budgets over the last couple of years. Most importantly that means that the expenditure as a percentage of GDP is gradually going down, from what is at the moment about two per cent down to 0.7 per cent in the out years of the forward estimates. That’s the most important thing.
What it means is that our peak net debt will occur just in a years’ time then it will decline. Absolutely we’ve been fundamentally different to the Labor Party who racked up expenditure after expenditure.
PETER VAN ONSELEN:
But at the moment spending as a percentage of GDP is higher than it was than anytime under Labor, except for the year of the GFC.
ALAN TUDGE:
And as you know Peter that comes down from now over the forward estimates. It would be considerably higher had we not done the budget repair work we’ve done over the last couple of years. $90 billion worth of budget repair work, nearly all of which…
PETER VAN ONSELEN:
Not according to PEFO ahead of the last election.
ALAN TUDGE:
According to the figures which we’ve put out just now, the expenditure as a percentage of GDP does in fact come down over the next four years and this means that peak debt as a percentage of GDP is just in a years’ time then it actually starts to come down. The actual key thing, the most important thing we have done is slow the growth of expenditure going forward. When the Labor Party left office, expenditure was growing at 3.7 per cent in real terms. That’s
way above inflation, way above GDP growth and way above the economic growth overall. 
Our expenditure growth now is at 1.8 per cent going forward. Now if we keep that expenditure growth down to being underneath the overall growth of the economy it means you get the budget under control and that’s exactly what our economic strategy is.
PETER VAN ONSELEN:
Largely the strategy, at least according to your own head of the commission of audit is relying on bracket creep to do the heavy lifting. I want to go back to these growth figures. You’ve been in office for two years and despite that we’ve still got spending as a percentage of GDP at GFC levels- well above what they were during the Howard/Costello era. It just strikes me that you should’ve got that down by more over the last two years.
ALAN TUDGE:
We’re taking this steadily and we’re taking it in a measured way…
PETER VAN ONSELEN:
What happened to the budget emergency?
ALAN TUDGE:
It does come over the next four or five years Peter. I think you’re aware of what we did in our very first budget. We did make some considerable savings, some of which got through the Senate, many of which didn’t get through the Senate. We have to operate with the Senate that we have.
PETER VAN ONSELEN:
That’s a fair point.
ALAN TUDGE:
We are on a trajectory- and this is very important- we are on a trajectory to get the budget back into surplus in a timely, in a measured way where we’re not going to disrupt the economic growth while doing so.
That’s what’s so different about us versus the Labor Party. With the Labor Party it was all tax and spend. It was spending growth which was out of control, which was going all the way up to 37 per cent of GDP, whereas our expenditure now is about 25.7 per cent from memory and does in fact start to come down.
PETER VAN ONSELEN:
That said we were told at the point of a change of government at the last election that there was a budget emergency, yet two years on, levels of debt are still incredibly high. Was it not the emergency that everybody thought?
ALAN TUDGE:
I still think we have very serious budgetary problems and that’s why everyday we’re looking for new savings measures to put in place to get that under control. Most importantly we are keeping expenditure growth under control.
Of course Peter we’ve also had to deal with over the last couple of years a massive write down of iron ore prices which have had a significant dent on the overall revenue…
PETER VAN ONSELEN:
You’re sounding like Wayne Swan!
ALAN TUDGE:
Something like $37 billion worth of revenue write down. Now we’ve had to incorporate that…
PETER VAN ONSELEN:
That was Wayne Swan’s excuse!
ALAN TUDGE:
At the same time our expenditure as a percentage of GDP is still coming down whereas if the Labor Party’s back in power, they’ve already got something like $50 billion of additional expenditure.
PETER VAN ONSELEN:
In fact I’m pretty sure Alan Tudge that we had a conversation on air with you lampooning Wayne Swan for relying on commodity prices tanking as an excuse for not meeting his economic targets.
ALAN TUDGE:
We know that we had quite conservative iron ore prices built into the budget in the last couple of years, but they have still nevertheless come below even those conservative estimates.
They’re below what any other people were predicting and that’s had a $37 billion impact on the budget overall.
Now we’ve got to deal with that and we have dealt with that. Despite that hit on the revenue side, we’re still getting the budget under control, but in a timely and in a measured way over four or five years.
PETER VAN ONSELEN:
Alright let me ask you about the comments that were reported on the front page of the Australian by the Head of ASIO, that he would like some of the public comments by MP’s to be toned down in relation to Islam. He’s been backed up by Julie Bishop in public comments that she’s made today. Who’s right, Julie Bishop who backs the Head of ASIO or the former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, who ‘s been very strident, with a lot of support it has to be said, for his comments from conservatives for his comments on Islam?
ALAN TUDGE:
I’m not sure what Duncan Lewis’ comments were. From what is reported in the Australian, he made some telephone conversations to a number of MP’s. I was certainly not one of those MP’s and I don’t know the nature of the telephone conversations, so it’s a little bit difficult to comment.
All I will say is Duncan Lewis has every right to call whoever he likes and if he’s calling Members of Parliament, they will no doubt listen very respectfully to what he has to say. He’s a very highly regarded figure in charge of an organisation which does exceptionally good work and those people would listen to that advice, take it on board, but ultimately would make their own decisions as well.
PETER VAN ONSELEN:
Do you think he’s playing politics? That’s what the foreign editor at the Australian has been told by Liberal colleagues of yours.
ALAN TUDGE;
I’m very hesitant to criticise ASIO at all because they’re such an esteemed organisation. They do such good work for our community in terms of keeping us safe. I just don’t know the nature of the conversations which he had. They were individual conversations, they were private conversations. I think it’s perfectly reasonable for him to call whomever he likes and then those people would ultimately listen to that advice and take a course of action appropriately.
PETER VAN ONSELEN:
How do you think he would feel having those conversations as the head of a spy agency, only to see the conversations leaked to a newspaper?
ALAN TUDGE:
You’d have to ask him that question Peter.
PETER VAN ONSELEN:
How do you feel about it then? You’ve got a strong regard for the importance of national security issues and confidentiality. How would you feel if you were the head of ASIO and found your private conversations splashed on the front page of the national paper?
ALAN TUDGE:
Peter I know as a Member of Parliament that when I have conversations with certain people sometimes they do actually come out and are reported in the newspaper despite your thinking at the time that they’re private conversations.
PETER VAN ONSELEN:
Alright, not by me though I hope!
ALAN TUDGE:
Not by you I don’t think!
PETER VAN ONSELEN:
Good, good. I just want to ask you about something else very quickly. Bill Shorten got done for talking or texting on his mobile or at least looking at his mobile while driving. It seems by a photo that’s been sent to me. We’ll pop it up on Sky News later, that your Victorian colleague Sarah Henderson, has been caught doing something similar in her car. The photo is interesting, it’s got her name on the side of it. It’s obviously her electorate vehicle as well. Should she submit herself at the mercy of police the same way Bill Shorten did?
ALAN TUDGE:
This is the first I’ve heard of Sarah Henderson being photographed in the same way Bill Shorten was. At the end of the day none of us should be texting while driving. That is the law and it is the law for good reason, it’s because it can be dangerous if texting while driving, you’re obviously not concentrating on the road.
One of the big things that we’re trying to do, particularly here in Victoria is get the road toll down. There’s good reason for that law. Members of Parliament shouldn’t be doing it as leaders in the community. I don’t know exactly what happen with Sarah Henderson. I do know that Bill Shorten- my understanding is that he’s gone to police and fessed up to it. That’s up to him, it’s up to Sarah what course of action she takes.
PETER VAN ONSELEN:
Alright we’ll see what we can find out. One last question before I let you go I suspect we won’t speak again before Christmas so a Merry Christmas at the same time.
ALAN TUDGE:
Well a Merry Christmas to you too Peter, thanks for having me on your programme so many times this year!
PETER VAN ONSELEN:
Not suggesting I don’t want to have a chat to you next week, just finally though, what about the harmony in the Coalition? I’ve got to ask you about Ian Macfarlane. You’re the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister was duded effectively by Ian Macfarlane as he tried to rat his way across to the Nationals. He’s been stomped on in his attempt to do so by the state executive up there at the LNP. As a result and there’s too many metaphors and so forth flying around here…
ALAN TUDGE:
You’re using some colourful terms in describing this story!
PETER VAN ONSELEN:
There’s egg all over the face of Warren Truss and Barnaby Joyce. Ian Macfarlane, I don’t know what he does. Does he sit in the Liberal party room now? Does he resign from politics? Does he have to seek pre-selection again? Can you please help me understand this mess?
ALAN TUDGE:
You have used some colourful terms in that overall description there Peter. Maybe it’s Christmas, so we’ll bear with you!
At the end of the day in part it’s up to Ian Macfarlane in terms of what he does. He obviously did not get the approval to shift across to the Nationals party room from the state executive in Queensland. I suspect he’ll endeavour to come back to the Liberal party room. He’ll no doubt want to explain his actions and people will be keen to hear what he has to say. Obviously it hasn’t been an attractive process over the last few weeks and as a Liberal you never like to see people who want to defect from your party across to another party, even if it is within the Coalition. So let’s just wait and see…
PETER VAN ONSELEN:
Who does he sit next to in the party room? I’m fascinated to know what kind of frosty reception he’ll get. I guess he’s got at least until February next year.
ALAN TUDGE:
That’s a good question Peter. I think from memory he sits on one of the couches on the side. I can’t quite recall who he sits next to. You’ve already heard some public comments from some of my colleagues who say in the spirit of Christmas we should be talking about forgiveness and I think that’s probably right.
I think Mr Macfarlane will want to come forward and issue an explanation to many people as well and I think that will probably go down well.
PETER VAN ONSELEN:
Alan Tudge always a pleasure to have you on the programme, thank you once again today.
ALAN TUDGE:
Thanks Peter, Merry Christmas to you.