18 December 2018
Transcript - #2018003, 2018

Interview with Kieran Gilbert and Laura Jayes, AM Agenda, Sky News

JAYES:

Let's go live now to Brisbane, the Assistant Treasurer, Stuart Robert joins us. Stuart Robert, thank you for your time. Andrew Broad, a distraction or something more serious?

ROBERT:

Well, I think it's certainly a distraction from the main message which is the rapid return to surplus after ten years and after what Labor had left the country in such a massive mess. I think the Deputy Prime Minister has dealt with the issue but of course once the Prime Minister heard about it he acted instantly.

JAYES:

Is that really all you've got to say about it, though? Do you think Michael McCormack has really dealt with this issue, as you put it?

ROBERT:

Well, the Deputy Prime Minister has made a statement and, of course, the Prime Minister has made a definitive statement in terms of ensuring that Mr Broad has left the Ministry. But right now the main message for Australians is the update yesterday in terms of the Budget, the fact that we're roaring towards surplus, that the deficit for this year is massively reduced from $14.5 billion just to a little over $5 billion and a little over $4 billion of surplus next year. We've turned the corner on a difficult ten years created by the Labor Party and I think there's great cause for rejoicing in terms of where our economics are going.

GILBERT:

You would hope that that was the main story but it's not. If you look at the front page of the Herald Sun or The Advertiser, The Advertiser's front page, "Sugar daddy MP quits". It's not on the midyear budget update, it's not on potential tax cuts, it's not on your economic management, it's on the latest scandal.

ROBERT:

Which, Kieran, is disappointing because the economic numbers are superb. Over 1.2 million Australians in jobs, including 100,000 young Australians, unemployment at 5%, economic growth moving strongly from two and three quarters next financial year to 3%. Those things are things that the average Australian will look at and go you know what? The economy is in a great place. In terms of a country I'd want to be in right now, Australia would top any list in terms of economic performance and whilst we're currently dealing with the distraction, I think these economic figures and the way we've stewarded the economy is a real cause for celebration.

JAYES:

This is not the first distraction, though, this year, Stuart Robert, and what Australians are hearing this morning is you wanting to gloss over this issue and just talk about the economy. Don't the Australian public, at this state in the year, deserve a bit more of an explanation? Are you not willing to condemn Andrew Broad here?

ROBERT:

Well, the Australian public would expect me as the Assistant Treasurer to talk about the economy, that's what they'd expect me to do. You don't have the Assistant Treasurer on to talk about issues that don't reflect on the economy or economic growth or unemployment and all the great things that are happening in terms of the Australian economy. Yes, I accept in terms of Andrew Broad that it's extraordinarily disappointing. The Prime Minister has moved quickly and unilaterally as soon as he heard about it, the Deputy Prime Minister's made a statement. I can't express any more than that because I'm not involved in these issues but I am intimately involved in terms of where the economy's going and whether the jobs are going in terms of jobs for Australians and where the unemployment level is going which is going down and that, I think, is the most important story. Maybe not the most prolific but certainly the most important.

GILBERT:

[INAUDIBLE] You can understand why Barnaby Joyce is a bit annoyed about this story emerging, particularly given Andrew Broad was the first National to say that Barnaby Joyce had to go. He's expressed his disappointment this morning. You can understand that, can't ya?

ROBERT:

I certainly understand that the Nats are dealing with the issue of Mr Broad. However, in terms of regional Australia, $1.8 billion in terms of drought assistance, a drought fund of $3.8 billion, rising to $5 billion in terms of sustained longterm commitment

to future drought funding. That's pretty exciting, including the work we've done to allow farmers to offset and claim depreciation for extra [INAUDIBLE] and storage. We've moved a lot of yards to help our farmers right now and in terms of regional communities and support this Government has given them I think is second to none.

JAYES:

After all that's happened over the last three years, I'm thinking of the adage, Stuart Robert, why should voters vote for you to govern for another three years when you clearly can't govern yourselves?

ROBERT:

And I think the midyear economic fiscal outlook yesterday answers that question, Laura, precisely, because unemployment is down to 5%. It was 5.7% we inherited. Net debt in ten years will be 1.5% of GDP. We inherited from Labor cumulative deficits of $240 billion

JAYES:

That's very impressive.

ROBERT:

with another $120 billion going out. We've restored the nation's finance, AAA credit rating, the OECD and the World Bank talking up where our economy is going. Merit for merit, economy for economy, management of fiscal issue, Labor versus Liberal National parties, the Liberal Nationals come out on top every time, every day and that is the single reason why we deserve to be reelected.

GILBERT:

So those decisions taken not yet announced in the revenue measures component of the MYEFO yesterday had about $9.2 billion in terms of that envelope.
Would you be hoping that over the coming months, if the economy continues to perform well, that that number could number rise in terms of potential tax cuts?

ROBERT:

Well, I hear everyone talking about potential tax cuts, of which nothing has been announced, but I understand why people talk about it because it's in our DNA. You understand, Kieran, it's in our DNA, every Australian understands that we're the party for lower tax, we're the party for hardworking Australians. We're the party if you want a go you will get a go.

GILBERT:

$9 billion there sitting there, it's pretty clear revenue forgone that that's where you're heading.

ROBERT:

It's pretty clear that decisions have been made and not yet announced and as we move towards the election, we will be announcing things at appropriate junctures.

JAYES:

You've announced an Integrity Commission just last week, is this the sort of body that would have investigated your fundraising activity?

ROBERT:

Well, I don't know, we'll wait and see when it's legislated and where it ends. The current body of course will take.

JAYES:

Are you not across what your own government will propose in terms of legislation?

ROBERT:

The current body will will take referrals from existing agencies and organisations. It's obviously got two streams, one of which deals with what the current Integrity Commissioner deals with and there's a parliamentary committee that oversights that, and, of course, another area will deal with areas of politicians and the like.

GILBERT:

You have run at a seniors' expo, this is reported in the Australian by Michael McKenna, exhibiters at this non-political event have apparently donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Liberal Party in order to be at that expo, is that right?

ROBERT:

Kieran, any politician that runs any community event that involves dollars and cents has to acquit for it can account for it and the way that's done is through the party's campaign accounts. That's required and it's required by law that any amounts over disclosure thresholds are disclosed and declared and of course any amounts extra in the community event, Department of Finance requires them to be donated to charity. So this [INAUDIBLE]

GILBERT:

Has it been used as a fundraiser, though, the expo?

ROBERT:

Of course not. This is a way every single politician when they take funds for community events, this is how they acquit for them honestly, openly and transparently.

JAYES:

This seniors' expo is run by you, was it instructed, though, to pay $300,000 to the LNP?

ROBERT:

This is an expo that has been run over ten years, it's the largest expo in the country.

JAYES:

It's a simple question, though, Minister, surely. Was it instructed to pay $300,000 to the LNP?

ROBERT:

There is actually no other way for funds for community events to be acquitted. So if a politician takes any money to run a community event from sponsors or the like, there's no other way to acquit those other for them to go into an authorised bank account and them to be audited and declared to the AEC and that's exactly how politicians should run community events. They should be open, transparent, all funds should be acquitted and open to the AEC and the Department of Finance. That's exactly how they should be run. There's no actually there's no other way to run them. If you're not running it this way exactly how are you running them? I notice Labor's Murray Watt criticising me. Either he runs no community event, which means he's lazy, or he's running some secret slush fund and doesn't run it through properly audited accounted bank accounts.

GILBERT:

Stuart Robert, thanks, appreciate it.