The Bolt Report – Sunday
ANDREW BOLT: Greece this week defaulted on its massive international debts. It’s a disaster. Its banks are running out of money and have had capital controls imposed until Greeks vote today in a referendum on whether to make even deeper cuts to spending, particularly on pensions, which
European lenders are demanding before they give Greece even more loans. Now, the question is how Greece got into this terrible state. Well, the amazing tax-dodging in Greece didn’t help for a start, but there is one very big factor that also threatens our finances, our future. Joining me is Social Services Minister Scott Morrison. Thanks for your time.
SCOTT MORRISON: G’day, Andrew.
ANDREW BOLT: Now, Greece is an old country in this sense – something like one in five Greeks are aged 65 or over. And that makes it the sixth oldest country in the world. Pensions, etc, etc. How much does this explain Greece’s problems?
SCOTT MORRISON: Well, it’s not a new problem. They’ve known about this since the early ’80s and in the early ’80s, they embarked on the biggest expansion of their social well fair system of pretty much any country in Europe at the time. And the OECD was warning way back then that the advancing age of the Greek community, the increase in their expenditures in this area, would come home to roost at some time and that day has come today. There’ve been some significant reforms to pensions in Greece in the last few years, brought in by the necessity. But the sad thing is it’s all too little too late. Their pensions system now is actually a little tougher than ours, but it’s a very different type of pension system, because it’s an insurance-based pension scheme, it’s a contributory-pension scheme and of course ours is a targeted welfare-based scheme.
ANDREW BOLT: Yes, but it was interesting that until six years ago, Greece had a retirement age of 57.
SCOTT MORRISON: That’s right.
ANDREW BOLT: And it’s now been forced to lift it to 67, which is ours.
SCOTT MORRISON: Yeah.
ANDREW BOLT: But their pension levels seem to be not that much lower than ours, even though it’s a much poorer country.SCOTT MORRISON: That’s very true.
ANDREW BOLT: Now, how much of what Greece is facing is what we’re facing too?
SCOTT MORRISON: Well, I think the issue is the warning. I mean it’s a distant warning, but they had that warning back in the ’80s and chose to do nothing about it, and in fact decided to go the other way, and they’re reaping what they sowed at that time. Now, for us, we’ve introduced some, as you know, pension changes in this budget. We are seeking to raise the pension age to 70 in 2035, not next week, in 2035, commencing for the scale-up from 2025. Those sorts of reforms are important, about ensuring the pension is there for the future. Now, we’re seeing pensioners… pictures of pensioners today in Greece crying, sitting on… sitting on the streets, just in absolute despair. Well, I don’t want to see that happen to future pensioners in Australia. We need to make sure the pension is sustainable for the future, a targeted welfare-based scheme. We have our private superannuation scheme. This is a country that I think has a good mix of retirement outcomes for people, and I think it’s been well developed over a long period of time. We should value it. But we should preserve it by ensuring it remains sustainable.
ANDREW BOLT: So, Greece has aged very fast. We’re ageing not quite so fast, but we are ageing.
SCOTT MORRISON: We are.
ANDREW BOLT: Is it too much to say, “Look at Greece. Don’t let Australia become like that”?
SCOTT MORRISON: Well, I think that is a clear warning and this could happen into the future over the course of a generation, as it happened in Greece. I mean, they didn’t get to over 100% of GDP, debt to GDP overnight. It happened over time with policies that over time became unsustainable. That’s why it’s important to get your house in order while you can because, as we’re seeing in Greece, changing things now, it’s all too late and people suffer terribly as a result. Now, we’re in a much more relatively strong position. Our pension as a percentage of GDP is around 3.5% and less. I mean theirs, as it is in most of Europe, is over seven, eight per cent. In Greece it’s around about fourteen per cent. So, it is a warning but the warning is if you want a pension for your children, if you want a pension for yourself 30 years from now, you’ve got to make sure it’s sustainable.
ANDREW BOLT: Same-sex marriage – there’s a push on by Liberal members like Warren Entsch and Teresa Gambaro with politicians from other parties to co-sponsor a bill to recognise same-sex marriage. Now, the Prime Minister’s office suggests that bill will not be put to Parliament any time soon. You’ve got other priorities. It’s been derailed, delayed, whatever. Is delay the best policy?
SCOTT MORRISON: Well, we have other things we’re focused on which we took to the Australian people at the last election. This was not an issue that we particularly highlighted in any way, shape or form. I mean, at the moment, I’m trying to get the jobs for families package through the Senate and the changes to family tax benefits that make those changes possible, three and a half billion dollars of extra investment in early childhood education and childcare, paid for by other changes in the welfare system, not but putting up the debt, not by putting up the deficit. So, our priorities are there and I think the vast majority of Australians want us to focus on what they elected us to do. Now…
ANDREW BOLT: The media cycle is completely same-sex marriage. You’ve had no traction on anything else for a week.
SCOTT MORRISON: Well…
ANDREW BOLT: Should you actually deal with it, get it out of the way and get back to your agenda?
SCOTT MORRISON: Well, no because we’re dealing with the things we said we’d deal with, and that’s what we’ll continue to do. We’re a very focused government. We’re focused on the issues of economic security and national security…
ANDREW BOLT: You can’t do a few things at the same time?
SCOTT MORRISON: Well, they’re our priorities and these matters will be dealt with in the normal course of events. And as the Prime Minister, I think, has rightly said, there is no normal process which would see those sorts of bills readily voted on in the Parliament, and I mean the more general debate now I think has shifted to issues of process and issues of plebiscites and whether Australians more broadly should have their say on these issues.
ANDREW BOLT: What’s your view?
SCOTT MORRISON: I have sympathy with those views.
ANDREW BOLT: You have sympathy with the plebiscites view? Put it to the people, let them decide?
SCOTT MORRISON: I have sympathy with those views, but look, they’re matters that should be discussed more, I think, over time. I mean I’ve noticed particularly…
ANDREW BOLT: Let’s discuss them now. I mean, why would you be in favour of a plebiscite?
SCOTT MORRISON: Well, I think it is a substantial change. I think those who are proposing the change I think underestimate the sort of change this entails, and if you talk to the many ethnic communities across Australia, the linkage between their strong beliefs – and it doesn’t matter whether they’re Christian beliefs or Hindu beliefs or Muslim beliefs – and the connection between that and their culture is very deeply felt, and they’re a voice that I don’t think we’ve heard a lot from on this debate and what the change means for them. We are a multicultural country and that means respecting culture in this question as much in any other.
ANDREW BOLT: Now, you say you’re sympathetic to a plebiscite. Can I put another proposition to you, a potential compromise – take the government completely out of the marriage business. Don’t have its say in what’s a marriage or what’s not. Just, you know, register relationships, yes, and say, “Look, you want marriage, go and talk to your pastor, go and talk to your priest, go and talk to your marriage celebrant.”
SCOTT MORRISON: No, I’m very aware of those proposals. And again, what you’re highlighting is this isn’t just a binary proposition. There are a whole range of other alternatives about how this can be addressed, a whole range of other alternatives about the process, whether it’s a plebiscite or a vote in the parliament or even a referendum for that matter. So, there are a range of other ways of dealing with this. I think that’s a really important debate the country has. It’s not something that should be rammed through the Parliament just because someone says it should, and so I’m open for that debate to continue and the Government will just get on with its job of doing the things we were elected to do.
ANDREW BOLT: Are you happy to take the Government out of the marriage business? Are you in favour of that?
SCOTT MORRISON: These are issues that I think should continue to be explored –
ANDREW BOLT: That’s what I’m exploring with you right now.
SCOTT MORRISON: I’m happy that they are explored. I’m in favour of the current definition.
ANDREW BOLT: True.
SCOTT MORRISON: That’s the Liberal Party policy. I’m a supporter of that, always have been. I don’t flip-flop on those things, as I’ve noticed some have.
ANDREW BOLT: But are you prepared to tick off on that compromise?
SCOTT MORRISON: At the moment I wouldn’t like to see a change at all. So that’s my position, but I am very open to these issues to be further explored by the community, not by warring politicians on this or warring clerics. I would rather see this done just by people normally in the community, both on the issue of process – but the assumption that there is just one potential question here or one particular way of doing that, I don’t think is correct.
ANDREW BOLT: Indigenous recognition – there’s a meeting tomorrow of indigenous leaders to discuss the wording of, you know, this proposal that the Prime Minister has been pushing to recognise Aborigines in the constitution. Now, most seem already, people like Noel Pearson, to want something far more than just recognition, a symbolic, you know, declaration. They want a shift in power essentially in the constitution, a dividing of Australians by race. That’s a mistake, isn’t it?
SCOTT MORRISON: Look, I think this process needs to continue to be very, very careful, Andrew. I mean, if it goes too far, it has no chance of succeeding. If it doesn’t go far enough, then what’s the point?
ANDREW BOLT: What’s your view?
SCOTT MORRISON: Well, look, I sort of take the – not surprisingly – the middle road on this. I would like to see this be successful, but for it to be successful… I have never been in favour of the idea of two countries. We are not a country that has been based on a treaty such as in New Zealand, and other places where that has occurred, where there are indigenous populations and settlement communities. So, I think we are charting new ground here. The idea of recognition, I think is important, just as I believed the apology was important. But frankly, my day-to-day job is ensuring a turnaround in the outcomes for indigenous communities all over the country, and working closely with Alan Tudge and Nigel Scullion on those things, getting kids to school, getting law and order established in those communities, making sure that welfare doesn’t feed addictions and alcoholism, and ensure the welfare going into those communities is helping to transform rather than condemn them, which Noel Pearson has been the chief advocate of saying, you know, “Welfare has been a poverty trap for indigenous people forever.”
ANDREW BOLT: Should just say you’re against dividing Australians by race, I think.
SCOTT MORRISON: Well, I am against dividing Australians by race.
ANDREW BOLT: Good! Leave it there. Full stop.
SCOTT MORRISON: Always have been. But that doesn’t mean that that proposition can’t accommodate my view.
ANDREW BOLT: Scott Morrison, thank you so much for your time.
SCOTT MORRISON: Thanks, Andrew.