ABC AM programme with Michael Brissenden
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: We’re joined in the studio now by the Social Services Minister Scott Morrison. Mr Morrison, welcome.
MINISTER MORRISON: G’day, Michael.
BRISSENDEN: So, you haven’t provided long term funding arrangement, why not?
MINISTER MORRISON: Well, what we’ve done is we’ve reversed Labor’s cuts to this area. When they left government they shut the door on homelessness funding through this agreement and we continued that for a first year and now we’ve continued it for another two years. Over that time we’ll be going through the Federation review which will look at the federal-state responsibilities more broadly but particularly in this area, homeless is principally the responsibility of the states but be we want to ensure while that broader review is going on that front line services, particularly in relation to domestic violence victims and for young people who are either homeless themselves or at risk of that, get the priority of those fundings. This programme in the past has been a bit woolly and we want to give it more clarity, more focus and greater accountability.
BRISSENDEN: So the community leaders have been saying up until now about your budget, you do your budget on a four year planning cycle. Why don’t we do the same, why can’t we do the same?
MINISTER MORRISON: We’re working through a broader review process here. We need to remind ourselves that had the previous government continued there would have been no funding at all. They literally shut the door on the funding. You go through the out years from the 13/14 budget, in 14/15 it was zero, 15/16 – zero, 16/17 – zero. Now we’ve reversed that and we’ve put $230 million over the next two years. We’ve continued the funding for this year as well. We are getting on with the job, but the broader issues two years from now will be determined as part of that review with the States.
BRISSENDEN: Wasn’t it just a matter of renegotiating, not that the Labor – previous government had scrapped it, it’s just it hadn’t been negotiated?
MINISTER MORRISON: No, they’d scrapped it. There was no money in the budget. So, the budget that we’re putting forward here, the money we’re putting in here is new money that I’ve had to find offsets for through my portfolio. The money just doesn’t fall out of a tree or come out of an ATM, it has got to be found and that’s what we’ve done and Labor cut funding to homelessness.
BRISSENDEN: Where’s the money coming from because it has been reported that it’s coming out of other areas of Social Services?
MINISTER MORRISON: That will be advised through the budget process, it’s important…
BRISSENDEN: So, something has to be cut to make this?
MINISTER MORRISON: Of course, every area of new expenditure has to have offsets, that’s how we run a budget. The previous government just shovelled money out the door and let the budget just run off the edge of a cliff. Now, that’s not what we’re doing. We’ve got a responsible approach to budgeting. We think this is a priority, particularly at the moment while we’re working through other issues with the States; we want to ensure front line services maintain that support.
BRISSENDEN: Is the programme working?
MINISTER MORRISON: I’ve been underwhelmed by the overall outcomes when it comes to reducing homelessness in the country. But this is at the end of the day a principal responsibility of the States. So, what I’ve decided to do, what my colleagues have decided to do, is have a greater level of focus and accountability in the programme. This will be a new agreement, it’s just not a rollover of the previous agreement and I’ve written to my counterparts in the States and Territories over the last few days to set that out and I’m looking forward to having good outcomes with them.
BRISSENDEN: On the broader budget concerns, we talked about this last week at some length, but business again today is urging the Government to be bold in this budget. You’re not going to be, are you?
MINISTER MORRISON: Well, what we’ll be is practical. We set out a whole range of measures last year and clearly they haven’t received the support of the Labor Party who seems to have a view that you can just spend money endlessly and never have to account for it. Now, we don’t hold that view. We would like to be on a better trajectory than the one we’re on, but you have to be practical with the Parliament that you have and that’s what we’ll do in this budget. We’ll seek to be practical, continue to work towards the goal which is over time to get the budget back into surplus, to over time reduce the trajectory of debt. Obviously, you’d like to do that quicker than we are doing it now but you’ve got to deal with the situation you find yourself in.
BRISSENDEN: I guess the point is that the business community and others think that practical is not enough, that they think bold is what’s needed and it seems that many are concerned that this Government has dropped its reform zeal.
MINISTER MORRISON: I don’t believe that is true. We took a bold approach last year and that wasn’t as successful as we hoped it would be. So, you have to adjust how you go forward in order to get measures through and to get measures that are actually legislated. We’ve had a great start in our first budget. We have halved the trajectory of Labor’s debt over the long term but we’d like to be in a much better position than that and that’s what our measures are designed to achieve.
BRISSENDEN: Can you understand, though, that their concerns and economists concerns and general concerns about the level of debt and particularly about the Prime Minister’s approach to it – a change of approach to it – more recently saying 50 to 60 per cent was ok?
MINISTER MORRISON: That’s Labor’s spin on the Prime Minister’s position. No, what he was talking about was the strong start we’ve made on the trajectory of debt. What he also said was he was talking about being the glass half full position. Well, he’d like to be in a position where we’ve totally dealt with this situation and so it’s important that the Labor Party, the Opposition, the Greens and those crossbenchers in the Senate who don’t agree with the bold reforms, who aren’t interested in a bigger reform agenda, well that’s really where the argument rests now. The Government’s position on this is pretty clear – we want to get on with it, but we’re going to have to be practical about that.
BRISSENDEN: Ok, but the impression is certainly coming from your Government at the moment is that this budget is not going to be anywhere like as tough as the last one, in fact it’s going to be dull.
MINISTER MORRISON: Well, it’s important you have a budget which will be able to pass through the Senate. Now I don’t know what the suggestion is that we should put up measures that would be defeated and we would be criticised for doing that as well as not having thought through about the measures we’re putting to the Senate. So, I don’t think you can have it both ways. What we will do is put forward a practical, pragmatic budget that works to get the budget back into surplus over time and to reduce the trajectory of debt that we are currently on. We are terribly worried about debt. We have been talking about the debt trajectory now for years, ever since the debt trajectory took off under the fiscal arsonists in the Labor Party.
BRISSENDEN: I guess you’re talking about it differently now though, that’s the point, but anyway. Are there implications for Tony Abbott in this weekend’s New South Wales election?
MINISTER MORRISON: Well, I was at the launch yesterday with the Prime Minister and a cavalcade of other former leaders and great premiers in New South Wales – Nick Greiner, John Fahey and Barry O’Farrell, and of course former Prime Minister Howard was there as well. That state election I’m sensing – it’s my home state – is very much about the state issues, it’ll be very much about Mike Baird and Luke Foley and Mike Baird’s plan to build infrastructure and to ensure that he can pay for that and ensure that New South Wales remains the strongest economy in the state.
BRISSENDEN: If it’s very close will that still be the way you see it?
MINISTER MORRISON: Well, speculation I’m not going to get into on this issue. I think the people of New South Wales have a clear choice between Mike Baird and Luke Foley. That’s what the election’s about because it’s those two people who will be running the State after next Saturday and I think New South Wales voters are keenly focused on that and nothing else.
BRISSENDEN: Ok, Scott Morrison, thanks very much for joining us.
MINISTER MORRISON: Thanks, Michael.