Transcript by The Hon Scott Morrison MP

3AW Tom Elliott

Program: 3AW Tom Elliott


TOM ELLIOTT: Minister, good afternoon.


ELLIOTT: Ok so the Intergenerational Report. Now I have read a summary of it and it seems to me the best bit of news is that we are all living longer but the uncomfortable news is we might have to work longer, spending on healthcare and pensions will undoubtedly go up and that our budget settings are unsustainable. So overall is it good or bad news?

MINISTER MORRISON: I think its good news that we are living longer and living healthier and where people wish to work longer and can work longer and continue to be able to draw an income and improve their quality of life and continue the aspiration that they have pursued all of their lives and to keep doing that well. I think that’s a good thing and I’m quite optimistic about it and we’ve just got to ensure that the systems and the various support arrangements and so on, we can continue to fund sustainably over the future but we are not alone in this Tom, countries whether it’s the United States, Canada, Japan, even China is moving towards an ageing population. If we get this right in Australia about how we age well and how we have the services to support an ageing population then we can export these service to the world.

ELLIOTT: Ok now retirement age, do you think it will have to be lifted again in the next decade or so?

MINISTER MORRISON: Well the Government has already got a measure in the senate to raise in 2035 from 67 to 70 that obviously doesn’t apply to people who are currently in their sixties and things like that which I think is a misconception, it applies to my generation, and my generation, when we left school we were told by Paul Keating that we would have to provide for our retirement and that was the understanding we had. But the current generation who is of retirement age and particularly in their sixties and beyond well they had a deal with the Government that there would be a pension. The pension is not a payment that is a lavish one; I don’t believe it necessarily provides the lifestyle that many Australians would like to live at for a long period of time. So people have the opportunity to supplement that through continuing to work longer where they can and where they wish to and where they are healthy but also looking at their own assets and how they might want to live more off those assets to supplement their income.

ELLIOTT: Ok, now what about population in Immigration. I understand the intergenerational report has chosen an annual immigration intake of around 215,000 people a year. It’s said by 2055 we will have approximately 41 million people in Australia. Tony Shepherd, former head of the Business Council Australia, has upped this and said no let’s bring in 250,000 a year and I don’t know exactly how many people that will result in but probably somewhere between 45 and 50 million in the next 40 years. What do you think is the appropriate population target and therefore immigration target?

MINISTER MORRISON: Well I think what you have to do is grow your population sustainably and Professor Peter McDonald who I’d argue is Australia’s best demographer, did some work for the Department of Immigration when I was there and for the previous Ministers actually in the former Government which showed that if you had a net overseas migration which is what that figure refers to of up to about 220,000 a year then you could grow well but you could grow sustainably and you could maintain GDP per capita, you would grow the per capita. If you went above that figure then you ran the risk of congestion issues and other problems and issues with fiscal sustainability. The report is modest, the report pitches it in an area which is sustainable and the best way to grow our economy is through productivity growth and getting people involved in the workforce.

ELLIOTT: Did you think though and look it’s a – I don’t know a project of mine that one day we could actually ask the Australian people as a referendum or something like that, a plebiscite how many people they would like to have live here. I have never heard anybody say let’s put it to the people. Do you want 35, 40, 45, 50 million people like maybe let voters decide?

MINISTER MORRISON: Well how would you implement it?

ELLIOTT: Oh well, well you could start…

MINISTER MORRISON: No, I don’t mean the plebiscite – the policies that the government pursues don’t control the population of the country.

ELLIOTT: No, but they do.

MINISTER MORRISON: You’ve got natural increase, you’ve got net overseas migration and half of net overseas migration is temporary migration it is not permanent.

ELLIOTT: But Minister Morrison, Minister Morrison I’m sorry but we do control it because we know what our birth rate is, it is about 1.9 children per couple so.

MINISTER MORRISON: It is quite high actually for countries like Australia.

ELLIOTT: Yes, but long term without immigration our population would stabilise. Therefore it comes down to immigration and we can decide how many people come here each year if in fact we want to do so.

MINISTER MORRISON: We can decide our immigration intake, my point was is that there are other elements of the immigration intake and your overall population isn’t just your permanent intake, it is people who are here are students, it is people who are here as visitors, it is people who are here as backpackers and those sorts of things are now accounting for half of our net overseas migration every year. So I would argue that it is important to make sure it is sustainable. The figures that are in this report are sustainable based on the excellent work done by experts like Professor Peter McDonald. I think we can manage at those sorts of levels.

ELLIOTT: Ok, can we look at the Senate now because there is some rather disturbing debt predictions here in the Intergenerational Report. For example it points out that had the Labor government’s policies up until the end of 2013 remained in place debt by the middle of the century would peak at 122 per cent of GDP which is sort of Greek-type levels i.e. not good. They say that under current policy settings, presumably under your government, net debt would instead reach 60 per cent of GDP which they say is $2.6 trillion dollars, again looking forward 40 years. Do you think that this report might gain you some traction in the Senate in terms of budgetary savings and tax increases and so forth?

MINISTER MORRISON: I would hope so because it really does provide a reckoning on all of this. You can’t just go around shovelling money out the door and expect there to be no consequences for that. I think that is just common sense. This document is a very worthy and important document which highlights the consequences of a do nothing approach. If you just keep saying no, no, no in the Senate to important structural savings and changes then you run up a big debt. That’s how Greece got where they got.

ELLIOTT: Do you wish..

MINISTER MORRISON: That is how the Irish got there.

ELLIOTT: I agree. Do you wish maybe that this report had come out say a year ago before last year’s budget? To maybe sort of set the tone of the budget a bit and say to people look we have got a debt problem here or we are going to have one in a couple of decades time if we don’t do something?

MINISTER MORRISON: Well the Commission of Audit made a very similar point before last year’s budget and I think where we are at Tom is a very serious place in Australian politics and for our country and we have got to think about what are the implications of the decisions we are making and how we are spending on the next generation. It is fine and ok to talk about well will people now be this much better off or worse off in the next ten minutes but what is the impact for the next generation? Are we supposed to just ignore what is better off and worse off for them? We need to think about that and the Intergenerational Report helps us to come to terms with and have this conversation about what sort of changes we need to make to realise the opportunity. I am an optimist about this, I don’t think this report is some sort of terminal illness for the country, I think that is rubbish. I think what this report says is we have got some great opportunities, we have got some challenges so let’s go and deal with them maturely. One of those things is getting control of the spending and so we just don’t run the place into the ground.

ELLIOTT: I have got a five year old daughter, I know that you have got kids, do you think they will have a better existence than what we do?

MINISTER MORRISON: Well I think that is up for grabs at the moment, to be honest. I really do. I am the Minister for Social Services and I currently oversee a welfare safety net which is frankly bequeathed to us by those who went before us. I would like to ensure that in the next 50 years that the aged pension is still there, that the Disability Support Pension is there for those who really need it. We have got the National Disability Insurance Scheme which is a very expensive program which is only 40 per cent funded through the levy that is being put in place. We need to absorb all of that and we need to give the next generation the safety net that we enjoy now and it is at risk if we don’t get this spending under control.

ELLIOTT: Final question on a different matter we know that Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran are on their way to the place I will just call ‘execution island’ because that is what it is, should Australians prepare themselves for the fact that they will lose their lives fairly soon?

MINISTER MORRISON: I think there is obviously that preparation that we all need to steel ourselves for and still hoping and praying that things will be different even at this very late hour. As the Prime Minister said in Question Time appealing to the government of Indonesia to step back from the brink of this and to be Indonesia’s best self. That is what I certainly hope and pray, and for Andrew and Myuran I just hope for the best for them and I think they have showed tremendous qualities during this incredibly dark time, as have their families. Regardless of their crimes, their rehabilitation I think has been a real story of hope and I hope even if things come to where they may I hope their stories will encourage other Australians who may have had a bit of a crook past about how they can change and I think they have been a bit of an inspiration in that respect.

ELLIOTT: Yes, and also maybe it is a deterrent to future drug smugglers.

MINISTER MORRISON: No doubt about that.

ELLIOTT: Well plenty of people do doubt it. Scott Morrison I do appreciate your time.

MINISTER MORRISON: Thanks very much Tom, good to be with you.