Radio 2HD Newcastle

10 MAY 2017

SENATOR THE HON ARTHUR SINODINOS AO
Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science

TRANSCRIPT – Radio 2HD Newcastle

Interviewer: Richard King

10 May 2017

Subjects: Newcastle and the Hunter, Budget, Medicare, innovation policy, school funding, Tony Abbott.



E&OE

 

RICHARD KING

We’ve got Senator Arthur Sinodinos on the line. Good morning Arthur.

ARTHUR SINODINOS

Hi Richard, great to be with you.

RICHARD KING

Likewise. I just want to clarify this: you are the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science [inaudible]…we’ve got Scot Macdonald at the State level who has been the Parliamentary Secretary for the Hunter, are you sort of the Federal equivalent of Scott?

ARTHUR SINODINOS

I’m the patron Senator for the Hunter region and for the Central Coast, and that’s always a good excuse for me to come back to Newcastle because I was born there and raised there, and every time I go back I really just feel energized by how much is happening in Newcastle and the Hunter. Now that I’ve got this particular portfolio the work that we do in the industry and innovation space, there’s a lot of stuff happening in Newcastle that’s relevant to that. So, big prospects. It’s always good to be with you.

RICHARD KING

Well there’s a lot happening here, but there wasn’t a lot specifically in the Budget for Newcastle and the Hunter once again, unfortunately, Arthur. Why is that?

ARTHUR SINODINOS

Well look, there are general things that are happening which will impact on the Hunter. Every family in the Hunter region will benefit from our guarantee for Medicare. Every family in the region will benefit from the changes we are making to education to make it more about needs based funding. I think every pensioner in the region that was affected by changes last year, particularly the assets test, and who is now getting their pensioner concession card back, I think is affected positively by what we’re doing. On the Central Coast we are putting $12.5 million into the University of Newcastle Medical School there. Now that’s slightly down the road from the city of Newcastle itself, but that’s going to benefit the region as a whole as we build up another big medical and regional [inaudible], which will of course compliment John Hunter and the great work that happens with John Hunter. In terms of other things, I’m also the Minister that represents energy users, and the work we’ve been to doing to secure more gas, and to transition fuel to help make sure that the energy system, electricity system, operates as well as possible, and to make sure people, like in Tomago, down the road, in terms of electricity more broadly, are being looked after. There are a lot of things happening that impact on Newcastle as a whole, because Newcastle is so diverse now that, on top of the general things we do as a Government, there are some specific measures that will assist, and also the infrastructure that we are talking about for New South Wales, ultimately that will have a benefit for Newcastle as well because Newcastle is well-positioned to take advantage of some of the infrastructure development, to supply products and services for the inland rail and other things that are happening.

RICHARD KING

This bank levy, that John Howard, the former Prime Minister, referred to as a tax, this tax on the big five banks, which is there to make sure there’s funding for the NDIS from 2019 onwards. There was a lot of discussion about it yesterday for obvious reasons; the suggestion seems to be that banks, you know, that we’re going to wear it as bank customers. How’s the Government going to stop that happening?

ARTHUR SINODINOS

There’s a couple of things happening. The first is that, from 2019 the Medicare levy is going up to help fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and that’s being done because the MBA have covered all of it; the bank levy is helping with budget repair. I think the banks have got to be very careful to look at this, where they’re punishing customers or shareholders in terms of who they pass the levy on to, because part of the problem the banks have got is that they haven’t been quick enough to deal, and I’m talking here principally about the big four, with some of the problems they’ve had with their own customers. So I don’t think they should compound that with the way they react to this particular levy. That’s why we’ve had to be pretty tough with bank executives who do the wrong thing, we’ve essentially docked their pay; some, if they’re repeat offenders, will have to leave the industry. We’re taking some pretty tough measures, but we’re doing this because we need the banking system to have the confidence of its customers. We have a strong banking system by world standards, it’s a very profitable system, we need it to be strong, but we also need customers to have faith in their banks.

RICHARD KING

In talking in the lead up to the Budget with local state MPs and with local opposition Federal MPs, and also many guests, the number one priority has been for years the Glendale transport interchange, but yet again, Arthur, there is no money in this Federal Budget for the Glendale transport interchange, which I think A lot of people don’t realize the importance of it, and it would appear the Federal Government doesn’t either.

ARTHUR SINODINOS

Well I beg to differ. I’ve been out there, I’ve had a look around, the job that Scott Macdonald [inaudible], this is some time back now, but look, I am pursuing that project for the reasons you mentioned. I think it’s an important project for the area and, as I said before, we’re now spending more money on infrastructure than ever before, and I want to make sure that Newcastle and the Hunter get their fair share of the increase in infrastructure we’re going to get.

RICHARD KING

We’ve heard a lot about the plight of those living within the red zone at Williamtown around the RAAF base. Good news, the head of your government’s contamination taskforce, Senator James McGrath, will I believe be visiting Williamtown next Wednesday and I’m hoping to speak to him next week, and there was recognition of the plight of those people with a mention in the Federal Budget and some money for ongoing jobs and research measures, but have you actually visited Williamtown Arthur? I mean, I really feel for those people. I think there’s a lot of discussion about housing affordability, but for those living there and their major investment is their house, at the moment it’s basically worthless. They can’t borrow, they can’t, banks won’t lend, they can’t sell their properties and yet still it’s the great unknown the red zone and that seems to me extremely unfair and your government seems to be taking a more of a sort of an economic stance rather than a humanitarian stance towards those in the red zone, Arthur.

ARTHUR SINODINOS

So, couple of points; the first is I was one of the people when I was Cabinet Secretary who was instrumental in having the issue taken into the Prime Minister’s portfolio to be dealt with, so it’s done on a whole of government basis. That’s the reason Senator McGrath is coming up. He is the Minister, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister, and so he’s been given overall control within government to coordinate our response because he covers not only defence, he covers health, he covers the Department of Environment and Energy. Marise Payne has been up there. I was at RAAF Williamtown some time back where we were briefing from Williamtown Airforce Base about what they were doing to try and remunerate some of the local community impact. What Marise has done is visit with the locals directly as Defence Minister because she was then in control of the response to see what more could be done. We made commitments on this in the last election as well, but McGrath is going up there next week because the Prime Minister wants to turbo-charge our response and figure out exactly what community impacts need to be remunerated. There’ve been some measures to date in terms of impacting on people’s livelihood and helping people with everyday issues, but it’s been one of those difficult ones because we’ve also had to have the chief medical officers of the Commonwealth and others arranging voluntary blood tests and other things in order to try and determine exactly what we are fighting here. And so that’s been an issue, but that is not an excuse to stop further action and that’s why McGrath is coming up.

RICHARD KING

Right and look just on that, I’ll leave it at this; I don’t think the Defence Minister has been to Williamtown yet, Arthur. I’m pretty sure only a couple weeks ago there was a plea for her to honour that commitment that she would, but as far as I know she hasn’t yet, there’s…

ARTHUR SINODINOS

I’ll check it out for you then.

RICHARD KING

Yeah, ok. Do you agree with John Howard that this budget was all about trying to get it passed in a recalcitrant Senate? That was the term he used yesterday.

ARTHUR SINODINOS

Yes, yes, and that’s the point that the Prime Minister and the Treasurer have made. The Treasurer in fact in the budget papers set out all the measures that we couldn’t get through the Senate and therefore we had to make a choice: do we persevere with? You know, the definition of madness is to keep doing the same thing over and over again and getting the same result; and the result we were getting was that the measures were being knocked back. So we had to make a pragmatic decision, if we can’t get those measures through, what are we able to do to get the budget back in the black by 2021, because if we can get to surplus which also means we’ve got the money to fund and guarantee Medicare and education, not only through to 2021, but 2030, the next decade or so, then it’s best to take measures now to do that. If the spending measures that we were taking, the spending cuts weren’t going to go through, we’d have to take other measures and so it’s been a combination of some saving measures, plus some tax changes like the Medicare levy, the bank levy and the others to help us meet that gap and get our shop in order and then be able to guarantee all those basic services that people need.

RICHARD KING

In a lot of people’s eyes, I think our Prime Minister has all of a sudden become action man. Gina Reinhart made the comment earlier this week that Malcolm Turnbull must be more like Donald Trump to make Australia great again. Do you think that’s a fair comparison to make Arthur?

ARTHUR SINODINOS

Well, if you’re saying you’re seeing action from Malcolm Turnbull and the Government; yes, you are seeing action. You saw us put out a new education policy, a new higher education policy. We’ve made decisions about those measures we couldn’t get through the Senate. We’ve made a decision that we’re going to have a big infrastructure programme to help turbo-charge the economy and maximise Australian jobs. So, yeah, we’re on the front foot and we’re getting things done. We want Labor, the Greens and everybody to cooperate with us on this because we believe that this is in the national interest. I’ve just been told that Marise Payne was in Williamtown in June of last year.

RICHARD KING

Ah, ok. Alright.

ARTHUR SINODINOS

Ok?

RICHARD KING

Yep, ok. Well I stand corrected on that one.

Jackie Lambie, who’s made some interesting comments ever since she entered parliament, yesterday said that she wants politicians to be drug tested. She said, quote, ‘if you think it’s drug free up here, you’re kidding yourselves.’ Do you think there is a drug problem in Federal Parliament Arthur?

ARTHUR SINODINOS

To be honest, I haven’t come across a drug culture up here in Canberra in the time I’ve been here. I think we as representatives of the community have to lead by example, so if Jackie’s saying that, you know, we’ve all got to do the best we can to be an example to the rest of the community, I agree with her on that, but I haven’t seen a drug culture up here. But, more broadly though, the sort of measures we’ve been talking about in this space are actually measures which will help to encourage people to confront substance abuse issues and deal with them and we help them to do that in a way which maximises their return to the workforce so they have a positive self-image, they are more mainstream productive members of the community and they’re confronting their demons.

RICHARD KING

Good to talk to you. Oh look, just finally, do you have much to do with Tony Abbott? I know on Sydney radio, he basically gave the thumbs up to the budget, but he’s been a bit of a thorn in the side for Malcolm Turnbull and your government – do you have much to do with Tony?

ARTHUR SINODINOS

Look, I see Tony from time-to-time and Tony is not just a backbench member of the Government, he’s a former Prime Minister, a very experienced member of the Parliament, so, as such, he has licence to speak in a way other backbenches don’t and it was heartening to see Tony say what he said about the Budget. I think that was very constructive and positive.

RICHARD KING

Alright, good to talk to you. Thank you very much for your time. We should try and do this on a more regular basis if possible Arthur.

ARTHUR SINODINOS

You give me how regular you want and we’ll do it.

RICHARD KING

Terrific, thank you very much for that. Have a good day.

ARTHUR SINODINOS

Thanks mate.

RICHARD KING

Senator Arthur Sinodinos on 2HD.