AICD Public Sector Governance Conference - 13/10/2010

13 October 2010

JOURNALIST: First speech as Finance Minister. Are you feeling fairly comfortable in your new job?
WONG: This is a great job, its a great opportunity. It also brings with it a lot of challenges; challenges in the short-term which are to ensure we bring the budget back to surplus as weve said, the challenge to restrict growth in real spending to levels well below what Mr Costello and Mr Howard delivered in their last five budgets. But as importantly, ensure that we get the settings right for the long-term.
JOURNALIST: When you left your role as Climate Change Minister it looked like we may never see a carbon price, as much as you had wanted to. Now it looks like we could get one, even within this 2013 period. Is that something youre pleased about that you can now see a carbon price coming in and how will it affect what you do as Finance Minister?
WONG: Look as Greg Combet has said, and I agree with him, this is a key economic reform. Its also an economic reform that requires dialogue, engagement and consensus. Its a big reform that demands consensus around the way forward for Australia. And Greg and Julia have laid out a very clear process of making sure that dialogue happens through the multi-party committee.
JOURNALIST: Minister, youre relying on the 2 per cent spending cut to put the Budget on a sustainable footing. The Treasury Department points out the Budget is going to be in structural deficit until 2018-19. Your own department in its Red Book says further action will be needed beyond the 2 per cent spending cap. What are you going to do to attack the structural deficit?
WONG: Lets remember first that Australias budget position is sound. Our public finances are in very sound shape, very good shape. Particularly if you look at where the rest of the world is, we do have very strict spending limits. They are tough spending limits. They will be limits well below what Peter Costello and John Howard achieved. But we are determined to achieve them, and we will do so.
JOURNALIST: But they wont address the structural deficit.
WONG: What youre going to is the nature of the spend and obviously, as Ive laid out today, we are determined to bring the budget back to surplus. Thats not something we can negotiate on. We are determined to adhere to our fiscal rules including the spending cap the cap on real growth and expenditure. But we also know the importance of looking to the long-term. Thats why we are putting in place a resource tax that is about spreading the benefits of the mining boom, ensuring we have lower company tax rates, ensuring we increase the pool of national savings. These are about long-term sustainability not only of the budget, but a stronger economy over the long term.
JOURNALIST: Ms Wong how do you feel about rival exchanges to the ASX. Is that something you support?
WONG: The Government I think Chris Bowen in the previous term did take this issue forward and the Government has laid out its process for considering those issues.
JOURNALIST: Do you think weve seen some overheated language about currency exchange wars and the like?
WONG: I think Mr Robb rather than calling for a mini budget perhaps should focus on getting his own costings right. We know that he is the shadow finance minister who presided over a $10.6 billion black hole. We also know after revelations this week that what he and Mr Hockey told the Australian people about their checks on their costings was not correct. This really shows that Mr Abbott and his economic team simply dont have the economic credibility to manage the Australian economy.
JOURNALIST: You paid tribute then to your predecessor Lindsay Tanner and obviously he was a fairly tough finance minister. But in what way do you want to put your own distinctive stamp on this portfolio rather than simply aping what he did?
WONG: (Laughs) Aping? That is not generally something I do. Look, I think Lindsay was a great finance minister and there are many things that I share with him. One of those things is obviously the strict fiscal rules that I have outlined again today that he was part of putting together. But everyone brings their own approach to the job and everyone brings their own personality.
JOURNALIST: We have seen a bit of muck-raking in regards to Peter Slipper today. Do you think thats the Liberals perhaps trying to get one back on the Government?
WONG: I am not going to comment on those allegations. I think there are processes in place to deal with allegations like that and those processes should be followed.
JOURNALIST: Stand by your man?
WONG: No thats not what I said, what I said was that I think when there are these sorts of allegations in place, I think there are processes - regardless of which side of politics the allegations are made by or against. I think those processes should be followed.