Prime Minister – Transcript – Press Conference – Geelong, VIC 3 May

Liberal Party of Australia

STEPHANIE ASHER: Good afternoon everybody. Welcome to Mount Duneed, to the lifestyle community. I’m Stephanie Asher, the Liberal Candidate for Corangamite. And it’s my very great pleasure today to welcome the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, to this centre (inaudible).

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you, Steph. It’s great to be here with you and it’s great to be here with your local plan for Corangamite, I want to commend you on having that plan for this local community because a strong economy enables not only our national plans to be realised, but it enables the local plans that we have right across the country to be realised. And Australians know that for their aspirations to be real and those aspirations are many. I talked about them on the weekend. Those aspirations are raising kids, buy a home, to save for your retirement. And then this is a major achievement in life. And all of these are supported, underwritten by living in a country that has a strong economy and a government that knows how to manage money. So the services that you rely on to be guaranteed and that can give you that confidence and make people just that little bit less anxious, particularly as they’re growing older in their years. We are facing a lot of pressures on our economy. There are a lot of moving parts, the impacts of the war in Europe, the lagging effects of the pandemic, the disrupted economies all around the world, the continuing impacts of COVID itself in countries like China, which has supply lines disrupted, adds to costs. The difficulties of shipping all around the world, even the shortage of pallets for putting goods and services, goods on that are moved around the country. All of these things are impacting prices of the cost of living, and so as we go into this next decade, how a country manages its economy, how a government manages its finances, is going to have a big impact on the citizens of our country. So being able to have an economic plan that has delivered for Australia through the pandemic and an economic plan that is working to ensure that we can now take the opportunities of what is ahead of us. This is something that supports Australians and their aspirations. Our economic plan is all about Australians realising their aspirations. And we do want to make life just that bit easier wherever we can. We’ve already announced our cost of living support in the Budget. Whether it’s the halving of the petrol tax, the support of $250 that has gone to pensioners, and many who I spoke to today have received that $250 this week, the $420 that many who are living in the housing estates that have been built around here, that $420 that they’ll be able to keep of their own earnings through additional tax relief will help them. In the Budget, we also announced a major change to the safety net and that particularly applied to those who are on the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card that would see the number of scripts fall from 48 to 36, 12 less for them to be able to get access to the safety net that we provide under the PBS. Now we want to make things that bit easier for self-funded retirees as well and extend the access of the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card. And this isn’t the first time we’ve done this. We did it as a Government back in 2014. It’s always the Liberals and the Nationals who are thinking about those who have saved hard and are independent in their retirement. And so today, again, we’re going to lift the eligibility for access to the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card for singles, where it’s currently $57,761 to $90,000. And that will take effect on the 1st of July. We’re also going to raise the limit for couples as well, up from $92,416, up to $144,000 for couples. Now, that is going to mean there are 50,000 additional Australians aged 67 and above, people who’ve saved for their retirement who don’t ask for much, but as they move into their senior years and they have to access more and more medications, this makes a difference to their cost of living. There’s not a lot we can do about things that are happening overseas that are impacting on our economy, but these practical things that we’re doing as a government makes those cost of living pressures just that bit more able to be dealt with, whether it’s in tax relief, whether it’s in the direct support to those on fixed incomes and pensions, or easing the burden of the cost of medications and the eligibility for the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card. This is a permanent change. It’s indexed and it means that Australians and more Australians will continue to get access to the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card. And at the state level, it differs by state. There are different additional concessions that are provided and some states – they provide travel discounts on public transport, some you can even get a cheaper fishing licence. So these are the additional things that many other states provide. So I think it’s a good change. It’s a sensible charge. It’s an affordable charge. But it recognises that self-funded retirees have worked hard. They’ve saved for their retirement. They want that independence they’ve worked hard for. And this will help 50,000 more Australians be able to have access to that certainty of the health care that they wish to have as they move into their senior years. Now this is all enabled because we do know how to manage money. It’s all enabled by having a strong economic plan that is working and provides for our future. Now yesterday it’s been three years as we’ve waited for Labor and Mr Albanese to outline his economic plan. It’s been over a month since his Budget Reply where he didn’t offer an economic plan and now we’re one day after their campaign launch and they still have not set out, Labor still do not have an economic plan. Now if you don’t have an economic plan, everything else you talk about is just making stuff up, because you can’t make it happen. It’s the economic plan and the ability to run a strong economy and to manage money that enables you to do the things that guarantee essential services and provide that cost of living relief and to minimise the impacts of the many things we’re seeing impacting from outside Australia on our economy. So there is a clear choice between a government that has an economic plan, that has taken us through one of the toughest challenges we’ve seen, and an economic plan that sets us up for the future. And a Labor Party that doesn’t have one, still doesn’t have one, and even this close to an election, less than three weeks now, they still don’t have a plan. It’s a choice between you know and a choice in Labor of what you don’t.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, can I please you, when you look at the housing market at the moment, regardless of who wins this election, is the great Australian dream of owning your own home dead?

PRIME MINISTER: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. It’s hard to own your first home, but last year 164,000 Australians did. They bought their first home. Now, when Labor was last in office in their last year, there were 91,300 Australians who bought their first home. And under our government, under the Home Guarantee Scheme, under the Homebuilder Scheme, under the First Home Super Saver Scheme, two of those schemes Labor opposed. We’ve ensured that 300,000 Australians over the last three years have been able to get into their first home and at a time, or into their own home, at a time when it’s been hard to do so. So no, about two thirds or thereabouts, it moves around that two thirds of Australians either own their home outright or are paying it off through their mortgage. It’s always hard. I mean if you talk to the the people I was talking to just before, we’re talking about when they bought their first home. It’s always been hard and it’s increasingly hard, particularly today. But what the figures show is that 164,000 Australians last year, getting into their first home. That’s up almost 70,000 on what Labor was achieving when they were in office. And I’d say it’s even harder now than it was then. But because of the targeted supports and the well-designed policies that we’ve put in place, we’ve been able to help them do it and we’ve done it in a way where they own their own home. Labor has a plan where they want the Government to own your home, and not only that, you’re last in line when it comes to your home. The bank has the first call over it, the Government has the second call over it, and you come last when it comes to your own home. So when you design these policies, you need to understand the housing market and you need to understand the economy and you need to understand the banking and financial system. And that is how you can run plans and programs, as we have had that has seen over 300,000 Australians get into their own home. Not one that the Government owns.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you had a similar idea of a government or private equity scheme in housing in 2008. What has changed between now and then, for you to be slamming Labor’s policy?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I had no plan for a government owning people’s homes. Shared equity schemes have been around a long time, they’ve been around a long time, and some people choose to do them in the private sector. And during the course of the Global Financial Crisis, there was a credit squeeze and there was a real problem being faced, particularly by regional banks, Bendigo Bank being one in particular because of the the lack of liquidity in the the debt market that was enabling them to provide the products that they wanted to provide and that people were providing and seeking. So that was a very different set of issues.

JOURNALIST: Five years ago you said that the Victorian Government doing a similar government scheme was a good idea. So what has changed?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think I’ve made it pretty clear. State governments, there’s a scheme like this in Western Australia, there’s a scheme like this in South Australia and the take up of these schemes is very limited. And one of the reasons for that is people want to own their own home, they don’t want the Government to own their home. Now, if people want to go into a shared equity mortgage, those products have been around for a long time. The private sector provides those products. And what I was referring to back in 2011, I think it was, and was in the middle of the Global Financial Crisis where there was a squeeze on credit. So I was proffering, you know, sensible interventions that would enable the private sector to give people more choices. If people want to take those choices up, that’s up to them. But in terms of the Federal Government effectively becoming an owner of your home and that there are questions about this. So what happens if you decide to renovate your home? I mean, what Labor been very clear about is they have a share in your home and so as your home value increases, they’re making money off you. So as your home price goes up, your home value goes up. They are taking a cut. And so you have to pay the Government back on their equity. And with the capital appreciation, I mean, they are basically riding on your decision to buy your own home and it’s for 10,000 people. And so you’ll be going along to an auction and there’ll be someone who’s bidding against you. And they’ll be bidding with the Government, and you’ll be bidding on your own. And so I don’t think Labor have thought these things through. We’ve seen this. We’ve seen their health policies that weren’t costed. We’ve seen their other policies in these campaigns fall apart after about 24 hours, their aged care policy fell apart within 24 hours after their Budget reply. The problem with Labor, this is what happens when you haven’t done Budgets and you haven’t held a financial portfolio like Mr Albanese, you don’t know how all these pieces go together and they don’t think them through. And that is too big a risk for Australians to be facing with the many pressures that are on interest rates, on cost of living. And it really is a choice about who do you think is going to be able to better manage those very significant pressures in the years ahead? A government that has taken us through the worst crisis we’ve seen in three generations, or a Labor Party that doesn’t know how to manage money and hasn’t got a great record when it comes to managing a strong economy.

JOURNALIST: If you are re-elected, will you commit to a referendum on the voice in the next term?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I’ve already answered that question one before. It’s not our policy to have a referendum on the voice. So why would I be doing that?

JOURNALIST: Hundreds of thousands of Australians may go into mortgage stress if the RBA increases rates tomorrow. If that happens, would you take personal responsibility for the financial pain that they may feel?

PRIME MINISTER: Well explain to me your numbers. You said hundreds of thousands of people will go into mortgage stress when cash rates are at 0.1 per cent. So what are these reports?

JOURNALIST: There are reports in the papers today that if mortgage rates go up, then a little bit, then the pressures on because they’re maxed out on their mortgages. Will you take responsibility if rates go up?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, when I became Prime Minister, the cash rate was 1.5 per cent. The cash rate today is 0.1 per cent. When we came to Government the cash rate was 2.5 per cent. I mean, mortgage rates now and we’re talking about the average discounted rate is about 3.6, but many people will be on a lot lower mortgages. We’ve got people have moved from 20 per cent fixed rates to 40 per cent fixed rates. And you know what that tells me? Australians know what’s going on. They know there are pressures that are coming from outside of Australia on interest rates. I mean, 0.1 has been an historically, unconventionally low rate and it’s been there since November of 2020. So these rates are very low and Australians know that there is pressure on these rates and they know that over time how we manage the economy, how we manage the Government’s finances, will impact potentially on what happens to rates and they could go higher than they might otherwise go. That’s why economic management and financial management is government is going to play a key role in just how much more people are going to pay. And so the bank will decide. The Reserve Bank, the independent Reserve Bank should rightly decide where cash rates are set. They are at historic lows at the moment, at 0.1 per cent. But what I do commend the Australian people for, they’ve been making the choices to move to fixed rates, they’ve been making the choices over the course of the pandemic to ensure that they’ve been where they can, get ahead of that mortgage and to be paying down and ensure that they’ve been building up buffers. I mean, you can also see on household balance sheets hundreds of billions of dollars on household balance sheets as Australians have been insulating themselves over the course of the pandemic to deal with these shocks that they knew would be coming. And so my commendation to the Australian people is they’ve been following the same prudent financial management that the Government has, and that has built up protections and that’s what we’ve been doing. Could you imagine how much harder it would be to pay a mortgage if we hadn’t had JobKeeper and 700,000 people were out of a job or we didn’t do the cash flow boost, which would have seen small businesses collapsing all around the country or the support we’re providing to first home owners to get in and own their home in the first place. I mean, we’ve been taking steps to strengthen the resilience of our economy and the resilience of household family balance sheets and small business balance sheets so they can deal with and weather the challenges that we’re going to face. So our business.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, a question for your Candidate, Ms Asher, if I may? In 2013, when you run as an Independent in Corio, you encouraged people to send your vote, their protest vote your way, because quote by putting major parties first, the vote goes straight into the bucket of the duopoly system, which is so destructive in Australia. Now that you’re running for the Liberal Party, do you still believe that? And Prime Minister, do you agree the duopoly is destructing or will you be personally visiting Wentworth to campaign against Independent (inaudible)?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, my Mum lives in Wentworth. I got to Wentworth all the time.

JOURNALIST: Will you be campaigning?

JOURNALIST: And on the. You ran as an independent –

PRIME MINISTER: I was just there the other night.

JOURNALIST: …you criticised the two party system, now you’re a part of it, do you stand by your previous comments?

ASHER: Yes. Look, I learnt a lesson on as an independent, but it’s actually not something that is generally very well supported. It’s very difficult to get something done as an independent and it is far preferable to join a party where the values match and work as a team. So my position has changed over the years. I would say I’ve actually grown up a little.

JOURNALIST: Steph, just one more question. In 2013, in a newspaper column you wrote small class sizes under the Gonski model were too costly. And you said (inaudible) teachers. Do you think, has your position changed or are you still not supportive of the Gonski Report?

ASHER: I still think more money should be put into training teachers, absolutely. Yes. I think training in every every industry, in every sphere I think needs to increase. Absolutely.

JOURNALIST: Many pensioners would like to work more. Obviously pensioners are out there struggling at the moment. The cost of living is increasing. Things are getting tough many pensioners would like to earn more, but they can only earn roughly an extra $300 a fortnight and keep their pension. Why isn’t the Government trying to make it easier for pensioners to fill some of those skills shortages when they would like to earn more but they currently can’t?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, this is something we’ve been looking at carefully, Jonno. And it’s something that we’re talking to older Australians about. We have had programs, particularly during the pandemic, where we did ease those restrictions and the take up actually wasn’t that great. Those who have worked hard all their life and are on a pension or are self-funded retirees don’t necessarily want to be forced back to work. And that’s and that’s why, and and when they do and earn, then certainly what they’re earning far outweighs what they get in the pension. And that’s why they would choose to do that. But equally, what we’re seeking to do is encourage the skills training that enables people over the course of their life to be able to move between different jobs and take those opportunities. And so when they get to their retirement, they can have their retirement and they can have their time, like they’re having here. The solution to our economic challenges, is not to send retirees back to force them back into work. That’s not my plan. I’m not looking to force pensioners or self-funded retirees back to work. What I’m seeking to do is ensure that in their retirement that they’ve worked hard for, that they can have life a little bit easier through the sorts of things that I’m announcing right here today. And self-funded retirees in particular, they benefit from things like our tax cuts. They benefit from the many other benefits we put in place. So we are looking closely at those issues, I would say. But what I want to be very clear about is – anything in that area is not about sending pensioners back to work. Where people want to make those choices, well, that they are choices that they’re making now. But when we’ve eased those things in the past, we hadn’t seen a very significant change in the amount of people taking on that choice because when people get to retirement, they’d like to have their retirement.

JOURNALIST: If the Reserve Bank raises interest rates tomorrow, do you think that’s going to hurt the Coalition with their changes at the polls?

PRIME MINISTER: You know what? It’s not about politics.

JOURNALIST: It’s an election.

PRIME MINISTER: It’s not about politics. What happens tomorrow deals with what people pay on their mortgages. That’s what I’m concerned about.

JOURNALIST: Your argument is that economic –

PRIME MINISTER: It’s not about what it means for politics. I mean, sometimes you guys always think, see things through a totally political lens.

JOURNALIST: We are in (inaudible) campaign.

PRIME MINISTER: I don’t and Australians don’t –

JOURNALIST: Are you politicising (inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER: …Australians are focussed on what they’re paying for and who they think is going to be best able to manage an economy and manage the finances. So they’re in the best possible position to realise their aspirations. Now Australians know that there are pressures on interest rates. That’s why many of them, so many of them have been switching to fixed rates. That’s why many of them have been trying to get ahead of their mortgages to ensure that they’re protected and we help them do that so they can be in that position because they understand there are many pressures on our economy. So what tomorrow’s decision is about, you know, we’ve got cash rates, at least I know what it is, the cash rate, we know what it is and we know it’s at an historic low and it’s been there since November of 2020. We know that the Reserve Bank in monetary policy and the Federal Government through fiscal policy have been in the same direction to ensure we can come through this pandemic. It’s been important that a line of perspective that has helped Australia to be one of the most successful advanced economies in the world today coming out of the pandemic. So tomorrow it’s not about me, it’s not about Mr Albanese, it’s not about the Treasurer or the Shadow Treasurer, it’s about Australians themselves and the decisions they’re making and understanding the pressures on the economy and who they think is going to be better able to manage those pressures into the future.

JOURNALIST: You’ve been campaigning, Prime Minister, as the superior economic manager. Are voters really supposed to believe now that you’re going to separate yourself from what happens tomorrow and claim you don’t have any responsibility for the conditions that have (inaudible)?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think I’ve set out the position pretty clearly about what the macroeconomic environment is that is impacting on rates in Australia. I think I’ve been pretty clear. I mean, I also didn’t claim credit for interest rates going from 1.5 per cent to 0.1 per cent. I mean, these are things that have been driven by macroeconomic factors, but they’ve also been driven, I think, by the alignment of fiscal and monetary policy in this country to take us through the pandemic. And so, no, I don’t see all of that through a political lens. What I do see is the need to ensure that we have a strong economic plan that deals with the very real pressures. The pressures on interest rates, I think highlight just as we’ve got the pressures on cost of living, highlight just why the economy is so important in this election and why it really is a choice about a strong economy or a weaker economy under Labor. About the certainty of our economic plan and the lack of an economic plan under Labor, and the certainty of what you know about what we’ve been able to do and how we’ve been able to take Australia through and our plan for the future. And what people don’t know about the Labor Party. As I said yesterday at Homebush, there are two reasons why Mr Albanese won’t tell you about his economic plan. The first one is he doesn’t have one. He just doesn’t have one. Or the second is he doesn’t want to tell you after, at the last election, when Bill Shorten told the Australian people what they were going to do, the Australian people rejected it. So we have an economic plan that Australians know. And Labor do not have an economic plan. We’ve been waiting three years for one. Then we were waiting for over a month after the Budget, and even now after their campaign launch, Labor: still no economic plan. Thanks very much everyone. Thank you.

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