TOM CONNELL, HOST: Joining me now is Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister Patrick Gorman. Thanks very much for your time. I’m really interested in the budget repair side of things because last election, neither side really was going to do anything about this. How urgent do you see budget repair as? Is it a next couple of years project? Is it the next five years project? When do we need to get back to balance, at least?
PATRICK GORMAN, ASSISTANT MINISTER TO THE PRIME MINISTER: Well, look, I’m not going to set a date for when we need to get back to balance, but we do need to start that process. What we know is that with a trillion dollars of debt, indeed with interest rates meaning that the cost of servicing government debt is increasing, we need to make sure that we are taking appropriate decisions today to not make that situation even worse for tomorrow. I think most of your viewers would agree with that principle. So where we’ve chosen to start, as the Treasurer has outlined, is on multinational tax avoidance. We see that there’s a lot more that can be done in that space to make sure that everyone who operates in Australia is doing their share of the lifting.
CONNELL: That might be a few billion a year at best. Two to three billion a year at best.
GORMAN: We’ll outline more in the budget.
CONNELL: Sure, but that’s what we’re talking. It’s a $40 billion structural deficit, so a lot of people agree, let’s hope it works. But it’s not really much of the heavy lifting, is it?
GORMAN: And this is where we find ourselves in that balance of wanting to make sure that we do do what we can in terms of increasing revenue, such as with multinational tax avoidance, reducing some of the waste in the budget. And there’s been a lot of work that’s been done that we’ll hear about in about a month’s time from Jim Chalmers, Katy Gallagher and Ministers about removing waste and rorts from the budget. We know that we have to spend every dollar as carefully as possible. And then when it comes to the spending that we do put into the budget, we need to make sure that doesn’t just have a cost to the budget, but it has a benefit for families and that it has a benefit for our economy at large. And that’s why we see that spending more money on child care is such an important proposition, because it puts more money into the pockets of families helping with cost of living pressures, but it also frees up people to work in the economy. And we know that if we can do that, that actually gives us a really good return on investment. And that’s the sort of test that we’re applying to every proposal that comes forward.
CONNELL: All of what you’re saying though, it doesn’t get to the heart of what needs to repair the budget. Structurally, $40 billion a year. It will require a combination of raising new tax, major new tax or serious spending cuts. And you just sort of put everything up there and go, well, everything has to be on the table in terms of that to get the best options because there’s so much needed. You can’t just go, well, here’s one tax and it’s all sorted, or here’s one spending cut from this area, it’s sorted.
GORMAN: That’s right. It is so complex. And what we’ve seen over the last few years in particular is government spending in some areas did get probably a bit out of control. Is it going to take some proper budget processes.
CONNELL: Where was it getting out control would you say?
GORMAN: I think when we probably gave a little bit too much when it came to … a lack of controls around JobKeeper. We’ve raised concerns about that in the past. Not so much about how much people received. About how do you make sure that you’ve got appropriate controls on the money that government is putting on the table. That’s quite a reasonable …
CONNELL: That’s one-off spending though, I mean, what’s baked in? Is there anything baked in that was getting out of control?
GORMAN: You’ll see more from the Treasurer and the Finance Minister at the budget and I know it’s hard for yourself and all of your colleagues, Tom, it’s only a month away.
CONNELL: Well, it felt like you were going to really share there. But we’ll keep trying. In terms of timeline that’s budget repair, is it fair to say that at least the next election will have forward estimates and that’s where you’re outlining a problem for the next … or plans, I should say for the next three years at that point. We’ll have to see something like a budget balance at that point because if it’s not happening at forward estimates at the next election, it feels like it’s often never.
GORMAN: Some of this repair will start in the budget on the 25 October. Some of it will be over time. We didn’t get into this. We got into this trouble over a number of years. It accelerated over recent years. We’re now at a trillion dollars debt and that debt is getting more expensive to service. But we also know there are some long-term challenges we face. That’s why the Treasurer has outlined that we will do a new Intergenerational Report next year which will look at some of those longer term indicators of where …
CONNELL: Longer term, what, we might need to wait ten years plus to see a budget back into balance?
GORMAN: Well, if I remember correctly, and I’m happy to be corrected by yourself or your viewers on this, I think in terms of the last range of long-term projections that was put forward by the Coalition when they were in government, that’s why it’s not getting back to paying off the totality of the debt that they had amassed until around 2050, 2060. So at the moment, like, the trajectory we’re on is a very long-term trajectory. We hope that by doing things such as being more careful in the spending, doing more …
CONNELL: I think what you need is when you’re paying off debt so far in the future, you may as well not even mention 2060. It’s sort of irrelevant.
GORMAN: That’s not our projections. That was the projections of the former Government.
CONNELL: I want to touch on Optus. Biggest cyber hack in our history. Millions affected. Four days in. We’ve got one statement from the Minister, three lines that came out during the Grand Final.
GORMAN: Well, let’s talk about what’s actually happened. Firstly, this is affecting one-in-two adult Australians. It is huge. And we expect that Optus is the company that has been hacked and their customers, Optus does everything they can for their customers to ensure that where possible, whatever those loopholes were, and I’m not familiar with exactly how that data was accessed, all of those are closed and they communicate really clearly with their customers and say what the action their customers should take. In terms of what we’ve done at the Australian Government, we’ve made assistance available through the Australian Federal Police. The Australian Signals Directorate has been engaged directly with Optus on this and we’ve had Home Affairs working to make sure …
CONNELL: That you would expect from all of them. Why haven’t we heard from the Minister? It seems like a long time.
GORMAN: You said that the Minister has put our statement.
CONNELL: Well, three lines.
GORMAN: And in terms of the work that’s actually happening, we’re making sure that the agencies and this is not just one Minister, this is something that cuts across a range of portfolios.
CONNELL: I haven’t heard from any Minister standing up on this specifically. You would have had the briefings this morning. She’ll be out, will she today? Clare O’Neil giving a news conference. Was that in the morning briefing?
GORMAN: I’m not going to run through what Ministers will be doing over the next few days.
CONNELL: Blink twice if she’s going to talk today, maybe?
GORMAN: I’m not going to play a blinking game.
CONNELL: That was one blink.
GORMAN: I’m not going to play a blinking game, Tom. What I’m going to say is what we have done as a Government is make sure that all the assistance necessary from federal agencies is there to help Optus communicate with their customers. And if I can say to your viewers, Tom, this is not the only cyber threat that’s out there. There’s also a whole range of other challenges that people face with phishing schemes and scams. Anyone who is concerned about their data should go to cyber.gov.au to get good authoritative advice on what we as individuals can do to protect our data. But our expectation on Optus is they communicate very clearly with their customers act as quickly and comprehensively as possible..
CONNELL: Have they done that so far?
GORMAN: You’ll have to get Optus on to talk about what they’re doing.
CONNELL: We have had them on. I’m just asking do you feel as though they’ve done it quickly and acted and contacted their client base quickly and told them?
GORMAN: That’s for Optus customers to..
CONNELL: No, but I’m asking you if you think they have?
GORMAN: I want to see, not just what they’ve done so far, but over the coming days, Optus to comprehensively doing everything they possibly can. This is 11 million people appropriately nervous about what’s happening. I understand Optus has a board meeting today. I’d be expecting more action coming out of that.
CONNELL: Patrick Gorman, thanks for your time.
GORMAN: Thank you.