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Source: Australian Treasurer

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Good afternoon. Overnight, more than 20,000 $400 payments were processed for children who are affected by the bushfires. This follows the Morrison Government’s announcements of support packages for the tourism sector, for Australian wildlife that have been injured by the fires, for primary producers, for mental health, for local governments, and just yesterday, for small business. The package of measures for small business were very important because the success of small business, getting back on their feet, will be critical to the long-term viability of those communities affected by the bushfires. There are grants of up to $50,000, loans of up to $500,000, tax relief as well as access to financial counsellors.

Also last night, the IMF released an update to it’s global economic outlook and while it slightly downgraded global growth, it did point to some positive signs and stabilisation in the global economy off the back of developments in relation to Brexit and the phase one trade deal between China and the United States.

Here in Australia, the most recent economic data for the November period shows that unemployment had fallen to 5.2 per cent and 40,000 new jobs were created. Retail sales saw their best result in more than two years – monthly retail sales. And we also saw building approvals significantly up and we’ve seen a stabilisation in the housing sector.

So while other countries around the world, including South Korea, the United Kingdom and Singapore, saw quarters of negative economic growth last year, the Australian economy continues to grow and continues to be remarkably resilient in the face of not just the bushfires, but the comprehensive drought that we have seen, as well as the global trade tensions. Any questions?

QUESTION:

Overnight the Bank for International Settlements issued a fairly wide-ranging and interesting report on climate change and whether it’s a financial systemic risk. Do you agree that it is a risk to the financial systems?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Our own Reserve Bank of Australia has talked about the importance of the issue of climate change and how it is working on the impacts of that to the economy. But also, you’ve got APRA and ASIC who have also talked about the climate change issue. But what the report also points out is the need for a balanced approach; a balanced approach which sees not only emissions reduction, but adaptation, mitigation and resilience measures put in place without compromising the strength of the economy. The report points to the work of Government as well as the private sector in meeting that objective. 

QUESTION:

Do you have any concerns about the Reserve Bank having to take ownership of isolated assets such as a coalmine or a fossil fuel power station?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

I can’t see that happening.

QUESTION:

The Auditor General has questioned whether Bridget McKenzie had the legal authority to handout sports grants. Are you preparing, or is the Government concerned about legal challenges?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

The Attorney-General has provided comment on that matter, referring to the Auditor General’s comments about the legal authority and he said he would give further consideration to that issue, so I will leave that in his hands.

QUESTION:

Do reports like these erode public trust in government?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Let’s be very clear; and as the Prime Minister has said all the projects were eligible under this program. All the money has gone to community projects, including to the Leader of the Opposition and the former Leader of the Opposition’s own electorate and that is really important here because the purpose of the program was to support eligible projects and to support local community sporting clubs with repairs, lighting, women’s changing rooms and a whole series of other, what you would agree, I’m sure, are important benefits to those sporting communities.

QUESTION:

Do you accept though that there were more sporting clubs that were more eligible that were overlooked by Bridget Mckenzie?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

As I know, all those projects were eligible and the decision to…

QUESTION:

But some that got money weren’t as eligible as others, because they were in marginal electorates.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

These projects were across a variety of electorates across the whole country and, as you know, the Labor Party got more projects in their electorates than initially. 

QUESTION:

Your electorate received more than $700,000 in grants, it’s one of the richest in the country. Why do you think they are more deserving than other sporting clubs in the country? 

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

There are projects that are deserving in all electorates. The point about the sporting clubs in everyone’s electorate is that often they do their own fundraising, they don’t often get access to state or federal or local government financial support and a lot of them survive off the smell of an oily rag. They are important meeting places for the community. We obviously want to encourage recreation, we want to encourage more female participation in sport. But the projects were awarded to those eligible applications and those applications were made in the normal process.  

QUESTION:

You cannot account for how 73 per cent of the grants in the third round went to marginal seats, when marginal seats make up about one in five of the 151 electorates in the country. That is way out of line.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Shane, projects were awarded across the country.

QUESTION:

Do you accept though the finding saying that they’re all eligible, but found distributional bias and found that it targeted marginal seats and they were targeted, do you accept that finding?

JOSH FRYDENEBRG:

Well in terms of the recommendations of the Auditor General the Prime Minister already said, those that relate to us we’ve accepted…

QUESTION:

…so you’ve accepted (inaudible)….

JOSH FRYDENEBRG:

… and we’ll go ahead and implement the recommendations that the Auditor General has made and as you’ve heard it’s been referred to the Attorney General in relation to those issues that we’ve earlier discussed. But as the Prime Minister made very clear yesterday, no rules were broken, all the projects were eligible, the money went into these sporting communities across electorates, across the country including in many Labor electorates.

QUESTION:

You’re here at the Treasury building, do you have any updates for us on whether the bushfire crisis and the money that you’re spending on that is going to be having an impact on the surplus?

JOSH FRYDENEBRG:

Well our absolute first priority is on meeting the human cost of the bushfires. It’s been absolutely devastating, and terrible for the people who have been affected, lives have been lost, property has been lost and it will take years to rebuild. Now the benefit of having a strong economy is that you can spend on areas of need at times of economic shocks or at times of national crises, as is the bushfire situation, and we have done so with a $2 billion National Bushfire Recovery Fund without increasing taxes. This is a critical point. When Labor were in they would whack levies on, higher taxes. In fact they went to the last election with $387 billion dollars of higher taxes. We went to the last election promising lower taxes and that’s what we have legislated through the Parliament since. So when it comes to our bushfire response, we will do what is required to support those communities in need. I will not provide a running commentary on the situation of the Budget, other than to say that the Budget is updated, or the forecasts are updated twice a year, forecasts are updated twice a year, at MYEFO and at Budget, so you’ll need to tune in in May on Budget night.

QUESTION:

So you’re saying that you’re happy to sacrifice the surplus?

JOSH FRYDENEBRG:

Our focus has been on delivering the services and the support to the people in need and that’s what we’ve been doing. Scott Morrison has been out in front announcing significant programs of support that have been very well received. Ministers, including the Prime Minister who’s been present, have convened roundtables. I met here in Treasury with the financial services industry, I’ve met with the insurance industry, I’ve been talking to the banks, we met with small businesses, we’ve met with the charities. I’m getting the feedback from those on the ground as to how we can best support those people in need. And our initiatives to date include money for mental health, money for small business, money for primary producers, money for wildlife and habitat support, money for local councils as well as the money that has started to transfer from overnight to children who are getting back to school who have been in bushfire affected areas. So working closely with the states, we will do what is required to support those in need as all Australians would expect us to do.

QUESTION:

So is this the standard now? Is this the standard that Australians should expect that the Morrison Government will spend taxpayer money to boost their election chances?

JOSH FRYDENEBRG:

The Morrison Government is focusing on supporting communities whether in bushfire affected areas, whether it’s in drought affected areas, whether it is local communities who are getting sporting grants, the focus of our Government is supporting those communities in need right across the country.

QUESTION:

Has Bridget Mckenzie breached Ministerial Standards? They say that Ministers are supposed to use their powers, you know, fairly and to take into account merit, so has she breached those guidelines?

JOSH FRYDENEBRG:

As I said, the projects that were awarded, the grants were all eligible, the rules were kept to, and the money was spent on community projects right across the country helping these sporting communities have the facilities and the support that they need. Thank you.

MIL OSI News