ABC NewsRadio with Marius Benson – 26 August, 2014

SANDY ALOISI: Federal Politicians are back in Canberra this week after the five week winter break with the Budget battle set to enter a new phase. As the Government battles to win support on the Senate crossbench, Cabinet Ministers held a long meeting yesterday as they tried to settle on their approach to their Budget negotiations which have made no progress over the five week winter break. One of those at the meeting was Social Services Minister, Kevin Andrews, and he’s speaking to Marius Benson.

MARIUS BENSON: Kevin Andrews good morning.

MINISTER ANDREWS: Good morning Marius.

MARIUS BENSON: That was a long Cabinet meeting in Canberra yesterday and it can’t have been a terribly happy one given the lack of progress with the Budget over the past five weeks.

MINISTER ANDREWS: These are very early days Marius, the new Senate has only sat for two weeks and we’re back for the next fortnight but what we’re about is ensuring that we have a strong and prosperous economy and a safe and secure Australia and that’s what we’re going to say to the Parliament, to all the Senators, think about the future.

MARIUS BENSON: Is there a budget crisis?

MINISTER ANDREWS: No there’s not a Budget crisis in that sense, we’re just going through the normal process, we’ve got legislation in the Parliament, we’ve got measures as part of our plan to improve the bottom line for the budget and to set this country up. The reality is that I’ve spent time around Australia over the last few weeks, that Australians want to know that we’ve got a sense of security in this nation, personally, nationally, that we’re able to address any unexpected problems that arise in an uncertain world and that means putting the Budget back into the black.

MARIUS BENSON: But when you say there’s no crisis that stands in odd contrast to some of the things that have been said in the past 100 days about the Budget by the Government.  The Prime Minister, for example, said there was a fire, we’re the fire brigade and sometimes you even need to break down fences to get to the fire. Barnaby Joyce, just yesterday, calling it a cancer, a melanoma, fatal if not treated. Andrew Robb, a week ago, saying it was sovereign risk in the eyes of international investors, and you’re saying there’s nothing to worry about?

MINISTER ANDREWS: No I’m not saying that, I’d say there’s a lot to worry about because we’re on a trajectory to a $667 billion debt, we’re paying a billion dollars a month in interest, and what does that mean?  That means that money that could be going to roads, to infrastructure, to other programs, to security of the nation, to hospitals, all of that is all going out the window. So we’ve got a job to fix this Budget and that’s what we’re all saying. I don’t think we’re all getting tied up in what particular word is used, but we know that it’s in the national interest to fix the Budget so that we can have a much more sense of security in this country and that whatever comes along in the future, whether it’s an economic blip that’s happened from time to time in the past, whether it’s some security issue that arises, we’re in the situation that we can address it.

MARIUS BENSON: Has the Government set back its own Budget cause by having a very untidy winter on the part of several prominent Ministers. For example the Treasurer apologising for remarks over the driving habits of the poorest Australians, the Attorney General George Brandis stumbling over explaining metadata, the Employment Minister Senator Abetz back peddling on links between abortion and breast cancer. Have you just been creating distractions, undermining your own Budget sales campaign?

MINISTER ANDREWS: Look I know that the media concentrate on this sort of minutiae but the reality is it’s the big picture we’re concentrating on at the moment, and as I said that big picture is to make sure that we don’t end up with a $670 billion Commonwealth debt, that we don’t have this $123 billion worth of deficits that are building up over the forthcoming years. To make sure that, as I said, we’ve got a very safe and secure Australia and we’ve got a strong and prosperous economy in the future.

MARIUS BENSON: Kevin Andrews can I just ask you quickly about a couple of stories in the news. One is the call for a guarantee of extra funding for the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse to allow two years more at a (inaudible) cost of $104 million, do you think that’s money well-spent?

MINISTER ANDREWS: Well this is a matter which the Attorney-General will give consideration to and no doubt he will then bring the recommendation to the Cabinet, obviously we will be guided by the advice which comes from the Royal Commission itself, but until that comes forward from the Attorney-General I’m not going to foreshadow any final decision.

MARIUS BENSON: And another proposal from your colleague Warren Entsch from Queensland saying that, the ah the, there is a call to allow legal trials of marijuana for medicinal purposes, are you in favour of those legal trials of marijuana?

MINISTER ANDREWS: Look I would want to see the medical evidence about this, ah I understand the call in relation to medical trials but at the same time we would need to be very careful, very assured that we’re not going to see any more widespread use of marijuana and cannabis than there is at the present time. So it would be very much a balancing act and based on the medical advice.

MARIUS BENSON: You sound a bit dubious?

MINISTER ANDREWS: No, I’m just saying that there are two sides to this. We know that, you know, cannabis in the community is not a good thing generally, it has lots of problems. So one would have to be assured that this is going to be restricted in a way that’s only going to be used in a very beneficial manner.

MARIUS BENSON: Kevin Andrews, thank you very much.

MINISTER ANDREWS: My pleasure Marius.