Treasurer Joe Hockey’s living arrangements moved centre stage alongside his budget during a solo appearance on Q&A.
Mr Hockey was the sole guest on the ABC program on Monday night, fielding questions on subjects ranging from marriage equality to the government’s small business tax policy, its paid parental leave scheme and his rent arrangements.
The Treasurer took a question from audience member Mark Travers, who asked if he believed it was double dipping when politicians receive a $270 a night living-away-from-home allowance, but spent the money on a house owned by their spouse.
Host Tony Jones then asked Mr Hockey about a News Corp Australia article saying Mr Hockey had claimed more than $100,000 in allowances relating to a house owned by his wife.
“The figures they had was you claimed up to more than $100,000 in allowances relating to that. Did that go into the mortgage?” Mr Jones asked.
“Well, Tony, I don’t know. I pay rent,” Mr Hockey replied.
“You pay rent to your wife?” Mr Jones asked.
“Is there a problem with that?” the Treasurer shot back.
— ABC Q&A (@QandA) May 25, 2015
Mr Jones then brought the Treasurer back to the original question – whether struggling home owners would find it acceptable that politicians get a taxpayer-funded subsidy for buying a house.
“Hang on, it is not a taxpayer-funded subsidy because we actually have to rent,” Mr Hockey said.
“So politicians that go to Canberra, they live in their electorates, if they go to Canberra, they pay rent or go to a hotel room.
“I don’t know, does the ABC do that when you travel?” Mr Hockey asked Mr Jones.
“They do, but the hotel is not owned by my wife,” Mr Jones replied.
During the hour-long program, Mr Hockey was asked to clarify aspects of his small business tax package, and about the language used by the government during its recent paid parental leave scheme announcement.
The Treasurer agreed it was wrong for the government to use terms such as “rort” and “double dip” when referring to new mothers using the former scheme.
“Yes, I totally accept that. No problems. I accept that,” Mr Hockey said.
He also agreed to lobby the states and territories to make sanitary products exempt from the Goods and Services Tax.
University student Subeta Vimalarajah started an online petition earlier this month asking the government to stop taxing a “bodily function” and remove the tax on pads and tampons.
“On the other hand, condoms, lubricants, sunscreen and nicotine patches are all tax-free because they are classed as important health goods,” the petition says.
“But isn’t the reproductive health and hygiene of 10 million Australians important too?”
— Regina Blyth (@AstronautReggie) May 25, 2015
The campaign has attracted more than 90,000 signatures and Ms Vimalarajah put her concerns directly to the Treasurer on Monday night.
“Mr Hockey, do you think that sanitary products are an essential health good for half the population?” she asked.
“Do I think sanitary products are essential? I think so, I think so,” the Treasurer replied.
When he was pressed to say whether the GST charge on sanitary products should be removed, he went further.
“It probably should, yes, the answer’s yes,” Mr Hockey told the audience.
The Treasurer said when the GST was negotiated through the Senate by the Howard government, sanitary products were not on the list of exemptions brokered by the Democrats.
Mr Hockey then committed to raise the issue with state treasurers, saying he would need their agreement to grant the exemption.
“Good on you for getting the petition together,” Mr Hockey said.
“I’ll give you this undertaking.
“I’ll raise it with the states at the next meeting of the treasurers in July.”
Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen said the matter deserved serious consideration.
“Why did it take till Mr Hockey was asked a question on live TV for him to acknowledge this was an issue?” he said.
“I understand the concerns with taxing sanitary products – concerns that go back to the introduction of the GST by the Coalition.
“These are in effect health products and aren’t simply a matter of choice for women.”