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Transcript - 23249

Interview with Neil Mitchell, Radio 3AW, Melbourne

Photo of Abbott, Tony

Abbott, Tony

Period of Service: 18/09/2013 to 15/09/2015

More information about Abbott, Tony on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 14/02/2014

Release Type: Transcript

Transcript ID: 23249

Subject(s): Employment figures

NEIL MITCHELL:

Mr Abbott, good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

`Morning, Neil. It’s lovely to be with you.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Thank you for your time.

The jobless figures are bad. The unemployment figures are bad. Are they going to get worse?

PRIME MINISTER:

Our job is to get the fundamentals right and that means getting taxes down, getting red tape down and getting productivity up. Now, if we’re allowed to get on with our job, I believe that things will get better and they’ll get better quite quickly, but I can’t guarantee that from month to month things won’t bounce around and let’s never forget, Neil, that the Labor government in its last update just before the election, predicted that under the former government’s policies, unemployment would get to six-and-a-quarter per cent early this year.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So these figures aren’t your fault?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, obviously I take responsibility for putting the right policies in place to bring them down, but unemployment is a lagging indicator and the figures today reflect economic conditions that were developing in the latter half of last year.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Is the union movement, are the unions holding back job creation?

PRIME MINISTER:

What we need is an economy, Neil, where businesses feel that they’ve got the freedom to invest, to employ, to create and certainly in some businesses you’ve got quite restrictive enterprise bargaining agreements and the last thing I want to do is to see workers lose pay and conditions. I hate the idea of workers losing pay; never want to see that happen, I want to see pay increase, but if we want to be the best paid workers in the world, we do have to be the most productive workers in the world.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So are they holding back job creation with some of these awards?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Neil, look, if you look at Toyota, for instance, you had a situation just a short while back where the company wanted to put some revised arrangements to the workforce and they couldn’t even do that because the union officials went to the Commission under the former government’s laws and the Commission decided that it couldn’t even be put to a vote. Now, if you’ve got a situation where the workforce aren’t even allowed to vote on things that might save their jobs, that’s most unfortunate.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Yeah, but Toyota’s saying that that’s not the reason they’re pulling out.

PRIME MINISTER:

That’s correct, and I’m not saying that this is the reason why they’re pulling out, but, plainly, it doesn’t help.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Are penalty rates still part of the issue here? I know there’s a review, but do you think penalty rates need to be seriously reviewed?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, again, that’s a matter for the Commission, as it should be, Neil, but one of the real problems we’ve got at the moment is that if you want to keep your café or restaurant open on a Sunday or on a public holiday, it’s very expensive. I don’t know what things were like last Easter in Melbourne, but last Easter in Sydney, it was very hard to get a cup of coffee outside well known tourist destinations and I think that’s a pity.

Now, I don’t say there’s a sweeping legislative solution to this. I think it is a matter for the Commission, it is a matter for individual workplaces, individual workers and their employers, but we want to be a modern, dynamic, flexible economy because that’s going to create the most wealth and the most jobs.

NEIL MITCHELL:

You have said in the past that the sort of the concept of the weekend no longer exists. Do you still believe that?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think everyone needs a bit of work/life balance – not that we all get it – but I think everyone needs it, but whether people take time off on a Sunday, whether people take time off on a Monday or a Tuesday, that’s very much an individual choice.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Prime Minister, you told the Party Room that they should get ready for more economic shocks. What are they?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m not quite sure that that’s exactly what I said. I mean, I always like to talk about the good news as well as the bad news and the good news is that we are a very, very creative people and we are a very fundamentally strong economy, but obviously there are some businesses that are under pressure – some high profile businesses that are under pressure – but one bit of good news yesterday was that SPC Ardmona, thanks to a very profitable parent company, Coca-Cola, is now going to be continuing and I think that’s really good news.

NEIL MITCHELL:

And thanks to $22 million from the state government. Do you think that was wrong for the state government to do that because you’d rejected the same thing?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the company originally said they wanted $50 million – they wanted $25 million from us and they wanted $25 million from the state government – and, plainly, they didn’t need $50 million and the point I kept making was that when you’ve got a parent company that made $215 million in after-tax profit in just the last six months, why the Commonwealth should borrow $25 million on the taxpayer to hand it over didn’t seem too smart.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Prime Minister, the Federal Government’s putting $60 million into an assistance package for the displaced Holden workers. Given Toyota’s announcement this week, do you need to increase that package?

PRIME MINISTER:

As I think most people know, I had some talks with Denis Napthine on Wednesday afternoon and we are going to work very closely with the Victorian Government to ensure that Victorians can face the future with confidence. Now, there are a whole range of different things that I discussed with the Premier. The most prospective things, in the short-term, are some needed infrastructure works that could get going within a matter of weeks and that’s what I’m looking at. Yes, we’ve got this $60 million adjustment package for Holden workers and I suspect that will probably get enhanced given that there’s another business now involved, but we should never forget that the Toyota workers aren’t going to lose their jobs tomorrow, next week, next month or even next year. Toyota will be here until 2017, as will Holden, and it’s the longer term strength of our economy here in Victoria and elsewhere that we’ve got to look at.

NEIL MITCHELL:

It’s reported today that you’ve got $130 billion of assets you’re looking at selling. What would you sell?

PRIME MINISTER:

This was a report, I think, in one of the American newspapers and it was based on a discussion about Australia as a whole and I think the paper was reporting that there are potentially assets of that scale around the country and, as you know, in New South Wales for instance, the ports have been partly privatised, there’s a lot of discussion about selling parts of the power industry in New South Wales – that happened here in Victoria many, many years ago. So, we’re not talking about a whole lot of Commonwealth assets. The only Commonwealth asset which is earmarked for privatisation, Neil, is Medibank Private and I think that’s perfectly reasonable given that we have a highly competitive private health insurance sector and it doesn’t seem to make much sense to lock up many billions of dollars in a government-owned insurer.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Joe Hockey’s quoted in the Fairfax papers today, saying we’ve got to recycle precious capital; it’s not a case of selling the family jewels, we’re not selling assets particularly to reduce debt, we’re selling assets to allow us to put money into other things. So are you saying Medibank is the only one on the list, or are there other things that you could sell?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Neil, we don’t have any plan to sell anything other than Medibank Private. Do I say everything that’s currently in government ownership will stay forever in government ownership? No, I don’t. But we don’t have any plans to sell any Commonwealth assets of substance other than Medibank Private.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Ok. The AMA reports today hospitals are failing to meet targets treating people, but we’ve got $400 million in cuts over three years coming. Will you review those cuts? If the hospitals are not – and you’d know as a former health minister, the problems – if the hospitals are not performing up their level, will you reverse the cuts?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Neil, these are Labor’s cuts. These are the cuts which the former government put in place in December of 2012 and, as you know, these cuts hit Victoria very hard. I think there was something like $107 million ripped out of the 2012/13 financial year and we had beds closing right around Victoria. Now, to some extent those cuts were ameliorated in order to enable the hospitals to plan better for subsequent years. I said at the time I’d like to reverse them, but it was dependent upon the budget situation. I do not think it is realistic at this point in time to reverse them, but this is why, Neil, everything we do has got to be directed towards creating a stronger economy because a stronger economy with more employment will have more tax revenue and that’s when we’ll be in a position to invest more in public hospitals because, you’re right, there wouldn’t be a public hospital in the country that isn’t under budget pressure.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So there were Labor cuts, but you cut further didn’t you?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Alright, where does the buck stop now on health? Kevin Rudd famously said with him. Where does the buck stop with health?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, on public hospitals it is, I suppose in the first instance, the management of public hospitals; in the second instance it’s the state government; and, sometimes, it’s the federal government. I suppose it depends on the particular issue where the particular buck stops.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Ok. Qantas – what’s the deal going to be for Qantas?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, two points, Neil. The first point is that Qantas have been shackled by legislative restrictions that were put in place by the Labor Party back in the 1990s and I think it would be perfectly appropriate to unshackle Qantas. The second point is there’s no free ride on the taxpayer, Neil, and this is why we said no to SPC Ardmona; this is why I said during the election campaign when there was talk of Holden wanting more money, that it’s not the job of the federal government or the prime minister or the would-be prime minister to rush down the street waving a blank cheque at businesses. So, yes, let’s have a level playing field for Qantas. Let’s not have Qantas competing with Virgin and others with one hand tied behind its back. But I do have to say that there is no free ride on the taxpayer for private companies.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Prime Minister, I know you need to get away, so just quickly, the Head of Customs and Border Protection Michael Pezzullo has joined Defence Force and Government apologising to Indonesia for breaching its sovereignty repeatedly. He won’t reveal the mistakes that were made or what’s in the documentation. Will you reveal the detail?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I’ll certainly repeat what Scott Morrison and General Campbell have said. There were a number of occasions a few weeks back when inadvertently and unintentionally our vessels did stray a little over the sea border. Now, it was a serious mistake and we apologised to the Indonesians, I think the Indonesians have accepted our apology, but it’s a serious mistake, it should have never have happened and as far as is humanly possible, we’ll ensure it never happens again.

NEIL MITCHELL:

And are you aware of the reports of SAS soldiers going into Indonesian territory?

PRIME MINISTER:

That report was based on the recollection of someone in a court case claiming that something was done 15 years ago or thereabouts and I found it very implausible, very implausible, and I have no reason to think that it’s true.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I don’t know whether it’s true or not, but another has come forward and said similar things today. But domestic violence with the awful situation here of a young boy bashed by his father, bashed to death. His father then shot dead by police. That man had four arrest warrants against him and a history of domestic violence. How do we draw a line in the sand on domestic violence?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I think the first thing to say, Neil, is that that was an unspeakable tragedy – an absolutely unspeakable tragedy and, well, it was just horrific; horrific beyond words.

As for domestic violence, well, all of us have got to do everything we humanly can as citizens and as officials to work against it. I mean, we’ve got to spread the message that violence against women is never, ever, ever acceptable. If we hear of anything untoward we should take appropriate action and if we’re police or judicial officials, well, we’ve got to act very swiftly on the basis of any credible evidence and I suppose the awful tragedy of life is that sometimes terrible things happen. We’ve got to learn the right lesson and resolve to put them into practice.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But the system failed here and the system is underfunded, that seems to be the agreement of everybody who works in it. Is there anything you can hold out on that?

PRIME MINISTER:

We’re constantly working with the states and territories. We do have a national plan to deal with domestic violence and, look, we’re always asking ourselves the question: what more can usefully be done? Without in anyway minimising the awful thing that happened yesterday, I never would, and without trying to slide out of responsibility, Neil, there are tragedies that happen in life and we need to be as vigilant as we humanly can, as vigilant as we humanly can be, and I am sure that everyone in this field will be galvanised to be even more vigilant as a result of this, but I’m not sure that every tragedy requires a change of policy or every tragedy requires a new programme. What we need to do is ensure that everyone does his or her job as well as we humanly can.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Prime Minister, thank you for your time. Just a very quick one, given your background I would be fascinated by your view on this, and as a former health minister and your beliefs. A chemist up in regional northern Victoria, southern New South Wales, is sending out prescriptions for the contraceptive pill with a little note saying if you are using this for contraception don’t come to us, you can use it for other reasons, and apparently they are allowed to do it although they have lost some of their naming position, but what do you think of that?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think that chemists should act professionally. I think all professionals should act professionally and that certainly would strike me as highly unusual behaviour. I wonder what the various professional bodies in pharmacy would think of it and if anyone has a problem with that, who has received that kind of material from a professional body, well, I think they would have a right to raise it with the various pharmaceutical bodies and say, “what is going on?”

NEIL MITCHELL:

Thank you very much for your time.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you so much, Neil. It’s always a pleasure to talk.

[ends]

Transcript - 23249