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Transcript - 23508

Doorstop Interview, Parliament House

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: 20/05/2014

Release Type: Transcript

Transcript ID: 23508

Subject(s): Wallace Brown Award

PRIME MINISTER:

It was good to have the chance to present the Wallace Brown Award for this year. I want to congratulate Jonathan Swan for winning the award. There is a lot of talent in the press gallery and it's important to acknowledge it and I wish Jonathan all the best in his future journalism.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, was John Howard wrong in 1998 when he planned to impose the GST on fresh food?

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm just not going to speculate on the GST. The GST is a tax which belongs to the states and obviously it's perfectly within the bounds of possibility for the states to want to discuss the GST as part of the federation white paper process. But as far as concerned, I want taxes to be lower, simpler and fairer. Just at the moment, I am absolutely determined to do what is right and necessary to get Australia's budgetary situation under control and to fix Labor's debt and deficit disaster. Obviously, down the track we have to fix the federation as well. But my priority at the moment is fixing Labor's debt and deficit disaster. The Coalition did not create this problem, but we were elected to take responsibility for fixing it.

QUESTION:

Just on my specific question, Prime Minister, you were around in 1998, you're familiar with the package that John Howard put to voters. What was your opinion then? I'm not asking you to speculate. What was your opinion then on including GST on fresh food?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, look, I was part of a government, the government had a position, the position of the government was ultimately subject to negotiation in the Senate and the result was accepted by the government and it's been accepted by the Coalition ever since.

QUESTION:

The audit commission on superannuation they recommended you lift the preservation age to keep it within five years of the pension age as the pension age rises. Is that where you are going as Joe Hockey hinted last night?

PRIME MINISTER:

We're simply keeping our commitments when it comes to superannuation. We went into the election saying that apart from a couple of very small already-announced changes, we weren't proposing to make any changes to superannuation in this term of Parliament. We think that there have been lots and lots of changes to superannuation over the years – some which we were enthusiastic about, some which we were unenthusiastic about. A period of stability in respect of superannuation is right and proper and there won't be any changes in this term of Parliament.

Jonathan, you should get the question as the awardee for the day.

QUESTION:

Do you regret anything about the way you campaigned, leading up to the election, given that now we've seen polling that shows that people think a lot of promises have been broken?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I obviously can read the polls – like all of you can – and I obviously read the commentators and I listen to them and I talk to people. I want to make this fundamental point. Politicians should not enter the Parliament to be popular, they should enter the Parliament to do the right thing by our country and I accept that the Government has taken a hit – I accept that the Government has taken a hit – but we have taken a hit because it was necessary for our country. It was necessary that we bring down a very firm Budget to protect the long-term future of our country and if that means some short-term damage for us, so be it, because the country's welfare is more important than the short-term welfare of politicians.

QUESTION:

Do you accept though, Mr Abbott, that you've also breached your word to the people?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't accept that there's been any breach of faith. I think we've fundamentally kept faith with the Australian people because as many of you were sick of hearing me say during the election; we would stop the boats, we would scrap the carbon tax, we would build the roads of the 21st century and we'd get the Budget back under control. Now sure, on some occasions the order changed but getting the Budget back under control was very much a central, central commitment. We spent most of the last three years, in fact most of the last six years, talking about Labor's debt and deficit disaster; talking about the fact that they were spending like drunken sailors – it was simply unsustainable.

Now, we've taken the tough but necessary steps to bring the Budget back under control so that we can sustainably deliver the strong social services net that we all want as Australians.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, on those elemental promises, those four elemental promises, as you described them yesterday or elemental commitments, what should Australian voters think about your division two promises – all the ones that aren't your elemental promises – are they not worth keeping?

PRIME MINISTER:

I absolutely accept that we have brought in a deficit levy on taxpayers earning over $180,000 a year – that's about 3 per cent of taxpayers. I absolutely accept that we've revived fuel excise indexation that was brought in by the Labor government back in the 1990s and suspended by the Howard Government – I accept that. I believe it's absolutely necessary to ensure that the Budget is not just fiscally responsible but fair as well.

QUESTION:

If the Federal Government takes away growth funding which states agreed was necessary to run hospitals, to run schools, isn't it up to the Federal Government to lead discussion about what taxes will fill that gap rather than passing that ball to the states and saying, you know, you figure it out, you make the case?

PRIME MINISTER:

Again, Lenore, let's look at the facts. We promised before the election that we would maintain the Rudd/Gillard promises for four years but we wouldn't maintain them for what were then years 5 and 6 and year 5 is now year 4 and that's why funding continues to increase but it increases at a slower rate. Now, take hospitals, we're increasing hospital funding 9 per cent a year for the first three years and then it's going to go up 6 per cent in year 4. In anyone's language, that is a massive boost to funding. The only difference between us and the former Labor government is that ours is going to be sustainable for the longer term but theirs were pie in the sky promises.

QUESTION:

The cost of running hospitals by all the analysis that has been done goes up by more than that. It leaves a funding shortfall and you're saying to the states you make the case for a new tax to fill that, that's your job, it's not our job as the Federal Government to lead that debate. Why won't you lead the debate?

PRIME MINISTER:

It is the job of the states and the territories to run public hospitals, as I often used to observe when I was the Health Minister. Sure, the Commonwealth put in, in those days, I think about 45 per cent of the overall funding for public hospitals but while we had 45 per cent of the funding responsibility we had zero per cent for the actual administrative authority over these hospitals and it is up to the states to run public hospitals and I'm more than happy to keep talking to them about what might be needed to get our federation right, to fix the federation, and that's what that federation white paper process is all about. But I finish on this note, Lenore, the funding changes that we're talking about here don't happen for more than three years. So, there's plenty of time to get all of this stuff squared away.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, you say that one of your four elemental promises is to fix the Budget, yet both the current and future Senate have indicated that most of your major Budget initiatives are not going to pass. What talks and what processes are you going through to convince the Senate to actually agree with your fix, otherwise it won’t happen?

PRIME MINISTER:

Obviously, once the legislation is prepared and it's ready to go before the Parliament, I'll have discussions with all of the various participants in the parliamentary drama; the Labor Party, the Greens, the independents, the minor parties.

I do want to make this point, though. Labor were vandals in government and it looks like they want to continue to be vandals in opposition, as was clear on the front page of one of our papers this morning. If these necessary measures don't pass the Senate, our AAA credit rating is at risk and if we lose our AAA credit rating we pay higher rates of interest on our debt and that means it's even more than a billion dollars a month, every single month, just to pay the interest on the borrowings.

So, Labor are being fiscal vandals here. Labor is putting our AAA credit rating at risk. We have a plan to tackle Labor's debt and deficit disaster. It is the only plan and until such time as Labor comes up with a plan of its own, they are nothing but fiscal vandals.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, how far away is a refugee resettlement deal with Cambodia and in opposition you expressed concerns about Malaysia's human rights record when the previous Labor government was putting up a Malaysia people-swap solution. What makes you so certain that Cambodia's human rights records is conducive to resettling refugees?

PRIME MINISTER:

We are continuing to talk to all of our regional partners to tackle the problem of people smuggling and we're very pleased that the problem is somewhat reduced since the election because so far this year there has not been a single successful people smuggling venture to Australia. This is an extraordinary achievement, because not only does it mean that there are no boats, it means that there are no deaths and that, in the end, is why we had to stop the boats – to stop the terrible drownings at sea.

So, we are continuing to talk to all of our regional partners, including Cambodia, and I’m hopeful that we will have more to say on this subject soon. On the subject of Malaysia, look, our problem with Malaysia was they hadn't signed the UN convention and we thought it was important that there had been adherence to that convention by any country that people were sent to, but those circumstances were radically different. The last thing I want to do is to be critical of Malaysia. I wasn’t critical of Malaysia at the time. I am not going to be critical of Malaysia now because we are working very closely Malaysia on a whole range of matters but particularly on the search for ill-fated flight MH370.

[ends]

Transcript - 23508