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Transcript - 24193

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: 12/02/2015

Release Type: Transcript

Transcript ID: 24193

Subject(s): Sydney terror raid

NEIL MITCHELL:

Prime Minister, thank you very much for your time.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks, Neil.

NEIL MITCHELL:

This security incident in Sydney yesterday and the allegations, does that say that we are permanently at risk now?

PRIME MINISTER:

This is a very serious situation and what we have got, Neil, is, if you like, a metastasising terror threat. Once upon a time we had these cells – discreet, tightly held – cells that were looking to do complex, major terrorist events. Now, we have got the death cult in the Middle East, basically broadcasting to the whole world, saying to anyone who is a sympathiser grab a knife, a flag, an iPhone and a victim and carry out a terror attack and that is essentially what seems to have been planned yesterday.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Does that mean that every Australian walking down every street is theoretically at risk?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I don’t want to scare people but I do want to say that this is a very different terror threat to that that we were becoming more familiar with years ago. This is a very different environment and the death cult in the Middle East is basically saying to its sympathisers all around the world; act, act now, act against anyone.

NEIL MITCHELL:

You say it will get worse, what do you mean?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the death cult has not been degraded and destroyed they have certainly been checked in their advance and I am pleased that Australia has been part of checking their advance in the Middle East but they are still there. They are consolidating their hold over Eastern Syria and Northern Iraq, they are still broadcasting to the world, their broadcasts are of a very high quality and as long as they are there, as long as they appear to be successful, as long as this caliphate is in existence there will still be this inspiration for unstable people who want to make heroes of themselves by their own lights.

NEIL MITCHELL:

You have had a security briefing this morning, what are you prepared to tell us?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, plainly, this was an ISIL or Daesh death cult inspired potential attack. They were, obviously, wanting to be ‘the first soldiers of Allah’ as they called themselves here in Australia.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Both men were unknown to authorities. One came in on a fake passport – what does that say about our monitoring procedures?

PRIME MINISTER:

What it says is that we need to be much more conscious of our border security. What it says is that we need to be much more careful about giving people the benefit of the doubt. If you look at the Martin Place murderer, he had been given the benefit of the doubt at every stage by our system. I suspect that much the same will turn out to be the case with these people.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So, we have to be tougher?

PRIME MINISTER:

We need to ask ourselves the question, what useful purpose does it serve our country to have these people here.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So, what do we do? How do we stop it?

PRIME MINISTER:

We maintain our vigilance and we do not give people permanent residency or Australian citizenship without being absolutely confident that they are here for the right reasons which are to join our team, to make a contribution, to accept our values, to be part of the big Australian family.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So, in this case, it would seem our system has failed here.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, certainly, they came to this country at a time when there was much less emphasis on border security.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So, are we looking at tougher boarder laws now, from you?

PRIME MINISTER:

We have already toughened up many things. We have boosted funding to our police and security agencies which had been dramatically cut under the former government. We are moving forward quickly with things like biometric screening at airports. We have got legislation that has passed the Parliament, Neil. We have got more legislation coming before the Parliament on data retention and this data retention legislation is absolutely critical because having made the arrest we now need to find out how these people were radicalised, what networks they themselves had. So, at every level we are lifting our game when it comes to national security.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But 50,000 people came by boats between 2008-2013. How many of those will be monitored? How many of those are an issue?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, look, all of those people should be security screened before they have some kind of permanent connection or long lasting connection with Australia but one of the complaints that we made in opposition against the then government was that they were reducing the level of ASIO screening.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Are they? Have they all been security checked?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, that is something that I will be discussing with the experts.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But if they haven’t been, you still want them, even now, security checked?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Neil, we want them out. That is what we want. We want people who come to this country illegally by boat – out.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But in the meantime what do you do?

PRIME MINISTER:

In the meantime we make sure that our community is as safe as it possibly can be.

NEIL MITCHELL:

President Obama spoke today about ISIL and he has indicated there could be a ramping up of action if this continues. As you say they are continuing even though we are making ground – would Australia review its decision on ground troops?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we can’t put ground troops into Iraq without the consent of the Iraqi government. We have about 200 of our Special Forces on an advise and assist mission in Iraq at the moment. They are not boots on the ground as such; they are trainers, they are advisers. That is a commitment that we made because we are absolutely serious about the effort to disrupt, degrade and ultimately destroy this death cult.

NEIL MITCHELL:

We have got evidence, and it’s not hard to get, of Melbourne men promoting ISIS on social media. Have you asked Google and Twitter and these people to do more?

PRIME MINISTER:

Neil, this is a conversation which is happening all the time between our security agencies and these sorts of companies.

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NEIL MITCHELL:

Prime Minister, I may go to other matters. I was talking to the Treasurer yesterday who said, if this Government blinks the country is in trouble. The country, as Peter Costello said, could go broke. Isn’t that serious?

PRIME MINISTER:

We do have a serious long term problem. Our economy is fundamentally sound, we have great fundamental strengths but if we don’t address certain major weaknesses, yes, over time we could be in very serious trouble. Look, it is, if you like, a balancing act. The last thing I want to do, Neil, is talk down our economy and I was pleased that the latest Westpac confidence survey shows an 8 point jump in confidence which is good. So, I don’t want to destroy confidence but on the other hand I do need to alert people to the long term threats that we face and the need to address them. That is why this Government has been prepared to risk seriously unpopularity in the attempt at Budget repair.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So, will there be more cuts in this Budget? Spending cuts.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the point I made at the Press Club was that we are not going to give up on the search for savings but what we are going to do is make government tighten its belt because we appreciate that the public has already had its belt tightened.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Does that mean public service jobs will go?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, there has been a significant downsizing of the Commonwealth public service already. It was a downsizing that began very late in the life of the former government. The former government didn’t tell you about it but we are upfront about it. We are seeking to trim down the Commonwealth public sector.

NEIL MITCHELL:

What about the so-called upper-middle class welfare? The childcare subsidy for people earning, say, over $300,000 getting $7,500 a year in a childcare subsidy. Is that finished? Is the age of entitlement at that level finished?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Neil, as you know, we are preparing a major families package it’s coming out in weeks rather than months. We are preparing it, the focus will be on childcare and I think it will be a good, fair deal for the families of Australia. That puts more money in people’s pockets and also enables more people to participate fully in the economy. So, this won’t just be more government spending. It will be more government investment in a stronger economy for the long term.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Are there any no go zones? Pensioners for example?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Neil, I have been very careful as far as I humanly can to keep faith with the commitments that we made pre- election. Now, we did say, one of the principle commitments that we made was to get the Budget back under control and I freely admit that a couple of pre-election commitments we have not been able to keep. The commitment not to cut the ABC – we haven’t kept for good reasons. The commitment to keep foreign aid growing – we haven’t been able to keep for good reasons. Yes, we have proposed an adjustment to the indexation of pensions but we were careful to propose that for after the next election.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So, is there more pain for pensioners yet?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, there has been, if I may say so, good news for pensioners so far because they have lost the carbon tax but they have kept all the carbon tax compensation. So, we have proposed a change in the future for pensioners, Neil. We haven’t done anything to pensions at this time.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Bottom line – is it a tough Budget? Are people going to hurt?

PRIME MINISTER:

It will be a responsible Budget, Neil.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Will people hurt?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the point I make, Neil, is that it will be a responsible Budget. It will be quite a different Budget this year to last year. Last year what we did was, we sought for savings and at the same time we made important structural reforms. One of the difficulties we had is that when you try to do structural reform in a Budget context there are certain restraints on the amount of confiding there can be in the public. I want all of our decision making processes this year to be as open and as transparent and as collegial as they possibly can be.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Prime Minister, we are running out of time, but the Human Rights Commission wants a Royal Commission into child detention – very critical of the Government and Scott Morrison personally. Do you feel any guilt at all about the way children have been dealt with in detention?

PRIME MINISTER:

None whatsoever, Neil.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But there are ten year olds on suicide watch.

PRIME MINISTER:

Neil, the most compassionate thing you can do is stop the boats. We have stopped the boats.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Three children with depression.

PRIME MINISTER:

Neil, there were almost 2,000 children in detention in the middle of 2013 under the former government’s watch. There were almost 1,400 children in detention at the time of the election. That number is now under 200. Why? Because this Government has stopped the boats. Now, I have a very simple question – where was the Human Rights Commission during the life of the former government when hundreds of people were drowning at sea? Where was the Human Rights Commission when there were almost 2,000 children in detention. Now, frankly, Neil, this is a blatantly partisan, politicised exercise and the Human Rights Commission ought to be ashamed of itself.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Do you want those 200 kids out of detention?

PRIME MINISTER:

Of course, of course, but the best way to ensure, the only way to ensure that we have no children in immigration detention is not to have any boats. Those boats have stopped thanks to the strong but necessary policies of this Government and I reckon that the Human Rights Commission ought to be sending a note of congratulations to Scott Morrison, saying ‘well done mate because your actions have been very good for the human rights and the human flourishing of thousands of people.’

NEIL MITCHELL:

A couple of very quick things; have you given up on saving the two men on death row, the Bali 9?

PRIME MINISTER:

Neil, we are continuing to make very strong representations. We are doing it in what we think is the most effective possible way. I think that megaphone diplomacy is unlikely to help.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Is the $5 co-payment gone or not? Mixed messages.

PRIME MINISTER:

We certainly think that it makes sense for people who can afford to pay to make a contribution towards their health care. That has always been the position of Australian governments, all governments have supported co-payments, differential co-payments, for the Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme. Why should you or I, if we go to the doctor expect to be treated without any charge?

NEIL MITCHELL:

So, is it still alive?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we are talking to the profession. That is the point I want to make. There won’t be any further proposals come from this Government when it comes to Medicare without the broad backing of the profession.

NEIL MITCHELL:

The submarines, have you at any stage discussed the submarine deal with Japanese officials?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I’ve certainly indicated to Prime Minister Abe that we were interested in submarine cooperation, I also indicated the President Hollande of France and Chancellor Merkel of Germany that we are interested in submarine cooperation because we need to get cracking on this Neil. We really do need to get cracking on this and the former Labor Government sat on its hands for six long years Neil – for six long years. The former government sat on its hands putting our defences at risk. Now, you will never find a Coalition Government – certainly a Coalition Government I lead – taking risks with our nation’s defences.

NEIL MITCHELL:

If the Budget’s in such trouble, how can you afford a tax cut for small business?

PRIME MINISTER:

There is a tax cut for small business already factored in to the Budget and we are looking at what more we can do to ensure that small business, which is the absolute engine room of our economy, the best possible generator of jobs, that small business is healthy as it possibly can be.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Small business gets a tax cut; tax rises elsewhere?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, this is a Government which wants lower, simpler, fairer taxes, Neil.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But can we go into the Budget with the promise of no tax rises?

PRIME MINISTER:

In the marrow of our bones, deep in our DNA, is this commitment to lower, simpler, fairer taxes.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Can we go into the Budget with a promise there will be no increased taxes?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Neil, I know that you’d like to get me to speculate weeks and months and years forward and try to give guarantees about this and guarantees about that. This will be a good, responsible Budget; it will be a prudent and frugal Budget, but it will be a Budget which acknowledges that the Australian people are doing it tough.

The point I make is that we are not going to try to rescue the Commonwealth Budget at the expense of the household budget. We did a lot last year and that means that we can do things differently this year.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Prime Minister, just finally to wrap up, has been the worst week of your political life?

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s been a challenging week, Neil.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Worst week?

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s been a testing week, but every week, every week as Prime Minister of this country is essentially a good week, because there is no greater honour that anyone in public life can have than to be the Prime Minister of this extraordinary nation.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Have you worked out which in your ministerial team wanted a spill?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m not into recriminating…

NEIL MITCHELL:

No retribution?

PRIME MINISTER:

…I’m not into retribution. We have been an outstanding team, Neil. We were an outstanding team all the way through Opposition; we’ve done a lot of terrific things in Government. You know, Neil, the only…

NEIL MITCHELL:

But the Australian people have lost trust in you, haven’t they?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I don’t accept that, Neil. The only thing that we have done substantially wrong is failed to get some difficult measures through the Senate. We haven’t wasted billions…

NEIL MITCHELL:

Broken promises.

PRIME MINISTER:

Neil, let me finish…

NEIL MITCHELL:

Broken promises, PPL.

PRIME MINISTER:

This is the promise that you were urging me to break for years!

NEIL MITCHELL:

I know, but…

PRIME MINISTER:

You can hardly blame me for breaking a promise that you wanted me to break. Now, Neil, we haven’t wasted billions, we haven’t put lives at risk, we haven’t damaged key relationships with our important neighbours and friends. Our fault is failing to get legislation through a Senate which most of the time is controlled by our political enemies.

Now, it’s a pity – it’s a great pity, Neil – I wish it wasn’t the case, but really and truly, let’s get a bit of perspective about this.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Despite the polls and all the indications, you say the Australian people still trust you?

PRIME MINISTER:

This is a Government that was elected to get on with the job and that’s what the public want us to do.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Are you going to change your Chief of Staff?

PRIME MINISTER:

Neil, that’s an impertinent question, I don’t ask you about the internal workings of your station.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I’m not the Prime Minister, the Chief of Staff is seen as a significant problem for you.  I speak to your own backbench, they tell me that, some of your ministers tell me that. Will you stand by her?

PRIME MINISTER:

I am a person who stands by my team. Whether it’s my Cabinet colleagues, whether it’s my parliamentary colleagues, whether it’s my staff colleagues, I stand by my team and I take responsibility. I take responsibility because, ultimately, the buck stops with me.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So would you accept her resignation?

PRIME MINISTER:

I take responsibility for what happens in my Government, in my Party, in my office and I am determined to have the best possible Government, the best possible Party, the best possible office, because that’s what the people would ask of me.

NEIL MITCHELL:

And you’ve got the best possible office already?

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s a great office. It was essentially the same office that took us through three long years of Opposition and it has helped to deliver many good things: the carbon tax gone, the mining tax gone, three free trade agreements that former governments, including the Howard Government, wrestled with but couldn’t deliver. This Government is not perfect, Neil. This Government can improve, I can improve, obviously, even you can improve in some respects, Neil – we can all improve – but this is a good Government and my determination is to ensure that it’s a better Government in the weeks and months and years ahead.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Prime Minister, thank you for your time.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you, Neil.

[ends]

Transcript - 24193