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Transcript 17151

Prime Minister Transcript of interview with Neil Mitchell 3AW 26 March 2010

Photo of Rudd, Kevin

Rudd, Kevin

Period of Service: 03/12/2007 to 24/06/2010

More information about Rudd, Kevin on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 26/03/2010

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 17151

MITCHELL: The Prime Minister, Mr Rudd - good morning.

PM: Good morning, Neil. I didn't know you were a first-class rev head.

MITCHELL: Well, I enjoy it. I do enjoy it.

PM: Good on you.

MITCHELL: I think we might be about to lose it, but that's another issue.

PM: It's a big event for Victoria.

MITCHELL: Yeah, do you think we should keep it?

PM: Yeah, I do, actually. I think if you put it across the nation, big events like that and one or two of the others which are done in the other states, they're all part of the global branding for Australia.

MITCHELL: $50 million a year it's gonna, $50 million it'll cost us this year in losses.

PM: Yeah, but, I mean, it's part of global branding. You've got to be part of, look, I don't know what the local politics of it are in Melbourne and whether people like it or loathe it, but all I'm saying is from my point of view it's part of good global branding for the country when you've got things like the Formula One and you've got other major events which are part and parcel of how the world views Australia each year. But look, I'm always reluctant to step in where other people are actually footing the bill.

MITCHELL: So how much will you chip in?

PM: As I said, I'm reluctant to tell people what to do when I'm not footing the bill, so, I think it helps with the branding of our country and Melbourne. It's a great city and this is part of its international profile.

MITCHELL: I agree entirely, but the debate's on.

Now, speaking of debates, population growth figures released today: Australia has grown almost 500,000 in the year; the majority, nearly 300,000 through migration. We're well above world average, about two per cent above the world average. Is this too fast? What is the right figure for Australia?

PM: On the question of speed of population growth, one point is this - we're now growing more slowly than we did between 1970 and 2010. That was a higher rate of population growth than has been projected from 2010 to 2050. That's just the first point.

But the second thing is, look, we've just looked at the figures produced to us by the Treasury through the Intergenerational Report. They say where it's headed to by mid-century. My view is the key thing is, as Mr Abbott has said, that's what's happening. How do you prepare for it in terms of infrastructure, in terms of proper planning for our cities, in terms of schools, in terms of hospitals, and also the workforce needs of our economy.

MITCHELL: But you can change it. I mean, you can change the migration rate, for a start, and we've got, what, 300,000 migrants, net gain of migrants, in the last year. You can reduce that.

PM: Well, on migration, when the Keating Government lost office, I think we were running at about 85,000 a year. When the Howard Government lost office we were running at about 180,000 a year. This is official migration program. Right now, I think it's about the same, I think around about 180,000 -

MITCHELL: - No, 300,000 gain in migrants in the last year.

PM: Well -

MITCHELL: - 297,400.

PM: I'm talking about the official migration program. You might be talking about people who are here on temporary visas, for example, for things like study or temporary work visas or those sorts of things.

MITCHELL: Well, that's true, that's true, but some of those last years. The point is the Bureau of Stats says we've had a gain of migrants of nearly 300,000 last year. What is the right population -

PM: - I'm going through the official stats with you, which actually say that the migration load effectively had about 100,000 added to it each year over the course of the Howard Government. We're about the same in the two years that we've been in office.

But the key thing is this, Neil - to make sure that you're adjusting your migration intake each year based on the needs of the workforce. Last year, for example, the Immigration Minister took a decision to cut several thousand off it, and that was because we were in the middle of a global recession.

MITCHELL: But, okay, what is the right population figure for Australia? I mean, isn't it time, as Kelvin Thomson, one of your own backbenchers, says, we could be heading towards an environmental disaster here. Water, infrastructure, housing - what is the right figure, and how do we establish it?

PM: Well, I've been asked this many times over the last year or so, Neil. I don't have official advice before me as to what is, quote, 'an ideal population figure for Australia'. I've simply taken the information provided to me, as my predecessors have, about where it's headed. And as I've said, it's a slower growth rate for the next 40 years than it has been for the last 40. The key thing is planning - you can either your cities properly, plan your transport properly, plan your infrastructure properly, make sure you've got those things in a row, and also balance it against your long-term national security needs as well.

Kelvin is right to point to the problems about water provision. That, I think, is really important, which is why a whole lot of investments have been made by us in urban water in the last couple of years.

MITCHELL: But do we not need to sit down, as Kelvin Thomson suggests, and look at the figure we need and work towards it. You can change it by changing the migration rate, I repeat. Do we need to look at that? Do you need to look at freezing migration?

PM: Well, on the question of migration, I think we've had bipartisan consensus on this since the Second World War. And, as I said, the immigration rate went up hugely under the previous government, we've kept it about the level in which we inherited it. But I go back to my point, Neil - it's that this needs to be assessed each year on the basis of the needs of the economy. You bring it down in those years where, frankly, we don't need extra people for the workforce, and if there are, however, demands for skills which we can't meet (inaudible) Australia, then you bring it up.

That's why it's a year by year analysis, and that's as it's been over the last several decades that I'm familiar with, of governments of all persuasions. And the bulk of the growth comes from natural fertility.

MITCHELL: Well, no, it doesn't. It doesn't. According to the figures, the growth from natural fertility, the net gain was 154,000. The migration gain was 297,400. Now -

PM: - Well, we can debate those figures. On the question of the fertility impact, on the migration impact, I'm talking about here people who come here as permanent residents. But anyway, we'll come back on that.

But fertility is a big factor, migration's a big factor, but the migration factor we adjust depending on what's needed for the workforce.

MITCHELL: But Prime Minister, we're growing at double the rate of the rest of the world. Is that good?

PM: Can I say that it depends which countries you -

MITCHELL: - No, the world average is one per cent, we're growing at 2.1.

PM: Well, if you go to Japan at present, which is a country whose population has started to shrink, and many of the populations of Europe have either reached static levels or are declining. This creates some problems. One of the problems is -

MITCHELL: - But what about us?

PM: - this. Enough people in the - no, hang on - having enough people in the workforce in order to provide the income necessary to support retirement incomes, and the future of the health system. Getting that balance right is a real challenge, Neil, and that's why we try and do that on a reasoned, annual analysis of what we can sustain, what we need, and adjust it for the future.

I don't think anyone wants to have excessive migration. We don't , and as I've said, we've kept the levels about at those which we inherited from the previous government.

MITCHELL: So are you comfortable of a growth rate of over two per cent while the rest of the world is one per cent?

[PHONE LINE DROPS OUT]

Hello?

Oh no - we've lost him. The line's dropped out. Okay, we'll take a break and we'll get the Prime Minister back on the line, I hope, and come back in a moment.

[INTERVIEW BREAK]

MITCHELL: The Prime Minister is with me. Apologies for that, Prime Minister. The problem was at our end.

PM: I disappeared in the track somewhere, did I?

MITCHELL: Well, I don't know. It's still not all that flash. Anyway, we'll persist. Can I ask about something else? Asylum seekers - we've had a 29 -

PM: - Just to finish on the question of population, by the way, just so that we're aware of this. You asked me legitimately about where population ends up, and I said before governments of both persuasions have pursued that sort of approach. Remember, I think it was on your program, you actually asked Tony Abbott the same question about 36 million and he said something like 'I don't see anything wrong with that' -

[PHONE LINE DROPS OUT]

MITCHELL: Oh no. Hello? It's happened again. The Prime Minister is on a mobile phone, we've got other telephone problems. My apologies for that.

[INTERVIEW BREAK]

MITCHELL: We'll try once more. Prime Minister, I'm sorry about that. Now it's the mobile phones causing problems. I'm sorry, the Prime Minister's with us.

PM: I don't know whether the problems at your end or ours, mate.

MITCHELL: We'll carry it. We'll wear it.

PM: No, no, I really don't know, but there you go.

MITCHELL: Never mind - that sounds a lot better anyway. Can I move on to asylum seekers? 29 per cent increase in asylum seekers to Australia last year. The United States went down five per cent, Canada went down five per cent, the rest of the world was stable. Why are they coming here if it's not a change of government?

PM: Well, can I say that the comments made recently by the UNHCR in the region says that, in fact, I'll just quote the bloke concerned. He said that: "I wouldn't say that what's happening in Australia bucks the trend at all. I'd say it's entirely consistent."

There's been a fair bit of misreporting about this in the last period of time. The UNHCR report says Australia increased by 29 per cent, New Zealand up 36 per cent, countries like Denmark up 59 per cent, Belgium 40 per cent, Finland 47 per cent, Poland 47 per cent. It just varies around the world from year to year, and we're all dealing with the same sort of challenges, which is changing security circumstances in different countries.

MITCHELL: Okay, can we get to the insulation issue because I just want to run through a couple of things quickly. More fires, we've now got 120 house fires around Australia as a result of dodgy insulation. As we head into winter the fire brigade tell me it will get worse. They say there are ticking time bombs in ceilings all around the country. When will you inspect all of them?

PM: What we've said so far, Neil, is that we will inspect as many houses as are necessary. What Minister Combet has said is that for all foil insulation households, he'll have all of those inspected. As for non-foil insulation, he's already agreed to inspection of 150,000, and he'll keep that figure under review. Anyone concerned about it, of course, should get onto Minister Combet through the relevant government information -

MITCHELL: Doesn't work, Prime Minister. We've tried it and they say they've got no idea when they can inspect houses. We've got old ladies, and I've mentioned this to you before, living in houses frightened and you can't offer them any hope.

PM: What we'll do is work through each of these one by one, Neil, in order to make sure -

MITCHELL: - All of them? All 1.1 million?

PM: We'll work through each one of these concerns which are raised by the public one by one because it is important that we ensure that all the inspections are done properly. That means, as I said before, with foil inspections we work through all of those, 150,000 non-foil inspections. Of the sampling done so far we have some 92 per cent of homes coming back with an indication that there are no safety-related concerns, and we'll simply go through this methodically, one by one.

Now, it's going to take time. It's not perfect - I fully accept that -

MITCHELL: These people, in the mean time, are living in fear, Prime Minister.

PM: Yeah, we're going to have to work through each of them one by one. If any one of your listeners is concerned about their circumstances, please make sure that your program provides us with those numbers so we can get them directly to Minister Combet's office.

I understand this is difficult for people. I fully accept that fact, but we intend to be as systematic about this as we can.

MITCHELL: Okay, John Brumby's listed 10 questions on health today. Just one of them jumped out at me - who will negotiate nurses' wages, and how?

PM: One the, someone's told me that Premier Brumby has written me a letter and they also tell me it's on the front page of The Age, but I haven't got it yet.

MITCHELL: Number one - the Rudd plan offers no new money now, so what's in it for Victoria?

PM: Hang on, I'm just saying I haven't got it yet. Someone told me there was a letter there. Now, your first question is about industrial relations, is that right?

MITCHELL: Yep, who will negotiate the nurses' wages and how?

PM: Well, in my discussion with John the other day he asked that question and I said to him quite directly that it would be done under the existing state industrial arrangements and that would apply in every state and territory of the country.

MITCHELL: Will you sign up to Victoria's plan to train 200,000 new doctors and nurses over the next 10 years?

PM: Well, what we're doing, Neil, is because we've got such an undersupply of doctors nationwide, we, for the first time, have provided money, $632 million, to provide for an additional 6,000 GPs and specialists for across the country.

We have further announcements to make in terms of the future needs for nurses, and we are responding to that based on the submissions given to us by the AMA, the Royal College of Surgeons, the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Royal College of Physicians, and so we will work through each of these case by case, but there you go. That's 6,000 we're putting forward.

I think what people want is to deal with the undersupply of doctors and nurses right across the system, and this is one part of it.

MITCHELL: Okay, look, thank you very much for your time. Just very quickly, were you, it would have been your era - were you a fan of Hey Dad? Have you seen what's unfolding on this at the moment?

PM: No, mate, I'm not. Tell me about it.

MITCHELL: No, I thought you might have been, watched Hey Dad when you were younger, the television program. There are now allegations that one of the lead actors in fact had acted inappropriately with one of the child actors. He denies it, but that's the allegation.

PM: No, sorry, I haven't seen those reports.

MITCHELL: Okay. Dean Mighell, on this program, the secretary of the Electrical Trades Union, you said he was untrustworthy. He is threatening to sue and wanting an apology. Will he get it?

PM: I've said before, Neil, that Mr Mighell and I have a long history of disagreements, and I'm sure they'll continue into the future. He hasn't supported the Government's approach to industrial relations. He wanted a different scheme. He believed that ours was too centrist from his point of view. He wanted a more radical approach. We rejected that, and we've rejected other things which Mr Mighell has suggested over the years, and I've got to say, Neil, for the foreseeable future, we're always going to have a big difference.

MITCHELL: But that's fair enough, to have differences, but to call him untrustworthy is something else and he is threatening to sue you.

PM: Well, can I just say, Neil, as I've said, we have vast disagreements and we indicated our position in relation to Mr Mighell way back when I was Leader of the Opposition.

I think it's fair to say that I'm probably not on the top of his pin-up list, nor is Julia Gillard, nor are practically any other members of the Government which I lead - and you know something? That's because we're trying to pursue a fair and balanced industrial relations system and not yield to the most radical of the trade union leaders in the country, and that's who he is.

MITCHELL: So no apology?

PM: Can I just say I've made my position very clear, and will continue to do so.

MITCHELL: Thank you for your time. Apologies for the problems.

PM: Thanks, mate. Bye.

MITCHELL: The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd.

Transcript 17151