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Transcript - 23008

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: 27/09/2013

Release Type: Transcript

Transcript ID: 23008

Subject(s): Euthanasia

Location: Melbourne

NEIL MITCHELL:

Prime Minister Tony Abbott, good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Neil, nice to be with you.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Thank you for coming in. If you want to speak with the Prime Minister, 9690 0693. 13 13 32 in regional Victoria. Prime Minister, Tasmania could be on the verge of introducing voluntary euthanasia. Would you attempt to stop them?

PRIME MINISTER:

Tasmania is entitled to do what Tasmania thinks best. I don’t support euthanasia. You might remember a long time ago Neil, there was a proposal in the ACT for euthanasia and that was overridden by the Commonwealth Parliament…

NEIL MITCHELL:

As indeed it was in the Northern Territory.

PRIME MINISTER:

But the Commonwealth Parliament has no powers over the state, in this respect, to the best of my knowledge.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Would you like to stop it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I’m happy to argue that things like this are best left to the discretion of doctors and patients. There’s no reason why doctors can’t administer pain relief and we know that sometimes if you administer pain relief you do have the, I suppose, the unintended consequence of shortening life but there’s a world of difference between giving pain relief to someone who is dying and actually killing someone who’d otherwise be alive.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well, I’d argue that pain relief is often applied with the intention of speeding death.

PRIME MINISTER:

Quite possibly you’re right Neil and when was the last time any doctor or anyone was prosecuted for something like that? I think the situation that we’ve got at the moment is a perfectly acceptable one. The problem with changing the law here is that it will lead to people who aren’t in imminent danger of death being assisted to die and I think that’s a world of difference between turning off life support systems, between giving people pain relief when they are in any event close to death.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So you don’t approve of what Tasmania may be doing but you can’t stop it.

PRIME MINISTER:

As I said Neil, the state parliament is perfectly entitled to consider these matters, I’m sure that they’ll have a very good debate but in the end, as I understand it, things like this are a question for the state legislatures. Territories are in different positions.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Ok, now you’re heading to Indonesia on Monday. It’s fair to say it seems there will be significant tensions there. The Foreign Minister’s released a transcript of his conversation with Julie Bishop. Surely that’s inappropriate?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well again, I don’t want to buy into an argument with Indonesia officialdom because Australia has a very good relationship with Indonesia.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Does it? It doesn’t look like it by what he said.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I would respectfully disagree with you Neil. We have a strong and close relationship with Indonesia. I want it to be even stronger and closer and more cooperative and more consultative in the weeks and months and years ahead but the last thing I would ever want to do is anything that doesn’t show the fullest possible respect for Indonesia’s sovereignty.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Ok, but here we have a private conversation between two foreign ministers, one of our officials, the Foreign Minister of Australia being released publicly. Surely you can’t approve of that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well again, I’m not in the business of being critical of the Indonesian Government because the Indonesian Government, it’s a strong democratic government which is striving to do the right thing by its citizens. Australia fully, totally respects Indonesia’s sovereignty. We have a strong and close relationship with Indonesia and we want it to be even stronger and closer with Indonesia in the weeks and months ahead.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well, he has warned that cooperation on asylum seekers is at risk because of your policies.

PRIME MINISTER:

We are already at this very moment cooperating closely with the Indonesians and…

NEIL MITCHELL:

But is this at risk now?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I don’t believe that the incoming government will do anything to put that cooperation at risk.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Would you back away from your policy if it risked it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Neil, we have policies which I am sure are very well understood. It’s in everyone’s interests to stop the flow of illegal boats. We will, working closely with Indonesia, stop the flow of illegal boats. That will be good for both of our countries but we will stop it in ways which fully respect Indonesia’s sovereignty and the point I want to make very strongly Neil is I respect and admire Indonesia. Indonesia is a strong democracy which is striving to do the right thing by all its citizens.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well, do you deny that the cooperation is at risk as the Foreign Minister of Indonesia says it is?

PRIME MINISTER:

If Australia did something foolish obviously it could be but the incoming government will not do foolish things. We will do strong and sensible things which build on the good relationship which we already have with Indonesia and the other point I should make Neil is that this is a broad and deep relationship which is going to get broader and deeper over time and the last thing that anyone should want is to have Australia’s relationship with Indonesia defined by this boats issue which I am sure will be but a passing irritant.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So there is a bit of an irritant, a bit of a hiccup here, isn’t there?

PRIME MINISTER:

And that’s one of the many reasons why it is so important to stop the boats because I don’t want what is in so many respects our most important relationship to be needlessly complicated by this.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So what’s the passing irritant?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we’re going to stop the boats. It’s as simple as that.

NEIL MITCHELL:

That’s an irritant to Indonesia, is it?

PRIME MINISTER:

And we’re going to work together with the Indonesians, who we deeply respect, to bring this about.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So what’s the passing irritant? Is Indonesia irritated?

PRIME MINISTER:

Neil, the last thing you would want to do as a patriotic Australian is do anything to needlessly complicate the relationship which Australia has with Indonesia. Now, the point I make is you will never get from me gratuitous commentary about the Indonesian Government and Indonesian officials. I respect them. I admire what they’ve achieved in their country and I am determined to work as closely and as consultatively as I humanly can with Indonesia to, amongst many other things, stop the boats because it is in the interests of both countries that we stop these boats as quickly as possible.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well, your friend Alexander Downer, former Foreign Minister, is a patriotic Australia. He describes what the Indonesian Foreign Minister has said as “pious rhetoric.” What’s your reaction to that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, look Alexander is Alexander and I’m now the Prime Minister of our country and I am charged with building the closest possible relationship with Indonesia for the mutual benefit of our two countries because it is in the interests of both Australia and Indonesia that this flow of boats be stopped as quickly as possible and as President Yudhoyono so well advised Australia a couple of years ago under the former government, we’ve got to take the sugar off the table. We’ve got to take away the product that the people smugglers have had to sell and one of the first things that Scott Morrison did as the incoming Border Protection Minister, yes he put Operation Sovereign Borders into place but he also made it absolutely clear that no one who comes to Australia illegally by boat and is found to be a refugee will get permanent residency. The best they’ll get is a temporary protection visa.

NEIL MITCHELL:

How many have arrived illegally by boat since you became Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

There’s been, I think, a couple of hundred since the swearing-in. The key change since the swearing-in, and there will be further changes over time, but the key change since the swearing-in is that now anyone who gets here illegally by boat is out of the country to Nauru or Manus within 48 hours and they’re never coming back.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So how many boats and a couple of hundred people? How many exactly?

PRIME MINISTER:

I can’t tell you the exact figure but certainly there have been some and as you know Neil, what we’re doing now is that we are having a weekly operational briefing and Scott will be providing all the details along with the Commander of Operation Sovereign Borders.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So those people who’ve arrived since you’ve become Prime Minister have already gone?

PRIME MINISTER:

Within 48 hours, out of the country.

NEIL MITCHELL:

They’ve all gone. Where’ve they gone?

PRIME MINISTER:

To Nauru and to Manus.

NEIL MITCHELL:

That secrecy issue I’d like to come back to in a moment but there’s something else that’s confusing me. Did you appoint yourself Minister for Women?

PRIME MINISTER:

There is a minister assisting me for women. This is a standard procedure. I think that for as long as I can remember there has been a minister assisting the Prime Minister on the status of women.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So, why did you take it on though? I mean, it does look a little spin-based.

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s a standard procedure. John Howard had such a minister, I have such a minister – Senator Michaelia Cash, she’ll do an excellent job.

NEIL MITCHELL:

What’s your first job as Minister for Women then?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look, as you know Neil, one of the signature policies of the Coalition is a fair dinkum paid parental leave scheme. I’m very proud to be leading a party and now a government which is going to give the women of Australia, the women in the workforce in this country a fair dinkum paid parental leave scheme for the first time. If we are serious about giving women a real choice to combine family and career, we need such a scheme.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Do you believe women do suffer discrimination in Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t think women suffer legal discrimination and I don’t think anyone these days sets out to do the wrong thing but it is very difficult for women to combine work and family if they don’t have a fair dinkum paid parental leave scheme and that’s going to change very soon under the Coalition.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Can you guarantee you’re not going to run a government of secrecy? This policy on the boats, and the weekly report on the boats, you didn’t tell us that when you were in opposition. In fact, you were out there trumpeting the figures every day.

PRIME MINISTER:

My recollection Neil and I’m sure your people will come back if I’ve got this wrong but my recollection is that during the campaign or just before the campaign, we announced Operation Sovereign Borders would be put into place, should we win the election and I am pretty confident that part of that announcement was to say, that we would be giving the public updates on boat arrivals from time to time rather than necessarily on an hour by hour basis.

NEIL MITCHELL:

What about the secrecy principle though? If I want to speak to Joe Hockey, he needs your approval. Is that right?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, that’s not correct.

NEIL MITCHELL:

How will it work?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, for three years now, ever since I became the Leader of the Opposition, we have had, if you like, an advisory. If you are doing media, it is always worthwhile to check in with my office to see what issues are running so that the Coalition speaks with a united voice. Now, is this mandatory? Of course not. Is it desirable? Yes. And in the end, this helps you Neil, and it helps the public, because it means different frontbenchers are aware of what’s happening and we can avoid the kind of confusion which sometimes arises.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So they are able to do interviews without approval.

PRIME MINISTER:

Absolutely. Absolutely.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Can somebody tell them? They’ve been studiously unavailable.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, people are obviously allowed but it isn’t mandatory to provide an interview to whomever, whenever. The point I make Neil is that if you’ve got something to say, you should say it. If there’s something that you have to do, you should do it but one of the differences between government and opposition is that oppositions basically have nothing to do except make a noise. Governments have a country to run and one of the reasons why the former government was such a failure was because they never understood the difference between opposition and government.

NEIL MITCHELL:

You’re changing the style aren’t you? I mean, I saw a photograph of you today in a fluorescent vest and that’s the first one I’ve seen in three weeks. You are attempting to change the style of government, aren’t you?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m very conscious of the fact that Neil that the people of Australia voted at the election for a grown up adult government and a grown up adult government is one which understands that you have a job to do. You’ve got to spend at least as much time behind a desk as you are out campaigning. In fact far more time behind a desk or in meetings than you are out campaigning and again, this is something that the Labor Party never grasped and it was one of the reasons why in the end they were such a poor government.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Prime Minister, the East West tunnel in Melbourne – have you seen the business plan?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’ve seen the published business case and I have spoken to people who are deeply familiar. I’ve been briefed by people who are deeply familiar with the full cost benefit analysis and they are confident and I accept their judgement that this is something that makes economic and social sense.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Will you get the full business plan before you sign off on $1.5 billion?

PRIME MINISTER:

I have no reason to think that the short case which has been published is in any way mendacious. I mean we’re talking here about officials who have a lifetime of public service behind them and on the East West Link, I was coming into Melbourne yesterday from Tullamarine. I got stuck for about 20 minutes on Flemington Road. This is the standard experience…

NEIL MITCHELL:

Where on Flemington Road?

PRIME MINISTER:

Just going past the hospitals. If you’re going down Hoddle Street, if you’re in Alexandra Parade, you’re often subjected to very lengthy traffic delays and this is a problem Neil, not just…

NEIL MITCHELL:

Where were you going?

PRIME MINISTER:

I was going from the airport to the city.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well you shouldn’t have gone down Flemington Road.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well tell the Comcar drivers that they need to get better directions.

NEIL MITCHELL:

You should have stayed on the freeway.

PRIME MINISTER:

But the point is that through traffic will benefit enormously from East West Link, but the residence of those inner city suburbs will benefit enormously, because the through traffic will come off their streets into the tunnel and those precincts and communities and neighbourhoods will be returned to the people and they won’t be choking on traffic.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well someone’s going to lose their houses. Some are going to have their quality of life reduced.

PRIME MINISTER:

I accept that there will be a small number of houses that will have to be resumed. I don’t know whether you saw the very interesting article in The Age a couple of days back. I think his name was Richard Cook who was one of the protesters back in the 1970s when the Eastern Freeway was first built and he said look, it’s good that the Freeway did not bulldoze through our suburbs, but it’s bad that all of that traffic is just funnelled into our suburbs with nowhere much to go. That’s why he says the protest then was right. The protest now is wrong and we should get the East West Link built.

NEIL MITCHELL:

We’ll take a break – more from the Prime Minister in a moment.

**

NEIL MITCHELL:

Prime Minister, the housing bubble – it increasingly is being argued that Chinese people are particularly using it as a land bank. I mean one Sydney-based real estate agent said 80 per cent of the properties selling are going to Chinese people. The national bank says one in eight – a significant increase. Is that dangerous to have Chinese investors build sort of – inflating the price of our houses?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I certainly think that it’s important to get more houses built and if there’s a strong market for flats and for houses, that’s a good thing, not a bad thing. Don’t forget Neil that if housing prices go up, sure that makes it harder to get into the market, but it also means that everyone who is in the market has a more valuable asset.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But interest rates can’t stay at this level, people are going to get burnt.

PRIME MINISTER:

I am sure the Reserve Bank is very conscious of the fact that there are a whole range of things that need to be managed here and I would be confident that the Reserve has got its eye on housing prices and will appropriately manage the level of interest rates.

NEIL MITCHELL:

A related area. I know you’re looking at the significant investment visas – that’s the sort of speedy pathway for investments under $5 million. Are you looking at that?

PRIME MINISTER:

This is something as I understand it which the former government looked at and introduced. Whether it’s operating as well as it could, is a moot point. I welcome immigration to this country – we are an immigrant society Neil – always have been, always will be. We particularly welcome people who come to this country to make a strong contribution and the stronger the contribution, the better.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So you’re reviewing it or not?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I’m pleased that we have these visas and I want them to work as well as they possibly can and look, if someone comes to this country with money to invest, that’s a very good thing.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Rachel, go ahead.

CALLER:

Hi, hello Mr Abbott.

PRIME MINISTER:

G’day Rachel.

CALLER:

I’m a stay-at-home mum. Just an ordinary Australian and Mr Abbott I’ve got to say, I’m heartily ashamed by all of our major political parties’ attitudes towards asylum seekers who arrive by boat. I mean we have about 168,000 new permanent resident visas come into the country every year – 25,000 of them people who are a desperate and who arrive by boat and the majority of them I think are desperate.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So what’s your question?

CALLER:

I’m just, it’s not a question. I’m just stating that I’m really ashamed that this is the way that we’ve gone.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Ok, reaction Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Rachel look, this is a democracy and not everyone agrees with the government, not everyone agrees with the opposition and both the government and the opposition do want to stop the boats because while we all support a strong refugee and humanitarian programme, we think that people have got to come the right way, not the wrong way, they’ve got to come in the front door, not the back door and that’s the problem for all of the people who are coming illegally by boat, there are others who are doing the right thing, waiting patiently in camps, right around the world who don’t get a place and I just think that we should show more respect for the people who are doing the right thing, rather than too much tolerance for those who are doing the wrong thing.

NEIL MITCHELL:

A couple of very quick ones if I may Prime Minister. Welfare payments are under review – will you guarantee nobody will be worse off?

PRIME MINISTER:

I want to ensure that every Australian has the opportunity to realise his or her full potential. That’s why I’m so strongly favour of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. We want a welfare system which helps people when they need it – not one which encourages people to be on welfare when they could be in work.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well that hasn’t answered the question. Will you guarantee nobody will be worse off?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I can guarantee that we are not planning any changes, but yes we are always looking to make the system better.

NEIL MITCHELL:

You’re not planning any changes?

PRIME MINISTER:

We are not planning any changes at this time, but I said before the election – happy to say it again Neil. I do want to see a full restoration of work for the dole and I do want to see a situation where people who need the disability pension get the disability pension, but the last thing I want to see is people parked on the disability pension when they could still be making a useful contribution.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Very quickly, because I want to get a Grand Final tip. Have you spoken to Clive Palmer yet?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Clive Palmer and I used to deal with each other when he was a member and supporter of the Liberal Party. Obviously now he’s someone who has got his own political Party. If he gets into the Parliament, I’d expect to have a conversation with him at some stage, but it will be the kind of civil and courteous conversation that I hope to have with all members of Parliament.

NEIL MITCHELL:

And a winner for the Grand Final?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look, I’m tipping Hawthorn.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Thank you very much for coming in.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good on you.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Prime Minister, Tony Abbott.

[ends]

Transcript - 23008