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Transcript - 23746

Interview with Steve Austin, 612 ABC Brisbane

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: 20/08/2014

Release Type: Transcript

Transcript ID: 23746

Subject(s): Clive Palmer

STEVE AUSTIN:

My guest this morning is Australia’s Prime Minister, Tony Abbott. Prime Minister, thanks for coming in.

PRIME MINISTER:

‘Morning, Steve.

STEVE AUSTIN:

You must talk more than I do. How do you look after your voice?

PRIME MINISTER:

Not very well, and the instant I heard you croaking I started to feel croaky myself!

STEVE AUSTIN:

Don’t blame me!

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no, I'm not blaming you, but look, it is an occupational hazard for people who do a lot of talking and I often find myself pretty croaky in the morning and I will try not to croak away too much to annoy your listeners, Steve.

STEVE AUSTIN:

Clive Palmer – what are you going to do about Clive Palmer and the Palmer United Party senators? Whether you like them or you don't like them, they're a force to be reckoned with. They've been elected by the people of Australia. They may be off-the-wall, but they're there, and unless you're going to go to a double dissolution you're going to have to manage them, negotiate with them and give them something to get through the remaining elements of the Budget you need to get through. What are you going to do with them?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think you actually put it pretty well, Steve. We will treat them with respect; we will talk to them constructively about why we do need to get our Budget measures through the Parliament. We can't go on borrowing a billion dollars every single month just to pay the interest on Labor's debt.

STEVE AUSTIN:

Is that still the case? Are we still borrowing $1 billion a month to pay the Federal Government debt?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh yes, a billion dollars a month, every single month, just to pay the interest on the debt. Without policy change it was going to go up to $3 billion a month within a decade. So, look, we do need to tackle Labor's debt and deficit disaster. Obviously, we do have to get the Senate's support for our measures. It's worth reminding your listeners, Steve, that a lot of the savings in the Budget have already gone through – some $20 billion or so of the Budget savings from the Appropriations Bills and they're through the Parliament. Yes, we're still discussing a number of issues like the mining tax and the repeal of things like the Schoolkids Bonus that was supposed to be funded by the mining tax which is creating a lot of bureaucracy but not raising any money. So…

STEVE AUSTIN:

You promised to get rid of the mining tax but it's still there. Is that a broken promise?

PRIME MINISTER:

It's certainly still there because the Labor Party, which loves to talk about breaking promises, is stopping the Government from keeping its promises. Let's never forget, Steve, that every single measure that we are proposing could be passed if the Labor Party would support it.

STEVE AUSTIN:

You talked about Labor's debt and deficit. Wayne Swan launched his book, The Good Fight, this week and addressed the National Press Club a couple of days ago. Have you had a look at all of what's in it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I haven't had a chance to read the book and I hope you will forgive me, Steve, if I don't promise to read it. Wayne Swan…

STEVE AUSTIN:

Do you give him any credit at all for rescuing Australia during the Global Financial Crisis? Because they say that's why they had to spend so much money, hit the foot on the accelerator, go hard and go early, and they did that.

PRIME MINISTER:

There was an argument for a fiscal stimulus, but there was no argument for the kind of sustained spending spree that Wayne Swan, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard were responsible for. It was too much, too soon essentially, particularly the second stimulus package which the Coalition opposed in the Parliament. Wayne Swan's legacy is $123 billion worth of cumulative deficits, it's $667 billion of projected debt, it's the potential for $25,000 of debt per Australian man, woman and child. I think he is absolutely the worst treasurer in our history.

STEVE AUSTIN:

So you support the first stimulus package but not the second stimulus package?

PRIME MINISTER:

We did think that at the depths of the Global Financial Crisis it was important to stimulate the economy to restore confidence, but certainly, the second stimulus package was unnecessary. It was Labor reverting to socialist type, if you like; it was big spending, big borrowing, big taxing Labor.

STEVE AUSTIN:

And big rescue?

PRIME MINISTER:

It was not necessary. Let's not forget, Steve, that except in Europe and North America, the Global Financial Crisis was of quite short duration. The China boom kept us going – it kept us going through the worst of the GFC. It's one of the reasons why we want to maintain a very strong relationship with China, one of the reasons why what Clive Palmer said the other night was so destructive and, really, it's very hard to understand why someone who wants to be influential in our nation's life would be so simplistic and counter-productive.

STEVE AUSTIN:

My guest is the Prime Minister of Australia, Tony Abbott. Back to Mr Palmer – do you see any similarities between members of the Palmer United Party and some of the elements that were around Pauline Hanson over a decade ago? You were there; I think you were at the forefront of trying to tackle the ideology of ‘Hansonism’. Do you see any similarities today between what people like Jacqui Lambie are saying and Pauline Hanson?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I suppose they were both populist outbreaks on the right of politics, and I think in the end, both pretty counter-productive in our national life. But having said that, I accept, Steve, that the people of Australia elected the Senate that we've got and we are prepared to work constructively with the Senate that we've got. I think that the Palmer Party senators, along with the other crossbench senators, in the end will accept that we do have a debt and deficit disaster to deal with, that we can't go on living beyond our means, that Labor did leave us this terrible legacy and I think they will join us to help deal with it.

STEVE AUSTIN:

Ok, so I'm not quite clear on whether Pauline Hanson similarities exist or not. It sounds like it, but it sounds like you're trying not to call it that so as not to put them offside politically?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there's no doubt about it that quirky newcomers attract an enormous amount of attention and there's a sort of a celebrity factor that eventually attaches itself to some maverick Members of Parliament. But in the end, the job of the government is to do the right and reasonable and prudent things for the benefit of the people of Australia and it's the job of the parliament to work constructively with the government of the day and that's what I hope to do with crossbench senators.

STEVE AUSTIN:

Are you ruling out a double dissolution if you can’t get the negotiations that you need with them?

PRIME MINISTER:

You never absolutely rule anything out, but I don’t expect it. We’re going to work as constructively as we can with the Senate that we’ve got. We are going to implement our policies, but we believe we can do it by working constructively with the Senate there is.

STEVE AUSTIN:

Do you remember back in June 2012 when Clive was a member of the LNP and he went to Melbourne to meet you and you and he had that toe to toe – I think colourful language was used by you and he at the time…

PRIME MINISTER:

I think it was more Clive who was responsible for the colourful language!

STEVE AUSTIN:

Then, he was inside the tent, not outside the tent. Do you regret that parting of the ways back in June 2012, when you had that argument?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the position that I had was a reasonable one. I thought the position that he had was an unreasonable one and…

STEVE AUSTIN:

He was complaining about lobbyists holding office positions in the Liberal Party at the time.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, that was how he put it, and were we in government, my position would have been different. You might remember, Steve, that as soon as we did get in Government I said that you could either be a lobbyist or a powerbroker, but you couldn’t be both and…

STEVE AUSTIN:

Eventually you did what he wanted; you did what Clive Palmer asked for.

PRIME MINISTER:

But what was happening then had elements of a personal vendetta by some people in the Queensland Party against other people in the Queensland Party and I wasn’t going to be part of that.

STEVE AUSTIN:

My guest is the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott. This is 612 ABC Brisbane.

Do we still have a Budget emergency if we’re paying $1 billion a month to pay off the government debt? Do we still have a Budget emergency? I’m using your words.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, when the fire brigade arrives to put out the fire, the situation is obviously different than if the fire is just raging out of control – and the fire brigade is here. We are the fire brigade. The Budget debt and deficit disaster that Labor left us is the fire, and we’re in the process of putting it out.

STEVE AUSTIN:

It’s a nice metaphor, but it doesn’t really address my question, does it? Do we still have a Budget emergency?

PRIME MINISTER:

If we don’t get the Budget back under control and do it reasonably quickly, we will be setting ourselves up to fail and that’s the last thing I want to do, Steve. I do not want our country to start ebbing out of the top countries of the world, of the strong economies of the world, and that inevitably is our fate if we lack the will and the capacity to address the Budget problems – the Budget disaster – that Labor left us.

STEVE AUSTIN:

The latest Reserve Bank minutes reveal that they say that the future of the economy, or the outlook for the economy of Australia, is uncertain. Now, what are you going to do to bring about certainty?

PRIME MINISTER:

We can’t change the world economy. What we can do is to try to ensure that here in Australia we’re doing the right thing, not the wrong thing – and we can. To give us some credit for our weight in the world, we can actually lead by example and one of the things about the G20 which will be held here – the G20 leaders meeting that will be held here in Brisbane in a couple of months’ time – is that it will showcase Australia’s economic policies, it will promote the importance of private sector-led economic growth, we will want to boost freer trade, reduce regulation and so on. If these policies are more generally adopted around the world, I think the economic outlook will change from uncertain to positive. 

STEVE AUSTIN:

My guest is Australia’s Prime Minister, Tony Abbott.

Just on the G20, there’s been a couple of unusual events here in Brisbane. We’ve had a number of uncovering or discoveries of explosive devices in houses and places at Ipswich a while ago, Pullenvale recently and a minor one at The Gap. I mean, you’re in the security committee of Cabinet. Is there any concern about these explosive devices being found in Brisbane at a national level in the lead up to the G20?

PRIME MINISTER:

Steve, obviously, this is going to be a very major international event and it’s going to be important that it goes off without a hitch and the worst possible hitch would be some kind of security incident at the G20. So, you can be confident that the security at this event will be as unobtrusive as it can be, but as effective as it need to be, and good on the Queensland Police for tracking down this stuff and dealing with it.

STEVE AUSTIN:

There’s no concerns that… the one at Pullenvale, which is where the worrying one seemed to happen, the chap apparently – allegedly had maps of Sydney according to some of the leaks, but there’s no concerns that any of these have a link to the G20 itself?

PRIME MINISTER:

Not that I’ve been advised. There are all sorts of people who do all sorts of weird and at times pretty dangerous things, but I haven’t been advised of any potential terrorist threat in respect of this particular issue.

STEVE AUSTIN:

Ok. Senator Mathias Cormann, the Finance Minister, was at the Sydney Institute saying Australia needs to get real about its Budget and now our scenario we’re facing. Your man who delivers that is Treasurer, Joe Hockey. What’s wrong with Joe?

PRIME MINISTER:

Nothing.

STEVE AUSTIN:

He doesn’t seem himself; he doesn’t seem on top of his game at the moment.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no.

STEVE AUSTIN:

What’s wrong with him?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I think that’s a little unfair, if I may say so, Steve. Sure, he didn’t express himself as felicitously as he may have last week and, to his credit, he manned up, he fronted up, he fessed up and he admitted that he’d got it wrong and he apologised. So, we all occasionally in this business, Steve, whether you’re broadcasting or whether you’re being interviewed, we all occasionally say things that on reflection could have been better said, and that’s all.

I deal with Joe almost every day. Some days we sit down together in meetings literally for hours. He’s doing a terrific job – he really is. Not everyone agrees with this Budget, but it is a Budget that expresses the need for economic reform as well as the need for saving, the need to build our country as well as the need to live within our means, the need to play to our strengths as well as cut our cloth to suit our fiscal circumstances and Joe is entitled to take quiet pride in what’s been achieved so far.

STEVE AUSTIN:

The Federal Government’s Budget is not the same though as the Australian economy…

PRIME MINISTER:

True.

STEVE AUSTIN:

… you know, the real economy, and at least in Queensland here, people are very worried about it. You know, they ask, “What’s in it for me?” and they’re worried about their job. You’ve seen massive cutbacks in some of the southern states and loss of businesses and more. It’s the actual worry about their employment future that seems to really animate my listeners. Can you give them any indication as to when the unemployment issue will settle down? They’re looking for security of their future…

PRIME MINISTER:

Of course.

STEVE AUSTIN:

... because if they don’t feel secure in their jobs, they’re worried about paying off their house, schooling their kids and all that sort of stuff.

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, Steve, you’re absolutely right. What the average Australian worries about is, “Am I going to have enough money to pay my bills this month?” and, “Is my job secure?” One of the reasons why we were so desperate to get rid of the carbon tax is because that was an unnecessary hit on people’s cost of living and getting rid of it should make the average household $550 a year better off. The other thing we want to do is to boost our general economic circumstances, because the best way to ensure that people’s jobs are safe, and if for whatever reason they lose one job there’s another job to go, is to create a strong economy.

Getting the Budget under control, it’s not just an obsession with government bookkeeping, it is part of our desire to build a strong economy, because if your budget is out of control, the government borrows more than it otherwise would need to, so interest rates are higher than they would otherwise be, and inevitably, taxes have to go up to bridge the gap between revenue and spending. So, if we want to boost people’s job security, if we want to boost people’s standard of living, getting the Budget under control is at the heart of that.

STEVE AUSTIN:

One of the points that Wayne Swan made a couple of days ago was that once upon a time conservative governments would talk reasonably with unions and would come up with agreed outcomes in the national interest and it does appear to be that your Government has difficulty doing that. Did you hear his criticism of that break, if you like, that consensus break between whichever government is in power talking with unions?

PRIME MINISTER:

I accept that unions have a place in our society; of course they do. When I was a journalist I was a member of the Australian Journalists Association and I stayed a member of the AJA, Steve, for quite some time after leaving journalism because, personally, I’ve got absolutely nothing against unions. I do think that a lot of unions have been more interested in their institutional standing than they have been in the real welfare of their members. I can remember, when I was a journalist, wanting to trade off some conditions for some pay and I was told by my editor that if there was the slightest suggestion of that there’d be an immediate strike. This is the kind of wrongheadedness which I think unions have been guilty of over the years and one of the reasons why their membership has consistently declined over the last 30 or 40 years.

STEVE AUSTIN:

Just a quick one, I’m interested to know at a state level here, is the Federal Government going to continue to offer tax incentives to the state to sell off public infrastructure in return for grants from the Federal Government?

PRIME MINISTER:

The short answer is that’s exactly what we want to do, Steve. The Asset Recycling Fund – which so far hasn’t got through the Senate, but it’s one of the many subjects that are up for discussion with the crossbench – the Asset Recycling Fund is designed to reward the states for privatising some assets to invest in new infrastructure. I think this is a very sensible thing to do, because the privatisation process itself usually means that assets are more efficiently managed and it unlocks capital from one purpose to invest in what are currently our most urgent priorities, like the better roads. You only have to listen to these traffic reports, Steve, to see how Brisbane needs better roads, and I’m looking forward to working with the Campbell Newman government to make that happen.

STEVE AUSTIN:

Have they told you want to sell in return for those tax incentives in Queensland?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look, I’m not going to, kind of, verbal the Queensland government and I’m not going to say anything about what the Queensland government may or not may not be thinking about. We’re just saying, we, at the Federal level, support the idea of privatising assets, if that’s your choice – we support the idea of privatising assets, if that’s your choice, to reinvest the proceeds in economic infrastructure and that’s why we’re making this extra money available to them.

STEVE AUSTIN:

Where is the search for Malaysian Airlines MH370 at? There are two families that I’m aware of that had relatives – close family members – on that plane here in Queensland and they’re in this terrible limbo land…

PRIME MINISTER:

Of course.

STEVE AUSTIN:

… where they’ve seen the more recent Ukrainian incident, but their family members, they’ve got no sort of end to it.

PRIME MINISTER:

No closure. No, it’s terrible.

STEVE AUSTIN:

Where is the search for 370 at?

PRIME MINISTER:

Ok. Well as you know, we did the best we could with the equipment available and when that was unable to locate the aircraft we went to the market to engage the best possible underwater search experts and they are now going to search the entire probable impact zone which is, from memory, something like 60,000 square kilometres of the ocean floor off the coast of Western Australia. My understanding is that they’re going to start in the next month or so, that the search could take up to a year. If the plane is down there – and the best expert advice is that it did go into the water somewhere in this arc off the coast of Western Australia – if the plane is down there, there is a reasonable chance that we’ll find it because we are using the best possible technology. We’re determined, Steve, we’re determined to do the right thing by the Australian families who lost their loved ones in this plane, we’re determined to do the right thing by all of the bereaved families and we’ve got a long way to go before we’re going to give this one up.

STEVE AUSTIN:

A couple of stories out of AM this morning caught my ear. First of all, ISIS, or ISIL, or whatever you call it has now released a video showing the beheading of an American journalist apparently. You haven’t ruled out military action in Iraq. How far is Australia prepared to go in retackling what’s happening there?

PRIME MINISTER:

We will do what we reasonably can with our partners and allies to prevent a humanitarian disaster. I think the Australian people would expect us to do what we can to prevent a humanitarian disaster. What President Obama warned about a week or so back was a potential genocide and the idea that we should sit on the sidelines while a potential genocide unfolds is just wrong. So, we’re not going to get dragged into a new Iraqi war, no one is talking about putting combat forces on the ground, but if it is possible to help, Australia will certainly talk to our friends and partners about what help might be given.

STEVE AUSTIN:

This doesn’t seem to get the international coverage that it deserves, but the Middle East is the birthplace of Christianity and there were nearly one million Christians in Iraq.

PRIME MINISTER:

At least.

STEVE AUSTIN:

There are now somewhere between 230,000 to 130,000 left; many of them fled to Syria, the poor things. But the rest of them have been killed and I know there’s a lot of religious organisations that have been sending out photos of them beheading children for goodness’ sake. The Catholic Church in particular [inaudible] has been screaming about this.  Now, it looks like the genocide on Christian Middle East people in Iraq has already occurred. David Cameron has said almost nothing, Barack Obama has said almost nothing, you’ve said almost nothing. I know that everyone’s talking about other elements, but the people who have been the big victims of the instability in Iraq have been Chaldean Christians and they have been victims of genocide. Why hasn’t anyone said anything about these people?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I don’t think, Steve, it’s entirely fair to say that no one has said or done anything. President Obama, to his credit, has launched air strikes against the ISIL advance, in part, to protect the people who are helpless on Mount Sinjar against the murderous rage of this ISIL movement. He’s launched airstrikes to assist the Kurds to protect their territory from the ISIL advance. Australia was part of the humanitarian airlift at Mount Sinjar and it is greatly to the credit and the professionalism of our armed forces that within four days of making the decision we had joined that airlift and Australia has more capacity than people think to be of assistance, even in distant parts of the world. So look, we will do what we can to help and as President Obama said, no one is going to stand idly by and watch genocide.

The other point that I should make is that because we have stopped the bots, we are now in a better position – at least we are stopping the boats – we are now in a better position to offer refugee and humanitarian places to people who have been displaced by this conflict. Scott Morrison on the weekend announced that 2,200 Iraqis and 2,200 Syrians ought to be able to take advantage of our refugee and humanitarian immigration intake.

STEVE AUSTIN:

Just let me ask you about that. On Manus Island, you know, charges have been laid against the people alleged to have killed Reza Berati. He was an Iraqi Kurd. Does what’s happening in Iraq mean that asylum seekers from there won’t now be sent back to Iraq?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, if people are found to be refugees they aren’t sent back. So, the same rules as have applied in the past will continue to apply in the future. What I don’t want to do is encourage people to take to the sea in leaky boats, because you may well survive conflicts in the Middle East, but jump in a leaky boat and try to get to Australia and you may not survive that. So, let’s not say or do anything, Steve, that might encourage this evil trade to start up again.

STEVE AUSTIN:

I accept the argument about people smugglers, but don’t we have a moral responsibility, since we were involved in the Coalition of the Willing in Iraq in 2003, don’t we therefore have a moral responsibility to take the victims of that displacement in that war, like Iraqi Kurds, when they apply?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, we can’t take all of them, but we can certainly take some of them, and thanks to the announcement that Scott Morrison made, we will.

STEVE AUSTIN:

We keep hearing rumours about you’re doing a deal for resettlement with Cambodia. Are we any closer to that? When will that happen?

PRIME MINISTER:

We’ve been talking to a range of our regional partners about all sorts of measures to tackle people smuggling, and plainly, potential resettlement is one of the subjects that we’ve discussed. When there’s something to say, we’ll say it, Steve, but at the moment all we can say is that discussions are continuing and we want to ensure that we do the right thing by everyone, including, dare I say it, people who come or seek to come illegally to Australia by boat. But what we aren’t going to do is offer the prospect of permanent residency to people who come through the back door rather than through the front door.

STEVE AUSTIN:

Prime Minister, thanks for coming in.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks so much, Steve.

[ends]

Transcript - 23746