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Transcript - 24028

Interview with Leigh Sales, 7.30, ABC Television

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: 04/12/2014

Release Type: Transcript

Transcript ID: 24028

Subject(s): Budget 2014

LEIGH SALES:

Prime Minister, welcome to the programme.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks, Leigh.

LEIGH SALES:

On election night in your victory speech you vowed, “we will be a Government that says what it means and means what it says, a Government of no surprises and no excuses”. Aren't Australians entitled to feel you let them down on that?

PRIME MINISTER:

You have got to remember, Leigh, that a lot has happened in 12 or 14 months and circumstances do change. For instance, at the beginning of the election campaign we were told by the then Government that there would be an $18 billion deficit. It came in at $48 billion so there was a $30 billion Budget black hole that Labor created and it tried to cover up. So people, sure, may feel dismayed, disappointed, occasionally even surprised but I think they also understand that governments have to respond to the circumstances they find themselves in.

LEIGH SALES:

You have held out the Budget there as the changing circumstance. At a press conference in August 2013 a journalist asked you "So the condition of a Budget will not be an excuse for breaking the promises?” and you replied, “Exactly right, we will keep the commitments that we make".

PRIME MINISTER:

And I would say, Leigh, and I know not everyone would agree with me but I would say that we have kept faith with the Australian people because we have fundamentally honoured the core commitments which were to stop the boats, to repeal the carbon tax, to build the roads and to begin the task of Budget repair. I know the task of Budget repair is very difficult because much of it requires legislation and we have, if I may say so, a feral Labor Party and a rather populist Senate crossbench but we are determined to push on because it is absolutely necessary for our country's future, for our children and our grandchildren's future that we don't saddle them with mountains and mountains of debt. How would we like it if our parents saddled us not with assets but with debts? How would we feel if suddenly we were working part-time and we had this massive mortgage to pay – and that's the situation that our country was left in by the former Government.

LEIGH SALES:

The points you raise about delivering the core promises like the carbon tax; it's true that you said you would do those things and you did.  Isn't the problem for you that when you promise you are going to do something and you do it, people have that expectation that you will do it so you don't get credit for it. The problem is that when you do things that you didn't flag you were going to do or you break promises that that is the problem?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think there have been a lot of unjustified cries of broken promise. I think there really have been a lot of unjustified cries.

LEIGH SALES:

The Financial Review newspaper did an analysis where it found that during the first year of power you have delivered on 13 promises, you’re making progress on 11 but broken 14 pre-election pledges?

PRIME MINISTER:

I haven't seen that analysis and I would doubt very much whether I would end up agreeing with it. On the ABC, for instance, plainly I did say the night before the election that there would be no cuts to the ABC but again I say that was when the expectation was of an $18 billion deficit or close to an $18 billion deficit turned out to be a $48 billion deficit.

LEIGH SALES:

I guarantee you that when Wayne Swan and Julia Gillard were saying circumstances were changing, you wouldn't have given them a leave pass on that?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think there is a fundamental difference between, “there will be no carbon tax under a Government I lead” and the situation that this Government is in. I think there is an absolutely fundamental difference. I accept, Leigh, that in the end people will make their own conclusions, they will come to their own judgments about this Government come polling day in 2016. But what I'm determined to do is to keep faith with them and honour the fundamental commitments that we made.

LEIGH SALES:

I don't know if our viewers can hear it, but there are some bells going off, but I will just persist through them.

PRIME MINISTER:

Sure.

LEIGH SALES:

Before the election you never said to people you would make young people wait six months for the dole, that you would cut the indexation of the aged pension, that you would charge people to visit the doctor, that you would increase the HECS debt on student. You say you have kept the faith but can you understand why people would look at that and think – no you haven't.

PRIME MINISTER:

Don't also neglect that we said that there was a Budget emergency, that the most important task of Government was to live within its means, that Labor was spending like a drunken sailor, that this was a cash splash with borrowed money.

LEIGH SALES:

But you didn't flag these things, though?

PRIME MINISTER:

But we flagged a very urgent task of Budget repair, Leigh. Now it's interesting that in the run-up to the Budget, the messages that we were getting back from our constituents and, yes, from Liberal Party polling, was people were frightened that we would squib it. Now, we didn't squib it. The interesting thing is, though, that many of the changes we made such as the changes to pension indexation are not actually taking place until after the next election. So, if anyone thought that there was an element of breach of faith there, we were giving them the chance...

LEIGH SALES:

To get used to it?

PRIME MINISTER:

We were giving them the chance to take their revenge at the ballot box because that's the whole point. The whole point is to keep faith with the public.

LEIGH SALES:

Tony Abbott used to have a reputation for being a straight talker. Some people thought at times that you were too plain spoken. How has that guy turned into somebody who says that a Budget cut is an efficiency dividend and that a levy isn't a tax?

PRIME MINISTER:

At the risk of sounding slippery, and I'm trying to be absolutely candid with you, Leigh, I said it was akin to an efficiency dividend and look, if you prefer to call it a cut, by all means, call it is cut.

LEIGH SALES:

It's what you called it?

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm not going to argue with you.

LEIGH SALES:

You are a person who said you would be a Government who means what you say and say what you mean?

PRIME MINISTER:

And the quantum of cuts, I hate to be argumentative here Leigh, but the quantum of cuts with the ABC it is equivalent, if you like, to the same efficiency dividend that we are asking of all Government Departments.

LEIGH SALES:

I'm not talking about the ABC actually, I was referring to the deficit levy on high income earners that your Government said wasn't a tax?

PRIME MINISTER:

It plainly is a tax. It is plainly a tax. In the aftermath of the Budget, I said, “yeah, look, this is a tax.” Now we did say going into the last election, that there would be a PPL levy, which was a tax. We did say going into the last election that we supported the increase in the Medicare levy to pay for part of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. But, Leigh, we can go through all of this and say well, this is what you said and this is how it changed and all the rest of it. What I'm saying to the Australian public is we have to adjust to the circumstances in which we find ourselves. We did inherit a debt and deficit disaster. We are expected to deal with it...

LEIGH SALES:

Let me ask you about...

PRIME MINISTER:

For our children's sake we have to address this issue of intergenerational theft which the former government was engaged in.

LEIGH SALES:

Let me ask you about the circumstances in which we find ourselves. You have worsening Budget bottom line. About half of the Budget measures haven't got through the Senate and a number of them don't have broad public support. You have an Opposition that has made it clear they don't really want to work with you. What is the solution going forwards?

PRIME MINISTER:

If you are trying to get from point A to point B and one way is blocked, you find another way.

LEIGH SALES:

What is the other way, because that's pretty hard?

PRIME MINISTER:

You don't abandon your objective but you find another way which in all the circumstances will get you to where you need to go. I'm not going to flag potential compromises here because that's going to be a matter for discussion and negotiation with the crossbench and who knows, if the Labor Party comes to its senses, maybe even with the Labor Party.

LEIGH SALES:

There are only five sitting weeks left before the next Budget. Is time getting away from you if it hasn't already?

PRIME MINISTER:

But the task of Budget repair is obviously an ongoing one. Don't underestimate the progress that we have made though, Leigh. There were $10 billion worth of savings associated with the mining tax repeal.

LEIGH SALES:

It's a long way short of what you were aiming for.

PRIME MINISTER:

And there is $28 billion of savings which the Labor Party is currently blocking in the Senate, including $5 billion of savings they committed themselves to before the last election. Yes, there is a big task ahead but we have well and truly embarked upon it and there is a clarity of purpose and vision and a strength of character that we are applying to this task which I regret to say was completely lacking under the former government.

LEIGH SALES:

Are there still some barnacles to carve off and, just plainly speaking, what are those barnacles?

PRIME MINISTER:

Obviously there are important things that we need to do which will need to be negotiated through the court of public opinion. Will need to be negotiated...

LEIGH SALES:

What are they specifically?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well you will see exactly what they are when we make some announcements. Obviously one announcement that was made this week was the announcement that we weren't proceeding with some of the changes to Defence pay. But there will be further things to be announced by this Government. We will be governing right up until Christmas Eve. We aren't going on holidays just because the parliament is getting up tomorrow.

LEIGH SALES:

Is the economist Chris Richardson right when he says the projected surplus for 2017-18 is toast?

PRIME MINISTER:

It was at Budget time I think a $2.7 billion deficit, not a surplus. What I talked about was coming back to broad balance in 2017-18.

LEIGH SALES:

Is that out of reach now?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, it depends upon a range of factors but this Government is deadly serious about getting us back on to a credible path to surplus. Again I say to you, Leigh, we need this to make our economy resilient against the kind of shocks that could come. We were very strong in 2007 when the Howard Government had left us $20 billion surpluses and $50 billion in the bank. We are not nearly as strong now. We are not as well placed to meet possible external shocks and that's why this job is ongoing.

LEIGH SALES:

Just a few quick things to get through. You said Monday in your press conference on Monday "I think we are getting our message across clearly and I think that over time the public will respond more appreciatively than they seem to be now.” That leaves the impression that you think the problem isn’t you or your Budget or your message – it's the public's attitude.

PRIME MINISTER:

The last thing I would do is blame the people. I'm a democrat, Leigh, and in a democracy you depend upon the people.

LEIGH SALES:

Why do you say they are not being appreciative enough?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, no-one likes the bad news that we were living beyond our means. If the bank calls you in and says well, because your income has dropped your credit card limit is reduced, you don't like it very much.

LEIGH SALES:

You said yourself...

PRIME MINISTER:

You will normally accept over time that we do have to change what we do to change the circumstances.

LEIGH SALES:

You said yourself that your internal polling showed people were scared you were going to squib the Budget. So it shows that broadly they accept that. Perhaps what they are not appreciative about is the way you are going about it?

PRIME MINISTER:

I am always trying to go about things better. Always. I don't believe that I have the last word in wisdom. I don't believe I'm some kind of paragon on political perfection. What I really do believe, though, is that this is a Government which is getting the fundamentals right, which is building the foundations and obviously there is a lot more work to do in the next few weeks and next year.

LEIGH SALES:

You have had the same frontbench roughly for about five years. Is it time to freshen that up with a reshuffle some time next year?

PRIME MINISTER:

At some stage between now and the next election – quite probably – but this is a good frontbench. Scott Morrison has stopped the boats. Everyone thought that couldn't be done. Julie Bishop has had a stellar year as Foreign Minister; remarkable performance at the Security Council. Mathias Cormann has been an outstanding Finance Minister, done magnificent work, unsung work, in and negotiating with the crossbench in the Senate. I could go through the list. Joe Hockey has been criticised lately but I tell you what, I think Joe is going to be one of the great Treasurers because he's someone who bounces back and that's what he's doing now.

LEIGH SALES:

Prime Minister, if before the next election the Coalition is polling as it currently is and your personal approval rating is where it is, would you contemplate stepping aside in order to give your party the best chance of holding on to power?

PRIME MINISTER:

That’s a fair question, Leigh. But I think the one fundamental lesson of the last catastrophic Government was that you don't lightly change leaders.

LEIGH SALES:

You don't lightly dump leaders is maybe the lesson?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, governments that change their leaders haven't done very well lately.

LEIGH SALES:

Would you contemplate it, though?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, Leigh, we've got a job to do and that's what we are doing, we are getting on with the job. What I think people want in their governments and in their leaders is clarity of purpose, strength of character, a clear message and a definite plan to improve our country. The great thing about this year is repealing the carbon tax means families are $550 a year better off. Stopping the boats means that we don't have the deaths at sea that we had in their hundreds before.

LEIGH SALES:

Prime Minister, thank you very much for your regular availability for the programme this year. I wish you a Merry Christmas and look forward to seeing you again next year.

PRIME MINISTER:

Likewise to you, Leigh.

[ends]

Transcript - 24028