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Transcript - 24164

Address to the National Press Club of Australia, Questions and Answers, Canberra

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: 02/02/2015

Release Type: Transcript

Transcript ID: 24164

Subject(s): Address to the National Press Club

Location: Canberra

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, Chris Uhlmann from the ABC. You were trained by Jesuits, so you'd be familiar with a particular examen, so in good conscience, are you the best person to lead this Government and prosecute its agenda and have you considered resigning?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes and no. Yes and no, Chris.

Let me make it absolutely crystal clear: we were elected in 2013 because the Australian people rejected chaos. That’s why we were elected; because the Australian people rejected chaos and we are not going to take them back to that chaos – we really are not going to take them back to that chaos.

Let's also remember what I said time and again at the time of the Rudd political assassination, at the time of the Gillard political assassination – sure, party rooms or caucuses choose leaders, but once they've gone to an election, things have changed. It's the people that hire and, frankly, it's the people that should fire.

So, I am absolutely determined to do what we were elected to do: to clean up Labor's mess, to build a strong and prosperous economy for a safe and secure Australia and that, I believe, is what my colleagues are equally dedicated to achieving.

QUESTION:

Steven Scott from the Courier Mail, Prime Minister. You didn't mention the Queensland election in your speech and I'm just wondering, as an interested observer, why do you think the Queensland electorate turned against the LNP so dramatically and how will you convince your colleagues they don't face the same fate under you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I'm not a psephologist, so I'm not going to try to analyse all the detail of the Queensland election.

Obviously, it was a very difficult result and I feel deeply for Campbell Newman and for his colleagues, because they worked hard to make a difference and I believe they have made a difference.

As I said yesterday – so I'm not in a sense breaking new ground here – there are lessons in Queensland, there are lessons in Queensland for all of us and the fundamental lesson is that if you want to put in place difficult but necessary reform, you've got to explain it, you've got to justify it and you've got to bring the people with you.

Now, I accept that we have done some of that ourselves over the last 12 months. We have attempted to put in place difficult but necessary reform.

I know that we've struggled in the Senate, you know that we've struggled in Senate and obviously there are lessons in that for us, too. We do have to make a bigger effort with anything that does need to go before the Senate.

Most of all, though, we have to make a bigger effort with the Australian people, we have to make a bigger effort with everyone who is involved in decision making. One of the other things that you'll find in 2015 which is a little different from 2014 is a much more consultative and collegial Cabinet process – more meetings of the full ministry, regular meetings between the Cabinet and the chairman and chairs of the backbench policy committees.

I believe it's always been – and I did serve for nine years as a Minister in the Howard Government – I believe it's always been a consultative and collegial Government, but it will certainly be the most consultative and the most collegial Government this country has ever seen in the weeks and months and years ahead because we are on an journey – we are all on a journey. It’s the the journey to build a better Australia.

It's the only journey worth coming on if you're in a position such as mine. It's the journey all of you want our country to make and we have to succeed. We just have to succeed for our country's sake.

QUESTION:

Laura Tingle from the Financial Review, Prime Minister. You've focused on a stronger economy in your speech and on the need for jobs. Just noticing that there are an extra 63,400 people counted as unemployed since you became elected, I’m just wondering if you could spell out how you’re actually going to address that? And I reference your G20 economic plan, which was built heavily on investment in infrastructure, which you also mentioned in your speech. How is that affected by the changing balance of asset programmes in the states and will that have a material impact on the economic forecasts?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Laura look, thanks for the question and you do give me a chance to reiterate the fact that jobs growth was three times as fast in 2014 as it was in 2013 and that's something that I think the Government can be pleased about, and which all of the small businesses and big businesses out there that have been employing people much more significantly in the last year than they were previously, can take enormous credit for.

So, I thank the employers of our country for what they are doing for the people of our country employing more of them as they have in 2014.

On infrastructure, Laura, I’ve said it many times, let me say it again: I would like to be remembered as an infrastructure Prime Minister. I am determined to be an infrastructure Prime Minister. I accept that to achieve that it's necessary to work with the states and, obviously, we've had a change in Victoria – who knows where things will ultimately fall in Queensland – we've had a change in Victoria and can I say to you the only serious thing to emerge so far from the new government in Victoria is an apparent liability to pay up to $1.2 billion not to build the East-West link.

Now surely, it is the very midsummer of madness to pay $1.2 billion not to build a road. I mean really and truly – really and truly – what does that say about the state of Victoria that they are contemplating paying $1.2 billion not to build a road?

Well, you know, we are prepared to spend money, we are prepared to spend money on serious economic infrastructure that will set this country up for the future, but what Labor does is blow money constantly and I can't think of anything more crazy than spending $1.2 billion not to build a road, given that the Victorian government's contribution, after the federal government's contribution, after road users' contribution, after the private investors’ contribution, was probably only going to be $1.5 billion in the first place.

So, really, thank you for the question, Laura, because it's a classic example of what goes wrong when, in a fit of absent mindedness, people elect Labor governments.

QUESTION:

Malcolm Farr from news.com.au, Prime Minister. Thanks for your address. Staying with jobs, a number of workplace matters will be reported on by the Productivity Commission later in the year, but if I could go to your current thinking on one issue, are you aware of, or have you read, any credible study or research that says lowering or removing the minimum wage creates more jobs?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, that's not something that this Government is interested in. Our position is that we want more jobs and we want better paid jobs – that's what we want. We want more jobs and we want better paid jobs in our system – always been the case in the past, is the case now, as far as I am concerned it will continue to be the case. In our system there is an umpire, the umpire – I was the Minister responsible once, it was the Australian Industrial Relations Commission then, it's the Fair Work Commission now – and I support the idea of a fair umpire having the final say over these things.

Yes, we've got to get the balance right. Yes, we want the Fair Work Commission to be conscious of boosting employment as well as of maintaining wages, but that's why we've got people in those positions. They're normally people with a lot of experience and let's hope they continue to make good decisions for our workers' sake and our country's sake.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, Catherine McGrath from SBS television. I guess in the hurly-burly of political life there are peaks and troughs. I guess fairly this is a trough for you. In terms of economic debate, do you think that as Prime Minister you need to do more to bring the political debate forward in a Australia and do you concede in any way that the skills that brought you to Government, the successful tearing down, clearly, of Labor, are not the skills needed and there might be some rebooting there required as well?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Catherine, you're asking me to speculate upon myself and I've tried to make it my business in 21 years of public life, including nine years a as a Minister and four years as an Opposition Leader and now coming up for a year and a half as Prime Minister, I've tried to make it my business not to run a commentary on myself.

There are people in this room who are paid quite well to run a commentary on politicians and I might ask you to continue to do your job in that respect.

Our country's been on a journey. Every one of us are on a journey and at every stage we do the best we can and I am confident that all of us in this room are more than capable of growing into the various roles that we've got.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, Andrew Probyn from The West Australian. Dare I say it, I think you contradicted your mentor, John Howard, today when you said that voters had the right to hire and fire prime ministers. Mr Howard used to say that leadership was a gift of the party room. Do you still have the confidence of the Party Room? And secondly – this is a yes and no question, and perhaps one that was even asked in the pub that you visited – if you were offered a knighthood would you take it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes and no. I think it's highly unlikely that I'm likely to be offered any particular gong just at this time! But, can I just say, Andrew, on the visit to the pub in Colac, it was a thrill – it really was. I mean, one of the downsides of the upside of being Prime Minister is that you don't quite get to move around as freely as you once did. Margie and I and our families that we've been holidaying for 20-odd years now with, we did get to go down the South Coast for our annual vacation in the caravan park, but nevertheless, you don't get to go out and about as often as Prime Minister as you do as a member of parliament or even as a minister. But it was good to go into that pub in Colac to spend 30 or 40 minutes with the local people pouring a few beers, chewing the fat and I have to say, I was thrilled with the response. Without dobbing any of them in, I can say that they were warm, they were generous, they were genial, and like Australians everywhere, they want the Government to succeed.

QUESTION:

And your backbench?

PRIME MINISTER:

And, Andrew, on the subject of knighthoods, I just want to make it clear that all awards in the Order of Australia will henceforth be entirely a matter for the Order of Australia Council.

QUESTION:

And the backbench?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the backbench… is interjection allowed at this gathering? I'm sure Bronwyn Bishop would have dealt very severely with that!

Look, we've had a rough couple of months – I accept that, Andrew. We've had a rough couple of months. We've had a couple of months where if journalists ring up and ask about some element of Government policy, the correct answer, which is, “I support the Government and the policy is a good one”, has not always been given.

I accept that we've had a couple of months where if journalists ring up and ask about individuals and personalities in the Government, the correct answer, “A great person doing a great job”, has not been given.

I accept all that, but, you know, when things are difficult the last thing you want to do is to make your difficulties worse. That's the last thing you want to do is to make your difficulties worse.

Now, I like my colleagues, I respect my colleagues, I trust my colleagues above all else to want to do the right thing by themselves, by our Party, by the Government and by the country and the last thing any of them would want to do is to make a difficult situation worse.

QUESTION:

Mark Riley, Mr Abbott, from the Seven Network. I think you gave a very important commitment in answer to Steven Scott's question earlier where you said you will see the most consultative and collegial government possible in the years ahead – and I think I quoted you correctly. Mr Abbott, I just want to remind you that on the 1 December 2009 when you were elected leader you said you would do your best to be a consultative and collegial leader. In the election campaign of 2010 on 16 August you said, “I have said to my colleagues that I will do my best to be a consultative and collegial leader.” There are many other examples, but…

PRIME MINISTER:

You can go on if you like!

QUESTION:

Thanks very much, I will. In April 2012 you said, “We don't want policy unilateralism here and Commonwealth governments of all persuasions have a tendency to policy unilateralism. We want collegiality, we want consultation.” In the 2013 election campaign you said, “We'll be a consultative collegial Government, no surprises no excuses.” Why have you not kept that promise delivered 12, 15 times to your Party thus far, and why should your backbench here today and your Cabinet have any faith that you'll keep it this time?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Mark, very fair question and let me do my best to answer it. I accept that the paid parental leave scheme was a captain's call. I accept that the restoration of knighthoods was a captain's call. They are the two captain’s calls which I have made, but I have listened, I have learned and I have acted.

I support better paid parental leave, but I accept that this is not the right time for that policy. I accept that, and it's not going to happen.

I accept that I probably overdid it on awards and that's why, as of today, I make it crystal clear that all awards in the Order of Australia will be wholly and solely the province of the Council of the Order of Australia.

So, I have listened, I have learned, I have acted, and those particular captain's picks which people have found difficult have been reversed.

QUESTION:

Mark Kenny from Fairfax Media, Prime Minister. I notice you used the words that ‘there'll be no carbon tax under the Government I lead.’ Can I ask you simply, was that directed at the Labor Party, or did that have some other message to someone else who might, for example, have her or his eyes on the leadership?

PRIME MINISTER:

Mark, that's a very cheeky question and obviously – obviously – we've already got Bill Shorten saying that if Labor were to be re-elected the carbon tax comes back. If Labor is to be re-elected, the carbon tax comes back. Bill Shorten has made that abundantly clear, that's not a rumour, that's not a leak, that's a fact, because he said it on the record. Now, if the Australian people want to be spared a $550 a year hit on their budgets, if the Australian people want to be spared a hit on their living standards that would just get worse and worse and worse and worse with each passing year they've got to stick with this Government. Simple as that.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, David Crowe from The Australian. Could I draw you out a little bit on this issue of consultation with your colleagues, it's a very vexed issue with your colleagues at the moment. You've expressed your view on the past captain's picks, a lot of your colleagues are unhappy with the ones that you've made, can you give them an assurance that you won't be making captain's picks again in the future?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, if for argument's sake, something like what happened to MH17 were to happen again, I'd call it – I'd call it. An atrocity, an absolute atrocity. A civilian airliner brought down by Russian-backed rebels over what was effectively Russian-held territory using Russian-supplied weapons. That was a captain's call. It was a true call, it was a brave call, it was the right call for Australia. You cannot lead without being prepared to call things from time to time, but obviously as life goes on and time goes by, you work out when you've got to call it yourself, when you've got to wait for others and, look, I called it the way I called it. I called it the way I saw it the morning of that particular atrocity, and then with the National Security Committee of the Cabinet we worked through every stage of our response to that particular crisis and we did it very well. We did it very collegially and while nothing can bring those people back, nothing can undo the atrocity, nevertheless we handled it in ways which added to the strength and lustre of our country.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, Kerrie Yaxley from the Nine Network. According to opinion polls your personal popularity has been consistently low. In your opinion, why is that? Why, with all due respect Prime Minister, do people not seem to like you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Kerrie, look, I never came into politics to be popular. And anyone who does come into politics to be popular will either be a very bad politician or a very disappointed politician. I came into politics to make a difference, to do the right thing by the people of Australia. Someone has to make the difficult calls and it is never easy to make the difficult calls. The Government has had a degree of difficulty over the last 12 months – I accept that – because we've made the right calls and they've been tough calls. We did not rush in to offer more bailouts to private sector businesses in trouble about 12 months ago. We did not simply accept that it could be business as usual in the Budget. We did challenge the Senate to look at the long-term national interest and not simply to go out and consult the opinion polls. And look, that's been a hard task, it’s been a hard task, probably a more difficult task than any other Australian Government has had in recent times. We don't in any way shirk that task but what I'm saying to you is that we are going to be better, more consultative and more collegial about it this year than we were last year, but we're not going to give up – we’re not going to give up – because if we do give up, our country runs the risk of succumbing to the European disease, our country runs the risk of becoming, as I said in my speech, a second rate country living off its luck. That would be a betrayal an absolute betrayal of our people, and the task that they entrusted to us at the election in September 2013.

QUESTION:

Michelle Grattan from The Conversation. Mr Abbott, one reason why you've had a degree of difficulty as you put it in the last 12 months is that you personally have gone back on a number of commitments that you gave during the campaign. If you lead the Government into next year's election, how do you persuade the electorate that next time round you will indeed meet the commitments that you give in this campaign?

PRIME MINISTER:

Michelle, I accept that there are some commitments that we gave in the campaign that we have not been able to keep. But I also say – and I think the public understands this – that the situation that we thought we were facing at the time of the election turned out to be different. For instance, to give you one example, we went into the 2013 campaign with the then government telling us that the deficit for that financial year would be $18 billion. It turned out that the deficit for that financial year was $48 billion. A dramatic explosion, a $30 billion budget black hole that the Labor Party should have known about, that they created. They created it; we've had to deal with it. So, under those circumstances, there are some commitments that had to go and one which I cite is the commitment that I gave to SBS, Katherine, on the side of Panthers, on the last day of the election campaign, no cuts to the ABC, no cuts to SBS.

I accept that that hasn't been correct but when you are looking to restore the budget situation, in a context of ongoing debt and deficit stretching out as far as the eye can see, because of this mismanagement of your predecessors and when you are having to ask some sacrifices of the Australian people, how in good conscience – how in good conscience – could we not have had a look at the ABC and said there's been no efficiency dividend for almost 20 years? Why of all the organisations in Government should the ABC have been freed of efficiency dividends for almost two decades? Well, yes, it's a commitment, Michelle, that we weren't able to keep but I think the Australian public understand that when circumstances change sometimes governments have got to adjust to those changing circumstances. What they want is a Government which is faithful, a Government which keeps faith and I believe that we have well and truly kept faith with the Australian people. We have stopped the boats, we have scrapped the carbon tax, we have scrapped the mining tax, we are building the roads and yes, it's a work in progress but we certainly are determined to get the budget back under control and these were the fundamental commitments, these were the acts of faith we made with the people of Australia at the election.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, Kieran Gilbert from Sky News. I understand that yesterday you had some conversations with some of your closest supporters and in it you basically recognise that you do have a serious threat to your leadership underway and you said I quote, that in these circumstances you can either panic or hold your ground and that you'll be holding your ground. Is that a recognition that you are facing a serious threat to your leadership? And the second question, you met with Julie Bishop last night, did you ask her for a commitment that she should not challenge you and if so what did she say?

PRIME MINISTER:

Kieran, look, I accept that this is a Government which has gone through a difficult patch. All Governments go through difficult patches. The Howard government went through many difficult patches. I can remember John Howard from time to time standing up in the party room and saying things could get worse before they get better and he said this will be a test of character. I've said much the same thing myself in the party room on different occasions. This will be a test of character. Now, politicians pass the test when they do what is best for the long term, not when they give in to short term fear and make a difficult situation worse. Now, that's the situation. Sure, we've had a bad patch, what do you do when you have a bad patch? You can buckle down to business or not, but failing to buckle down to business always makes a bad situation worse. So, that's the conversation that I've had with many of my colleagues. Now as for Julie, Julie’s a friend of mine, Julie's my deputy, she's been a terrific deputy, she’s been a terrific Minister, I believe I have her full support and I certainly look forward to continuing to have that.

QUESTION:

Lenore Taylor from Guardian Australia, Prime Minister. Two sets of modelling found the impact of last year's Budget fell disproportionately on poorer families even after the carbon tax abolition was taken into account. You've explained very clearly why you think that the budget deficit needs to tackled but voters do seem to think that last year's Budget was unfair. How do you explain to them your belief, presumably your belief that it was fair and the choices that you made there, and why you didn't take different choices that might have had a different impact on fairness? How long do you persist with those budget measures from last year that are stuck in the Senate and what lessons do you take from last year's budget when you come to formulate this year's budget?

PRIME MINISTER:

As for last year's budget measures, they're in the Senate or coming before the Senate and we will deal with them in the way we always deal with legislation before the Senate, by courteously and constructively discussing them with the crossbench and indeed the Labor Party. If the Labor Party are interested, in being part of the solution, rather than simply being the cause of the problem we will sit down and we will negotiate what we think is the best and fairest outcome that we can get. Now, I am very concerned for fairness. I wouldn't be in public life if I wasn't very concerned for fairness but, Lenore, what's fair about saddling our children and our grandchildren with debt and deficit as far as the eye can see? This is intergenerational theft. It's intergenerational theft and I've spent plenty of time in recent weeks and months and years talking to older Australians and, you know, older Australians have a horror of handing to their kids debt, of saddling their kids with burdens that they had accumulated and that's what we're doing. This generation of Australians is blighting the lives of our children and grandchildren because we, under the former Labor government, lacked the intestinal fortitude to address these issues. We were self-indulgent as a nation because of the former Labor's Government's political weakness. That's what happened, now it's our mission, it’s the mission of this Government to address that. Now, if you don't get it quite right the first time, you have another go and you get it as right as you can. But we absolutely owe it to the Australian people today and the Australian people of the future to tackle this issue. I think it was Edmund Bourke who talked about the social compact as being a kind of a trust between those who are dead, those who are living and those who are yet to be born. We will not break that trust.

QUESTION:

Paul Osborne from Australian Associated Press. Thank you for your speech Prime Minister. In your speech you do mention when you’re talking about childcare that you want to improve the system of multiple payments. Now, can you explain to the average mum and dad what that would actually mean and doesn't that risk opening a new political battlefront along the same lines as Medicare? Labor could easily seize on that as attacking family tax benefits.

PRIME MINISTER:

I know that whatever we say or do Labor will run a scare campaign – I know that. And Paul, your job, if I may say so, is not to just run the scare campaign. I mean, your job is to hold all politicians and all political parties to the same standard of accountability. Now, what we have in mind will be very much based on the work of the Productivity Commission and the recommendations that the Productivity Commission has made and Scott Morrison, the Minister for Social Services, is about to engage on a detailed process of consultation, on a detailed piece of work and within the next couple of months you will see the result. But what we are determined to ensure is that we have a more productive economy, that we have more fulfilled people, that in the end we have better and more prosperous families. That's what we are trying to build and that’s what our childcare initiative will be designed to achieve.

[ends]

Transcript - 24164