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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript - 24203

Interview with Andrew Bolt, The Bolt Report, Network Ten

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: 15/02/2015

Release Type: Transcript

Transcript ID: 24203

Subject(s): Leadership

ANDREW BOLT:

So thank you, Tony, thank you Prime Minister for still joining me this morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Andrew, it's a pleasure to be with you.

ANDREW BOLT:

Look, I'm not going to devote much time to raking over the past, but I do want to ask you a question that many of your friends and conservative supporters have wondered about. It seemed you got yourself into a spot where you couldn't hear criticism, couldn't take advice. Now, how did you cut yourself off so badly that you couldn't even see this week coming?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Andrew, that's a fair question. I suppose last year I was so focused on economic, security issues on national security issues, that I didn't have enough time to talk to my colleagues. This, obviously, was a terrible mistake. It was a terrible failing. It's not something that I'm ever going to repeat. One of the reasons why I've made some changes to the Whip's Office is because I do want a much stronger relationship with the backbench in the future than I've had in the recent past.

ANDREW BOLT:

You talk about the Whip's Office, and that's Philip Ruddock who got sacked. What was the story there? Is it Philip tried to warn you and you didn't listen, or he didn't see this coming either, when he's supposed to be your ears in what's happening on the backbench?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, plainly, I wasn't as aware as I should have been of all of this. I never want to find myself in this position ever again. And I'm confident that with the whip's team we've got, I will be very much aware of what's going on inside the Party. Let's face it, Andrew, if it's going on inside the Party, it's going on inside the community. In the end it's not just communications between Members of Parliament that's important, it's communications between the Government and the Australian people. In the end, that's who we work for. In the end, that's who we serve. And what I want to do this year is focus as much as I humanly can on doing the right thing by people and their concerns – jobs and families. That's why we've got this child care package coming up. That's why we've got the small business and jobs package coming up which will focus on a tax cut for small business.

ANDREW BOLT:

Look, you know, one of your first bits of gratuitous advice I remember giving you was, you know, don't break your promises, starting with the rise in the petrol excise levy. I even said don't break your promise not to cut the ABC. You know that would have cost me blood to say that. What I don't understand is how you didn't know after destroying Julia Gillard on her broken promises, that you didn't have to keep every single one of yours?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, one of the things that we discovered on coming to Government was the fiscal position was very significantly worse than the former government was telling us, Andrew. Going into the last election, Labor was saying that the deficit for that year was going to be $18 billion. We get in, we see a whole lot of things which frankly haven't been brought to book which needed to be brought to book. In the end the deficit for that year was $48 billion. So, there was a $30 billion budget black hole.

ANDREW BOLT:

I buy that argument but don't break your promises. It's just so fundamental. I would have thought you'd know that.

PRIME MINISTER:

But, Andrew, the most fundamental commitment that we made, and we made this up-hill and down-dale till we were blue in the face, was to get the Budget back under control. Now, there were some gymnastics, if you like, in the Budget to avoid breaking promises. By the time of the MYEFO statement at the end of 2014, yes, we did have to break some promises, including the promise not to reduce the funding for the ABC.

ANDREW BOLT:

It was a mistake, though, wasn't it, really?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I regret the fact that we weren't able to keep some of those commitments. But, in the end, the responsibility that I have to the Australian people is to do what's right in the circumstances that we find ourselves in. When circumstances change, sometimes you've got to adjust what you do.

ANDREW BOLT:

Look, I know that. Look, I won't harp on it. I thought it was a mistake. Maybe that should be acknowledged. One last question about the past, and I know you weren't happy with me going troppo on this, but what was in your mind the moment you decided, the moment you're sitting there at your desk and you're thinking, "Prince Philip, make him a Knight." Did you think, “I don’t think the public will like it but it won’t be that bad” Or did you think the public would like it? I don't understand your calculus at that point in time. You're sitting there, Prince Philip, you're right.

PRIME MINISTER:

This is a man in the twilight of a long and distinguished life. He's given enormous service to Australia. He's just been given top awards by Canada, by New Zealand. Prince Charles years ago was given an Australian Knighthood. I thought this would be something that would be appreciated.

ANDREW BOLT:

You actually thought the public would like it? That was your thinking then?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it wasn't so much a question of would the public like it? It was more a question of was this a fitting honour for someone who has given tremendous service to Australia and to the wider world. Let's never forget there are almost a million Australians who have gone through the Duke of Edinburgh Awards scheme. This is leadership training inspired by Prince Philip. It's a really marvellous scheme. My own children went through this scheme.

ANDREW BOLT:

Yes but it went down like a lead balloon. This is the whole point, you see.

PRIME MINISTER:

I accept this, Andrew. I absolutely accept it.

ANDREW BOLT:

This is why I was asking how you didn't understand that?

PRIME MINISTER:

A serious failure...

ANDREW BOLT:

Look, that's it. Now to the future, ok?

PRIME MINISTER:

It was done in New Zealand and in Canada.

ANDREW BOLT:

I know, but there's no point in trying to justify it.

PRIME MINISTER:

And it was trying to…

ANDREW BOLT:

It just went kaboom!

PRIME MINISTER:

I accept that, Andrew. I accept that. I really do and I take it on the chin. I absolutely take it on the chin. In the great scheme of things this is surely an offence that needs to be put into perspective.

ANDREW BOLT:

Absolutely, compared to Rudd and Gillard, I totally accept that. Now, look, the future, you don't just have to change yourself, of course. You have to change policies. Can I just go through a very quick checklist? You plan to make most people pay for a visit to the doctor – is that going?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, certainly, we want Medicare to be sustainable for the long term. It's a great system. We need to protect it. The problem is the costs are going up and up and up from $8 billion a decade ago, $20 billion today, $34 billion a decade hence. So, we do need to try to inject more cash into the system and a modest patient contribution. The same sort of thing that we see with the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. It doesn't seem like such a terrible way forward.

ANDREW BOLT:

So that stays?

PRIME MINISTER:

What I am determined to do is make sure that any change in this area is worked through with the medical profession. The medical profession has the best interests of patients at heart. So, we won't be making any further proposals without the broad support of the profession.

ANDREW BOLT:

Just quickly then, raising the pension age after the next election – I support that – but raising the pension age, whatever it is, are you sticking with that and are you sticking with giving the military an effective pay cut after inflation? The two more barnacles?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, again, Andrew, let's remember the pension age was first set at a time when life expectancy at birth was under 60.

ANDREW BOLT:

I know the arguments and I support you completely. I'm just saying will those two policies stay?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I think it's worth reiterating the arguments for your viewers, Andrew, because people need to understand why we are doing this. The other thing we need to accept is that if we don't encourage people to work, to extend their working lives we are going to have the situation where we simply have too many retirees and not enough working people to support them. So, yes, I think it is important to modestly raise the pension age just as it's important to ensure that pensions increase by cost of living.

ANDREW BOLT:

Totally. We're borrowing $100 billion a day still. So, look, I don't know why people think the money fountain will keep pumping – but there you go.

More with the Prime Minister after the break.

**Advertisement Break**

ANDREW BOLT:

We are back with the Prime Minister. Tony Abbott the Copenhagen attack, do you wish you could do more to improve our free speech? Like taking up those free speech reforms you dropped?

PRIME MINISTER:

Andrew, I absolutely passionately believe in free speech. I think we have free speech in this country. I think the episode that you suffered was an aberration and I don't believe we'll ever see anything like that again.

ANDREW BOLT:

I wish my lawyers were so convinced. But, anyway, this week we had two more Sydney men charged with terrorism. One was an Iraqi, we took in as a refugee. Now, he may be innocent, of course. But later in the show I'll list other refugees we took in who did turn to terrorism like the Martin Place killer. Our refugee programme – it has left us less safe, hasn't it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it's very important that we ensure that the programme is being controlled by us and not by people smugglers. That's why it's so good this Government has finally stopped the boats. Obviously, it's a catastrophe when you have some 50,000 people come to this country illegally by boat, as happened under the former government. I'm pleased to see that's stopped. It absolutely has stopped. And that's a very, very significant achievement under this Government. If people aren't coming illegally by boat, they are coming through proper channels. We do have a much better chance to ensure that none of those who come are a threat to our freedom.

ANDREW BOLT:

Now, our highest-ranking Muslim cleric Grand Mufti Ibrahim Abu Mohammed this week suggested it was our fault, your fault, that young Muslims were joining the Islamic State or Daesh because, quote, “the West is turning a blind eye to the just cause and the suffering of lots of people living in the Middle East and they are blindly supporting Israel.” He also suggests that you are cracking down on the radical Hizb ut-Tahrir just as a political distraction. Are you disappointed with those dangerously inflammatory comments?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I just think they're completely wrong-headed comments, Andrew. The idea the Islamist death cult is somehow upset with Israel doesn't rest very easily with the fact this death cult has left Israel well and truly alone. It's, in fact, waging an unspeakable war against fellow Muslims. The mass executions, the crucifixions, the sexual slavery. All of that has been perpetrated against other Muslims and, sure, Yazidi, Christian, Turkmen, Kurds as well but essentially what's going on here is a dreadful, dreadful fight inside Islam. And the result of that is a new dark age settling over significant parts of the Middle East. This is a catastrophe for Islam. It's a catastrophe for the world and it's critical that here in Australia we do what we can at home and abroad to combat this death cult.

ANDREW BOLT:

But why, you know, it's so frustrating to see the highest-ranking Islamist cleric in this country evading responsibility, pushing it on the West. Why isn't he issuing a fatwa or something against terrorists? This is terrible?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, he himself is not an Islamist but I take your point. I take your point, Andrew, that we need to see more Muslim leaders speaking out against this kind of thing. Now, it's happening much more widely today than in the past. You saw a really heroic speech from the President al-Sisi of Egypt to the [inaudible] imams council a few weeks back where he said Islam needed a religious revolution and centuries of misguided thinking which had caused Islam in some respects to be at war with the world had to be overturned. You've had some of the religious leaders of Saudi, as I understand it, have been issuing fatwas against the Daesh death cult. You have had any number of Muslim leaders in our part of the world like Prime Minister Najib of Malaysia who says of the death cult that they are against God, they’re against Islam and they are against our common humanity. More and more people are speaking out but certainly those comments attributed to the Mufti don't seem either right or helpful.

ANDREW BOLT:

Yeah. Get on board. Nuclear power has been demonised for so long, wildly exaggerated the risks etcetera and we banned nuclear power stations and dumps and all this kind of thing. At least the South Australian Premier, Jay Weatherill, says he's had a change of heart. He used to be an anti-nuclear extremist and now he wants it to help stop global warming, etcetera. What do you think should be done to help encourage him?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I think this is a very interesting development in South Australia, Andrew. And what he's done is he's launched a royal commission on how South Australia can usefully contribute to every stage of the nuclear cycle. We know that one of the world's largest uranium mines is in South Australia. If it's right to mine it, why can't it be right to use it? That's especially the question that Jay Weatherill has put. Yes, we have an issue in this country of nuclear storage. We were going to have a storage facility in the Northern Territory. That's fallen through. We do need one, maybe this would be a very good opportunity for South Australia. So, what I think we've seen from the South Australian Premier is a gale of common sense and certainly on the Commonwealth's part, I'm very happy to work constructively with Premier Weatherill on this. We need to do the right thing by South Australia. We need to look at all the various ways of helping our country, not just environmentally, but economically too.

ANDREW BOLT:

Don't go global warming on me here. Indonesia is about to execute two Australian drug smugglers, as we know. It doesn't look like they can be saved. If this does go ahead, will you recall our ambassador like Holland did when Indonesia last month executed a Dutch prisoner?

PRIME MINISTER:

Andrew, I think millions of Australians are feeling sickened by what may be about to take place in Indonesia. I am very conscious of the strong representations that Indonesia makes when its citizens abroad are on death row. It certainly believes that the death penalty should not apply to its citizens abroad. If it's right for Indonesia to have that expectation of others, it's right for others to have that expectation of Indonesia. So, even at the 11th hour, I hope that Indonesia will think that this is not going to do its standing any good and will rethink these executions.

ANDREW BOLT:

And the ambassador, will he be withdrawn?

PRIME MINISTER:

If these executions go ahead – and I hope they don't – we will certainly be finding ways to make our displeasure felt. But, at the moment, the focus has got to be on what are admittedly 11th-hour pleas, but we are making them. We are making them, Andrew. This should not happen.

ANDREW BOLT:

Now, finally, the last thing you need is more advice. So here is that last thing. Advice this week from a woman that we both admire – Ita Buttrose.

PRESENTER:

Here is the man of the moment shaking hands, wearing the blue tie.

ITA BUTTROSE:

I wish they'd get rid of those blue ties. They're so stupid.

ANDREW BOLT:

The blue tie, will it eventually go?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, look, you know, there's the budgie smugglers, there's the firefighter's uniform, and there's the blue ties. Blue is my favourite colour and I guess I have quite a big collection of blue ties. There's dark blue, there's light blue, there's blue mixes – as this one is. I like them. I like them and I guess my uniform, if you like, Andrew, my work uniform is a dark suit, a white shirt and a shade of blue tie. I guess that's just the way I've become.

ANDREW BOLT:

Maybe it's the uniform thing she's rebelling. Maybe viewers can send Tony Abbott favourite ties that he should be taking up. Prime Minister, thank you so much for your time.

PRIME MINISTER:

It's been a pleasure. Thank you, Andrew.

[ends]

Transcript - 24203