PM Transcripts

Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript - 24426

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: 07/05/2015

Release Type: Transcript

Transcript ID: 24426

Subject(s): Budget 2015

NEIL MITCHELL:

The Prime Minister, Mr Abbott, good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Morning, Neil.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Has there been any discussion about the possibility of an early election?

PRIME MINISTER:

The short answer is no. The long answer is that we’ve got a Budget that’s coming down on Tuesday night. It will be measured, responsible and fair. It will be focused on jobs, growth and opportunity. It will be about setting us up for the medium and long term. It will be about boosting confidence and optimism in our future and that’s the complete focus of the Government right now.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So, if the Budget’s well received will you consider an early election?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Neil, you’re putting a whole lot of hypotheticals to me. I certainly think it should be well received because I’m confident that it is going to be the right Budget for these times. But the Government was elected to govern for three years to the best of our ability to deliver on our commitments and that’s exactly what we intend to do.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So you intend to go full term?

PRIME MINISTER:

We do.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Now, speaking of the Budget, it’s reported today Joe Hockey will go if it doesn’t go down well – is that right?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no. Look, I’ll just make a few points. First of all, it’s a good Budget and I think it’ll be well received…

NEIL MITCHELL:

Yeah, but you thought the last one was a good one too.

PRIME MINISTER:

Second, it’s a team effort, it’s my Budget, it’s Joe’s Budget, it’s Mathias Cormann, the Finance Minister’s Budget, it’s Scott Morrison, the Social Services Minister’s Budget, it’s Warren Truss, the Deputy Prime Minister’s Budget, it’s Josh Frydenberg, the Assistant Treasurer’s Budget, because we’re all on the ERC together and we all play an integral part in making the thing work. So, it is a team effort. In the end, it’s the Government’s Budget and if the Budget doesn’t go well, obviously the Government will suffer but I’m confident that this is the right Budget for these times.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So, will Joe Hockey stay as Treasurer until the next election?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, he will.

NEIL MITCHELL:

The other option here is if the Budget doesn’t go well, you sort of put yourself on notice – could you go?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Neil, I know that I serve at the pleasure of the Party Room and at the pleasure of the electorate. But I’m giving it my best possible shot. I think the Government is performing pretty strongly. I’m not saying that we are entirely without error – no one’s perfect, except of course, public commentators who are inerrant. But nevertheless I think this is a Government, Neil, which is doing a good job in the circumstances Australia faces. 

NEIL MITCHELL:

You did say though that you would improve the way you were operating, you improve your performance. Do you believe you have?

PRIME MINISTER:

I do.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Do you believe that you’ve saved your job?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it isn’t about me, Neil, in the end, it’s about our country. But if you look at the facts; economic growth is much stronger now than it was under the former government, jobs growth is three times now the rate than under the former government. Notwithstanding some difficulties such as the falling iron ore price, export volumes are up seven per cent, housing approvals are up – I think – over 10 per cent now, retail sales are up, confidence is up. I think our country is doing significantly better now than we were 18 months ago.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Sounds like a good reason for an early election?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it sounds like a good reason to keep doing what you’re doing.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Do you agree with what Joe Hockey said that people should go out and borrow?

PRIME MINISTER:

People should do what they think is best in their circumstances and I think, particularly after the Budget, there’ll be some additional reasons to invest and employ. This is a Budget which will be good for families; it’s a Budget which will be good for small business. Small business is the engine room of our economy, Neil, and I hope that there is a real shot in the arm for small business, a surge of confidence for small business, as a result of the Budget.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But surely it’s dangerous for people to be borrowing and over-borrowing when interest rates are low and for example, the housing market’s high. That’s a trap for people who are inexperienced in the area. To be advocating they borrow – is that sensible?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, obviously, people have got to look at their own circumstances and they’ve got to consider what’s in their own best interests. But on Budget night there will be measures in the Budget that will make it easier for small business to invest. Now, that’s something that I hope small business will make the most of.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Speaking of Joe Hockey and this speculation about his future – have you talked to him about that speculation today?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think some people just make things up, Neil.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well, two ministers are reported to have…

PRIME MINISTER:

Who? Name them.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well, I could speculate on it but I wouldn’t know.

PRIME MINISTER:

Exactly, it’s very easy to say, ‘someone anonymous said something’ – which is never actually put into quotes – about someone else.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So, would you ring them and say who’s doing this?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m not going to waste my time on it. Now, there is one story I believe in one newspaper claiming that someone said something to me about Joe – it is a complete invention. A complete invention.

NEIL MITCHELL:

That saying it’s in The Australian, Niki Savva, that the new Whip Scott Buchholz had said to you Joe has to go if it doesn’t work.

PRIME MINISTER:

Complete invention. Absolute invention.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Have you spoken to Scott Buchholz about that?

PRIME MINISTER:

He didn’t say it to me. I didn’t say anything to him. I’ve spoken to him about this story. It’s a complete invention.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Ok. Have you spoken to Joe Hockey about it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Just to tell him it’s a complete invention.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So, you’ve sort of reassured him his job’s not on the line?

PRIME MINISTER:

Neil, we are a team, we are a very good team and as I say, the Budget belongs to no individual Minister, it belongs to all of us, but it particularly belongs to all the members of the Expenditure Review Committee. That’s me, that’s Warren Truss, that’s Joe Hockey, that’s Mathias Cormann, that’s Scott Morrison and it’s Josh Frydenberg.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Corporate responsibility.

PRIME MINISTER:

Exactly right – collective responsibility, that’s how our Government works.

NEIL MITCHELL:

If things are going so well, why did the Reserve Bank bring down interest rates?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, that’s a matter for the Reserve Bank and as you know, the Reserve Bank is independent, Neil. So it is a matter for the Reserve Bank.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Isn’t it an indication that they’re a bit worried about the state of the economy?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, they are anxious about things overseas because plainly growth in China is not quite what it was, but I’m very optimistic that our fundamentals are absolutely sound and while growth in China has come off a bit in the last year or so, growth in India has picked up quite a lot in the last year or so. And then we’ve got all the other emerging economies of Asia which are growing quite strongly. Indonesia is growing strongly, Vietnam is growing strongly, hopefully Thailand will start to pick up. So, there’s a lot of reason for optimism.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Some of the banks are not passing on the full cut – what’s your view of that?

PRIME MINISTER:

As a general rule, we think that interest rate cuts by the RBA should be passed on by the banks.

NEIL MITCHELL:

And they’re not – message to them?

PRIME MINISTER:

My understanding is that the Commonwealth has not passed it on in full. Obviously, I think they should.

NEIL MITCHELL:

The Budget – is it still going to be a dull Budget?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it’ll be the right Budget for these times, Neil. And I’m not saying that there won’t be some excitement on Budget night.

NEIL MITCHELL:

That’s a change!

PRIME MINISTER:

But it will be a good strong Budget. It’ll be good for families, it’ll be good for jobs, it’ll be good for small business and it’ll be good for all of us in the long term because there will be a credible path back to surplus in this Budget.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Any new streams of revenue? Any tax increases?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, as you know, Neil, one of the things that Joe and I have been on about is trying to ensure that the tax base is protected. One of the big themes of Australia’s G20 presidency last year was to tackle what we call base erosion and profit shifting. And as you know in this new world there are even more opportunities than ever for transfer pricing and things like that. So, we want to ensure that as far as is humanly possible, companies pay their tax where they make their money, so you can expect more on this on Budget night. But it’s part of an international effort, not something that we’re doing in isolation.

NEIL MITCHELL:

What about for the average person?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, for the average person, there will be the confidence boosting news that there should be more jobs because small business will be encouraged to create more jobs. And if you want to take the jobs that are available there’ll be more opportunity for you to do so, particularly because of the announcements that we will be making on childcare.

NEIL MITCHELL:

It’s estimated today 320,000 people will lose the part pension, is that right?

PRIME MINISTER:

Scott Morrison is going to have more to say about this today. My determination is to ensure that this Budget is fair. That is my determination, Neil. I don't want anyone to say that this is an unfair Budget. Now, just at the moment, because of very generous changes that the Howard government made back in 2007 when we did have the resources boom really kicking in, because of those very generous changes that were made in the unique circumstances of those days, you can own your own home, have $1.15 million as a couple in other assets on top of your home and still be a part pensioner. Now, this idea that you can be a liquid assets millionaire and still be a part pensioner I think is problematic. So, we will be tackling that. But at the same time, at the other end of the asset scale, we want to make it more generous. So, yes, people with relatively few assets will get more; people with relatively more assets will get less.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So, what’s the overall bottom line? How does that change? Are you spending less or more on welfare?

PRIME MINISTER:

There will be some significant savings as a result of this, but this is exactly what we need to make the pension sustainable in the long term, because as everyone knows, we have an ageing population. At the moment, something like 12 per cent of our population are over 65. By 2050, almost a quarter of our population will be over 65. So, we do have to encourage more senior participation in the work force and at the same time we have to make sure that the pension is properly targeted.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Saving about $2.5 billion, is that right?

PRIME MINISTER:

Scott will have more to say about this later today, but I am not going to dispute your figures. But the other thing we have no plans to do – no plans whatsoever – is to smash people's superannuation. The challenge for Bill Shorten is to keep his fingers out of people's superannuation piggy bank and also to say where he stands on these pension changes, which will actually be giving pensioners with modest assets more certainty and security.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So, no change to super whatsoever in the Budget?

PRIME MINISTER:

We have absolutely no plans to raid people's superannuation.

NEIL MITCHELL:

How will the GST change on the internet services?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, again, I think that is something that we should see in the context of this general determination to ensure that business pays the tax where it earns the money. There are a number of these internet-based online businesses like iTunes which are paying GST in Australia. There are some, I understand, which aren't paying GST in Australia. We will have more to say about that on Budget night.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Ok, just can we put politics aside on this – and build some roads in Victoria. Exactly where do you stand on the $1.5 billion?

PRIME MINISTER:

I want it to be spent on East West Link – I want it to be spent on East West Link. What the Victorian government…

NEIL MITCHELL:

What if it isn't? What happens?

PRIME MINISTER:

The Victorian government should come to us as quickly as possible with what they think is a major road of national significance, get cracking on it and sure, we're happy to spend money on that.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Is the Western Distributor that road?

PRIME MINISTER:

Maybe it is, but we haven’t got a specific proposal. We haven’t got a specific proposal. All we know at the moment is the East West Link was actually underway. Work had started, hundreds of people had been employed, it was shut down by this Government and up to $1 billion has been spent not to build a road. So, it’s insane – absolutely insane.

NEIL MITCHELL:

If you’re convinced the Western Distributor and the tunnel and the deal with Transurban is appropriate, will you put the $1.5 billion into that?

PRIME MINISTER:

We’re certainly prepared to support it if it stacks up. I should add that the Victorian Government should be prepared to support it as well.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Is that conditional, though, because under their plan, no money goes in from them?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, they can hardly expect the Commonwealth to do this on its own but we’re certainly prepared to support that project if it stacks up and we’re prepared to support major infrastructure projects in Victoria. We really are. The tragedy for Victoria is that the only one that was shovel ready is East West Link and East West Link was cancelled by this Government.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So what happens here? The business case comes down, you’ll have a look at it and if you’re happy with it we keep the $1.5 billion?

PRIME MINISTER:

We will look at it. If it stacks up, we are certainly prepared to support it.

NEIL MITCHELL:

What do you mean by ‘stacks up’?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, does it pass the cost-benefit analysis, is it a project of national significance, will it be good for traffic flows in Melbourne and in Victoria? And look, it’s not exactly the same as the western half of East West Link, but it’s not entirely dissimilar from the western half of East West Link. That’s why I said yesterday that it seems to me having cancelled East West Link at the cost of $1 billion, the Victorian Government now seems to want to build ‘West-East Link’ and it all seems like a silly political game which the Victorian Government is playing.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well you say if it stacks up you’ll support it. Will you support it to the tune of that $1.5 billion?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, $3 billion is available for East West Link and if they want to build the western half of East West Link, obviously we put $1.5 billion up towards that.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Ok, that’s the $1.5 billion we’ve already got?

PRIME MINISTER:

If that’s how it turns out, fine. What the Victorian Government can’t do though, Neil, is just keep the money and not build anything.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I don’t think they’re intending to, they’re intending to build this Western Distributor.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good, good. Give us the proposal then.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Are you meeting Daniel Andrews today?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m not, but I’m very happy to have a proposal.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Ok, and when do you meet him next do you know?

PRIME MINISTER:

Whenever he’s got a proposal to put.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Ok. A couple of very quick things – I know you need to get away – will it be easier to negotiate with the new Greens leader?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well let’s see, Neil, let’s see.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Do you get on well with him?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’ve only met him a couple of times. I gather he’s determined to make a fresh start – that’s good. I’m certainly hopeful of finding people on the crossbench in the Senate, and I suppose the Greens are potentially in this position that we can do business with. The Labor Party as we know has just got into this relentless negativity. They’re opposing everything it seems, even the pension changes that we’ve suggested. Maybe the Greens will become the constructive negotiating partners that the public want the parliamentary crossbench to be.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So the fuel excise might be easier to get through with them now?

PRIME MINISTER:

Maybe, maybe.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Ok. A couple of very quick things. Your reaction, David Cameron could be in trouble in the United Kingdom. Is that another message for a reforming government?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look, I certainly hope that a good government gets returned and I have a great deal of respect for David Cameron and I have a great deal of respect for his Government. It’s not really my part to take a party political position on this, but it’s very important for the world that the United Kingdom is strong and united and people can draw their own conclusions about which particular of the parties and candidates will make that happen.

NEIL MITCHELL:

The funerals of the two executed men are close and they’re going to be very public, the public’s invited, live streaming. Are you comfortable with that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Again, it’s whatever the families want. I deplore the executions, they were cruel and unnecessary. On the other hand, I deplore the drug trade as well and they were…

NEIL MITCHELL:

Did the President ever call you back by the way?

PRIME MINISTER:

I had one conversation with him after the executions became pretty immediate. I sought a further conversation and I wasn’t able to have that, but to his credit, he did call me back, we discussed nothing but the executions. It was a cordial and polite conversation as you’d expect, but in the end…

NEIL MITCHELL:

How close to the executions was it?

PRIME MINISTER:

I can’t remember the exact date, Neil. It was a few weeks before the actual executions.

NEIL MITCHELL:

And if I may, just finally, along with a number of people, I’ve been involved in a domestic violence video with Colleen Hewett which will be launched soon and I believe you’ve taped a message for it?

PRIME MINISTER:

I have, Neil, because this is a very important cause. Something like one woman a week dies as a result of domestic violence. This is a dreadful, dreadful scourge and the point I make is that as a husband, as a father, as a brother – father of three daughters, brother of three sisters – I find the idea that blokes can hit women abhorrent – absolutely abhorrent. Women and children are those whom strong men should be protecting, not assaulting. But it happens, I regret to say. It happens far too often and we just have to get that message out that no real man ever hits a woman.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Let’s hope that video helps.

Thanks for your time.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks, Neil.

[ends]

Transcript - 24426