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Transcript 40723

Radio interview with John Laws, 2SM

Photo of Turnbull, Malcolm

Turnbull, Malcolm

Period of Service: 15/09/2015 to 24/08/2018

More information about Turnbull, Malcolm on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 03/02/2017

Release Type: Transcript

Transcript ID: 40723

JOHN LAWS: I welcome our very own Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, to the studio. Prime Minister, good morning and welcome.

PRIME MINISTER: Great to be here, John. We're both adults, that's for sure.

JOHN LAWS: That's right. (Laughter) Yeah.

PRIME MINISTER: Adult radio.

JOHN LAWS: That's what it is. Dominating the headlines splashed all over the front pages of newspapers, I presume all over the world by now, is this talk you've had with Donald Trump. I don't know - we've already followed closely the election of Donald Trump thinking it wouldn't affect us too badly but it seems we could have been wrong. Are you willing to have reasonably frank conversation? I know you don't like to talk about what goes on in private conversations but can you give us a bit of an outline of what the atmosphere was like?

PRIME MINISTER: I noticed his spokesman, his official spokesman, described the conversation as a cordial one this morning. And I can say that it was very frank. It was forthright.

John, we've known each other for a very long time, you know, I always make my case as persuasively as I can. I stand up for Australia. I stand up for our interests.

Our concern was that the deal, the refugee resettlement deal that we’d done with President Obama would be continued under President Trump. It's obviously a deal he wouldn't have done. He's expressed his views about it. But he has committed to doing it. So from my point of view, acting in Australia's interests, we secured the commitment from the US President that we wanted and that we sought and we thank him for making that commitment.

JOHN LAWS: Okay, well from my point of view, would it be reasonable to describe the conversation that you had as not being very cordial?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it depends on your definition of cordial. I'm quoting his spokesman in saying it was cordial. I would say it was frank. As it always should be.

But, look, I'd say this - my job is to advance Australia's interests. So what is really important for me is to be disciplined and circumspect about what goes on between me and the President of the United States.

If people in America want to leak or make claims about what was in a conversation, that's disappointing. But I'm not going to do that. All I can say is we had a very frank discussion and in the course of that discussion the President gave me the commitment to continue with the refugee resettlement deal. And that has been confirmed now several times since.

We’ve got to remember, John, that the reason we are seeking to resettle those refugees is because the Labor Party left them there on Nauru and Manus.

JOHN LAWS: They did.

PRIME MINISTER: That was Kevin Rudd and this was the consequence of his tragic, Labor's tragic and colossal failure to keep our borders secure. They unpicked John Howard's border protection policy. They did so deliberately and against our warnings. They did so and we had 50,000 unauthorised arrivals. 1,200 deaths at sea of which we know. We have got all the kids out of detention in Australia. Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison have done that as Ministers. We have closed over a dozen of the detention centres but there's still these people on Nauru and Manus. We can't bring them to Australia because that would send a signal to the people smugglers to get back into business. So we're looking for other resettlement options for them. This American arrangement offers the opportunity for a number of them to resettle there and that's what we're working with now with the Americans.

JOHN LAWS: Over that Christmas holiday period you managed to escape the bulk of the backlash over the MP entitlements scandal, but people still want answers. Are there any changes on the horizon? Should there be changes?

PRIME MINISTER: Well there are, I've announced and I'll be introducing into the Parliament when we return next week some of the biggest changes that have ever -  really in a generation, if not longer – we are going to establish, we are establishing an independent parliamentary expenses authority which will have the job of monitoring the way in which parliamentarians spend their travel and accommodation expenses and so forth that are often the subject of controversy.

John, I got into Parliament when I was 50. I had a lifetime in business and we’ve had dealings and been friends for a long time. You know me, I come out of the business world.

The whole idea of entitlements is absolutely an anathema to me, it is not right - these are business expenses and we as politicians should spend them as frugally, if not more frugally than we would our own money. They should only be spent for the purpose of doing our job and we have got to be accountable for them.

An independent authority to be the monitor, where they will be published every month. We'll be setting up - the IT system as is often the case in Canberra is pretty archaic - but we'll get a new system that will enable them to be reported on monthly, and there will be complete transparency and accountability. I think that's very important because it's not our money. It is the taxpayers' money - it is the Australian peoples’ money.

JOHN LAWS: That's right.

PRIME MINISTER: We have got to treat it with respect.

JOHN LAWS: But obviously, if you're setting up this authority, you're only setting it up, you are not setting it up for fun, you’re setting it up because it needs to be set up. This would indicate to me that rorting was certainly going on.

PRIME MINISTER: I think often there's more errors of judgement, John. I think it's a -

JOHN LAWS: You're being kind.

PRIME MINISTER: Look, you know something, if money is being misspent, it's wrong. It doesn't matter, well, it does matter if it's being rorted, if people are acting dishonestly, then of course that can attract criminal penalties. But in terms of going forward, we have to have a change of culture, we have to have - and I think the authority will do that – I think above all the monthly reporting will do that as well. Because the more regularly information is produced, the more accountable people are, I think the more attention they'll pay to how they're spending taxpayers' money.

JOHN LAWS: Tell me this, do you follow the polls? I know a lot of politicians and you’re not just a regular politician, you happen to be Prime Minister. Do you follow the polls? I’m not saying you don’t take any notice.

PRIME MINISTER: Politicians always say the only poll that matters on polling day.

JOHN LAWS: I know.

PRIME MINISTER: Which is true –

JOHN LAWS: Bloody boring.

PRIME MINISTER: But I think everyone looks at polls, yes. But you’ve got to – look, everyone pays attention to polls but you have to remember that they are not always reliable.

JOHN LAWS: No they’re certainly not.

PRIME MINISTER: We’ve seen a lot of evidence of that. And even if they are reliable, they’re a snapshot in time so it doesn’t necessarily tell you, a poll today doesn’t tell you what people are thinking tomorrow let alone in a year’s time or three years’ time.

JOHN LAWS: Just quickly back to the Donald. What’s going to happen as far as the refugees are concerned?

PRIME MINISTER: Well the Americans have already been to Nauru. They will continue the processing and they will examine each of the refugees who seeks to take advantage of the opportunity to resettle in America and those that pass their screening tests, their vetting, will resettle in the United States.

JOHN LAWS: He says it’s a dumb deal.

PRIME MINISTER: Well he has been very critical of the deal that President Obama did and he clearly wouldn’t have done it himself but we have persuaded him to stick with it nonetheless and that was the outcome that I wanted to achieve and that’s what I’ve achieved. And that’s my job as Australian Prime Minister, is to defend and advance our interests. That’s my job. I’m Australia’s advocate, I’m Australia’s Prime Minister. My job is to get results for us.

JOHN LAWS: Okay. How are we going to be advantaged by that result?

PRIME MINISTER: Well because the people that are there, John, were put there by an Australian Government, by the Labor Government, by Kevin Rudd in fact and they were basically the consequence of his huge, tragic failure.

JOHN LAWS: It was.

PRIME MINISTER: I mean, it was one of the biggest policy failures of any government in our lifetime.

The worst thing about Labor’s failure here, John, is that they did it with their eyes open. I mean we had a system that was working under Howard. There were no boats, there was nobody in detention centres. Then Labor changed all that and the people smuggling got underway again and we had those results.

So we cannot bring them to Australia, because that would send the wrong message and they won’t come to Australia. So we’re seeking alternative options for them. They can get a 20-year visa in Nauru, the people in Manus can settle in PNG. If they wish to they can settle in Cambodia, we have a resettlement deal there.

Clearly, the United States is going to be more attractive and the Americans have the ability to take a larger number. So this would be a good outcome. It would be a very good outcome for the people on Nauru and Manus. Of course that’s what we’re seeking to achieve.

So I know, this is dealing with the tragic consequences of Labor’s failure. The Labor Party, you’ve got to remember, if Bill Shorten was Prime Minister, it’d be happening all over again because the Labor Party is hopelessly divided on border protection. They don’t agree with our policies. If they were back, if they were ever back in government, it would all start up again.

JOHN LAWS: Does Trump agree with our policies out of interest?

PRIME MINISTER: Well he certainly, clearly, believes in strong border protection policies. I think, yeah, I think our policies – while they have been criticized in parts of the world – are now admired. It was interesting, when I went to the UN in September for the annual leaders meeting, I gave a speech about our refugee policy and I explained that the reason we were able to have a generous migration policy, a generous humanitarian program, a multicultural nation – the most successful multicultural society in the world – the reason we were able to do all that, is because Australians knew that now, under the Coalition, that their Government and their Government alone determines who comes to Australia.

JOHN LAWS: Yeah.

PRIME MINISTER: Labor outsourced migration to the people smugglers.

We decide who comes to Australia. That is what we have restored, the integrity of our borders. That is the foundation upon which our success as a multicultural society is based. It is the foundation on which the acceptance of our migration program is based. Because people accept that it’s their representatives, their government, that they can change as they wish at an election, it is their government and their government alone that is in charge of our borders.

This was the big issue in Brexit - a lot of people in Britain who felt that they had control of their borders. It’s a fundamental thing, a government, a nation, must control its own borders, and we do.

JOHN LAWS: We do yes, we still have a problem though. We control them to the best of our ability but still, I think all countries are going to have a problem aren’t they? Because there’s something like 60 million refugees floating around the world at any one moment.

PRIME MINISTER: Well that’s true, there are a huge number of refugees and we do have a generous humanitarian intake. But the bottom line is John, we decide which refugees we take. Under Labor, it was the people smugglers who were deciding. So you know, we are a compassionate, generous nation. But we decide who comes here, nobody else.

JOHN LAWS: Just back to the Donald Trump thing, we seem to have some difficulty getting away from Mr Trump. Did he hang up on you?

PRIME MINISTER: No, no. Look I haven’t commented on the content of the call and I’m not going to, but I did see the report that he had hung up on me and that is absolutely untrue. The call concluded courteously.

JOHN LAWS: He’s a brash character though isn’t he?

PRIME MINISTER: Well you know, again, I’ll leave others to comment on him, but he is clearly a very big personality.

JOHN LAWS: Yep.

(Laughter)

PRIME MINISTER: But we’ve known a few of them John, over the years.

JOHN LAWS: (Laughter)

Yeah but you’ve got a whale of –

PRIME MINISTER: You know something, here’s the thing. You’ve got to, if you are the Prime Minister of Australia, you have to stand your ground, stand up for Australia, make your case. But you make your case with your good friends, the Americans, you make it privately. I was invited earlier in the week to criticize Donald Trump publically about his domestic policies. That’s not my job, my job is to make Australia’s case to the Americans, as powerfully and persuasively as I can. But to do so directly, face-to-face, or in this case, in a one-on-one telephone call.

JOHN LAWS: Are you getting bored by all the talk about your donation to the Liberal Party, $1.7 million? Is that all becoming a bit tiresome?

PRIME MINISTER: (Laughter)

Well, it’s an issue that I think is of more interest to the media than the public. I mean the public are much more interested in how I’m spending their money than how I spend my own.

Let’s face it, what does it demonstrate? It demonstrates that I put my money where my mouth is. I’m backing the party I lead, the values I stand for, the policies I’m taking to the people. It means that I’m committed and it shows I can’t be bought.

I mean look at Bill Shorten. He’s a wholly owned subsidiary of a whole bunch of left-wing unions. So I’m putting my own after-tax dollars on the line to stand up for what I believe in.

JOHN LAWS: I love the way you call him a wholly-owned subsidiary.

PRIME MINISTER: Well he is. I mean look at the way he fought tooth and nail to stop the Building and Construction Commission coming back, at the behest of the CFMEU. This is a union that has over 100 of its officials before the courts for breaches of industrial law. I mean, they treat judges – judge after judge has described the CFMEU as treating the fines - which we have now trebled I might add, that was part of the problem – treating the fines as though they were parking tickets, just as a cost of doing business. So we have put the tough cop back on the beat and that will restore the rule of law to the construction sector.

Now Shorten fought tooth and nail to stop that. He did everything he could. Why? Because he belongs – he is a wholly owned subsidiary. He is not his own man. I am.

JOHN LAWS: Barnaby Joyce is meeting with graziers affected by the Defence Force compulsory land acquisition, which I can never understand. Why do we have to take land from Australian farmers? I find that infuriating and I also find it extremely stupid. Why are we giving that land to the Singaporean troops to train? Why not put them in the Simpson Dessert?

PRIME MINISTER: Let’s get a couple of things straight. There is a big training ground at Shoalwater Bay. It is an Australian Defence Force training ground. The ADF wants to expand it in large part because the nature of training has changed, the nature of operations has changed. There is so much use of mechanised transport, of longer range artillery and so they need more real estate. This is why they want to expand.

JOHN LAWS: But there is plenty of real estate in the middle of Australia.

PRIME MINISTER: Yes, but this establishment here in Shoalwater Bay is a very important part of the defence training network. It will be used by Singaporean troops to train on, but it is not being acquired for Singapore. It won’t belong to Singapore. It won’t be leased to Singapore. It will be used by the Singaporeans and they are putting a couple of billion dollars into building up facilities in both Shoalwater Bay and at Townsville – so it is great investment. But clearly land - and Marise Payne, the Defence Minister and I have asked Defence to make sure that they acquire no more land than they need. They are focusing very much on their needs. And to ensure that acquisitions are as far as possible done consensually, so by agreement. Compulsory acquisition is obviously a last resort. They are working to find a good settlement up there with the relevant parties and I am confident they will.

But, John, I really understand how people feel, you know, when the government comes along and wants to buy their land. I certainly understand how that is a tough ask but having said that we are living in a dangerous world, we are living in a world of increased tension. We are making the biggest investment, peace time investment in our Defence Force’s capability ever, in our history. That is my Government that is doing that. My Defence Investment Plan is the biggest investment in our Defence Force’s in peace time, on any view. So it is a massive investment. We are increasing the capability of our ADF to keep Australians safe and they need places to train.

JOHN LAWS: Okay, but why prime land?

PRIME MINISTER: They will be seeking to ensure that the agricultural land is used for agricultural purposes but there are areas there that is grazing country that can be acquired. But again, John, I mean, you know, the big exercise, it’s all a services amphibious element, the Talisman Saber exercise that is done with the United States every year and other countries are invited to it. That’s done. That is centred on Shoalwater Bay. So it is a very important training area. And look, it is a big part of the economy in North Queensland. These are always difficult issues but they have got to be, that they are being dealt with empathy and ensuring that no more land is purchased or acquired than is absolutely needed.

JOHN LAWS: I believe that about 60 properties will go.

PRIME MINISTER: John, that may be the number but I don’t think any of that has been finalised yet.

JOHN LAWS: Okay, but if 60, I mean, you’re a traditionalist, how would you feel if the family farm that had been in the family for generations was suddenly taken away?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, nobody is taking anything away. I mean governments buy land for government purposes all the time. Ideally, you want acquisitions of property to be done by agreement – that’s the objective.

JOHN LAWS: Okay. Are you going to miss Mike Baird?

PRIME MINISTER: Yes. Well, look, he’s got a great successor in Gladys Berejiklian.

JOHN LAWS: Yes. She’s great.

PRIME MINISTER: I’m glad we are both big fans of Gladys.

JOHN LAWS: I am a big fan of her. I think she’s great.

PRIME MINISTER: And I agree. But look Mike was a terrific Premier. He got the Budget, State Budget back into the black which is a big achievement. Look at the increase in construction. Look at the way in which after all those years of doing nothing by the Labor Party, Baird following on from Barry O’Farrell, of course, Mike was Barry’s treasurer – look at how they’ve got infrastructure underway. Whether it is WestConnex, whether it is the North West Rail. You know, all of these projects that should have been built years ago. You know we had 15 odd years of Labor doing virtually nothing and now the state is moving again and that is a great credit to Mike.

JOHN LAWS: We have six changes of hands over the last decade in the state of New South Wales. And also we have had six at a Federal level. Are you going to see out the entire period for which you were elected?

PRIME MINISTER: Absolutely. I will be back here in 2019, seeking to persuade your listeners to vote for me and the return of the Government.

JOHN LAWS: Well, you’ve got to presume I’ll be here in 2019

(Laughter)

PRIME MINISTER: It’s not long! We haven’t got long to go John.

JOHN LAWS: To 2019 – but I probably haven’t got long to go anyway so!

(Laughter)

PRIME MINISTER: You’re looking very durable to me.

JOHN LAWS: That’s a nice word to use.

(Laughter)

Prime Minister, as usual it has been good to see you and have a talk to you and I hope we can do it again very soon because I do enjoy it and I know the people enjoy it too because they get to hear a side of you that we don’t often get to hear because it is a very formal task you being Prime Minister. You can’t fool around too much but at least you and I can have a laugh.

PRIME MINISTER: We always do. We always have. And we always will.

JOHN LAWS: Very nice. Thank you Prime Minister very much for your time. And I hope we do get to talk to each other soon.

PRIME MINISTER: We will. 

Transcript 40723