Interview with Ben Fordham - 2GB Radio

February 2, 2017

SUBJECTS: Phone call with President Trump; political donations; Defence Force, energy affordability, Indigenous Advisory Council, retiring NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione

E&OE…

BEN FORDHAM:

How are you Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

Hi Ben, good to be with you.

BEN FORDHAM:

Is it really great?

PRIME MINISTER:

It is great, what are you talking about, it’s great, a beautiful day.

BEN FORDHAM:

Alright now I’ll make this phone call much more pleasant than one you allegedly had at the weekend okay?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah okay.

BEN FORDHAM:

Were you rattled at all when the US President was giving you a spray?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, let me just run through the facts here. I had a call with President Trump on Sunday morning our time. The President committed to honour the refugee resettlement deal that had been made by his predecessor Barack Obama. On Wednesday morning our time the President’s spokesman Mr Sean Spicer confirmed that the President had given that commitment, the arrangements would go forward and he did that in the White House briefing room. Today the US Embassy in Canberra stated President’s Trump’s decision to honour the refugee agreement has not changed and spokesman Spicer’s comments stand. This was confirmed to the state Department from the White House and onto this Embassy at 1:15 Canberra time. Now as far as the call is concerned –

BEN FORDHAM:

Hang on, just so while you’re going along that timeline, you’ve seen Twitter this afternoon?

PRIME MINISTER:

I have indeed, yep. I have.

BEN FORDHAM:

Donald Trump says: “Do you believe it? The Obama Administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why? I will study this dumb deal.”

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that’s his tweet. I’m telling you what has been said to us and what’s been said by his spokesman and what has been said by his embassy.

BEN FORDHAM:

It’s concerning that’s coming from the President himself though.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well let me just go on. As far as the call is concerned, I’m very disappointed that there has been a leak of purported details of the call in Washington. But I want to make one observation about it. The report that the President hung up is not correct. The call ended courteously. As far as the nature of the discussion, it was very frank and forthright. I stand up for Australia’s interests. I make Australia’s case as powerfully and persuasively as I can, wherever I am.

BEN FORDHAM:

Laura Jayes from Sky News is reporting via “government sources” that is wasn’t a one-way spray, that you gave as good as you copped?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the only –

BEN FORDHAM:

And you were just saying you stand up for Australia so - 

PRIME MINISTER:

I do.

BEN FORDHAM:

Is that a fair characterisation?

PRIME MINISTER:

I do stand up for Australia but I can assure you that the call was courteous. There’s a lot of talk around about the call allegedly from people that were not party to it. These calls generally remain, naturally, completely confidential so I am –

BEN FORDHAM:

[Laughs]

Naturally!

PRIME MINISTER:

I am surprised and disappointed that there has been a leak of what purports to be details of the call in Washington. But I am not going to – the only point I want to make though is that the suggestion the President hung up is not correct. The call ended courteously.

BEN FORDHAM:

I must say that did surprise me I mean it sounded a bit unusual. I do note though Prime Minister that you’re singling out that part of the Washington Post story to deny it, but you’re not singling out any other aspect.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the problem is that –look – we have very, very strong standards in the way we deal with other leaders. We are not about to reveal details of conversations, you know, other than in a manner that is agreed. Now the commitment made by the President in that call was made. It was given to us. We announced that. That was confirmed by his spokesman, you know, a day or so later.

BEN FORDHAM:

Sure. Sounds like he’s having a little bit of regret though.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well you’ve got to remember that what the President is doing – and I thanked him for that – he committed to honour a deal done by his predecessor that no doubt he would say that he would not have done himself. But he committed to stick to the deal that President Obama has done. It’s a very important deal because it will enable many people who are on Nauru and Manus, potentially to be able to be resettled in the United States. So it’s a very important deal for them. It’s one that we secured with the Obama Administration. I have made the case as powerfully and persuasively as I can to maintain it with the Trump Administration.

BEN FORDHAM:

Sounds like you were very persuasive considering he thinks this is the worst deal ever and he’s now blowing up about it, describing it as a “dumb deal”. But in between those two, and while you had him on the other end of the phone, you got him across the line.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’m very pleased that he made that commitment and I thanked him for it.

BEN FORDHAM:

I thought you were about to say you’re very persuasive.

PRIME MINISTER:

[Laughs]

Well, that’s for others to judge.

BEN FORDHAM:

Did President Trump tell you it’s the worst deal ever?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I’m not going to go into the contents of the call Ben. You’ve got to –

BEN FORDHAM:

Well can I ask you this then, did he say to you that his conversation with you was one of the worst calls by far?

PRIME MINISTER:

[Laughs]

I’m not going to go into any details of the conversation.

BEN FORDHAM:

That’d be an easy one to deny

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no.

BEN FORDHAM:

You denied that he hung up on you.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Ben, it’s very important for me to advance Australia’s interests. My job as Prime Minister is to defend Australia’s interests and everything I do has got to be done with the purpose of ensuring that Australians and Australia’s national interests are protected. That’s what I seek to do. So I make Australia’s case frankly, powerfully, forthrightly, hopefully persuasively when I deal with other leaders but what I don’t do is indulge public commentary, that’s for others to do because I don’t think that will necessarily advance Australia’s national interests.

BEN FORDHAM:

Everyone is wondering now how this can be rescued. I guess you are wondering the same thing, do you pick up the phone again or is that done and dusted?

PRIME MINISTER:

We have a commitment from the US President, confirmed several times now by their Government -

BEN FORDHAM:

But you know he said this afternoon, it’s there for everyone to read, he says this is a “dumb deal” so he is back-tracking. He’s crab walking away from it.

PRIME MINISTER:

No I don’t think that’s -

BEN FORDHAM:

I think he is. I think any observer would say that he’s made it clear at 3 o’clock this afternoon our time, he doesn’t want a bar of this.

PRIME MINISTER:

Ben this is not a deal that he would’ve done or that he would regard as a good deal but -

BEN FORDHAM:

So what makes you think that he’ll honour it?

PRIME MINISTER:

This is what he is saying, but the question is, will he commit to honour the deal and he has given that commitment. And I just want to make this point and this is a very important point. The deal with – and Spokesman Spicer made this point indeed the other day – the deal with the Americans has always proceeded on the basis that every person considered as part of the refugee resettlement process will be accessed rigorously and thoroughly through the American’s own security vetting system. We do that with people who come to Australia, they do that with people who come to America, that is absolutely their right, it’s their duty to their own people. And so all of the concerns about security are perfectly well able to be met and it is up to the Americans as to which of those people - for whom we are seeking to find a resettlement option - which of those people they decide to take.

BEN FORDHAM:

What do you do now, do you dispatch Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to Washington to finalise the detail once and for all, what do you do?

PRIME MINISTER:

The officials are working - the deal is underway, there have already been American officials on Nauru as you know and the officials have been working in Washington this week so –

BEN FORDHAM:

I’d leave President Trump alone for 24 hours, he needs to cool down. He sounds cranky.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks for the advice Ben. My job as Prime Minister is to defend our interests. America is our most important ally. We have very frank discussions with our ally. I stand up for our interests and express our point of view and American Presidents do the same from their perspective. But it is very important that everyone understands that I stand up for Australia. I defend our interests with whomever I’m dealing. Whether it is the President of the United States or anybody else.

BEN FORDHAM:

You spoke at lunchtime yesterday about the need for transparency in political donations while refusing to say how much you donated to the Liberal Party during the last election. Then you changed your mind last night and admitted it was $1.75 million. What changed between 12.30 and 7.30?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the donations Ben, the donations that I have made in the course of this financial year and ordinary course of events wouldn’t be released until early 2018 -

BEN FORDHAM:

Understood, but why did you change your mind? What was it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Ben the circumstances were appropriate and I’ve made a – the disclosure is there. It’s made literally a year ahead of time and so that’s the fact and I’m proud to say that I’ve been prepared to put my money, my after-tax money where my mouth is. Standing up for the values of the Liberal Party and the values of the Government which is so important for Australia’s future.

BEN FORDHAM:

Do you plan on donating again to the Liberal Party?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think it’s very likely that I will be a donor in the future. I think it’s always - if you’re on my side of politics - I think it’s always likely that you’ll do it again. But look -

BEN FORDHAM:

Well you don’t have the union movement tipping too much cash I’m guessing?

PRIME MINISTER:

We don’t. The reality is and you guys in the media know this very well -  Labor and the unions and GetUp and so forth outspent us massively. One network told me they outspent us 3-to-1. And that’s certainly what it looked like if you’re looking at the run of all the ads on television during the campaign. So we are massively outmatched in financial terms.

But of course the big difference is that Shorten is now a wholly owned subsidiary of several very left-wing unions. Of course, the CFMEU, a leading one among them and he has to do their bidding. Now the big difference between him and me in this respect is that I am my own man. I can’t be bought. When we needed more resources, I was able to commit them myself.

BEN FORDHAM:

Okay, I’ve only got about five minutes – I want to squeeze in five questions. Let’s see how we go. Bill Shorten said on Wednesday he wanted to rescue the state of politics and rise above the current standards. 24 hours later he was calling you “Mr Harbourside Mansion”. He didn’t rise above it for long did he?

PRIME MINISTER:

No he didn’t. He’s sinking very quickly. Look, he just wants to run an old politics of envy campaign. The fact is like any socialist he wants to live in a harbourside mansion but he wants to live in one that is paid for by the taxpayer.

BEN FORDHAM:

Did you just call Bill Shorten a socialist?

PRIME MINISTER:

Indeed.

BEN FORDHAM:

You’ve got the Bronwyn Bishop’s about you. She blames everything on socialism these days.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, you know what Margaret Thatcher said? She said, “The problem with socialists is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.” And that’s basically the problem with the Labor Party now.

BEN FORDHAM:

Alright. What are you going to do about these poor farmers in Queensland who have been told that their land may be compulsorily acquired to give to the Singaporean Army for war games and training? Some of these families have had the properties in their families for 140 years – you’re not going to kick them out of their homes are you?

PRIME MINISTER:

The Defence Department and the Defence Minister have been up there. They are talking to land owners. Obviously the aim is to reach land acquisition agreements that are consensual, that people are happy with and I just want to say that while these expanded training grounds will be used by Singaporean forces when they are training here as part of our arrangements with them – they belong to the Australian Defence Forces. They belong to us and they’ll of course be used by our forces as well.

BEN FORDHAM:

So the compulsory acquisitions are going ahead?

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s all in the state of process of negotiation and I don’t want to run a commentary on that. Marise Payne has got it under hand.

BEN FORDHAM:

There are accusations the Defence Department has grabbed a lot of land over the years that they haven’t really used or looked after and there is overgrown vegetation in those areas now which is why they are now trying to get fresh prime agricultural land. I mean, can you really look these people in the eye and say: ‘You’re out’ after 90 years, 140 years? To give it to Singapore?

PRIME MINISTER:

Ben, it is not being given to Singapore.

BEN FORDHAM:

It is being leased to Singapore.

PRIME MINISTER:

It is not being leased to Singapore. It is being used by the Singaporean forces.

BEN FORDHAM:

Well it is the same result for the poor old farmers. They’re booted.

PRIME MINISTER:

The big difference, this is the Australian Defence Department seeking to acquire land for the purpose of expanding the training facilities that it uses for our Defence Forces and which will also be used by Singapore when they visit to do training. And, of course, the Singaporeans are putting $2.25 billion of investment into those North Queensland centres, into Rockhampton and Townsville and these are going to be very important.

BEN FORDHAM:

You can understand why the farmers want to do a Darryl Kerrigan from The Castle and tell them to go and get stuffed?

PRIME MINISTER:

I absolutely can understand how they feel. I absolutely empathise with them. And that is why it is important that the arrangements that are negotiated are as far as possible, ones that have been reached by agreement.

BEN FORDHAM:

Couple of quick ones – why did you dissolve the Indigenous Advisory Council and will the head of the council Warren Mundine still have a role going forward?

PRIME MINISTER:

We haven’t dissolved it. We are appointing new members. The existing council’s membership has - their term has run out and Cabinet next week will be confirming the new members of the Advisory Council. So it is continuing. It will be refreshed as it should be with some new members.

BEN FORDHAM:

You’ve hinted you want to help fund the construction of clean coal-fired power stations to deal with the closure of state power plants and hopefully reduce some power prices. Is this going to take some significant taxpayer contributions to build them?

PRIME MINISTER:

It may require or it may involve support from, for example, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. But you know, as I said in the speech yesterday, this has got to be looked at in the context of demand for electricity. Demand for electricity is actually flat so what we need and what we’ve lacked is a plan for how we maintain the stability and affordability of our electricity system, especially as the older coal-fired power stations are retired.

Now we’ve already seen Hazelwood going in Victoria, Liddell in the Hunter Valley is expected to be retired in the 2020s. And so we’ve got to have a plan that enables us and it will involve renewables, it will involve storage, it will involve gas, it will involve coal, but we’ve got to have a technology agnostic and all of the above approach that ensures that we get affordable power, we get reliable power and of course we meet our emission reduction targets.

BEN FORDHAM:

Andrew Scipione has confirmed this afternoon that he is leaving the New South Wales Police Force - he’s been the Commissioner and done a great job. Have you got just a 20 second tribute to say what you like to observe about his time as New South Wales Police Commissioner?

PRIME MINISTER:

Andrew – you’ve done a magnificent job. Thank you for your service, for your leadership. As a citizen of New South Wales, you’ve kept me safe, as you have all of us here. Thank you and good luck.

BEN FORDHAM:

Thank you so much for coming on the program. I won’t hang up on you!

PRIME MINISTER:

Okay. Thanks very much.

[ENDS]

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