Interview with Leigh Sales - 730

August 28, 2017
Transcripts

SUBJECTS: Energy policy, same-sex marriage, citizenship and polls.

E&OE…

LEIGH SALES:

Joining me in the studio is the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, thank you very much for coming in.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah, great to be here.

LEIGH SALES:

You’ve been Prime Minister now for nearly two years. How is it possible that in all of that time you've not yet managed to have a signature achievement?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we've had huge achievements. The reform of all-school funding, Commonwealth school funding the first time in the nation’s history.

LEIGH SALES:

That is a continuation of a Labor policy, I'm asking what’s your signature achievement.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it is my achievement because it is our policy. We brought that in.

What about restoring the Building and Construction Commission, restoring the rule of law?

What about reducing company tax so that small and medium businesses can invest and get ahead?

What about reforming child care so that families on lower incomes in particular get more access to childcare than they could before?

We have made one big reform after another. And people in the press gallery said, "You'll never get anything through the Senate." "Poor old Malcolm”, they said, “he’s in government but not in power, in office, but not in power." And yet we have done more in the last year or so since the election than was achieved in the previous three years of the old Senate.

LEIGH SALES:

But do you really want historians to look back and when they look for your signature achievement they go oh well it was the continuation of a labor policy –

PRIME MINISTER:

But what about Snowy Hydro?

LEIGH SALES:

And say it was the company tax it was the ABCC-

PRIME MINISTER:

Look Leigh, you can be as negative as you like...

LEIGH SALES:

That is a very easy question-

PRIME MINISTER:

No, No

LEIGH SALES:

I'm asking you to nominate your signature achievement.

PRIME MINISTER:

My signature achievement is ensuring that Australians have got the opportunities to realise their dreams, ensuring that we have a strong economy, ensuring that we have 240,000 jobs in the last year, ensuring as I was up in the Snowy Mountains today, that we have the biggest pumped hydro storage scheme in the Southern Hemisphere, which could - and I believe will - be expanded to be the biggest in the world, that will make renewables reliable.

You know, I often hear on the ABC people saying, "Oh, the government is not committed to renewables," this is the biggest renewables project in our history since the Snowy Mountains scheme was built.

LEIGH SALES:

I will come to renewables in a moment, but nonetheless, the Snowy Hydro scheme – it hasn't happened yet – you’re in the feasibility study at the moment. It is not exactly your signature achievement yet.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Leigh, it is underway. The drilling is underway. 350 people are working there. There will be 5,000 people working when it's fully under construction. All of these projects take time.

You know, you look right across the country at the achievements we're making, we don't talk about infrastructure - we're getting it built. Whether it's Snowy Hydro, whether it's the inland rail, whether it is one big infrastructure project after another, we're getting on with it. I've talked about some of the big policy achievements that we've made - what about the way in which we've taken one step after another to ensure that Australians are protected against terrorism? Australians...

LEIGH SALES:

When...

PRIME MINISTER:

Leigh, I know you are not interested in it. Let me say to you, when I get out into the pubs of Australia, and into the cafes and into the sidewalks, when I get out into regional Australia, what Australians are talking about is energy, they want to know what we're doing to keep energy affordable and reliable and Snowy Hydro is a big part about that. They want to know what we're doing to keep them safe, they want to know what we're doing to encourage investment and employment, that's what they're focused on and that's where we're delivering.

LEIGH SALES:

When you became Prime Minister two years ago you gave a series of reasons why change was necessary and in your first interview on this program I asked you what the foundations of a Turnbull Government would be and you immediately said it would be a free market government. How does your massive government intervention in the energy sector square with that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look, I've intervened massively in the gas market, for example, in a way that I - that gave me no pleasure to do so. But the reality is that the Labor Party, a government Bill Shorten was a minister in, allowed export facilities to be built on the east coast...

LEIGH SALES:

But we're talking about your government-

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no.

LEIGH SALES:

You said you were going to be a free market government.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Leigh, please don't interrupt me so much that I can't even finish a sentence.

LEIGH SALES:

I won't interrupt you if you answer the question.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I'm answering the question. The gas market in the east coast of Australia has been short of gas. Why is that? It’s because the Labor Party allowed gas to be exported from the east coast without any regard to protecting domestic industries or families or households. I have had to take very strong, heavy-handed measures to protect Australian jobs. That’s what I’ve done.

LEIGH SALES:

So do you not believe in being a free market government then?

PRIME MINISTER:

I believe in protecting Australian jobs and in policy that is well-informed.

What Labor did - if I had not intervened, there would have been tens of thousands of jobs lost in the manufacturing sector, all because of negligence and complacency on the part of the government that Bill Shorten was a minister in. The Gillard Government.

LEIGH SALES:

Will you announce even more government spending to fund a coal-fired power station as part of the deal to get your party room to support the introduction of clean energy targets?

PRIME MINISTER:

We have no plans to build a coal-fired power station. We are already taking strong steps on Snowy Hydro, which, as you know, is a government-owned energy company. It belongs to three governments - Victoria, New South Wales and the Commonwealth Government. We're prepared to take out the states. It is a vitally important national project. It's vitally important national infrastructure.

LEIGH SALES:

Do you rule out funding any further coal-fired power stations.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we have no plans to do so, Leigh.

LEIGH SALES:

Okay.

PRIME MINISTER:

We have no plans to do so, there is a market out there with plenty of opportunities to fund additional energy infrastructure, but if you want to make renewables reliable - if you believe in renewables, if you believe in them having a future - then you can't be like Labor and just allow renewables to be built without paying attention to the fact that-

LEIGH SALES:

Well, let's stick with what you’re doing-

PRIME MINISTER:

..that the sun doesn't shine all the time and the wind doesn't blow all the time. You've got to have the storage and that storage is what Snowy Hydro represents on the largest scale.

LEIGH SALES:

Alright.

PRIME MINISTER:

..ever undertaken in the country's history and it may not be of interest, Leigh, on the ABC, but let me tell you - in the families, in the households around Australia, they want to know what is happening to assure that energy is affordable and reliable and we're taking steps in the here and now and in the long-term.

LEIGH SALES:

Prime Minister I think you'll find plenty of stories about the Snowy Hydro and power prices on the ABC.

Nonetheless, the major power companies of today said the thing that they believe will reduce power bills is if you, or when you, introduce a clean energy target. When will you make a decision about that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, first, we need to be satisfied as to what the gap in baseload power is going to be over the next five and ten years.

LEIGH SALES:

And when will you be able to work out thank out?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we're getting a report from AEMO very shortly and that is a critical thing because-

LEIGH SALES:

So will you make a decision on this by the end of the year?

PRIME MINISTER:

Let me finish. The critical thing to remember is that if you bring in intermittent renewables like wind and solar, that obviously wind doesn't blow all the time, sun doesn't shine all the time, you understand the problem. If you bring them in and replace baseload power that generates all the time, you run the risk that you end up with inadequate baseload power, massive spikes in energy prices, huge reliance on gas, - which is already too expensive, although we're bringing that price down -so you need to have that backup. The Labor Party's approach to energy has been driven by ideology and politics...

LEIGH SALES:

We're not talking about the Labor Party, we're talking about your government.

PRIME MINISTER:

And my government's approach is governed by engineering and economics.

LEIGH SALES:

Well as you know-

PRIME MINISTER:

The certainty you need - well the certainty you need, Leigh, is that the government is taking wise and considered decisions, not like the mistakes and the negligence we've seen from Labor.

LEIGH SALES:

Okay - but as you noted in your press conference when you declared that you were challenging Tony Abbott, you said, "Every month lost is a month of lost opportunities." Now, you have had the Finkel report now for months.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, and we're considering it very carefully and we've adopted 49 of the 50 recommendations but the clean energy target requires a lot more work to be done to ensure that we will get baseload power...

LEIGH SALES:

Quickly, before we move on, will you make a decision on that by the end of the year.

PRIME MINISTER:

We're certainly aiming to do so, Leigh.

LEIGH SALES:

Okay.

PRIME MINISTER:

But can I just say this to you - I'm focused on making the right decision for Australia's future. We're taking steps to keep energy prices affordable, and make sure that energy supply is reliable - that's my commitment. That's my obligation.

LEIGH SALES:

Along with the commitment to the free market, another principle that you said would be key to your government was freedom. Do you believe that a national vote on same-sex marriage is also a vote on religious freedom, or freedom of speech, as Tony Abbott has said?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, it is a vote on a question of principle - should same-sex couples be able to marry? That's what it is a vote on.

LEIGH SALES:

So you don't think it has implications for religious freedom?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the legislation that follows, assuming it is carried, will certainly have implications for religious freedom, and Australians know that the Coalition is much better able to protect religious freedoms in legislating for same-sex marriage, were the postal vote to be 'yes', than Labor would. So Australians can trust us to carefully consider those issues and make sure that religious freedoms are protected, at the same time as same-sex couples are able to marry, assuming that's what the people say they want in the plebiscite.

LEIGH SALES:

Given how vehemently people like Tony Abbott feel about not having same-sex marriage in Australia, what is the source of your confidence that if the yes vote were to get up, that they would then say, "Oh well, fair cop, you guys won, let's have a conscience vote and have same-sex marriage"?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, that is our policy, we will have a-

LEIGH SALES:

Do you really think they will go along with that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Tony Abbott has said if the postal vote is yes he will vote for same-sex marriage, so that's just one person. But I can assure you that if the postal vote delivers a Yes vote - and I encourage Australians to vote Yes, Lucy and I will be voting Yes - then I have no doubt the legislation will sail through the parliament.

PRIME MINISTER:

You and Bill Shorten both support a Yes vote - wouldn't it have some influence if you got together and did something like a television advertisement where you said we don’t agree on-

PRIME MINISTER:

Together?

LEIGH SALES:

Yeah – "We don't agree on very much but we agree on this."

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I'm not sure it necessarily would. I think each of us can make a case on our own terms.

LEIGH SALES:

But together is powerful, you do some things together, you do Indigenous issues together and national security?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well thanks, Leigh, but look I’ll focus on my job and my approach, which is to encourage Australians to vote yes and the reasons and the basis on which I would advocate that may be different to others. But the fact is I've said all my views out quite a few years ago, long before Bill Shorten said he supported same-sex marriage, by the way.

LEIGH SALES:

On the dual citizenship fracas, you've said you are confident that the High Court will rule on the side of Barnaby Joyce but if they don't and you are then facing a by-election, do you accept that could be the end of the Turnbull Government?

PRIME MINISTER:

Leigh, I'm not going to speculate on hypotheticals. The fact is we are very confident, based on the advice we have, that the court will conclude that where a person like Barnaby is an Australian citizen by reason of being born here. The fact that they have had conferred on them by the law of another country citizenship by descent will not disqualify them unless they have acknowledged or accepted that citizenship in some way and plainly and that is consistent in previous decisions of the court particularly the judgments in Sykes v Cleary, so I'm confident that's what the court will decide – but of course it’s in the hands of the court and we await their judgment.

LEIGH SALES:

You say you don't want to speculate on hypotheticals but again, when you first became Prime Minister and you came on this program you said you want to lead a government that respects the intelligence of the Australian people.

PRIME MINISTER:

I do, I do.

LEIGH SALES:

Do you really think the public will believe you haven't considered the prospect of what happens if Barnaby Joyce loses in the High Court.

PRIME MINISTER:

I didn't say I hadn't considered it.

LEIGH SALES:

What is your thinking about that then?

PRIME MINISTER:

There would be a by-election, obviously.

LEIGH SALES:

And could that mean the end of your government?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Leigh, no, the answer is no. But, Leigh, look, if there were a by-election in the seat of New England, Barnaby Joyce would be returned.

But the fact is that we are very confident that the court will find - very confident - that Barnaby is qualified to sit in the House of Representatives, as indeed, Senator Xenophon is entitled to sit in the Senate, as indeed are senators Nash and Canavan. So you know there are four of these citizenship by descent test cases going before the High Court. It will hear those cases, and a number of other citizenship cases, in October, so we don't have long to wait.

LEIGH SALES:

Alright still respecting the intelligence of the Australian people, why is Barnaby Joyce still in the frontbench and Matt Canavan is not?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it basically relates to the circumstances in which the matters arose. Canavan's dual citizenship issue arose in the media at a time when he didn't know the facts, he didn't know what the law in Italy was, it was an uncertain period, and he took the decision that he did to step aside.

LEIGH SALES:

Right.

PRIME MINISTER:

But the difference with Joyce and, indeed, with - you know, Barnaby Joyce and Senator Nash, is that we are able to ascertain what the facts were, ascertain what the foreign law was, get an advice on the Australian legal implications, and then make a fully informed decision.

LEIGH SALES:

Well, you've got all that...

PRIME MINISTER:

Which was taken by the governance committee.

LEIGH SALES:

You have got all that information about Matt Canavan now, so why not put him back?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Matt's view is that he gave a commitment to the Senate that he would remain stood aside until the court had decided, so he feels he should stick with that.

LEIGH SALES:

Many times now it has been pointed out to you that you've lost 18 Newspolls in a row and one of your justifications for calling a spill against Tony Abbott was that he had lost 30 Newspolls in a row. At that time, you said that it was clear that the Coalition was on a trajectory to lose the next election. You are on the same trajectory, are you not?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I disagree with that - we'll win the next election.

LEIGH SALES:

But you have lost this 18 Newspolls in a row, this is the standard you have set for yourself.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, well, Leigh, again, that's a - I'm sorry that you’re not interested in talking about energy prices, you only want to talk about politics...

LEIGH SALES:

Prime Minister, look I'm sorry to have to pull out your own quotes, "Nobody looks at opinion polls with more attention than politicians."

PRIME MINISTER:

That’ true, we do.

LEIGH SALES:

That’s what you said.

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm very confident we will win the next election.

LEIGH SALES:

Will you live or die...

PRIME MINISTER:

Because we will deliver, we will continue to deliver the economic leadership that is showing strong growth in jobs - we want to see stronger growth. Every one of our policies will deliver more investment and more employment. Labor, on the other hand, is running an anti-business, anti-investment, anti-jobs, politics of envy campaign, which will only set us back.

LEIGH SALES:

Interesting that you raise Labor, because one of the arguments you made at the time you replaced Tony Abbott was if the Liberal Party under Tony Abbott continued on that trajectory, Australia would get Bill Shorten as Prime Minister, which you thought would be a disastrous outcome. If that is your genuine view, surely you must have to keep open the option at some point that you would step aside to give the Liberal Party the best chance of ensuring Bill Shorten would not be Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

Leigh, I'm really not interested in going along with this sort of political commentary that you want to engage in.

LEIGH SALES:

You are a politician.

PRIME MINISTER:

I am, but you’re a commentator and I am a politician and my job is to ensure that Australians have good jobs, that they have affordable and reliable energy, and that they are protected from terrorism, and that they are safe. My job is to deliver Australians safety, opportunity, and to do so in a fair society that enables them to realise their dreams, a government that does everything it can to support that opportunity.

It's your job to run the commentary, cynical, however you want to do it, you can run that. My job is to look after Australians and ensure that they can get ahead.

LEIGH SALES:

I just ask the questions, Prime Minister, thank you for coming in to answer some of them.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks so much.

[ENDS]

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