Interview with Leon Compton, ABC Northern Tasmania

October 30, 2015

LEON COMPTON: Prime Minister, good morning to you.

PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, good morning and Leon you’ve got to be more upbeat. I mean what’s all this opportunities Tasmania ‘might’ be able to take advantage of. Tasmania is taking advantage of the great opportunities in the global economy. Tasmanians are exporting into Asia more than ever. This is, you know, this is a great time to be Tasmanian and you should be more upbeat.

LEON COMPTON: There’s no doubt about that Prime Minister except –

PRIME MINISTER: Good, I’ve got to rev you I’ve got to rev you up in the morning Leon. You’ve got to get people excited and positive.

LEON COMPTON: Look Prime Minister there is a great issue in Tasmania that people don’t like to talk about with people like you too often and that is the under-education of our children. We have a 60 per cent Year 12 completion rate and there is not a lot, it would seem that is happening to change that at the moment. How can the State claim the future that you want to be bright-eyed about, when so many of its kids leave school in Year 10?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I was discussing this with the Premier only the night before last in Hobart and I understand that he is changing the system, or is seeking to change the system, so that students will go through to Year 12, like they – in school, high school, like they do in the rest of the country and that is obviously very important.

Skills are absolutely critical and you know a key part of that is encouragement, leadership, making provision for that in the school and also there is nothing more important, Leon, than constantly seeking to improve the quality of the teachers.

Teachers are absolutely in the frontline of building our future. Those kids are our future. You know when we are old and crotchety, they’ll be working hard and paying the taxes to pay for our pension and healthcare and so forth.

So making sure that we respect and value and reward teachers properly is absolutely critical.

LEON COMPTON: To the extent that Gonski funding is part of the answer to this, will you commit to the roll-out of years five and six of Gonski funding, where the big money was to be located?

PRIME MINISTER: Well this is all being considered by the Government in the context of a very tight Budget. Let me just say to you that the Federal support for education right across the board is increasing and it will increase in the future.

But you know the challenge is managing it in an affordable way. So I don’t want to pre-empt what Simon Birmingham would say on that but I would encourage you to talk to Simon, the new Education Minister about this and you know all I can say to you that, look is my life was transformed by great teachers.

I have got a lifelong commitment to education and supporting education and supporting means tested scholarships and things of that kind. David Gonski, by the way, happens to be a very old friend of mine, we have literally known each other, and I regret to say nearly fifty years, which is a bit frightening.

But what David was saying was that we need more resources into education and it needs to be needs-based and you know, everybody agrees on that. The question, the debate is about how you address those needs and how do you ensure that money goes to where it is most needed and where it is going to have the most effect and how do you get the best educational outcome bang for the taxpayer buck? That is the question.

You know there are issues about that.

LEON COMPTON: That happens in the context of Tasmania, with a 60 percent Year 12 completion rate. Tasmanian politicians are very good at asking people like yourself for money, what about turning the question around and you asking them what they’re doing to get more kids through school in Tasmania into the future?

PRIME MINISTER: Well this is what I was talking to your Premier Will Hodgman about, as I said the night before last. He as saying – it was a brief conversation, we covered a lot of other issues but Will said that, expressed his concern about the very point that you have just raised and he said that he is seeking to extend the school agenda, I suppose to go from  - not finish at Year 10 but through to Year 12, so that more Tasmanians will finish school, will go right through to Year 12

LEON COMPTON: A lot of optimism among those that have been part of the National Disability Insurance Scheme trial for 15 to 24 year olds, Prime Minister, they share your optimistic view of the morning based on the packaged they’ve got.

But Kathleen from Campbell Town is a grandmother caring for a young person with a disability and she wants to know when the rest of the NDIS is going to be rolled out. Have a listen:


Tony Abbott was supposed to release the next rollout the NDIS in August which didn’t happen and for those like myself that are carers of children with a disability. We need to know where we stand and when it is going to happen because over the next three or four months, I am looking to have to look for $50,000.

LEON COMPTON: Prime Minster, it is a couple of months overdue now. Is the federal government going to sign up to the full rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme in Tasmania?

PRIME MINISTER: Well we certainly expect to, and again, as you know, we have signed up with other states. But we are certainly expecting to do that and we expect that the NDIS will be fully rolled out here by mid-2019. That’s the expectation. So again, Will and I talked about that just a couple of nights ago and as far as I can see that is on track.

LEON COMPTON: What questions have you been asking while you have been in Tasmania, Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER: I have been asking people how they’re doing in terms of their business. In particular, I am very interesting in how Tasmania is becoming much more confident about its future and much more enterprising.

I have really been impressed with the way in which Tasmanian exporters, and I am talking particularly about food and wine, meat, whisky for that matter. I am talking to people in those businesses and they are all reporting significant increases in export volumes.

They are very pumped up about the opportunities in China. It is the world’s largest single national economy and the China-Australia free trade agreement, which as you know, is going through the Parliament with cross-party support is going to open the doors to huge opportunities for Tasmania. As Brett Whiteley the Member for Braddon said the other day, it will make Tasmania the delicatessen of China and I think it is a big opportunity.

I know that all of our members here, Eric Hutchinson, Andrew Nikolic who I am with here today in Launceston. All of them are getting fantastic feedback and enthusiasm about the opportunities. I mean Tasmania is a global state, it is a small state obviously, but it is a global state in the sense that it depends on exports.  And what we have been doing, what the Coalition Government has been able to do, and now with the support of the whole Parliament, is open the doors to bigger and bigger markets and that is good for Tasmania, it’s good for jobs, it’s obviously good for Australia as well.

LEON COMPTON: It is an interesting time of course in terms of framing our foreign policy as a country. We had the privileged the other day of having Australia’s first ambassador to China, a Tasmanian, in the studio to talk about his recollections.

He expressed the view that at the moment in Asia and in China particularly that we are viewed as a client state of the US. That the only view we have is whatever the United States thinks. If we are going to take advantage of China in the Asian century, do we need more independent foreign policy on Asia than the one that we’ve been running over the last decade?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, look, which Ambassador are you talking about?

LEON COMPTON: Um I’ll get the name in a moment; he was our first ambassador to China and –

PRIME MINISTER: Yes, yes, yes.

LEON COMPTON: …he was our first ambassador to China under Gough Whitlam and now is now a China expert.

PRIME MINISTER: Okay. Well look I would disagree with that. It think we are clearly seen, correctly, as being a very close and strong ally of the United States but Australia speaks with its own voice. We have a very, very clear and distinct identity in Asia and I am not saying that you know, just as a matter of theory.

I have spent a fair bit of time in China in years past. I actually established a Chinese-Australian joint venture mine in China, quite a big Zinc mine. It is still operating very successfully, in fact, in Hebei Province.

I have done business you know at every level, from the village town council level to the national government. So I have had some pretty good experience there over the years and Australia is seen in China certainly as having a very, very distinct identity. Separate and distinct from the United States, or the UK for that matter, and we’re respected as being independent, thoughtful, we are not seen as, obviously, a threat because we are not a Super Power.

I think Australians, you will find Australians who do business in Asia find that our country is very well regarded, very well regarded indeed and seen as being straight forward. We have clear national interests and we stand up for them. You know we stand up for our interests, just as expect other countries to stand up for theirs.

LEON COMPTON: We have an ageing population and when you have an ageing population in Tasmania you get to lead the country about thinking about some things. Yesterday, we talked Prime Minister, about dying with dignity legislation, about euthanasia legislation. This was Frank from Devonport who gave us a call.


The one question from all these people who would oppose this, you say well, if they found themselves in the same position as my darling mother, that they or one of their loved ones found themselves in a terrible position that they’ve lost control of their bladder and bowels, all the other terrible things we can think of, if it was their time, what would they want?

LEON COMPTON: It is an interesting question from Frank in Devonport yesterday. Do you believe, as in the Netherlands, as in Belgium and in a state in the United States, that Australia should consider euthanasia laws for this country?

PRIME MINISTER: Well the Parliament has considered them in the past and rejected it. It isn’t a measure that I would support, personally, but these issues have been considered in the past and may well be in the future.

But you know, it is fought with practical difficulties and of course frought with very significant moral difficulties. So, I obviously respect the gentleman’s views there and people are entitled to canvas the issue. But is certainly not something the government is likely to propose. I suspect no government would ever propose it. It is the type of issue that if it comes before the Parliament in the future, it would come as a conscience issue.

It is also, I might say, essentially a matter within state jurisdiction because you are dealing with the criminal law. So it is really a state issue other than in respect of the Federal territories and so forth.

LEON COMPTON: Prime Minister, you would be aware of the sort of makeup, the demographic and economic makeup of the population of Tasmania. We tend to have more people on pensions; we tend to have more people on lower incomes. Given all of that, if we are talking about lifting the GST in this country, how do you have that conversation and make sure that people who might be more vulnerable don’t lose out too heavily or don’t pay a disproportionate amount?

PRIME MINISTER: Well Leon let’s get one… let’s make sure we are not proceeding on a false premise. I am not talking about raising the GST. It is the need for changes to the tax system is clearly well understood and there are a lot of possibilities and angles on the table and we’re not taking anything off the table.

We have a tax white paper coming out. There is a very lively debate about. You have had state premiers advocating for an increase in the GST. But there is no one silver bullet. Everything is connected to everything else. You know, savings policy, transfer payments policy, tax policy, they are all part of big levers that the federal government has – and indeed state governments have - to raise the revenue they need for our generous social welfare net society. 

And that’s our goal. How do we remain a high wage, generous social welfare net economy? And one of the ways to do that is having strong economy growth which will give you significant tax revenues. 

Now as far as the GST is concerned, that is clearly in the mix but I am not advocating an increase in it.  But it is clearly a possibility now that changes to the GST could be made. But it does require unanimous support.

The issue you raised, of it being regressive in the sense that a rise to the GST, in the absence of anything else, would disadvantage those on lower incomes relative to people on higher incomes. That is a fair point and that is why, when the GST was introduced there were measures taken to compensate people on lower incomes and any changes to the GST would obviously need to take that into account as well.

LEON COMPTON: Prime Minister we have to let you go. What are you up to for the rest of your time in Tasmania?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I am here with Andrew Nikolic in Launceston and we are getting out and seeing people, meeting people. We are meeting businesses, we are meeting locals. We are doing all of those things that in our line of work is most valuable because while politicians love talking to you – and of course truthfully we wouldn’t be in politics if we didn’t like doing a bit of talking - we only learn when we are listening.

So the important  thing is to get out and listen and can I just sa,y Leon, thank you very much for your questions this morning and the feedback and I want to just say, you know, compliment you on the way you reached out and got the questions from the Tasmanian community. So you have been a great channel for some good feedback from the people we both serve in our respective lines of work.

LEON COMPTON: Prime Minister, I know we are wrapping up but that does beg one more question. The ABC on the mainland, in the last 24 hours, has announced significant cuts to programs exactly like this one. Given that the ABC would argue they are responding to budget cuts that your government have made –

PRIME MINISTER: Well they actually aren’t Leon. Leon if I can just, I am sorry to interrupt you. But they are actually not saying this is a result of budget cuts at all. This is actually a programming change which the ABC management, which of course is responsible for programming,  is in response to listener needs.

So essentially this is just programming changes and it is not, the ABC contends, and I have got no reason to doubt them, that there is no reduction in local regional content of any kind. It is a programming change –

LEON COMPTON: …And you believe that the cuts to Mornings programs around Tasmania is just a programming change?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I mean, I certainly accept the management of the ABC when they say that. I mean are you suggesting that your esteemed employers are misleading us? I can’t believe that!

LEON COMPTON: I am wondering how…

PRIME MINISTER: How can you live with yourself working for a company that you are so sceptical about?

LEON COMPTON: Having presented Mornings for –

PRIME MINISTER: That would be a life of torment that you go through.

LEON COMPTON: It would be interesting to see what feedback you are getting from your regional Members. Malcolm Turnbull, thank you for talking with us this morning and please ask questions about the Year 12 attainment rate as you travel around the State.

PRIME MINISTER: I will indeed, that is a good tip, thanks a lot.


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