Interview with Neil Mitchell - 3AW Melbourne

April 29, 2016
Transcripts

NEIL MITCHELL:

Prime Minister good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Prime Minister, Manus Island, we got 850 people there with nowhere to go how much have we paid Papua New Guinea for this?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there’s been many millions of dollars. Can I just say Neil it’s important to remember that those men are there because of the failure of the Labor Party which in government abandoned the effective border protection policies of John Howard, I begged Kevin Rudd not to do it, I was Opposition Leader at the time. Kevin was and Labor was convinced that you could change our border protection policies and nothing would happen. We got 50,000 arrivals, thousands drowned at sea, billions of dollars of expense, endless tragedy. Tragedies created by a failure of policy and you know now you see the Labor Party divided over it again.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But we have a problem here and now we’ve paid millions of dollars which arguably might have been wasted because they might have to leave. Is there any circumstance under which these people will come to Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

Absolutely none. None, I want to be crystal clear on this. Those people at Manus will not come to Australia. Full stop.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Where will they go? Where will they go?

PRIME MINISTER:

They can go home, they can go back to Iran, they can back to their countries of origin, some of them have. We’ve given them encouragement to do so. They can settle in PNG, those that have been found to be refugees and we’ve obviously sought to find them settlement in third countries. But if we want to keep our borders secure, if we want to ensure the people smugglers do not go back into business, then we have to be absolutely resolute on this. If you come to Australia, with a people smuggler, or try to come to Australia with a people smuggler, you will not settle in Australia.

NEIL MITCHELL:

What third countries are you looking at?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well as you know we’ve had discussions with a number of countries. Obviously there has been some progress with Cambodia there is a range of them –

NEIL MITCHELL:

Is New Zealand on the list? Because when I was over there they told me they were willing to take people.

PRIME MINISTER:

Neil, we have had discussions with New Zealand but you have to be very clear that settlement in a country like New Zealand for example would be seen, would be used by the people smugglers as a marketing opportunity. I mean I know this is a tough issue Neil and that’s why we have to be very, very clear-eyed about this. We can’t afford to let the empathy that we feel for the desperate circumstances that many people find themselves in, to cloud our judgement. Our national security has to come first.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Is there a possibility we’re going to have to pay compensation to these people? The reports are it could be upwards of a billion dollars.

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t give credence to those claims, no.

NEIL MITCHELL:

You’d be resisting compensation presumably.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well of course but I don’t – I’ve seen those reports and I think they are entirely speculative.

NEIL MITCHELL:

We believe some of the people on Manus are in fact Syrian refugees. Is that correct?

PRIME MINISTER:

I can’t confirm that for you.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Do you believe any of them are dangerous?

PRIME MINISTER:

Neil, all of those people have been, have had had security assessments by the PNG authorities, but again I can’t confirm, I can’t tell you whether some have got security issues more than others.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Have we wasted millions of dollars here?

PRIME MINISTER:

We have spent – well let me put it this way; the Labor Party wasted billions of dollars, not millions, billion and billions of dollars by abandoning a border protection policy that worked. This is very important. Mate we’re not talking about theoretical issues here or hypothetical issues. Labor has form. Kevin Rudd when he ran in 2007 said he’d be strong ion border protection and he said he’d turn back boats. He got into office, he dismantled John Howard’s policy. We begged him not to, I begged him not to. I predicted that this would happen –

NEIL MITCHELL:

Yeah but in fairness Labor’s policy now is pretty much in line with yours.

PRIME MINISTER:

But you cannot trust them Neil. They said they would do the right thing. They said they would keep our borders secure before they got into office in 2007. Labor’s agenda on this is driven by the left of the Labor Party. You’ve seen a number of them breaking ranks, criticising Shorten’s supposed position and of course they’re driven by their need to be competitive with the Greens. So you would have to back hope over experience if you thought a Labor government would be safe on borders. Their track record is woeful.

NEIL MITCHELL:

This is sounding like your Tampa moment with that rhetoric, is it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look I’m not into that sort of self-analysis.

NEIL MITCHELL:

No, no but you’re jumping on it politically obviously.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it is – Neil, this is a big issue that has been raised, that has come up because of the court decision in PNG. But let me say to you the big issue for us, for the Government for the nation, is implementing, completing our national plan for our economy. Our economic plan is the key. Now what we have set out is one measure after another, one program after another, whether its investing in our defence industries, whether its investing in infrastructure, which sets out, which drives jobs and growth. We’ll have our tax policies set out in the budget next week and you’ll see that we’ll be driving jobs and growth. Having a tax system that supports that and we’ll be living within our means. That’s the key.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I was going to ask you that. You’re an old journo what’s the headline in the budget? Well you’re not going to tell me what’s in it, but what do you want people to be saying about it the day after.

PRIME MINISTER:

Jobs and growth. I want - people will look at that budget and they will say this is a Government that is determined to ensure that my children and my grandchildren have great jobs in the future, that we will enjoy all of the benefits of this exciting 21st century economy, this big global economy. The Government is on the case ensuring that all of the levers of Government are pulling in the direction of jobs and growth.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Prime Minister we did hear this when you were elected about 8 months ago, and we are in a form of an election campaign obviously. Your popularity is down, the government is level pegging in the polls, you’ve gone back significantly since you took over the prime minister. Why this failure?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well let’s wait until the election. But Neil let me just say this to you –

NEIL MITCHELL:

But you’d agree you’ve gone backwards?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Neil, you can read the polls and so can I. The numbers I want to read is continuing growth in our economy and you know what? The numbers are good.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But doesn’t –

PRIME MINISTER:

26,000 jobs last month.

NEIL MITCHELL:

The polls were crucial to you when Tony Abbott was being replaced. Why aren’t they important now?

PRIME MINISTER:

The critical numbers are the employment numbers and of course we all look at the polls. But you know something, we glance at them. They’re a snapshot in time. The critical thing, and the issue for people of Melbourne today, for example, stuck in traffic, they are going to be asking, “where is the investment to ensure that I can get to work? That I don’t have to spend hours every day commuting – where is the investment? What are governments doing about that? What are governments doing to ensure that my kid who’s” - I’ll tell you a story from South Australia just to give you an example – a real story – so I was talking to a friend there who has a mate with a little boy who’s really good at maths, he’s a wizard.  His father doesn’t probably realise where that came from but he is a bit of a maths genius and he assumed that this little fella when he grew up wouldn’t be able to work in Adelaide. Probably wouldn’t be able to get a job in Australia, if he wanted to really fulfil his abilities. Because of the investments we are making in the most technological sophisticated defence materiel in Australia, because we are spending those dollars in Australia, providing Australian jobs, Australian technologies, Australian designers, he said, “my little boy, I reckon he’ll be able to work here. I reckon he’ll be able to work in Australia. He’ll be able to work in Adelaide.”

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well, I hope he does Prime Minister but we are spending $50 billion on 2800 jobs – that’s $17 million a job.

PRIME MINISTER:

We are spending money on enormous, we’ve got to spend the money to have the means to defend Australia. The money and my belief and my Government’s belief is, Neil, is as far as we can, every dollar we spend on defence we should spend here. Because we want to create the jobs and the expertise in Australia and it drives our economy. This is not just, this defence sector, this defence investment is at the very cutting edge of technology and so everything you do there, advances the economy overall and there are enormous spill over benefits.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But if you don’t mind, there is a caller on this issue. If you wouldn’t mind just putting the headphones on and we’ll go back to some questions, and it is James. So James, go ahead please James.

CALLER - JAMES:

Good morning, Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Hi James, how are you?

CALLER - JAMES:

Good thank you. Prime Minister, my question is, as a former Special Forces trooper myself, what is the actual Defence justification for building 12 submarines that are going to cost $50 billion? Who are they going defend us against? Wouldn’t the money be better spent increasing the capability of the Special Forces and our commando regiment and perhaps spending some of that money instead on some major Snowy Mountain scheme type infrastructure project instead?

PRIME MINISTER:

James, you sound like a soldier asking the question, why do we need the Navy?

CALLER - JAMES:

Well, it’s not that Prime Minister. Obviously we need that level of maritime defence but who are they defending us against? The Indonesians? They are not interested in Australia. The Chinese? The New Zealanders?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, let me say to you. We live in a very rapidly developing military environment. More than half of the world’s submarines will be in our part of the world in the middle of the century. We have very, rapidly growing economies – China, as you mentioned is one – Indonesia is another. All of these economies are growing. There has been a long period of peace and harmony, relative to past eras and that is true, but there is always the possibility of tensions and conflict and you have to prepare. Let me give you -

NEIL MITCHELL:

[Interrupts] North Korea has fired 3 missiles overnight – is that of concern to you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Of course it is and this is, the point is, you have to prepare.

NEIL MITCHELL:

They all exploded though.

PRIME MINISTER:

You have to prepare to defend yourself. Now, when you were on deployment, I imagine you spent a lot of time reading, is that right?

CALLER - JAMES:

Yep. I did, yep.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well some of the most well-read men I have ever met are your colleagues in the Special Forces. Andrew Hastie, you know who is our new Member for Canning is very well read.

NEIL MITCHELL:

James, thank you very much for holding on. I just wanted, another issue Prime Minister, do you have a report on the kidnapping of the Australian woman in Afghanistan?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, we are obviously aware of that and we’re, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade are working with other agencies and of course the Afghan authorities to identify her whereabouts and to seek to ensure her safe recovery.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Can we discuss this without using the word infrastructure because I think people’s eyes glaze at the word infrastructure.

[Laughter]

PRIME MINISTER:

Righto. Ok.

NEIL MITCHELL:

This cities plan that you launch today. Well, it’s been described as sort of a hit squad of financial experts getting around doing deals between private and government – is that right?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, it’s important that w

e use taxpayer’s money well.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Hear, hear!

[Laughter]

PRIME MINISTER:

And the [Laughter] what we do, one of the ways taxpayers is wasted is through poor planning. Let me tell you, a dollar spent in good planning can save you hundreds of dollars in wasted, you know, bad investment. So the critical thing is to develop what we’ve set out, what I’m describing today in the speech in the policy, is what we call city deals.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So how does it work?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it works like this and it is based on the model in the UK. So for a city like Melbourne, the state government, local government, the federal government would come to an understanding about what do we want to achieve? What are the goals we want to achieve? And these should be high level objectives – housing affordability, liveability, we talk about the 30 minute city – now that doesn’t mean that you can get from one end of the side of the city to the other in 30 minutes – it means that we should aim to ensure that wherever people live, there are within a reasonable radius, 30 minutes, there are places to work, places to go to school.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well, how do you do it? How do you achieve it?

PRIME MINISTER:

It is all to do with planning and then coordinating your investment.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But you couldn’t even agree on the East West Link in Victoria?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that is why you need to have, you need to have a commitment to governments working together and the public will hold them to account if they don’t agree. 

NEIL MITCHELL:

Would you have a team of people going in and saying we’ll negotiate a deal between Victoria and the federal Government on whether it be East West Link, or the widening of the Monash, or the Metro tunnel or whatever. Is that what will happen?

PRIME MINISTER:

The way we’d approach it is this Neil. You’d look at an area where there is say a need for - I won’t use the ‘I’ word - for more rail or road, and you’d say, Okay - how are we going, working together, to ensure that we get the right outcomes from this? That we get the right public, amount of public space, we get the right amount of housing affordability, we get the right amount of commercial development, so that there are jobs for people to go to. And how does that, that road or that rail line. How does that actually enhance that ? How does it create value ? and where it creates value we can capture some of that to defray the cost of building it?

NEIL MITCHELL:

So is this a major plank of your re-election campaign?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well this is one of the levers of our national economic plan, so these are important….

NEIL MITCHELL:

They’re very theoretical, do people really relate to that? Or do they relate to the waste in the health bureaucracy which is outlined today?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think frankly, people relate to urban issues very very directly. If you are sitting in your car stuck in traffic, if you can’t, you know if the trains are too crowded

NEIL MITCHELL:

But hey hear this all the time, with due respect, not just from yourself but from all politicians but we never get anywhere. I mean the traffic in Melbourne is a good example, we’ve been talking about it for ten years

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, you know I don’t want to be too political here, but you’ve got a state government that sent $1 billion of your taxes Neil not building the East West link, not building a road. We are committed, as you know, to putting one and a half billion dollars in to Victorian infrastructure, half a billion of which, will go in to the Monash, which will make an enormous difference, it will add a lane on each side.

NEIL MITCHELL:

That deal is not done yet is it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it is, the, my Ministers met with their Victorian counterparts yesterday morning, I understand they have reached agreement in principle. I suspect we won’t have anything concluded until after the Federal Election. I imagine the Premier will want to play politics until then.

NEIL MITCHELL:

You talk about money well spent, the health bureaucracy, the Federal bureaucracy, which the Minister told me is being reduced, has increased by 3.8% a year, there is now one penny pusher for every what was it ,3.7 beds, when we want doctors, nurses, ambos. One bureaucrat, one public servant for every 3.7 beds, that’s outrageous. How can you fix that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we, I can assure you we keep on working at reducing bureaucracy.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But you’ve increased 3.8% federally?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the, Neil, all I can say to you is that our focus is on bringing costs down, but sometimes with new programs you do need people to implement them

NEIL MITCHELL:

Negative gearing, have you ever negatively geared something along the way?

PRIME MINISTER:

I have indeed, yes. I don’t have anything negatively geared at the moment, but like many Australians, it’s about one and a half million Australians, a bit less than that I think, who’ve got negatively geared properties.

NEIL MITCHELL:

In a speech in 2005, you referred to it as tax avoidance.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that’s taking it out of context. It was, I was talking about ways in, what I was saying was that the average wage earner, salary earner, has very limited opportunities to reduce their tax.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So you meant tax minimisation really? Which is legal.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well tax avoidance, I mean..

NEIL MITCHELL:

Tax avoidance isn’t legal

PRIME MINISTER:

No no, no, that’s actually- in tax avoidance, if you- and I go back to my days of law school. Tax avoidance is legal, it may be undesirable and you may want to change the law to avoid it. Tax evasion is what is illegal. But the reality, is that what Labor is proposing will have these consequences. They will reduce investment at a time we need more investment, they are jacking up the tax on investment by increasing capital gains tax by 50%, and what they are proposing on negative gearing will reduce the number of rentable properties, it will jack up rents, and it will smash up home values. And if you believe, if you believe, you can take up to a third of the buyers out of the residential property market and not send properties south, and they are pretty soft now, then you really are in cloud cookoo land.

NEIL MITCHELL:

It’s soft in Melbourne

PRIME MINISTER:

You can imagine what would happen to the value of properties in Melbourne, when you pull all of those buyers out. Where around here in Dockland, all of these apartments, this is an investor market, under Labor, none of these people who own these apartments can sell them to an investor. What’s going to happen to prices?

NEIL MITCHELL:

Have you spoken to Tony Abbott yet, he did an interview last night and seems to have given up any ambition of leading again. Have you spoken to him?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah I had a good chat with him just the other day.

NEIL MITCHELL:

You agree he’s given up any hope of returning.

PRIME MINISTER:

That’s what he said, so I’m sure he stands by his words.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Did you talk about that to him?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, look I’ve known Tony for a very long time, for over 30 years and I’ve, I had a good chat to him about, you know, life politics everything.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Are you forgiven?

PRIME MINISTER:

Neil it’s a private conversation, we’ll leave it there.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Will Scott Morrison be treasurer after the election?

PRIME MINISTER:

Of course he will be, absolutely.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Will there be significant change to the front bench?

PRIME MINISTER:

We’ve got a great Front Bench, I don’t anticipate significant change, significant or any change. The front bench is relatively new, because we have had some changes, it’s, their doing very very well. The Front Bench that I take to the election is the front bench I will have after the election.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I know you have to get away, just finally a very emotional time at Port Arthur yesterday, you seemed to have shed a tear yourself.

PRIME MINISTER:

It was very emotional.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Did you.

PRIME MINISTER:

A little one, I think, I hope it wasn’t too noticeable.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Why? What’s wrong with it?

PRIME MINISTER:

There’s nothing wrong with it. I guess it’s really about, I didn’t want my feelings to interfere with the feelings of the people who were there to comfort.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Are you an emotional person? Because we tend not to see that.  Do you shed a tear often?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes I do, I was very very moved. Can I just tell you a little bit about the singer there, Amelia. Amelia Farrugia, the opera singer, was there. She sang with a power and an impact that I rarely heard before. And I was, it, she brought me so close to tears with her, with the force of her delivery, and of course I didn’t know until afterwards, that she had been there at the time.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I’m going to find that and play it.

PRIME MINISTER:

You should.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Thank you very much.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks Neil.

-ends-

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