Interview with Neil Mitchell - 3AW

February 24, 2017
Transcripts

24 February 2017

SUBJECTS: Fair Work Commission decision; Bill Shorten’s lies; Tony Abbott; Coalition Government’s achievements; energy security; tax reform; immigration; health.

E&OE…

NEIL MITCHELL:

On the line, the Prime Minister. Mr Turnbull, good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning Neil.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Other issues, but first, penalty rates – will you attempt to change or block the fair work decision on penalty rates?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, Neil, we respect the decision of the independent umpire.

And as you very well recall, it was only in April last year where Bill Shorten was on your program, looked you in the eye and pledged to accept the decision of the Fair Work Commission on penalty rates. He said twice.

You said: ‘You’ll accept them?’

He said: ‘Yes’.

You said: ‘Even if they reduce Sunday penalty rates?’

He said: ‘Well I said I would accept the independent tribunal and that makes a big difference between us and the Liberals’, he claimed.

He was accusing me of not being prepared to accept the decision of the independent umpire and we always have been and we do.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So if he attempts to block it in parliament, you will resist it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Of course.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay.

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, let’s be very clear about this. Bill Shorten is responsible for the Fair Work Commission looking at penalty rates. That was his decision when he was a minister.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But Prime Minister, this is politics. People are worried about their pay-packet.

PRIME MINISTER:

But Neil, don’t let him off the hook. Just because he is a politician that doesn’t mean that he can lie to you.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well it is what we expect.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it’s not what you should accept.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay.

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s not what you should accept and I don’t accept it and the Australian people don’t accept the consistent lies we are getting from Bill Shorten.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Is it reasonable that people will be hurt by this? And people will be hurt won’t they? Low income workers will suffer.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, you are right and that is true that workers, some workers will receive less money on Sundays as a result of the reduction in penalty rates. But the Fair Work Commission as you know took several years to consider this. They have a, over 500-page report. It has been chaired by Ian Ross who is not just a Labor appointee, he is a former official of the ACTU. And their decision has been that overall this will see more employment, more jobs, more growth, more employment opportunities. And that was what they considered and that is what judgement they have come to.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But you do accept this is on the expense of low income earners?

PRIME MINISTER:

Certainly workers who are on the award and most workers in retail and hospitality are either on collective agreements or non-award agreements. So, yes, there are many hundreds of thousands, about 600,000 I think workers who will receive less on Sundays.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So what do you say to them? What do you say to them? Yeah it might create jobs, it might mean things are open longer, but mate, you’re carrying the can, you’re carrying the burden. What do you say to them?

PRIME MINISTER:

What I say to them is that this is a decision of the independent umpire.

It was established by the Labor Party. It was in fact established by Bill Shorten himself.

He pledged to accept the decision of the independent umpire. He has broken his word on that. He is lying when he says it is a decision of the Government. It is not. It is a decision of the independent umpire which he challenged me to accept and we do accept it.

And what that independent umpire has decided - four of the five members of the panel, Neil, were appointed by the Labor Party - the chairmen of the panel is a former ACTU official, a union official - and what they have concluded is that the upshot of this, the result of this will be more opportunities for employment, more jobs, more economic activity, better services.

And so yes, it will hurt and we would understand that, we can understand the disappointment of many workers in retail and hospitality but this is the judgement of the independent tribunal and frankly Bill Shorten has lied to you, he has lied to your listeners about this and he should stop it. He should tell the truth and stick to his word.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay. Tony Abbott. Does he want the leadership back?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I am not going to speak for him. I am focused on the issues like penalty rates, like energy costs that affect the lives of individual Australians.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well so is he but is his criticism hurting your Government? He is right – you are drifting to defeat? And is it hurting you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well every member of the Government has got to ask the question: are they contributing to the success of the Government. Let me tell you -

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well is Tony Abbott contributing to the success of the Government?

PRIME MINISTER:

Let’s talk about some things that haven’t been mentioned, right, let’s talk about this -

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well -

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no, please -

NEIL MITCHELL:

We’ve got a former Prime Minister saying you are drifting.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we are not. Can I tell you something? We are acting and we are getting things done. We are getting things done, we are getting things done which we couldn’t or wouldn’t or didn’t get done in the last Parliament.

I have not talked about abolishing the life gold pass for former MPs and ministers. I have abolished it.

I haven’t talked about reforming parliamentary entitlements and politicians’ expenses. I have set in place the biggest reform in that area in a generation. I have set up an independent parliamentary expenses authority.

I haven’t talked about restoring the rule of law to the building sector. I have done it.

I had the courage, not just to give speeches, but to act. I went to an election. I took the restoration of the Australian Building and Construction Commission to an election. I won the election.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Who has given the speech you are referring to -

PRIME MINISTER:

No. Then I took through to the Senate. Then I took it through to the Senate and the Senate has approved it. And you remember we made a concession to Derryn Hinch last year.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Yeah, yep.

PRIME MINISTER:

Some people were disappointed we’d done that. We spoke to Derryn, he changed his mind and the Bill is now the law, it is an Act of Parliament now, is in the shape we wanted it to be. Now those are achievements.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But energy policy – he’s got a fair point. He says you are sleepwalking into a policy catastrophe and your policies are forcing up prices. Sleepwalking into a policy catastrophe!

PRIME MINISTER:

Our policies, the policies that we have taken to the election and on which we won the election are protecting families, they are protecting businesses -

NEIL MITCHELL:

But Prime Minister, we’ve got the former prime minister, we’ve got just about every businessman saying your energy is a catastrophe for Australia. Prices here are ten times what they are in the states. What is happening there?

PRIME MINISTER:

Okay, let me explain. The reason energy prices in Australia – well there are two points – in terms of reliability, which is a massive issue, particularly in South Australia, the failure has been of the introduction of a very large percentage of renewables in the state. Without the investment -

NEIL MITCHELL:

But Prime Minister, prices are going up.

PRIME MINISTER:

Okay.

NEIL MITCHELL:

You’ve got a Renewable Energy Target which arguably is forcing the prices up. Tony Abbott, Ken Henry and the others are labelling that and saying you need to do something. Will you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Ken Henry is not saying that, with great respect.

NEIL MITCHELL:

No, alright. The businesses are. Ken Henry is saying you have been, he’s saying you are inactive on tax reform, for heaven’s sake. Everybody is lining to say you’re drifting.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Neil you’re jumping around.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well I am! Because I am getting frustrated. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

PRIME MINISTER:

Okay, alright, well I can only deal with one topic at a time, otherwise we’ll confuse all of our listeners.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay. Will you change the renewable energy - will you review the Renewable Energy Target?

PRIME MINISTER:

Neil, the Renewable Energy Target was reviewed and re-legislated under the Abbott Government 18 months ago.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Will you review it further?

PRIME MINISTER:

No.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay.

PRIME MINISTER:

And let me explain why, let me explain why. We have got to be careful to maintain our reputation as a steady adult government. That is the leadership I give. This is consistent and committed national leadership. Now there are billions of dollars of investment mostly in regional Australia going into renewable energy, based on the assumption that when the Australian government legislates, it sticks to its word.

Now the Renewable Energy Target was re-legislated under the Abbott Government of which I was a member, 18 months ago. And when it was done, the then Prime Minister said: ‘This restores certainty’.

Now nothing would damage our reputation or undermine jobs or investment more than if we were to produce more uncertainty in this area. And by the way, you could never get amendments to the Renewable Energy Target through the Senate.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay, well let’s have a look at some of the other areas. Will you cut immigration?

PRIME MINISTER:

The immigration intake is based on the demands of our economy, Neil.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay.

PRIME MINISTER:

We have an excellent program and it depends on, you know, which skills are needed, the rate of economic activity in different parts of the country. Let me tell you how I see immigration. Immigration is a nation building exercise. It is a recruitment exercise -

NEIL MITCHELL:

So you won’t cut it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Neil, it depends, it is not a question of setting arbitrary targets. It is a question of getting the best and the brightest from the world that will meet the demands of our economy and help grow our economy. That is what it is all about.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay. He has even raised where you are living. Will you move out of your so-called harbourside mansion? He says it costs, all the estimates, it is costing $3 million a year for you to say there?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, that is a figure that has been plucked into a newspaper.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Yeah, true.

PRIME MINISTER:

Let me be quite frank with you. In my view, the Prime Minister of Australia has one official residence - The Lodge, Canberra.

The proposition that the Prime Minister of Australia should when they are not in Canberra live in Kirribilli House, I don’t accept. Does that mean if a Melbourne member was a Prime Minister they would have to pack up from Melbourne and move to Sydney?

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well Bob Hawke did.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Sydney is not the capital of Australia. The capital of Australia is Canberra.

And Lucy and I live in our own house, we pay for our own bills, our own groceries and I think that’s what Australians expect.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Sky News is reporting that Mr Abbott told Cory Bernardi last year he hasn’t given up on a fresh tilt at the leadership. Will you bring him back into the tent? Will you talk to Tony Abbott and say you’ve got to stop this, you’ve got problems, raise them with me, don’t go public?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Tony Abbott is a very experienced politician.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But you’re his leader.

PRIME MINISTER:

Just let me finish Neil. He knows exactly what he’s doing. He knows exactly what he’s doing. I’m not going to go into what private conversations I have with him but he knows exactly what he’s doing and so do his colleagues.

NEIL MITCHELL:

What is he doing?

PRIME MINISTER:

Seriously, Neil, nothing will encourage our listeners to switch to another channel than talking about personalities.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well I will take that risk, Prime Minister. I will take that risk. I think they see a former Prime Minister, some of whom still admire him as a politician and a potential Prime Minister, saying that you are failing. That’s what he’s saying, and I think they expect you to say why he is wrong. I think further they expect you to say, well, Tony Abbott, you’re with us or against us. I think you’re in a position where you’ve got no choice other than to act on him.

PRIME MINISTER:

Neil I’m not going to be provoked. The fact is my Government has a record of achievement. In the last six months or so since the election, we have achieved more through the Senate, with fewer seats in the House and fewer seats in the Senate than we did in the previous three years.

It’s very easy I know, in the media storm, which is more focused on personalities than substance -

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well that is true.

PRIME MINISTER:

- to overlook what we’ve actually done, and move on to the colour and movement and personalities.

Can I tell you, sir, let me just say this to you - when I am out and about, when I am on the ferry coming into town as I was this morning, people are not talking to me about personalities. They’re talking to me about the big issues. They’re talking to me about energy. They’re talking to me about tax. They’re talking to me about the cost of living. So that’s what I’m focused on.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well, sure okay. I agree. Well but there’s an area, the head of the NAB, former head of Treasury Ken Henry says you’ve failed on tax. Not just you, everybody. Politicians. He’s nailed the problem here. He’s saying politicians are not doing what they should do - they’re not leading us, they’re not managing, they’re not taking a long term view. He says tax reform has failed and it is urgent.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I reject, look, what Ken Henry said is we should jack up the GST and use the proceeds to lower company tax. Well, I don’t agree with that.

Now what we’re doing is we have a program to reduce company tax in order to make us competitive with other countries.

We rejected the proposition of increasing the GST last year because by the time you’d compensated people on lower incomes, the amount of money left to fund tax reform, whether personal income tax reductions, for example, is relatively small. So that’s why we looked at it very carefully and we rejected it.

Now as far as tax reform is concerned, let’s look at what I have done. Let’s look at what my Government has done. I have reduced personal income tax for middle income tax earners. Half a million Australians who would have gone into the second highest tax bracket this year are not. That’s that law, that’s passed. We’ve reformed superannuation to make it fairer and more available, more flexible.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Sorry, if I may interrupt, it reminds me, would you look at allowing people to use their super to buy a house?

PRIME MINISTER:

I know there’s a lot of speculation around and discussion about the Budget. The Budget’s in May.

Let me just go on. In terms of company tax, we’ve set out a program to reduce company tax, business taxes, enterprise taxes. We’re doing that. So in terms of, the only thing we have not done, looked at, or not proceeded with in terms of tax reform, so called, is jacking up the GST to use it to reduce company tax. Now I can understand why Ken Henry as chairman of a bank is keen on that. Fair enough. But the reality is, we didn’t walk away from GST because it was too hard. We didn’t proceed with the proposal to increase GST for precisely the reason I said, that by the time you compensated people in the lowest, on lower incomes, there wasn’t enough change left to make a big enough difference.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Yes. If I may, very quickly, a couple of those issues you say, touch people. I agree with you. Would it be appropriate for a parliamentary inquiry to be held into the Essendon Football Club drug issue?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I haven’t considered that. That’s the first time that’s been raised with me. It may be more an issue perhaps for the Victorian Parliament. Again, I couldn’t give you a considered view on that Neil, on the run.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Fair enough. Safe injecting rooms, there’s one in your electorate. There’s debate in Victoria about setting one up. Do they work or not?

PRIME MINISTER:

The general consensus of the safe injecting room in Kings Cross, while it has been controversial, is that it has been on balance, a success. Obviously, it’s been there for a long time.

But as the local member, I would say that on balance, while there are, you know, there have been plenty of complaints about it and concerns about it, I think on balance it has been more successful than not.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Are you aware of the bureaucratic bungling around the pap smear testing and bowel cancer testing?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, I am and I’m very disappointed about the delay. There’s a number of reasons for that of course. Obviously wrangling the state and territory –

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well can we sort it quickly?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes. We’re getting onto it. There’s a number of things that contribute to it, I don’t want to –

NEIL MITCHELL:

Fair enough.

PRIME MINISTER:

But one of them was that the legislation was delayed. That was delayed by the Labor Party. It would have been better just to pass it straight after the election which is what they originally said they were going to do. But I know the Health Minister Greg Hunt, who is a fellow Victorian, will be cracking the whip over this very, very hard. No one is more likely to drive this very hard than Mr Hunt, I can assure you.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Will you be visiting the United States just after the Budget?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’ll certainly be visiting the United States in the course of this year. The timing has yet to be determined.

NEIL MITCHELL:

One last question on Tony Abbott. I want to play you something from October 1st 2015.

TONY ABBOTT: The last thing I want to be is a thorn in the side of the people who are doing what they can, inevitably under difficult circumstances, to serve our country. I mean it doesn’t matter how the Prime Minister arrived in that job, doesn’t matter how individual ministers have arrived in particular jobs - they’ve got very difficult and challenging jobs to do. It is the responsibility of all decent Australians to try to make it easier for them to do their job.

NEIL MITCHELL:

That was Tony Abbott on the 1st of October 2015, talking to me. Is he behaving in a decent fashion?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think your listeners will be able to form a judgement on that. But I’m focused on supporting them, making sure we keep downward pressure on the cost of living, ensuring energy is reliable and that businesses can grow. But I think that tape sums it all up very well Neil. There’s nothing further for me to add.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Thank you very much - the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull.

[ENDS]

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