Australian Government coat of arms

Prime Minister of Australia

The Hon Tony Abbott MP

Interview with Ray Hadley, 2GB Sydney

29 January 2014

Prime Minister

Subjects:

Reestablishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission; judicial inquiry into union slush funds; Australian Communications and Media Authority; ABC; Operation Sovereign Borders; appointment of the Governor-General; military allowances.

E&OE

RAY HADLEY:

Prime Minister Tony Abbott, good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning Ray, lovely to be with you.

RAY HADLEY:

And lovely to talk to you. Did you see the 730 Report last night by chance?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I didn’t. I did read the papers yesterday; I have read most of the papers today. You might remember Ray, that as workplace relations minister I established the Cole Royal Commission into the construction industry which led to the establishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission; a strong cop on the beat in that tough industry and the ABCC, we believe, produced about $6 billion a year worth of productivity improvements in the sector by reducing lawlessness and thuggery and collusion and intimidation and all the other things which it seems have come back with a vengeance since the former government abolished it.

RAY HADLEY:

Well watching it on the ABC last night it was frightening. A union official blowing the whistle, death threats against him, offered a $300,000 inducement to go quietly, really scary. Are you close to another royal commission?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we promised a judicial inquiry into union slush funds, particularly the AWU slush fund which was the subject of a lot of parliamentary debate 12 months or so back. I noticed the Sydney Morning Herald this morning has editorialised in favour of a wider royal commission in favour of malfeasance. We’ll be honouring our pre-election commitments and we’ll be making announcements in due course, Ray.

RAY HADLEY:

Ok, I think the only people who’ll be happy about all this will be the producers of an Underbelly, because in the next decade there’ll be four more series produced.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah, but look all of us should want to see industrial lawfulness. All of us should want to see people being able to go about their life and work free of intimidation and whether we’re talking about the streets of Kings Cross at night, whether we’re talking about building sites, whether we’re talking about anywhere in our country, remote communities, all of us should be able to go about lives, our businesses, our time with our family.  We should be able to do this in peace and tranquillity and as far as the Federal Government is concerned, we will bend every energy and every effort to try to bring that about.

RAY HADLEY:

But surely the Opposition and the Greens can’t oppose the reinstatement of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, surely.  I mean, it’s been shown since it was dismantled by the previous Labor government that it simply has to be there.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Ray, I’m afraid they are opposing it and the issue for the Labor Party and for Mr Shorten, is whose side are they on?

RAY HADLEY:

Well the bikies and the thugs or decent and fair people  – one or the other.

PRIME MINISTER:

Exactly right. Whose side are they on? Are they on the side of law abiding citizens or are they on the side of people with a tendency to break the law? Are they on the side of getting to the bottom of this or do they want to support a culture of cover up? And this is a very serious question for the Leader of the Opposition and obviously he’ll have the chance to answer it to pretty soon.

RAY HADLEY:

The ABC’s admitted apparently their story about Navy personnel abusing boat people may not have been true. The national broadcaster ran the asylum seeker claims that Navy personnel had forced people to put hands on hot engine parts. It has now been revealed an ABC journalist has been trying to find Navy sources to speak off the record because her boss feels the allegations are likely to be untrue. Now we’re talking about saving $20 million and I’ll get to the Defence Force in a moment; we can save a lot more than $20 million by reining this mob in. I’m serious about this Prime Minister. ACMA attack myself and Alan Jones almost on a monthly basis. You know, some person makes a spurious complaint against me and they fall over themselves to investigate me. You know and they find against me that I didn’t declare this and I didn’t declare that.  I’m an honest, decent person yet these blokes and these women get away with this on a daily basis and no one holds them accountable.

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I can understand your frustration, Ray because at times there seems to be a double standard in large swaths of our national life and I can understand the frustration that you feel. I want the ABC to be a straight, news gathering and news reporting organisation and a lot of people feel at the moment that the ABC instinctively takes everyone’s side but Australia’s.

RAY HADLEY:

Are you one of those people?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I was very worried and concerned a few months back when the ABC seemed to delight in broadcasting allegations by a traitor. This gentlemen Snowden, or this individual Snowden, who has betrayed his country and in the process has badly, badly damaged other countries that are friends of the United States and of course the ABC didn’t just report what he said they took the lead in advertising what he said…

RAY HADLEY:

They did it feverishly…

PRIME MINISTER:

That was a deep concern and I said so at the time. Look, you know if there’s credible evidence the ABC, like all other news organisations, is entitled to report it, but you shouldn’t leap to be critical of your own country and you certainly ought to be prepared to give the Australian Navy and its hardworking personnel the benefit of the doubt.

RAY HADLEY:

You see, you can’t have it both ways Prime Minister in this country. If you’ve got people that are referred to – and I don’t object to the referral by the ABC or Fairfax - that describe the ‘shock jocks’ and I’m one of them, who lean a bit to the right and we get belted over the head by ACMA, a Government instrumentality, on a regular basis and they fight against the broadcasting station. They can’t fight against me in most cases because they refer to the licence holder being the radio station that allows me to broadcast and pays me to broadcast. But, then the other side of the fence, the so called ‘left leaning ABC’, they’re left to their own devices and self-regulation. It doesn’t work!

PRIME MINISTER:

Well again as I said, I think that there is quite an issue of double standards and I can’t promise Ray that it’s going to be fixed tomorrow…

RAY HADLEY:

No…

PRIME MINISTER:

But I’m conscious of it and as far as I’m concerned, I’ll call it as I see it and I think it dismays Australians when the national broadcaster appears to take everyone’s side but our own and I think it is a problem.

RAY HADLEY:

Well, let me be clear, I’m not calling for the dismantling of ACMA. There must be an organisation controlling so you don’t have lunatics saying whatever they want to say with no basis in truth, but there’s got to be some balance. You know, if they’re going to contain the lunatics on this side of the ledger, the lunatics on the other side of the ledger must be answerable to someone.

PRIME MINISTER:

And this is a very fair point and you know, we’ve got all sorts of things happening which are costing more money; there was the establishment of some fact-checking entity inside the ABC a while back and surely that should just come naturally, to any media organisation.

RAY HADLEY:

Well, I’ve got two people outside that we check facts on a regular basis and we don’t always get it right because it’s impossible doing live radio or live TV to get it right, it’s physically impossible all the time.

PRIME MINISTER:

People are working under pressure and they call journalism you know, history’s first rough draft and inevitably as we get deeper into it and we find out more, our position develops and deepens and our understanding of what really happened increases,  but again, you would like the national broadcaster to have a rigorous commitment to truth and at least some basic affection for our home team, so to speak.

RAY HADLEY:

We move on – the Indonesian Navy have sent three small warships to patrol their southern waters, but not to protect them from us, but rather to finally intercept boats. It appears your policies are finally working.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well thanks for that Ray and look, I’m pleased about this development in Indonesia because we’ve always been prepared to work hand in glove with the Indonesians, our friends and our neighbours, to interdict the people smuggling trade and hopefully this will make that more likely to happen. People smuggling is against the law in Indonesia. There’ve been a number of successful prosecutions of people smugglers in Indonesia, we welcome that. For most of the last few years there’s been a lot of cooperation between Australian and Indonesian law enforcement authorities to try and crack down on people smuggling and let’s hope that resumes as quickly as possible.

RAY HADLEY:

Now, on a very positive note you announced yesterday that General Peter Cosgrove will take over as our next Governor-General, an outstanding appointment.  Although those of us in New South Wales are feeling a bit slighted because we thought that he would be replacing the outstanding Marie Bashir, but that won’t be the case now, you’ve pinched him off New South Wales and good luck to you.  An appointment that’s been applauded by everyone and so it should be.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah look, Peter Cosgrove is a really outstanding individual. His life has been dedicated to the service of our country in the military and elsewhere, he’s an Australian of the Year, he was a decorated infantry officer in Vietnam, he was the commander of the international forces in East Timor. He’s a terrific bloke.  Everyone who knows him likes him and respects him and I know he’ll do a very good job. And I love the phrase he used, he said “the Governor-General’s job is to shine a light rather than to generate heat”, and if you look at his book, if you read the script of his Boyer Lectures, this is someone who can say interesting and valuable things about a whole range of difficult subjects without getting people’s backs up and the job of the Governor-General, to use Sir Zelman Cowen’s words, to help to interpret our nation to itself and I think he’ll do that very well.

RAY HADLEY:

Okay, one that’s controversial and I get the feeling that people are reading the headline and not reading the substance about this Australian Defence Force and the people serving overseas.  An allowance of 200 bucks a day for what they call ‘war-like service’ looks to be cut back for people serving in both the Persian Gulf or at an airbase in the United Arab Emirates. Now, I refer to an article today in Fairfax, where a quote comes from the Australian Defence Association head Neil James, said he did not anticipate too much backlash from members of the force, because “people have been expecting this – it happens in the wind-down to any large operational deployment. We can see the logic in the argument that the field allowance should be for people genuinely in the field, people out in Afghani villages in quite primitive conditions”, as opposed to those who live in, I guess, air-conditioned comfort at bases in other parts of the world.

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I haven’t seen that quote, but I know what he’s driving at. Obviously the nature of service in Afghanistan and other parts of the Middle East has changed. Until the end of last year a lot of our forces in Afghanistan were in the field; they were engaged in regular combat and that’s quite different from the kind of training and support roles that they will be in this year and subsequently. So that, as I understand it, is the thinking behind the vision of the military brass to change these allowances.

RAY HADLEY:

So when you say the decision of the military brass, is it a decision that you’ve played a role in, or supported, or signed off on?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, these are decisions which are made by the military and look I support their decision. I think it is a perfectly reasonable decision and as I understand from the comments you have just read it is the sort of decisions which is made routinely by military at the close of any particular campaign.

RAY HADLEY:

I think what, judging by talk back on this radio network this morning, that people are feeling the savings, and they are talking about I think $20 million, they want you to cut it back from the ABC and let the soldiers have their money. That is basically what they are saying.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, look I can understand, Ray, why people think that soldiers always deserve the very best. I mean, our military personnel, they take big risks on our behalf.  They are prepared to go anywhere, anytime for us and that is fantastic but even in the very best of jobs and the noblest of vocations there have got to be rules. I guess there are rules that say if you are serving under these conditions you get this, if you are serving under those conditions you get that, and as I understand it this is simply the people who make these decisions in the military deciding that the conditions have changed and therefore the allowance structure has changed.

RAY HADLEY:

Since I came back last Monday week, I have been inundated with emails and also phone calls supporting the move by the minister responsible Kevin Andrews for a major review of welfare. Now, one of the things – I sound like a broken record – but during the Brothers 4 Life shootings which are happening across Sydney, and now the vast majority of those men are in custody, we had sights at one murder, a bloke turning up in a high powered very expensive motor vehicle valued somewhere between $150,000 and $200,000  being revealed as being on the disability support pension and it is costing us $15 billion a year. Now, we know that about a third of the people are there for mental health issues but that leads two thirds there for other issues. I know we have got to be careful, we can’t be, you know, taking away from people who need our support but by-gee Prime Minister it does look for all intents and purposes both that and Newstart are being rorted up-hill and down-dale.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah and I read something in one of the papers today someone who was before the courts for something which would suggest a level of physical capacity was supposedly on the disability pension and you really wonder about some of these things. We have got to try and ensure that people can only go onto the disability pension if they have a genuine, long-lasting disability and if they are on the pension we need to give them support and help. If it is possible to get them off the pension and back into the workforce we need to give them support and help because the last thing we want to do is to see people who could be economic contributors as well as simply social and cultural contributors not making the most of their potential and being full and functioning members of our community. So, that Ray is what we have got to try to do and that is what Kevin Andrews’ review is all about – making sure that we maximise the potential of our people. That we do not park people particularly people who’ve got conditions which aren’t necessarily permanent, aren’t necessarily fully incapacitated, that we don’t park people on the disability pension when they could be doing more.

RAY HADLEY:

Well, I had a call this week on holiday Monday by a young bloke on the Central Coast who unfortunately suffers with an illness and it’s now under control after two years on the DSP, was moved 12 months ago to Newstart, claims to be a nurse and claims to be fully recovered from his epilepsy under the care of a neurologist but he is on the Central Coast and doesn’t feel inclined to come to Sydney to find a job. Now, I said to him, I said you are bludging on the system mate. I said if you have been on it for 12 months and up to two years, we supported you for two years because you were trying to get your condition under control, but it is now under control and you should be productive. You’re 29, get out and get a job. I wonder how many people like that are on Newstart having come from the DSP?

PRIME MINISTER:

But at least once they move on to Newstart there are certain expectations on people in terms of going out and looking for work. This is one of the reasons why we do have to provide people with support to get off the disability pension and back into the workforce because in the end we don’t do anyone any favours if we leave them on a pension when we could have them making the most of their potential. Look, most of us Ray, derive a large sense of our self-worth, our sense of identity from the work that we do and if you for whatever reason are not working almost invariably the best thing we can do for you is get you back into the workforce as quickly as possible.

RAY HADLEY:

I noted that above the cartoon from Warren in The Telegraph today there is an offering from a reader of The Telegraph who identifies as Kate Parker-Willoughby, “I don’t agree with work for the dole. If work is found for these people why not paid?”  With all due respect to Kate, they are being paid by the taxpayers of this country.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, and the great thing about work for the dole is that it sends a signal to the whole community that the era of something for nothing is at an end and that you know, people are expected to be contributing members of our community to the best of their ability and I don’t think that is unreasonable.  I mean, if you are in trouble we will help you.  That is what a decent and compassionate society does but we do expect people to put something back. If you are a younger, fit person who has been on unemployment benefits for a period of time why shouldn’t you give something back to the community to the best of your ability for a couple of days a week.

RAY HADLEY:

Thanks for your time Prime Minister, we know you are busy but we appreciate you talking to our audience.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you so much Ray.

[ends]