Australian Government coat of arms

Prime Minister of Australia

The Hon Tony Abbott MP

Interview with Andrew Bolt, The Bolt Report, Network Ten

02 March 2014

Prime Minister

Subjects:

Ukraine; Qantas; the Government’s commitment to repeal the carbon tax; Martin Ferguson; Royal Commission into trade union governance and corruption; Operation Sovereign Borders.

E&OE

ANDREW BOLT:

Joining me is the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott.

Good morning, what is your latest information? Are Russian troops already in Ukraine?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I don’t want to offer a running commentary on what’s happening on the ground, just to say Andrew, that this is very, very concerning and I think that every Australian – I think people right around the world – will be thinking right now: hands off the Ukraine. This is not the kind of action of a friend and neighbour and really, Russia should back off.

ANDREW BOLT:

Australia’s on the UN Security Council – what do you plan to do about this?

PRIME MINISTER:

My understanding is that this matter will come urgently before the Security Council.

ANDREW BOLT:

Are you disappointed with President Obama’s weak response? Your response just then was ten times stronger than that rubbish that we just heard.

PRIME MINISTER:

Andrew, it’s obviously a difficult situation. The last thing anyone would want to do is to make a bad situation worse, but I think Russia needs to know and understand that it is simply unacceptable to interfere like this – militarily – in a neighbour. You just cannot do this - you just cannot do this.

ANDREW BOLT:

Should the US be contemplating force to resist it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, that’s not something that I want to speculate upon now, Andrew, but plainly, this is unacceptable behaviour. You cannot just cross the border of another country with military force, with aggressive intent.

ANDREW BOLT:

Can we go to Qantas - it’s in strife, it’s posted a big loss and 5,000 jobs must go. Amazingly, some unions are already talking of more strikes. Have a listen to this:

Tony Sheldon: Industrial action is something that the workforce should be considering. In this country, if the Government won’t stand up for the jobs of the Australian icon, then we will.

Prime Minister, here we go again. You know, Qantas is trying to make savings to stay in business; the Transport Workers Union threatening more industrial action to stop it, just like we saw three years ago. What do you make of that?

PRIME MINISTER:

I want to see the staff and the management of Qantas working together to save a great airline and plainly the last thing that would help Qantas right now is industrial disruption; that’s the last thing that is going to keep Qantas in the air, keep it thriving and prosperous for the years to come. It is an iconic airline and I’m certainly not today, Andrew, or ever in the business of talking Qantas down - I want to talk Qantas up – but that doesn’t seem to be the approach of some of the unions.

ANDREW BOLT:

Now I was just stunned by that reaction. I mean, Qantas is heavily unionised, it’s had to fight IR battles in 2011 that cost it $70 million plus. How much is union culture to blame for what we see there?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that’s something that people will debate but plainly what we need to see is a partnership inside Qantas; a partnership between staff and management to save a great airline. Government should do what it can and as you know, Andrew, we are working to change the Sale Act which does put a ball and chain around Qantas’ ankles.

Most of all though, we want to get rid of the carbon tax as quickly as possible, because the carbon tax was a $106 million hit on Qantas’ bottom line and when the whole of the airline industry is under enormous pressure, the last thing they need is to be paying tens of millions of dollars – in Qantas’ case hundreds of millions of dollars – in this unnecessary and bad tax.

ANDREW BOLT:

Now, you seem to be against giving Qantas a loan guarantee. Can you confirm that it won’t get that and are you prepared then to take the risk of Qantas failing?

PRIME MINISTER:

The point, Andrew, is that if you do it for one, you’ve got to do it for all, and all airlines are providing…

ANDREW BOLT:

So is that a no to a guarantee?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’m simply making the point Andrew, that if you offer it to Qantas, you’ve got to offer it to Virgin, you’ve got to offer it to Rex and indeed to any other airlines that put their hand up.

It is the job of government to ensure that as far as is humanly possible essential services are delivered, but it is not the job of government to play favourites between particular businesses – that is certainly not the job of government. What we need to do is get the fundamentals right to ensure that the costs that business face are as low as possible, that the regulatory environment is as favourable as possible. That’s what we must do, because that’s the way to allow workers, management – everyone – to do the best for themselves and for their customers.

ANDREW BOLT:

Is it the job of government to stop Qantas from failing?

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s not the job of government to prop up particular businesses; it’s the job of government to ensure that the economy is as strong as possible so that if one business…

ANDREW BOLT:

But with Qantas specifically, would it be your role do you think to stop Qantas from failing?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I don’t want to speculate about that because I don’t think that is likely to happen, in fact I think that’s very unlikely to happen and I think to talk in those terms Andrew, adds to the difficulties that Qantas faces today. I think there are difficulties obviously; there are difficulties that all airlines are facing. Qantas is under pressure from a nimble and aggressive competitor – that’s the problem that Qantas has. But this is an airline with great strengths – great strengths – and I believe that they should be allowed to play to their strengths in the weeks and months and years ahead.

ANDREW BOLT:

Look, we’ve had now Holden, Toyota, Alcoa, Qantas, SPC looking for handouts. You know, they’re all heavily unionised, some propped up by governments in the past. Is there a pattern here, is there a lesson this country needs to learn?

PRIME MINISTER:

The lesson which I hope people are learning is that it is not the Government’s job to prop up individual businesses; it is the Government’s job to try to ensure that the overall economy is strong. It’s obviously tragic Andrew, when a large and iconic business sheds staff or even in some cases closes down. The important thing is to ensure that there are better jobs to go to when good jobs aren’t there. We want people to be able to move from good jobs to better jobs and that means a strong and dynamic economy.

ANDREW BOLT:

Martin Ferguson, the former Labor minister and ACTU president, this week backed the Abbott Government’s plans to restore the construction industry watchdog against lawless unions and told the Government to be bolder in deregulating workplaces.

Martin Ferguson: I’ve actually challenged the Government and the Opposition to actually go further on industrial reform. I support the reinstatement of the Building and Construction Commission and I also think the Prime Minister should be, I suppose less timid.

Prime Minister, when a former ACTU president says you’re too timid in taking union shackles off workplaces, you must really be going too slow. Now, why is that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Andrew, it’s good that Martin Ferguson has found his voice. I guess it’s a pity that he didn’t find his voice more vigorously when in government, but he’s a decent bloke, Martin, he’s got very sensible views and I think he’s made a very constructive contribution to the debate.

ANDREW BOLT:

But the ‘timid’ tag – I mean there’s plenty of people saying, you know, you’re moving too slowly to save the economy, where are the spending cuts, where are the big moves, where’s the big union deregulation?

PRIME MINISTER:

We’ve got very significant legislation before the Parliament; we’ve got legislation to restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission – a strong cop on the beat in a tough industry – we’ve got a Royal Commission about to start into union governance and union corruption; we’ve got some industrial legislation coming into the Parliament to make it easier to get Greenfields Industrial Agreements up and running, to crack-down on so called ‘right of entry’ law. So, quite a lot is happening and at the moment Martin Ferguson’s old comrades are making it almost impossible to get any of this legislation through the Senate.

ANDREW BOLT:

So you’d move faster if it wasn’t for the Senate? I mean, you must be getting very frustrated that you can’t actually make the big changes that we need to turn the economy around?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well what we need is a government which keeps it commitments and this Government will precisely keep its commitments when it comes to workplace relations and across the board Andrew. We want to be known as a competent and trustworthy Government which says what it means and does what it says.

We made some commitments before the election – we’re going to keep them. But the Senate – the Labor Party in the Senate – is constantly accusing us of breaking promises and yet they are making it impossible for us to keep our promises.

ANDREW BOLT:

The Manus Island detention centre riot - now when you first heard of that riot - and we’re seeing vision now of some of the injured afterwards - and you learnt that one man had been killed and 60 more beaten up, how did you feel? Sick, ashamed, embarrassed?

PRIME MINISTER:

Obviously I was concerned and I was worried, but the important thing was that order was quickly restored inside the centre and by the morning, the centre was functioning. There had not been significant damage to the centre and come the morning, breakfasts were being served; people were being fed, housed and clothed. So, the death was a tragedy – deeply regrettable – but the important thing is to run these centres as well as we humanly can, and that’s what’s happening.

ANDREW BOLT:

You didn’t have a moment of doubt or embarrassment thinking, “Now what are we doing that this sort of thing can happen?”

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, people should not engage in riotous affray. Now if they do engage in riotous affray, they’ve got to be dealt with humanely as well as sometimes firmly, but we are going to get to the bottom of this particular tragedy. Scott Morrison has been in PNG over the last 24 hours or so, amongst other things, to try to ensure that this happens.

But the bottom line is, we fully support offshore processing, we are going to run these centres, they are going to be run well and if necessary, firmly, because we are going to stop the boats Andrew, and thank God the boats are stopping.

ANDREW BOLT:

I accept there was a riot and I accept that, you know, you’re going to need force to deal with it, but when you say ‘deal with it firmly’ and 60 people are beaten up, that’s more than firmly.

PRIME MINISTER:

We are looking into exactly what happened, what sort of things took place in this camp on that night and in the days leading up to it, so we are going to look at all of this, but we are not going to be deterred for a second from our policy of offshore processing – of offshore detention – because this is a very important element in stopping the boats. Let’s face it Andrew, the Manus camp was actually re-established – belatedly to be sure – but it was re-established by our predecessors and the company that was in charge…

ANDREW BOLT:

… was hired by Kevin Rudd.

PRIME MINISTER:

Exactly right.

ANDREW BOLT:

Speaking of Kevin Rudd, his wife, Therese Rein, says in this morning’s paper, “It’s time that we were more compassionate to boat people”. Is she right, or should she have told her husband?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I think we all want to do the right thing by everyone and we are by nature a generous and welcoming people, but the problem here Andrew, is that under the former government we completely lost control of our borders. In July of last year - Kevin Rudd’s first month as a restored prime minister – illegal arrivals were coming at the rate of 50,000 a year; we had 4,500 in that month alone. Now, you can’t just smile at people under these circumstances, you’ve got to have a very, very vigorous response and that’s what’s been happening increasingly, particularly under this Government.

ANDREW BOLT:

Prime Minister, thank you so much for your time.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks so much.

[ends]