Australian Government coat of arms

Prime Minister of Australia

The Hon Tony Abbott MP

Doorstop Interview, Ottawa, Canada

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Ottawa, Canada

Prime Minister

Subjects:

Visit to Canada; Canada – Australian relations; G20; the Government’s commitment to repeal the carbon tax and the mining tax; direct action plan to reduce carbon emissions; Syria; visit to the United States; Five Eyes alliance.

E&OE

PRIME MINISTER:

It is very good to be here at the Canadian War Museum to help launch the collaboration between the Australian War Museum and the Canadian War Museum.

This is a very important collaboration as we go through the centenary of World War One. I want particularly thank Dr Brendan Nelson from the Australian War Memorial for his enthusiasm and commitment to this project. It does help to remind people of the work that both Australian soldiers and Canadian soldiers did in World War One. It helps to remind people of the bonds between our two countries and also of the enduring bonds between Australia and all of the war time allies. It's also good to be here in Canada because while we do have a tendency in Australia to take the relationship with Canada for granted, it is an important relationship. It's important economically, it’s important in security terms as well. Australia and Canada are both members of the Five Eyes partnership.

Increasingly we are large investors in each other and it's my hope that as a result of this trip - which does include a business delegation - as a result of this trip, we will see significantly more investment from Canada in Australia and from Australia in Canada.

Canada is a bigger investor in Australia than people think. The M7 motorway, 27 per cent of the Port of Brisbane, the Sydney Desalination Plant, part of the Melbourne Convention Centre are all now owned by Canadian investors. Similarly, we have significant investment in Canada, particularly in the mining and resources sector.

It will also be an opportunity to deepen my friendship with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. I first met Stephen Harper when he was an opposition leader, not expected to succeed, but of course against the odds he won the 2006 election here in Canada. He has gone from strength to strength since then. He has been regarded as something of beacon to centre-right parties around the world and certainly I have regarded Stephen Harper as an exemplar of a contemporary centre-right prime minister. So it's going to be good to spend much of tomorrow in his company and to enjoy his counsel.

I didn't want to come to North America for the very important forthcoming visit to the United States, without also including Ottawa, because while the United States is an extraordinarily important relationship to Australia, while the US relationship is always a critical one, this is important too.

Like the United States, Canada and Australia are family and it's important to pay your respects to family.

QUESTION:

Where do you see Canadian and American investment being best placed when the States are about to sell a lot of their assets? Do you think there’s potential there?

PRIME MINISTER:

Paul, I do think there is potential there. The Canadian pension funds are already significant infrastructure investors in Australia. The M7, the desalination plant and I see that as continuing. Pension funds typically want long-term, secure investments with stable rates of return and infrastructure certainly offers that kind of potential.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, you mentioned Stephen Harper a moment ago. He has made some interesting remarks about Vladimir Putin in an interview aired today. You would have talked to him at the D-Day commemorations. He said that Vladimir Putin is an extreme nationalist and an imperialist. He said this is an individual who clearly believes that if he’s able he has the right and ability to invade another country, to alter borders through military force. What do you think of those remarks? What do you think of what Vladimir Putin is doing?

PRIME MINISTER:

They’re very forthright remarks and I think that they’re perfectly appropriate remarks for the Canadian Prime Minister to make. Canada probably has more involvement in the affairs of Europe than Australia often does, but nevertheless let's not minimise the affront to international stability and the affront to the ordinary norms of behaviour between nations which Russia has been responsible for. I mean it's bitten off the Crimea, it's obviously interfering in Ukraine and this should stop. This should stop. No country has a right to bully another country just because it can.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, in light of those comments and I know you’ve already made points about Russia and Mr Putin attending the G20, but is there any danger that attending the G20 gives him some sort of comfort at a time when those sorts of comments by someone you admire so much have been made and you’ve just endorsed them?

PRIME MINISTER:

Let's wait and see what happens in the next few months. I had the opportunity to talk to President Poroshenko of Ukraine as part of the D-Day commemoration and there were some discussions that day between President Poroshenko and Mr Putin. Let's hope that this can be the beginning of better behaviour. Let's hope this can be the beginning of a return to normalcy in the relationship between Ukraine and Russia.

QUESTION:

Back to the investment of the Canadian pension funds, do you have anything specific in mind or is it just to raise a general awareness? Is it your view that there’s a lack of awareness in Canada about the investment opportunities in Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

The fact that we have some $27 billion worth of Canadian investment shows that there is not a complete lack of awareness.

I hope that my visit and the visit of the accompanying trade delegation will encourage more Canadian businesses - more cashed up Canadian pension funds that are looking for a safe and stable place to invest their members' money - I hope more of them will look to Australia because I think there is great potential as part of the asset recycling fund that the Commonwealth has put in place in the Budget. I think there is going to be more privatisation in Australia and that will provide opportunities for the kind investment that these Canadian pension funds have already shown they are looking for.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, are you going to talk about climate change with Prime Minister Harper and do you think he’s got the right approach?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’ve already spoken about climate change on numerous occasions to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and you might remember that the Canadian government campaigned specifically against a carbon tax at the most recent election here in Canada and it actually was returned to government in its own right, in part on the campaign against a carbon tax. So Stephen Harper and I are likeminded on this and on many other issues, but I do want to stress that the argument is not about climate change, the argument is about the best means to respond to climate change and I believe that carbon taxes and emissions trading schemes are the wrong way to go.

The right way to go is to take sensible steps to improve energy efficiency, to cultivate better soils, to plant more trees, to take the kind of direct action measures which we certainly intend to take in Australian and which increasingly are being taken right around the world, including here in North America.

QUESTION:

To be clear though, is that preferable to an international trading scheme if that were ever to happen?

PRIME MINISTER:

There is no sign – no sign – that trading schemes are increasingly being adopted. If anything trading schemes are being discarded not adopted.

QUESTION:

Just on the carbon tax, there’s some reports today that the Senate crossbenchers may not allow you to not go ahead with Labor’s second round of tax cuts. Do you fear that you won’t be able to get that through the Senate? They’re saying a tax cut’s actually good – the second round of tax cuts actually a good idea.

PRIME MINISTER:

You know this is a Government which is committed to lower, simpler, fairer taxes and I would like almost nothing more than to be able to give a swift round of tax cuts, but we do face a very difficult fiscal position. It is critical that we return the Budget to a sustainable surplus as quickly as we reasonably can and that’s the path that we’ve outlined in the Budget that we’ve just brought down.

Let’s not forget that the tax cuts in question – the second round of tax cuts in question – the tax cuts which have not actually been implemented yet were specific carbon tax compensation and without the carbon tax obviously there’s much less need for the carbon tax compensation.

QUESTION:

But do you feel you’ll need to, you know, negotiate with the crossbenchers. Are you willing to move a bit on that or is it locked in stone?

PRIME MINISTER:

We are committed to getting rid of the carbon tax. We are committed to returning the Budget to surplus as quickly as possible and obviously we’re going to talk respectfully to the crossbench Senators, but we also expect them to respect the fact that the Government has a job to do – a job to bring the Budget back under control as well as to repeal the carbon tax.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, in your talks both with President Yudhoyono and with François Hollande in Paris the issue of foreign fighters in Syria posing a terrorist risk upon their return have been raised. How concerned are you about this? Is your concern equal to that of President Yudhoyono and François Hollande and do you plan to raise it with other leaders – Mr Harper or President Obama?

PRIME MINISTER:

This is a big issue. It is concerning people right around the world. We have an ongoing Islamist terror threat and the situation in Syria has the potential to escalate that threat as militarised radicals come back. I don’t say that there is any simple solution to this problem, but the vigilance that’s been maintained since 2001 needs to be increased in these circumstances and it is certainly no time to be reducing the emphasis on good intelligence which has been a very important part of Australia’s response to the terror threat ever since then.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, did you or your office cancel meetings with the president of the World Bank and the head of the International Monetary Fund in Washington?

PRIME MINISTER:

This is highly exaggerated. I would like to meet with all of these individuals, but as you all know, sometimes the programme takes some time to settle and the important thing is to prioritise. I don’t think anyone when you see the programme for my visit to the United States would say that it’s not a heavy and an economically focused programme.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, do you plan to meet Rupert Murdoch while you’re in New York?

PRIME MINISTER:

As I said, the programme is not entirely finalised, but I hope I do because he is a very distinguished Australian and the last time I was in New York certainly I did meet with him.

QUESTION:

So he’s pencilled in at the moment?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m just not going to go into the precise details.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, you talked about meeting Mr Harper and taking counsel from him. You and he are of similar political backgrounds; you’re conservative leaders. Your closest Commonwealth allies are all conservative leaders now – David Cameron in the UK, John Key in New Zealand and now we have Narendra Modi in India. How closely do you work? Do you work – is this becoming a network of conservative leaders? Do you work as a team and can you see yourselves working on the international stage as a team?

PRIME MINISTER:

I want to work closely with all the leaders of countries which are significant to Australia and obviously that includes the people that you’ve mentioned, but it also includes President Obama of the United States. I had a very cordial meeting with President Hollande of France. I had had excellent exchanges with Chancellor Merkel of Germany. I want to work constructively with leaders of all the countries that are important to Australia. I suppose if they are politically likeminded that makes it a little easier, but the important thing is to work constructively with the countries that matter to Australia for the best interests of our country and for the benefit of the wider world.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, is there anything in particular that you’re hoping to learn from Stephen Harper’s experience and do you think there’s something that you can give to him – teach him – from yours?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don’t presume to set myself up as a teacher – I’ve hardly got my feet under the desk in Parliament House in Canberra but certainly there are many things that Stephen Harper has done well, but I guess most noteworthy is taking a $55 billion deficit in the immediate aftermath of the crisis and turning that into a surplus in the coming financial year. That’s a very significant achievement. It has been achieved without significant social dislocation and that is something that all of us can learn from.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, there’s been some renewed criticism from within the National Party about your paid parental leave scheme since you’ve been away. You’ve already reduced that scheme once now, are you prepared to negotiate further on it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Again, I talk respectfully to the crossbench in the Senate, but let’s not forget that this is a policy that we took, not to one election, but to two elections and let’s not forget that this is fundamentally a matter of justice for the women of our country, for the mothers and for the parents of our country. Why should people be paid at their real wage when they go on holidays, when they take long service leave, when they have sick leave and then be paid effectively a welfare wage when they go on parental leave? It just doesn’t make sense and it is my fundamental conviction that paid parental leave is not a welfare entitlement, it is a workplace entitlement and that’s why I’m sticking with the policy we’ve got.

QUESTION:

You mentioned the Five Eyes alliance. Now there’s a lot of controversy about that because of the Edward Snowden leaks. What’s your message to Stephen Harper and to Barack Obama about whether there should be any change in the way intelligence is gathered or the way intelligence is shared because of what emerged after the Snowden leaks?

PRIME MINISTER:

Obviously we have to be intelligent about our intelligence. I mean that goes without saying, but the important thing is not to be deterred from doing what is necessary to protect our citizens, our interests and our values and what is sometimes forgotten about the work of the Five Eyes is that it’s not just for the benefit of those five countries, but it is ultimately for the benefit of the wider world.

Let’s not forget how much of the heavy lifting against international terror has been done by America and its Five Eyes allies. So, sure, our intelligence gathering has got to be done in a way which is decent and fair and which doesn’t betray the fundamental values that we are doing our best to uphold, but we should never ever apologise for doing what’s necessary to protect ourselves and to help our friends and that’s exactly what the Five Eyes arrangements are designed to do.

Thank you.

[ends]