Australian Government coat of arms

Prime Minister of Australia

The Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP

Doorstop - Australian Catholic University

03 March 2016


Prime Minister

Minister for Health


MINISTER LEY: Well, good morning. Can I thank the Australian Catholic University for having us at their beautiful campus here in Canberra and say how delighted I am to be here with the Prime Minister, with Professor Anne Kelso, the CEO of the National Health and Medical Research Council to announce $129 million of grants for medical research, part of $850 million that we will provide this year in all sorts of exciting areas of research.

It’s always a good day when I look through the types of projects that have been approved, when I see the postgraduate scholarships that we’re offering, remembering that Ian Fraser did some of his good work on a postgrad scholarship and I realise how we do have the best and brightest and the announcement today supports very much Prime Minister, your culture of fostering innovation, collaboration, partnerships both nationally and internationally.

So today we’ve been talking about physical activity. Even though much of research is white coats and microscopes, that’s very important, but so too is public policy in making Australians healthier by starting on this generation, a particular passion of mine.

So it’s been a fascinating experience to see and talk to the researchers this morning. Over to you Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, thank you very much Sussan and I am thrilled to be here. As Sussan said the investment into research, into medical research, is absolutely critical to our whole innovation agenda.  Which is critical to our continuing successful transition from an economy that is driven by the mining construction boom to one that is based on innovation, on science, on technology, on investment and infrastructure and accessing those big opened markets in Asia that have been freed up for us by our free trade agreements.

So that transition from the mining construction economy to the new economy of the 21st century, which we’ve seen is progressing well with the figures, the National Accounts released yesterday. We’ve seen it’s progressing well, you know we are, our economy is growing faster than any of the other comparable G7 countries. You know we are seeing phenomenal growth in the circumstances. Now that is no cause for complacency. That is why we have to be very focused on continuing our move to transition to this new economy and can I just say, with reference to Chris's work with these kids and physical activity.

This is absolutely critical. You know we’ve had great success in Australia tackling smoking, big public health issue and we’ve done better than most countries in reducing the level of smoking. Obesity is clearly also a very big issue.

Now what we’re seeing here today and the research that the NHMRC is supporting is very important but it’s important right across the board. I mean one of the changes that we’ve made to Federal Government policy since I became Prime Minister, was that the Federal Government would support and as you know, we have supported, public transport projects in other cities. It’s a very important part of our city's agenda.

Public transport is important for many reasons, not least of which, people that obviously walk to the train, walk to the bus are more physically active. It is a, if you drive less and walk more, you will be fitter, you’re less likely to be obese, you’re going to be, have a longer and happier and healthier life.

So right across the board Sussan and I and all of our team are very focused on all of these objectives. An innovative, creative society, a physically active society, these are all linked for a stronger 21st-century economy.

JOURNALIST: Do you believe Tony Abbott when he says he didn't leak the draft Defence White Paper and how would you describe your relationship?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I would say this to you, that I'm not going to engage in a discussion about personalities. My focus and Sussan's focus and the government's focus is ensuring that we continue our successful transition to the new economy. That’ll bring more jobs and better jobs for our children and grandchildren.

And, as I said, there’s no cause for complacency but we are seeing that transition working. Those growth figures in the last quarter are a testament to the confidence that is there among Australian consumers and businesses. That’s why we’re seeing good jobs growth, that's why we’re seeing good economic growth and that’s what we're going to focus on.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you’ve been in conversation with the premiers, are you any closer to settling their concerns over their health and education funding?

PRIME MINISTER: Well we’re having very good conversations, Chris and good open conversations. But I wouldn't want to provide a running commentary on the progress of them. Look we recognise we’ve got common challenges and always we have to work constructively and cordially together to solve them.

JOURNALIST: Do you believe Tony Abbott is undermining your leadership by some of his comments, public comments of the last week or so?

PRIME MINISTER: Again I obviously respect your interest in the matter, in the subject matter but my focus is on ensuring that we have great jobs for our children and grandchildren, that our economy is strong, that we’re investing in science and technology, that we’re an innovative country. That we put in place all of those policies, pull all of those levers that are going to ensure we continue the successful transition from an economy that was driven by a big mining construction boom to one that is more diverse.

Now if I may say I'm just echoing what the Treasurer said on radio this morning. When you look at other similar commodity dominated economies and Canada and Brazil are the two that he mentioned, they’re good comparable examples, we are doing so much better and that is because of strong confidence.

You see, part of our job, part Sussan and my job is to provide the businesses and consumers with the confidence that the government is being managed carefully, methodically, focused on the real goal, the main goal, that successful transition and that you know big policy issues are being considered carefully and ensuring that we make the big calls correctly.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, could you give us some clarity please on negative gearing. Are any aspects of negative gearing and potential changes still under consideration as part of the government's tax reform policy or, is it now in the same basket as GST and is not going to be touched by a Turnbull Government?

PRIME MINISTER: Okay, well, thank you for that question I’m glad you raised it. When I became PM and when Scott became Treasurer, we inherited a process that had been begun by our respective predecessors to look at a whole range of tax issues and GST is one of them, negative gearing is another and it’s quite a long list.

Having been close to the tax debate for a long time, I can tell you there aren't a lot of new ideas, most of them have been around for a while but what we have done is we’ve worked through them carefully. We’ve not kicked anything into the long grass for political reasons. We’ve looked at every issue carefully.

Now with GST, the idea that you’d raise the GST and you know reduce income tax, that was the so-called tax mix switch.

We looked at that very carefully. As you know as ministers, as a Prime Minister, as a Treasurer, as colleagues, we looked at it collectively and what was very clear was that once you saw the analysis, the thorough analysis that, I regret to say the Labor Party has not done on its policies. You saw that by the time you ensured that people in lower, in low and middle incomes were compensated, there was relatively little left to reduce income taxes. It would not add to economic growth. Expenditure as a share of GDP would increase, it just wasn't worth it.

So that's why we said okay we’ve looked at that, we're not going to proceed with that any more. We’re looking at a whole lot of other issues and we will, when we’ve completed our work in a careful and methodical way, then the results of that will form part of our policy and the things we don't proceed with, we’ll explain, or don't proceed further with, we’ll explain why, as I did with GST and when we’ve completed the process we you know we will obviously let the public know.

JOURNALIST: Negative gearing, Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER: It is an issue that we have been looking at very, very carefully. I can assure you. It’s important for us to examine these issues carefully and responsibly.

I can say to you that we have also, you can see from our criticisms of Labor's policy, the dangers of rushing into changes that have not been well thought out. I mean Labor's policy on negative gearing, let's be quite clear, what that will do is in practical terms, remove about one third of the demand for established residential properties. It will reduce the amount of, the number of properties that are available for rent, it will reduce the value of properties and it will inevitably lead to an increase in rents.

It is a very, very misconceived measure and you can see it’s perfectly obvious that Labor rushed it out without carefully analysing it and that is something that Sussan and I and our colleagues are not going to do. I said when I became PM that we would respect the intelligence of the Australian people and we do that by working through issues carefully and taking into account all of the advice and all of the analysis and then we come to a conclusion, then of course we make an announcement.

JOURNALIST: So in short negative gearing is still being considered?

PRIME MINISTER: We are looking at a whole range of tax issues and when we, you can speculate, as you are free to do, as to what a conclusion may be, just as Chris can on terms of discussions with the states. But we are not going to provide a running commentary on our own processes. The GST matter was dealt with and announced and that was important I think and we will do the same thing with other elements in this tax reform agenda.

But I just, I can't, let me re-emphasise something I said earlier. This is very important. Why are we seeing strong economic growth, comparable to other countries?  A big part of it is confidence. It is people's confidence in the future. Why do you invest, you invest because you think things, you’ll make some money, things will get better. Why do you hire an extra person? You hire them because you believe that they will add to your business and you know, you will progress and things are going to get better.

Confidence is absolutely critical. An important element in that confidence is for people to believe and to believe correctly that the Government is thinking through the big issues carefully. Examining them carefully and when we make a decision, explaining it.

I know that sometimes you know you might say oh, that's just process and so forth. It is critically important. As I said last night at the 20th anniversary of the election of the Howard Government one of the great things that John Howard did was run a very thorough Cabinet process and that is exactly what I am doing as Prime Minister. We have a, John set a gold standard in that regard and I promised when I became PM that I would follow that and so that’s what we’re doing.

So Australians who are concerned about tax policy and let's face it, I guess everyone has an interest in it, can understand that we are looking at it very carefully, as we look at all issues very carefully.

So you know, policy on the run, leads you into the type of errors that Labor made. Careful Cabinet government makes it highly probable, highly probable that you will make the right decisions. You know, you can't guarantee perfection but if you want to minimise the risk of error then you go through that proper process and that’s what we do.

JOURNALIST: Can I just ask the Health Minister, just on pill testing, just is there, should there be a Federal approach to this issue, considering a whole bunch of very, very smart doctors are saying that they’re going to run a renegade trial at some music festivals. What do you say as the Health Minister to that?

MINISTER LEY: I’m not convinced of the merits of freelancing with pill testing. We trust our law enforcement, I trust the police and believe me, they care as much as anyone about the fate of young people for whom pills fall into the wrong hands and tragedy follows. So there is work being done at state level. I look forward to some comments from Premier Mike Baird. He, I, the Prime Minister, every parent, every politician is deeply worried about accidents with young people but I’m not convinced that that is the right way to go.