Australian Government coat of arms

Prime Minister of Australia

The Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP

Interview with Wendy Harmer, ABC Sydney

11 March 2016


Prime Minister


WENDY HARMER: I welcome the Prime Minister of Australia Malcolm Turnbull to this very humble studio. Hello.

PRIME MINISTER: Wendy it’s so good to be here with you.

WENDY HARMER: Yeah, how fun. To be, you’re the Prime Minister and I’m back working at the ABC after all these years and I was remembering last night where we met each other. Do you remember?

PRIME MINISTER: I do. It was a great debate about the monarchy and the republic. Wasn’t it?

WENDY HARMER: It was. How many years... it was 1993.

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah ok. Well that wasn’t that long ago I suppose.

WENDY HARMER: It was World Series Debating. There was Andrew Denton, Bronwyn Bishop and the late, great Paul Lyneham on one team and there was you, me and Graham Richardson on the other, and the debate was that Australia needs the royal family. I’ve got a couple of grabs for you. Here is you on Bronwyn Bishop.

PRIME MINISTER [Extract]: The monarchists love those great English traditions you know. They're traditionalists. Take Bronwyn. She has replicated every great tradition of British football hooliganism short of burning down the grandstand.


It's only a matter of time.


You know, Bronwyn, a few opinion polls ago, was prepared to die in the ditch for the Queen. Now, she says she has an open mind. And is prepared to hear any good argument as to why we should become a republic. But how will Bronwyn hear any argument, good or bad, if she doesn't stop talking herself?


WENDY HARMER: Oh yeah. Are you prepared, you want to hear Bronnie on you?

PRIME MINISTER: Why not, let's do it.

BROWNYN BISHOP [EXTRACT]: You have heard from Malcolm.


What you always hear from Malcolm.


You see, the nice thing about Malcolm that's always consistent is that he never lets the facts get in the way of a good story.

(Laughter) (Applause)

Long and hard have we debated, often have we debated. And Malcolm always tries to prove he's the better Australian. But you see, he hasn't got a mortgage or a monopoly on the right to call himself Australian and proud. But he does have a penchant for polls and he quoted there that 70 per cent of all Australians wanted to be a republic. Poll driven, is our Malcolm. But you see, I...

WENDY HARMER: That's where we leave it. That was - it was a great night.

PRIME MINISTER: It was - it was one of the most good-natured debates. I mean the republican debate as you remember became a bit more fraught - well, not fraught but sort of more, I guess, more edgy as we got closer to the referendum in '99 but in those early years, it was very good natured and I remember debating with Bronwyn and also with Lloyd Waddy, you remember Lloyd, who was the Chairman of the Constitutional Monarchists?


PRIME MINISTER: In fact, one night Lloyd and I decided you know just for a laugh, we would at one debate we'd try out debates - we'd try out make - see if we could make the case for the other side. And it was hilarious. We had a good - we've - it was a - you know - Wendy, it's a good thing, it's a good anything for us to debate big issues and to do so with a bit of humour I think. Often that takes a lot of the edginess out of it. Anyway, let's talk about trains. More important.

WENDY HARMER: That was one of the reflections I had on listening to that, perhaps there was a bit of good humour about. Yes so, just before we get to trains, though, this is your chance to tell us when the election is going to be. Let's face it I could do with a bit of a bump in the ratings.

PRIME MINISTER:  [Laughs] Well, if you want a bump in ratings what I'd have to do is say "I'll come back next week and tell you." If I tell you, then it won't help your ratings next week.

WENDY HARMER: Alright you can come back next week and tell me then. But there’s been a bit of amateur sleuthing going on amongst the press gallery who've sussed out that the Great Hall in Parliament House has been booked for May 3. They say that means an early Budget leading to a double dissolution and a July 2 election. So…

PRIME MINISTER: Well, look, let me just say something to you about double dissolutions. The press gallery write about double dissolutions as though it was a sort of a political tactic. And I think it's important to explain what it means. Under our Constitution, section 57, there is a mechanism for resolving a dead lock between the House of Representatives and the Senate. So if the Senate rejects a bill twice after, or fails to pass, I should say, a bill twice after an interval of three months, then the Government of the day can seek the Governor-General to dissolve both Houses of Parliament so all of the Senators and all of the Reps, naturally, and they’re all re-elected, they all go to the polls and then they come back and they sit in a joint sitting and they consider the bills that had been twice rejected. And so the only reason that I would consider advising the Governor-General to affect a double dissolution would be in order to deal with bills that had been rejected. That's the only reason. It's not a question of going to an early election. In fact any election in the second half of this year could not reasonably be described as early, because the last election was in the first week of September as I recall in 2013. So an election after 30 June would not be regarded as early. But the only reason to go to a double dissolution is to resolve a deadlock, and as you know, there are two big industrial laws which will basically clean-up union corruption. They are manifestly in the interests of the trade union movement, or certainly in the interests of their members. And that's the Registered Organisations Bill which would basically require unions to be run with the same transparency and accountability as public companies, or as companies, and the other bill is the one that would restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission, which would restore the rule of law to the construction sector. Now after the Heydon Royal Commission I think - we knew this anyway but it is abundantly clear that this type of reform is needed. Now what I'm saying to the Senators and particularly to the crossbenchers and indeed to the Labor Party and the Greens, vote for those bills. They are absolutely in the best interests of Australia, of the unions themselves, and particularly of their members.

WENDY HARMER: Does that mean vote for those bills or else?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, they vote for those bills then there would be no question, we wouldn't even be talking about the possibility of a double dissolution. But it’s, look it is clearly an option, and it is something that the Government considers, and I - but the way to take that option away is for the Senators to pass those bills. And they are, you know after all of the evidence in the Heydon Royal Commission, surely nobody can reasonably say, as Bill Shorten does, that everything's fine. The CMFEU are charming fellows, all of those court decisions about thuggery and corruption and breaking industrial law, they're all irrelevant. You know, look, really, we've got to clean-up this union corruption and lawlessness. The vast majority of union members, the overwhelming majority, are honest, hardworking people who are not being well served by many of their leaders and their officials. Now, this is the best chance for the unions to get their house in order and that will restore confidence and I think would lead to higher union membership.

WENDY HARMER: Ok. Alright then. We know where the battle line is there then, thank you for that. We are talking about Western Sydney transport today. If you have a question for the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull you can give me a call on 1300 222 702. Well, you are making a big announcement today for Western Sydney, so go for it.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, as you know, we are committed to constructing the Western Sydney Airport at Badgerys Creek, this is a huge project, and it is one that will bring jobs and industry to Western Sydney. But it needs to have very good transport links. We've already committed $2.9 billion together with $700 million from the State Government to ensure that there is a road network there. But it is plain that there will need to be more rail in Western Sydney, and not just to the new airport. Rail adds value, it reduces the congestion you were speaking about just a moment ago. The traffic forecasts for the airport tell us that there wouldn't be enough demand at the airport to justify a rail link until the 2040s. Well, firstly, we are building station boxes, you know, cavities under where the terminals will be, to enable there to be two rail lines. We're putting in, we’re making the airport - will make it rail ready for rail to be installed.

But we believe we should be more ambitious. And what we are doing is working with the State Government to see how we can bring the rail to the airport and more rail to Western Sydney much sooner, ideally when the airport opens. We've got to be innovative in the way we approach this. We've got to recognise that rail adds an enormous amount of value to property, it enables greater amenity, greater development, greater density, more housing, more affordable housing, and all of, some of that value should be captured to fund the new rail. We've got to take a much more - a modern and innovative approach to funding urban infrastructure. Budgets are strained, both State and Federal, we know that, so we've got to look at investing in our cities as as much an economic exercise as anything else. So it is, I'm very confident that we will find a way to bring the rail to the airport and to Western Sydney, because it's not - obviously there this is part of a whole integrated development of Western Sydney.

WENDY HARMER: Right. Well, in one moment I'm going to talk to you about how that will be funded and I guess you will be looking at value capture and we might have a talk about value capture in a moment. But there is a little note here from one of our listeners, who lives in the Blue Mountains, and she says "Well thank you very much indeed for being an infrastructure Prime Minister.” She says thanks to you and Lucy for tackling infrastructure says Helen McKenzie in the Blue Mountains. “Let's have a world-class train system like those in Europe." I'd like to ask you: is there anywhere, a city of commensurate size that you think does it well for rail, somewhere we could emulate?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, there are many cities that do it very well. And obviously the cities that you think about are big cities like London and indeed - or New York, but obviously in Asia, you've seen extraordinary growth in urban rail. I mean Shanghai opened, started its urban rail network in 1995 and it is now either the biggest or the second biggest in the world. I mean, the reality is Wendy that we are all - cities are becoming denser. We’re living closer together. Density is not the problem, density is the solution, but it has to be coupled with amenity. The great mistake that Bob Carr made, for example, in his long term as Premier here, is he allowed Sydney to develop but didn't invest in the infrastructure. If you invest in the good transport infrastructure, then density gives, does give greater amenity because there are more things to do, you're closer to work, you're closer to university. We've got to work around the idea of a 30-minute city, where people can get to work, to university, to school, to whatever they want to do, to all of the things they want to do, within 30 minutes.

WENDY HARMER: 30 minutes. Ok.

PRIME MINISTER: That should be a goal. Now that’s not going to, you know if somebody choses to work in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney but wants to live in the Blue Mountains well that’s going to take…

WENDY HARMER: The Northern beaches that’s where they have to queue to get over the bridge.

PRIME MINISTER: Well Wendy that’s right. And of course people will make all sorts of choices, but you see one of the problems with the way the city has grown and this applies to the Central Coast, to Western Sydney, is that there not enough centres of employment there. You know building these big, essentially allowing large dormitory suburbs to develop has created these congestion and transport problems. So the solution is more jobs, more business, more activity, that’s why Western Sydney University is so important for example, where I am giving a speech today…

WENDY HARMER: Well my son attends that, the university.

PRIME MINISTER: Well there you go. You see that’s an important point. You know there’s a technology incubator out at Werrington that I opened that Western Sydney University has sponsored. All of these things are important. But the transport infrastructure is critical because it brings, it knits the whole city together and enables people to move around without the pain and difficulty of the congestion we were talking about a moment ago.

WENDY HARMER: Alright we’ll get to a few things in a moment. We will get to value capture and I’m also, which is funding these developments, and also I’m interested in whether do you think we’ve got balance between roads and rail right at the moment. Lisa from Penrith though she has another concern. Hello Lisa.

CALLER LISA: Hi Wendy. Thanks for having me on the show and good morning to the Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER: Good morning Wendy.


PRIME MINISTER: Lisa, sorry. Lisa.

WENDY HARMER: You’re right.

PRIME MINISTER: Lisa. Good morning Lisa.

CALLER LISA: Good morning Prime Minister. I acknowledge everything you say about infrastructure and the fact that we need a rail network that’s successful out here in Western Sydney. But what many of us are concerned about is the wall to wall concrete in Western Sydney and the fact that all of this is being driven by a lot of developers who are set to make a lot of money out of the development of Western Sydney. What my concern today is the fact that you talked about amenity and you talk about balance, but in terms of a natural environment Sydney, Western Sydney, is being trashed at the moment and we need to secure some green offsets, some conservation that’s in conjunction and right away because things are disappearing as we turn our heads. All of our landscapes are changing in Western Sydney. We seek you’re assurance that there will be some development but also there’ll also be some conservation outcomes for Western Sydney as well.

WENDY HARMER: Thanks Lisa very much.

PRIME MINISTER: Well Lisa I obviously, let me say this about the Federal Government the Federal Government’s role. We are not – we have a different, or I have, my Government has a different cities policy and we’ll be publishing a full discussion paper on this very shortly and I’m outlining this in the speech today. We have a very different approach to cities to that of my predecessors. Firstly, historically certainly Coalition governments have been very reluctant to fund rail, support rail, they’ve preferred to support road. My government supports, will support, transport infrastructure regardless of its modes so it depends on what makes most sense and the reality is, it will be a mixture of both and you’ve seen that we have already provided support to the extension of the Gold Coast Light Rail in Queensland.

However, the major, the responsibility for planning a city is clearly overwhelmingly with the state government and local government. What, however, the Federal Government has done in the past, has to be essentially a passive ATM and just provide grants to this project or that project. The approach that we will take is one of being much more engaged. We’re not going to tell states or cities how to plan their cities, but what we want to do is to be collaborative and part of the solution so that when we do – when there is agreement on the city plan – and that of course should include all of the points you raised, the conservation, the green space, the amenity that is important it’s got to be a co-ordinated plan. Then when we provide support and it may be by way of investment, it may involve value capture as Wendy was mentioning earlier. Then we’ll be doing so in support of a plan so we are supporting those outcomes rather than just literally writing a cheque for a piece of infrastructure without any regard to what it’s consequences are going to be for housing accessibility, housing affordability, you know future development in terms of providing jobs in different parts of the city. The object has got to be to recognise that our cities are where most Australians live and I don’t just mean capitals, I’m talking about regional cities as well. I mean, there are many cities in Australia, it’s not just a question of Sydney and Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth and so forth. But what we need to do is to have a city plan which we are partners in and which we can then say, ‘alright, every dollar we spend together with you, the local government and state government and the private sector, is going to support these outcomes and they’re outcomes obviously that the public have been engaged with and understand and support.

WENDY HARMER: Ok, well let’s talk to Scott from Silverwater. How do you do Scott?

CALLER SCOTT: Good morning Wendy and good morning Mr Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER: Good morning.

CALLER SCOTT: Mr Prime Minister my question is just regarding the future payments that the federal government may offer to the states in implementing rail and public transport and the effect that may have if the New South Wales State Government as it’s been in the media recently decides to privatise our public transport. Here in Silverwater we’re losing public transport every month, we’re losing bus routes, we’re losing timetables.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, look I can’t speak about the bus routes in Silverwater - that is absolutely in the hands of the State Government - look, I think the critical thing is to ensure that the service is delivered. Having private companies delivering public transport services is hardly new, Melbourne’s trams, Yarra Trams for example is run privately --

WENDY HARMER: Well let’s go to this value capture.

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, ok, talk about value capture.

WENDY HARMER: Yes, because I think people, thanks very much for that Scott. People will be wanting to know, well where is the money coming from? Tell them how value capture works, it’s already being done here in Sydney.

PRIME MINISTER: Ok, well let me just go back in time. When railroads were first built in the 19th Century, they were seen to be in effect property deals because it was recognised that they created a lot of value in real estate and so railway companies were and in many countries still remain very big landowners and the important insight there is that good transport, transport infrastructure, particularly if it’s well planned, adds a lot of value to land. Now in many countries still, Hong Kong being a classic example, that is how rail lines are financed. It is very hard to get a financial return out of the fare box from a new railway whether it’s light rail or heavy rail. So you’ve got two choices. Either you fund it out of the budget, and of course that is tough in tough times, in times like we have at the moment. We are not running surpluses. Or you say ok, let’s not look at this just as a piece of infrastructure to get from A to B or A to B to C to D to E to F etcetera. Let’s ask ourselves how do we improve our city, how do we increase the value of our city in its amenity and then having done that with this piece of rail infrastructure, how do we then capture some of that to support its construction? And this is increasingly what is being done again in the United States, in a sense it’s back to the future because people are really remembering that what good transport infrastructure does is transform the amenity and hence the value of real estate and you can of course just let that all go free to the owners of the land but if you can capture some of that and it may be that involves some government land. For example, you know I’ve been looking at the support we could lend to a project in another city in Australia where there is a large chunk of unused rundown government land that could be connected to the rest of the city with some light rail infrastructure and add a lot of value to that. And that could be used to fund the infrastructure. So essentially what it involves doing is saying let’s look at this in a holistic way, let’s look at this not just as transport engineers but as urbanists, as builders of cities, and as you create that value then of course you can tap into some of that and that supports the construction of the infrastructure.

WENDY HARMER: Right, I know there was some Hong Kong Company, MTR who are already --


WENDY HARMER: Yes, they’re working with the line to Rouse Hill.

PRIME MINISTER: Well do you want me to explain how MTRC works?

WENDY HARMER: Yeah well,

PRIME MINISTER: I’ll be very quick.

WENDY HARMER: I think that we’re running – be very quick.

PRIME MINISTER: Ok, very quickly. Ok so what MTRC do – this is the subway company in Hong Kong. The government say alright we think there should be a line out from A to B, they say fair enough they look at that and say OK, they say the cost is X, the revenue from the fare box is a fraction of that, how do we make that up? We make that up by getting access to real estate around the stations and that fills in the gap and off they go. And that is common sense. The alternative is simply that you, instead of contributing to it that way, you just have to fund it out of your budget and of course that’s hard to afford.

WENDY HARMER: And there is a charge though that sometimes those developments, they can be concrete jungles but that –

PRIME MINISTER: That is why they have got to be well designed. That is why you need good planners.

WENDY HARMER: Well let’s talk to Karen from the Central Coast because I think she probably represents your average voter, g’day Karen.

CALLER KAREN: I hope I do.

WENDY HARMER: Yes, away you go.

CALLER KAREN: Yes, Prime Minister, both political parties have been promising public transport before each election for the last several years, I’m up on the central coast and it’s happened here and I’m sure it’s happened in Western Sydney as well. But after the election nothing happens so I don’t think it’s very credible for people to just be making promises about public transport but being unable to deliver. So my suggestion is with the new senate reform that you’re instituting perhaps and the normal voter wants public transport obviously otherwise people wouldn’t be promising it but to be able to allow politicians to deliver perhaps we need to change the Senate system so that one vote, one value, get rid of the preferential system which has been holding the country back and have the percentage of members in accordance with the actual votes so everybody gets one [loss of audio] proportional system so you have the parliament representing the percentage of the vote that the people –

WENDY HARMER: Karen, Karen, Karen my dear we now have 30 seconds and we know the Prime Minister likes a long chat –

PRIME MINISTER: I’ll be very quick. Karen --

WENDY HARMER: You have literally 20 seconds.

PRIME MINISTER: Ok, the senate reforms that we are proposing and we hope to have through the Senate next week will result in you determining where your votes go in the Senate paper, not backroom preference deals. So broadly speaking your objective of the senate representing the people will be there.

WENDY HARMER: Ooh you’ve got to stop! It’s 9 o’clock.