Transcript of interview with Adam Spencer, ABC Sydney
THU 10 MAY 2012
Subject(s): Budget 2012-13; Schoolkids Bonus; Gonski Review; Pacific Highway; Craig Thomson; President Obama; Same-sex marriage; Peter Costello
HOST: Prime Minister, thank you so much for your time.
PM: You’re very welcome Adam.
HOST: The Schoolkids Bonus is expected to pass into law today. Budget 2012 is up and running in practice now.
PM: It certainly is and I was dismayed yesterday that the Opposition came into the Parliament and voted against families getting money that they need to help with the cost of getting the kids to school.
HOST: One of the aspects of this debate is that you are quoted as saying Tony Abbott should get off Sydney’s North Shore and go talk to some real families. People are saying you are invoking class warfare, a division of the us and the them, the haves and the have-nots, the people on the North Shore and other real Australians. Why are you adopting that tactic?
PM: I was making a very simple point, which is Mr Abbott, who represents one of the wealthiest electorates in the country, came into the Parliament yesterday with his Liberal Party membership ticked in one pocket and used his vote to stop working families getting money they need.
And his explanations for doing that were just laughable, as I think people would have seen when he was challenged, you know, why did you support a Baby Bonus under the Howard Government, but you’re not supporting this, how are they different? He volunteered the explanation ‘Well they just are.’
I mean he just could not explain why he was denying families money to help them with getting the kids to school.
HOST: Do you believe that carrying a Liberal Party membership card, or relating to the values of the Liberal Party means you’re less likely to be an ordinary Australian?
PM: I believe Mr Abbott is out of touch with working families, because only someone out of touch could have decided to vote against giving people a helping hand of around $400 for a primary school student and $800 for a secondary school student and I really objected to the tone taken by Mr Abbott and the Liberal Party yesterday, where they were basically saying working people couldn’t be trusted with $400 and $800, couldn’t be trusted to look after their kids. I thought it was insulting.
HOST: At the same time people are saying one of the criticisms of your keeping the cap at $25,000 instead of pushing to $50,000 on what people can put at late working life into their super will stop people who’ve worked hard all of their lives from having sufficient money to enjoy their retirement.
PM: I am worried about the circumstances of people, particularly women, not only women, but they tend to be women who have been in and out of work, part-time work, they’re coming to retirement age now and they find they don’t have much super. I’m certainly concerned about that.
That’s why we introduced a $500 co-contribution scheme, where as a Government we give a helping hand to low income Australians to boost their superannuation. We did, in this Budget, which is full of tough choices, have to defer by a couple of years moving to the different superannuation arrangements that you refer to, allowing people to tip in more money late in life and still get concessional tax treatment.
So we haven’t called that off, we’ve deferred it for two years.
HOST: Have you deferred the Gonski Report’s recommendations into public education, or have they been put - there’s lots of concern this morning that it’s such momentous report and a real chance to move on funding education, public and private, around Australia, seems to have been brushed over in the budget?
PM: No one should be concerned about that, we are continuing to work on the Gonski School Funding Review. That is actually out now, in a series of working groups between the Federal and the State Government and I know when politicians say things like that people can say ‘Well, that sounds like gobbledygook,’ but if I can just explain to you – Mr Gonski and his review team said things like ‘Let’s have a difference system of funding students with disabilities,’ but at the moment we don’t even have a way of nationally knowing where students with disabilities are. So no national system of identifying and categorising students with disabilities and working out how much money’s necessary to meet their needs.
So Mr Gonski said to government you’ve got to get on, firstly, with building the tools you need to then help you build the new funding system. We’re doing that now and so, of course, it’s too early to have budget treatment of these matters, because we’re still working it through.
HOST: When it comes to Federal-State relations there’s a real stoush over the funding for the Pacific Highway. The Federal Government currently saying it’s going to be a 50/50 split, the State Government saying they were expecting 80/20 and they just won’t be able to find that extra money. Is there a chance through negotiations the Federal Government could give a bit on this?
PM: There should be no stoush. All this requires is for Premier O’Farrell to step up and honour his election commitment to the people of New South Wales and to accept the system of road funding that’s been in place since the Howard Government.
So he can’t say that this is about me, or this is about Minister Albanese, or this is about Labor. This is about a longstanding system of how federal governments work with state governments to do major road infrastructure projects and Premier O’Farrell’s got to step up to his responsibilities.
We’ve already invested $4 billion and we are standing ready to invest the best part of another $4 billion, if Mr O’Farrell’s prepared to do his job.
HOST: Prime Minister, it’s been a very busy week for you, but you said, I read earlier in the week, that you were deeply shocked by what you’d read from the Safe Work Australia - Fair Work Australia report into the HSU scandal. What shocked you so deeply?
PM: Any suggestion that union money has been used for improper purposes, that it hasn’t gone for representing working people, is obviously a distressing thing. I mean the trade union movement in this country is overwhelmingly professional, dedicated; the officials I meet are hardworking, they got into it for the right motivations, to make a difference for the members of their union.
So I respect people who do that, and it distresses me that there’s any place in the trade union movement where money hasn’t been used properly.
HOST: Is the Labor Party paying Craig Thomson’s legal bills at the moment?
PM: Look, this is a matter for Mr Thomson and for New South Wales Labor. There is a question of making the appropriate declarations to Parliament. I understand Mr Thomson says he has now made the appropriate declarations, but of course declarations should be made on time.
HOST: Can I ask why is it a matter between Mr Thomson and the New South Wales Labor Party? Why can’t you answer the question, if a man who until a matter of days ago was a member of the Federal Labor Party, sitting in the Federal Parliament, was having his legal bills paid by the Labor Party, over an issue that if it had found against him could have seen him no longer sitting in that Parliament? Do you know the answer to the question?
PM: Well, I’ve seen the reports today in the newspaper. I haven’t played any role in relation to these matters and that’s why it’s a matter for Mr Thomson and the New South Wales Labor Party.
HOST: But you would know, Prime Minister, that some people hearing that and you saying I haven’t played any role in this, you sound, some people would interpret you there as being wilfully blind to what’s going on. Surely you know if Mr Thomson is receiving legal bills paid by the Labor Party?
PM: Well like you, I’ve seen today’s reports and I’ve given you the comments on them that I can. I do also see in today’s report there’s some question of a late declaration to the Parliament and declarations to the Parliament of Members’ interests should be made on time.
HOST: If Mr Thomson is now sitting on the crossbenches and not a member of the Labor Party, do you agree that it would be inappropriate for the Labor Party to be paying his legal bills now.
PM: And my understanding of today’s reports is that that is not occurring as Mr Thomson sits on the crossbenches.
HOST: And can I ask you just quickly, President Barack Obama has come out and said that having thought about it for a long time, his position has evolved and in conscience now he must support gay marriage. In the context of the political American elections coming up this year, that’s a massive statement for the President to make. What did you first hear when you’d heard he’d said that?
PM: Look, this is a big thing too in American politics. I’m not a day-to-day commentator on American politics for all of the reasons you would imagine. As Prime Minister of the country we’ve got a great relationship with the US and we work with presidents of all political persuasions and so we don’t run commentary on their elections.
You might recall Prime Minister Howard got himself into a inordinate amount of trouble when he suggested that then-presidential candidate Obama would effectively be soft on Osama bin Laden and of course, as history has revealed to all of us-
HOST: He wasn’t particularly soft on-
PM: No, no, he was not. I don’t think anybody could sustain that argument now and I don’t think John Howard tries to. So I’m not going to become a commentator on American politics.
HOST: Two quick questions in wrapping up, could you see your own position, you’re opposed at the moment to gay marriage, could you see your own position evolving?
PM: Look, I’ve made my position clear and that’s the position I’ll take into the Parliament when ultimately the bill that has been moved by Stephen Jones, one of the Labor members of our team, when that becomes before the Parliament.
HOST: At the moment you are slated to fight the next Federal election against Tony Abbott, any chance it could be Peter Costello?
PM: Well, you tell me. I think it’s quite intriguing that there are reports that Peter Costello is calculating a comeback. I’m not surprised in this sense, it is well known that many members of the Liberal Party are very concerned about Mr Abbott’s lack of grip on economics, very concerned that the Liberal Party team, with Mr Abbott at the head, is trashing the Liberal Party’s credentials on economic management, so there apparently is some yearning for Peter Costello because of that.
HOST: Prime Minister, thank you so much for your time.
PM: Thank you.