Transcript of interview with Jon Faine, ABC Melbourne
THU 26 JULY 2012
Subject(s): Council of Australian Governments; National Disability Insurance Scheme; GST allocation; Inquiry into construction costs; Qantas; Tony Abbott
E & O E – PROOF ONLY
HOST: Prime Minister, good morning to you.
PM: Good morning Jon.
HOST: Is this hardball negotiations and brinksmanship on your part or are you going to do a deal?
PM: This is a simple question of values and what you put your priorities on, Jon. As a Federal leader, as Prime Minister of the country, I want to make a difference to people with disabilities around the nation.
I’ve heard too many stories about kids with cerebral palsy who aren’t getting the help they need, adults who are getting limited amounts of care and only getting assistance for a couple of showers a week, for example. Imagine living like that.
I want to make a difference to that Jon, and I’ve asked state and territory colleagues to work with me to make a difference.
That means they too have to step forward with some additional funds and resources. Premiers and Chief Ministers from Tasmania, from South Australia, from the ACT have found a way to do that because they’ve put the right value on assisting people with disability. I’m simply asking Premier Baillieu to do the same.
HOST: And he’s listening to you. I’ll ask him for his response shortly. The Productivity Commission says that the Federal Government should take responsibility, quote “for the entire costs of the NDIS”.
PM: Jon, I’d be very happy for you to read every word of the Productivity Commission to your listeners, and if you did you would see that the Productivity Commission talked about the Federal Government taking full responsibility in circumstances where the states sent the money they currently spend on disability to the Commonwealth and look for revenue sources to send to the Commonwealth as well.
That is, that the states would need to sacrifice some of the places that they get money from, give that over to the Commonwealth in order for the Commonwealth to fund the full scheme.
April COAG, in which Premier Baillieu participated, decided to take a different approach to recognise that this should be a shared responsibility.
The states do want to stay in the business of looking after people with disabilities. I think that’s a good thing.
But there’s no point taking about it if you’re not prepared to step up to the plate to get it done. There is a difference between words and deeds.
HOST: There is.
PM: In the last Federal Budget Jon, I a budget where we found $35 billion worth of savings, we made the room to put a billion new dollars into National Disability Insurance Scheme.
HOST: And you’ve got a bit more to play with than the states.
PM: I am asking Premier Baillieu for a very modest amount of money, and other state leaders with weaker economies in smaller states have managed to step up and get it done.
HOST: And I’ll ask him about the details, he’s listening to you this morning, and taking notes, and I’m sure he’ll have some responses in due course. But at this stage you don’t conduct negotiations standing in corridors, you don’t ambush people saying we’re holding a press conference in half an hour-
PM: And I didn’t do any of that, Jon. I didn’t do any of that, that’s completely wrong. We had the Council of Australian Governments meeting yesterday.
This isn’t a barbecue in a park on Sunday. This is a meeting that is prepared for over months and months by jurisdictions, by the Federal Government, by state governments.
We’ve got officials who work with us, who meet intensively in preparation for the meeting, and people come to that table to make decisions. That’s what the purpose of the meeting is.
So you’ve got to be prepared, you’ve got to have done the work, you’ve got to have done the thinking, and you’ve got to have the capacity to get to that table and lead.
That’s what people expect their nation’s leaders to do.
HOST: Is it just coincidence that it’s the Liberal Premiers of the big states – Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia – that are playing hard to get?
PM: Well you should put that question to Premier Baillieu. At the end of the day, this is about values. And I want to be very clear Jon, very, very clear.
I have not done some special deal for Labor states. I know there’s been an implication of that in some of the statements in the reporting.
I am asking the Liberal Premiers to do no more or no less than Labor state colleagues have done. Now in those circumstances, you know, you would expect Jon, a Labor Government, Federal, a Labor Government, state, to put Labor values to the forefront and our Labor values are about looking after the people most in need.
HOST: You’re trying to characterise Liberals as heartless.
PM: But Premier Baillieu is on the record as saying he supports the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
Well you can’t put your hand on your heart and say, I support this scheme but somehow it is too hard for Premier Baillieu to find a modest amount of money and proportionally he’s not being asked to do anything more than states with weaker economies like Tasmania and South Australia have done.
HOST: I’ll take those questions to him in a moment or two. But point blank, is this Liberal Premiers playing politics with the disabled? Yes or no?
PM: Well you ask Premier Baillieu that but I don’t think anybody should play politics with this issue.
We should work together to get this done. I am concerned that politics has got in the way here. I am not going to let politics get in the way. I’m determined to get this done.
I’ve worked with states in good faith to get it done. I’ve had states step up to the mark. South Australia, Tasmania, the ACT prepared to put in a bit extra resourcing as the Federal Government then pours in a billion new dollars.
All I’m asking is that Premier Baillieu does the same.
There are people listening to your show right now Jon, in the Barwon region, that is the region where the trial for the National Disability Insurance Scheme would take place in Victoria.
Five thousand people who are looking forward to better services, to being the people who lead the way for a National Disability Insurance Scheme-
HOST: And $10 million a year out of the Victorian budget.
PM: And I think helping them is worth it. I think helping them is worth it. Premier Baillieu, in a very sizeable budget, is being asked to find around $40 million to get this done.
HOST: Over four years. I’ll put that to him in a moment. Some other matters for you Prime Minister, also at COAG yesterday the West Australian Premier Colin Barnett led a charge to try and negotiate a new framework for dividing up the GST proceeds.
As a Victorian, we for instance have for decades subsidised Western Australia when they were in times of need. Now they have a boom economy and they’re suddenly saying, well, we don’t have to look after anybody else. We want more of the GST revenue.
Does anyone ever tell them to have a look at the last 70, 80, 90 years of federation and you’ve got a bit of catching up to do?
PM: Well let’s just go through this from the start.
First and foremost, Premier Barnett didn’t lead the charge in the COAG room on the GST, in fact there wasn’t discussion at the COAG meeting on the GST, but Premier Barnett did continue his public campaign about the GST and the treatment of Western Australia.
Jon, you’re absolutely right, for a large number of years, decades, Western Australia was a net receiver of the GST.
HOST: Have they just forgotten all of that?
PM: Well I don’t think anybody would be surprised by that. We’re talking about a huge landmass, people covering that huge landmass sparsely populated, so it’s not surprising for a long period of time they needed the help of stronger states to get appropriate services to their people.
Now of course we’re in a different era where the resources boom is particularly benefiting states like Western Australia. Now we want to have a fair sharing of the GST.
I want Australians, no matter where they live, to have decent services, to not be able to look over a border at another part of the nation and say, gee they are getting so much of a better deal than I am here.
HOST: Why won’t you just tell him to put a sock in it and have a look at history?
PM: Well what I’ve done, and this is not new Jon, I did this some time ago. I’ve said we do want this to work well; we do want GST distribution to also take into account the efficiencies of states, whether or not state governments are running their own show in an efficient way.
I’ve asked two distinguished former Premiers – one from Victoria, Premier Brumby, one from New South Wales, former Premier Greiner – to provide a report here.
When I announced that review it was welcomed by Premier Barnett, so my message basically, whether it’s to Premier Barnett or to anyone else is we do have a review process in train here.
HOST: A quarter to nine, a couple more quick questions if I could please, Prime Minister. Ted Baillieu, the Victorian Premier, also asked you to commission a Productivity Commission inquiry into construction costs. You declined that but agreed to a lesser level of inquiry. Why not a Productivity Commission inquiry?
PM: Well I think this is best done by people who have got expertise in the building industry, and so we will have a three-person eminent panel to do this job.
HOST: What’s wrong with the Productivity Commission? Don’t they know what they’re talking about?
PM: Jon, we have the Productivity Commission, Federal Government body, obviously very smart people with economic backgrounds.
We get them to look at a wide range of issues and they’ve got a full book. They don’t have spare capacity, they’ve got a full book, they are fully employed looking at very important issues for the Federal Government.
HOST: Or are you protecting the construction unions from being done over by the Productivity Commission, which is what Ted Baillieu pretty much thinks is likely to happen if a proper report is done?
PM: Well if Premier Baillieu is saying that this is all about smashing into working people, well I’m never going to agree with that. We’ve seen what smashing into working people looks like in this country, we saw it in the form of WorkChoices.
So there are decent people earning their money in building and construction, who should not be the subject of anybody’s political games or political campaigns.
They’re there each and every day getting the job done, going home to their families at night, and a big question on the minds of their families is whether or not they get home safely because too many building workers still lose their lives in building and construction.
If this is a genuine attempt to look at some of the cost drivers in building and construction, then I’m happy to do it and I’m happy to get an expert panel to do it.
HOST: The Financial Review today reports that Qantas is looking at tying in with Emirates and dropping its code-sharing with British Airways, and it would stop being a full-service international carrier. It would just be a shuttle carrier between Australia and the Dubai Emirates hub. Is this in the national interest?
PM: Qantas is the subject of special arrangements because of its significance to us as a nation, so it’s always going to be majority Australian owned. It’s always going to be an airline that has particular significance to us, our flying kangaroo.
For Qantas, commercial arrangements it makes are a matter for it.
I’m not going to, you know, respond to speculation about such arrangements, but I can assure people we have special legislation about Qantas, special legislation because of its meaning for our nation, and special legislation to keep it in majority Australian ownership.
HOST: And finally, do you agree with Tony Abbott’s approach to the Chinese leadership, as he was in Beijing this week, saying that he would take a tougher line on foreign investment in Australia?
PM: Well the Leader of the Opposition has gone overseas, he’s gone to America and he’s criticised Australia's national security credentials.
He’s gone to China and now he’s put at risk our economic security. What he’s been saying over there in China is basically something that would jeopardise Australia's economic growth and the strength of our economy.
This is really showing, Jon that negativity has its costs. And when you go overseas and you’re negative about our national security in America, and then negative about our economic security in China, that does have its costs.
And I think it would cause people to reflect, what would an Abbott-led government mean for people’s jobs and economic security when he’s prepared to take this reckless and negative approach?
HOST: Thank you for making time for us this morning, and look forward to seeing you one day in the studio here in Melbourne.
PM: Thanks Jon.