Transcript of Interview with Michael Rowland, ABC Breakfast
TUE 05 MARCH 2013
Subject(s): Australian jobs; Western Sydney; Carbon pricing; Coalition’s plan to increase the cost of living; ICAC inquiry
HOST: Julia Gillard, good morning.
PM: Good morning.
HOST: The Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has stepped up his criticism overnight of the Government's crackdown on that 457 foreign skilled worker visa scheme.
He says the Government is now demonising foreign workers. What do you make of those comments?
PM: Well, I think this is an amazing intervention from Mr Abbott.
Let's remember this is the man who has profited from fear, who has been out there warning people of a ‘peaceful invasion’, who even as recently as the last few days has had his immigration spokesperson out there trying to stoke fear in the community.
The Government's plan is a very different approach. We believe that when we are having people come to our country to work a temporary basis that we need to ensure that they are meeting skills shortages, that if there are Australians who can do that work, then they should get that work.
That is, we want to run a system that has got rigour.
When we came to Government the 457 visa system was out of control.
The former Liberal Government of which Mr Abbott was a part had lost control of it.
And we’ve brought new rigour to the system and we will continue to crackdown as necessary to make sure that 457 visas are being used for their proper purpose which is skill shortages, not replacing Australians who are ready and willing and able to do the work.
HOST: But why the need for the crackdown? The Immigration Department only a month ago was saying that the 457 visa was working well and in fact was working well, factoring in a softening in demand for labour?
PM: This is a demand-driven program, but I hear and my Ministers hear and our local community representatives hear too many stories of times when people were appropriately qualified to do the work and didn't get the opportunity.
So when I'm getting that kind of feedback, the responsible thing is to look again at the program and make sure that it's fit for purpose.
At the end of the day if there are work opportunities in our country and there are Australians who need those jobs and have the skills to do them, then we want them to be matched up with the job.
HOST: Okay, you talk about putting Aussie workers first, you were there earlier accusing the Opposition of stoking fear over asylum seekers.
We have of course the Immigration Spokesman Scott Morrison talking about behaviour protocols for asylum seekers going into the community.
Are you worried, Julia Gillard, about creating this us versus them atmosphere? Are you completely comfortable where this debate is going when it comes to foreigners?
PM: I'm a migrant to this country and this country will always welcome migrants who come here to make this nation their home, who come here to get a job, work hard, enjoy every aspect of Australian society and adopt Australian values and contribute to Australian society.
We are a great multicultural society that has literally welcomed millions of migrants and we will continue to do so.
Of course, people who come here make Australia their home go and get a job and do all of the things that we expect of Australians, they are welcome here, but what I've always objected to-
HOST: Excuse me for interrupting, but no one on either side of politics would agree with the great benefit from migration over the decades but the debate in the last week or so has become particularly nasty and brutal on this front.
Would you like to see it continue down that path?
PM: I think you're misunderstanding the history here. I've outlined Australia's approach to immigration because I think the discordant notes, the notes that have been deliberately injected into the debate to stoke fear have been done by the Opposition, not just in the last few weeks, but consistently now in the run-up to the 2010 election and beyond.
Mr Abbott and his team have been out there in the community trying to stoke fear and trying to profit from that fear.
I take a different approach with all aspects of immigration policy – we get advice from experts, we did that in refugee and asylum seeker policy.
On something like 457 visas, I want to say very clearly this program should serve its proper purpose.
I do want Australians to have work opportunities. I don't want to hear stories of Australians missing out on a job because a 457 visa has been misused so that is the approach that I will take.
Mr Abbott, while stoking fear on the one hand, is there saying under him 457 visas would be a mainstay of our immigration system.
Well, he needs to explain that and justify that to Australian workers who too many times worry that they or their children are going to miss out on a work opportunity.
HOST: One of the issues that keeps coming up and we speak to voters on the ground in Western Sydney, Prime Minister, is what they see as the breach of trust; the often massive breach of trust in your breaking of that have carbon tax promise.
Do you concede you've lost a lot of voter faith on that front?
PM: I'm very happy to explain that and when I said those words during the 2010 election campaign I meant every one of them.
I didn't foresee the circumstances of the minority Parliament, how could I? It wasn't until the election had been held that we knew the Parliament that Australians had voted for.
But we did in that election campaign in 2010 talk consistently about the need to put a price on carbon and have an emissions trading scheme.
I mean, let's remember this was bipartisan politics in this country for a long period of time; an emissions trading scheme.
Now, I didn't expect we would get a minority Parliament, but we've worked to get to that emissions trading scheme, and by the time people are voting in the September election the carbon tax will have less than two years to run.
So I really think in those circumstances people will weigh these issues and weigh the facts of these issues, but one of the clear facts is the carbon tax will have less than two years to run.
One of the other clear facts is everything people have been told to fear about the carbon tax has proved not to be right.
All of the crazy claims made by the Opposition about the impact of the carbon tax have been proved to be wrong.
HOST: Tony Abbott says he is reminding us that of course a Coalition Government would scrap the carbon tax, but he is now saying it would want to keep some of the tax cuts associated with it. Will that be possible?
PM: Well, it's up to Mr Abbott to spell out his plan, but let's be very clear here, Mr Abbott's current statements add up to taking up to $2,300 away from families here in western Sydney and around the country.
He said he would get rid of the Schoolkids Bonus. That is nothing to do with carbon pricing, absolutely nothing to do with carbon pricing.
That's just taking away a benefit from families who are pressed by all of the pressures that come with modern living.
That's money in their pocket; $410 if they've got a primary school-age student in their family, $820 if your child is in secondary school. Obviously lots of families have got two kids.
It’s a $15,000 benefit across the time your children are in school.
Mr Abbott just wants to take that away; absolutely nothing to do with carbon pricing.
And then when it comes to things like increasing the tax-free threshold, which is giving people up to $80,000 a tax cut, which means many Australians have gone from paying tax to paying no tax, Mr Abbott is now saying somehow magic pudding-style he can make all of this happen whilst not having a price on carbon.
Well, Mr Abbott should spell out the figures. Where is the money coming from? Where is it going? Who is he going to put taxes and charges on to raise this money if he reckons he can raise it?
Or is this just a bit of flim-flam because he has got no serious plan?
HOST: Prime Minister, you have been in the region now since Sunday. When are you planning on going out and meeting actual voters, going to a shopping mall, walking local streets?
PM: I met a lot of people yesterday here in western Sydney. I do have to travel to Melbourne today, I’m going to the funeral of Joan Child.
But I met a lot of people yesterday, people in western Sydney who are doing incredibly impressive things, like devoting their lives to helping Australians with disability.
I met representatives of local councils. I met people just as I was coming and going. I got the opportunity to talk to people about what’s on their mind and I’ll keep doing that.
I've done that when I've come to western Sydney in the past and I will certainly do it this weekend and in the future.
HOST: But that's very different, Julia Gillard, to an unscripted walk down the local street to meet voters and hear what they’re concerned about.
PM: Well, I don't agree with your distinctions. When I met with people yesterday, they were at liberty to say whatever was on their mind.
HOST: It wasn't a scripted event; it wasn't staged for the cameras?
PM: You walk up to people, yes, there are TV cameras rolling. Your crew and other crews are out here with their TV cameras, certainly, but the people who I talk to can say whatever they like.
HOST: Just finally before you go, Prime Minister, the ICAC corruption inquiry resumes again in Sydney this morning.
Are you concerned that is going to tarnish the Labor brand, not just the state Labor brand but the federal Labor brand as we head towards the federal election?
PM: I've made very clear my attitude to all of this. What we are hearing in this inquiry is truly disturbing.
I'm not in a position where I can prejudge the outcome of the inquiry. That wouldn't be proper for me to do, but I can certainly say I’ve got no tolerance for conduct within my political party, or any political party, which is about profiting for individuals rather than pursuing the public good.
HOST: Julia Gillard, thank you very much for your time this morning.
PM: Thank you.