Transcript of interview with Steve Austin, ABC Brisbane
MON 14 MAY 2012
HOST: Prime Minister, welcome. It’s my first ever interview with you, so it’s lovely to meet you.
PM: Good morning Steve and good to be here.
HOST: I want to ask you about the National Disability Insurance Scheme in just a moment and meeting with Campbell Newman, but something’s happened overnight. Apparently the third tranche of provinces in Afghanistan have said they will begin transitioning to taking responsibility for their own security in that country. What does that decision mean for Australia?
PM: This is a very important decision for us and it’s evidence that the transition strategy in Afghanistan is on track. In the third tranche that President Karzai’s announced overnight is Uruzgan province, the province in which our defence personnel work. So what this means is that from the middle of this year where we are in Afghanistan will commence transition. Now transition is a process where we move from our security leadership in the province to the security leadership of local forces and we have been training those local forces.
This is in line with the Lisbon strategy and I’ll go at the end of this week to Chicago where NATO and ISAF, the countries in Afghanistan, will meet together to determine the next part of the strategy. But Steve we’ve been expecting this announcement, we’ve been expecting trance three to deal with the province in which we work and I’m very pleased to see this affirmation that transition is on track.
HOST: So this is not a changing of the timetable or of leaving early in any way?
PM: No it’s not, it’s exactly what I said to the Australian people when I last spoke on Afghanistan and delivered a major address about it. I indicated then that I expected Uruzgan province to be in tranche three and to commence transition and that’s exactly what’s happened.
HOST: There are a lot of families who have defence personnel in Afghanistan, here in Brisbane. Do you know a date, can you give a date when they will be back home? Do you know?
PM: Transition is a process that will take between 12 and 18 months. That is what President Karzai has said overnight, that's what I said in my recent speech to Australia about the strategy in Afghanistan. And it's at the end of the transition process that we would see the bulk of our forces come home.
HOST: So here in Brisbane, the families that are waiting for their members to come home, can we say that they have done their job, as has been asked of them?
PM: We can say that they have been magnificent and they continue every day to be incredibly brave in difficult circumstances. The job isn't finished, Steve. The job is still underway of training local Afghan security forces. But now we are clearer and clearer on the timeframe because we are entering transition as planned.
HOST: When you go to Chicago, sorry, when you come home from Chicago, what do you
hope to bring back from that meeting?
PM: What I hope to bring back is a clearer picture of what next in Afghanistan. I've been very clear with the Australian people that post transition we don't just say ‘that's it’, we will be in an enduring partnership with Afghanistan.
I will meet with President Karzai in Chicago and I'm hoping to work through with him how we will continue to support the Afghan people through aid and development. And I've also been very clear that even post transition, we are open to continuing some support for training local Afghan forces and potentially a role for special forces.
HOST: Hanging over this is, sort of, Iraq. We know that when we pulled out of Iraq, the place descended into somewhat of chaos. Are you at all concerned that that may happen in Afghanistan, even though we have done our job?
PM: Well the strategy here is clear. The work of building a robust democracy in Afghanistan is the work of the Afghan people, but the world needs to help. We need to help through a continuing engagement. We need to help through aid and development and certainly Australia is standing ready to do that.
HOST: I appreciate that. Thank you. Prime Minister Julia Gillard is my guest. This is 612 ABC Brisbane and ABC Digital Radio. My name is Steve Austin.
When you first met Campbell Newman, our Premier, how did you find him?
PM: I met Campbell Newman shortly after the election. I had met him before in other contexts when he was Lord Mayor of Brisbane. I'm intending to work with Premier Newman. I don't think anybody likes it when Federal and State Governments just play a never-ending blame game. So we are going to get on with the job. And I think at COAG, when Premier Newman attended his first Council of Australian Governments meeting, he showed a spirit of wanting to get on with the job and that’s what I want to do too.
HOST: When I pitched the National Disability Insurance Scheme, how did you pitch it to him? How did you make your argument to him?
PM: To everyone, whether it’s a premier or chief minister sitting around the COAG table or talking to someone in their local community, the argument for the National Disability Insurance Scheme is a pretty simple one. At the moment, whether you get good care and assistance with a disability depends on the circumstances in which you got it.
So if you are injured at work, you will get a different deal from someone who was born with a disability. Now I don't think that our care and concern for Australians with a disability should depend on some bizarre lottery about how their disability came about. And I am particularly concerned for Queenslanders because per head of population, less is spent on disability services in this state than any other part of the nation. I think we can do better than that.
HOST: Right across social services. But it's been that way with previous Labor Government and the Bjelke-Petersen Government before that 20 years ago. It's been historically low on a whole range of issues. He apparently told you that Queensland doesn't have the money for it at the moment. What did he say?
PM: We’ve budgeted $1 billion to move to having launch sites around the country. Now just to backtrack and then I will answer your question, when we decided we wanted our nation to have a National Disability Insurance Scheme, we asked the experts at the Productivity Commission to have a look and give us advice. They said the best way to do it is to launch it in a limited number of areas to learn the lessons of the launch before you roll it out nationally.
We have decided to do that but we want to do it more quickly than the Productivity Commission recommended, because Australians with disabilities have just waited long enough. So we want to launch in a number of sites around the country from 1 July next year. We put $1 billion on the table in the budget. We do want states and territories to make a contribution if they are going to host a launch site, but we are there with the lion's share already budgeted. And if all of us-
HOST: What about 75 percent or something, is that right?
PM: Well, we will work out the contributions in direct negotiations with the states. But we are sitting there with the lion's share on the table.
HOST: Did he tell you that they, that Queensland didn't have the money to get on board immediately?
PM: Premier Newman has been very, very rigorous in saying to me and I believe also to the people of Queensland that he is concerned about the finances of the State Government and he is intending to take a pretty tough-minded approach to expenditure. Now I appreciate that and understand why he's doing it.
But I also understand, as someone who has had to make some really tough budget choices in our own Federal Budget, that at the end of the day budgets are about choices, what you are prepared to cut in order to free up money to invest in things. I believe that there’s few better investments than doing something that offers people with disability more of a life of hope and inclusion than we do now and particularly in a state where you’re at the lowest spend per head, I think we need to do better than that. And I'm not trying it make a political point about that, Steve, I'm not trying to say that's Premier Newman's Government as opposed to past Labor Governments. I’m not trying to do that, just pointing out a simple fact, if you have a disability in Queensland today then less is being spent on you than if you had the same disability in another part of Australia. I think that’s a bit unfair and we should get about the job of fixing it.
HOST: Tim Nicholls the Treasurer has told me that the Government is broadly supportive of the scheme but they told you that they don't have the money. Now Tim Nicholls has said there is an unexpected $450 million shortfall in GST revenue from the Commonwealth. Will you make up that shortfall in order to help Queenslanders take hold of the NDIS or become one of the launch sites?
PM: Let’s be clear about what happens with the Goods and Services Tax. We - the Federal Government - does not determine its distribution between states. That's done independently by the Commonwealth Grants Commission. Yes, GST revenues are under pressure but so are the revenues that come to the Federal Government. Company tax, capital gains tax, the sort of revenues we rely on have taken incredible hits as a result of the Global Financial Crisis.
To give you one figure, company tax is $110 billion down from normal times, that is non-GFC times. Now in a revenue-constrained budget, we have still made the right choices to put money into the National Disability Insurance Scheme. All I would be asking is that Queensland and other parts of the country, in a revenue-constrained environment too, make similar choices because of the importance of people with disabilities getting a fair go.
HOST: So the answer is no, you won’t make up the GST shortfall (inaudible)?
PM: A Federal Government has never made up a GST shortfall. That’s not how the system works, it’s never worked like that from the day that Prime Minister Howard conceived of the GST.
HOST: My guest is Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
So today, it looks like quite likely that because of the reasons of keeping his pre-election commissions, Queensland will not be a launch site for the National Disability Insurance Scheme?
PM: I wouldn't be coming to that conclusion yet, Steve. The process here is we ask the
Productivity Commission for a report, we absorb the report, we had a discussion about National Disability Insurance Scheme at the last COAG meeting. It was an amicable and a good discussion. We agreed some principles to guide us. Now, as a Federal Government we’ve put $1 billion on the table for launch sites and we’ll get about the job of talking to our state and territory counterparts. Now let’s have those discussions before jumping to a conclusion about what may or may not come out of them.
HOST: Have you spoken with Anna Bligh since she lost the state election?
PM: Yes I have-
HOST: What did you say?
PM: I obviously commiserated with Anna personally on the loss and I’ve spoken to her since just to catch up, sort of person to person. I haven’t been able to see her in person but caught up on the phone.
HOST: What do you intend to do about the state of the Queensland Labor Party here in Queensland, they’re not in a good way.
PM: Well my job is to be here in Queensland representing the people of Queensland and all of their cares and concerns. I’m not out there doing the organisational work of the Labor Party. Clearly here in Queensland we have a lot of hard work to do but I believe we are also here in Queensland offering benefits that will matter to the Queensland community.
If you look at the last budget just last week, we’ve made provision to help families in Queensland who are struggling with cost of living pressures to have some more money in their hands to deal with that, particularly the Schoolkids Bonus. I was talking to families about that yesterday here in Queensland – you know, money that people will see before 30 June to help them with the costs of getting the kids to in primary school, high school and then that benefit will be ongoing and this is a considerable benefit for Queensland. We’ve benefitting around half a million Queensland school students through the Schoolkids Bonus.
HOST: I take your point but why do you think Labor did so badly in Queensland?
PM: Look, I’m not a commentator on state elections. I’ve got other things to do and big, big, big work to focus on including the National Disability Insurance Scheme and including working with families here in Queensland and in other parts of the nation who know our economy is strong but also say to themselves ‘Gee, I haven’t been experiencing much of this mining boom’. I’ve got to keep working to make sure they get their fair share.
HOST: Have you met Annastacia Palaszczuk, the Leader of the Opposition, the Leader of the Labor Party in Parliament?
PM: I’ve spoken to her over the phone. I haven’t had the opportunity yet for a sit down meeting.
HOST: Will you be meeting her while you’re in town?
PM: I won’t get that opportunity today because of other commitments but I’m certainly looking forward to having a chat with her.
HOST: It’s fourteen minutes to nine, the Prime Minister is my guest, Julia Gillard.
Where’s Kevin Rudd?
PM: Well he’s representing the electorate of Griffith as you would expect him to be.
HOST: He’s not in China or something?
PM: Not to my knowledge, no I’m sure he’s out and about representing his electorate.
HOST: Do you have an agreement that says he is not allowed to speak with the media here in his home town?
PM: No, certainly not.
HOST: So when we ring him and ask for an interview and he says he’s not allowed to talk, that’s misleading?
PM: Kevin Rudd will make his own decisions about what media engagements he has.
HOST: Is he – I guess, do you know if he’s going to stand at the next federal election?
PM: He’s indicated publicly that he will.
HOST: So when he tells us he’s not allowed to talk, it’s not your office that’s preventing him?
PM: Look, Mr Rudd is able to speak to the media should he choose to do so. If he doesn’t chose to do so then Steve, that’s a matter for him.
HOST: I’m delighted to hear that, helps clarify from your end at least.
Now Peter Beattie, former Premier of Queensland, a populist premier, very effective at winning elections, is talking quite publicly about many matters federal. Tell me, have you interest at all in Peter Beattie joining a federal arena, joining the Labor Party federally?
PM: As I understand Mr Beattie’s current life, he’s enjoying it a great deal. I know that his wife Heather had a tilt at the recent local council elections and Peter will always be a strong Labor supporter. It’s in his bones, it’s in his heart, it’s in every fibre of his being, but I think he’s enjoying what he’s currently doing.
HOST: Would you like him in your team?
PM: I’m not going to be drawn on a million hypotheticals about someone else’s life, I don’t think that’s really fair.
HOST: Well you brought in Bob Carr?
PM: But if you want to ask Peter Beattie about his life really you should ask Mr Beattie. It’s not fair to ask me to talk about what Peter Beattie should do with his life.
HOST: If you give him the tick he say - well actually, he might pick up the phone and say ‘Julia, I heard what you said’.
PM: I think you’re engaging in all sorts of hypotheticals and speculation and I’m not here to be issuing instructions to other people about how to live their lives and what they should do next.
HOST: This is 612 ABC Brisbane, ABC Digital Radio. Twelve to nine, the Prime Minister of Australia is my guest – Julia Gillard. My name is Steve Austin.
In Malaysia, apparently there’s just been a trial held, a war crimes trial where George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld and a range of other in the American administration were tried in absentia for war crimes and they were found guilty. Does this have any implications for Australia at all?
PM: No, I don’t see how.
HOST: Okay, it was a bizarre trial but it’s been reported in Malaysia, this trial has taken place in absentia, they were found guilty. I just wonder if there’s any concern about Australian flow on at all?
PM: No. None whatsoever.
HOST: Nothing’s been raised by the Malaysian Government at all in relation to that court matter?
PM: No. Nothing.
HOST: This is 612 ABC Brisbane and ABC Digital.
Julia Gillard, what are you doing while you’re in Brisbane for the rest of the day today?
PM: I’ll be having a chat with local families. I’ll be out in the Federal electorate of Moreton with Graham Perrett where we’ll be talking to people about what flows from the federal budget. Of course it’s the Schoolkid’s Bonus that we’ve just talked about. $410 for primary school students and $820 for high school students, but it’s more than that. People will also see increases in family payments and some of the poorest and neediest in our community will also see a new allowance.
So I’ll be out talking to people about how they’re dealing with cost of living pressures, how people feel about meeting some of the bills, some of the costs. I’ve had chats with families about really basic things like your young child loses the school jumper or their calculator, manages to put it through the wash – all of those really human things that happen and then there’s extra expense for families. We want to be working with families to help relieve some of that pressure.
HOST: Are you well aware that in his budget reply speech the Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott accused you of firing up the class war. Do you hate millionaires? Like Gina Rinehart and our own Clive Palmer and Twiggy Forest. Do you dislike wealthy people?
PM: Mr Abbott has effectively declared war on low- and middle-income Australian families by refusing to support the Schoolkids Bonus and he did that by saying insulting things about them, like they effectively couldn’t be trusted with the money, that hardworking families here in Queensland – if you gave them $410 to help with the costs of getting their son or daughter to school - couldn’t be trusted with that $410. Now Mr Abbott started that war on Australian families.
For me, I wish people every success in life but I do, as Prime Minister, also have to make choices and when it comes to something like the mining tax, I think Clive and Gina can possibly do with a little bit less so hardworking families struggling to pay bills here in Queensland can have a little bit more.
HOST: They’re home grown millionaires, in other words they’re Australians. Many of your tax regimes look like you favour overseas controlled mining companies, the big ones – Rio, BHP and more. It was Wayne Swan that seemingly declared war on Gina Rinehart and Clive Palmer. Aren’t you being unfair to Australian self-made people – self-made millionaires?
PM: Certainly not and mining companies are taxed as mining companies, so there’s no discrimination against the mining interests that Mr Palmer or Ms Rinehart have, no discrimination whatsoever. The Minerals Resource Rent Tax applies to Rio and all of those companies. We’re not particularly looking at local people, we’re just looking at the resources wealth in our grounds which is owned by all of us, saying this is a particular time with a major resources boom in train, yet many families are saying ‘I don’t really feel like anything is flowing through to me and my family from this resources boom’, and we’re simply saying for a resource that we all own, let’s share the benefits of it.
HOST: Have you ever met Clive Palmer?
PM: No, I’ve never met Mr Palmer.
HOST: Would you like to?
PM: I’m sort of agnostic on the proposition.
PM: I understand Mr Palmer has got a very different world view than me. He’s entitled to that in our wonderful democracy. He doesn’t want to pay the Minerals Resource Rent Tax for example-
HOST: He looks after his workers.
PM: Well I think people who are out their working for a living, the kind of people who got up early this morning to do all of the things they need to during this working day to earn some money for their families, to look after their kids, I think that they deserve some benefits to help them along the way and that’s what the federal budget was about.
HOST: I have to let you go shortly but I want to squeeze in one more question.
HOST: You would have seen like the rest of us did, Craig Thomson’s explanation on the weekend with Laurie Oakes. Do you accept his explanation of events after hearing what he had to say on the weekend?
PM: Look, I’m not playing judge and jury here because that’s not appropriate. These are matters which sound from the Fair Work Australia report like they are very likely to go before a court and it’s the court that should decide.
HOST: It’s lovely to meet you. I hope you’ll come again to the studio and to Brisbane. Thanks for coming in.
PM: Thanks Steve.