Transcript of interview with Steve Austin, ABC Brisbane
THU 14 JUNE 2012
HOST: Julia Gillard, thanks very much for coming back into the studio.
PM: Good morning Steve, good to be here.
HOST: Quick question, did you watch State of Origin last night?
PM: I was able to watch the second half, I had a commitment which prevented me watching the first half, but I got all the action in the second half. Very tense at the end.
HOST: Did you knit while you watched it?
PM: No I didn’t knit while I watched it.
HOST: We had a number of inquiries about your knitting capabilities and the breakfast presenter said find out if she’ll knit while on air this morning.
PM: Look I’m an evening knitter not a daytime knitter. I’m happy to answer knitting questions though, if people have got them. I’m working on a smock coat at the moment, so it’s a complex pattern on the yoke. Now I’m gesturing and that’s probably not helping on radio is it, but a bit of a complex pattern. You’ve got a repeating, you know, eight different kinds of rows and you’ve got to get them in the right order.
HOST: I look forward to seeing it in press photos and television coverage down the track. Now a couple of things first of all, is the glass half full or is the glass half empty?
PM: The glass is well and truly more than half full, and that’s the point that the Reserve Bank Governor has been making including yesterday at the Economic Forum here in Queensland.
And certainly something we've wanted to convey to Australians, there’s a lot of worry in our world, I mean people wake up every morning to news out of Europe. They’re waking up today to news out of Spain.
There’s a lot of aftershocks from the Global Financial Crisis so it’s not surprising that people feel a bit anxious, but they can be reassured that our economy is strong, and there is nowhere else in the world that you would rather be during this time of global uncertainty.
HOST: Carrying on the analogy a bit further, there are some who suggest there is more than one glass. In other words the patchwork economy indicates the glass is half full for some, but it’s being emptied, the different glass is being emptied for others, particularly people like small business and more people adversely affected from the rise of the resources and mining industry.
PM: Well I don’t want to confuse people with too many glasses, but you’re absolutely right.
HOST: You see the point though don’t you?
PM: I certainly do, and I use the phrase ‘patchwork economy’ to try and convey it. What it means is overall nationally, strong growth. We’re back to the sorts of growth rates we had before the Global Financial Crisis, you know, the biggest global economic downturn since the Great Depression, the biggest thing we’ll probably see in our lifetimes.
So we’re back to strong growth rates, we’ve got low unemployment, low inflation, we’ve been seeing interest rates go down, and then when you delve down to the next level of detail, you see some industries and some regions racing ahead.
Mining, but not just mining. There are more parts of strength in our economy than just mining regions, but there are other areas, particularly manufacturing and tourism, that are suffering because the rest of our economic strength is making our Australian dollar very strong.
HOST: It looks like that Australians are voting with their money, we’re saving at record levels. It was noted at your forum the last couple of days that savings levels indicate a return to old-fashioned banking. That indicates that in the subconscious mind or the mind of Australians they don’t believe the half full argument, they think there’s problems coming, and they’re building up their store of money to face whatever may come.
PM: I think people are responding to what they’ve lived through with the Global Financial Crisis. The Reserve Bank Governor Glenn Stevens brought along incredible information. The Reserve Bank has economic information going back over a hundred years.
What he pointed out is before the Global Financial Crisis that we hit a time at one point where the savings rate was zero, people were often spending more than they earned because they were accessing credit. So that was never going to be a sustainable long-term strategy saving nothing during the course of your life, you know, it just makes common sense you can’t do that forever. Then the Global Financial Crisis came along.
People absorbed that something big had changed in the world even though Australia didn’t go into recession and we supported jobs and kept creating jobs, people saw the turbulence on global markets.
Many people have shares themselves and felt it directly. Many people felt it through their superannuation and what was happening to their super balance, and so that has, you know, caused people to be more cautious. That’s an understandable thing and in many ways it’s a good thing.
HOST: Are you going to reform something like super? Can you reform something like super? It’s going nowhere, it’s really damaged in terms of an investment vehicle, what are you going to do about the superannuation element?
PM: I don’t accept that analysis. Superannuation is a fantastic thing for our country-
HOST: It should be.
PM: And it’s a long-term investment, so people should not judge their superannuation on what has happened in one year or two years.
Superannuation is designed to be an investment that pays good rewards over the, you know, twenty, thirty, forty years that people will have their superannuation, and we are increasing it, moving the amount that goes into super from 9 to 12 per cent because I want ordinary working people to have the resources at their disposal to have a, you know, decent retirement with some lifestyle options when they’re retired.
HOST: 22 to 9, my guest is Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. My name’s Steve Austin.
You’ve pulled back out of the satchel the idea of company tax cuts, cutting the corporate tax rate, and you said it was a priority. Now, why revisit this when it’s been – you’ve been unable to deliver in the past. We hear from your alliance with the Greens, they’ve come out today, Christine Milne has come out today and said no, it’s not going to happen while we have balance of power. Why revisit it?
PM: Well in terms of the past parliamentary processes, I did want to cut the company tax rate. I wanted to do that from the proceeds of the Minerals Resource Rent Tax.
Steve, you and I have just talked about the patchwork in our economy, and I thought one measure to address that patchwork was the Minerals Resource Rent Tax, the incredibly strong sector of our economy contributing some of its strength to other businesses around the nation through a company tax cut.
It became apparent I wouldn’t be able to get that through the Parliament, the Opposition wasn’t going to vote for it despite the fact that many people would think, you know sort of intuitively, that the Liberal Party stands for lower company taxation. They weren’t going to vote for it.
Yesterday at the Economic Forum, I committed us again to continuing to find a way of delivering a company tax cut. I’ve said to business we all need to be responsible about this, so business needs to work with us to show how this can be affordable.
HOST: So the Greens though have still said ‘we’re not going to allow it.’ Christine Milne said it’s not going to happen while we’re there.
PM: Well, and there’s a question for others in the Parliament, particularly the Opposition about what attitude they would take if as I am committed to do we work our way through, with the business community, to better business tax arrangements which deliver a company tax cut.
HOST: Alright. Now, today in the Australian Financial Review tourism industry bodies have pulled out a full-page ad and asked you to stop taxing and stop taxing Australian tourism. They list the Passenger Movement Charge, which comes in from 1 July, they say that you’ll be forcing travellers to pay for airport police and the introduction of the carbon tax. They weren’t at your forum yesterday, and yet you’ve acknowledged that tourism’s a big area of potential growth for Australia. Why are you taxing tourism, of which Queensland relies a lot on?
PM: Well, first and foremost, we are not taxing Australian tourism through the increases in the Passenger Movement Charge. People will pay that increased Passenger Movement Charge if they are going to an airport to fly out of the country to take their money overseas and go and spend it in some overseas tourism destination, you know, anywhere round the world that people might want to go to-
HOST: Their advertisement says for the first time the Government is proposing that the PMC automatically increase every single year.
PM: But who pays it, is the question I’m posing to you Steve. And I’m explaining who pays it, you pay it if you’re going to the airport today to fly off to Bali or Vanuatu or Paris or, you know, Las Vegas, wherever you want to take yourself to, you will pay that Passenger Movement Charge.
You do not pay it if you are coming from Melbourne to holiday in Queensland because you want to get some great Queensland sunshine. It is for people leaving our nation to go overseas where they will spend their money overseas.
Out of that increased Passenger Movement Charge, paid for by people going overseas, we will actually devote a new source of funds to helping our domestic tourism industry and particularly to helping the tourism industry develop its reach into China and other emerging markets.
HOST: Their advertisement also says, in the Fin Review, the Government will force travellers to pay for airport police despite our taxes already paying the bill.
PM: Well we all have to make appropriate contributions to the security of our airports, so you know, that’s an appropriate feature of how we need to work as a nation. If you’re going anywhere, whether you're coming from one of the colder states to Queensland or needing to go from Queensland interstate for business, you want to know that the airport you're going through is safe and secure, and unfortunately there are security challenges in the modern world in which we live.
HOST: The AM program this morning had a story observing that it looks like Mr Reece’s office is compiling information, data, potentially embarrassing information on your political opponents. Are you aware of this?
PM: I’m aware of the AM story. I think we’ve just got to be clear about this.
You know, first and foremost, given all the Opposition ever says is no to everything, it’s not surprising people are scrutinising them to try and ascertain if they’re going to ever do anything else than just say no. And I think it is fair enough to get into the public domain things like the Opposition’s been running round saying the world’s going to end on 1 July when carbon pricing comes in.
The Leader of the Opposition has said that will be the end of the coal industry, over, done and dusted, no-one will mine coal in this country. And yet, opposition members have been buying shares in coal mining companies. Now I think people are entitled to know that, just so that they can weigh the worth of those doom and gloom claims.
If people really believed those doom and gloom claims, would they be out buying shares in the very companies they say are going out of business on 1 July?
HOST: But that’s been raised in federal parliament by Greg Combet, he’s pointed out that hypocrisy, whatever you want to call it-
PM: No but I’m talking about the benefits of scrutiny.
HOST: So you are aware – what would we call these, slime files? Dirt files? What are they? They look like if you’re trying to get embarrassing material you're building what is commonly called a dirt file on your political opponents.
PM: Well I think in the AM story there’s reference to one document that I haven’t seen, but I’m indicating to you that I think, you know, scrutiny of things like opposition members buying things like share in coal mining companies at the same time that they’re running round telling people that coal mining will end in this country, that that’s a piece of information people are entitled to have.
HOST: So you are aware of it and you fully support it?
PM: No I’ve just said to you one document was referred to on AM, I haven’t seen that document, but I am talking more broadly about transparency and scrutiny in politics and how it’s relevant to political debate.
HOST: So you won’t ring Mr Reece and say mate stop doing this, it’s not a good look to be digging up dirt on our opponents?
PM: Well, I’m not going to accept your characterisation. The AM program referred to one document and I’ve just given you the answer about the document, and also explained that, you know, scrutiny of the worth of claims about our economy can be a very legitimate thing.
I mean let’s actually look at the public policy debate here. I mean for well more than a year now, the Opposition each and every day has been out there telling Australians that our economy will basically, you know, what was it, a wrecking ball would go through it on 1 July. Terminology has been used like ‘a permanent depression’ to try and scare people about carbon pricing.
I think scrutiny, to help people weigh the worth of those ridiculous and extravagant claims, is something that informs the public debate. Doesn’t it strike you as a little bit strange that people would be buying shares in companies they’re trying to tell people will go out of business?
HOST: Time will tell. My guest is Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Tony Burke, the Federal Environment Minister, has announced a massive Coral Sea marine park, and a series of marine parks around Australia, particularly on and along Queensland’s coastline. How will this Coral Sea marine park, this very, very large marine reserve, how will it affect people who live and work on the Queensland coastline?
PM: Well, firstly, Tony Burke today – Minister Burke will release the final maps. They will be there for a six week further consultation period, but they’re final in the sense of, you know, we’re now asking people, this is the thing to do, yes or no? The maps, I think everybody interested should get their hands on them and have a good look for themselves.
What we want to do here is to preserve in marine reserves, you know, important parts of our ocean ecosystems in the same way that on land we do things like preserve Kakadu. We obviously have special marine environments that need our care and concern now so that they will be there for our children and grandchildren into the future.
Minister Burke has worked hard in consultation, with commercial fishing interests, in consultation with people who like to just go and throw a line in, to get all of the balance right here.
And when people see the maps they’ll see that people will still be able to go and, you know, take their young son fishing they’ll still be able to do that, and in terms of the impact on commercial fishing, it’s around 1 per cent of commercial fishing activity now.
HOST: And they’ll be properly compensated if they’re adversely affected?
PM: And there will be assistance available in the vicinity of $100 million. It obviously has to be worked through on a case-by-case basis.
HOST: It looks in part like it’s a deliberate attempt to make life harder for the government of Campbell Newman and his team, who are trying to dig this place out of an economic hole, largely through exports of which a lot of it, in fact most of it, will be going through ships up the Queensland coastline to markets overseas. And it looks like all of a sudden you’re giving them a nice little hurdle in their way.
PM: Oh Steve, you’d have to be the believer of the world’s most complicated conspiracy theory because all of this started with Paul Keating.
That’s how long ago the marine reserve discussion started. It continued during the years of the Howard Government, the Howard Government took a very, you know, limited step but they did take a step forward, a marine reserve in the southeast of the country, then we came to government in 2007 and have been working on it since.
So it’s, you know, well before people knew Mr Newman’s name, well before he was involved in the Brisbane City Council, work was happening federally under governments of various political persuasions on marine reserves, but I am pleased that after all of those years, you know, Paul Keating to now is quite a long period of time, after all of those years that Minister Burke has worked it through and worked it through in good consultation with people who care about our environment but also people who care about commercial fishing and recreational fishing.
HOST: You’ve been in Brisbane for the last couple of days. Campbell Newman wasn’t at the forum, did you give his office a call and see if you could have a cup of tea with him and have a chat privately?
PM: Look, no I didn’t but I would have liked to have seen Premier Newman at the forum. He would have had a great opportunity to spruik the Queensland economy to national business leaders and I think it’s a pity that he missed that opportunity.
HOST: Is there a move by your Government to attack him? I mean we had Martin Ferguson yesterday in The Australian newspaper getting the drop on the fact that he was going to go him over uranium mining in Queensland. Tony Burke last week on environmental standards, you sent a letter to the Premier but it was leaked to the newspapers before the Premier got it. This looks like a political move rather than genuine attempts to work with a State Premier.
PM: I couldn’t disagree with you more.
I am very, very keen to work with Premier Newman in the interests of Queensland and I’ll continue doing that.
And to give you an example, I mean we worked at the last COAG meeting, Premier Newman had only just been elected, but we worked well and productively to invest in skills in this state.
We've talked about how this state’s really an engine room for national economic growth, but how it too has a patchwork. There are places in Queensland that are going at a faster speed than others, so giving people the skills they need to get the jobs in the growth sectors is a really important challenge, and Premier Newman and I worked side-by-side to get a new skills package for Queensland and around the nation.
On the various issues that you refer to, you know, all I've said and I just think it’s kind of fairly obvious and common sense, it would have been good for Premier Newman to come and tell national business leaders what a great place Queensland is, he had an audience there, and it’s a pity he missed the opportunity.
Minister Ferguson, his job is obviously to talk around the country about resources and he was doing that this week.
And on the issue about environmental protection, you know, I’m determined that we work to seize the job opportunities coming to Queensland through the resources boom and we protect the environment at the same time.
Unfortunately Mr Newman got himself on a course where we, you know, were at risk of not properly protecting the environment and we were going to risk jobs because if you don't do all this stuff right it ends up in the courts and there are years and years of delay, and we’ve worked to sort it through and Minister Burke’s been working to sort it through with the Deputy Premier here.
HOST: One final one and I’ll let you go. On the issue of the media, we’ve been watching the Leveson inquiry in the UK, and the differing accounts of dealing with former Australian Rupert Murdoch, from Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in particular. Where’s the Australian media inquiry, where’s it at at the moment, the Finkelstein inquiry and more?
PM: We’ve had the Finkelstein inquiry and also the Convergence Review, so that’s dealing with the fact that, you know, what used to be understandably separately regulated, so broadcasting, print-
HOST: So what’s coming from those?
PM: We’ve received those reports, we’ve made material publicly available from those report processes. We’re considering it and we’ll work it through.
HOST: Okay, so you’re still considering the report?
PM: Yes we are.
HOST: Have you met Rupert Murdoch personally?
PM: Yes I have.
HOST: How long ago?
PM: Oh look, I’ve met Mr Murdoch on more than one occasion, I think the last time I met him was when he was in Australia to give a series of public lectures and we met in Canberra and talked about a range of issues including particularly Afghanistan and as a result I authored an opinion piece, because he did want to get the Australian perspective about the engagement in Afghanistan published.
HOST: How do you find him personally?
PM: Oh look, I’ve had good productive chats with Mr Murdoch, I don’t claim to know him well personally, but I have, as Deputy Prime Minister and as Prime Minister met him on more than one occasion.
HOST: Thanks for coming in.
PM: Thank you.