Australian Government coat of arms

Prime Minister of Australia

The Hon Tony Abbott MP

Interview with Ray Hadley, 2GB

14 May 2014

Prime Minister

Subjects:

Budget 2014.

E&OE

RAY HADLEY:

The Prime Minister Tony Abbott joins me on the line right now from Canberra.

PRIME MINISTER:

Ray, good to talk to you.

RAY HADLEY:

Now, just before we get into the nitty-gritty – I don’t have a blue with you, but I just have to say that I’ve been saying all along in relation to this deficit or debt tax. It would have been much simpler to say ‘look, I don’t want to do it, but I’ve got to do it. I said I wouldn’t but I simply have to because this is crooker then I thought it would be’.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’m happy to say that I don’t like it, I don’t think anyone likes it, but it is important that this Budget be fair and given that we were squizzing hard on government spending and government spending disproportionality benefits low and middle income earners it’s very important that no one gets off scot-free, that we’re all in it together, that there is equality of sacrifice if you like or at least an element of equality of sacrifice and that’s why this deficit levy for three years on the top marginal tax rate is a very important part of a fair Budget that builds for the future.

RAY HADLEY:

I guess one of the things that people are happy about – not happy about, but many would be happy to pay the seven dollars on the basis that that’s where bulkbilling comes in that it goes towards research dollars. We are very, very deficient in research dollars across the country when it comes to medical matters.

PRIME MINISTER:

And Ray, we are very good at medical research. We’ve won a stack of Nobel Prizes because we are outstanding at medical research and by creating the world’s largest medical research fund we help our world class researchers and we help everyone, including people around the world because our people are more than capable of coming up with the treatments and cures of the future and let’s face it, it’s medical research that means that today we can expect to live to be 85 whereas our grandparents could only expect to live to be about 60.

RAY HADLEY:

Now in relation to some of the negatives for older Australians – the slower growth rate for age pensions. When you combine that with a seven dollar doctors’ fees which is capped if they’re on the pension – I think it’s 10 visits a year and then they don’t pay it. Higher cost of medication and that’s when they go to the pharmacy obviously and then if they’re using a car, increase in fuel prices. It is a bit of a battle for these people.

PRIME MINISTER:

I accept that Ray. I absolutely accept that and this is why it’s so important to abolish the carbon tax because if we abolish the carbon tax that will particularly help pensioners who lose the carbon tax but keep the carbon tax compensation. I know there is a lot in this Budget that some people will find difficult and that’s why it’s important that everyone be in it together including people like you and me.

RAY HADLEY:

Bill Shorten and Chris Bowen have already go on the front foot this morning saying that, you know, much of this won’t pass muster in the Senate. Obviously I’d imagine if they start voting against research into things like cancer, motor neurone disease they’ll have a bit of a battle. But at the end of the day you do have a problem because they’ve now be joined by that buffoon from Queensland – Mr Palmer – in relation to all this. He doesn’t think it’s a problem to pay so much in interest payments on a daily or monthly basis, he thinks that debt is ok, maybe that’s why he has some significant problems himself in relation to his own companies. But I just don’t understand what you’re going to do if they simply knock it on the head – the Greens, the Opposition and Palmer?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well you’ve got to have answers to our problems, not just complaints and this is the difficulty with the Labor Party. They created the problem in the first place and now all they can do is complain about those who are cleaning it up. It’s like the people who started the fire complaining about the fire brigade knocking down a fence to get onto their property. We didn’t create the problem; we were elected to fix it. Fix it we will. We’ll do it in ways that are fair and that’s why I think in the end this Senate will support these changes. They may not particularly like them, but I think they will accept that they are necessary because we cannot as a country keep paying the mortgage on the  credit card which is what we were doing under Labor.

RAY HADLEY:

Prime Minister, I know you’re the eternal optimist, but I don’t share your view that the Senate’s going to accept this. I mean, you know, you might think they need to do the right thing, but they have an entirely different view and it’s likely we’ll go to the polls again. It’s likely there’ll be a double dissolution because it’s likely that all these changes that you are talking about won’t get through. Now, by the way, there was a noise in the background there it sounded like a motor mower I thought you might have been doing the yard outside Parliament House there or something.

PRIME MINISTER:

I think it might have actually been the bells ringing for a bit. I think that’s what it was.

RAY HADLEY:

I was going to ask you about it, but I thought it’d be impolite. I thought maybe there’s a fan there.

PRIME MINISTER:

I think the Senate was starting its sittings and they had the bells going.

RAY HADLEY:

I think you are the eternal optimist, but I really don’t think they’re going to pass all of this. What happens if they come back to you and say we’ll do this, we’ll do that? This is an overall package, surely you can’t put part of it through and other parts not through.

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, we’re happy to talk respectfully to the independents and minor parties in the Senate and obviously a certain amount of horse-trading is something that you just accept is part of the business. What we won’t accept though is an attempt to completely frustrate the business of Government. I don’t believe that they will try to completely frustrate the business of Government because if there was an election again, hardly any of them would win their seats. I’m not saying that the Coalition would necessarily get a majority in the Senate although you never know if there were an election on the issue of who runs the country; the Government of Independents in the Senate. But certainly this lot of Independents would be unlikely to keep their seats if there was a new election and I think in the end they will sit down with the Government and work out a way of getting this legislation through.

RAY HADLEY:

Bernie’s in Blackbutt in Queensland, he’s asking the increase in fuel excise will affect everyone because it will then jack up the prices because of transport. Is that taken into account that it could have an impact on inflation?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, yes, I accept that it is going to affect everyone, I accept that higher fuel prices does have an impact on inflation. I accept all of that. I also accept that it does disproportionately impact on country people because they have to use their cars more, but as part of this we are going to get much better roads. This is the biggest roads package, the biggest infrastructure package in the history of the Commonwealth. We will spend the equivalent of 10 Snowy Mountains schemes on infrastructure over the next decade, so people in Queensland will benefit. We were already going to spend something like $7 billion over a decade on the Bruce Highway and this will make much more possible.

RAY HADLEY:

Ok, another question from Barbara, can you ask the Prime Minister if when we go to a doctor and have an X-ray, a blood test and obviously a visit, will that be $21 and will it be classed as one or three visits of the 10 we’re allowed if we fall into that category?

PRIME MINISTER:

That would be three visits.

RAY HADLEY:

Three visits for X-ray, blood test and the doctor. Ok, three so they go in there and as three visits that’d cost them $21 I suspect.

PRIME MINISTER:

If it cost them $21 it’ll count as three visits.

RAY HADLEY:

Ok, now the other thing you were talking to my colleague Alan Jones this morning about the gold card. Mr Hockey said last night it’ll be phased out as opposed to you saying yesterday it was gone. What’s happening with it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Ok, well, what’s happening is that all of those former government ministers from my own time in government back before 2007, they lose it straight away. They lose it straight away, there is no such thing as a lifetime gold pass for former members and former ministers anymore. If you are qualified and fewer and fewer people are qualified and you’re a backbencher you’ll get five trips a year for three years because you may have some residual stuff to do. If you’re a former minister you’ll get up to 10 trips for six years, but the lifetime gold pass which at the moment enables ministers from years ago to go on holidays to Airlie Beach on the taxpayer just doesn’t exist anymore. So the lifetime gold pass – it’s gone, it should have never been there in the first place, now it’s gone.

RAY HADLEY:

Now, you and I are being impacted by this $180,000 minimum two per cent tax. So many people say well you’re both getting paid too much money anyway so why would we worry about you. Can you give any guarantee to those people in that income bracket that it will only be three years and it won’t be like the petrol or the three by three which is still here 20 years later?

PRIME MINISTER:

The legislation that we will put into the Parliament will have a sunset clause. So if it’s passed it will go because to get passed it will have the sunset clause in it.

RAY HADLEY:

Right, now, another question. Bob says please ask the Prime Minister about these incentives to employ people over the age of 50 I heard about yesterday. As I understand it, it’s $10,000 to employers over a two year period if the person over 50 stays during that length of time.

PRIME MINISTER:

That’s correct. If you take someone off a benefit who’s over 50 and give them a job, after six months you get $3,000, if they’re still there in 12 months you get another $3,000, if they’re still there in 18 months you get $2,000, if they’re still there after two years you get a further $2,000. So it’s $10,000 in total for the employer for taking on an older worker who was on a benefit and this is designed to ensure that, yes, we want people to keep working for longer, but in order to make that possible we want to encourage employers to take on older workers.

RAY HADLEY:

Gordon says 23 years in the military, pension to be indexed with pension from July 1 and they’re not happy about that. They thought all the way they’d be indexed and now it’s been changed almost immediately. Is that a fact?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no, that’s not true. See at the moment, a civilian pension is indexed by MTAWE, but a military pension is only indexed by CPI. We’re changing things. We promised pre-election that we would change the military pension to MTAWE – or Male Total Average Weekly Earnings – that stays, but the civilian pension after 2017, should we get re-elected, will go back to CPI. So, rather than have the civilian pension more generously indexed than the military pension, we’ve reversed it and the military pension will be more generously indexed than the civilian pension.

RAY HADLEY:

Now, what the blokes my age are applauding, having voted for the first time during the first reign of Gough Whitlam, is this quarantining of benefits for people under 30 for six months and then if they do want to get money from the government they’ve got to earn it by doing Work for the Dole.

PRIME MINISTER:

Exactly right.

RAY HADLEY:

You know, it’s a generational thing – and I’m a little bit older than you – but the thing is I’ve now seen three generations of blokes my age with sons and now grandsons who have been on the rock and roll ever since 1972, 1973 and haven’t moved from one place to another.

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s a terrible thing and the last thing we should be doing is encouraging youngsters to leave school and go straight on the Dole. So as far as this Government is concerned, it will be the last thing.

The first thing we will say to youngsters is, if you leave school you should be working and if you’re not working, you should be improving your skills either at university, TAFE, doing an apprenticeship, doing a diploma and you’re not going to go on the Dole because that’s not preparing you for a productive life; that’s preparing you for an unproductive life and I don’t think anyone should have an unproductive life, I think people should have a productive life.

So, we’re saying you can’t go on the Dole straight out of school. You must be earning or learning and because there are things like these trade support loans to help apprentices and trainees, because as part of our higher education changes we’re going to allow people to get what we call FEE-HELP, what used to be called HECS loans, to do diplomas. We’re making it much easier for people to get the skills training that they might need.

RAY HADLEY:

I’m jumping from one thing to another because things are coming up in front of me, but I went down to the fish market at Pyrmont this morning, saw a bloke down there. Some of the smartest people I know work at the fish market.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, a lot of shrewd people at fish markets.

RAY HADLEY:

He says to me, “You’ve got to talk to the Prime Minister”. I said I am. He said, “Ask him in relation to this”, he said, “These people paying seven bucks to go and see the doctor”. He said, “Won’t that put more pressure on the hospitals? They’ll jump in an ambulance and say oh I’ve got heart pain can you take me to the hospital, and they’ll go there instead of going to the doctor”. What’s happening to stop that?

PRIME MINISTER:

This is a possibility. I don’t think it’s going to happen nearly as often as some people might fear, but it certainly is a possibility. If the states wish, we are going to allow them to charge a co-payment to people in emergency departments. It will be up to them to decide whether or not to do it, but if they think that’s necessary they’ll be able to.

RAY HADLEY:

Ok, now there’s one come in the game we can go back to the other 50. So there’s a good one, Tracey, a female, unemployed but not on benefits. Her husband supports her so that she doesn’t need to get benefits. What happens with her? Over 50 – a lot of females in that area –but if they’re not on benefits they don’t get the benefit, the employer of the $10,000?

PRIME MINISTER:

That’s correct, Ray. I can’t gild that particular lily, but there will be employment services available for people in that situation.

RAY HADLEY:

Ok. Well look, we could go on for another hour but, as I said, the best thing for people to do is get hold of the various publications. I think the Courier Mail in Brisbane, The Telegraph and The Australian have done a pretty good job of all the things that are happening.

But just leaving you with one thing – there are people jumping down with Alan’s programme this morning, I got the tail end of it, about Laurie Oakes’ interview last night with your Treasurer and accusing him of being sort of disrespectful for what he was about to do by dancing to a tune, This is the best day of my life before he delivered. Now, the story says – and I didn’t see it, I didn’t see him dance – but it was the fact that he hadn’t seen his family for three weeks because he’s been locked up coming up with his Budget. There are people who are offended by what Laurie said, talking about symbolism and the unemployed, the sick, the welfare recipients and there you are dancing. I would think, from what I would know of it, that he was dancing I think with firstly his wife and then maybe his son because he hadn’t seen them for three weeks.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that would be my assumption as well. I haven’t seen the footage either, Ray, although I was chatting to Joe as you could imagine later on last night and he did mention this to me. And look, I have a lot of time for Laurie. He’s been an absolute legend of journalism and a giant of the Press Gallery. He’s one of our greatest journalists, but even Laurie occasionally can be guilty of a cheap shot and it seems to me like it was a cheap shot.

RAY HADLEY:

Alright Prime Minister. You’ve got a very busy day in front of you; I won’t take any more of your time. Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you Ray. It’s lovely to talk to you and your listeners.

[ends]