Australian Government coat of arms

Prime Minister of Australia

The Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP

Interview with Leigh Sales ABC 730

14 November 2016

Prime Minister

E&OE

LEIGH SALES:

Thank you for joining us.

PRIME MINISTER: 

It’s great to be with you Leigh.

LEIGH SALES:

What is Australia giving the US in return for this refugee deal?

PRIME MINISTER: 

Well we have a long history of cooperation on matters of this kind in which we are able, both nations, to pursue our mutual and respective humanitarian and indeed national security objectives.

LEIGH SALES:

But Donald Trump calls you on day one in the White House and he says – I’ve said no more Muslims coming in to this country, what’s in this for me and my country?

PRIME MINISTER: 

Well it’s the basis of a very long history of cooperation and you’ve seen the way we responded to President Obama’s refugee summit in New York, taking additional refugees from Central America. It’s important to remember Leigh that neither - the United States is not taking any more refugees here. What they are doing is including the people from Nauru and Manus that they choose to take in the mix of their overall quota of refugees. Which is exactly what we have done in response to concerns and interests of our friends.

LEIGH SALES:

President elect Trump has made many statements during his campaign that are contrary to Australia’s security interests and contrary to Australian values. How is the Australian Government going to be able to speak frankly to our ally – given that it is doing this political favour for us?

PRIME MINISTER: 

We speak frankly to our friends, our very good friends especially like the United States all the time. And one of the things that our friends value most is our candour and our preparedness to put the facts on the line as we see them.

LEIGH SALES:

But did you do that on the phone to President elect Trump when you spoke to him the other day?

PRIME MINISTER: 

Well we talked about a number of issues very frankly yes. It wasn’t a very long conversation, I suppose ten or fifteen minutes…

LEIGH SALES:

Did you tell him you were bothered by anything that he had said during the campaign?

PRIME MINISTER: 

Leigh I described what we discussed and we discussed America’s role in the world. We discussed America’s build-up of its military capacity, its capabilities that he has proposed and promised in his campaign. We talked about what we’re doing with our big naval shipbuilding campaign. We talked about the global economy, but above all we talked about our region and I described that it was a very frank discussion but when I say frank I mean a very open discussion between two people that had – that lead in my case and will lead shortly in his case, nations with common values and common objectives in terms of maintaining global security and the prosperity that flows from it.

LEIGH SALES:

If it was a frank discussion though did you share anything that you were concerned about that he had said during the campaign?

PRIME MINISTER: 

We look forward Leigh, we look forward. We talked constructively and prospectively.

LEIGH SALES:

Do you accept, just to go back to the refugee deal, that if these people aren’t processed and relocated to the US in the next 60 or so days before Donald Trump moves into the White House, that the deal is unlikely to happen?

PRIME MINISTER: 

Leigh I don’t – you’re entitled to speculate about that but I’m confident that the arrangements we’ve set in place will continue.

LEIGH SALES:

Have you got a plan B?

PRIME MINISTER: 

Well I’m confident the arrangements we’ve set in place will continue.

LEIGH SALES:

Confirming also that there are no exceptions for family reunion?

PRIME MINISTER: 

Our position is very clear Leigh, that if you are on one of the regional processing centres, if you’ve come there by boat, you will not be able to settle in Australia full stop. That is our absolutely unequivocal position and that is vital. That’s why this legislation we presented and passed through the House of Representatives is so important. That’s why Bill Shorten should support it. We have to send the clearest, the most unequivocal message to the people smugglers. If you seek to come to Australia by boat, you will not succeed. We have to be very clear about that. Only the clearest messages will work.

LEIGH SALES:

There is a lot of discussion at the moment about whether political leaders in western democracies are out of touch with what most matters to a big group of mainstream voters. Do you accept that criticism?

PRIME MINISTER: 

Well politicians have got to – have always got to make sure they’re in touch with their constituencies. And in the United States, what you’ve seen is for many middle income Americans they’ve seen their incomes either go backwards or stagnate in real terms. The recovery from the recession that followed the Global Financial Crisis has not resulted in all boats rising…

LEIGH SALES:

What about you though?

PRIME MINISTER: 

…at the same time. Well we understand very clearly the importance of maintaining strong economic growth now many political commentators, the same commentators, the same class of political pundits that completely misread the American election have often said that I spend too much talking jobs and growth and too much talking about the economy, too much talking about the engines that will drive economic growth. Believe me at the end of the day, the most important thing for Australians, indeed for Americans is to ensure that they have a good job. That their kids can get a good job, that they’ve got a good prospect. And you need a strong economy for that and that’s what my government has delivered.

LEIGH SALES:

Let’s talk about jobs in the context of this question about whether there’s a disconnect. You’re talking jobs there and the jobs that you’re creating but the fact is they are almost all part-time. Australians are losing full-time jobs and they’re getting part-time or casual jobs in their place. So those workers who have lost or are going to lose their jobs at Ford or Holden or Hazelwood, are unlikely to replace them with new full-times jobs. They are more likely to end up with part-time jobs and not getting enough work as they would actually like. And yet when do we hear politicians talking about that?

PRIME MINISTER: 

Well we talk about employment all the time. I’ve been parodied, satirised for talking about jobs and growth too much…

LEIGH SALES:

But in [inaudible] people in saying – you’re not going to get a full-time job. You are probably going to get a part-time job?

PRIME MINISTER: 

Well there is always the mix and people have full-time jobs, they have part-time jobs. Some people have several part-time jobs. People come in and out of the full-time workforce. But clearly we want Australians to have more jobs, more well-paid jobs and what that requires is a strong economy. Now you mentioned Hazelwood the big power station here in Victoria where I am now. Bill Shorten cries crocodile tears about the workers there. He has supported a renewable energy target which is designed to put coal fired power stations like that out of operation. His Labor counterpart, Premier Andrews increased the tax on coal to put more pressure on the owners of that power station.

LEIGH SALES:

But if we can stick with –

PRIME MINISTER:

So the Labor party has done nothing except undermine those jobs.

LEIGH SALES:

Let’s stick with what your government is doing, not with what the Labor party is doing. Do you accept my point that more people are getting part-time jobs when they actually want full-time jobs? And what are you doing about that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well what we are doing about that is ensuring that we have that stronger economic growth. Leigh, one of the reasons, one of the key reasons that we are proposing, and seeking the support of the Senate to reducing company tax, is because if you reduce the tax on business and indeed on unincorporated businesses, if you reduce the tax on business you increase the return on investment. If you increase the return on investment, you get more investment, if you get more investment, you get more jobs. It is as simple as that and that is why everything we have done, whether it is the big free trade agreements, whether it is the defence industry plan, whether it is the infrastructure plan, whether it is the business tax cuts – everything is designed to promote more employment and better quality employment, in terms of being better paid.

LEIGH SALES:

Let me run you through some other issues relevant to this question of disconnect. Every opinion poll on euthanasia finds that a majority of Australians support it in some form. A poll in the lead up to the federal election put the figure at 75 per cent, so Australians want that choice of medically-assisted deaths themselves and their families. Yet mainstream politicians will not countenance it – why are you virtually en masse ignoring the public on this?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think you’ve got to – it’s a classic conscience issue – it’s not a – last time it was addressed in the federal parliament and that was really only related to the ability of the Northern Territory to legislate for it. It was a conscience vote but it really is squarely in the hands of the state parliaments and it would, I assume, would be a conscience vote in those parliaments.

LEIGH SALES:

But if it is a conscience vote though, and the public attitude is 75 per cent support, why would you not expect to see 75 per cent of parliamentarians supporting euthanasia if they genuinely representing their community?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Leigh I don’t know what 75 per cent of the members of the Victorian or the New South Wales parliaments believe on that issue. I am not aware of that issue being a live one in one of those parliaments. It may be –

LEIGH SALES:

But nonetheless what about my broader point that this is an issue that many many Australians care very passionately about it and we don’t see any moves or agitation among mainstream politicians to do anything about it, state or federal?

PRIME MINISTER:

Leigh, you’ve raised it – it is a fair point to raise but I didn’t see if featured in anyway in the last federal election here in Australia and I don’t recall it being a feature in the presidential election in the United States. The election we have just seen in the United States was overwhelming about jobs, about the economy, about investment, about border security – one of the most fundamental issues in any society is to ensure that the borders are secure. People expect their government, their representatives, to determine who comes to their country. They don’t want their borders outsourced to a people smuggler, which of course precisely what the Labor Party did when they were in Government here for six years.

LEIGH SALES:

Let’s go to another issue – how many Australians do you reckon sat around on Saturday night and said: “Geez, you know what I am really worried about? Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act”?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it isn’t a subject on everybody’s lips, I can assure you of that but it is, it raises, there are important relating to free speech but you’re right, it is not – the big issue Leigh, is the one that I spent eight weeks of the election campaign talking about which is the economy, it is about jobs and growth.

LEIGH SALES:

But you know as well as I do that the issues that politicians talk the most about are the ones that get the most priority and so given as you say that 18C is not on everybody’s lips – then why are more politicians in your party spending time talking about that? You've called a parliamentary inquiry into it yourself - then they are talking about out of pocket medical expenses, the fact that suicide rate among teenage girls has gone up 45 per cent in the past year, the fact that the average Australian female worker loses nearly all of her take-home pay in child care. Why does 18C get more attention than those things?

PRIME MINISTER:

Leigh, this is a question you should address to your editors at the ABC - very seriously. 18C is talked about constantly on the ABC, talked constantly in what’s often the elite media. I have focused overwhelmingly on the economy. I took a National Economic Plan to the election, every element of which is designed to drive jobs and growth. I was criticised for focusing on that unduly. I make no apologies for it. I am firmly of the view that my job as Prime Minister is to ensure the economic security of Australia, the prospects of our children and grandchildren, because fundamentally that enables everything else.

LEIGH SALES:

I take your point about the media and 18C but it is also many members of your own parliamentary team.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we can do – people can walk and chew gum at the same time. I mean, issues of freedom of speech are important. Issues of economic management are important.

LEIGH SALES:

But you know as well as I do that the priority things are afforded, dictates how much attention they get and therefore how many resources and how much energy goes into dealing with them.

PRIME MINISTER:

Leigh, you know what priorities, I mean, by all means engage in some self-criticism of the ABC or other media outlets or indeed other people in parliament. Overwhelmingly I focus on the big issues of concern to Australians and they are economic issues, and they are issues of national security – that is why I talk about border protection. That is why I am seeking to resolve the issues with the people that the Labor put on Nauru and Manus. That is why we are able to stop the boats, keep our borders secure and then reach this arrangement with the United States that will offer resettlement to the refugees, to many of those refugees that the United States determines on those two islands.

LEIGH SALES:

But in your first interview when you came on this program after you became Prime Minister, I asked you about the fact that life had dealt you a pretty good hand of cards, you know, good health and good brain and those sorts of things and that you had played them well and been successful and amassed some wealth and I asked you how you could reassure Australians that you get it. I am wondering a little over a year into being Prime Minister whether or not the job of Prime Minister by its nature does put you in a bubble?

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s a very special job. It’s a fantastic job. I love it. As I have said, there have no doubt been better Prime Ministers but there has never been a happier one. And I am very alert to the issues and concerns of all Australians.

LEIGH SALES:

But how do you get out of that bubble though?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well one of the greatest assets of a politician, indeed of any leader, is empathy and of course you have to break out of the bubble. Again, I often get on the elite media like the ABC, I often get criticised or sent up - and I don't object to that, by the way - for catching public transport a lot. Public transport is important - you meet a lot of people you wouldn't otherwise meet. And I always - all my life I have been able to meet and mix with people from every background, every part of the country. Only a little while ago I was in the APY Lands in very small Aboriginal communities in remote South Australia. I've been out in western Queensland - again, just very recently. It's a big country and I get around to as much of it as I can.

LEIGH SALES:

One last question - when you replaced Tony Abbott, you were cited as one of the reasons him losing 30 Newspolls in a row. You've now lost four in a row. Are you a big believer in live by the sword and die by the sword?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I believe that what we’ve got to do is to continue to provide – I’ve got to continue to provide - strong leadership and ultimately the Australian people are the judges of that. I would have thought, after this last election in the United States, people might focus less on the polls and less on the opinions of commentators on the ABC, or other elite media outlets and focus more on what people are actually saying. The real issue, and real challenge, for politicians and, dare I say it, journalists, is to actually get in touch with the people, listen to the people, focus on what the real concerns are and those concerns are as diverse as 24 million Australians. Everyone has got slightly different concerns. But a big common factor is concern about economic security. ‘Will I have a good job, will I keep a good job, will I be able to pay my mortgage, will I be able to pay the bills, will my kids be able to get a good job’? And the thing that enables that is strong economic growth. Now, Donald Trump has presented himself, rightly or wrongly, you know, and people can form all sorts of judgements about that. He has been elected and one of his compelling arguments to many Americans was that he was going to make America great again, he was going to do that by driving economic growth. So economic growth is the foundation for all of our abilities to achieve our aspirations.

LEIGH SALES:

Prime Minister, we're out of time, unfortunately, thank you very much for joining us this evening.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks so much.