ALAN JONES: Prime Minister good morning.
PRIME MINISTER: Good morning.
ALAN JONES: Thank you for your time. I mean you wouldn’t be human if you weren’t disappointed with the result. You’ll be able to form a government. Are you confident?
PRIME MINISTER: We have formed a Government. A Ministry has been re-sworn and we have a majority in the House of Representatives. So we have won the election.
ALAN JONES: Yeah sure, but I’m just talking about governing. I mean, do you think you can win Herbert and what’s going to happen there?
PRIME MINISTER: Well Herbert is very close, Alan. We can win Herbert, or we could win Herbert. At this stage the Labor Party, on the recount, is ahead by a handful of votes, about 30 votes. It is just very close. There may well be a challenge to it because there are issues about, allegations that people were not able to vote in the election and of course when you get down to a result that is as fine as that, then a couple of dozen votes either way changes the vote.
ALAN JONES: Can you understand how disillusioned people are when they read that soldiers from Lavarack Barracks could’ve been denied a vote while they were on Exercise Hamel in South Australia during the election campaign and the Defence Department confirming of either confirming that 628 Defence Force personnel were on Exercise Hamel, didn’t cast their vote? How can that happen? I think the Electoral Commission quite frankly is dysfunctional.
PRIME MINISTER: Well there is certainly real concern and real disappointment about it given that this could well be the subject of a court case. I won’t comment on the facts but it is absolutely critical that every Australian has the opportunity to vote.
I mean we have a compulsory voting system so that’s a two-way street. We say to Australians, ‘you’ve got to turn up and vote or you’ve got to turn up and have your name struck off the list and get a ballot paper’ and if that’s the obligation we put on Australians, then we owe to them and the AEC owes it to them to make sure that they have the opportunity to do so.
ALAN JONES: But it is not just that. I mean there is some patients at Townsville Hospital, there would be voting booths all over the place, were denied a vote in the late afternoon of election day.
PRIME MINISTER: Well that is certainly what has been alleged. These are all matters that could well be the subject of a hearing in the Court of Disputed of Returns.
ALAN JONES: If your government loses the seat, can you confirm that you want this case to go to the Court of Disputed Returns and to have the result set aside and a fresh election called?
PRIME MINISTER: Well Alan I won’t say any more about it because it is a legal matter that may come before the courts. But obviously the party will look at the evidence and form a view about, assuming the final vote were to be adverse, form a view about whether to make an application to the court. Of course, I imagine if it went the other way, the other side would look at it closely too.
This is a very close result but the important thing is - and I may just say I was up in Townsville earlier this week. I was at Lavarack Barracks in fact because they are having their 50th anniversary this week and I was there with our redoubtable Member for Herbert Ewen Jones who of course is on this rollercoaster of counting, where he’s up one day down the next. But he’s done a fantastic job for Townsville and we were there talking with the city leaders about the City Deal we have for Townsville, which is going to see - as indeed we have a City Deal for Western Sydney too I might add - where we are going to better coordinate federal, state and local investment to ensure that we get the best outcomes in terms of liveability, in terms of employment opportunities, in terms of educational opportunities, from our investment in cities.
ALAN JONES: You sought a double dissolution election, the first in 29 years, to clean out the Senate, that was one of the reasons, these “trouble-makers” and “single-issue parties.”
PRIME MINISTER: Can I just correct that if I may? The reason I sought the double dissolution was in order to resolve a deadlock over two important pieces of industrial legislation. One, the more prominent of which is the restoration of the Building and Construction Commission to restore the rule of law to the construction sector. Now the Senate, the old Senate, had blocked that twice. There was no way they were going to be persuaded to pass it in any form. In fact I had two options; I could say, “alright, too hard, forget about that, forget about the Heydon Royal Commission, forget about standing up for the rule of law”. But it is not my character as you know, so the other thing to do was to dissolve both houses of Parliament, call an election and then the new Senate will consider that legislation. If it doesn’t pass it then, we can have the option of having a joint sitting.
ALAN JONES: But the voters have now dished up even more of these single issue parties, I mean you’ve got ten people on the crossbench now. You’ve got a massive amount of time to have to have to negotiate with them which takes an awful lot of time away from Government. We are most probably in a worse position than we were before the election.
PRIME MINISTER: Again if I may beg to differ with you, in the last parliament there were 18 Senators on the crossbench including the Greens. In the new Senate - and of course we don’t know what the results are yet, so this is speculation - but the informed speculation is there will be a similar number.
But here is the big difference; the new crossbenchers will be there because a large number of people voted for them. Under the old arrangements as you know, there were all those preference deals that were effectively undisclosed to the Australian public with people getting into the Senate with less than half of one per cent of primary votes, that’s gone. Nowadays because voters register their own preferences, everyone who gets into the Senate will be there because a lot of Australians voted for them.
ALAN JONES: Well then take that point then; if someone like this Pauline Hanson, I’m just using that as an example, got 182,000 primary votes in New South Wales in the Senate, in Queensland her party came third, trounced the Greens, a quarter of a million votes. Those people are saying something. Have you and your party worked out what it is they are saying?
PRIME MINISTER: Well they are saying that they want an alternative voice. There is an element of protest in that, there is an element of dissatisfaction with the major parties, an element of disillusionment with governments. That’s one of the reasons why we have got to win their trust.
ALAN JONES: But how do you do that?
PRIME MINISTER: Well you do that by delivering good Government, by delivering on our promises, by getting on with our program and acting decisively and effectively and of course working with the Senate. Now I have met with Pauline Hanson in the course of this week and we’ve had a very good and constructive meeting. Pauline Hanson and I disagree on a number of issues but the fact is 579,000 Australians voted for her party.
ALAN JONES: One of the big factors there is this foreign ownership issue. She went on about that over and over again. People are sick and tired of seeing all of our dairy farms and beef farms being sold out to Chinese and Indonesian interests. Ownership, I am not talking investment. Or alternatively mining wiping out agriculture, when agriculture may be the major source of economic growth. How do you respond to that?
PRIME MINISTER: Well as you know we have tightened up the foreign ownership rules in agriculture and agribusiness significantly.
ALAN JONES: But it’s the ownership that’s worried - that’s what she ran on.
PRIME MINISTER: Alan you’re right. She has certainly made that one of her issues and she is tapping into a real concern in the community.
ALAN JONES: You know that Hunter Valley area backwards, your family were there. I mean you’ve seen it. It looks like a crater of the moon.
PRIME MINISTER: Well indeed. In fact my father is still there because he is buried in the front paddock of his property.
ALAN JONES: Is that going to continue under a Turnbull Government?
PRIME MINISTER: Well we have no plans to change the laws relating to foreign ownership at this stage. I am not foreshadowing a change there in the future there I am just saying.
ALAN JONES: So Indonesians can buy our beef farms, the Chinese can buy our dairy farms and then sell that product to middle China, middle-class China and they make the profit, we don’t.
PRIME MINISTER: Well Alan I think there are two points there. Firstly, the big opportunity for Australian agriculture is the growing markets in Asia, so the beef we can sell -
ALAN JONES: Sure, but not if China and Indonesia own them or the mining industry has wiped it out.
PRIME MINISTER: Well again there are two separate issues. Let’s leave the mining and the moonscapes in the Hunter Valley to one side for a minute. Let’s look at ownership. We assess all purchases of agricultural land above a threshold of $15 million. The Labor Party said that was too low. They wanted to have an open slather.
ALAN JONES: $250 at the election they wanted. Yeah.
PRIME MINISTER: Correct. That’s right. So we assess that. The first thing we do is we assess whether this, how this affects the national interest. Now you saw that with the Kidman properties, we declined the approval of that.
ALAN JONES: I know but that’s not over yet. That’s not over yet. What about the Port of Darwin? God help me. The Port of Darwin. I mean and our dairy farms are going. Now you know, you’re smart enough to know this, they pay, China buy out all of our dairy farms. They pay tax on the current market value of what they produce the milk. They send that to middle-class people who are bleeding with money in China at exorbitant rates and take all the profit. Why shouldn’t we have investment rather than ownership or the leasing of this stuff, not outright ownership?
PRIME MINISTER: That’s an argument that is put, but all I can say to you is that overall Australia has benefitted mightily from foreign investment.
ALAN JONES: I know, but that’s why Pauline Hanson has 500,000 votes. Can I just take you on to the votes again a bit? You spent a lot of time in Western Sydney -
PRIME MINISTER: Alan, can I just make one point? Just one point.
ALAN JONES: Yep, yep, yep.
PRIME MINISTER: On foreign ownership, you mention the Hunter Valley lets come back to that. Some of the biggest foreign investors in the Hunter Valley are in the blood stock industry and horse breeding industry.
ALAN JONES: Yep, absolutely.
PRIME MINISTER: It is the second biggest centre of thoroughbred breeding in the world after Kentucky, which is one of the reasons why the encroachment of coal mines is a huge issue there. Some of the biggest investors there are foreigners and of course they have poured hundreds of millions, if not billions into the district. You have there in Scone, you have the second -
ALAN JONES: But they haven’t changed - sorry to interrupt you Malcolm - they haven’t changed the character of the district. It was always wine, tourism, thoroughbred racing. I am talking about changing the character, burying the agricultural industry and taking the Liverpool Plains and others of these outfits for mining. They take it and they run and what you are left with is the awful destruction. Holes in the ground.
PRIME MINISTER: But I think you’re dealing with two different issues. One is the question of land use.
ALAN JONES: Yep it is.
PRIME MINISTER: Taking over prime agricultural land for open-cut coals mines raises a big issue whether the coal miner is Chinese, Australian, American or whatever. The question of whether a farm is owned by an Australian, an American, a Chinese, Japanese, whatever, that is a separate issue. What we need in Australia is more investment in agriculture and we need more opportunities for Australians to work -
ALAN JONES: I agree with you. No one is opposed to investment. It is the ownership issue where they actually then take the profits and all of it. I mean it doesn’t really matter if Malcolm Turnbull’s running the country if we don’t own the country. It doesn’t matter who runs the country if we don’t own it, particularly if our prime assets. The Port of Darwin, our electricity supply and so on. If I can just come back to you, Western Sydney quickly I want to get off this, but how concerned are you that for example after all the effort and focus on Western Sydney in the election, Parramatta - a Labor seat of course - had a swing to Labor of 6.2 per cent. Blaxland a swing to Labor of 8.4, Greenway a swing to Labor 3.5, McMahon a swing to Labor 7.5, Macarthur a swing to Labor of 11.7, Macquarie a swing to Labor of 6.7. This is a central heartland for you know, the Liberal voter; the independent aspirational person. How do you address that erosion?
PRIME MINISTER: By working for everyday of this three year term of Government, to ensure that the people of Western Sydney and the people right across Australia, understand that we deserve their trust, that we are working for them.
We have to deliver on our promises. I think many Australians are very sceptical about government. They have heard so many plans, so many proposals; they want to see things delivered. Now we have a lot of projects underway in Western Sydney. Our job now is to deliver on them, to show that we are good for our word and that’s absolutely critical. I can assure you that it is a -
ALAN JONES: Ok right. Good for your word. What is your word now on Kevin Rudd? They’ll go ape, whatever they call it, out there if the Turnbull Government nominates him. Now that doesn’t mean to say you’re supporting him I know that. But the public doesn’t understand those nuances.
PRIME MINISTER: Look I think if you nominate someone you are -
ALAN JONES: Indirectly supporting.
PRIME MINISTER: Well yes. You can’t nominate and not.
ALAN JONES: So you’ll be putting your thumb down in the Cabinet?
PRIME MINISTER: Well Alan, Cabinet discussions as you know are -
ALAN JONES: Very confidential. But look there’s only five people listening to us.
PRIME MINISTER: Cabinet will consider it.
ALAN JONES: There are only five people listening to us. You can just tell me and Rob the operator over here.
When you resolve this? Today?
PRIME MINISTER: We’ll be dealing with it today. As I said yesterday, I know there is a lot of interest in Mr Rudd but it is far from being the most important issue confronting the Cabinet today or indeed on any other day.
ALAN JONES: And as I said on this program earlier this morning, Russia will exercise the power of veto. They want an Eastern European so it will most probably go to Bolivia or Portugal or whatever.
Can we just come to this royal commission?
PRIME MINISTER: Yes.
ALAN JONES: Do we have to go past this royal commission and address the most complex issue of all; why are so many Northern Territory youths, especially Indigenous youths caught up in the justice system in the first place?
PRIME MINISTER: The answer to that Alan is yes. This issue of Indigenous incarceration is an absolutely top priority issue in the whole Indigenous welfare, Closing The Gap, debates or discourse. It is absolutely critical and what we are seeing is of course because of poverty, because of a cycle of welfare dependency, because of substance abuse, because of family breakdown. What we’re seeing is so many kids, Indigenous kids, getting off to probably the worst possible start in life.
ALAN JONES: But see I’ve worked with some people - I won’t name them here – and raised money for them and so on and one of those people has written to me today and has said “Alan we are blaming society in order to take the heat off ourselves. I strongly believe that the political leaders need to take responsibility for the way people are being warehoused in overcrowded facilities. Politicians use the ‘tough on law’ mantra to gain political points but if you constantly call for retribution, punishment, shaming, crushing them into the dirt, they’ll rise from the dirt to unleash payback, retaliation, brutality, developing sub-groups because they’ve been shunned by society. That’s what’s happening.”
PRIME MINISTER: Well that’s a very sobering message.
ALAN JONES: Those people should talk to you, I mean someone in your Government. He said he wrote to me, he said; “Alan I remember saying to you that 80% of the population of jails could be released and not cause any harm to society. A humane society would not jail people with mental illness, it would establish programs for them. A humane society would not jail people with drug and alcohol addiction, it would set up treatment centres. People with fines should be doing community service.” He said; “The list goes on. The overcrowding of jails means there are few education and treatment programs on offer, it’s costing us millions of dollars with awful outcomes.”
PRIME MINISTER: Well this is always the debate that goes on, the balance between the effectiveness of jails as opposed to rehabilitation, which of course people have always questioned. On the other hand the public need to be protected, particularly from people who are violent offenders.
ALAN JONES: But see then you’ve got the disabled. You see I’ve got a mother of a disabled and she’s written to me to say: “My group gave evidence to that senate inquiry and documented nine cases of terrible abuse and neglect with dreadful injuries to people who cannot speak. We called for a royal commission as did many others, who made submissions and gave evidence, still no announcement on that royal commission which is so urgently needed, given the disclosure in that inquiry and given that the NDIS is rolling right over the top of inadequate and barely perceptible safeguards.”
She said: “I have just this very moment checked with the Senate Secretariat and the Government has not responded to that senate report. I suppose all abuse is equal but some abuse seems more equal than others. I’m incandescent with what’s happening here in New South Wales and with what’s happening personally to my son. I just had to get this off my chest.”
Does someone in Government need to be talking to these people? I wish –
PRIME MINISTER: Alan if you put me in touch with those people I will talk to them.
ALAN JONES: Thank you, I will.
Just on the Royal Commission, terms of reference?
PRIME MINISTER: Well the terms of reference will be considered by the Cabinet today and I expect to make an announcement about the terms of reference and other details of the Commission later on today.
ALAN JONES: Are you going to just hone in just on this Don Dale centre? I think there is merit to this argument that the mistreatment of this kind has occurred across the country and we should widen this Royal Commission while we’ve got it.
PRIME MINISTER: Well again I have to disagree with you there. The Royal Commission - I won’t go through the terms of reference now on the radio because we’ll have them out in detail later in the day - but the Royal Commission’s focus will be limited to the Northern Territory.
Over the years I’ve had a lot of experience with royal commissions at different times, as you know, going right back to the Costigan Royal Commission many, many years ago. I believe they operate best when they are looking into a discrete problem, the terms of reference are focussed and there is a clear timeframe.
ALAN JONES: A timeframe though? People want answers now. When are we going to get answers then? People want answers now, don’t they. In terms of timeframe are you setting a timeframe on this?
PRIME MINISTER: The Royal Commission will be expected to report early next year and the aim is to have a directions hearing in the course of August, that’s to say when the Royal Commission will invite parties, interested parties and basically set out the rules of the road, take evidence in the following months and then have a report to Government early in the new year.
ALAN JONES: Okay just finally, I mean you’re a new Government. You’re a new Government, just finally. Can I just say this: I’m just wondering whether we’re not listening to the same old tired bureaucrats giving the same old irrelevant advice? Does a new Government have to give a commitment, almost now, that there has to be an alternative to always locking up the consequences of these dysfunctional families, where the kids suffer because of the issues faced by parents, many of whom have never had a job?
We’re talking about kids from violent, dysfunctional parents. The consequences of that we are now seeing and addressing, surely we try to put these people to work somewhere, give them a sense of worth, give them a sense of self-satisfaction? Let them see that they matter. Who can put together programs and policies to achieve that end?
PRIME MINISTER: The answer is clearly that alternatives to incarceration, particularly or young people, are always going to be ones that will be attractive and preferred. But you do have to bear in mind, particularly when you’re deal with violent offenders –
ALAN JONES: Right.
PRIME MINISTER: That the public needs to be protected.
ALAN JONES: Yep, very difficult to define proper punishment.
PRIME MINISTER: It is. There is the question of punishment.
ALAN JONES: I’m going to cut you off because we’ve got to go to the news. But look we’ll talk again and we’ll try to talk next week if we can and I thank you for your time.
PRIME MINISTER: Thank you.
ALAN JONES: There he is, the Prime Minister.