Interview with Barrie Cassidy, ABC Insiders

Transcript
30 Sep 2018
Prime Minister
Banking Royal Commission; Liberal Party; the ABC; Australia Day; Energy;
E&OE

BARRIE CASSIDY: Prime Minister, thank you for joining us in the studio.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks, Barrie. Commiserations yesterday but it was a great spectacle and well done West Coast.

CASSIDY: Thank you for that, doesn't help. On the Royal Commission, recommendations still to come of course, but Labor says extra time and they're talking about that because they want the Royal Commission to consult with the banking sector and with the victims before the reforms are made.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it's an independent Royal Commission. I'm not going to lecture the Royal Commissioner about how they should do their job. The Royal Commissioner Hayne has made a number of comments about this. He is, I think, trying to very carefully balance ensuring that he gets to the issues - and I think he's been doing a very good job at that - over 9,000 submissions and pieces of communication and all of that has been gone over by the Royal Commission in coming to their views to where they've expressed them today. But he's also highlighted the need to deal with these issues to ensure that you can maintain stability and confidence in the economy and the banking system and so on. So he's trying to balance those issues up. So I'm going to be more inclined, frankly, to trust the judgement of Commissioner Hayne, who clearly has no barrow to push here other than the interests of all those he's listening to and working for, in conducting this inquiry. Rather than, frankly, the political commentary.

CASSIDY: But if you see a problem, though, you don't rely on the Royal Commission to take the initiative. You can do that, as the Government?

PRIME MINISTER: The Royal Commissioner has not yet said that they need any extra time.

CASSIDY: No but that’s the point. Why do you need the Royal Commissioner to do so?

PRIME MINISTER: Because it's an independent Royal Commission.

CASSIDY: Yeah but they've raised a separate issue here about maybe the Royal Commission should be consulting before the recommendations, consulting with the banking sector.

PRIME MINISTER: Well they are.

CASSIDY: They're grilling the banking sector, they’re not exactly consulting with them about reforms.

PRIME MINISTER: I don’t think that a Royal Commission is set up to give a leave pass to the banks. A Royal Commission is called to ensure that they interrogate into the conduct and misconduct of the banks. And you know, there is a process here where they make recommendations and then there's a process for the Government and we've already stood up a group within Treasury that had happened while I was there to deal with any of the recommendations of the Royal Commission. But at the end of the day, I don't want politics to drive this. The Royal Commissioner is in charge of the Royal Commission. And if the Royal Commissioner needs further time, then they will get it. They will absolutely get it.

CASSIDY: What about the separate issue though that there were more than 9,000 submissions and only 27 of them actually got an opportunity to tell their stories?

PRIME MINISTER: All of the submissions have been carefully considered, is my advice by the Royal Commission. And they've looked at every single one of them and you can see that in the reflections that I think Commissioner Hayne has made. I mean, I think he's made some very insightful observations at this point and I think he'll deliver some excellent recommendations. But at the same time, what I think he's done is highlighted the areas of concern where the Government has already been taking action for the last two or three years here.

CASSIDY: Around the regulators?

PRIME MINISTER: Well not only the regulators but issues of accountability. I mean, the legislation we introduced to allow APRA, one of the regulators, and that's a very clear message from me at that time to the regulators, we expect you to be regulating and not just working with the sector. But on ASIC, we have a new chairman in James Shipton. We’ve got Dan Crennan in there as the deputy commissioner, and his job is to prosecute.

CASSIDY: It wasn't so long ago that you said that the banking sector is a well regulated sector.

PRIME MINISTER: Well it is a well regulated sector and we’ve well regulated it.

CASSIDY: That's not what the Royal Commissioner has said in the interim report.

PRIME MINISTER: Well better regulating...

CASSIDY: They’re not doing their job.

PRIME MINISTER: Kicking banking executives out of the banking industry when they've been doing the wrong thing is the regulation that I introduced and passed through the Parliament. That's good regulation and APRA needed to increase its attention on those sorts of duties. Now ASIC, I think, has been found wanting and I'm glad we've made the change in ASIC in its leadership, I’m glad that we’ve got James Shipton in there, I’m glad that we’ve increased its powers, its penalties, its resources and in particular its focus on prosecution with Dan Crennan in there as, effectively, the chief prosecutor.

CASSIDY: But it looks as if nobody is going to jail over anything here.

PRIME MINISTER: Well let’s wait and see. I mean, that's the job of ASIC. It’s ASIC’s job, and this is why…

CASSIDY: ASIC has been shy in that regard.

PRIME MINISTER: Well I think that has been the finding and that's why we've already taken the decision, Barrie, to put someone like Dan in there, as the deputy commissioner, with the job of going to court.

CASSIDY: Before we go on to other issues, this disaster in Indonesia, both the earthquake and the tsunami. Once everything is known about this, the numbers, the death toll could be horrific?

PRIME MINISTER: It is horrifying and I've been in direct contact with President Widodo overnight and expressed Australia's deep sympathies and concerns and our readiness to stand with them and support them as needed. They haven't asked for any of that, but the President was very appreciative of Australians' empathy. But the numbers at the moment, I understand, well over 400 deceased and over 500 very seriously injured. But it's the remote parts of the country and the next challenge will be, as you know, when you have these disasters, that it can compound very quickly, and so, providing support, as needed, to secure the scene and make sure that issues do not deteriorate further, I think will be a very big challenge. But I know that President Widodo will be taking a very direct and close interest in how these issues are managed and if he needs our help, he'll have it.

CASSIDY: On the economy, the forecast at the moment for 2019-20 is a wafer-thin surplus, but a surplus of $2 billion. It’s looking like it’ll be better than that now?

PRIME MINISTER: No I don’t… look we'll wait and see what it says in MYEFO. But we haven't changed, I haven’t changed my view about when we will return to balance. I mean, the 2017-18 year we knew was going to be better, it's down to the best result we've seen in a decade on the underlying cash balance and that's down around $10 billion and that's down from almost $40 billion in what I inherited as Treasurer. So look, I'm pleased to see that we're on the right path, we’re getting there as we said we would, but we'll continue to make the decisions that are necessary to make sure we continue to land it. And that's basically why, Barrie, our Triple A credit rating was taken off negative watch because we said we did what we said we would do.

CASSIDY: Yeah and with the revenue now coming in, do you still commit to matching all spending with corresponding savings?

PRIME MINISTER: That's the Budget rules.

CASSIDY: That is the discipline but will you commit to it?

PRIME MINISTER: That is the Budget rules, our Budget rules remain Barrie.

CASSIDY: So you'll continue to adhere by that principle?

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah we do. But as with those rules in the past, where there are exceptions to those rules, the Government reserves the right to exercise that discretion, but they are the rules. When Ministers bring forward proposals, they are required to bring them forward with offsets.

CASSIDY: Ok so you've got this revenue coming in, you’ve got a growth rate of 3.4%. Jobs are strong. All of this is Malcolm Turnbull's legacy.

PRIME MINISTER: This is our Government's legacy.

CASSIDY: It's Malcolm Turnbull's legacy. And I'll ask again - why would you sack a leader with a record like that?

PRIME MINISTER: Well Barrie, I've been part of this Government for five years. I've been on the ERC for four of the five.

CASSIDY: Not the leader.

PRIME MINISTER: I know, I was the Treasurer.

CASSIDY: Malcolm Turnbull was the leader.

PRIME MINISTER: This is a Coalition Government. We've stopped the boats, we've balanced the Budget, we're driving the economy forward. We’ve got unemployment for young people down to 11.2%, the strongest it's been in years. This is our Government. Yes, we've had three leaders over that period of time and I'm proud to have served in all of that period of Government. I acknowledge Malcolm, I acknowledge Tony, I acknowledge Joe, I acknowledge Marise, I acknowledge Julie. What a great team we've had.

CASSIDY: Just before Malcolm Turnbull lost his job, there were three consecutive polls where he was on 49-51. In my experience, if you go into an election campaign as the Government on 49, you usually win. Were you confident at that point that the Government would win the next election under Malcolm Turnbull?

PRIME MINISTER: Yes.

CASSIDY: So then why is he gone?

PRIME MINISTER: I didn't vote for the spill, Barrie.

CASSIDY: No, but your Party did. Why do you think your Party took this position? You were in a winning position, you just conceded that you were in a winning position. So it wasn't Newspolls. What was it?

PRIME MINISTER: Barrie I wasn't part of the movement that sought to change the Government.

CASSIDY: I think you probably spoke to a few people. What was their sentiment? Why did they shift?

PRIME MINISTER: Barrie, honestly, I've moved past it and I think that the Australian people have too.

CASSIDY: No I think they're still asking the question, I think they’re still a bit confused by it.

PRIME MINISTER: I think they're concerned about the drought. I think they're concerned about house prices. I think that they're concerned about their electricity prices. I think they're concerned about their jobs and the future of the economy. And that's what they expect the Government to do, not to sit around endlessly talking about themselves.

CASSIDY: Did you sack Malcolm Turnbull simply because the right couldn't abide him?

PRIME MINISTER: I didn't do that.

CASSIDY: Did the Party sack him because the right couldn't abide him?

PRIME MINISTER: The party exercised what every parliamentary party has the right to do. As John Howard always said, the leadership of the parliamentary Liberal Party is the gift of the parliamentary Party and you respect their decisions and you get on with your job.

CASSIDY: Alright, from one leadership problem to another - the ABC.

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah.

CASSIDY: Is one lesson about that that it's not really smart for a government or a Prime Minister to appoint to the chairmanship of the ABC, somebody who is a business associate and a friend?

PRIME MINISTER: Look I think the ABC needs to stop talking about itself and get back to work.

CASSIDY: We never stopped work.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think that the last week, I think Australians have doubted that.

CASSIDY: No, we did not stop work. This was all happening at the board level.

PRIME MINISTER: And the board is responsible to ensure that the organisation is well run and I think they had a pretty ordinary week. I think the decisions that were made this week by the former chair were the right decisions. And Dr Ferguson needs to get on, settle the ship down and make sure they get back to doing what they should do in an independent and an unbiased way, to get the facts right and to ensure that they perform the duties as the Australian people pay for them to do.

CASSIDY: Back to the initial question - do you think it's a good idea to appoint friends into that position?

PRIME MINISTER: I think it's a loaded question Barrie, and I don't necessarily agree with the way you've sought to editorialise it.

CASSIDY: How have I editorialised it?

PRIME MINISTER: You're assuming that Malcolm Turnbull gave a job to a mate, and I don’t think that’s what Malcolm did.

CASSIDY: No it’s not an assumption. Malcolm Turnbull was a friend of Justin Milne and he was a business associate.

PRIME MINISTER: That doesn't mean that he wasn't competent for the job or the right person for the job.

CASSIDY: I didn't say that.

PRIME MINISTER: Well I think that was the implication, Barrie. If we're being fair and direct about it, I like to be direct. So I'll call it out if I think you're editorialising. But look, he made that judgement and he made that appointment. And it's turned out to have not worked out very well. So he’s gone.

CASSIDY: Well let me explain why I think it can be a problem. There's a saying in football terms of perceived pressure, it’s not the real pressure but he was clearly feeling some sort of perceived pressure from a friend, from Malcolm Turnbull. He made constant references to Malcolm going "ballistic", for example. He was conscious of what Malcolm Turnbull was thinking about a whole range of things.

PRIME MINISTER: I can't begin to imagine what was in the former chairman's mind, any more than you can. All I do know that is at no time did Malcolm Turnbull ever say that there should be any interference on the basis of staff members in the ABC and the same is true for Mitch Fifield. I mean, let's go back to what happened. There was an article written by Emma Alberici and it was a shocker. And how do I know that? Because the ABC said it was a shocker.

CASSIDY: I didn't say it was a shocker.

PRIME MINISTER: And they pulled it down, they ripped it down because it was riddled with errors. And that was the fact. Now, I raised concerns about that article too. And the news team dealt with it and I was satisfied with the response. And that's where it ended. Now, I can't begin to imagine what was in the chairman's mind, but the chairman is no longer there. And I expect the ABC board to do better. And if they don't, well they can expect a bit more attention from me.

CASSIDY: Can the Government do better by making this merits panel work? You have a merits panel that gives recommendations on board appointments, and up until now, the majority of those appointments are still made by the Minister, on the Minister's recommendations and not on the recommendations of the panel.

PRIME MINISTER: Well Barrie, as you know, you wouldn't know that unless there was a transparency around that process, which required the Government to point out when it made appointments that weren't in accordance with the recommendations. You have a panel and the ABC has quite a different process to pretty much any other organisation the Government appoints members to, but at the end of the day, Barrie,  the Government's elected and we're accountable for the appointments we make. Independent panels or reference panels, they're not accountable to anyone. We're accountable to the Australian people for our appointments. Now on this occasion, the chair's appointment previously, by his own actions, alleged, as you said in your own introduction - and the Government still has some work that we're doing on that point right now - proved to not be great. But you know, he's gone. Dr Ferguson is now the chair. We'll go through the very process that you've talked about to look at new appointments and then we'll make that in due course, but in the meantime, you know, I think it's time for the ABC to stop talking about itself.

CASSIDY: It wasn't just the ABC talking about itself.

PRIME MINISTER: All the media were obsessed. I noticed this morning on Macca on the ABC, he’s talking about wildflowers and he’s talking about the drought. I suspect Macca’s a bit more in touch.

CASSIDY: I don't think that we'll be getting on to wildflowers. I’ve got another issue I want to raise with you, it’s emissions. You released the latest greenhouse gas emissions on Friday night, they're up 1.3 per cent, the highest  level on a quarterly basis for eight years and yet you'll say you'll reach the Paris commitments in a canter.

PRIME MINISTER: Yes.

CASSIDY: Based on what?

PRIME MINISTER: Based on our assessments and we’ve got emissions per capita are at the lowest level in 28 years, Barrie, and those figures, in particular, for the March quarter, were based on some rather stronger LNG production figures for that period. So look, one swallow doesn't make a summer, and I know that plenty of people will leap on that and they’ll say that you need to do X and Y and they’ll use those numbers for that purpose. But it means that we're going to meet Kyoto 2 and we'll smash that number. We smashed Kyoto 1.

CASSIDY: But that has no relevance to whether or not you’ll reach the Paris targets?

PRIME MINISTER: We will Barrie. Because the investments that are continuing to be made in renewables on the basis of the fact that increasingly, we've hit the threshold point, where the investments make sense, increasingly, without subsidies. We still have the large scale and small scale RET policies in place. We still have the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and we still have the emissions reduction fund for the period that it's currently funded for and we're on track to hit it, Barrie. So we will hit it and I know people can say, “Oh, they know exactly what…”

CASSIDY: They're up 1.3 per cent.

PRIME MINISTER: Yes, based on...

CASSIDY: You're all out of policy levers without the National Energy Guarantee.

PRIME MINISTER: I just announced four different policies that continue, Barrie. So I know people will want to use that one figure and ignore the fact that emissions per capita are at the lowest level in 28 years. That electricity sector emissions are down 13.9 per cent, I think it is, on 2009, on the same figures. So people choose and pick their figures to make their political arguments. We're going to meet those in a canter, our 26 per cent target...

CASSIDY: You do think you'll meet it in a canter?

PRIME MINISTER: I do, Barrie, I do. We'll meet up in 2030 and we can argue the toss then. None of us are Nostradamus on this but we have the policies in place and importantly, the technology, the demand management. All of these issues are pointing to that outcome. And so I'm comfortable with our 26 per cent. I was comfortable with it when we set it, when I was part of the Government that set it, and we'll continue to pursue it. Labor has a 45 per cent emissions reduction target. Now we all know what that will do - it will put up electricity prices by $1,400 for every household in the country. So Labor has that. We’ve got a sensible target of 26 per cent. We'll stick to that and it won't have an impact on electricity prices and we'll continue our track record of delivering emissions reductions.

CASSIDY: Final question on the national day you're talking about for Indigenous Australians. How do you plan to commence that idea?

PRIME MINISTER: Well we've commenced a discussion about it. I’ve had some good feedback. I want to be clear what I'm saying though. Australia Day is for all Australians, First Australians, Indigenous Australians, through to our most recent. That is the day everyone comes together. I've seen this work...

CASSIDY: Now you're talking about a separate day?

PRIME MINISTER: No, I'm saying that there should be an opportunity, separately, to acknowledge the contribution of our Indigenous peoples. That's not instead of Australia Day.

CASSIDY: NAIDOC Week? Doesn't NAIDOC Week do that?

PRIME MINISTER: It can be within NAIDOC Week. I'm happy to have the chat about it. My point is that Australia Day is for all Australians. I'm not saying that we need another opportunity because Indigenous Australians can't participate in Australia Day. Quite the contrary. In my own electorate for a long time on the 29th of April each year, we have a meeting of two cultures ceremonies on the day that Lieutenant Cook landed at Kurnell. Now that manages, and has for some time, to be been able to acknowledge 60,000 years of the Gweagal people of the Dharawal nation being in that place. As well as acknowledging the great scientist and pioneer, James Cook. It is possible, and frankly, it's necessary, for us to reconcile these two stories as a country. We can't do it separately. We've got to do it together. And that's why I'm open to ways that we can do it. But Australia Day is Australia Day and must always remain Australia Day.

CASSIDY: And just finally, one grand final down and one to come. Do you think that the Melbourne-based club will do better this time?

PRIME MINISTER: Well they're a very strong team and we'll see whether Cooper Cronk is playing or not tonight. But I think at least his shoulder will be a bit sorer than it's usually been all season. Sadly for me, my Sharks went out but I’ve got to say the two best teams at the end of the year over the season I think have ended up in the grand final. If it's as good a game as yesterday's one was, which I enjoyed thoroughly, while not understanding all of it, I certainly enjoyed the festival.

CASSIDY: Thanks for coming in.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks a lot Barrie.