Interview with Brian Carlton

Transcript
29 Sep 2016
Radio 7AD Tasmania
Prime Minister
E&OE

[Greetings omitted]

PRIME MINISTER:

Bringing the university into the heart of the city is a vital part of its rejuvenation. It’s a vital part of the innovation, the investment and the entrepreneurship that drives jobs in the future.

I think you’ve got a great Vice Chancellor in Peter Rathjen and he is working well with your state government here and with us. I had my Cities Minister, Angus Taylor, with me today and also of course, the Lord Mayor. That brings me to the $7.5 million. The Memorandum of Understanding is to enable us to undertake what we call City Deals. This is an innovation of my Government and we’re doing these around Australia. The idea is to ensure that we work together as the Federal, state and local governments and of course working with the big institutions like this university and universities in other places, so that we coordinate investment - we know what we’re seeking to achieve and we’re talking to each other and collaborating.

So we believe what the Lord Mayor is doing with the Heart of the City projects here in Launceston is very exciting, coupled with the University which of course is connected to that, and that’s part of the design, it’s very important. So we’re providing $7.5 million support for that as well.

A City Deal means that when we’re seeking – so let’s say the objective is, we want to have more affordable housing, we want to attract more tourists, we want to attract more students, foreign students to the University.

BRIAN CARLTON:

And indeed keep students in-state as well?

PRIME MINISTER:

Keep students in-state, yes.

BRIAN CARLTON:

Educate them here and employ them.

PRIME MINISTER:

That’s exactly right. So then we make sure that everything we’re doing is pulling in the same direction. I mean you’ve got no idea the extent to which governments don’t talk to each other.

BRIAN CARLTON:

Oh I do!

[Laughter]

PRIME MINISTER:

And sometimes Departments within governments don’t talk to each other!

So one of the things I’m seeking to do as Prime Minister is change the culture of government so that it is much more collaborative, much more open and above all much more open to innovation and prepared to experiment.

BRIAN CARLTON:

What do you see as both the economic and also the education opportunities once this project has been completed? What will it mean materially for the people who perhaps, not necessity plugged into the University, don’t necessarily have kids or grandkids there? There a people who are just not connected to the University process, how do you encourage them or assuage them, depending on their starting point, to support this project?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well everybody benefits from more activity and more growth. So you may not be a university student, you may not have any kids at all, so you may not have any particular personal interest in the University, but the jobs that it drives, the collaboration with business that it drives. Of course you know the practical things in terms of dollars - if you get more students, coming here, living here in Launceston, studying here, whether they’re from elsewhere in Australia or elsewhere in Tasmania or internationally, that all brings dollars into the city. I mean one of the issues that we talked about – again this gives you an idea of the way in which we can collaborate – so one of the issues that we’ve been talking about with the state government and the local government is, how you change planning laws so that you can get more accommodation into the city. Obviously you know your state Building Act has been amended so that you’ll be able to have accommodation in the upper levels of all of these wonderful old shops in the city.

BRIAN CARLTON:

Which are beautiful!

PRIME MINISTER:

Which are beautiful! They should, and this, the heart of Launceston, should be filled with people. It needs more people in the city, cities should be for people. So we can all contribute to that. I think as long as we’ve got the common vision of amenity, innovation, education, investment, all of that drives jobs.

BRIAN CARLTON:

A couple of other things if I may while I’ve got you Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

Sure.

BRIAN CARLTON:

I often don’t get a chance to talk to you as we both know. The backpacker tax, that has dominated the news both here and nationally over the past couple of days, there is a lot of concern that the process was ill thought out to begin with, the policy was ill thought out. Clearly you think it was ill thought out. How did it get up in the first place?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it was before my time as PM and -

BRIAN CARLTON:

Understand that, I fully recognise that.

PRIME MINISTER:

So I mean, I can’t – obviously I was part of the Government. But I think the history of it was that after the tax-free threshold was increased under Labor, as part of the compensation for the carbon tax, it meant that backpackers were paying no tax at all.

BRIAN CARLTON:

Yep.

PRIME MINISTER:

That was obviously a hit to the budget. So Joe Hockey as the Treasurer, endeavouring to balance the books…

BRIAN CARLTON:

Yeah but it was a shocker of a budget wasn’t it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah well, well I mean –

BRIAN CARLTON:

Because you’re having to go through and fix all these bits and pieces that have fallen off.

PRIME MINISTER:

Anyway, that was an issue that we had to deal with. We said before the campaign that we would postpone the introduction of the new arrangements for 32.5% tax, while we reviewed it.  We reviewed it, we had great input I might say from Richard Colbeck, who was then the Minister for Tourism, a former Senator from Tasmania. We’ve landed it now and generally, it is being very well received. It’s like a lot of these things, my job as Prime Minister is get on with the job of governing and -

BRIAN CARLTON:

Sorry to interrupt here – it seems like your job is to go round and fix many of the mistakes that your Party has created. I mean that’s part of your job isn’t it – you’re the “mop-up” Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

My job is to get things done. That often means, making changes. You get this parallel universe of politics and the real world. So in the real world, if you’ve got a proposal or a business plan or whatever, a strategy, that isn’t quite right, you change it, you listen to people, you talk to people, get some feedback from your customers, change it. Everyone says: “that’s smart, you’re doing the right thing”. In politics, when you have a policy that you change, your critics will say: “Oh that’s a terrible backflip”. Well my attitude is this; we must be prepared to negotiate, to change, to review policies. We’ve got to operate, not in the parallel universe of politics - and I daresay the press gallery - we’ve got to operate in the real world. If something isn’t right or isn’t working and we can improve it, we will. Because that’s what the Australian people expect me to do. They don’t want me to play games, they want me to govern and govern the country well and listen to them and if there is any of our policies we can improve, then we are very open to doing so.

BRIAN CARLTON:

And yet there’s a huge amount of pressure as you have indicated politically to maintain your promises. One of those promises was to deliver a plebiscite on same-sex marriage. That looks like that’s not going to happen. How will you then, given the reluctance of the Labor party to pass the enabling legislation, how do you deliver on that promise?

PRIME MINISTER:

Clearly when you promise legislation, you’re promising to introduce it and pass it through the House. No one expects -

BRIAN CARLTON:

In good faith, you have done.

PRIME MINISTER:

We’re doing that, we’re doing the best we can. I’m still optimistic that we can reach agreement with Labor or enough of the crossbench. But its time – we just have to wait for the time to come when the bill is in the Senate and you get down to some negotiations.

There’s a lot of people, as you know, with the Senate and over the years people take all sorts of positions and stands and you say: “gosh they’ll never come to a landing”. But then often people do. So I remain optimistic but we’re giving it our best shot. I took it to the election, we have a mandate for it and we are going to give it our best shot to ensure all Australians have their say.

And you know something, if you want same-sex couples to be able to marry, support the plebiscite. It’ll be held on 11th of February, I’m very confident it will be passed and when it is passed, the law will go through the Parliament and it’ll be done.

BRIAN CARLTON:

Do you have any truck with the argument that Labor’s running, that a debate of this nature, will be terribly damaging to young LGBTI kids?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think that does not have enough – that disrespects the Australian people. We are perfectly capable of having a civil discussion about this or any other issue, number one. Number two, Bill Shorten supported a plebiscite only three years ago. As you know, I was not a supporter of the plebiscite….

BRIAN CARLTON:

You’ve always backed this in as an issue.

PRIME MINISTER:

My position, before the Party and the Government adopted it, was to just stick to conventional processes. But you’ve got to acknowledge this; that while it is somewhat of an innovation, it is thoroughly democratic. You can’t fault the democracy. It is thoroughly democratic...

BRIAN CARLTON:

Unless of course your colleagues choose to ignore the outcome of the plebiscite and vote - as Andrew Nikolic indicated to me in that chair, when he still was one of the three amigos - ignore the popular vote and vote based on the outcome in his electorate.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well he’s -

BRIAN CARLTON:

But there will be other members doing that won’t there?

PRIME MINISTER:

If the plebiscite is carried, it will sail through the Parliament and it will mean that all of the parties to the debate - whether they are for or against it - will say: “Yes, we’ve given this a thorough debate, every Australian has had their say and it has been resolved”. We’re pressing on with it and we encourage the Labor party, the Greens, the crossbenchers to support it. Yes it is innovative, there’s no doubt about that, in the context of our parliamentary system but it is thoroughly democratic. I took it to the people and we won the election so that’s an important factor.

BRIAN CARLTON:

OK. Prime Minister speaking of difficult Senators, Cory Bernardi yesterday, and I am paraphrasing here, suggested you embrace the Hanson, embrace Hanson more, based off the essential poll last week suggesting that 49% Australians don’t like or would like a review of further Muslim immigration. He’s essentially come out and said yes we need to have a look at refugee numbers – will you be embracing the Hanson in the way that Cory Bernardi has suggested?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, it is kind of you to invite me to comment on that but I’ll decline it. I’ll just say that we have the most successful multicultural society in the world, as I said at the United Nations. We are able to have very high levels of migration, high level of humanitarian, you know, refugee migrants. We are able to do that only because we control our borders and it is critical that the Australian people, for them to understand and to know, that their Government determines who comes to their country. That’s the critical thing and that’s what we’ve done.

Obviously the Labor Party let that go and we had the absolute catastrophe of 50,000 unauthorised arrivals, 1,200 deaths at sea of which we know and we’ve set all that right again. So we are back in charge of our borders and we are able to take 12,000 refugees from Syria, from oppressed minorities. We are able to increase our refugee intake. We are able to take refugees from Central America as we acknowledged at the UN. We are only able to do that because the Coalition Government has been able to restore the Australian people’s control of their borders.

BRIAN CARLTON:

A non-political question to finish PM. Hopefully a simple one. You were photographed the other day with your wife, Lucy, on a train in Sydney. The photograph was widely distributed around the internet and it showed a bunch of Sydney commuters to a one, sitting down staring at their smart phones.

There was two schools of thought as to what, or how people should’ve reacted to the Prime Minister and his wife on a train in Sydney. My thinking was I would’ve stood up for you and Lucy. I would’ve because I was just brought up that way. It was the polite thing to do. Or, if you refused to sit down, I would certainly have stood up for your wife.  Not because she’s older than me, not because she’s female but because she is the Prime Minister’s wife, she’s a woman and deserves respect. I was brought up that way. The number of women I have seen commenting on that photo saying: “Absolutely not, no we don’t stand for Prime Minister’s, we certainly don’t stand, there’s nothing with Lucy, Lucy’s not pregnant, she’s not that old, she’s not infirm –

PRIME MINISTER:

No, she’s very fit actually.

BRIAN CARLTON:

She’s an extremely fit woman and how should Australians deal with that?

PRIME MINISTER:

That is a really interesting question. You know, like you I was brought up to stand up for people on public transport –

BRIAN CARLTON:

My mum would elbow me in the side.

PRIME MINISTER:

And I often do. But it never occurred to me that anybody would. I might say, you know, I get that train a lot. So, I am a local. I mean I did have, there was a camera, of course when you get on a train –

BRIAN CARLTON:

There is a certain amount of stage, I understand that.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, you get on a train with a television camera, a lot of people find that quite intimidating and will just you know, not want to engage. But also, you’ve got to remember we were getting on at Edgecliff which is literally two stops from the city so it is pretty short trip. If we were getting on at Central and you were going to Emu Plains or up to the Blue Mountains or something, up to the Central Coast, a longer trip, people might take a different approach to standing up.

But Lucy and I get that, Lucy in particular because her office is in Parramatta which is in Western Sydney, she gets the train all the time. I get it as often as I can and I generally, it is often harder because when you have the media there, it can be bit awkward sometimes because people are naturally shy - but I love getting public transport. I don’t like getting stuck in Sydney traffic. That is a reasonable attitude.

BRIAN CARLTON:

Yes, it is one of the reasons I am here PM.

PRIME MINISTER:

But I love meeting people, I love having unexpected meetings with people. Sometimes you meet old friends, sometimes you meet somebody who you’ve never met before in your life. There is a social aspect to public transport and that is why, and the social aspect to getting people back into cities. I was out of UTAS in the architectural faculty, talking to students about a new building actually for the campus in Hobart that they have been working on and talking about the way it has spaces that enable people to just literally bump into each other and so that you get those accidental, serendipitous encounters –

BRIAN CARLTON:

You tweet many of those things and it is quite entertaining content. The people of Australia have the ability to come up and they no doubt call you Malcolm and shake your hand –

PRIME MINISTER:

Sure.

BRIAN CARLTON:

And there is an egalitarian sense about Australians and our leaders. But at some point the respect button has to be pushed doesn’t it? I just would’ve thought it would’ve been appropriate for a couple of those commuters to just say: “This is the Prime Minister and his wife. This is our first couple, they should not be standing in a train with a bunch of commuters who are all sitting down”.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it is so interesting that you bring that up – honestly it had not even vaguely occurred to me but its –

BRIAN CARLTON:

I just want to work out, how are we changing as a people? Because 20 or 30 years ago there would have been absolute outrage if people had been on that train and not stood up for the PM and his wife.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well certainly if there, I mean - you’ve probably had this experience too - when you stand up for someone on the train and they say –

BRIAN CARLTON:

“No I’m OK”.

PRIME MINISTER:

They look you up and down and say: “I think you need the seat more than me”.

[Laughter]

BRIAN CARLTON:

Prime Minister, it has been a great pleasure, thank you for popping in. You’re welcome anytime.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good to see you. Thank you very much.

[ENDS]