Interview with Leigh Sales ABC 730 Program

Transcript
18 Jul 2016
Canberra
Prime Minister
E&OE

LEIGH SALES:

The Prime Minister joined me from our Parliament House studio in Canberra earlier. Prime Minister thank you very much for joining us.

PRIME MINISTER:

It's great to be with you.

LEIGH SALES:

Your first stint as Coalition Leader ended in failure. In your second stint you've come close to losing the election, where is the evidence that you have the political skills and the judgement necessary to now navigate this very challenging Parliament?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Leigh we have won the election. We have won the election, I'm swearing in the Ministry tomorrow. The Government is stable, it's committed, we're delivering on our commitments that we made at the election. We are delivering on our economic plan.

LEIGH SALES:

In an interview a little over a week ago the Victorian Liberal Party Director Michael Kroger said that it isn't the election campaign that people should focus on, it's the period from September to May and the enormous drop in support from when you took over until you went to an election. Mr Kroger said that something dramatic happened. What was it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Mr Kroger firstly is the President of the Victorian division of the Liberal Party, not the director. I'm not running a commentary on the commentators, so the simple fact is that it was a close election, we went into the election 50-50 or thereabouts. We've ended up with about, on latest count, about 50.5 per cent of the two party preferred vote, so on a two party preferred basis, more Australians voted for us than Labor. Of course in primary vote terms, we were way ahead of Labor. Labor had its second lowest primary vote in its history.

LEIGH SALES:

But Michael Kroger is more than a commentator and the reason I ask is because if you want to be successful moving forward, surely you have to look at that period from September to May and ask, "What was I doing that caused so many voters to lose confidence in me?"

PRIME MINISTER:

Leigh we're looking very carefully, naturally, at the election and we learn from experience. I certainly learn from experience and my colleagues do too. But what we are doing now is looking forward and we're looking forward to deliver on our commitments. The Australian people expect us to get on with the job. That's what we're doing. The Government has been reformed with a Ministry. There's a few new faces in it as you know, as you would have seen today. But it is substantially the same Ministry that I took to the election and we're getting on with the job.

LEIGH SALES:

I’m going to ask you about some of those policies in a minute, but firstly on the point that you’ve learned from experience. What have you learned, what would be different?

PRIME MINISTER:

What we'll be delivering is a very clear economic plan. We took our economic plan in the Budget, we took it to the election, we took it to the Australian people. We have been returned with a majority in the House of Representatives. We have formed Government, we'll be swearing in the new Ministry tomorrow and Government goes on. It's stable, it's committed, its strong economic leadership delivering on the plan that was approved by the voters at the election.

LEIGH SALES:

But what are the lessons that were learned from the experience?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I guess the lesson we always learn is that you need to take a strong... you need to take a clear plan, you need to be consistent, you need to lay out what you're seeking to do and we've done that. We did that very plainly with the Budget. No Australian had...

LEIGH SALES:

But what is the lesson you have to learn then? You're saying you did that and yet you nearly lost the election. So what I'm asking is what were you doing wrong in that period from September to May that caused people to not vote for you?

PRIME MINISTER:

That's for you to analyse, I'm focused on my job as Prime Minister of Australia. I'm not a political commentator, I’m not a pollster, I’m not a pundit, I’m not a journalist. My job is to lead the Government of Australia. My job is to ensure that 24 million Australians get the economic leadership and the stable Government that they seek and they deserve. That's what I and my colleagues will deliver.

LEIGH SALES:

One more election-related question before I turn to some policy questions. There have been reports you donated some of your own money to the Liberal campaign. Is it true and if so how much?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Leigh all of the donations I've made in the past to the Liberal Party and any donations that will be made or have been made will all be disclosed in accordance with the Electoral Act. So there is a very straightforward legislative arrangement or provision for disclosing donations to political parties and I’ve always complied with it.

LEIGH SALES:

Why can't you just answer it now, though?

PRIME MINISTER:

Because disclosures are made in accordance with the Act and they will be made in accordance with the Act.

LEIGH SALES:

I'm not suggesting that you've done anything improper but broadly, does it raise questions about a situation where a party is dependent on donations from senior figures within the party, particularly the leader, because if the party requires your money, how can people be confident in telling you what they actually think or might be worried about offending you or saying no to you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Leigh, I think you'll find that the Liberal Party is a very robust organisation. The question of the real issue about financial dependence should be addressed to the Labor Party, which has come increasingly under the domination of militant trade unions, under the domination of the CFMEU. Look at the example in Victoria, with Premier Andrews, where at the behest of, really at the direction of a militant trade union, he sought to subvert the autotomy and independence of 60,000 volunteer firefighters. Now that shows you that the Labor Party is a wholly owned subsidiary of a small number of very rich, very powerful, very militant trade unions. The Liberal Party is thoroughly independent.

LEIGH SALES:

Let's stick with what the Coalition is going to be doing in Government. In your press conference this afternoon you said one of the key performance indicators you had set for yourself was looking after small business. If you talk to many small business owners they will tell you one of the things that hobbles them is penalty rates. If you’re serious about helping small business, when will the Coalition take a look at that?

PRIME MINISTER:

We have said during the campaign and it's our position that any variations to penalty rates and awards is a matter for Fair Work Australia, for the independent tribunal. That's our position. It is the Labor Party that accused us falsely, as always, of having plans to change penalty rates. It's a matter for Fair Work Australia.

LEIGH SALES:

You mentioned those KPIs as you put it, that you set for yourself, what are the other ones and what should the public judge you against?

PRIME MINISTER:

The public should judge us against the delivery of the commitments that we have made. In particular I'm very focused, as you know, on the big investment decisions and plans that we have. We have our commitment to Western Sydney Airport, for example. Our commitment, above all, in terms of dollars, to the Defence Industry Investment Plan that was part of the Defence White Paper.

That's why I've appointed Christopher Pyne as the Minister for Defence Industry. This is a gigantic and very complex set of projects which will transform Australian advance manufacturing. It is creating or building a substantial Defence industry in Australia, the benefits of which will go right through the economy. Australians are entitled to expect us to be seen, in three years’ time, to be delivering on that.

LEIGH SALES:

To measure if you're delivering on that, because that's part of your jobs and growth plan, should it be measured purely against the figures on job creation and unemployment and the figures on economic growth?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it will be measured against many different criteria, but the fundamental measurement of course is, are the projects under way? Are they being delivered, are they being delivered on budget and so forth? I'm not unfamiliar with this kind of thing. When I became Communications Minister, three years or so ago, I took over an utterly failed, gigantic infrastructure project, the NBN. I turned that around and it is now well on the way to being completed. It will be substantially complete by the time of the next election and that was because we’ve had a focus, a dedication, a commitment to getting the job done. Australians expect results and that's what we'll deliver. 

LEIGH SALES:

On the other parts of your agenda, will your company tax cuts be before the Parliament, by the end of the year?

PRIME MINISTER:

We certainly will be presenting our Budget legislation before the end of the year, yes, indeed. 

LEIGH SALES:

On your superannuation legislation, why not remove the backdating of the lifetime cap back to 2007? Would that not be a reasonable compromise?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Leigh, there's been an allegation or an assertion that the changes to superannuation are a retrospective tax. That is completely wrong. 

A retrospective tax is when you impose a tax on activities some years past, that under the law at the time they were engaged in, was not subject to a tax or a tax at that rate. So there are debates, issues in the community concerning the superannuation package. It is a very good package. It is very important reform, widely welcomed and recognised as timely.

LEIGH SALES:

Well if it's a very good package are you prepared to take a look at it and compromise? Because as you know there are some people who aren't happy with it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Of course there are some people are aren’t happy with it. All of these Budget bills will go through the Cabinet process, they'll go through the Backbench Committee and the Joint Party Room. There is always consultation and work on transitional and implementation issues. But overall that package of superannuation reforms not only creates substantial savings for the Budget and for other purposes, but it makes superannuation fairer and more flexible. It makes it much fairer for women, makes it much fairer for self-employed people, independent contractors. It makes it much fairer for people on low incomes and it makes it much fairer for older Australians.

LEIGH SALES:

Just to keep running down some of your agenda, when will you put forward legislation for a plebiscite on same-sex marriage?

PRIME MINISTER:

We will bring that legislation forward in the course of this year. As to when it passes the Parliament, obviously that will be a matter for the Parliament.

LEIGH SALES:

And do you have any thoughts yourself as to when the actual plebiscite will be held?

PRIME MINISTER:

We would like the plebiscite to be held as soon as practicable. But again that will depend on when the legislation is passed. But we will be bringing it forward as soon as practicable.

LEIGH SALES:

Does as soon as practicable - I mean I don’t know about the logistics that are involved in these things - is that something that can be done inside three months or does it take two years? 

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh it doesn't take two years. Look, if it is not held in the latter half of this year - and recognising that Parliament will be sitting for the first time on August 30 - then it would be held early next year. But my commitment to have it dealt with as soon as practicable is there. We are of course, in that legislation, we have to obtain the support of the Senate. We don't even know who the senators will be at this stage.

LEIGH SALES:

You have repeatedly raised your concerns about the dishonesty of Labor's claim that the Coalition had a plan to privatise Medicare. Given that, will you move to extend truth in advertising laws to cover truth in political advertising?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well let me, before I come to that particular question, this is a very big issue and it's good to be talking about it with you. Because when Bill Shorten raised that lie - and that's what it was - he came on your program and was humiliated by his inability to produce any evidence for such an extraordinary false claim. What did he do? He doubled down, he quadrupled down. Labor spent more and more money, the fact that their lie, their so-called 'Mediscare', was exposed as a lie in the media, was ignored. They just spent more money and it frightened a lot of people.

LEIGH SALES:

The Coalition also is no stranger to scare campaigns and hyperbole and exaggeration...

PRIME MINISTER:

But if I may interrupt you, this is not hyperbole. This was not hyperbole or exaggeration or rhetoric. This was saying “black is white”. This was an absolutely outrageous falsehood for which there was no basis in fact. When Labor leaders like Mr Shorten were brought to account on this, they laughed. They laughed at how clever they were to fool so many vulnerable people.

LEIGH SALES:

To come back to my key question, will you extend truth in advertising laws to cover political advertising?

PRIME MINISTER:

I know Senator Xenophon for example is a strong advocate of that. We are going to have a very close look at a whole range of issues associated with this election. That will be done through the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters which reviews every election. There are a lot of issues associated with this election because it is something about which Australians should be very concerned; that powered by millions of dollars of union money, the Labor Party came close to winning this election based on a shocking lie.

What they did, they targeted older Australians with millions of robocalls and text messages. I mean think about this, this is a party that sent out a text message containing the lie, which said it was from Medicare.

LEIGH SALES:

But Prime Minister I wonder if every time you raise that point though, are you saying to Australians who voted for Labor “you people are gullible”?

PRIME MINISTER:

No I’m not saying that at all, I’m saying it was a lie that was designed to frighten people and it was directed at people who are more vulnerable. It was, can I tell you –

LEIGH SALES:

Sorry we're absolutely out of time and I've already stretched the friendship enormously with the producers out the back. So I'm sorry to cut you off, Prime Minister, but we'll have to go.

PRIME MINISTER:

Okay thank you very much.