Interview with Michael Brissenden ABC AM

Transcript
01 Dec 2016
Prime Minister
E&OE

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

We're joined in the studio by the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Good morning, Mr Turnbull.

PRIME MINISTER:

Great to be with you Michael and your last program, I hear.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

Tomorrow is actually my last one. Thank you for coming in.

PRIME MINISTER:

Okay, well good luck and thanks.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

Alright. You have got the ABCC legislation through, but have you had to compromise too much? You would have read the criticism this morning from many sectors? Has it got the teeth it needs to work?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, it definitely does. It is a very tough cop on the beat. This is the return of the rule of law to construction sector and that's why the Labor Party, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the CFMEU, a union with over 100 of its officials before the courts, that's why the Labor Party fought tooth and nail to stop this bill being passed.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

The Hinch amendment, if we can call it that, that allows those companies, particularly the big construction firm Lend Lease who have already struck enterprise agreements with the CFMEU essentially allows them not to comply with this for two years – that does reward them doesn’t it? Those who did a deal and it punishes those companies that held out?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the position that Senator Hinch began with was that the law should have no retrospectivity at all and it should only apply to agreements entered into after the law was passed. We had reached agreement with a number of other crossbenchers to have a 9-month adjustment period. Mr Hinch wanted to have no adjustment period so that any past agreement would not be affected. I secured his agreement to a compromise, which was increasing the 9-month adjustment period to 24 months. This is the reality of the Senate. It is fine to be an armchair general and a theorist or an academic, but my job is to deliver. I have got to make the 45th Parliament work. Let me say to you, this only relates to tendering for government contracts. All of the other provisions of the bill, all of the increased penalties, all of the examination powers of the Building Commissioner, all of that applies from day one. So it is fine - again, academics and columnists are like armchair generals, they're always right, but they're not actually operating in the real world that the Prime Minister’s occupy.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

Nonetheless, Eric Abetz, one of your own, says this sells out the taxpayers and consumers of Australia and because the big developers and the CFMEU will simply pass on the high costs - it will increase costs, won't it?

PRIME MINISTER:

It won't increase costs. It will reduce costs over time. But the adjustment period will be somewhat longer than we had originally planned. Again, you have got to remember in the last Parliament, from 2013, we were not able to secure passage of this bill at all. So we got absolutely nothing. I mean, if this bill had been passed in 2014 with the 2-year adjustment period, that adjustment period would be over. So at some point you have to get the law passed. In the last Parliament, despite having more senators and despite having a lot more Members of the House of Representatives, we couldn't get it through. Now, I've secured its passage. We have secured the passage of the Registered Organisations Bill and this is a great credit to the negotiating skills of my Senate team and, in particular, Senator Michaelia Cash, the Employment Minister, to secure the support of the crossbench on both pieces of legislation. The passage of which was not possible in the last Parliament. That's why we took it to a double dissolution election. That's why we dissolved both houses.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

There are some critical obviously of the other big change to this which is changes to the Government procurement program. This is essentially a protectionist measures, really isn't it, which will give local suppliers an advantage over cheaper foreign imports and that will force the cost of construction up?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, again, this is requiring people who tender for government contracts to actually say where the source of their, you know, components of their tender have come from. So if they're using steel, they should, in a project, as typically would in a construction project, they've got to say where the steel came from.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

But it'll favour local suppliers, won't it?

PRIME MINISTER:

I believe that it will encourage contractors to work harder and look harder for Australian components. But it will - clearly, the projects will be assessed on price. But if you're using foreign steel, for example, and you're not using another Australian component, then you are going to have to be upfront and be honest about it. And I don't think there is any harm in that. I think, in fact, there is considerable good. I think Australians want to see some more patriotism in the way that government tendering operates. Now, we have to get best value for money but very often, it's easier to buy a foreign product rather than buying Australian. And so what this will do is provide an incentive for contractors to look harder and consistent with value for money, to see if there is Australian products and Australian services that can do the job.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

And if Australian products and Australian services are more expensive, it will force up the cost, won't it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it entirely depends on the decision of the assessment of the tender. The commitment here is to stand up for Australia and if a tenderer, for example, says I can't buy Australian steel, for example because it is too expensive, that gets assessed on its merits. But the point is, very often, you’ll find that Australian suppliers have told me they get overlooked by the big companies because they tend to be smaller and the big companies find it easier just to deal with big foreign suppliers. What this will do is raise awareness and I believe it will have the effect, without increasing costs, of seeing more Australian products in the supply chain. I think most Australians, Michael, will welcome that.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

Alright. Let's go to the other issue that's dominated this last week and that is the backpacker tax. Now, has Derryn Hinch double-crossed you here? You thought you had that one in the bag. Now he has joined Labor and Jacqui Lambie, who were holding out for 10.5 per cent, the figure now being spoken about is 13 per cent. Have you agreed to that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, let's look at Labor's position here first. I mean, there is a lot of focus on the crossbench. Every senator and every member has got a responsibility for how they vote but let's look at Labor. What the Labor Party is saying, this is the Party that supposedly stands up for Australian workers, they're saying that foreign backpackers should pay less tax than an Australian working alongside of them picking fruit. And in some respects, even worse - they say a backpacker from Europe, a rich kid on holidays here from Germany or Norway, backpacking around, he or she should pay less tax than a Pacific Islander who comes here to pick fruit during the season and is sending that money back to his village - some of the poorest countries in the world - $5100 on average for each 6-month season these Pacific Islanders are sending back to their villages, and do you know what tax they pay? 15 per cent. They pay 15 per cent. Bill Shorten thinks rich kids from Europe should pay less tax than Pacific Islanders working here to send money back to their villages.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

Underlying all this, though, is the need for Australian agriculture and Australian farmers to get the labour they need to get their products out of the ground and into the market place. That's what all of this comes down to. The figure that is currently being spoken about is 13 per cent. Have you agreed to that?

PRIME MINISTER:

We are committed to the 15 per cent level. We've made no agreement with any other parties. But the question that should be asked, and it may be a question for you to ask, to ask the Labor Party - why they believe rich kids from Europe should pay less tax than Australian kids, and less tax than Pacific Islanders, who are working here to send, on average, $5,100 each six months back to their villages? What kind of values does that represent? What is the philosophy that underlines that? What it tells you, Michael, is that the Labor Party led by Bill Shorten is a party of cynical, hypocritical political opportunism. There is no consistency there, there is no philosophy there, there is no equity there. It is just whatever he can do to inflict some political pain or gain, to gain a temporary advantage. He doesn't care what principles he sacrifices, what values he trashes. He doesn’t care who he hurts. It is just all about his political gains.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

It doesn't get through today then the 32 per cent will be levied on these backpackers? So you will hang out for this 2 per cent and perhaps have a detrimental impact on Australian agriculture?

PRIME MINISTER:

The Parliament has the opportunity to reduce the tax to 15 per cent.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

You have the opportunity to reduce it to 13 per cent and get it through?

PRIME MINISTER:

Michael, we have a 15 per cent proposal before the Parliament. It is supported by the National Farmers Federation. It is supported across the board through the sector. It is seen as being fair. It is consistent with the treatment for the Pacific Islanders, and the Labor Party, for nothing other than political cynicism, wants these white kids, rich, white kids from Europe, who come here on their holidays, to pay less tax than some of the Pacific Islanders from some of the poorest countries in the world - where is the equity in that? And he wants these kids, from Europe, to pay less tax than Australians working alongside them. I mean, seriously! What's the principle there?

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

Okay, you've made that point.

PRIME MINISTER:

You know something, it is a very important to make.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

Sure. Okay.

PRIME MINISTER:

Because the real - I know everyone wants to jump onto Derryn Hinch and Senator Culleton, but let's face it, Bill Shorten is there as Leader of the Opposition. If the Labor Party supported the 15 per cent tax rate, it would fly through the Senate. He knows that. But he has got to stand up for the position he's taking and what he's saying, is that backpackers from Europe should pay less tax than Australians and they should pay less tax than Pacific Islanders, who are working here over a season so they can send money back to their villages in some of the poorest countries in the world.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

Alright.

PRIME MINISTER:

That's the modern Labor Party. They stand up for the thuggery of the CFMEU, they stand up for foreigners against Australians, they think that people coming from some of the richest countries in the world should pay less tax than people who come from some of the poorest countries in the world. There is no consistency there, other than a cynicism and a ruthlessness to seek political advantage.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

Speaking of consistency, you have to deal with the crossbench, and Derryn Hinch certainly seems to be the unpredictable equation in all of this, in the ABCC and in this backpacker tax vote. Has his negotiating style foxed you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we have to deal with all of the crossbench. And that is the challenge. I mean, we don't have a majority in the Senate. We have 30 senators. We need 39 to have a majority in the Senate. So we need the support of the crossbench. But, of course, again, getting back to Bill Shorten, the Labor Party, if the Labor Party vote with the Government, it passes. So, the real question has got to be why is the Labor Party taking this position, this cynical position.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

Well, everyone's negotiating with the Senate, everyone's playing the politics of the Senate, yourself included -

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no, but Michael -

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

If you let me -

PRIME MINISTER:

Can I just stop you there, one second.

This is not a game. You see, one of the traps that many people in the media follow, you know, fall into, is to look at politics as a game and to actually say, oh, isn't Shorten being clever by telling lies and getting away with it? Isn't he being clever by, you know, trying to hurt farmers so that he can embarrass the Government? The real question is - what is the quality and the substance of the decisions you take? The question must be put to Shorten and Labor - why do you believe foreign backpackers from some of the richest countries in the world should pay less tax than Australians and less tax even than Pacific Islanders who come here from some of the poorest countries in the world?

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

Alright.

PRIME MINISTER:

That is the question for Labor.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

The NFF President Fiona Simpson says that they've been talking to the Coalition, the NFF has been talking to the Coalition, about this for 18 months. You have had let this drag on and get to this situation too. You must accept some responsibility for where this is at?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the issue has to be resolved. I'm not –

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

Precisely, you're the Government, and the Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

But, Michael, you can look backwards if you like but let's look at the question today, is who is standing up for an equitable, for a principled position? The Government is. We have a principled position. Labor does not. The question for Labor –

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

So will principle override the practicality here? I mean, if you stand up for your principled position and it ends up at 32 per cent and the farmers end up worse off, who's the winner?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we are standing up for a principled position. The question has to be whether the Labor Party will be allowed to get away with a position that says that backpackers from some of the richest countries in the world -

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

Okay, yep.

PRIME MINISTER:

Will pay less tax than Australians and less tax than Pacific Islanders, some of the poorest countries in the world.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

Alright. Let's move on to next year, there's a few big things to tackle. The review of your climate policy is one. Will you be extending or amending the Renewable Energy Target? How will you address that?

PRIME MINISTER:

The climate policy will be reviewed and the Renewable Energy Target is agreed, it is legislated, we have got no plans to change it. But the 2017 review, which has been part of our policy for a very long time, is to examine the mechanisms that we have to meet the 2030 Paris targets, which, as you know, is a reduction of our emissions by 26 to 28 per cent.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

So the policy will change?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no. What we're saying is it will be reviewed.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

What's the point of having a review if you're not going to contemplate changing it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Michael, we're having a review and the results of the review may result in some changes to the policy.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

Okay.

PRIME MINISTER:

Or it may not.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

Alright. It may result in some changes to the policy, fine. Just having a look at the year that's been, clearly it's been a very big year for you. Your satisfaction rating was at plus 20 at the beginning of the year, it is minus 20 now. You’ve reversed your Newspoll ratings with Labor from 47 to 53 in Labor’s favour now. Is this just part of the cycle? Do polls no longer matter? And how do you assess the year?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I assess the year as one of delivery. We went to the election with a National Economic Plan that was the Budget. We went to the election straight after the Budget. That was a bold move. We had big tax changes in the Budget, particularly, of course, to superannuation, to business tax, we also had a tax cut for middle-income Australians. We took all of those reforms to the Budget and, of course, we dissolved Parliament on the basis of these two big industrial reforms - restoring the rule of law to the construction sector and ensuring union bosses were accountable to their members in the way company directors are to their shareholders.

Now, these were all controversial reforms. We took them to the election. We won the election. And we are delivering on those reforms. The middle-income tax cuts are through. The superannuation reforms are through. We've achieved $20 billion of gross budget savings already. There's a lot more to go. I grant you, but that's really progress. And the two big industrial laws - the passage of which was impossible under the last Parliament - has now been secured. So this is delivery, we are governing, we are leading, we are delivering and we will continue to do so.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

It is going to be a difficult next year though, isn't it? You still have the same problems in the Senate. You still have the same difficulties?

PRIME MINISTER:

At this time of year you should be more positive, particularly for a man that's going on to a new job. Look, every year has challenges. Every year has challenges. And many of them we won't be able to foresee sitting here today in 2016. But I am confident that we will continue to deliver the economic leadership, the strong leadership on national security too - look at the way we have improved and toughened our counter-terrorism laws, Australia is safer as a result of our Government, and we will continue to lead in every respect of the Government's responsibilities delivering on our programs.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

Alright. And you must be hoping the polls turn in your favour at some point before the next election?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I'm sure - I'm sure you'll wish me all the best from your new gig at Four Corners and, Michael, I just want to wish you and your listeners all the best for Christmas. I hope everyone has a very Happy Christmas and has some rest, and look forward to encountering you in your role at Four Corners.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

Alright. Malcolm Turnbull, thanks very much for joining us.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks Michael.

[ENDS]