Radio interview with Chris Kenny, 2GB

Transcript
20 Dec 2017
Prime Minister
Cabinet reshuffle; Bennelong By-Election; High Commissioner to the UK; Foreign Policy; National Energy Guarantee;
E&OE

CHRIS KENNY:

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and he joins me on the line now. Thanks for joining us Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah great to be with you Chris, and a Merry Christmas to you and all your listeners.

CHRIS KENNY:

Thanks very much the same to you and Lucy and the family, we’ll cover all that at the end of the interview I think. I wanted to start off – we’ll get to your reshuffle in a moment – of course you’ve been busy swearing in all your new ministers today, your new ministry in Canberra.

But I wanted to just go back to the Bennelong by-election. You’ve just had two by-election wins, you were expected to win them, you won them better though than a lot of people tipped you to. Bennelong of course you really needed to win.

But as you know I wrote about the campaign from Labor in Bennelong I thought was vile and disgusting. You had Bill Shorten, and of course Kristina Keneally blatantly accusing you and your government of racism. Now the good news is the people of Bennelong didn’t fall for that sort of mudslinging, they were better than that. But what are your thoughts about this use of race based divisiveness in an Australian by-election?

PRIME MINISTER:

I thought it was shocking Chris, and your criticism was very well deserved.

I mean Bill Shorten and Kristina Kennelly were there actively seeking to divide the community in Bennelong. Accusing me and my government of being racist and being anti-Chinese, it was outrageous. People of course were not taken in by it and that’s because they know me very well, I’ve been around for a long time, people know – I mean there very few politicians that speak more proudly of Australia being the most successful multicultural society in the world than I do. I revel in our success as a multicultural society, and you couldn’t possibly imagine modern multicultural Australia without the 1 million Australians of Chinese ancestry.

CHRIS KENNY:

And as you quite rightly point out you have a little granddaughter Isla who is herself a Chinese-Australian.

PRIME MINISTER:

That’s right.

CHRIS KENNY:

Have you received an apology from either Kristina Keneally or Bill Shorten for this sort of campaigning?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well no and I’m not going to hold my breath and if I had received one I think you’d faint on the radio.

CHRIS KENNY:

(Laughter)

PRIME MINISTER:

They’d need the smelling salts.

CHRIS KENNY:

Well does this suggest – tell us anything about Kristina Keneally’s suitability for federal parliament, given that there’s all this talk of her going into the Senate?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it was a very desperate Labor campaign, you know they basically ran the same scares they did in 2016, on Medicare saying we were cutting Medicare and going to abandon Medicare – you know all of which was absurd in 2016. Although it did have an impact in the last week of that campaign.

And of course what have we done with Medicare since, we’ve guaranteed it. We’ve actually passed a law that guarantees Medicare’s funding and we’ve restored Medicare indexation. Bulk billing rates are at record highs, including in Bennelong for that matter. And so I think those scares and lies, they’ve failed. People – the people in Bennelong could see through them.

But the stuff – getting back to what they were saying about race. That was very ugly, seeking to divide the Australian community. You know one of our greatest successes is our diversity, the fact that we are a harmonious multicultural society. You know a third of the people in Sydney were not born here, Chinese is the second most spoken language at home, Indian languages are rapidly getting up that ladder of being most spoken at home.

So we’re a very successful multicultural society and what that requires is mutual respect. And so people – particularly leaders and people like Bill Shorten who wants to be prime minister - who seek to divide us, they are really undermining the very foundations of our success as this great multicultural society.

CHRIS KENNY:

You know I couldn’t agree more – they’re also insulting voters with that sort of campaigning and I don’t think that’s ever a way to win votes is to insult voters.

I want to move on to your reshuffle, it was forced upon you to a degree, because Fiona Nash found herself the victim of the dual citizenship crisis, and of course Arthur Sinodinos has had to step aside for health reasons, he’s on the mend though which is good news.

You did get George Brandis out of the way though. George Brandis was rather obviously lured away from politics with this cushy job in London. Why did you not want George Brandis in your Cabinet any longer?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Chris, George Brandis is a great colleague, he’s been an outstanding Attorney-General. He’s really done an extraordinary job – he’ll -

CHRIS KENNY:

So outstanding that you needed to offer him a job in London to get him out of the way?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Chris you understand the importance of that High Commissioner’s role in London. Alexander Downer’s been doing it very well. I think it needs ideally to have somebody who is a senior politician.

It is a very political job, Alexander has done an outstanding job – he’s been there for nearly four years now, George will succeed him. And George, like Alexander, comes with firsthand knowledge and friendship with senior British political players, he understands all of the big national security issues that are so important in our relationship with the UK and of course he comes as a politician dealing with other politicians.

It is a great political experience, particularly a high cabinet level office is an enormous asset, I believe, in having somebody who is going to represent us in a place like London or indeed in Washington where Joe Hockey is our Ambassador and doing a great job.

CHRIS KENNY:

We’re speaking with the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on 2GB and 4BC, let us know what you think on 131 873.

Malcolm Turnbull, there’s a lot I think in this reshuffle that you’re to be given credit for. I think you’ve promoted a series of politicians – up and comers really – that I would put on the conservative side of the ledger, I’m thinking about Angus Taylor, Christian Porter and others. So you’ve looked to -  Dan Tehan is another one I’d say is a conservative - so those sort of gestures are unifying for the party, for the Coalition.

But given there’s 40 people on the front bench, you’ve promoted so much young talent, even people we’ve not heard of like David Littleproud. How is it that there’s no room in your frontbench for one former Prime Minister, that political warrior Tony Abbott?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well as you know there’s always – you always have more ministerial talent in your party room than you have room in the Ministry.

CHRIS KENNY:

But come on, Tony Abbott wouldn’t be more value to you on the frontbench than David Littleproud or Dan Tehan, or we could list off 20 of them.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’ve assembled an outstanding ministerial team, an outstanding cabinet. You’ve paid that compliment- you’ve paid me compliments already.

Everybody has got people they think should be in the ministry of course – but I’ve always focused and I’ve said this for some years now – that when the opportunities come for a reshuffle to bring in new talent and new and younger talent. And as you’ve run through a few names there that are younger members it’s important to bring the new talent through.

That’s part of being Prime Minister, it’s similar to being a Chief Executive of a big company in this sense that you’ve got to manage your talent, you’ve got to bring the younger new people through, you’ve got to make sure that you’ve got women coming through as well. And we’ve obviously promoted – we’ve added one woman to the female representation in the Ministry in Melissa Price from Western Australia.

CHRIS KENNY:

But doesn’t keeping Tony Abbott out just add to the sense of a divided party, of internal disunity?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no, do you know something-

CHRIS KENNY:

You’ve had a better finish to the year than many people predicted and this would’ve made you look bigger and made the party look more united.

PRIME MINISTER:

Chris it’s about – this is about the government and getting the right team that’ll work together and I’m not going to get into a debate about, you know, any particular individual. There’s a lot of talent in the party room. Not all of it can be in the ministry. But I’ve got 42 outstanding individuals there in the ministry with a range of talents, a range of life’s experiences, you know, geographically, from all parts of Australia and also with a wide range of life’s experiences.

CHRIS KENNY:

Okay one more question on Tony Abbott before I go to next year, and that is of course you were confronted with your 25th Newspoll loss in a row last week. You were reminded of citing 30 Newspoll losses when you overthrew Tony Abbott for the prime ministership.

Tony Abbott said he was going to respond to your dismissal of the Newspoll series after the Bennelong by-election. He’s due to make a regular appearance on this station at 430pm this afternoon with Michael McLaren. Is there anything you’d like to publically suggest Tony Abbott should focus on when he’s talking about the Newspoll situation?

PRIME MINISTER:

Chris you’re interested in Tony Abbott and me and you’re interested in the personalities, maybe some of your listeners are. But you know what I want to talk about and what I think your listeners want to talk about is the job we have done governing Australia over the last year. The more than 1,000 jobs a day that have been created. The big-

CHRIS KENNY:

Yeah I just want to get on to that in a second but unfortunately-

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t think you really do actually- I think Chris-

CHRIS KENNY:

As you know it’s you who’ve put Newspoll into the market place of ideas and I wondered if you think Tony Abbott should respond to that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Chris, you’re not going to draw me into talking about personalities. I know that’s your interest.

CHRIS KENNY:

It’s not my interest actually, it’s just the Newspoll, it’s just how you deal with this Newspoll situation?

PRIME MINISTER:

What is the situation you’re asking me to deal with?

CHRIS KENNY:

Well, the situation is that you cited, as a reason for overthrowing a Prime Minister, the loss of 30 Newspolls in a row. Now you’ve chalked up 25 yourself.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Chris when I challenged Tony I gave a speech and I talked about a number of things. I talked about economic leadership, I talked about traditional Cabinet Government. I did refer to the fact that the government had lost 30 Newspolls in a row and that’s all true. But that was said and the point is that we continue to deliver strong Government. What we’re finding here, in our discussion – and you know, we’re old friends – but you’re fascinated with politics and the personalities of politics.

CHRIS KENNY:

I’m also very fascinated on policy, but I’d just like to get this out of the way.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, you’re not. We haven’t touched on policy yet. We’ve been speaking now for 12 minutes and you haven’t got off personalities and politics and onto policy and when I try to get started on it, you cut me off.

CHRIS KENNY:

Well let’s get onto it now then because obviously you don’t want to send a message to Tony Abbott about this Newspoll response.

There are two – I know you’re pressed for time – but the two key policy issues I want to put to you now and there are some massive challenges for the Government. You do seem to have an economy both domestically and globally, that’s starting to turn in the right direction.

I’ll come to that in a moment but also, Donald Trump’s made a major statement on national security in the past 24 hours. He’s focused very strongly on this region. He’s focused very strongly on the need to confront China – not to put words into his mouth – but to be very frank and pragmatic about the rise of China.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well you are putting words in his mouth, I don’t think he used that word.

CHRIS KENNY:

No but to be very pragmatic about the rise of China and very vigilant I suppose. It tends to match what you’ve been saying about the threat of foreign interests domestically and the need to have new laws to look at that, not specifically regarding China but any nation. Are you pleased to see what Donald Trump has been saying?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I’ve seen the National Security statement form the US and clearly, the United States and Australia have shared values. We are allies. We have no closer ally than the United States and I believe the United States have no closer ally than Australia.

Now what we do want to ensure, is that our region continues to be one that is peaceful, and governed by the rule of law. That is the critical thing, there is no effort by my Government or indeed by the United States, to restrain or contain the rise of China. China’s rise has been of enormous benefit, not just to the people of China, but to the whole world. But what we need to ensure of course is that the rights and interests of all nations are respected and their sovereignty is respected and that if all nations comply with the rule of law, then small nations, their rights and their sovereignty will be protected.

The rule of law is vital and that’s why – whether it’s talking about the South China Sea and the importance of the law of the sea being respected – across the region we have a massive vested interest in maintaining peace and stability. That’s why the rule of law must prevail. That’s why in terms of foreign interference, it is not aimed at any one country. Other than our country, Australia. Our determination is to ensure that Australians determine political processes in Australia and we do not have any covert, let alone corrupt foreign interference in our political system.

CHRIS KENNY:

Malcolm Turnbull just finally before we let you go, on the domestic front, the economy is everything. As was borne out by the Mid Year Economic update, we’ve seen that things are turning in a better direction, there are some positive signs there. Of course a key issue for industry, and for domestic and home budgets, household budgets is electricity charges. Are you confident you can get your National Energy Guarantee up and in place with the agreement of the states? Can it do enough, quickly enough to relieve the really intense pressure on electricity prices?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, I am confident it will be accepted by the states. It’s received enormous support, as you know –

CHRIS KENNY:

Couldn’t South Australia alone virtually, shoot it down?

PRIME MINISTER:

In reality no. I think the South Australians are playing politics at the moment, they’ve got an election coming up and it suits Jay Weatherill to be picking fights with the federal government whether it’s on water or energy or anything else. I mean –

CHRIS KENNY:

So you perhaps won’t get this deal done until after the South Australian election?

PRIME MINISTER:

This is expected to be concluded at COAG, at COAG Energy Council in April, I think is the timing. There’s more modelling and work being done on it. In terms of energy prices, the actions my Government has already taken has seen wholesale energy prices come down. In particular the action we took on gas.

We’ve ensured that there is more gas supply on the east coast, gas is obviously really, effectively sets the wholesale price of generation. Gas prices have come down significantly. You would have seen the ACCC report recently, they’ve come down by 50 per cent in some cases and you know, not a lot less than that in others. Coming down from $16 or $18 a gigajoule to $10, $9 or $11, that sort of area. It’s been very important to get that price, to get the gas market on the east coast properly supplied. That’s brought down the price of gas. The wholesale price of gas is very important for industry, but of course as I said, it’s a huge factor in the price of electricity.

The National Energy Guarantee is a real breakthrough. It will enable us to ensure that we have reliable, affordable energy and at the same time, we meet our emissions reduction targets.

We’ve also got coming up tomorrow, Snowy Hydro will be releasing the feasibility study on Snowy Hydro 2, which is going to be very important. This will be the biggest battery in the southern hemisphere. It will make renewables reliable. So when people say my Government is against renewables, I don’t know, they’re being very inaccurate and unfair. We are supporting the single largest renewable project in Australia since Snowy Hydro was built in the first place.

CHRIS KENNY:

Malcolm Turnbull you’ve been very generous with your time, thanks for joining us and sharing your thoughts with the 2GB audience. Merry Christmas to you, Lucy and the family.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks Chris and Merry Christmas to you, your family and all your listeners.

[ENDS]