Radio interview with Neil Mitchell, 3AW

Transcript
20 Oct 2017
Prime Minister
National Energy Guarantee, euthanasia bill, Australian death in Nairobi, Jacinda Ardern, Holden closure, tax reform, North Korea, ‘Me Too’ campaign, Homelessness
E&OE
Health and Social Services

NEIL MITCHELL:

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning Neil and congratulations on 30 years talkback nearly. Next week I understand?

NEIL MITCHELL:

Yeah I think I coincide with the market crash.

PRIME MINISTER:

[Laughter]

Really? What did you lose all your money in the stock market and you had to go into talkback radio to make it back?

NEIL MITCHELL:

We in journalism don’t make money Prime Minister, unlike merchant bankers.

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh yes, every listener is weeping, weeping with sympathy for your underpaid position.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well, no, I’m happy.

PRIME MINISTER:

That’s good, nothing is too good for the workers.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Am I the worker?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think we’re all working Neil. Anyway listen, it’s good to be with you today and it’s great that we have a plan that is going to deliver affordable and reliable electricity.

NEIL MITCHELL:

[Laughter]

That’s the silliest segue I’ve ever heard.

PRIME MINISTER:

You know what, I’m going to be in Laverton today at a chemical plant which had its electricity costs nearly treble.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But you can’t do it without the states and you haven’t got the states on side. You really need the federal Opposition and how do you force it through them?

PRIME MINISTER:

Now you shouldn’t be so pessimistic. I mean just because you’re overworked and underpaid, don’t be glum. We’ve got the best plan. It’s recommended by the smartest people in the industry.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Can you do it without the states?

PRIME MINISTER:

We’ll do it with the states.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Can you do it without the states?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well clearly it’s the mechanism that’s recommended by the Energy Security Board, by Kerry Schott and John Pierce and Audrey Zibelman and so forth. Outstanding team, the smartest people, appointed by COAG. They’ve been appointed to their positions by the states in fact.

Clearly you do need COAG cooperation, it’s got to be a COAG mechanism. But Neil, Australians are sick of these climate wars.

NEIL MITCHELL:

No, I agree with that. I agree with that.

PRIME MINISTER:

They want governments to work together.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But you call it a guarantee, it’s a prediction. It’s not a guarantee. You can’t guarantee prices will come down, can you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the guarantee is about meeting our emissions reduction obligations and keeping the lights on, reliability. So there are two guarantees. There’s the emission reduction guarantee and that will be an obligation on retailers to ensure the electricity sector makes its contribution towards the Paris target.

Then of course there’s the reliability guarantee which as Audrey said yesterday, is essentially about physics; they’ve got to have enough dispatchable baseload power to keep the lights on.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Can it turn your political fortunes around? Can it deal with the polls, improve the polls? Can you win the next election on this?

PRIME MINISTER:

Neil, the only poles I’m concerned about are the poles and wires that network companies are charging too much for. As you’d know, your fellow Victorian Josh Frydenberg, the Energy Minister succeeded in getting the Parliament to abolish the Limited Merits Review, which was enabling the poles and wires companies to appeal decisions and in effect, jack up charges.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But can it turn around your political fortunes?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Neil, I’ll leave my political fortunes to you to comment on. My focus is on delivering for the Australian people and ensuring affordable, reliable, responsible energy. That’s the goal.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay, can we get to the very serious issue, the euthanasia debate coming to a conclusion. The former Prime Minister Paul Keating says it’s a threshold moment for the country, if approved it will change Australia. Now I know you don’t support euthanasia, but do you agree if passed, it will change Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it will certainly change the law. I don’t know, that’s a dramatic statement, a sweeping statement. I haven’t seen the full context of it. You know, Paul Keating is a great wordsmith, there’s no doubt about that. But it will obviously change the law in a very significant way, it’s full impact if it is changed, time will tell.

But as we’ve discussed, I have reservations about it. If I were sitting there in the Victorian Parliament, I wouldn’t be voting for it.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Could you ask the Upper House – I think it’ll go through the Lower House at least – would you ask them to not to vote it, would you ask them to block it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I’ve stated my views. I assume some of them that are awake – I know they’ve been sitting for 24 hours, they must be getting pretty exhausted – they may be listening to this broadcast. That’s my view for what it’s worth, but it’s really up to those legislators to make the decision in good conscience.

NEIL MITCHELL:

You told me you believed you didn’t have the power to block it federally. Have you taken any further advice on that? Would you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we don’t. I can assure you, we don’t.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Right, okay so even if you wanted to block it, you couldn’t?

PRIME MINISTER:

The Victorian Parliament is sovereign, subject to the Constitution. It’s exactly as if the state changed another section of the criminal law in Victoria, they’ve got full power to do that.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Have you got any information on the Australian teacher killed in Nairobi?

PRIME MINISTER:

I do. She was killed, it appears, in a fatal gunshot wound during a robbery on the 19th. She’s a teacher and it is a tragic event and our prayers and love and condolences go out to her family and loved ones.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Are you comfortable working with a Socialist Prime Minister in New Zealand?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I spoke to Jacinda Ardern last night and congratulated her. I also spoke to Bill English and passed on my commiserations. Bill has done an outstanding job in a short time as Prime Minister but of course, he was John Key’s Treasurer for a long time. The National Government there has done an outstanding job in restoring New Zealand’s economic fortunes.

But, Jacinda Ardern will be the new Prime Minister and I’ll work with her as constructively as John Howard used to work with Helen Clarke.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So you feel you can trust her?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’ve got no doubt we will work together as effectively and confidentially and constructively as Australian and New Zealand Prime Ministers have done, from different political persuasions across the ditch for generations.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I’m sure you’re right, but it was your Foreign Minister who raised the issue of trust. Do you believe you can trust this government?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’m certainly looking forward to doing that, absolutely -

NEIL MITCHELL:

Sorry, you’re looking forward to trusting them?

PRIME MINISTER:

I do of course. I do expect to trust them Neil, let’s be clear about this. You know, Prime Ministers come and go, political parties come and go but the enduring friendship, the alliance, the bonds between Australia and New Zealand are so close. We’re family.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I agree, I agree, do you think Julie Bishop needs to apologise now?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I think there was some political activity in New Zealand which Jacinda Ardern deplored and she regretted, I think. Let’s just -

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well, who regretted it? Julie Bishop regretted it?

PRIME MINISTER:

You know something Neil, sometimes you’re better off not -

NEIL MITCHELL:

Prime Minister, I’ve been around 30 years, I know when I’m not getting an answer.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, you’re better off not scratching away at past political episodes. I’m looking forward to a great relationship with the new government, as I’m sure she is committed, I had a very good discussion with her last night.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So no apology necessary?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay the Holden closure today, do you feel any guilt? I mean it could have been saved with government money. You weren’t leader but would you have handled it differently?

PRIME MINISTER:

Personally, I feel very sad, as we all do, for the end of an era. You can’t get away from the emotional response to the closure. Having said that, let’s look at some of the more positive aspects to it; most of the workers have either transitioned into new employment or full time study or have chosen to retire. The good news is that we’ve got strong jobs growth, 371,000 jobs created in the last year. It’s the longest run of consecutive monthly job growth for 23 years.

NEIL MITCHELL:

True. Very good, but has the government got blood on its hands here?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, Neil. Let’s be honest about this. Let’s quote the General Motors chairman and CEO at the time, this is what he said:

“The decision to end manufacturing in Australia reflects the perfect storm of negative influences the car industry faces, including the sustained strength of the Aussie dollar, high cost of production, small domestic market and arguably the most competitive and fragmented auto market in the world.”

The car industry had $7 billion of subsidies over the decade or so, decade or more, prior to this closure. We’ve provided enormous support for the car industry and enormous support for the transition. But the critical thing to do, is to be creating new jobs.

Now this is all happening in South Australia, look at what we are doing there to create the cutting edge advanced manufacturing jobs of the future with our Defence Industry Plan. Then coming back to Victoria, look at what’s been done with government support and incentives to develop advanced manufacturing jobs in Geelong. I mean, Carbon Revolution - I hope you get some of those guys on the radio - they create literally the lightest, fastest wheel rims in the world. They are export workers.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Prime Minister, personal income tax. Are wage earners and taxpayers, personal taxpayers carrying too much of the burden? I see these figures today that we’re heading to a 20 year high in personal income tax. This is largely through bracket creep in terms of the GDP. A 30 per cent increase in three years, the highest level of weight that the taxpayer has carried for 20 years.

When do you do something about it? When do you ease the tax rates? When do you look at tax indexation?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well firstly, bear in mind we did cut middle income tax rates in the budget last year. Half a million Australians are not going into the top second-highest tax brackets. So we certainly did take action there.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Yep, we’re still headed for a bad scene here. 30 per cent increase in three years.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look ultimately, you’ll get economists who will say: “There should be more of this tax or that tax”. The reality is Neil that we all end up paying the tax one way or another.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But wage earners are carrying more than they have in 20 years, or they will be carrying more than they have in 20 years.

PRIME MINISTER:

The reality is, if you want to increase investment and employment and let’s not kid ourselves, jobs and growth was a slogan at the election, but its now an outcome. So my Government’s economic leadership, our economic plan is delivering jobs and growth.

NEIL MITCHELL:

When’s it deliver tax reform? When does it deliver tax relief?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we delivered tax relief last year.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well that’s nearly gone.

PRIME MINISTER:

We have been reducing business taxes, I mean that is critically important.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I’m talking about personal income tax payments. Increasing to 12.5 per cent of the GDP.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Neil it is always our objective - and we’ve got the runs on the board to prove it - to reduce personal income tax when we can afford it. The critical thing of course is to be able to make sure you can continue your trajectory, to bring the budget back into balance.

NEIL MITCHELL:

North Korea’s written to the parliament, what did they say?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it doesn’t actually say anything about Australia so much, it’s basically a rant about how bad Donald Trump is. So, they’ve sent it to a whole, they’ve sent it to a lot of countries. It’s like a circular letter.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Is that a sign, is there any significance to it do you think?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it is consistent with their ranting and complaining about Donald Trump. But the fact of the matter is that North Korea is the one that is in breach of UN Security Council resolutions. It’s North Korea that is threatening to fire nuclear missiles at Japan and South Korea and the United States. It’s North Korea that is threatening the stability of the world and that’s the country, the regime that has to return to its senses and stop this reckless conduct. That’s why we’re imposing sanctions.

NEIL MITCHELL:

It is a sign the sanctions are working?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think it is. I think that they are starting to feel the squeeze and that is because China, to its great credit, notwithstanding the long and very close history with North Korea, is part of the global sanctions including restricting oil exports into North Korea. So the tighter the economic sanctions are applied, the greater prospects we have of resolving that situation without a conflict.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Prime Minister, the ‘Me Too’ campaign which has become international, it’s encouraging women to step forward if they suffered sexual assault or harassment. It comes out of that ugliness in Hollywood. You were in the banking industry, the law, did you ever come across the appalling treatment of women?

PRIME MINISTER:

The sort of thing that I’ve seen in Hollywood, no. I can tell you I’ve always insisted and ensured that I operate an environment of respect. Again Lucy and I have always – for much of my life I’ve worked with her in partnership – we’ve always had very family-friendly workplaces. We’ve always operated on the basis of respect and I just say, that while not all disrespect of women leads to violence against women, that’s where all violence against women begins. That’s why again quoting Luce – it is so important with our sons, from the time they are little, really little, to make sure that they respect the women in their lives; their sisters, their mothers, their grannyies, their aunties. They’ve got to. You don’t allow that disrespect to develop and then you’ll be building children - young men, men, fathers, husbands - who will respect the women they work with, they marry and so forth.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So you think the ‘Me Too’ campaign, it’s sort of really gathering international strength, do you think it’s a good idea?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think there should be - and there is I believe - zero tolerance for this sort of behavior. It’s completely unacceptable. People that use power in that way… look its wrong. It’s against the law. I mean, it’s appalling and it should be called out.

NEIL MITCHELL:

As we mentioned earlier, 30 years ago today the stock market crashed, where were you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I was in Sydney, I was in business actually. You mentioned I was an investment banker, I’d just not long before the stock market crashed had started in investment banking, so it was not exactly a propitious time.

NEIL MITCHELL:

What did it do to you? Did threaten your existence?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well as it happened, no because we weren’t invested in a way that created life-threatening circumstances. But it did impact a couple or at least one of our investors.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Could you see it happening again or have we gone through those days? I mean history has got a few examples. Could it ever happen again?

PRIME MINISTER:

The answer is yes of course it could. But I think that I think we’ve learnt a lot both from that crash, the ‘87 crash and of course from the more recent Global Financial Crisis. Markets often do run away with exuberance, irrational exuberance I think it’s been described as. That’s why you’ve got to keep a level head and remember that the market can stay irrational for quite a long time. But ultimately when it switches, obviously a lot of value can be destroyed and a lot of damage will be done.

That’s why it’s important for regulators and governments and the big institutions to maintain a very clear-eyed focus on ensuring you don’t get that sort of malpractice that often is associated with those types of bubbles.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I wanted to thank you for meeting Brendan Nottle, Major Brendan Nottle. I told you, you might need twice as long as normal. I believe you did set aside twice as long as normal, how did you go?

PRIME MINISTER:

It was fanatic. Look, we had a really good discussion and I think he made a number of really good points.

We talked about the way in which so much of the homelessness problem is the result of domestic violence. He’s obviously much closer to it than I am in terms of his work, but it’s absolutely consistent with what I’ve experienced in meeting with people who work in the homelessness area. Whether it’s the Wayside Chapel at the Cross in Sydney or the Salvos in Sydney, or people who are homeless.

So domestic violence, family breakdown, these are so many of the root-cause. It gets back to the subject we were talking about earlier. But Brendan made a very powerful point which is actually again very consistent with observations Lucy has made over the year - because you know she was Lord Mayor of Sydney - and Brendan made the point that both in Melbourne and in Sydney, you get a concentration of a lot of homelessness services.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

Which is great, but when you get out into the outer parts of the city and even more so into regional Victoria, those services aren’t there. One of Brendan’s points was to say that it’s not so much that more money is needed, but we need to be smarter -

NEIL MITCHELL:

With the services, yeah.

PRIME MINISTER:

With the way we distribute the services. I look forward to getting together with him and Luce, and talking about it because she used to make that same point.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay Prime Minister, I’m sorry we are out of time. I really appreciate your time today.

Thank you very much.

[ENDS]