Radio interview with Neil Mitchell, 3AW

Transcript
15 Dec 2017
Prime Minister
Royal Commission; Bennelong; Jobs; Immigration; China
E&OE

NEIL MITCHELL:

In his final spot of the year, the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning Neil. Merry Christmas to you and all of your listeners.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Thank you. That’s very kind, thank you. The Royal Commission report on child abuse in institutions comes down today. Senator Derryn Hinch says you want him to be chair of the parliamentary committee overseeing its implementation. Is that correct?

PRIME MINISTER:

I have spoken to Derryn about all of these issues but the chairmanship of the committee is not something that has been finalised. But I’ve got to tell you, Derryn has done an amazing job, an absolutely amazing job in the way he campaigned against this dreadful practice of Australians going overseas and committing offences against children -

NEIL MITCHELL:

But you haven’t decided yet who is chair?

PRIME MINISTER:

No.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Because he’s said he’s going to do it.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, the decision hasn’t been taken by me. But I just want to say Derryn’s track record in the way he stood up for children, is an example to all of us and we were really assisted by him in taking the very strong measurers which are now in operation, which basically take the passports away from Australians who have been convicted of offences against children.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But he seems to be saying he’s got the chairmanship. But it’s not decided yet?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it is not something that I have discussed with Derryn.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But is it decided yet?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, it is not decided by me but, Neil -

NEIL MITCHELL:

Was it decided by somebody else?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, it’s the first I’ve heard of the question, first time the matter has been raised with me. But it may have been discussed with other ministers.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay. He’s not a man who recognises due process, Derryn. He went to jail twice for contempt. I mean, I’ve got no doubt his heart is in this, but is his head suited to the job?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look, obviously, Derryn has been a controversial radio broadcaster and journalist for many years, but I do want to say that he has been a champion for keeping children safe -

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well he has.

PRIME MINISTER:

In the Parliament and the laws that my government has put in place and Julie Bishop announced the commencement of just recently, Australians who have been convicted of offences against children, serious offences, will not be able to get their passports to go overseas.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I’ll just make the point, I’ve known Derryn 30 years and I don’t doubt his heart is in this, but if he’s chair of your parliamentary committee, you’ll end up in battle with him.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well again, look, I’ll leave that between you and Derryn.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Oh no, it would be very much between you. Anyway, have you read the Royal Commission report yet?

PRIME MINISTER:

Have I read it yet? No.

NEIL MITCHELL:

No.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, it goes to the Governor-General today. It will be published today. It’s got hundreds, I believe over 400 recommendations. We’ll obviously consider them, read them very carefully.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So you don’t know what they are yet obviously?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no, we don’t, we haven’t read it. But  obviously, there’s been recommendations made already which have been acted on, you know, in respect of redress, in respect of background checks and so forth.

So we will be going through this very carefully. I just want to thank the Commissioners for their dedicated work headed by Peter McClellan of course, the Chief Commissioner, the Chairman in effect.

I want to just say how much we all admire and how much we should thank the survivors who courageously told their stories.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Yes. What is your view then, of the people who have actually gone to jail, got criminal convictions not being eligible for compensation?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that is the government’s proposal, that’s our policy that’s set out in the bill.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Is that fair? Because a lot of them will have, part of the reason they’ll be in jail has been the abuse they’ve suffered.

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I understand that argument. I understand that argument but equally providing, you can understand how many people would be uncomfortable with and opposed to people who have committed serious offences then being provided compensation by governments.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So that is a final decision? No compensation if you’ve got a criminal conviction?

PRIME MINISTER:

No Neil, we are endeavouring to ensure that the Redress Scheme is accepted across the country by states and institutions. We are confident it will be and obviously we want to get bipartisan support. There is an inquiry that’s underway and if people have any submissions they want to make, they can go onto the Parliament website. The closing date is the 2nd of February.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Prime Minister, the Bennelong by-election tomorrow. You’ve turned it very much into a vote on Bill Shorten’s leadership, do you accept it’s a vote on your as well?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well of course, there is, you know, in any by-election there is a contest between the two candidates and there is also a contest between the two parties that they represent. There’s no question about that.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But is it a vote on your leadership as well?

PRIME MINISTER:

People will be casting a judgment on the Government, which I lead, of course.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay, if John Alexander loses, if you lose Bennelong what does it - I know you can still govern as a minority government - but does it make your future a bit shaky?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it certainly brings Bill Shorten one seat closer to being Prime Minister.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Oh, well that does make your future shaky.

PRIME MINISTER:

Australia cannot afford that.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay, so it does make your future shaky?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it would reduce the Government down to 75 seats out of 150 in the House of Representatives.

NEIL MITCHELL:

What about confidence in your leadership?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Neil, it would certainly reduce our majority. We would no longer have an absolute majority in the House of Representatives.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I understand that but what about confidence in your leadership?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well confidence in my leadership is a matter for the Liberal Party Room and of course on the floor of the House. So, what it does is it reduces our majority as I said. But, you see this is why-

NEIL MITCHELL:

But that doesn’t answer the question.

PRIME MINISTER:

Neil, this is why there is so much at stake. What is at stake - see Neil, every time I come on and I love these discussions but you always want to talk about me.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But Prime Minister-

PRIME MINISTER:

I want to focus on the 25 million Australians I represent. What we haven’t got to yet, is the fact that in the last year, do you know how many jobs were created in Australia?

NEIL MITCHELL:

Yeah, I’m looking. I think you’ve done a very good job on jobs, I agree.

PRIME MINISTER:

383,000.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I agree.

PRIME MINISTER:

So we are doing a great job on jobs.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I agree.

PRIME MINISTER:

And what did I campaign on last year Neil? Jobs and growth.

NEIL MITCHELL:

And innovation.

PRIME MINISTER:

Jobs and growth and innovation and we have got record jobs growth. We’re seeing strong economic growth. On innovation we’ve got record funding into venture capital and technology start-ups.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So Prime Minister what’s gone wrong then? On all the polls and the votes you are at a lower level than you were a year ago. On your own metric you are down 23 Newspolls, headed for 30 in the middle of next year. Are you not selling it well?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Neil, you’re the master salesman so you tell me.

NEIL MITCHELL:

No I am not. I am not.

PRIME MINISTER:

No you are, you are one of the most persuasive salesmen in Australia and there you are, so you tell me how can we sell it better?

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well I’d say clearly it’s not getting through, because if it’s gone as well as you say, you’ve gone backwards in the polls.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, time will tell.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay fair enough.

PRIME MINISTER:

The election will be held in the middle of 2019 and that’s when people will cast their judgement, but in the meantime, my job is to deliver economic growth and jobs. We have delivered the longest run of monthly jobs growth since 1994. You know, if you look at Victoria - I talked about 383,000 jobs across Australia - getting down to Victoria we are seeing very strong jobs growth in Victoria.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

109,600 jobs in Victoria in the last year. That’s second only to New South Wales in the last year.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Look, I’ve said that. I think the job growth is very strong and it’s a credit to your government.

I don’t think anybody can debate that, but it isn’t getting through. I mean and this came up this week after Q&A, do you think you’re arrogant?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well again, that’s for others to judge. But I enjoyed my appearance on Q&A, I thought it was very well received.

NEIL MITCHELL:

You think it went well, you don’t think people thought you came across as being a bit arrogant?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well again Neil, you always want to get me to talk about myself.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But Prime Minister politics in Australia is now presidential-style. We do vote for the government on the basis of the leader don’t we? You are the leader, which is why we talk about you.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, I know but you talk about me. I talk about the 1,000 jobs a day we are creating for 25 million Australians. You know, the worst thing I can do is start to become - as you’re inviting me to be - obsessed with myself. I’m focused on my job, which is looking after other people and delivering economic growth and jobs.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Fair enough. Okay.

PRIME MINISTER:

I just say in respect of Bennelong - and I doubt whether, well, there may be a few Bennelong voters listening – this is a very, very close contest. If Kristina Keneally is allowed to do to Bennelong what she did to New South Wales and become the member, it’ll bring Bill Shorten very close to being in the prime ministership.

He is determined to put up taxes - businesses taxes, personal income tax. Declare his class war, so he has proclaimed he wants to have. That will destroy jobs growth and undermine the prospects for our children and grandchildren.

So, we shouldn’t kid ourselves. You’ve said I’ve done a good job on economic growth and jobs and economic leadership. Well, thank you, that’s a very big wrap from you and I thank you for it, but I just want to say, that will all be put at risk if Keneally wins in Bennelong and Shorten gets that much closer to the prime ministership.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Is John Alexander, it’s reported today, failed to declare rental income from a holiday property. If that’s true it is sloppy, is it true?

PRIME MINISTER:

No it’s not true. Do you want me to just explain that? He disclosed the investment property that he bought in the appropriate way. If you disclose, if you’ve got a property, an investment property or shares and you disclose that, what the form – say you’ve disclosed, full disclosure, complete transparency – what the form asks you to disclose, is the nature of any other substantial sources of income. The key word there is ‘other’ substantial sources meaning other than already disclosed in the form. So what John has done is exactly the same as many other members have done, including well over a dozen Labor members who’ve got investment properties who have disclosed them, but haven’t then said what is obvious, that they’ve got income.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Sounds a bit dodgy. I don’t mean in terms of John Alexander but that system sounds dodgy, if you can avoid it on that basis.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, you’re not avoiding anything.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well, you’re not declaring income.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no, the form asks you to disclose. You can have a look at the form online if you think -

NEIL MITCHELL:

I will.

PRIME MINISTER:

Maybe the form could be redesigned, but he strictly complied with it in accordance with the Clerk’s advice. But the important thing is, he’s not like David Feeney who had a negatively geared investment property he didn’t disclose at all.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Yeah okay, can I move on?

PRIME MINISTER:

John has disclosed his investment property that he bought in May or June last year, this year I should say.

NEIL MITCHELL:

You talked about issues involving Australians and you’re quite right. I would say the key issue remains cost of living. Can you offer any hope? I’ve already had a caller saying: “Look, you promised better electricity and gas bills, mine’s going up 43 per cent next year”. What can you promise in terms of the relief for the cost of living pressures for the average Australian next year?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah, okay. What we’re doing is taking the steps that are putting downward pressure on energy prices. We’ve already seen wholesale gas prices have come down. You would have seen the announcement from the ACCC - you don’t have to take my word for it – earlier in the week, thanks to the measures my Government took, some pretty heavy-handed ones in some respects. Wholesale gas prices have come down because we’ve got more gas available on the east coast.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So overall will we have a better cost of living next year?

PRIME MINISTER:

Neil there are many factors affecting the CPI, as you know.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Yeah.

PRIME MINISTER:

But energy prices, we’ve put in place a National Energy Guarantee. Once we get that agreed with the states and up and running, again, we’re being told not by me, but by the Energy Security Board, independent modelling, that will reduce, also, wholesale prices for electricity.

And of course we’re putting more money into the pockets of hard-working Australian families. We’ve already cut personal income tax as you know, for people in the middle income bracket. We want to do more and of course the reduction in business taxes, most businesses in Australian, the vast majority, are small family businesses. They’re paying less tax, they’re investing more and they’re employing more.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Another issue that keeps coming up all the time is immigration. Victoria and New South Wales have had a 27 per cent net increase in overseas migration in the past year. Is that sustainable?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well what is going with immigration is that we have a skills-based migration program that responds to the demands of the economy. We have abolished the old 457 visas, which were being rorted, most notably when Bill Shorten was responsible for them I might say.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Yeah but Prime Minister we had, this is what matters to people, we had not much more than 24 hours ago, several hundred kids of African background, rioting in the streets of Melbourne terrifying people. Traffic is jammed, there’s a shortage of houses. We’ve got this level of growth. In immigration, surely it’s time to debate whether the current levels are appropriate and sustainable?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Neil of course we should debate it.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay, when? How?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t have a problem with debating any of these issues.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well, will you freeze it in the meantime?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, you’re saying have a debate. The question–

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well–

PRIME MINISTER:

Okay, let me unpack it.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Yep.

PRIME MINISTER:

Broadly speaking there are two areas of major streams of immigration. There is the skills based immigration, which is the vast bulk of it, which is where people are brought in to fill skills gaps that are not available in Australia. Now if that’s done honestly and with integrity, which is what we are enforcing – that’s why we changed the visa rules – what that means is, let’s say there’s a big infrastructure project you want to build in Melbourne, and you can’t get enough engineers in Australia, then if you can’t bring someone in from overseas, maybe you can’t build it at all. So that skills base–

NEIL MITCHELL:

I understand this but the basic question is whether the current levels are sustainable? Because my audience tell me that they’re having a significant effect of their quality of life.

PRIME MINISTER:

Let me just go on, then you’ve got the refugee stream, the humanitarian stream which is about 18,000 a year. So you can have a debate about whether that’s too high or too low. Labor wants to dramatically increase it. We think it’s about right and is a very compassionate commitment that we make.

Now I’ll tell you where the problem lies with this. You see it actually even worse, the problem is worse in my city in Sydney than it is in Melbourne, you had here for about 16 years, really, do-nothing Labor government - led by Carr and then finally by Keneally – that sought considerable population growth, much of it fueled by immigration, but did not build the infrastructure to keep the city livable. That’s one of the issues in Bennelong.

NEIL MITCHELL:

That’s the point though, we need to catch up and what do we do with migration in the meantime?

PRIME MINISTER:

Okay, let’s say you’ve got a big infrastructure project that’s got thousands of Australian jobs. Let’s say it needs ten engineers and they can’t be found in Australia. Are you going to say: “Right, you can’t import those engineers and so all of those other Australians are going to lose their jobs”?

NEIL MITCHELL:

But Prime Minister we had in Victoria and New South Wales, a 27 per cent net increase in overseas migration in the past year. That’s not a bunch of engineers, that’s a massive increase.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, but it is responding to the needs of the economy. The point I’m making is that our migration policies are actually the envy of the world, because they are skills-based. Essentially you can’t – clearly if you marry an Australian, you can come in as a spouse and so forth – but the vast bulk of people who come to Australia as migrants that are not refugees, come because they have skills that are needed here. Now if you deprive the Australian economy of the skills that are needed and that we can’t source here, then you run the risk of putting at risk the jobs of thousands of Australians who need those skills to be part of the businesses they work in.

NEIL MITCHELL:

If I may, another very quick thing - have you responded to the Chinese saying you’re promoting hysteria and paranoia? Have you responded officially?

PRIME MINISTER:

We certainly, our ambassador has certainly had discussions in Beijing and I can just say to you that the proposition that my Government or I or Australians are anti-Chinese, is outrageous. What Keneally and Shorten have been doing in Bennelong is demeaning and desperate.

You know, there are one million Australians with Chinese ancestry. You could not imagine modern multicultural Australia without them and I might say, one of them is our granddaughter.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Yes, okay.

PRIME MINISTER:

So the proposition that I’m, China-phobic or Chinese-phobic is just desperate, demeaning, disappointing to the greatest degree.

NEIL MITCHELL:

And are you planning to reshuffle Cabinet soon?

PRIME MINISTER:

Prime Ministers are always asked about that and they always–

NEIL MITCHELL:

Decline.

PRIME MINISTER:

They always decline to answer. So we’ve gone through that ritual.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Alright, January 27 last year, you told me the word for this year was innovation. What’s the word for next year?

PRIME MINISTER:

Next year is delivery and it is putting more money into the pockets of hard-working Australian families and businesses. Because you know, we’ve had a big year this year. We’ve had a number of very difficult issues we’ve had to deal with, one we didn’t expect of course, which was citizenship.

But we’ve got the marriage issue resolved. That’s done.

And energy - we have a great energy policy that is getting more and more support every day.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Thanks for your time, are you going to have a holiday?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m going to have a little time off with Lucy and the kids and grandchildren.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Are you going to go away or sit and look at the Harbour?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t spend a lot of time looking at it, I spend quite a lot of time paddling on it, swimming in it, sailing on it. But yes, I’ll be spending plenty of time in the water.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Thank you for your help through the year, I look forward to talking next year.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, thanks a lot Neil. Thank you.