Radio interview with Neil Mitchell, 3AW

Transcript
19 Feb 2018
Prime Minister
Barnaby Joyce; George Christensen; economic growth; jobs; wages; US visit; Australia-US relations; AirBnB
E&OE

NEIL MITCHELL:

In the studio with us, first us then Donald Trump, the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning. So is Donald Trump coming on your show after me is he?

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well if you can organize it, I’d be happy.

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh sorry, okay. So I’m seeing you first and then later in the week, Donald Trump that’s right.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well it’s only appropriate yeah.

PRIME MINISTER:

That’s right, good.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Now obviously the Barnaby Joyce situation, do you really expect us to believe you went from a public slanging match on Friday, to good mates on Saturday?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the fact is we have a frank, forthright relationship. We work together, he’s the leader the National Party and I’m the leader of the Liberal Party. We’re in Coalition and we work together.

NEIL MITCHELL:

There must still be tensions though. He’s called you inept, what’s your definition of the word inept?

PRIME MINISTER:

Neil, it’s clearly a very stressful time for him. Obviously it’s an emotional time, I’m not going to get worked up about reactions. But it was very important for me on Thursday to speak from the heart, to speak frankly about what had happened and most importantly, to demonstrate to Australians that I was going to do everything I can to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So no tensions between the two of you?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think we can say that this particular issue, as far as us personally, we've put whatever tensions there were behind us. We have to be very professional about the relationship and get on with it. There is not an issue or conflict between the Liberal Party and the National Party, I give you my assurance about that.

NEIL MITCHELL:

There was on Friday, you’ve to say that.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I think –

NEIL MITCHELL:

Labor is running ads already on it.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I think the real issue for Labor and the real issue is one of values. Australians know what my values are. I do not believe - in fact, I have made it very clear, it’s more than a belief - I have made it clear that while I'm Prime Minister, ministers must not have sexual relations with their staff.

Bill Shorten hasn't endorsed that. So, what is Bill Shorten saying? Is he saying that he wants to be Prime Minister so ministers can have sexual relations with their staff? Where does he stand on this?

NEIL MITCHELL:

You are questioning his morality?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I'm questioning whether he wants to support this particular rule. That is the question for him. Now, I think it is very clear that there has been a degree of greyness, moral ambiguity about issues like this, where people have felt - many people have felt, others have had different views - that these are private matters. My point simply is, from 15th February, because of the change I've made to the Ministerial Code of Conduct, ministers must not have sexual relations with their staff full stop. So there's no longer any ambiguity, any greyness. It's not private, right? If you do that, then you should offer your resignation.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So would you sack somebody for doing it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes certainly. Well, I would expect them to resign, I wouldn't expect I’d need to sack them.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Are you saying it's happening on the Labor side?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I'm not. Are you?

NEIL MITCHELL:

I don't know. Probably. It probably is. It's been happening in Canberra since day 1, hasn't it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, you were there, Billy McMahon's time, was it happening then?

NEIL MITCHELL:

Yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, did you think it was a good idea then?

NEIL MITCHELL:

I must admit it didn't cross my mind. I was a young unmarried man

[Laughter]

PRIME MINISTER:

See this is my point. For a long time I think people felt, many people felt, it was a private matter. There was a degree of ambiguity about it. Now, I'm not casting judgement on the days of Billy McMahon or previous Prime Ministers or eras. I'm simply making the point that from now on, there is no longer any ambiguity and Australians know what my standard is.

And I think they will want to know - given Bill Shorten wants to be Prime Minister - what his standard would be. Now, so far he has indicated he doesn't support the change, which surprises me. I thought he would say: "Yes, I agree. Long overdue, about time." But apparently not.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Is Barnaby Joyce safe as leader?

PRIME MINISTER:

What do you mean? Are you asking me whether he commands the support of the majority of members of the National Party?

NEIL MITCHELL:

Yep.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I have no, I don't know. He says he does and others have said he does, but these are all matters in the gift of the National Party room. A party room, I might add, which I have never sought to influence in any way.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So you have absolutely no involvement in who is going to be your Deputy?

PRIME MINISTER:

In a Coalition, that's right, well, that's right. The National Party chooses it’s leader, the Liberal Party chooses it’s leader.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Can you see any circumstance in this current mess that would cause him to step down?

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm not going to speculate on that. A person's leadership of a political party is really determined, comes to an end - leaving aside death or misadventure - it comes to an end in two ways; either the person resigns or their Party Room decides they want someone else to be the leader.

NEIL MITCHELL:

The speculation continues that he is insecure in the job. Does that unsettle the government?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, those are questions for commentators to answer, not for me.

NEIL MITCHELL:

They’re for leaders as well.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no –

NEIL MITCHELL:

If your Government is rattled or unsettled by this, you need to sort it out.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the leadership of the National Party can only be dealt with by the National Party. As far as I'm concerned, I am focused on delivering on the strong economic growth, the jobs; 403,000 jobs last year, 100,000 of them in Victoria, 60 per cent of them women, 75 per cent of them full-time. We have seen strong economic growth, big investments in infrastructure.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Yes, I know.

PRIME MINISTER:

My job is to get on with growing the economy, creating more opportunity, building roads, railways and all of that.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I’d like to get on to that in a moment, but Julie Bishop has said today it's all been “distracting”. You’d have to agree this has harmed the Government? I mean Bill Shorten was dropping back a bit, you were seen to be on a run: All those commentators said: “Malcolm is on the way back,” now you’ve gone backwards. Thank you Barnaby?

PRIME MINISTER:

Are you thanking Barnaby?

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well, isn't that the reason?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, but are you thanking Barnaby?

NEIL MITCHELL:

No, I’m asking you. That was a rhetorical question.

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, a rhetorical question.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Do you blame Barnaby Joyce for the fact that the Government has taken a step backwards?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, Neil, I know your goal - I make no criticism of you for that - is for me to create some additional tension or new tension or new issue between me and Barnaby. Now, we've had some words. I made some very strong comments on Thursday. I stand by all of them. They needed to be made. They did. Barnaby reacted to them and now we move on and get on with good government. I don't want to be adding to them.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But you’d agree, as Julie Bishop's indicated, you’d agree the Government's been harmed in the past few weeks?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, clearly, clearly she's right, it’s distracting and it’s unhelpful, but nobody said that politics, let alone being Prime Minister, is a particularly easy job. It wouldn't be very interesting if it was.

NEIL MITCHELL:

One of the questions – and I've only got a couple more questions on this – but it is being raised that you did –

PRIME MINISTER:

[Laughter]

We’ve gone on for about 15 minutes, you’re giving it a good thrash, yeah.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well it isn't just about sex, it’s about style of government, it’s about leadership.

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, come on Neil, that’s why you want to talk about it. Isn't it? No, go on please.

NEIL MITCHELL:

When did you first hear about his personal difficulties?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Barnaby at no time said to me that he was in a sexual relationship with this woman, with this Vikki Campion. He never made that admission, I suppose, to me. Rumours, I cannot recall when I first heard a rumour about it. But probably, you know, about the same time, possibly later than others.

Parliament House, as you would also know - I imagine this was also the true in Billy McMahon's time - is full of rumours. But ultimately, ministers have the obligation to comply with the Ministerial Code of Conduct.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So you didn't consider ask him?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m not going to go into the private discussions I have had with him, other than to say that at no stage did he say to me that he was having a sexual relation with this lady.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I understand you won't go into private discussions, I’m not asking for detail of them. But whether you raised it with him or whether this outrage is now because it is public?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the circumstances, in my view - I have always taken this view about relations of this kind by ministers -  but the fact is.

NEIL MITCHELL:

You’ve know about it for months and you’ve gotten angry because it became it all became public.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no. I want to be very clear about this, Neil. These relationships, in my view, I’ve always felt they were inappropriate. I know many have thought they are entirely private matters and you can understand why relationships like that would be better off coming to an end privately. But –

NEIL MITCHELL:

But that doesn't answer this inconsistency. You knew about it for some time before addressing it?

PRIME MINISTER:

No. That's an assumption. You're saying that I knew about it, it was not ever confirmed to me by Barnaby Joyce and the only way you can know, know that two people are in a sexual relationship frankly, is if one or both of them confirm it. There are many, many rumours, there are many things that people claim to know -

NEIL MITCHELL:

But you can ask? You can ask?

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm not going to go into the private discussions about it, but –

NEIL MITCHELL:

But Prime Minister, if you asked and you were misled, that's very important.

PRIME MINISTER:

It is very important that –

NEIL MITCHELL:

Were you asked and misled? Were you misled?

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm in the going to go into those discussions. It’s very important, Neil, that –

NEIL MITCHELL:

Will you answer whether you were misled by your Deputy?

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm not going to go into those discussions Neil, because it is very important that I am able to have confidential discussions with ministers.

NEIL MITCHELL:

That's true.

PRIME MINISTER:

Often about sensitive matters, but I want to be clear that at no time - I have said this three or four times already and I’ve said it in the past and Barnaby Joyce has confirmed it - at no time did he say to me he was having an affair with the woman in question. Look, he took the view that it was entirely a private matter.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Fair enough. Well, do you trust him?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, I do trust him. Yes, I do, of course.

NEIL MITCHELL:

And finally on this, have you spoken to his wife Natalie Joyce?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I have not spoken to her about this, no.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Are you going to?

PRIME MINISTER:

No. I know Lucy has contacted her but I think it’s not something I would directly contact Natalie. I mean I know Natalie obviously, but I think that’s, Luce has reached out, as have a lot of people.

NEIL MITCHELL:

It’s private between them?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, these are very delicate and difficult matters and you have to conduct yourself in a way that tries to minimise or mitigate the pain that is already created.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay George Christensen and his gun photograph, aimed at the Greens. Pretty stupid don’t you think? “Do you feel lucky Green punks”?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it was very inappropriate and he took it down after he was spoken to about it. There’s been a referral to the Australian Federal Police. I checked on the way in and I gather they are still evaluating the referral so it’s probably better -

NEIL MITCHELL:

Is that a waste of police time? I mean it was a bad joke, shocking joke, it’s wrong, he shouldn’t have done it. But it’s not a police - he’s not seriously suggesting to go out and shoot Greens is he?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well again I don’t want to comment, you wouldn’t expect me to get into a commentary on something that is already looked at by the police. It was clearly inappropriate. I think we can agree on that and he’s taken it down, but I’ll let the police complete their evaluation.

NEIL MITCHELL:

You told me about a year ago wages had stagnated and we’d have to start to catch up. I notice the pollies have had a pay rise since then, what hope for the average person?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think prospects are good, because you’re seeing stronger economic growth. You’re seeing more demand for labour and as I’ve said many times, the laws of supply and demand have not been suspended. You’re already seeing areas of skill shortages and labour shortages and that obviously puts pressure on wages. Employers have to pay more to get the employees they want, so I think as long as we can maintain strong economic growth, strong jobs growth, we’ll start to see stronger growth in wages.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Do you accept as the Reserve Bank Governor said, 3.5 per cent wouldn’t be inflationary, that 3.5 per cent increase in wages?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I don’t recall him pointing to that figure. The Reserve Bank’s goal is to maintain inflation overall within the band of 2-3 per cent. We’d like to see wages moving faster than inflation, but of course inflation has been very low. At the moment, wages are increasing overall on average, just a little bit above inflation and we’d all like to see them growing faster.

And I think they will, given the strong economic growth and demand for labour.

NEIL MITCHELL:

A question from the audience: “Does Barnaby Joyce have an issue to answer on the issue of spending public money on accommodation and travel?”

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, ministers have to account for their spending of public money and in every respect, Barnaby Joyce has given me an absolutely unequivocally assurance that he has complied with all of the requirements of the ministerial code and indeed the rules about entitlements and travel and documented his returns and reports on that scrupulously. So, if anyone believes he has not done that, then they’re entitled to say so and ask him to be accountable for it. Yes, but he’s accountable for it.

NEIL MITCHELL:

When you see Donald Trump this week will you be raising the asylum seeker resettlement? I think it was 1200 initially they’ve taken about 130? Will you be raising that with him?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Neil it will depend on the discussion, but there’s really no need to. Donald Trump has committed to honouring the agreement I entered into with President Obama. The processing by the Department of Homeland Security is progressing. I have every expectation that they will take the 1250 - of course, they have got to be people that pass their security tests - but the agreement is that they will take up to 1250. But as you can see, people are getting off Manus and Nauru and it’s a very good reminder to your listeners, that it was the Labour Party, Kevin Rudd, who put those people on Manus and Nauru because they lost control of our borders. We have stopped the boats, kept our borders secure, put the people smugglers out of business and we are now moving these people off Manus and Nauru.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Sounds like a Tony Abbott slogan that one, very similar to his. Anyway, I read today, you don’t appreciate that.

PRIME MINISTER:

No fine, I’m not sure what you’re talking about.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well, he got rolled.

PRIME MINISTER:

I didn’t want to interrupt you.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I read today that the US bases are building up in this country. Have they got an open cheque there, or restriction? More Marines coming, more aircraft coming to Australian bases.

PRIME MINISTER:

We have a very strong, the strongest possible Alliance with the US. Our forces work together. We welcome more rotations of US Marines and other units into Australia and vice versa.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So that’s not on the agenda.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well our two defence forces work very, very closely. Of course security is on the agenda. It’s on the agenda every time I talk to Donald Trump.

Last time we met in Manila we talked about regional security. We talked about North Korea, at considerable length.

So keeping Australians and Americans safe is the first priority of an Australian Prime Minister and a US President.

NEIL MITCHELL:

AirBnB is hitting a billion dollars in this country. Now, you’re a former businessman and a lawyer. Is AirBnB a tax rort, do you think?

PRIME MINISTER:

Sorry you said what is a billion dollars?

NEIL MITCHELL:

AirBnB turnover.

PRIME MINISTER:

Why is it a tax rort?

NEIL MITCHELL:

Because, are they paying capital gains tax on the property that they are using to rent out? Are they paying income tax on the money they’re making through AirBnB?

PRIME MINISTER:

Who is they? These are the people who are renting out their rooms?

NEIL MITCHELL:

Yeah, yeah.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Australians who rent out a room - whether to a lodger, whether it is on AirBnB or someone they meet somewhere in the street, you know, who is looking for some space - they have to comply with Australian taxation law, like everyone else. Tax, we’d all like to see lower taxes and that’s part of our agenda. That’s one of the reasons we’re seeing the high jobs growth, because we’ve reduced taxes for small and medium businesses. But taxation is compulsory, we do not believe in a self-help approach to tax reform, Neil.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Thank you very much for coming in. I know you’re a green tea drinker but have you tried kombucha?

PRIME MINISTER:

No. No, Lucy is quite keen on it, but I’m not, I haven’t tried it yet. Is it good?

NEIL MITCHELL:

I dunno, it’s either a miracle or a con, I don’t know which.

PRIME MINISTER:

Is this why you’re looking so amazingly youthful?

NEIL MITCHELL:

[Laughter]

Not today. Thank you very much. Thanks for coming in Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

[ENDS]