Radio interview with Neil Mitchell, 3AW

Transcript
12 Apr 2018
Prime Minister
Melbourne Airport Rail; Newspoll; China; Energy; NDIS; Border Protection; NBN
E&OE
Infrastructure and Industry

NEIL MITCHELL:

The Prime Minister is with me in the studio, Mr Turnbull good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning Neil

NEIL MITCHELL:

Now the $5 billion for the rail link, is that a loan or a grant?

PRIME MINISTER:

Its equity, it’s an investment. So what...

NEIL MITCHELL:

So we don’t have to pay it back?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, the proposal is, what we're putting to the State Government is, that we will own and build the rail link together as partners. So we would invest up to $5 billion for a 50 per cent share. We should approach this in as innovative way as we can and I think there's going to be plenty of opportunity for private sector participation. As you know, there are a variety of routes. We’re just looking at the Herald Sun there and the four routes that have been widely canvassed. I have no doubt there are variations on those.

The important thing is to get on with it. $5 billion is the type of money and the type of leadership that we need to get this project started.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So how to work? $5 billion from you, $5 billion from the state and the rest private partnership?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, yes, indeed that's certainly feasible. Look, this is the new approach I'm taking to Federal Government investment in urban infrastructure. Wherever we can, we want to work as partners. Wherever we can, we want to be investors and co-owners. This type of partnership arrangement is the one we're taking, for example, with the North-South Link to the Western Sydney airport.

NEIL MITCHELL:

2020 is not on though is it? I mean you need an environmental impact study, a business plan -

PRIME MINISTER:

What, having it built by 2020?

NEIL MITCHELL:

No, no, started by 2020, that's not on, is it?

PRIME MINISTER:

I wouldn't say it's not on. I think that would be ambitious. But you should be able to get it started not long after that.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Will it affect funding to Victoria for any other things? Or is this above and beyond everything else we get?

PRIME MINISTER:

This is part of our overall commitment. Including this, we’ve got $17.5 billion committed to infrastructure in Victoria.

NEIL MITCHELL:

That's my point, is this $5 billion coming off somewhere else or not?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we don't actually look at it that way Neil. This is a massive investment and we invest where there is need. We are investing a lot of money into Victorian infrastructure as you know, I said $17.5 billion in total. But you can think of the half of billion dollars that's going into the Monash Freeway, federal money, the $1.4 billion that's going into regional rail.

But this is a real game-changer and this has got the potential to do a lot more than simply get people to and from the airport sooner, get them home sooner and safer. This has got the potential to add liveability and amenity to a communities between the city and the airport.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Do you have a preferred route?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I don't. I think that's something that's got to be looked at very carefully. I think you've got to also be able to get expressions of interest from landowners, from local authorities from the private sector to see what they could contribute and work as partners as well.

So this is this is a very big deal. It's been in the “too hard basket” for far too long.

It was first raised you know in the mid 1960s by Henry Bolte. So let's get on and build it.

NEIL MITCHELL:

If you can't reach agreement the state government, is it off?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I have not I'm not going to speculate on that. I don't think there's any doubt that we'll be able to reach agreement –

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well you might have some disagreement over the route.

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm sure we'll reach agreement. I mean Neil, this sort of defeatism and negativity is what has stopped projects like this getting ahead –

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well yeah, but there’s been a bit of politics played about it, all these projects over the years.

PRIME MINISTER:

Neil, there's no politics here. I’m putting $5 billion the table. I want to get on and work with the Victorian Government and build it.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay, that's the closest we've ever been to actually -

PRIME MINISTER:

I believe so. I believe it’s the first time any leader has actually put a lot of money on the table to do it.

NEIL MITCHELL:

A couple of other things if I may, while you’re here. Are you working to a Christmas deadline after what Barnaby Joyce said?

PRIME MINISTER:

No.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well, the 30 Newspolls have been and gone –

PRIME MINISTER:

If you’re asking me when the next election will be, it’ll be in the first half of next year, in accordance with the Constitution.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well, but, both him and Tony Abbott have suggested that if things haven’t looked up by Christmas, there could be more trouble.

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, everyone's entitled to be a commentator if they wish. I’m the Prime Minister, my job is to get on and make decisions and build infrastructure, get on and - for example today - get on and build a rail line from Melbourne to the airport.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay. Just on something else, is it correct that some ministers, because of the tension with China, have been refused visas to China?

PRIME MINISTER:

I wouldn't go that far. I would say that there's obviously been, there’s clearly been some tension in the relationship following the introduction of our legislation about foreign interference. But I'm very confident that any misunderstandings –

NEIL MITCHELL:

Have visas been declined?

PRIME MINISTER:

Will be resolved. I wouldn’t say they’ve been declined Neil. I have to be careful and precise about that. I want to say we have a very good relationship with China. I regularly correspond with Chinese leaders, both the Premier Li Keqiang and the President Xi Jinping -

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well, let me –

PRIME MINISTER:

But the relationship is very deep and extensive, but from time to time there are differences of perception.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But let me put that another way; are there ministers trying to get into China who have got some delays on their visas? Because that’s the way they tend to do it. I've suffered it myself. Is there a problem with any ministers in our government getting visas to go to China?

PRIME MINISTER:

I've seen, I've seen the reports and all I would say is that there clearly has been some misunderstandings and mischaracterizations of our foreign interference legislation in some of the Chinese media.

I just want to say again that we have a very strong and respectful relationship with China. Like every nation, like every nation, we do everything we can to ensure that our politics, that any foreign influence in our politics is open and declared.

We don't accept foreign interference in our political or governmental processes. That is not directed at any one at any one nation. Indeed the most obvious example around the world of course, is Russia at the moment.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Prime Minister I understand all that. But if we have got to a stage where there is a problem with ministers in the Australian Government getting into China, because of visa difficulties, it is a significant step. Are you prepared to answer whether that’s happened? 

PRIME MINISTER:

Neil, I want to be precise about this. I would say that there has been, there is certainly some tension. There has been a degree of tension in the relationship, that has arisen because of criticism in China of our foreign interference laws. But it is very important that the Australian Government ensures that only Australians are influencing our political processes and where foreigners seek to influence, they do so openly and transparently.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Another problem. Tony Abbott says you're being “tricky” on immigration, playing like a barrister. Now Peter Dutton says he did discuss with ministers the possibility of cutting immigration by 20,000.

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm not sure that he said that. 

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well has it been discussed by ministers?

PRIME MINISTER:

Let me be very clear; firstly what was initially said in the media - I think in The Australian

NEIL MITCHELL:

Was that it was Cabinet, yeah.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, that there had been a submission brought to Cabinet by Peter Dutton to reduce the ceiling on permanent migration. It is a ceiling, it's not a target. In fact last year, we were about 10,000 less than that.

But to reduce that ceiling and that he had been rolled by me and Scott Morrison.

That is untrue.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay, but was it discussed between ministers?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, if you’re asking – I’m not going to

NEIL MITCHELL:

Were you involved?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, hang on Neil, just let me answer the question. If you're asking me: “Do ministers discuss migration and migration levels and the composition of the migration program?” Well of course we do. Of course we do, it would be strange if we didn’t.

I might say that the permanent migration ceiling - which has been set at 190,000 for a long time and which we were well below last year and we expect to be below this year - that is reviewed every year, every single year.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I’ll put it another way. Is a time for a pause while we sort out how big we want to be?

PRIME MINISTER:

Okay, let’s have a talk about migration. The thing that is driving the increase in foreigners in Australia, right, which is often included in this term “net overseas migration” is foreign students - who are not part of the permanent migration system - and visitors, tourists and business visitors. 

There are well over 200,000 more foreign students in Australia today, than there were a few years ago. That is the single biggest driving factor.

So if you feel there are more foreigners on the tram and you can't get a seat on the tram, that is because of that, if that's your perception. They are most likely to be students or visitors.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well let’s look at it a different way.  How big should Australia be? Have we got an idea anywhere in mind, in government, this optimum size and that's what we aim for and we don't we don't allow it to get any bigger than that?

PRIME MINISTER:

The migration program, you’ve got to, you know, slice it up into different components. We have a lot more tourists coming into Australia. I think we're all in favour of tourism, okay?

NEIL MITCHELL:

Yeah, I’m talking about permanent population. How big do we want to be?

Peter Costello told us to breed.

[Laughter]

We wanted immigration, all that's changed. How big does Australia want to be? What’s the figure?

PRIME MINISTER:

The size of Australia, the size of our population should be to that level that enables all of us to have a better and better standard of living  -

NEIL MITCHELL:

And what is that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it depends entirely on the infrastructure. I mean –

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well yeah but we have to plan surely?

PRIME MINISTER:

Neil, that’s what we’re doing!.

NEIL MITCHELL:

What’s the figure?

PRIME MINISTER:

Neil, it’s not a particular figure. The question is, if have more people in a particular are, right,  and you do what governments all too often do and fail to put in the transport and the amenities, then there will be congestion and people will be disappointed and unhappy.

If however you plan ahead - which is what I am doing and this is what the Federal Government is doing in a way that no previous prime minister has done, getting involved planning ahead - then you would because you have the infrastructure, you can have more people. You can have greater density and you bring with it greater liveability and amenity.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay, are you looking at exporting hydrogen from the La Trobe Valley? Is that right?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes absolutely. I’m going out there today to make an announcement today about a great project which is going to extract hydrogen from brown coal and export it to Japan.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Will it go through Hastings?

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm not sure of the precise supply chain, as to where it's going to be exported from, but it will certainly be going to Japan.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay. The Medicare Levy, the AMA says it should go up to cover the NDIS. Will it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that depends on the Senate Neil. We're seeking to persuade them to support it, to provide full funding for the NDIS.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Are you concerned we're looking at a possible increase or a new threat from unauthorised boat landings?

PRIME MINISTER:

We are absolutely vigilant in terms of border security. You're referring to a particular people smuggling operation or what is it?

NEIL MITCHELL:

Rohingya

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, clearly the Rohingya crisis has displaced well over 700,000 people and there is a potential for some of those to seek to come to Australia by boat. But it is part of our job  - and we've been successful at that - at ensuring that people who seek to come to Australia with a people smuggler do not get here. That is our –

NEIL MITCHELL:

Are we facing, a new, sorry not a ‘threat’, that’s too strong, but –

PRIME MINISTER:

A new risk.

NEIL MITCHELL:

A new risk from Rohingya.

PRIME MINISTER:

Sure, well the answer is yes. But we face the risk from lots of other places as well, from Sri Lanka, from the subcontinent, from Indonesia and Malaysia. You cannot assume that just because we have been successful at stopping the boats now for the best part of, more than three years, you cannot assume that the risk has gone away. The people smugglers are constantly looking for a way to get back into business.

My commitment and the Government's commitment is to do everything we can to keep them out of business.

That's why there are no drownings at sea we're not seeing the unauthorised arrivals and we don't have kids in detention here.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Are those people, the Rohingya, a possibly security risk? The Malaysian PM said they could be recruited by ISIS.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well ISIS recruits people everywhere, they recruit people in Australia. But the bottom line is we will not allow the people smugglers to get back into business. We do everything we can, we have extensive intelligence, we have extensive resources to ensure that we can frustrate their attempts to get back into business.

But Australians should not imagine that just because there hasn't been any unauthorised arrivals, people smuggling operation successful, for quite a long time they should not assume that the threat has gone away. It hasn't. It is it is as present now as it ever has been.

We must not be complacent, any of us.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I had Andy Penn, the head of Telstra in the studio yesterday. He says the NBN model is about to force up prices. The price of the wholesale price through NBN has doubled and this is going to be, has been absorbed by the Telcos and will now be passed on to customers. Can’t you look at cutting the wholesale price?

PRIME MINISTER

The NBN has just done that. What they’ve done is increased the amount of bandwidth that's available at the same price, so that people can now get a 50 megabit per second connection for the cost of a –

NEIL MITCHELL:

Can the wholesale price be cut?

PRIME MINISTER

It effectively already has been -

NEIL MITCHELL:

That’s not his view, he says it’s going to be passed on and our prices are going up.

PRIME MINISTER

Well Telstra, of course they pass on all their costs.

NEIL MITCHELL:

He says they’ve been absorbing it.

PRIME MINISTER

Okay, alright, sure. Good, next.

NEIL MITCHELL:

What about the broader point, the Ombudsman tells us we've got 50 percent of Australians unhappy with their service, 60 percent Australian business. A lot of this has to do with NBN. You said you’ll get it right. It’s not right yet, is it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I was talking to Rod Simms the other day and what he said to me was precisely what he said publicly; the ACCC – I know Rod comes in here regularly - they have got probes in a number of houses to assess what sort of performance people are actually getting on the NBN. It has considerably improved because the NBN has made available, at the same cost, more bandwidth. That means more people are getting the speeds that they are paying for  -

NEIL MITCHELL:

But it's not just an NBN problem when half the people in the country, according the Ombudsman have had significant problems with the telecommunications. It’s Third World like. It’s not good enough is it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh look, I think you’re –

NEIL MITCHELL:

Is it acceptable?

PRIME MINISTER:

This is not the third world, Neil.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Is it acceptable that half the people in the country have had significant problems with their telecommunications?

PRIME MINISTER:

Neil, clearly we want everyone to have a very good telecommunications. I encourage you to get the NBN here and go through the detail. But satisfaction levels are improving and the good thing - the thing that I'm particularly pleased about - is that we're getting an improved performance appraisal from the ACCC. They're impartial.

NEIL MITCHELL:

What will we have to sell NBN for to break even?  $50 billion?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well if it costs 50 billion, then I guess that would break even  -

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well do you accept that 5G, 5G is undermining the business model?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, 5G isn’t available yet –

NEIL MITCHELL:

No, but it will be soon, and again, Andy Penn says it is effectively undermining the business model, between 10 and 40 percent of NBN business goes to 5G. Which means you can't sell it for $50 billion, but is it possible –

PRIME MINISTER:

I’ve never said you can.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Is it possible –

PRIME MINISTER:

Let’s just be very clear about this,  I said when I became Communications Minister back in 2013, I said the Labor Party had wasted $20 billion on the NBN, which I don’t think you can recover.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So you think we’re going to drop at least 20 billion?

PRIME MINISTER:

No I'm not saying that I. Look, you're asking me what will the NBN be worth if it is sold in five or six years time. I think, I can't forecast that. But is there a threat from wireless services including 5G? Yes there is at the margin, but the amount of bandwidth that people are using, principally for video streaming, is so enormous and growing so fast, I think the ability of wireless networks to take over is probably overstated. But time will tell.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Thank you so much for coming in.

You don’t want to recite the words to ‘You’re the Voice’ do you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there’s a good line in there for the Treasurer, time to, what was it, time to, there’s a bit about balancing the books.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Not the bit about looking down the barrel of a gun?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no, sons and daughters –

NEIL MITCHELL:

Never mind, thank you so much for coming in.

[Laughter]

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no, there is a good line in there for the Treasurer, I’ve just lost it.

NEIL MITCHELL:

We’ll get it later. Prime Minister, thank you.