Radio interview with Peter Bell and Paula Kruger ABC Radio Perth

Transcript
09 Aug 2018
Prime Minister
WA by-elections; GST; Political fundraising; Immigration; Remote housing; Live sheep exports; Barnaby Joyce
E&OE

PETER BELL:

Prime Minister, good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah, great to be with you.

PETER BELL:

And you. We’ll start with the fact that your party didn’t run any candidates in the recent by-elections here. Some may have felt insulted, people who wanted to vote Liberal. Have you now lost some of those people, perhaps, for the next federal election?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, they were two safe Labor seats and by-elections invariably swing against the government of the day. Although I have to say in the seat of Braddon in Tasmania, there was virtually no swing at all against us. But the state division decided to concentrate on the state by-election in Darling Range, which they did and of course they won with a swing to the Liberal Party of over 9 per cent.

PETER BELL:

Perth was on a margin of around 3 per cent and there is a thought with the GST announcement that you'd recently made that you would have been in with a shot there?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, this was a decision taken by the WA division and there will be a general election - as you foreshadowed,  thanks for the, sort of, promotion - there will be a general election in the first half of next year. So we don't have long to wait for everybody to have a chance to vote in every electorate in the country.

PAULA KRUGER:

Prime Minister, are you concerned about your popularity here in WA?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I'm concerned about delivering for the people of Western Australia and we have of course, with record funding for infrastructure, for schools, for hospitals and of course, a fair deal on the GST.

What we've delivered is a fair deal for WA on the GST, but one in which every state and territory is better off. And we were able to do that by putting more money, federal money, into the GST pool.

We're able to do that Paula, because of the strong economy that we have delivered, which is delivering higher revenues to Government as a consequence of more jobs.

And do you know, right now, the lowest percentage of people of working age on welfare in 25 years. That's what a strong economy delivers.

PAULA KRUGER:

Prime Minister, wouldn't you take advantage though of that GST solution and capitalise on it in a by-election? You know, these by-elections didn't turn out so well for you, instead it invigorated Bill Shorten?

PRIME MINISTER:

Paula look, I know we haven't got a huge amount of time this morning. I know people in Perth well enough to know that they're interested in what the Government is doing for them, not whether we should or should not have run a candidate in a by-election a couple of weeks back.

The reality is we have delivered a fair deal for Western Australia on the GST. We're putting $2.8 billion into infrastructure in Perth, in WA I should say, overall, but much of it in Perth, naturally, including record funding into Metronet.

I’m working very closely with the State Government on ensuring that we get the funding into the infrastructure, the roads and the rail, that a growing metropolis needs. So we're very committed to delivering those better outcomes for Western Australians.

PETER BELL:

Prime Minister, when is that GST money going to land in the bank account of the WA Government?

PRIME MINISTER:

It will start this coming financial year, of course. We have topped up the WA GST receipts over the last few years with additional money. But in 2019/20 there will be $814 million of top-up, $585 million in 2020/21. And then from the following year, we go to a 70 per cent floor and WA will be getting an additional $568 million.

Overall, between 2019/20 and 2026/27, Western Australia will receive an additional $4.7 billion.

PAULA KRUGER:

So just to clarify, Prime Minister, can the WA Government bank on that money for their midyear review in November?

PRIME MINISTER:

Sure, they absolutely can bank on it. This is a commitment that we've made. Clearly they'll have their own calculations about, you know, the GST share, but the important point is we've put in the floor.

You see the problem. The GST formula, for all your listeners' benefit, was designed as part of a long-standing principle in our Federation of what's called ‘horizontal fiscal equalisation’, which means that the wealthier states - I know, you can almost doze off - you can hear people. Don't turn off the radio, this is important!

[Laughter]

But it's designed to ensure that states with weaker revenue bases are still able to provide comparable services in health and schools and infrastructure and so forth. Western Australia was a beneficiary of that for many years, in fact, for a very long time.

PAULA KRUGER:

Yep.

PRIME MINISTER:

Now, what happened was that the formula had never been, never contemplated the huge increase in state revenues and then decrease from the big once-in-a-generation mining boom. So, that's where you got to the point where you had around, the formula saying, you get 30 cents in the dollar.

That's clearly indefensible.

So what we've done is worked out a way that everyone is better off, but we have, first, a 70 per cent floor, then a 75 per cent floor. That means no state will ever get less than 75 cents in a dollar. And I think that passes the pub test in Bunbury, in Burnie and in Bundaberg.

PETER BELL:

Thank you Prime Minister. Now I have in my hand an invitation to a special private dinner to support WA marginal seats. It’s tomorrow night I understand, around $2,000 a head.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good, are you coming?

PETER BELL:

Maybe not Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

There you go, maybe not.

PETER BELL:

How worried are you about losing ministers like Christian Porter, Ken Wyatt and Michael Keenan?

PRIME MINISTER:

They're all doing a fantastic job and we will be working very hard to ensure that the people of Western Australia have the confidence in us to return all of our members and candidates at the next election.

PAULA KRUGER:

Prime Minister, is this dinner, is this because you're short on money? Or is it because the threat is pretty big that you're facing in those marginal seats?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, political parties have to fundraise. I mean we don’t have the, we are massively outspent by Labor, Paula. It's really important to recognise that the Labor Party is so much better off than us financially. I mean, you would find, for example –

PAULA KRUGER:

Okay but we're talking about what the Liberal Party is doing here.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes I know, Paula, but it's a competitive business, politics. And if the Labor Party is spending three times more than we can on television, that gives them a big advantage. They do that because of the money they get from militant unions, in particular the CFMEU.

So we have to raise as much money as we can to remain competitive.

PETER BELL:

Prime Minister, Senator Dean Smith has been calling for a Senate inquiry into population policy. We received a text message from one of our listeners earlier, Greg.

Greg actually says: "Do you have any plans to reduce immigration numbers?" Greg says the majority of Australians are in favour of a reduction in immigration and it would be a great opportunity for a leader to stand up to big business and other things.

What is your position there? In particular, your position on Dean Smith saying; "Failing to listen to electors on this will seal our electoral fate"?

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm looking forward to discussing this with Dean but we are constantly reviewing our immigration policy.

Let's get this straight, our immigration arrangements are the envy of the world. We control our borders.

The Labor Party when they were in government, outsourced our border policy to people smugglers and you had 50,000 unauthorised arrivals. You had 1,200 deaths at sea, at least. We control our borders. So, nobody comes to Australia unless the Australian Government approves them coming here. That's as it should be.

Now, in terms of our migration program, it is a skills-based migration program and we do everything we can to ensure the people who come here have the skills that will add to our economy. We run the migration program solely and wholly in our national interest and nobody else's.

PETER BELL:

So is that a no to the Senate inquiry?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I'm looking forward to discussing it with Dean Smith, but I can assure you that we are constantly focused on improving and optimising our immigration policies, in line with what is in the best interests of Australia and our economy and our economic growth.

Because, you see, all of the things we're talking about - the extra money for the GST, the extra money on Metronet, the massive increase in spending on public hospitals - all of those things are only made possible by a stronger economy. And that is what we have delivered. By reducing business taxes, by reducing personal income taxes we're delivering that economic growth, that record jobs growth, that is enabling all these essential services to be funded.

PETER BELL:

I think Paula is going to ask you about some extra money for remote housing in WA, Prime Minister?

PAULA KRUGER:

Yes, on that issue of remote housing for WA, like, the Federal Government, the previous deal with the Federal Government, that ran out more than a month ago. So that deal gave more than a billion dollars over 10 years. We're told the latest offer from Nigel Scullion's office is only $90 million over three years. Now, that's a big shortfall that WA taxpayers are going to have to pick up?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Paula, just to be clear about this, housing is a core state responsibility –

PAULA KRUGER:

Yes, but –

PRIME MINISTER:

Okay, no, no -   

PAULA KRUGER:

This has been an arrangement that the Federal Government -

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah, there was a -

PAULA KRUGER:

Has supported for over -

PRIME MINISTER:

There has been a program. But Western Australia –

PAULA KRUGER:

For 40 or 50 years was that program, so –

PRIME MINISTER:

Okay –

PAULA KRUGER:

It was a long one, yeah. So look, are there discussions going on right now, to sort this out?  Because, you know, it was over a month ago that it expired, Prime Minister? Do you need to step in here? I think that's what the State Government is asking for.

PRIME MINISTER:

Okay, can I answer now?

HOST:

Yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

Great, okay the answer is yes, negotiations are underway. The discussions are going on, we've recently paid the Western Australian Government $130 million for completed and further works in remote housing. That funding will continue to deliver new builds and refurbishment in remote Western Australia, through to December 2019, with further construction and associated training and employment continuing to June 2021.

Now, what we're waiting on, is the WA Labor Government to respond and say how much it will invest, specifically, in remote housing.

So, the Western Australian Government has got plenty of money to spend on housing. It is a core state responsibility, you know. We just talked about an extra $4.7 billion going into the Western Australian Government's coffers through a fair deal on the GST. Housing is a core state responsibility, so the question really is, how much is the state Labor Government going to step up to spend on remote housing?

PETER BELL:

Our guest this morning is the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull. We know the drought is a huge issue for farmers in the eastern states right now.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, I wish we could have had the front page of The West Australian –

PETER BELL:

In the east coast as well.

[Laughter]

PRIME MINISTER:

On the Daily Telegraph or The Courier-Mail, yeah.

PETER BELL:

A lot of farmers here are still worried about the viability of the live export trade. There are thousands of sheep stuck in a feedlot in Baldivis because no one else will buy them and export them. The changes announced by your minister, have they killed off this industry?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, they're ensuring that the industry will be conducted in accordance with the appropriate, humane treatment of animals that are being transported.

In terms of the question about the sheep awaiting export following the suspension of the export licence at Emanuel Exports, that's a commercial matter for the company concerned. The exporters are responsible for ensuring they meet the animal welfare requirements under Commonwealth and state law. It's my understanding the sheep are currently, right now, in a good condition in a registered feedlot.

PAULA KRUGER:

But Prime Minister, the changes that were made to the industry have created, the changes you made to this industry, have created this environment, haven't they?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well what we're doing is ensuring that the law is complied with and animals are treated humanely. That's our commitment.

But what the Labor Party wants to do, is actually ban the industry completely. Now, that would put, that would be a shocking, you know, economic blow to West Australian farmers particularly.

Well, you understand this. I mean look, all of your listeners know that the live export business is a big part of the sheep industry here in Western Australia. The Labor Party want to do what they did, what Julia Gillard did with cattle exports. They want to ban it. The impact of that would be a shocking blow to confidence. It would damage, obviously, the businesses of many Western Australian farmers. But it's also a slap in the face for our export markets. I mean people rely on Australia to be a reliable supplier, whether it is of live sheep or live cattle, or iron ore or gas, or whatever. You know, if we want to maintain export markets and the jobs that come with that, we've got to be a reliable exporter.

PETER BELL:

Prime Minister, I know you're tight on time, so this can be a one-word answer, if you like. Barnaby Joyce was here for a live export meeting a few weeks ago, he was warmly received by the farmers. He's told Michelle Grattan that he wouldn't say no to a Ministry. Any chance he will be back on the frontbench?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, that is really a matter for the National Party. I’ve got a great National Party team but the way the Coalition works, the National Party ministers are in effect, chosen by the Leader of the National Party, in consultation with me of course.

PAULA KRUGER:

Yes and you are Prime Minister, so you must have a preference. What's that preference, Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

Preference about what?

PAULA KRUGER:

Whether or not Barnaby Joyce comes back on the frontbench?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, there's a lot of talent. I often get asked that question about others as well. I never get drawn on it for obvious reasons. The great thing about the Coalition is we've got many more people of ministerial ability, than we have seats in the ministry.

PETER BELL:

Prime Minister, thank you for your time.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.