Television interview - Today show

23 Jan 2023
Prime Minister
Inflation; Economy; Cost of living relief; Interest rates; Budget repair; National Reconstruction Fund; Voice to Parliament referendum

KARL STEFANOVIC, HOST: The Prime Minister, he joins us now. PM, good morning.


STEFANOVIC: Nice to see you PM, how are you?

PRIME MINISTER: I’m very well. Congrats on the new gig, Sarah.

SARAH ABO, HOST: Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER: You missed out. Karl can tell you about the golden years of myself and Christopher Pyne at 6am in the morning every Friday there.

ABO: I used to watch the golden years.

PRIME MINISTER: The tie-changing incident.

STEFANOVIC: There was the tie-changing incident.

PRIME MINISTER: Always, always good fun and I miss having Christopher around here as well I think.

ABO: The Fixer? Yeah we need the fixer back.

PRIME MINISTER: He brought a bit of life to the joint so a shout out to Christopher Pyne.

STEFANOVIC: Yeah, he was the fixer. And that tie-changing incident was one of the funniest moments I have ever had behind the scenes on the Today Show with the now Prime Minister. Let's get on to the serious business of inflation. Is the crisis over yet, is the worst of it all over yet?

PRIME MINISTER: It’s too early to say that at this point, Karl. But, let me say this, we certainly hope that it’s peaked. It’s expected that it would peak around about this time or in the first quarter of this year and then start to head back down and we certainly hope that that’s the case. Of course, the whole world has been impacted by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and we’re not immune to it.

ABO: And of course the RBA has become quite hawkish in recent times. There are now concerns that the flow-on effects will mean a recession. Are we likely to go into a recession?

PRIME MINISTER: Oh look, I think the elements of our economy, which are still very strong, include unemployment being at 3.5%. We do have inflation at 7.3, but it was expected to hit 8, so that’s lower than where it was expected to peak at with the predictions that were made before. I think our economy has still very strong fundamentals going forward, and certainly what the government is doing is putting in place those measures that will ensure that longer-term growth as well. Measures like cheaper child care, the measures that we have put in place for cheaper medicines came in in on January 1, free TAFE, some 180,000 places this year, making a difference as well. So, we will continue to monitor the economy which is very volatile globally and we’re exposed to a lot of those global issues, but the fundamentals here in Australia are still very strong.

STEFANOVIC: Look, I think the last thing that households need, Australian households need right now, PM, is another interest rate rise. And that’s what’s likely to happen given where inflation is right now. I mean, you’d be worried about that, wouldn't you?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, of course the RBA make independent decisions, but we’re very conscious of the pressure that’s on people's cost of living at the moment, which is why we were prepared to intervene in the energy market and we have. Those policies for cheaper child care, cheaper medicines, taking pressure off family budgets, as we go through.

STEFANOVIC: Okay, the point is, though, we’ve got a few dramas here and it’s going to be significant for families if they get another interest rate rise, especially if they’re coming off fixed loans. Are the Stage 3 tax cuts, for example, in the next budget, are they off the table now?

PRIME MINISTER: Oh look, we have not changed our position on that at all. What we’re doing in the lead-up to the budget, though, is making sure that we have a responsible budget. Last year, in October when we brought down our budget, we had considerable revenue increases. The contradiction behind our exposure to international markets is that it led to higher prices in terms of energy, but it also led to higher revenues because of the considerable profits that were being made by some of our exports. So, what we did, rather than spend that, that went back into the budget bottom line to reduce the deficit, to take that pressure off. That was a tough decision that we made, but it was the right decision, the responsible decision for our economy and to make sure that that pressure was taken off, which if that didn't occur then we would have seen more incentive for more increases in interest rates and we know that that has a real impact on real people who include, of course, the listeners to your program.

ABO: I guess the problem is we can't become too reliant on international markets and obviously you’re trying to improve the relationship with China because we are so heavily dependent on them, but we need to be able to stand on our own two feet, too.

PRIME MINISTER: That’s exactly right, Sarah. That’s why we have our National Reconstruction Fund. $15 billion for new industries, new jobs, to use our resources, not to just put them overseas, wait for value to be added and then export it back once the jobs have been created, but how do we make more things here? That’s the lesson of the pandemic that we need to take up. As well, that’s why we need a more nationally dependent, rather than internationally exposed, energy system here. That’s why we’re spending considerable funds fixing transmission in this country, bringing the energy grid up to the 21st century. I want Australia to be a country that makes things here. That is one of the main platforms that we had, the five big points that we took to the federal election and for which we received a mandate, and I’m pleased that we’re working with the private sector, as well as with state and territory governments to deliver that.

ABO: PM, I just want to turn to the Voice because this is obviously one of your key election pledges, it’s instead turned into quite the mess. You know you’ve got indigenous, the community trying to get some consensus between you and the Opposition. Why won’t you sit down and discuss this so that there is more clarity out there for the public so that we can actually achieve the outcomes that you’re after?

PRIME MINISTER: I’ve had five meetings with Peter Dutton, Sarah, five meetings. And last July, I put forward the actual questions that will be asked in the referendum. Let's be clear – a constitution doesn't go through all of the detail of our defence program. It says, Australia will have a Defence Force, it doesn't go through the detail of our tax system. It says it gives power to tax.

ABO: No, but people are still confused, PM. That’s the problem. You don't need all of the detail, but you need a bit more detail so it’s easier to digest. I mean, is it even necessary?

PRIME MINISTER: The two simple things that people will be asked to vote yes to in the referendum are one, to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our constitution. That’s the first thing, in the birth certificate. The second is to allow an advisory body to be called the Voice to be created to give advice to government, to the Parliament, about issues that directly impact Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Now, that detail has been out there since July. There have been no suggested amendments to that draft that I put out there, now more than six months ago. No suggested amendments from the Coalition and I want this to be a unifying factor. Now people can always go there and try and muddy the waters, it’s a very simple thing to do, because people, not everyone has a knowledge of our constitution and all of that, but that is what is being asked for. So, a Voice to Parliament will not be a funding body. It will not run programs. It will simply be a source of advice to government, because what we know – and that’s the means – the end that we’re after is making a practical difference to people's lives. Because we know that when people are asked, on areas like justice reinvestment, Indigenous ranger programs, community health programs, those programs that have been most effective in helping to close the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians which exist out there, have been those programs where Aboriginal people have a direct say in matters that affect them. That is what is being asked for here, nothing more. It’s a very conservative, modest, gracious request to move forward together as a nation and I am very hopeful that it will be a great moment of national unity for our country that enables us to go forward together.

STEFANOVIC: Alright. Prime Minister, appreciate your time today. Thank you.

ABO: Thank you, PM.