Interview with Neil Mitchell, 3AW

Transcript
16 Sep 2016
Prime Minister
E&OE

NEIL MITCHELL:

Good morning Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning Neil and just listening to what you were saying about the floods and having just spoken to Dan Tehan who as you know is the member for Wannon, I just want to pay tribute to all the men and women of our volunteer and special services organisations, emergency service organisations. They are doing a fantastic job. I have spoken to Dan about the older gentleman who is missing at Wallacedale and our thoughts and prayers are there for him and for his family and friends who must be very anxious.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Yes, I agree entirely. Now, Mr Turnbull, George Christensen, one of your MPs – he led the fight for changes on superannuation, which in a way he won.

PRIME MINISTER:

Can I just correct you if I may Neil? George expressed some views about one element of the super package as did very many other people including many in the party.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But he was threatening to cross the floor wasn’t he? 

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes he did but we had a super reform package that had 12 elements in it. The one that was controversial and widely criticised and critiqued - so one out of 12 being controversial is not too bad I think  and that was the one we were consulting on and that is the one we have improved.

NEIL MITCHELL:

How did you get it so wrong?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look Neil, I don’t want to criticise you, because it is your job to criticise me, but let me be very up front about this. When you are dealing with complex policy areas, you’ve got to be, you’ve got to consult and you’ve got to be prepared to change things if you can improve them. Now part of the problem –

NEIL MITCHELL:

Presumably you’d consult before the policy is announced? 

PRIME MINISTER:

Well of course.

NEIL MITCHELL:

This was in the budget, Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Neil, there was extensive consultation, with the industry and with all sorts of interested parties in the whole tax review process. But let me just make this point – if we expect governments to be agile and to be prepared to listen and have the civility to listen and be prepared to change, then when they do, to say, “oh that’s a backflip – how could you get it so wrong” -

NEIL MITCHELL:

Yep.

PRIME MINISTER:

Really, if you get into the real world, out of the political bubble, the man on the street, the man on the bus, the man on the ferry, the woman in the café – they will all say, ‘Good on you,  you listened, you fixed it up, you made it better, well done.’

NEIL MITCHELL:

There is a lot of truth in exactly what you are saying, but at the same time, what about your credibility? You said this was ironclad. You told me it wouldn’t change. This was ironclad – yet it has now changed.  What does ironclad mean, Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well you’re accusing me of doing a bit of welding around the sides.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I am accusing you of misleading us.

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, Neil. The reality is the Australian people elected the 45th Parliament, we do not have a majority in the Senate, we will need to negotiate and compromise on most issues to get legislation through the Parliament.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Ok fair enough, fair enough. What else is not ironclad? What about the plebiscite? Is that ironclad?

PRIME MINISTER:

That is a commitment that we’ve taken to the election.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But so was this one, so was superannuation. What about the company tax cuts, is that iron clad?

PRIME MINISTER:

Neil, we had a superannuation package which was designed to make super fairer, more flexible, have greater integrity, be more fit for purpose. There were 12 measures, all of which made very big changes. You know, people talk about economic leadership and tax reform – this is the biggest reform to superannuation in a generation. 

There was one out of the 12 measures representing about $500 million of $6 billion of total savings. That was the one that was subject of criticism and we have addressed that. I think Kelly and Scott have done a great job.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Ok I understand your point, but is everything else on the table? We see an ironclad promise changing. What about the plebiscite? What about the tax cuts? Is everything on the table?

PRIME MINISTER:

Neil, there are 76 Senators, we have got 30, so we will need to reach agreement with either Labor, the Greens or nine of the crossbenchers to get legislation passed and so we will take our election commitments through the House and in some cases, I think we will get broad support – take the CFA changes.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But you see my point – and I understand the difficulties of the numbers there but my point -

PRIME MINISTER:

What is your point Neil, with great respect?

NEIL MITCHELL:

Ok, my point is you told us this was ironclad, it’s has been changed. I think in fact you’ve improved it, I’m not arguing that but there are all these other things which were also ironclad are they now up for renegotiation? Like the plebiscite, like the company tax cuts?

PRIME MINISTER:

Ok, we may have to negotiate on all of these matters. The one thing that is very clear is that you cannot expect to get legislation through the Senate on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, unless people agree with the proposition. Now with the CFA amendments, they are to protect the volunteers of the Country Fire Authority as we have promised. It has gone through the House, I think we will get very strong support from the crossbench on that, I think that should go through the Senate without any amendment. But there will be other measures where we will need to make amendments and compromises and the Australian people understand that.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Will you compromise the plebiscite? Will you compromise on that? Will you compromise on the company tax cuts?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Neil, I’m not going to compromise with you. I’m going to compromise if I have to, with the members in the Senate. The worst thing for me to do as PM, as leader of the Government, would be to negotiate in advance through the media.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Fair enough, fair enough.

PRIME MINISTER:

We will sit down and talk and we will seek to do the best deal for the Government and the people and the nation and the Parliament with the people that have got the say in the Senate.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Fair enough. What I wanted to ask before we went off on that tangent – but it is an important one – George Christensen, one of your MPs who was involved in the superannuation thing, threatened to cross the floor. Last night in Parliament he sounded a bit like Pauline Hanson. He raised the issue of Islamic terrorism – he said this:

GEORGE CHRISTENSEN – VOICEOVER:

I am concerned about the rise of Islamism in this country and those who are willing to commit violence in the name of that ideology. I think we should consider some tighter controls on borders such as restricting immigration from countries where there is a high prevalence of violent extremism and radicalism.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well he is one of yours – is he right?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m not going to run a commentary on George but let me address the point.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well it is not just him, it’s Pauline Hanson as well.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes. Our immigration policy is absolutely non-discriminatory. Having said that, we pay great attention to security considerations and obviously with Islamist terrorism - and that is a fact, there is no point being merely mouthed about it - not all of the terrorism in the world is motivated by Islamist ideology but a great deal of it is. In fact, most of the immediate challenge for us in our region particularly, is motivated by that.  So we do pay very close attention to security and the protections, the security that Julie Bishop and Peter Dutton manage in their respective portfolios, on our borders is absolutely the best in the world.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But he is asking for tighter controls specifically on Islamic refugees and migration. What do you say to that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well what Mr Christensen was saying was that people should not be allowed to be admitted to Australia if they come from particular countries. Well, let me give you an example – there is no country in the world that is more racked by terrorism than Syria, OK? We are taking a number, a substantial number, some thousands, 12,000 in due course in one program alone from the Syrian conflict zone. These are people from oppressed minorities; these are people that have been victims of terrorism. So we are protecting them.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I understand that, but do you see that he and to an extent Pauline Hanson are perhaps touching a nerve that exists in the public arena and there is a concern about this?

PRIME MINISTER:

There is and there should be a concern about terrorism. There are people within Australia, we’ve seen examples very recently, who seek to do us harm, who do not like our free way of life and seek to undermine it.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But Prime Minister this goes further than that, this goes to a fear of Islam, a fear of Islamic people living in this country even if they are born in this country. You’ve heard what Pauline Hanson said, Mr Christensen is reflecting much of that.

PRIME MINISTER:

Again I think if you listen to what - he was talking about, as I heard it, Islamist terrorist ideology and that is absolutely the focus of so much of our counter-terrorism work.

But can I just say to you that tagging all Muslims with the crimes of a few, is fundamentally wrong and it’s also counter-productive. This is a very important point. The most valuable tool our security services have to keep us safe is intelligence. They need to know what is going on. The way they find out what is going on is through talking to the community and in particular the Muslim community.

Seeking to demonise or denigrate all Muslims, or seek to alienate all Muslims and suggest they’re somehow not part of Australia or shouldn’t be in Australia - that is exactly what the extremists and the terrorists are saying to the Muslim community.

So what we need to do and I need to do and frankly you need to do - all of us - in the nation’s interest, is to say we are the most successful multicultural society in the world. Australian Muslims are part of that successful multicultural society. You’re born here, you’re part of the country, you’re included and what we need is their support, we need support from all Australians to work together to defend ourselves against terrorism and above all, to provide our agencies with the intelligence they need.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Pauline Hanson also made a comment about “welfare should stop after a person on welfare has one child”. Now I criticise that and there is today, people telling me I was wrong. Does she have a point? Do we need to have a stricter cut off point on welfare particularly with people with multiple children?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Neil the answer to that is no. These - sweeping observations like that, I mean…

She has been elected, over half a million people voted for One Nation and she is a  Senator and she is entitled to express –

NEIL MITCHELL:

But is she divisive, is she dividing the country with this sort of stuff?

PRIME MINISTER:

Neil, I’m not going to run a commentary on her. I mean I was asked about her views on migration and obviously everybody knows I don’t agree with them. My commitment is to an inclusive multicultural society which is based on mutual respect. The more we respect each other the more secure we become.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Can I ask you about a few other things? Victoria is talking about moving towards voluntary legalised, voluntary euthanasia. Would you try to stop that with the federal law?

PRIME MINISTER:

The answer is that it wouldn’t be susceptible to any federal law.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay, it’s only the Territory that you did, in Northern Territory. What’s your view on euthanasia?

PRIME MINISTER:

If there was a vote on it again tomorrow, I would not vote for it, but I understand it is a very heartfelt debate. It may well return and it’s something that I think all Members and Senators would examine their consciences and think very deeply and talk to their constituents about.  But if there was a vote tomorrow I would not vote for euthanasia in the terms it is being proposed.

NEIL MITCHELL:

You were very generous in your comments in Parliament yesterday about Tony Abbott’s record, is there still a chance he could return into the Ministry?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well again, I’m not going to speculate about the Ministry.

NEIL MITCHELL:

You’re not running much commentary today.

[Laughter]

PRIME MINISTER:

Well you’re the commentator I don’t want to do another person’s work, right?

NEIL MITCHELL:

My comment would be you’re better off with Tony Abbott inside the tent, doing what he does out, rather than outside, doing it in.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that’s  a view you’re entitled to express but I’ve got a great Ministry. Neil can I tell you, there is so much talent on the backbench, on the middle bench, the Outer Ministry, in the Parliamentary Secretaries, there are so many really talented younger people. My job as the boss, as the CEO is to bring, keep on bringing the young talent through. So you’ve got to have a dynamic leadership team.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So we’ll rule out Tony Abbott back in the Ministry?

PRIME MINISTER:

Again, you can draw whatever conclusion you like from that, but you’ve seen my track record. I like to find the younger talent, particularly women and bring them up, bring them forward, give them a chance. Because that’s the way you renew Government. It’s the way you renew any organisation frankly.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Peter Costello, you agree was one of our greatest Treasurers?

PRIME MINISTER:

Absolutely yes.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well he’s saying you’ve got it wrong, you’re abandoning small business and lower taxation, you’re not using the right levers, you’re not explaining to the people the need for budget reform. Strong criticism from a man with such a record.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it is indeed and he’s entitled to make it. But the circumstances we’re in is one where we have a very substantial deficit. Take superannuation, I know Peter has been critical of some of the changes that we’ve made to superannuation. But Neil let me be very frank with you; the superannuation system has developed in a way, or been used in a way, that has enabled people on very high incomes - very wealthy individuals - to achieve enormous tax shelters. That’s not what it should be used for. It was designed to provide middle Australia with the retirement income so they’re not dependent on the pension.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So what is the next step, how do you repair the budget? Is it time for more cuts?  Is it time that we paid more, that you got more revenue?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we’ve had $11 billion of budget repair passed through the Parliament already. We’ve sat for two weeks since the election, we have more to go. Obviously the superannuation changes in net terms have $3 billion of budget repair, because of the $6 billion total saving, $3 billion goes to people on lower incomes to support their –

NEIL MITCHELL:

So is all this enough, or do we need more?

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s an ongoing task. The reality is that we’ve got a series of measures in the Budget - $6.3 billion of them have now been agreed with the Labor Party, which is good. They deposed them before the election because you know they incorporated them during the election, so we say we thank them for their cooperation. I look forward to more of it.

What I’m determined to do – we’ll see how successful I am in a few years – what I’m determined to do is to break out of the pantomime of Question Time. Question Time will always be 70 minutes of theatre where there is exaggeration and hyperbole.

The Australian people elected 226 Members and Senators. We have a one seat majority in the House, we certainly don’t have any, we’re a minority in the Senate. I have to work with everybody to govern this country, to legislate for our future, to secure our prosperity and I have to work with all of those people, and I will.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well a year in, a year in, are you happy with your first year?

PRIME MINISTER:

I am a very happy person, I tell you this; I’m sure there have been better Prime Ministers, there has never been a happier one.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Jeff Kennett, Peter Costello, you’ve got a lot of critics lining up to say it wasn’t a great year. Do you think they’re wrong?

PRIME MINISTER:

Neil, it is my lot in life to be criticised, but I am a joyful subject of criticism and I’m determined to do better.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Do you think you relate well to the people, to the electorate?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well you’re the best judge of that. Look, I am a convivial person, I like being out and about, that’s one of the reasons I get public transport, it’s one of the reasons I was on the ferry this morning, you know, chatting to people on the ferry, caught up with someone I haven’t seen for ages, had a good chat about his kids, grandkids, my children, all of that stuff. I am a friendly, outgoing personality and I like to get out and about with people.

NEIL MITCHELL:

And you’re loving the job obviously?

PRIME MINISTER:

I love it.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Thank you very much for your time, thanks for talking to us.

The Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Ends