Interview with Rafael Epstein 774 ABC

Transcript
01 Aug 2016
Prime Minister
E&OE

Rafael Epstein:
The Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, joins us on the phone. Good afternoon.

Prime Minister:
Good afternoon.

Rafael Epstein:
Did you act too quickly appointing Brian Martin last week?

Prime Minister:
This is a matter of such importance, we had to act quickly and get this Royal Commission underway. The scenes that we saw from that youth detention centre shocked the nation. We know that there is nothing more important than that we care for our children. Our children are our future and we have the utmost responsibility for them and so to see, what appeared on Four Corners, to see those scenes of mistreatment was so shocking. I believe Australians expected their government to move swiftly and decisively to get to the bottom of it, to expose the failings in the youth detention and child protection system in the Northern Territory and in doing so, ensure that they are rectified and that it can never happen again.

Rafael Epstein:
But maybe you didn’t listen to Indigenous groups enough last week you might have avoided this issue.

Prime Minister:
Well we spoke to Indigenous leaders in the course of last week, immediately after the announcement I made on the Tuesday morning about the royal commission and we continued to speak to Indigenous groups right through the week and indeed over the weekend and we have been very engaged. I might say that – I’ll come back to Mr Martin if you wish – the terms of reference of the Royal Commission, for example, have reflected input from a wide range of groups and they are - I believe - they have been well received, they extend beyond the confines of the youth detention system and include the child protection system and there is a – I believe they’ve hit the right balance between a very narrow set of terms of reference and ones that are so wide ranging that the inquiry could become unwieldy.

It’s very important that you get the balance right and I’ve been meeting today with a senior Indigenous legal practitioner just today and there is broad support for the terms of reference, there are people that have argued that it should be a national inquiry. What I intend to do is at the next COAG meeting, is make sure that these issues of youth detention child protection are on the agenda for COAG because it is obviously an issue that applies in every jurisdiction.

Rafael Epstein:
So is that an invitation for the royal commissioners to expand it if they see fit? 

Prime Minister:
No, it isn’t. I think we’ve got to focus on the Northern Territory here but clearly concerns have been raised about what is happening in other jurisdictions, in Victoria where you are, in NSW and Queensland and Western Australia and so forth. But I think it’s important that the Heads of Government – the Chief Ministers and Premiers, discuss that at the next COAG.

This issue of protecting our children, of caring for our children – we have a vested interest in all of our children. All other people’s children as much as our own and we need to make sure that is always in the forefront.

Rafael Epstein:
None of this should have really been a surprise to your Indigenous Affairs Minister, Nigel Scullion, though should it? There was very little in that Four Corners report that was not already in the news. That is a failure on your Minister’s behalf isn’t it?

Prime Minister:
Well I can only point you to what Senator Scullion has said. He is a very dedicated Indigenous Affairs Minister, he is a Northern Territorian, he has…

Rafael Epstein:
Even more reason he should be across the detail no?

Prime Minister:
Well look – I can only point to what he has said and the explanation that he’s given. The important thing is not to get distracted by matters of process and politics, as some other people in the news have.

Rafael Epstein:
Forgive me Prime Minister, it’s not process is it – I mean it’s legitimate to ask you to assess whether or not your Minister had his eye on the ball.

Prime Minister:
I’m confident that Nigel Scullion has his eye constantly on the welfare and the advancement of Indigenous Australians. He is the Minister for Indigenous Affairs and he is focused relentlessly on that and what he’s done in terms of economic advancement of Indigenous entrepreneurship for example, Indigenous procurement - ensuring that firms, businesses owned by First Australians get more access to Government contracts – all of that has been moving apace and he’s been really advancing the economic empowerment, which is at the key to closing the gap, or one of the keys, most important keys is economic empowerment and Nigel’s been doing a great job on that.

Rafael Epstein:
Just on the Indigenous Referendum, one of your Senators from WA, Dean Smith, he’s been on News 24 today, the ABC, he says he’s highly cautious about the merits of Constitutional Recognition. He’s clearly not sure that helps with Indigenous health and education. If people like Dean Smith are uncertain about the referendum, it’s going to make it tougher for that referendum to succeed isn’t it?

Prime Minister:
Well Rafael, I don’t want to comment on what Senator Smith has said, but I’d just say this to you, as somebody who led the charge for the Republic in the Constitutional Referendum some years ago, I know better than most how hard it is to change the Constitution and you do need a very, very high degree of consensus. Now, it is a commitment of my Government, it’s a commitment of the Opposition as well, to have recognition of the First Australians in the Constitution. And as you know, we have an advisory panel or advisory council working on that and we’re looking forward to recommendations from them, because what we need is language that can win the support of Indigenous Australians that speaks for them, that is meaningful for them and at the same time, can be successfully taken to a Constitutional Referendum. You know of course, Australians in terms of changing the Constitution have proven to be very conservative.

Rafael Epstein:
Is Bill Shorten helping? He wants to basically ensure that referendum leads to other steps. Is that helpful or is that going to hinder things?

Prime Minister:
Well, I’m going to meet with Mr Shorten shortly to discuss a number of issues and one of the issues I need to discuss with him is the progress of the referendum. I don’t want to politicise this any more than…

Rafael Epstein:
Is he politicising it?

Prime Minister:
Well I would simply say, and I’ve made some comments about this in the past during the campaign. If I can just be very objective and very constructive. Changing the Constitution is not for the faint hearted. It is very hard. The last even mildly controversial referendum that was successful in Australia, constitutional referendum, was in 1946.

Rafael Epstein:
It’s been a while.

Prime Minister:
So all of the ones that have been passed since then have been ones where there was such a high degree of consensus there was virtually no opposition. So what you need to do is if you want to change the constitution you have got to be very careful that you don’t overcomplicate it or create an environment where you chip away at that very high level of consensus you need.

Rafael Epstein:
1300 222 774, You can hear the Prime Minister speak about Indigenous issues, good to know what you think. 1300 222 774 is the phone number. Prime Minister just a few other quick issues. Did you ever tell Kevin Rudd that you would support his campaign at the UN? He insists that you did.

Prime Minister:
Well I’ve seen the correspondence Mr. Rudd has leaked or released, this of course - these are letters written by him to me. So they include accounts of conversations and meetings that are at odds with my recollection -

Rafael Epstein:
So you never gave him your support?

Prime Minister:
Let me be very clear about this. Mr. Rudd – at all relevant times – has known that the decision as to whether to nominate him was the decision for the Cabinet. He has known that at all relevant times. I had a very frank discussion with him in May, which was the discussion I had with him after he formally applied. You have to remember that prior to April of this year Mr. Rudd had in fact on a number of occasions he had publicly disclaimed any interest in running for Secretary General.

Rafael Epstein:
But if I can just focus on what you told him. I mean, it is an issue, he is impugning your honesty, he says that you told him you were as one with Julie Bishop in supporting him. That the Government would be mad not to support him. You haven’t answered my initial question. Did you give him your support?

Prime Minister:
Mr. Rudd has always understood - I’m not going to be getting into this debating Mr. Rudd about his – look, he and I have had discussions that have touched on this over a long period of time. They were all confidential discussions, they were all private conversations. It says a lot about Mr. Rudd that quite some time after the event he would seek to present an account of them in correspondence he would write to me with the clear intention of subsequently releasing it. I just might -

Rafael Epstein:
Yes or no Prime Minister did you give your support or not?

Prime Minister:
Mr. Rudd has always known that the Government’s support - the question of whether the Government would nominate him was a matter for the Cabinet and he’s known that and I would point you to one meeting that he’s referred to which is the meeting of December 23 last year in which he makes assertions about support being given. That is absolutely untrue. That meeting was held in my office with my Chief-of-Staff and it was made very clear to him that it was a matter for the Cabinet. It would be a difficult political decision and he was given no assurance that he would get the answer he sought and he was told in May when I spoke to him, that it was my judgement that the Cabinet would not support his nomination and that I would not – and I explained why. I don’t want to go into those reasons, but what – look, I don’t want to make this more of an issue with Mr. Rudd or about Mr. Rudd, the real issue - the fundamental question is this; when you nominate somebody for a job like this, you have to form a view that they are well suited to the role.

Rafael Epstein:

DFAT says he was well suited for the role didn’t they? That was DFAT’s advice no?

Prime Minister:

You should not make that assumption at all.

Rafael Epstein:

So that’s incorrect? DFAT did not say he was a good candidate?

Prime Minister:

I’m not going to go into the advice that DFAT gave, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade gave. Let me say, Mr. Rudd’s candidacy has been a controversial issue both within government and outside of government as you know.

Rafael Epstein:
But why would the Foreign Minister say that supporting his candidature was a good idea if her Department did not recommend that?

Prime Minister:
Rafael I’m not going to get into a debate about, a discussion about what the Foreign Minister said in the Cabinet, I’m sorry. I know people have speculated about that but I just want to come back to this…

Rafael Epstein:
She supported him publically not in Cabinet.

Prime Minister:
Let me come back to this fundamental threshold point: when you nominate somebody for a position like this, you have to be satisfied that they are well suited to the role. That’s the first thing. Now you may decide that somebody is well suited to the role, but then for various reasons, you don’t wish to nominate them, maybe that you don’t think they’ve got any prospect of success or there’s somebody that’s even better suited to the role. But the fundamental threshold question is: did the Government take the view; did I take the view as Prime Minister, that Mr Rudd was well suited to the role? My judgment was that he was not. I advised him of that.

Rafael Epstein:
Did you tell him that last year? Because –

Prime Minister:
Rafael just let me finish. I advised him of that in May. He understood last year that it was a matter for the Cabinet. He understood it was a difficult decision, was always going to be a difficult political decision and those are the facts of the matter. Now I’m not going to get into a “he said, he said,” type of debate. The fundamental issue here is again, not one of process. The fundamental issue here is one of substance. Does the Government believe Mr. Rudd is well suited to the role? The answer is, we do not. That is why we have not nominated him.

Rafael Epstein:
I appreciate your time is short Prime Minister, just a final question on the seat Herbert. You now have the narrowest of majorities; you’ve lost that seat I think by about 30 votes. Will there be an appeal to the courts over that seat?

Prime Minister:
Well those issues are being looked at by the LNP’s legal advisors and I’ll have to leave that, that awaits careful consideration. There have been some issues raised but I don’t think it’s appropriate Rafael that I go into them.

Rafael Epstein:
But an appeal is likely or not?

Prime Minister:
No I’m not going to make a prediction about it. The matter, as I think everyone knows, is being looked at, but obviously that’s something that advice has to be sought and obtained on first.

Rafael Epstein:
Prime Minister that was a slight misrepresentation, I would like to ask you final question.

Prime Minister:
[Laughter]

Alright.

Rafael Epstein:
It’s something I raised a lot during the election campaign. I think it’s an issue that a lot of people have and it is around the number of hours worked. There is a big increase in the number of job positions created. There is a significant issue that there has been almost no increase in the number of hours worked. Lots of part-time jobs, not many full time jobs. Do you think it’s actually possible, as a Government, to help generate more full-time jobs, because that big increase last year saw almost no increase in the number of hours worked. Is that the new normal?

Prime Minister:
Rafael what we want is for all Australians to be able to do as much work as they want to do. You know, that’s the goal, to have full employment. Now what we – we seek to achieve that by ensuring that our economy is strong. I mean, I took a very positive economic program platform to the election. As you know, our whole political platform, our policy platform was about driving economic growth and more jobs, because if you have higher growth, if you have more confidence, if firms believe that if they invest and employ they will do well, then they will hire more people. So the critical thing is driving economic growth.

Rafael Epstein:
Can people expect full time jobs or do they have to accept part time?

Prime Minister:
Well some people want part time jobs, some people want – you shouldn’t assume that everybody with a part time job wants to have a full time job. There is no question though, there is no question that many Australians would like to work more hours than they do. The point that you make is a valid one, that there is a – sometimes it’s referred to as not unemployment but underemployment - but the key objective here is a stronger economy. Because the stronger the economy is the more investment there is, the more employment there will be.

So everything we have done, you know, whether it’s the innovation agenda, whether it’s the big free trade deals we’ve done, whether it’s the whole defence industry investment plan, whether it’s our infrastructure program. Every single element of our economic plan is focused on an outcome and the outcome is more employment, more jobs. Sometimes politicians talk about jobs and more jobs or “jobs, jobs, jobs”. That’s fine but you’ve got to then say what are you going to do about it? What you do about it is you drive economic growth. You’ve got to do everything you can to enable growth, so you are seeing, right around the country in regional Australia for example, more employment in agriculture, more employment in export businesses, often in food products, in wine and processed food products because of the export deal. You’re seeing more employment in many parts of the country from tourism because you’re seeing more tourists and so forth.

There is no employment without investment and to have investment you need a strong economy. That requires the confidence about the future and that’s you know why our plan involves tax cuts for businesses you know starting off with small and medium businesses and building up over time.

Whichever way you look at our agenda, our political agenda, what we are seeking to do is drive stronger economic growth. If you don’t have stronger economic growth you will not get those jobs and that’s the key. Now, obviously you face – the Government’s policies are not the only factor impacting on the economy. You’ve got external factors, you’ve got what is happening in our big markets, in China for example. All of these are big issues and big factors affecting us. But insofar as we control the levers that drive the economy, we should be pulling them in the direction of promoting enterprise and investment because that drives jobs and that’s what we are committed to doing.

Rafael Epstein:
We’ll watch with interest. Thank you for your time.

Prime Minister:
Thanks so much.

Ends