Interview with Neil Mitchell, 3AW

Transcript
22 Jul 2016
Prime Minister
E&OE

NEIL MITCHELL:

On the line for the first time since the election is Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull – good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning Neil.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Prime Minister, I know you’ve ordered a review of our approach on lone wolf terrorism including a focus on large numbers of people gathering in public places - are we going to have to change the way we gather in public places in large numbers?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we have to be very mindful of the changing threat Neil. That’s why I’ve asked Greg Moriarty, our director of counter-terrorism, or Counter-Terrorism Coordinator to find out what lessons there are to be learnt by us from the recent attacks and particularly the attack in Nice. I’ve discussed that with the French President, President Hollande and we will be cooperating and collaborating even more closely with France on counter terrorism.

What we are seeing at the moment is people being radicalised or adopting Islamist, murderous Islamist ideology very, very quickly. So that you have people that are not on the counter terrorism radar screen who then often, as a result of mental illness, will then attach themselves to this murderous ideology and then act very quickly.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I’d like to pursue that in a moment but in the meanwhile, do we have to, are we going to have to rethink gathering in large numbers in public places?

PRIME MINISTER:

We will certainly have to rethink the way in which we design and protect places where large numbers of Australians and indeed this is happening around the world.

NEIL MITCHELL:

What are you thinking about? Sporting events – the Grand Final?

PRIME MINISTER:

We already have security measures in place but the example of Nice, to take the example of the truck attack in Nice, clearly we need if there are going to be large numbers of people in a place which is accessible by vehicles then we have to think about what we do physically to prevent a vehicle getting access as this truck did for over two kilometres. Basically what had happened there was a road, the Promenade des Anglais in Nice had been opened and people were walking up and down and it was accessible to that truck - so you can – there is a lot to be done in terms of design.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So what do you want people to do in the meantime though? Do they continue to attend these events or do we say they wait for the review – what do we do?

PRIME MINISTER:

No I think it is very important we go about our lives the way we always do. We obviously need to be mindful of our own safety but we do have the best law enforcement and security agencies in the world. They pay very close attention to all of these issues. One of the critical things is, Neil, is getting early warning and that is why it is important for people, for everyone, for people in the community, if you believe you know somebody or you have a friend or it might be a relative who you believe is becoming radicalised or is giving you cause for concern that they might engage in this type of violent conduct, if they started showing signs of adopting Islamist ideology, then it is important to let the security agencies know because the sooner, all of our intelligence is dependent upon one way or another human intelligence. Now what we have found over recent years is that electronic surveillance is becoming more challenged because of encryption in the use of messaging applications so having good strong trusting and trusted relationships in the community are more important than ever.

NEIL MITCHELL:

You’ve also mentioned the mental health area in your briefing to him. Do you want government access to mental health files?

PRIME MINISTER:

The Government does have, the police and security services do have access - can access information where there is suspicion of terrorist activities.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Can they access mental health files of somebody who might have done nothing wrong but is considered a risk?

PRIME MINISTER:

Neil, there are very significant privacy protections.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Yes - but do you want to overcome those? Do you want to get access to the files?

PRIME MINISTER:

What I want to do is make sure Australians are kept safe.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So how do you do that? Do you need access to the mental health files?

PRIME MINISTER:

This is why Greg Moriarty is going to undertake this review with obviously state and territory police and of course governments at state and territories level as well.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But it’s a huge step though isn’t it? To say the Government will have access.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, it would be and that’s why it is important to speak with some precision.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But are you looking at this as a possibility that somehow there is legislation that allows such access? Or even compels the counsellors by law to inform the authorities?

PRIME MINISTER:

What I am saying to you is that it is important this be looked at carefully. Let me come to another point, you’ve got a number of important interests to balance here. Mental health alone, leaving aside issues of terrorism, is a gigantic challenge and as you know we announced a big new mental health policy during the election. We committed to new Headspaces and early intervention centres and so forth. It is critical too that people feel and know that when they talk to or go to Headspace for example they do so confidentially and in a trusted environment. So we’ve got to get…

NEIL MITCHELL:

But you’re looking for a balance there aren’t you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes of course we are.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Between that confidentiality and setting up an alert system.

PRIME MINISTER:

Exactly and that is why it has to be approached carefully. But my most important obligation, my most important responsibility to Australia is to keep the people of Australia safe and so that is why we are constantly improving, upgrading our legislation – that is why we provide additional resources to our police and security services.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Is it common for mental health practitioners to come to ASIO or come to the Federal Police and say I’m worried about this person?

PRIME MINISTER:

Neil, I can’t comment on that.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Alright. Do you want them to?

PRIME MINISTER:

Neil, I think it is important that we are mindful of the new environment in which we are operating and that is why we have got to look at very carefully – you see, if you go back some years we had a paradigm of terrorism where people were trained in Afghanistan for years and then sent out into the West to make attacks. But we’ve got a different – that is still an issue by the way…

NEIL MITCHELL:

Yes I understand. Do you accept - that is an issue and so is the lone wolf threat – do you accept that some type of attack is inevitable?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it is probable yes. The terrorist – the warning – the threat level has been some time now, some considerable time now probable. So yes it is certainly something we regard as a probability and what we have to do is ensure that we continue to disrupt and prevent this. We have disrupted nine terrorist attacks in Australia since September 2014.

NEIL MITCHELL:

And there is a lot of arguing about this – do you accept that the major threat of the terrorist issue has risen, comes from perversions of Islam?

PRIME MINISTER:

There is no question that the major manifestation is what we call Islamist ideology. Yes, absolutely.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I wonder if I could ask you a couple of other things quickly. Congratulations on the election, but it was a political near death experience for you. How are you going to change?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it’s critical that we deliver on our commitments, I think we’ve all seen there is a degree of scepticism in the community about governments…

NEIL MITCHELL:

Will you change personally? Will you change your style?

PRIME MINISTER:

Neil what I will do is continue – I am, like you, I’ve been around a while, I’m a known quantity, as a human being and as a public figure. What is important now is that we deliver on our commitments which we will do, so that when we come to the next election in 2019, Australians can say ‘yes, the Turnbull Government was re-elected, it had a number of planned commitments and projects and they are all delivered or they are progressing’ and they can see that what we are doing is honouring the commitment and respecting the trust that people have put in us.

NEIL MITCHELL:

You’ve told me previously that you thought you’d change in the sense that you would listen more, did you do that? Will you do that?

PRIME MINISTER:

I pay very close attention – yes, absolutely.

NEIL MITCHELL:

See, there’s also an argument about being direct - I know you’ve been asked about your personal donation to the party which is reportedly around $1 million. That’s going to come out eventually, why not just get it out now? Why won’t you discuss it now?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Neil, only because you have a – with matters like this, it’s important to be precise and you have a mechanism, you know a legislative mechanism.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But you know precisely what you put in presumably?

PRIME MINISTER:

Neil, I think it’s important that these things are done in accordance with the law and accordance with the disclosure arrangements made. I’ve made donations to the Liberal Party in the past. People would reasonably assume that I would do so in the future, I have always disclosed them in accordance with the Act and I will continue to do so.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Superannuation - will your superannuation policy be tweaked or not? I’m still confused.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well – we’re certainly looking at transitional and implementation aspects of it but the policy – and so there are always, if you like, fine tuning that goes on with any changes to taxation.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Will the essence of the policy change? Because you’ve got people threatening to cross the floor.

PRIME MINISTER:

The substance of the policy is absolutely right.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So the lifetime cap - $500,000 stays?

PRIME MINISTER:

Neil, it is absolutely right. The policy is one which has improved - obviously it has recovered money for Budget, Budget repair and for other purposes and what we have done is made super fairer. The people that have benefitted from these changes are people who are on low incomes, whose superannuation tax is being picked up – older Australians and women.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well, unless they are on Transition to Retirement Schemes in which case low income earners are suddenly paying a 15 per cent tax they wouldn’t have paid before.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah but Neil we talked about that earlier. Truthfully, a person who is on a low income – when we talked about it, we talked about someone on $70,000 a year – someone who is on $70,000 a year, if they are in a TRIS, a Transition to Retirement Scheme, they are actually being very badly advised.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well yeah but they’re entitled to take bad advice. The point is it’s not just fat cats affected by this.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Neil…

NEIL MITCHELL:

And I fail to see whether you are changing it or not.

PRIME MINISTER:

Believe me, as far as – the TRIS is, that is a mechanism that is overwhelmingly used as a tax avoidance measure on a very high income. Anyone on a low income who is in effect taking money out of super before they retire is being really badly advised.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So will that change?

PRIME MINISTER:

If you are on $70 or $80 grand a year, you should be putting more into your super, not pulling it out before you retire.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Will that section change or not?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m not going to – Neil, nobody, frankly has made any proposals to change that. I meant the controversy and I’m not commenting on what we might do, I’ll just break my usual practice and be a commentator – the controversy or the commentary has all related to the cap of $500,000 on non-concessional contributions.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Arguably retrospective yeah?

PRIME MINISTER:

It is absolutely not retrospective.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well that’s the whole problem around it isn’t it? That’s the whole debate. That’s the whole debate around it - whether it is retrospective or not, whether it is fair or not. But will that, that’s at least being reviewed - you won’t say if it will change?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m not saying it will change but there are some issues relating to, some transitional issues relating to that element of the package and it is something that the Treasurer has spoken about but look, can I just say to you it is very important for people to understand that we do not conduct policy on the run. Superannuation is notoriously complex, as we both know and what we set out was a very carefully considered change, which I believe has been overall well received.

NEIL MITCHELL:

It blew up in your face. Let’s face it.

PRIME MINISTER:

Pardon?

NEIL MITCHELL:

It blew up in your face.

PRIME MINISTER:

I completely disagree with that.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well what about the number of Liberal Party members who were objecting and withdrawing their help and their funding? What about the outrage that some of the branches tell me they were getting? Particularly in Higgins – ask Kelly O’Dwyer about the number of people who are screaming about it.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Neil, can I say to you that the swing against us in the number of seats in Australia in the election was not the result of changes to superannuation.

NEIL MITCHELL:

What was it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Mediscare?

PRIME MINISTER:

People vote on different issues in different seats and the swings vary from state to state and from seat to seat. But the Mediscare, Medicare lie had a very high impact.

Look, I am looking forward and my interest is in delivering on our commitments, my interest is in making sure Australians are safe against evolving forms of terrorism as we have discussed but we do have to reflect on the fact and it is a fact that an extraordinary falsehood that namely the Government was going to privatise Medicare which was exposed as a falsehood in the media, derided in the media - the Leader of the Opposition was humiliated when he was called on to provide some evidence for it but couldn’t and then the Labor Party’s reaction was to increase dramatically the spending on promoting that falsehood directly to people and they targeted vulnerable Australians.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Prime Minister, I know you’ve got to go – one last question. John Howard said he would tremble at the prospect of Donald Trump becoming President of the United States. He is about to get the nomination for the Republican role, your view? Do you tremble as well?

PRIME MINISTER:

John is one of our most distinguished leaders in all of our history…

NEIL MITCHELL:

Is he right?

PRIME MINISTER:

He’d only be rivalled by Menzies and he is a great friend and mentor of mine but I’m the Prime Minister and as Prime Minister I don’t comment on the politics of other countries and I just simply say that whoever is the President of the United States after the election, we will work with constructively and I have no doubt that the Australian-American relationship - as we have just seen with the visit of Vice President Biden - will continue to be strong. Whether it is at the strategic level, the economic level – every level of cooperation between Australia and the United States just gets stronger every year.

NEIL MITCHELL:

And it will continue to be strong regardless of who is President?

PRIME MINISTER:

It will continue to be strong regardless of who is President or indeed Prime Minister. It’s based on links between literally millions of Australians and Americans. It is very strong.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Thanks so much for your time.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks Neil.