Radio interview with Neil Mitchell, 3AW

Transcript
01 Dec 2017
Prime Minister
Melbourne weather, Banks and Financial Services Royal Commission, John Barilaro, Sam Dastyari, foreign interference, same-sex marriage and Donald Trump
E&OE
Economy and Finance

NEIL MITCHELL:

Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning Neil. And just adding onto what you’ve said about the storm, I’m sure you’ll be reminding people of this too, follow the advice from the emergency authorities very carefully and don’t drive into flooded waters. There is a lot of risk doing that.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Yeah, look, it could be a nasty time. I assume the federal government is standing by to help if needed.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, absolutely. Our emergency management authorities will be working, will be monitoring this and obviously ready to work very closely with Victoria as the situation develops.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Can we call in the Army for sandbagging if necessary?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, you can. That is possible. There is the ability to do that but that would require the Victorian Government to call for that assistance but, yes we have the ability to do that.

[Phone rings]

NEIL MITCHELL:

That’s not the White House hotline going off?

[Laughter]

PRIME MINISTER:

No, it’s not. No, it’s not.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I’d like to go to the banks in a moment, but we do have to deal with this first – one of your own, New South Wales National Leader, Deputy Premier of New South Wales, John Barilaro has said this this morning about you.

JOHN BARILARO MP – RECORDING:

He should step down, allow for a clean out of what the leadership looks like federally. Get on with governing the country and whoever takes the reins going forward needs to make sure that they put the country and its people first.

NEIL MITCHELL:

You should step down – and he’s one of your mates.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, you know, the last time I was with him was down at Cooma at the Snowy Mountains Scheme there and we were talking about Snowy Hydro 2 and he was full of joy with the big investment we are making, going to make there. And you know, he’s never raised-

NEIL MITCHELL:

He’s changed his mind?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it’s odd, he’s never raised these matters with me personally. I think what is going on Neil is that he is on Alan Jones and he’s just trying to ingratiate himself with Alan and telling him what he wants to hear. So that’s why I think it is about.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Hang on. The Deputy Premier of New South Wales says the Prime Minister should quit and it is Alan Jones’ fault?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no. I’m not saying it is Alan Jones fault at all. I am just saying I think that is what Barilaro is doing. Because if he took the view, if that was a serious view he held, you would think that he would speak to me directly wouldn’t you?

NEIL MITCHELL:

You would but he’s not alone. This is a view being expressed privately by a lot of people. You’d be aware of that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, they’re not expressing it privately to me.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Really? You’ve had nobody come to you and say: ‘Hang on, time is running out’?

PRIME MINISTER:

Absolutely not.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Do you think it is running out?

PRIME MINISTER:

No. Absolutely not.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Didn’t look good yesterday with the banks?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we explained the circumstances Neil. I mean, like you we took the view that an inquiry into the banks and the financial services sector was not necessary but it got to the point where it was seen as being inevitable and we took the view, as indeed did the banks themselves, that it was better that the government get on and hold an inquiry, do so in a conventional and responsible way and get it done.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But why not dig in? If it is the wrong thing for the country, which you seem to be saying, why not dig in and say no? Stare them down.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, you know, you’ve got to recognise the numbers in the Parliament, Neil. You know, I have to deal with these issues in a realistic and pragmatic way.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Alright. So you had no choice. John Howard said a couple of days ago, an inquiry into the banks would be ‘rank socialism’. Do you agree with him?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, John understands politics and numbers very well, Neil. This will be an inquiry, it will be a thorough comprehensive inquiry into misconduct into the banking sector, the financial services sector including superannuation and insurance. It will be presided over by a very experienced former judge. It will be run in the conventional forensic way that inquiries of this kind should be run. And that’s what we’ll do and that’s what I think in the circumstances, that is manifestly in our national interest to do that and deal with it.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Hang on, why is it in the national interest?

PRIME MINISTER:

Because, for precisely the reasons I said a moment ago and the banks have said and others have said-

NEIL MITCHELL:

Yeah.

PRIME MINISTER:

Plenty of people have made the observation that once it became, seen as being sort of inevitable or that there would be an inquiry of some kind and there was all this activity in the Parliament that could have led to an inquiry, the terms of which were not clear, there was a lot of speculation about that. It is better to actually say alright, we’ll do the inquiry but we will do so in a conventional way in a responsible terms of reference and an experienced Commissioner.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But, Prime Minister, that says that Bill Shorten, and a couple of difficult people within your own party, or within the National Party, within your own government are in fact running the policy, running the country. I mean, Labor’s caused the problem, supported by a couple of rebel Nationals. They’ve created an inquiry into something that doesn’t exist. It is going to cost us $75 million. Are they running the country?

PRIME MINISTER:

No. The government has made the decision to hold the Royal Commission.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Yeah, but you’ve been forced to. That is what you’re saying. Aren’t you saying you’re spending $75 million looking for something that doesn’t exist?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I’m not saying that at all.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay.

PRIME MINISTER:

What I’m saying to you is, and Neil, there is no point sparring with each other and trying to split hairs. You know and I know and your listeners know precisely why you and I have both agreed over the years that - given that we understood what had gone on in the industry, the causes were pretty well understood - it was better to get on and take positive action to deal with these problems, which is what we’ve done. Neither you nor I believe that a Royal Commission or an inquiry was necessary. However, the political circumstances have dictated that an inquiry was becoming seen to be inevitable. There was a lot of uncertainty. The banks were concerned. The regulators were concerned. It was better then for the government to say righto we’ll hold it, we’ll do it on responsible terms of reference with a responsible Commissioner. That is the fact. That is the unvarnished fact of the matter.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay, well a couple of days ago it wasn’t going to happen, now it is happening. What else is on the table? What about penalty rates? There’s been a lot of contentious argument about that. Are you firm on penalty rates?

PRIME MINISTER:

Our position on penalty rates is that the independent umpire has made a decision, so–

NEIL MITCHELL:

So will that change?

PRIME MINISTER:

What, will the independent umpire change?

NEIL MITCHELL:

No, no will your decision change?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, of course not. We support the Fair Work Commission. As indeed did your fellow Melbournian, Bill Shorten, who came on your show and said again and again that he supports the independent umpire.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well what about refugee policy, will that change? Will you let the Manus Island people here?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, of course not.

NEIL MITCHELL:

You’re under pressure on that too. There are all these areas where you’re under pressure and you could be under pressure from within your own party. How do you know there won’t be more changes?

PRIME MINISTER:

Neil, the fact of the matter is, you’ve raised a number of issues where the government’s policy is very clear and we are not going to be making any changes.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But that’s my point. You were clear on banks two days ago and now that’s all gone. That’s my point. It’d be legitimate for the public to say every issue, is every issue up for grabs? What is unchangeable? What is set in cement?

PRIME MINISTER:

Neil, our position is very clear on the issues you just raised.

NEIL MITCHELL:

It was clear on banks two days ago.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, as I’ve explained, the circumstances were such that it was seen – look, do you want me to go over it again?

NEIL MITCHELL:

No, no. Alright.

PRIME MINISTER:

If you keep on asking me the same question, I’ll give you the same answer but I don’t think it’s very interesting for your listeners.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well, okay. Let’s look at some detail. Will you look at the pay levels of bank executives? 

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s not for the government to regulate pay levels of bank executives.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So that’s not on the list? Not on the table?

PRIME MINISTER:

There is what’s called the BEAR, the Banking Executive Accountability Regulations, which is going through the Parliament and that has requirements relating to the way in which bonuses are paid and how they can’t all be paid in one hit and so forth. 

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay. Will it look at service standards for customers?

PRIME MINISTER:

What, the Royal Commission?

NEIL MITCHELL:

Yeah.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it can look at misconduct, Neil. You can go and make a submission yourself if you like.

NEIL MITCHELL:

What, you want public submissions?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well of course it’ll take public submissions. That’s the whole point.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay, so what will it look at? It won’t look at pay rates.

PRIME MINISTER:

Hang on, you were asking me whether I’d look at pay rates.

NEIL MITCHELL:

No, no I’m asking you whether the Royal Commission will look at pay rates.

PRIME MINISTER:

People can make submissions about whatever they like, if they think it relates to misconduct. If they think that remuneration relates to misconduct, I’m sure they can make a submission to the Royal Commission.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Oh, fair enough. So, excessive salaries could be on the list.

PRIME MINISTER:

The terms of reference Neil, are focused on misconduct, which is essentially treating customers badly, in one way or another, in banking, super and insurance. It specifically draws the Royal Commissioner’s attention to issues of culture and governance and so remuneration and incentives are obviously a big part of that.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay.

PRIME MINISTER:

If somebody is incentivized in a way that can be seen as encouraging them to, you know, not look after their customers, then that obviously is an issue and that’s recognised as an issue in the industry, now.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Now look, you mentioned superannuation - the superannuation industry in many areas is in the thrall of the unions. They’ve got a bit of a stranglehold in some areas. Now, that will be on the table?

PRIME MINISTER:

The superannuation industry is referred to in the terms of reference, absolutely. 

NEIL MITCHELL:

Are you concerned by the unions influence in the superannuation industry?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, we have reforms in the Parliament at the moment which are designed to improve the governance of superannuation funds, principally by requiring that there be a number of independent directors on the boards of super funds, which I think most people would regard as being reasonable. But the industry funds, which have unions and employer representatives on them, typically, many of them are resisting that. Some of them do have independent directors, others don’t think it’s a good idea. We think it is. I think most, you know, common sense corporate governance would say you should have independent directors.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Some of the banks are saying today that this could force up mortgage rates. Do you agree?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t, but they’re entitled to their opinion. The fact is, we’re having the inquiry. The fact that we’re not doing this in a way – unlike Bill Shorten, we’re not attacking the banks, we’re not bank bashing here – what we’re doing is responding to a political reality that an inquiry was seen as inevitable and it was better to get on and do it responsibly and thereby end the uncertainty. But this is responsible government dealing with the reality of the politics in the Parliament at present.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Can I ask you, this is something you said in a press conference yesterday, what you actually meant by this?

PRIME MINISTER - RECORDING:

Government’s policy remains the same until it is changed.

NEIL MITCHELL:

It’s straight out of Yes Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

No it’s not actually. I tell you what, let me explain - I’m really glad you raised that. 

NEIL MITCHELL:

It does sound like Yes Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Let me explain what I’m saying here - some of the political commentators have criticised the announcement yesterday because they said it came as a surprise and they said that what I should have been doing was essentially briefing and hinting that we were going to change our policy and you know, sort of giving the impression that we were going to change our policy. Now, that is media management. What you have to do in government is take decisions responsibly and decisions are taken by the Cabinet. And so you’ve got a policy, you know, that’s your position, and then, if you want to change it you need to discuss it with your colleagues, consider all the options carefully, have a Cabinet meeting, make a decision and announce it.

All I was doing was explaining the difference between the responsible Cabinet government that I run and the sort of slippery media management style that some people in the press gallery seem to prefer because what they would prefer is that there was a bit of a leak here and a brief there and something like that. That’s not how I operate. We confer, we consider, we have a meeting, we make a decision and we announce it.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay. Let’s move onto other matters, but John Barilaro, this bloke who has called for you to go, Alan Jones’ mate in Sydney, are you going to have a word to him? Give him a ring?

PRIME MINISTER:

He actually made similar comments a little while ago and I left a message with him and he didn’t call me back.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well you want to confront him don’t you?

PRIME MINISTER:

He’s got my number. He can call me any time. I’d be delighted to have a chat to him. But I think it is, somebody has a view like that, if I had a view about a state leader of that kind, I would express it, if I expressed it at all, privately and face-to-face. I wouldn’t be doing, I wouldn’t be bagging them in the media like that.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Must irritate you a bit?

PRIME MINISTER:

Not really.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Really?

PRIME MINISTER:

No.

NEIL MITCHELL:

On the eve of a couple of by-elections, you’ve got the Deputy Leader in New South Wales saying you’re no good, and it doesn’t worry you?

PRIME MINISTER:

The reality is Neil that we have a by-election, in fact, we have a National Party by-election on Saturday in New England and so, Mr Barilaro should perhaps reflect on whether his remarks are going to be helpful for Barnaby. And, of course, we have a by-election for a Liberal, John Alexander, here in Bennelong on the 16th.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Are you confident of both, by the way?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, yes, but I mean, we recognise that they’re both challenging by-elections. By-elections are always challenging. But we’ve got two great candidates in Barnaby and John Alexander and we are working very hard to make sure that they’re re-elected.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Can you continue to govern regardless of results?

PRIME MINISTER:

We expect them to be re-elected. But obviously, we have with those, before the by-elections we had 76 seats in the House of Representatives, out of 150. Currently with them out we obviously have 74. But I expect Barnaby to be returned on Saturday and John to be returned on the 16th but we’re not taking either seat for granted any more than the candidates are.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Prime Minister, has Australia got a problem with China spying on this country? We’ve had all manner of ASIO warnings that the Communist Party is actively working within this country. Do you agree, believe that is true?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we certainly have problem with foreign espionage and foreign interference. It is one of the issues I have addressed in a number of ways and we’ll shortly be introducing legislation to address it. But the real problem at the moment, Neil-

NEIL MITCHELL:

So it is from China is it, that espionage?

PRIME MINISTER:

Neil, there is espionage from many countries, but-

NEIL MITCHELL:

Including China?

PRIME MINISTER:

There is espionage from many countries and I just want to, let’s just focus on the real issue at the moment which is Sam Dastyari – this is a guy, and he was, he received money in return for changing policy from a Chinese national, Mr Huang who has very close links to the Chinese Government.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

So he was basically providing changes in policy on important matters of national security in return for having his debts paid off. And then he’s gone to a meeting –

NEIL MITCHELL:

That’s a bit extreme. Having his debts paid off?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well its true.

NEIL MITCHELL:

How much was involved? Couple of hundred bucks?

PRIME MINISTER:

It was some thousands of dollars.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah, it was some thousands of dollars. He then went to a meeting with Mr Huang and advised him to leave his and Dastyari’s phone inside so that they could not be overheard. So he was in effect, advising him or warning him that he either was or might be being surveilled by Australian security agencies.  

Now, Sam Dastyari’s first loyalty is clearly not to Australia and he should get out of the Senate. And Bill Shorten should boot him out of the Labor Party.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Are you aware of whether Same Dastyari is being monitored by ASIO? Was he under surveillance himself, Sam Dastyari?

PRIME MINISTER:

I can’t comment on that. That is not something I would comment on, or that I would be aware of.

NEIL MITCHELL:

You wouldn’t necessarily be briefed on that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Correct.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay, so you want him out. Yeah. Okay. I don’t dispute that.

PRIME MINISTER:

The bottom line is this - look, Neil, I mean seriously, everyone in the Australian Parliament should have their first loyalty to Australia. Now we have got the situation where people like Barnaby Joyce and John Alexander, who unbeknownst to them because of a foreign law, were citizens of another country.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Yep.

PRIME MINISTER:

They’ve had to resign from the Parliament and run again and this bloke, we know, has been doing the bidding of a Chinese national who is closely associated with the Chinese Government and changing policy and providing him with counter surveillance advice.

Look, it is clear - Dastyari has to go and if Shorten doesn’t punt him out of the Labor Party and demand that he resign from the Senate it shows that Shorten is beholden to Dastyari and that is a very troubling concern about a man who wants to be Prime Minister of Australia. 

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay. Final question, are you still going to get the same-sex bill through before Christmas?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, I am very confident of that. It has gone through the Senate and it will be dealt with by the House next week.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So no changes in the Lower House? Because if there is, it has to go back to the Senate doesn’t it?

PRIME MINISTER:

That is true, but I mean the Senate would, both Houses will sit until it is done. But, yes, it’s gone, it went through the Senate actually much more quickly than anyone anticipated.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Good to speak to you. Any Twitter advice for Donald Trump? He’s fighting with the Brits or the British Prime Minister.

[Laughter]

PRIME MINISTER:

I think I’ll confine my Twitter advice for my own activities, which are much less energetic than Donald Trump’s.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Thank you for your time. The Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

[ENDS]