Interview with Laura Jayes and Paul Kelly, Sky News Sunday Agenda

Transcript
03 Dec 2017
Prime Minister
New England; Banking Royal Commission; Tax cuts; Citizenship; Same-sex Marriage; Sam Dastyari; One Nation; Polling; 2018
E&OE

LAURA JAYES:

Thank you for having us in your office this morning Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well good morning.

LAURA JAYES:

Thank you. How relieved are you and will you be to have Barnaby Joyce back tomorrow?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m so thrilled that we’re getting Barnaby back. We’re getting the band back together, the people of New England have done that with a very emphatic swing.

In fact, the swing to Barnaby was actually higher than the Labor Party’s primary vote. So it was a very emphatic swing. He’s on about 64 per cent of the primary vote as it stands so this is a very, very big result.

LAURA JAYES:

Indeed it is, but does it give the Nationals more impetus to have that product differentiation we’ve seen some of the renegades exercise in the last couple of weeks?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the National party have their distinct identity of course. But Barnaby was re-elected with such a big swing and such an emphatic verdict by the people of New England, as the Deputy Prime Minister, and future Deputy Prime Minister for Australia, as the Leader of the Nationals in a Coalition Government. So this was a vote for Barnaby Joyce, Nationals Leader and a vote for the Coalition.

As you saw last night, there were plenty of Liberals there, plenty of Young Liberals and Young Nationals working together. It was a great Coalition effort.

PAUL KELLY:

Prime Minister can you use this victory by Barnaby Joyce to reset the Government’s direction?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, it’s a big vote of confidence in the Government Paul. You get a lot of negative commentary in the media of course and some of it’s more informed than others. But what you’ve seen there is a resounding vote of confidence in Barnaby Joyce, in the Coalition, in the Government. You know the two key figures in the Coalition Government are naturally the leader of the Liberal Party and the Leader of the National Party, me and Barnaby. So Barnaby’s victory there is a big vote of confidence in the Coalition.

PAUL KELLY:

Last week as we know, there was a rebellion by sections of the National Party which imposed a Royal Commission into the financial sector, onto the Government. How confident are you that discipline can now be restored in the National Party?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well having Barnaby back as leader is obviously very important. You know, the High Court’s decision took out of the Parliament both the leader and deputy leader of the National Party. Now the National Party and the Liberal Party, the Coalition Government continued in Barnaby and Fiona’s absence naturally. Nigel Scullion has done a great job as interim Parliamentary leader. But it is obviously enormously important to have Barnaby back and he’s been sent back to Canberra by the people of New England in a very, very emphatic way.

PAUL KELLY:

But this question was about discipline, I mean we had a rebellion last week, are you confident that there will be a change in the National Party and a restoration of discipline?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m very confident Paul that we will be able to see a disciplined approach of teamwork within the Coalition but you’ve got to remember something about Parliament – I mean you’ve been round here a lot longer than me – but there are 226 people in the Parliament. We often write about it, talk about it as parties and leaders and coalitions, but there are 226 individuals. Each of them, each of those 226 individuals will from time to time express views that are not necessarily ideal from their leader’s point of view. But that’s democracy.

LAURA JAYES:

One of those who has expressed their, well, their freedom on the backbench is George Christensen. He has threatened to quit more times than I care to remember. He says he’s well and truly within the Nationals, how damaging has that been for you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we obviously welcome his change of heart, or his affirmation that he’ll remain part of the Coalition. But that, you know, again as I said, there’s 226 people in the House and Senate. Each of them from time to time, will express a personal view or a personal perspective that may ruffle a few feathers. But the important thing is that the team works together and you know, Barnaby is the leader of the Nationals. The Coalition is a coalition between the Liberal Party and the National Party and the Nationals leader has now been returned to Parliament. That is a great result.

LAURA JAYES:

Now that you have been forced into this banking Royal Commission, it’s $75 million, it’ll run for 12 months. What do you hope to achieve out of it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well what we’ll see – and we’ll get a thorough review of the claims of, complaints of, misconduct in the financial services sector, in banking, in superannuation, insurance and financial advice. There’s been a lot of work done in that area to date of course, so the Royal Commission will be able to review that, take new evidence, take new submissions, drill more deeply into the areas of greatest concern.

We’ve got an outstanding Royal Commissioner in Kenneth Hayne, a former High Court judge, and I’m very confident this will be thorough review and we look forward to the outcome.

LAURA JAYES:

So what will it actually achieve? Will it change culture in the banking sector? Will it make sure no other misconduct, indiscretions will be done in the future? I mean, this is $75 million, is it something –

PRIME MINISTER:

Well again Laura, it is and as you know, we took the view that we were better off addressing these problems of misconduct with changes in policy and regulation. And we have done. If this Royal Commission had been set up two years ago, much of what we’ve done, probably all of what we’ve done, would not have happened because people would have said: “Oh, you’ve got to wait until the royal commission has reported”. You know it’s always a good argument to put things onto the backburner.

Now what we have got is some very big reforms; the regulators have got more teeth, both resources and legislation. We’ve see the new Banking Executive Accountability Regime, we brought that in. The New one-stop shop for complaints about super insurance or banking and a raft of other measures.

So they’re all either legislated or in the course being legislated. I hope that the Labor Party doesn’t try to play politics now and say: “Oh, you’ve got to push them away until the Royal Commission reports.”  The Royal commission can review what we’ve done, that’s part of their terms of reference, they can examine what we’ve done in our policies and they may recommend that we change them and do something differently. But I think the issues of misconduct are very well recognized by the Government. We’ve taken action and the Royal Commission, I believe will be able to provide a high level of assurance to Australians that all of these issues are being thoroughly examined. They’ll be put out into the pubic domain and I think it will have an effect of just providing more sunlight to this industry, so that people can see what’s happened, what’s being done to fix it and perhaps, what more needs to be done.

PAUL KELLY:

If we go to the issue of dual citizenship, the deadline is approaching under which MPs will have to make their declaration. How confident are you that there will be no further Coalition MPs caught up in this trap and having to be referred either to the High Court or subject to further by-elections.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Paul, based on the reports, we’ve had from our members and senators, we’re satisfied there are no further issues arising from our side of the House. There are plainly a number on the Labor side, which should be referred to the High Court.

PAUL KELLY:

Now if Labor don’t want to refer their own MPs to the High Court, is the Government prepared to use its numbers on the floor of Parliament to refer Labor MPs?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes. Look, we could not, we cannot - now that we have the decision of the High Court and we know that they’re taking a very strict, literal, black-letter interpretation of the section – we can’t in good conscience, fail to refer anyone whether on our side or the other side or on the crossbench to the High Court if it is clear that there are substantial grounds for believing that they are ineligible to sit in the Parliament. Then let the High Court decide.

I mean my colleagues have done the right thing. We went to the High Court and we put an alternative view of the law to the High Court than what they adopted. So the High Court said: “No, we are going to take a strictly literal view. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t know you were a dual citizen, you’re still out.”

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PAUL KELLY:

Is this a test, I want to ask you, is this a test of Bill Shorten’s integrity? Given –

PRIME MINISTER:

Absolutely, this is an acid test of his integrity. He’s facing a couple at the moment, Dastyari is another one. But just on dual citizenship, he has a number of members who were and knew they were UK citizens at the time they nominated, right? That’s a fact. They are clearly, in the light of the High Court’s decision, clearly you would have to say they are very likely to be found ineligible by the High Court. I mean the High Court found Barnaby Joyce ineligible because he had been a New Zealand citizen and he didn’t even know he was a New Zealand citizen. Labor has members who knew they were UK citizens but did not get their paperwork done in time to have their UK citizenship brought to an end before they nominated. So clearly they should go to the High Court.

Look, I say this without any partisanship at all, I would say the same thing about one of our members, you know.

The High Court decision was not one that we welcomed, we took a different approach to the High Court. They’ve taken a strictly literal approach, it’s seven-nil, that’s the law we’ve got to abide by.

LAURA JAYES:

Prime Minister you say that you’re confident that none of your members will need to be referred to the High Court and there will be no further by-elections, but you should be more than confident, shouldn’t you? This should be, I mean you’re the architect of this resolution. All the paperwork will have to be documented tomorrow in the House.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes.

LAURA JAYES:

Has your office not been through it?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, we have. We’ve been through all the material yes, that’s right. It will all be presented, so when I say I’m very confident, I’m satisfied that there are none of our members that are ineligible or could be reasonably argued to be ineligible.

LAURA JAYES:

Okay moving on to same-sex marriage. You say this will be a feature in the House this week. You said that you care more about religious protection than legislating this itself. Now what amendments will you be supporting in the House, to ensure that extra level of religious protection?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there’ll be a range of amendments moved. There are others that I may not be aware of, but broadly speaking I support the amendments that George Brandis moved in the Senate that weren’t adopted. In particular, I don’t believe that a celebrant, a marriage celebrant should be obliged to celebrate any wedding they don’t want to. You know, we could make this very simple, just simply say that if you’re authorised to celebrate a marriage, you’re not obliged to celebrate any particular marriage that you choose not to.

You know, there a plenty of marriage celebrants. No one is every going to have difficulty finding someone to celebrate their marriage, so you just deal with that in a very practical way. The other point that George raised – there are other amendments of similar intent – is to make it clear that there is nothing in the bill that prevents or inhibits or hinders anyone from expressing their views about what is the right, you know ‘morally right’ form of marriage.

I mean there are plenty of things that are legal, but that people reasonably feel are morally wrong.

Adultery is wrong, but it’s not illegal. Marrying somebody who has been divorced before, who has been marriage before, is perfectly legal, but many churches teach that that is not in accordance with their teachings. So people are entitled to express their own heartfelt views on these issues and that shouldn’t be inhibited.

You know, frankly, the Bill doesn’t do that, it doesn’t inhibit it. So what what George has proposed, what George proposed to the Senate was really belt and bracers to confirm that which was already plain.

LAURA JAYES:

Okay but is this where it ends for you? Those two amendments?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Laura there will be others relating to charities –

PAUL KELLY:

Well what about parental rights? That’s a very important one as far as the conservatives are concerned and as you just mentioned, protection for religious charities?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the point is, no charity should be at risk of losing their charitable status because they –

PAUL KELLY:

So you’ll accept an amendment to that effect will you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Exactly Paul, that’s right. But let me put it this way; St Vincent d Paul, a huge charity. It’s a Catholic charity. No one could every reasonably, sensibly, rationally suggest that because it’s a Catholic charity and believes, its leadership believe in Catholic teaching on matters of faith and morality, including marriage, that it should lose its charitable status. I mean, that is ridiculous.

So again, the Bill doesn’t do that. A lot of the amendments that we’re talking about are really providing assurance that things that are unintended consequences, are not going to occur.

PAUL KELLY:

Okay. So we might just move to tax. Donald Trump has had a great victory, the United States Senate has authorised his tax reform measure which does involve a plan to cut the US corporate tax rate to 20 percent, which will have international ramifications. What does this mean in terms of your own corporate tax cut measures? Will you remain committed to them all the way to the next election?

PRIME MINISTER:

The answer is yes Paul. It means an enormous amount. I mean the argument for reducing our company tax, business taxes in Australia, is to keep us competitive. Now this is the case we’ve made in our Enterprise Tax Plan. As you know, the Senate agreed to the reductions in company tax progressively down to 25 per cent for companies with a turnover of up to $50 million, small and medium businesses. Now, they employ, by the way, about half of the private sector workforce, so that’s a lot, millions of Australians. So that’s a very big achievement and this is one of the many things we’ve been able to get done despite not having a majority in the Senate. We want to complete that for all companies.

I think once the Americans do reduce their company tax rate to 20 per cent, we’re going to have to go back, we will go back to the Senate and say: “Look, seriously, how can we compete for capital, to build businesses here, if we are asking 30 per cent tax from businesses and in America, the world’s biggest economy, it’s 20 per cent.” We’ve just got to square up with that reality.

PAUL KELLY:

Now, how does this fit in to the signal you gave the Business Council a couple of weeks ago when you put personal income tax relief of the agenda in the future? So, can you do both the corporate tax cut and then offer new relief for personal income tax?

PRIME MINISTER:

Paul the answer is yes, how much we can do and when we do it of course will depend on the budgetary circumstances. But the answer is we do have the ability to do it, but we also need to, what I was signaling, this was very, very clear, this was a very clear signal of our intent. It’s important that Australians understand that we are looking after them, we are focused on keeping more money in the pockets of hardworking Australians and Australian businesses.

PAUL KELLY:

Can I just ask, in terms of the income tax cuts, will they come in, will they be introduced before the next election? Or might you take a promise to the next election to implement these in the subsequent Parliament?

PRIME MINISTER:

Paul our intention is to introduce them before the next election and to do so – but that’s our intention but of course you’ve got to stick to your commitment, our commitment to keep getting the Budget back into balance by 2021. Now, we’re satisfied that we can do that. But as you know, ultimately all of these things are finalised in the lead up to every Budget when you have all the numbers. But it’s important Australians understand that our next priority in taxation reform is putting more money into the pockets of hardworking Australian families and businesses.

Now, the business tax cuts are very important. Look what its done to employment, 355, 000 jobs in the last year, nearly 1,000 a day. That’s because of the big opportunities we’ve opened up for more investment, with reductions in business taxes, big free trade deals, more investment means more jobs.

LAURA JAYES:

Can I ask you about Sam Dastyari, he is not being sacked from the Labor Party at this stage. Bill Shorten says he hasn’t done anything illegal, has he?

PRIME MINISTER:

He has betrayed Australia’s interests. How Shorten can stick with Dastyari and represent himself as a fit and proper person to be Prime Minister of Australia, is utterly beyond me.

Dastyari took thousands of dollars from a Chinese businessman, Mr Huang, to pay off his personal debts. That in itself was incredible, incredibly wrong.

He did so and then went to a function for Chinese media and read a script – we haven’t found out who wrote it – he read a script in which he abandoned the Labor Party’s policy on the South China Sea, and essentially delivered the talking points that could have been written by somebody in Beijing. That was also an extraordinary betrayal of Australia’s national interests.

Then, we now know he goes to a meeting with Mr Huang and tells him they should leave their phones inside and walk out into the garden so that they can’t be listened into by Australian security agencies.

I mean, Dastyari must go. He is not putting Australia first and Shorten is utterly failing as a leader to leave him in the Senate.

LAURA JAYES:

[Inaudible] this isn’t being investigated? For all the reasons you laid out, this should be investigated. You should be asking our authorities to get to the bottom of what actually happened.

PRIME MINISTER:

You shouldn’t assume it’s not being investigated Laura, but –

LAURA JAYES:

Well is it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Laura this is a political matter and I do not give directions to our police or our security agencies on operational matters. Certainty in an area like this, that is a matter for them. But this is a test of Bill Shorten’s character.

You know, what does Dastyari have to do, what does he actually have to do before Shorten acknowledges that he’s not fit to sit in the Senate?

PAUL KELLY:

I guess the question is what are you going to do as Prime Minister? This is not just a political issue, from what you’ve said this is clearly a national security issue.

PRIME MINISTER:

It is national security issue, I agree.

PAUL KELLY:

And you’ve raised the question about the loyalty to this country of a Labor Senator. Now surely you can’t as Prime Minister, just leave it there. Will you initiate some sort of probe or inquiry into this to get to the bottom of it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Paul again, I don’t give directions on operational matters. I’m not going to, it’s not appropriate. But the facts, there are a number of facts in the public domain and it’s a matter for the relevant agencies to look into.

Let me tell you what we are doing though, just hang on. You can’t move the responsibility for Dastyari away from Shorten. I know that the media – I’m not any complaints to you two – but the media are very ready to let Shorten off the hook. Shorten has one of his key people, his key factional allies, the man to whom he owes his job, is sitting in the Australian Senate and we know that he’s been taking money from and providing counter-surveillance advice to a foreign national with the closest links to a foreign government.

Now in those circumstances, Shorten should stand up for Australia. If Shorten wants to be seen as a potential leader of Australia, then he has to stand up for Australia. His failure to do so means that he puts his factional survival, which depends apparently on Senator Dastyari, ahead of the national security of the country he wants to lead. It’s time for Bill Shorten to show that he’s really on Australia’s side and boot Dastyari out.

PAUL KELLY:

Let’s just go no to your management of the government which has come under such strong criticism in recent weeks and your own leadership. Do you agree that one of the things you’ve got to do is to talk better to the conservative side of politics and to conservative voters, many of who are walking away from the Coalition?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there weren’t many that walked away last night in New England.

PAUL KELLY:

The Queensland election was just a week away Prime Minister –

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes and I know and understand that Paul. But you know, the proposition that the results in the Queensland election was a judgement on the Federal Government was simply wrong. Federal issues barely featured in the Queensland election.

LAURA JAYES:

It’s not about Federal issues, isn’t it about people leaving you right flank and voting for One Nation instead of the Liberal Party?

PRIME MINISTER:

Laura and that is why we have to be very clear, as I have been and others have been and others have been, that a vote for One Nation is a vote for Labor. A vote for One Nation in the Queensland election, was a vote for Annastacia Palaszczuk.

LAURA JAYES:

Are you saying that this is more a tactical issue than it is an ideological one?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’m not sure what you mean by either in this context, but let me be very clear; you have to live with the consequences of your actions. If you vote for One Nation, as people did in the Queensland election, what was the outcome? The very likely return of a Labor Government. Now if that’s what those voters wanted to do, then they should be pleased with the outcome. I suspect most of them didn’t.  So the important message is, if you want a Coalition Government, if you want a Liberal National Government in Canberra and an LNP Government in Queensland, then vote for the Coalition.

On Saturday you saw thousands of people in New England, with a very, very big swing, with a record swing, voting for Barnaby Joyce the leader of the Nationals, my partner, my Deputy Prime Minister in a Coalition Government. So they got the message, they understood that if you want a good strong Coalition and you want a good strong Coalition Government, you’ve got to vote for the Coalition.

PAUL KELLY:

Now Can I assume from the comments you’ve just made about One Nation, that what this means at the next Federal election as far as you’re concerned, no deals with One Nation, no preferences to one Nation. Is that what it means?

PRIME MINISTER:

There will be no preference deals with One Nation at the next election.

LAURA JAYES:

Prime Minister you are behind in 25 Newspolls, we’re ending the end of 2017, colleagues have backgrounded against you, Cabinet is leaking and we’ve also seen the backbench force you into a major backflip. They’re pretty bad signals aren’t they? How do you plan to turn things around?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Laura, we’ve got a big agenda next year. I mean we’ve obviously got some issues to deal with before the end of the year; same-sex marriage and the citizenship issue we discussed. But you know next year; we’ve talked about taxation cuts, further taxation reform. We’ve got the National Energy Guarantee to finally complete and implement, that is going to bring down power prices – again, putting more money into the pockets of hard-working Australians. That’s our initiative, that is a huge reform, a huge reform. Our childcare reforms come into effect, again putting more money into the pockets of hard-working Australian families. Our school reforms, think of those. What we’re doing is for the first time, delivering on national, transparent, needs-based education, school funding. Of course we have the Gonski 2.0 report which is going to come to us in March, which is going to show the way to ensuring that we get better outcomes from school education at the same time as we’re putting so much more money in.

LAURA JAYES:

Prime Minister can I just stop you there, because all of what you’ve done – you’ve had some legislative wins in the Parliament – but this hasn’t translated into public support, in fact the public has been falling away from you, there’s a ten point difference in the Newspoll –

PRIME MINISTER:

But Laura, hang on, can I just stop you right there. You’re focused on the Newspoll okay, I don’t govern based on the Newspoll. I don’t run the Government based on the Newspoll -

LAURA JAYES:

But you rolled a Prime Minister based on the Newspoll.

PRIME MINISTER:

I run the Government, I lead the Government based on delivering the outcomes for the Australian people. You know what, you’re talking about the Newspoll, but we’ve just had a poll. It was not a Newspoll, it was an election. It was a by-election in New England and you saw, when I last checked, about a 12 per cent swing to the leader of the National Party, my partner, my Deputy Prime Minister in that election. Now that’s a real poll.

LAURA JAYES:

Okay but Prime Minister we have to address the elephant in the room, you’re in a worse position in the polls and support electorally than Rudd, Gillard and Abbott were all before they were rolled. What makes you think that your Party Room won’t roll you?

PRIME MINISTER:

I have every confidence, every confidence, that I will lead the Coalition to the next election in 2019 and we will win it. Because we are putting in place the policies that will deliver for the Australian people. We’ve had some tough issues this year, we have, there’s no question about that. Same sex marriage is a very divisive issue, it has been resolved. Who was able to give every Australian a say on this? My Government. Labor opposed it. So did many others. Every Australian had their say, 80 per cent voted, extraordinary. 62 per cent voted ‘yes’, we will deliver that. That issue will be dealt with, that was democracy in action, that is delivering on our promises.

Do you know, nobody alleges that we broke any election promises. How many Prime Ministers in recent times have you been able to say that about?

PAUL KELLY:

Let’s got hen to the question of your relationship with the Australian public. Because I think you’d agree, the polls would indicate there is a degree of problem there. So can I ask you, to what extent do you think you need to reassess the way that you’re relating to the Australian public and make some adjustments in terms of your own approach and style?

PRIME MINISTER:

Paul, I read your commentary very carefully. I do, no, I’m very serious. I hear what you say and I always work harder to communicate more clearly and perhaps more succinctly. People often say I’m too wordy, perhaps because of my old days as a journalist Paul. You see, we always like a few more paragraphs. But –

LAURA JAYES:

So it’s just the messaging, not the message?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no look, can I tell you something? You guys, for a living, write and talk about politics and politician’s personalities.

The only personalities I’m focused on are those of the Australia people. Delivering for them. This is not an issue, this is not a game, this is not a House that should be focused on egos or on short-term tactics. It should be focused on results and when you mark down what we have achieved, you can see that step by step, we’re getting barnacles off the boat, we’re making real changes resulting in real jobs and real investment.

You know what, Australians are smart. They were very smart in New England and their message was: “We want Barnaby Joyce back in Canberra, leading the National Party as Deputy Prime Minister in a Government led by Malcolm Turnbull.’’ That was a vote for the Coalition and it may have surprised some of the pollsters, it may have surprised some of the commentators. But you know what, that’s a real judgement.

LAURA JAYES:

Perhaps we will see a repeat in Bennelong in two weeks time?

PRIME MINISTER:

We’re looking forward to a strong result, we take nothing for granted, we’ve got a great candidate.

PAUL KELLY:

So is that a referendum on your Government? Is the Bennelong by-election a referendum on you and your Government?

PRIME MINISTER:

Paul every by-election is an opportunity for people to cast their verdict on the government absolutely, but I know that you’d love it. You and your friends at The Australian would love the government to be determined on the Newspoll. Perhaps we could have a change of government every two weeks depending on the Newspoll? The fact of the matter is, at the same time as your editorial page says we should govern for the long term and be focused on long term policy achievements, you can’t then say you’ve got to twist and turn and brief and background in the way previous governments have done, to meet the short term tactical advantage.

I run a traditional Cabinet Government. We make serious decisions about serious policy. We confer and then we announce them and that is what we’ve done step after step.

IR reform. Media reform. Tax reform. Childcare reform. Schools funding reform. It’s a very long list. Energy, gay marriage. All of these tough issues we’ve grappled with in a tight Parliament and we’ve delivered on. That is what the Australian people will cast their judgement on when we go to the polls in 2019.

LAURA JAYES:

Prime Minister, we’ll have to leave it there.

PAUL KELLY:

Thank you PM.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you both very much. 

[ENDS]