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Transcript of joint press conference: Brisbane: 6 August 2013: Cross River Rail; National Broadband Network; Australian economy; political donations; media laws; asylum seekers
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TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER AND DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER PRESS CONFERENCE 6 AUGUST 2013
E & O E - PROOF ONLY _____________________________________________________________
Subjects: Cross River Rail; National Broadband Network; Australian Economy; political donations, media laws; asylum seekers ____________________________________________________________
PM: It is great to be here with Deputy Prime Minister
Anthony Albanese and welcome to Brissy and to our Candidate for the Federal seat of Brisbane, Fiona McNamara. This is a beautiful part of Australia, we are in the botanic gardens with the Brisbane river behind us. We have talked a lot in recent times about the management of our economy and this is critical for the nation's future. To make sure that our economy remains strong, that we are protecting jobs and managing cost of living pressures for working families.
The truth is that we face new economic challenges with the end of the mining boom and that means that we have got to ensure in the future we have a new way of not having all our eggs in one basket, a new way of diversifying the economy, broadening the economic base, building new industries and driving that through a new national competitiveness agenda.
It depends upon your energy prices, it depends upon your labour force productivity, your business productivity, it depends on your approvals process to
get projects going at a reasonable time. It depends on your skills, it depends on small business formation and it depends on having world class infrastructure. That is part of the Government's nation-building agenda. It is becoming doubly important for the future that we have the best infrastructure we can provide.
That is why Albo, for example, has been around the country, supporting the National Broadband Network. It will turbo-charge productivity in the future, whether it’s through small businesses or big and it overcomes the tyranny of distance. I was asked this morning in my local community, how do we make sure that the best jobs will be available in Queensland in the future so that people don't have to go down to Sydney and Melbourne to get the best possible jobs? Part of the answer lies in first-class modern infrastructure, a National Broadband Network that works.
On top of that as well, we’ve got other infrastructure which is necessary to help our cities function and public transport infrastructure is key to that. Albo has been in charge of nation-building since the Government was first formed, he’s the Minister for nation building and he is passionate about it. He is around the country and on the job all the time. We have deliberately decided, as an Australian Government, to invest in this country's public transport infrastructure and its urban rail networks in particular. Here in Brisbane, those of you who have followed the debates closely in recent decades will know that there have been plans and plans and plans to build the Redcliffe rail link. This Government's making that happen after decades and decades of nothing ever happening. But we are also looking at the actual future of the inner city rail network as well and that is why we have put forward Cross River Rail, a really important project for the future.
It is about making sure that people can get to the city and back in a reasonable stretch of time so that they can attend to their family responsibilities but also get to their place of work. This is a great project. It is a great project because of what it does for transport needs, it is great project for what it does also for the needs of our businesses located in the city, but it is a
great project also for the environment and a terrific project when it comes to the impact on jobs.
This project alone, the Queensland Government told us earlier on, would be worth just under 6,000 direct and indirect jobs. Mr Newman's Government seems to be happy laying 14,000 people off. We're about putting 6,000 people on through this project, that is why it is so good. The disappointing thing for us is that despite having reached agreement just before the last budget, for this project to proceed, the Liberal National government in Queensland walked away from it because Tony Abbott said that a Liberal Government will never fund urban rail networks. Urban rail networks are not something that he is going to pay any attention to or fund.
The bulk of Australians live in cities, they are demanding to have decent public transport systems, not just for convenience but to keep the economies going as well. That is why this is such an important project. The Coalition pulled the rug from under the funding. The Liberals, through their Federal leadership said "No way JosÃ©, that is the end of that" and guess who suffers? The people of Brisbane. This project is essential for Brisbane's future. The rail network in Brisbane will be clogged by 2016 unless we build this cross River link. It will help people on the north side, people on the south side as well. That is one part of economic management, making sure we have got best infrastructure for the future to boost our productivity to diversify the economy in the future and to deal with the new challenges coming at us.
I notice there have been a few other debates on the economy in the last day or so as well and I think it is important that we focus on those because in the last 24 hours people would be entitled to conclude that the Liberals economic management credentials are now a shambles. We had yesterday Mr Abbott's treasury spokesman say that in fact we should not be in the position where interest rates are being cut. That is what he said and today Mr Abbott fundamentally contradicts him and says that we shouldn’t have an interest rate cut.
Yesterday, we had Mr Abbott's Treasury spokesman saying that the Liberal Party would not be producing a budget bottom line and this morning we had Mr Abbott overriding him again and saying “yes, the Liberal Party will produce its own costings and savings". Well can I say if you have the alternative Prime Minister and the alternative Treasurer within 24 hours having a fundamental public blue about interest rates policy and about the budget bottom line, this not only suggests they are in a shambles but questions their fitness for office.
These are serious matters. Interest rates policy as well as the budget bottom line and I conclude on this - why is the budget bottom line doubly important for Queensland? Because we have seen what the Queensland Liberal National Party government does with budget bottom lines. What they do is go out there without prior announcement before an election, so they have a commission of audit and they come in and slash 14,000 jobs, 4,400 health workers, deep cuts to education and health with no mandate to do so prior to the election.
Mr Abbott through his Treasury spokesman says they have $70 billion that they have to cut in terms of jobs, health, education. Frankly, this is a huge question, not just for the country but particularly for people in Queensland. What you had with Mr Newman's Liberal National Party government in Queensland is merely entrÃ©e, with Mr Abbott you get served the main course which is slash and burn to job cuts, cuts to health, cuts to education. That is why projects like this are so important for the city's future, for productivity's future and also for the future of jobs. Albo?
DPM: Thanks very much Prime Minister. It is great to be
back here. We were here in May after our budget with the then Member for Griffith and the Candidate for Brisbane - still are, but you ever a different title now and so do I. It is fantastic to be back here with you Prime Minister for my first event of this campaign. I can't think of anything more important.
We were here in May because we committed $715 million in partnership with the Queensland
Government that was also to contribute $715 million to make sure that the Cross River Rail project went ahead, to take 14,000 cars off Brisbane's roads, to make sure that we could have new trains through Brisbane, not just benefitting Brisbane but also benefitting the Gold Coast and benefitting the Sunshine Coast. Four new railway stations here in Brisbane. A fantastic project that had been assessed by Infrastructure Australia as the number one priority in the nation. Having a look at cost benefit analysis, looking at what the benefit to the economy would be, what the benefit to jobs, what the social and environmental benefit would be and guess what? This project came out number one. That is why we got together with Queensland and negotiated out an agreement, an agreement of $715 million from each level of government and then an availability payment model into the future, mobilising private sector funds through superannuation or other areas to make sure this project got done. Because the Queensland Government itself says that this city will enter gridlock around 2016 if this project doesn't proceed.
That is why we were surprised. Not surprised by Tony Abbott but surprised that the Queensland Government walked away from the arrangement. Since then, Minister Emerson and Premier Newman have tried to say there wasn't an arrangement. Well today, I can say that on 21 June, so a bit over a month ago, Scott Emerson wrote to me as a result of the Australian and Queensland budgets and said the following: "Until speaking about the issue that they say is getting in the way, that is the carve up GST, we were asked to treat this project the same as Bruce Highway funding, the same as the Ipswich motorway and the same as every other infrastructure project going ahead” but he said this "I ask that the $100 million of savings that was previously agreed to be set aside for this project be quarantined for redirection to other priority projects within Queensland". Mr Emerson with this letter is confirming that not only did we have an agreement, we had an absolute profile of when the funding would commence, with $100 million in 2012/13 to make sure that this project could be turbo-charged because it is an urgent project for Queensland.
But why is this amongst the important infrastructure priorities? This election on September 7 will be about a range of differences between the Government and the Coalition. There is no more stark contrast than when it comes to infrastructure. Labor's plan to invest according to cost benefit analysis, according to advice from Infrastructure Australia, in projects such as this, as well as road projects. The Coalition's plan that dismisses any funding for public transport whatsoever. What that does is consign people to spending more time in their cars than at home with their families and their kids, or in their work places. What that does is reject the Infrastructure Australia model.
So at the next election on September 7, anyone who supports funding for urban public transport should vote Labor. It is one of the real differences at this election, along with the very different plans for what we need with the National Broadband Network as opposed to the Opposition's flawed fraud-band plan. Infrastructure will be a key at this election. Public transport is front and centre when it comes to the differences between the Government and the Coalition and I don't understand the intransience, one of Mr Abbott's heroes, Margaret Thatcher, said that if you find yourself on a bus at the age of 27, you can consider your life to be a failure. Well I don't have that elitist view and I understand that public transport is important in our cities, the Prime Minister understands it and so does every Labor candidate.
PM: Just to conclude, before taking questions, the
bottom line is this - our new approach to the future is an NBN for the future, the other lot are saying they will disconnect the NBN. Our approach, the new approach to the future is we, as an Australian Government will help invest in our major cities urban transport needs, what they are saying is that they won't. There is a clear contrast in our approaches to this and I believe the Australian people will think very carefully about who they trust, not just with the future management of our economy, which I have touched on this morning, but also the delivery of the infrastructure we need for the future, new
infrastructure for Australia's new needs. Over to you folks.
JOURNALIST: Mr Abbott says that if interest rates are cut this afternoon by the Reserve Bank that the economy will be in much more trouble than the Government is prepared to admit. Would you like to respond to that and also given we probably won't get to talk to you after the interest rate decision, could you tell us what you think an interest rate cut would mean?
PM: Nice one Sid. The Reserve Bank is an independent
institution and their decision is appropriately independent for them. We have been well served by the Reserve Bank through the hardest times of the Global Financial Crisis and they have calibrated interest rates according to not just the state of the Australian domestic economy but international economic developments as well. The alternative Treasurer to give a public lecture to the Reserve Bank yesterday, again suggests on fundamental questions of economic management they are in a shambles.
On the question of Mr Abbott's comments that you just referred to, what he needs to understand is that all Australian families, working families in particular, are under cost of living pressures. Under this Government, through the independent decisions of the Reserve Bank, we have had interest rates low by historical standards. To give you a practical example, if you are on a $300,000 mortgage, right now you are paying $5,500 a year less than what you were back in 2006. That means a lot for average families. For Mr Abbott or Mr Hockey to come out and say that any such interest rate cut in the future, if it were to occur, is somehow bad, just shows you how out of touch they are with the pressures faced by Australian families.
JOURNALIST: On that, can you promise that rates will always be lower under a Labor Government than they would under the Coalition and Mr Albanese to you, you’ve about the NBN - who will be building it in WA and SA now that the company has pulled out?
PM: Let me just go to your first question. One of the
great things about this country and the management of its economy is that you have independent institutions like the Reserve Bank. Therefore, for any politician to stand up, whether it was Mr Howard's false claim years ago, or any other such claim today about projections about future interest rates is just economically irresponsible. You know that, everybody knows that. What we're concerned about is cost of living pressures in the real world on families. Number one, making sure our interest rates are as low as possible.
I said before $5,500 a year less for an average mortgage of $300,000. Secondly, basic things like us paying the School Kids Bonus. We are providing that to help people out. They will rip it away. Thirdly, the National Broadband Network, we will connect it to peoples' homes and businesses for free. They will take it to a postbox out on the road and then charge you up to $3,000 to connect it to your house. Add all those together, that is what adds up to the bottom line. I don't believe Mr Abbott's been faintly sensitive to the real cost of living pressures faced by families.
DPM: NBN, in terms of the arrangements, of course, are
commercial arrangements between NBNCo and contractors. There are 10 major construction companies rolling out the NBN as we speak. It is not just meeting its targets but it is meeting them on budget. In terms of the specifics of today's report, the fact is that contracts come to an end and when they come to an end you get a new contractor. That is what happens and in terms of South Australia, there has been a major contract issued with a South Australia company. In Western Australia it is Downer have signed up a contract. The existing company Syntheo has been engaged in the process until early 2014.
Just yesterday, a major contract was extended between NBNCo and a particular company. Those are all commercial decisions. The NBNCo is vital for Australia's future. There are some in the Coalition and some it would appear in the media who seem intent on talking Australia down and talking down the future
which the NBN represents. People need to look at what those interests are but for the national interest, the NBN is absolutely vital, the idea that we are having a debate in 2013 about whether fibre to the home is better than fibre to the fridge on the corner and copper to the home is quite frankly laughable. That is the debate, in terms of copper versus fibre, that might have been settled when copper was better value than iron wire back in 1913. In 2013, it is fibre and when it comes to the NBN, we need to do it once, do it right, and we need to do it with fibre. That is what NBNCo is doing.
PM: Just on NBN, one final thought by the way. Albo
put out a ripper Tweet this morning in response to Mr Murdoch's observations on the NBN. I have just added my voice to Albo's Tweet. The bottom line is, this is a free country, Mr Murdoch is entitled to his point of view. He says that we can't afford to have a National Broadband Network which delivers fibre to the home and fibre to the business premises of Australians. Remarkably that seems to be the same policy of Mr Abbott's as well. It is a strange coincidence of interest there.
We have a different view. The National Broadband Network is there for all Australians and we will not have a divide between rich people and poor people, remote areas and inner city areas. We want to have fibre optic cable to lift peoples' lives, to add productivity right across the country and we stand by our policy and are proud of it.
JOURNALIST: Australia's AAA credit rating from the three major agencies has been a major element of your argument establishing your Government's credibility, will you guarantee a AAA credit rating throughout the course of the next term, and secondly do you think voters in Dobell will cop a fly in candidate like Andrew Charlton?
PM: The first thing I would say - it is like my response to
the question on the Reserve Bank and the independence of the Reserve Bank, the credit companies make their independent assessments all the time. What I can say to you is the fact this
Government has among the lowest net debt to GDP ratios of any countries in the world is not because we wished it to be such, it is because we have been very attentive to the needs of the economy and bringing back the budget to surplus over time. You look at their commentary on that.
Secondly, you look at our budget deficit as a proportion of GDP, again one of the lowest around, compared with what you see in Europe and elsewhere, bringing the budget back to surplus over time. Independent decisions will be taken by ratings agencies in the future that’s as it should be. As far as Dobell is concerned, I am sure we will have a first-class candidate in Dobell by the time nominations close.
JOURNALIST: On your comments just then about Mr Murdoch, do you subscribe to the theory that he sees the NBN as a threat to his business or if not, why do you think he is so passionately running this campaign to have you thrown out? What's happened to the relationship between you and Mr Murdoch?
PM: Well Mr Murdoch is entitled to his view. It is a
democracy, it is a free press. He owns 70% of the newspapers in this country, some of whom are represented here by fine journalists. But he owns 70% of them. Secondly, I think he's made it fairly clear and through one of his editors the other day that he doesn't really like us and would like to give us the heave-ho and would like to get rid of us and get his mate Mr Abbott in. It is a free country. He can do that if that is what he wishes. He has also been very blunt in what he said on Twitter, through his own direct statements. I just referred to one on the NBN.
The bottom line is - it is for others to ask the question why Mr Murdoch really doesn't want the National Broadband Network to be connected to everyone's homes and everyone’s small business premises, does he sense it represents a commercial challenge to Foxtel which is a major cash cow for his company or not?
But I’d rather hear from him on those questions or hear from his corporation. As I said in terms of his views and his determination to see Mr Abbott elected as Prime Minister and his determination to see the end of myself, it is a free country. He is entitled to those views. I am sure he sees it with crystal clear clarity all the way from the United States.
JOURNALIST: (inaudible) own 70% of the newspapers. Are you saying he shouldn't have that presence?
PM: I am just describing a fact. He operates under the
laws of this country. One of our great freedoms is freedom of the press and he operates under the entire media diversity laws of this country as well. And so 70% of the newspapers are owned by him. Through his statements made directly he has said he wants Mr Abbott as Prime Minister and he doesn't want us to continue in Government. That is his right to free speech. He is directly opposed our plan for the National Broadband Network and he says it should not be provided free to peoples' homes and to peoples’ small businesses. That is a matter for him. We have a different view. I noticed his view is identical to Mr Abbott's view.
JOURNALIST: Will you repay the money that the foundation paid for your trip to Germany last year given they're involved in cigarette manufacturing?
PM: If you think, Latika, that someone like myself, then
as a backbencher travelling overseas to a conference hosted by a foundation should have prior knowledge as to where a foundation, a German public interest foundation may derive its funding from - you just don't know those things. I didn't know it at the time. Latike - for you to draw by inference a moral comparison between attending an international conference funded by an international foundation which for the purposes of that conference or more generally, has a range of funding sources with the Liberal Party in 2013 taking direct campaign donations worth millions of dollars to fund the political advertisements on the air waves today, then you're dead wrong. It is a fundamentally different principle.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you have said Mr Murdoch owns 70% of the newspapers and print media in the company -
PM: Which organisation are you from Sid?
JOURNALIST: The Australian' owned by the Murdoch Government. The question that leaves open is do you have any plans to change the media laws if Labor is re-elected?
PM: We have no such plans at all because we assume
all independent players in the Australian media market will participate within the law, exercise their freedom of speech as Mr Murdoch is consistently doing through the pages of your newspaper and others.
JOURNALIST: The Government of Nauru » has said they won't resettle refugees in that country. Is that completely at opposites with what was announced on Saturday and what is your understanding of what refugees will be allowed to do on « Nauru » ?
PM: The language that we agreed with the Government
of « Nauru » , in the statement we made here in Brisbane last Saturday, was that a limited number of people will be allowed to settle and reside there. That is the language which exists within their own traditions. That is what we agreed on and made public at the time. Nothing has changed since.
PM: No, we said they could settle and reside. Nauru's
experience of this is that as I am advised by the Immigration Minister is that in the past various people have come to settle and reside in « Nauru and have ended up staying for 20 years. They don't have a category of permanent residency as we do under our immigration law. When they say settle and reside, they are drawing on their own traditions, it is the language we used on the day and that is the language which will be the subject of the implementation of this agreement. Hey mate I can
barely see you behind that spotlight. What happened
to Tony Abbott at your debate last night, where did he go?
JOURNALIST: That didn't happen.
PM: Did you ask him why he didn't front?
JOURNALIST: I believe he didn't attend in the end.
PM: That was unfortunate.
JOURNALIST: We hope to host another one during the election.
PM: I have just been to a community debate with the
Liberal candidate for Griffith, I’ve been there with the Green candidate and Clive Palmer’s candidate as well. Then, having an hour and a half of that, an hour on the radio with all four candidates again. You know something, the life blood of democracy, apart from a free speech and free press and a balanced public political debate is to ensure that those who want to put up their hands for public office get to have a say and put their ideas in contests against others. That’s why you and the media are so legitimately active. I did that at a local level this morning with every local candidate. It is the right thing to do. Why is this that the Prime Minister of Australia can happily debate his Liberal candidate but the bloke who wants to be Prime Minister of Australia refuses to debate. I don't get that? I just really don’t get it.
JOURNALIST: Chris Bowen wrote govern alone or not at all, Tony Abbott appears to have adopted that as his mantra-
PM: I answered that yesterday by saying - I was talking
to Albo about that. He has some good local stuff on this one, it is great.
DPM: I was very interested by Mr Abbott's comments. I
am a candidate in Graynler. It is the number one target according to the Greens on their website. Guess what - the Liberal Party has given preferences to the Greens in every single election in Graynler. Every single time they have campaigned there. If they're fair dinkum, the only reason why you have people like Adam Bandt in Parliament and why the Greens think they can win that seat is because the Liberals give them preferences.
Adam Bandt was put into the House of Representatives by Tony Abbott at the 2010 election. This election he is trying to put Adam Bandt back and trying to put Hall Greenland who is a fair way to the left of Adam Bandt, he probably makes Adam Bant look like a National Party Member. Nonetheless, in spite of Hall's support for the boycott and sanctions campaign against Israel, in spite of the fact that he describes Bob Brown as Liberals on bicycles in the Canberra leadership, they won't give a commitment not to give them preferences.
I say to Tony Abbott, get fair dinkum - don't put cross benchers into Parliament if that is your real view.
PM: Folks, having said all of that I think it’s about time
to zip. We’ve given it a fair old race around the racecourse.
JOURNALIST: The Liberal candidate of Greenway had a bit of trouble getting on top of his brief. How confident are you on whether your candidates are up to speed on Labor Party policy?
PM: You know something - candidates and campaigns
are a rolling challenge. I understand the Liberal candidate in Greenway had a few challenges yesterday. I am sure some of ours will at some stage or another. That is life in an election campaign. If you’ve been through as many as I have you’ve seen anything can happen. The core thing is this - what we have seen on the question of the alternative government today is nothing short of a shambles on economic policy. Fundamental differences between the alternative Prime Minister and the alternative Treasurer on interest rates, fundamental differences between the alternative Prime Minister and the alternative Treasurer on the budget bottom line for their own party. I think that speaks volumes in terms of their fitness for office. Thanks folks.
Communications Unit: T 03 8625 5111 www.alp.org.au