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Abbott gears up for election day -

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Abbott gears up for election day

Broadcast: 17/08/2010

Reporter: Kerry O'Brien

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott speaks with Kerry O'Brien live in the final week before voting day.


KERRY O'BRIEN, PRESENTER: Here is our final feature interview for this election with Coalition
leader Tony Abbott. Last night I spoke with Julia Gillard in Brisbane. Mr Abbott joins me now in
our Sydney studio.

Tony Abbott, do you accept that for many Australian voters, this spat about a debate that's chewed
up so much energy on both sides must by now look like a couple of immature kids exchanging insults
in the schoolyard?

TONY ABBOTT, OPPOSITION LEADER: Well, Kerry, this is why we should have a debates commission. This
is why Kevin Rudd was right to offer one when he was in Opposition and wrong to break that promise
and it was wrong of Julia Gillard not to honour the commitment that Kevin Rudd had made. We should
have a debates commission. It should set the debate schedule for an election campaign, and if I'm
Prime Minister there will be a debates commission and we will have the number of debates that are
set by that commission.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Now my simple question to you in the interim is this: if you really, really want to
have a genuine debate with Julia Gillard about the economy, why squabble over a half hour? Why not
be prepared to give it a full hour?

TONY ABBOTT: Well, I was prepared to offer a half an hour and I'm here tonight. Julia Gillard was
at Sydney Airport not an hour ago and if she really did want a debate she could have just come into
this studio and we could have debated the economy for a good half hour. The Prime Minister, the
alternative Prime Minister, Chris Uhlmann or yourself in the chair, happy to do that, but she's
flown off to some Labor Party fundraiser in Perth. Apparently more important to go to a Labor Party
fundraiser than come and do this debate, even though she said she'd do it anywhere anytime.

KERRY O'BRIEN: And you've nicely avoided my question to you, which was the reverse of what you're
saying. You're criticising her for not being prepared to do it in half an hour; I'm asking you if
you're genuine about your desire to have a debate, a full debate on the economy with Julia Gillard.
Doesn't that debate deserve an hour? Because, I'll tell you, as you well know, half an hour means
that you would each take the questions out, half an hour means that you would each get about 13
minutes to talk about the national economy. Is that really enough for a credible debate?

TONY ABBOTT: Well, it's not a bad start. If we have a matter of public importance debate in the
Parliament the leading speakers get 15 minutes each. That's regarded as being a pretty good going
over on economic issues.

KERRY O'BRIEN: How many speakers do you have? How many speakers do you have?

TONY ABBOTT: Yeah, yeah, but the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader would get 15 minutes

KERRY O'BRIEN: But how many speakers are there in the debate?

TONY ABBOTT: Oh, sure, you'd have three speakers aside. And, look, we've had treasurers; and shadow
treasurers; debates. We would have a finance ministers' debate only Labor doesn't actually have a
Finance minister. Bit hard to have a Defence ministers' debate when they don't actually have a
Defence minister, and I s'pose they put Stephen Smith up for a Foreign ministers' debate, but that
may well me Kevin Rudd after the election.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Now, in terms of the Brisbane confrontation or meeting or debate or discussion or
whatever you want to call it in front of a town hall-type audience, you keep saying she's too
scared to front up to the people of Brisbane, but that's not true. What she has said is she'll be
happy to share the stage with you. She wants an hour's economic debate and then she would front up
to another hour on stage with you at the same time answering any questions that come at her, as
they would to you, from that Brisbane audience.

TONY ABBOTT: And what I'm saying, Kerry, is that the people of Brisbane and Queensland deserve no
less than the people of Western Sydney got last week. Now Julia Gillard was perfectly happy to go
along to the Rooty Hill RSL and do a community forum. She did it for one hour; I did it for one
hour. It was a very good, authentic venue, probably in many respects the highlight of the campaign.
Now, good enough for Western Sydney; why won't she do it again? You see, there are plenty of
opportunities in this campaign for politicians to shout at each other, there are plenty of
opportunities for journalists to ask politicians questions. What about giving the public their
chance? They had it in Western Sydney last week; they should have it in Brisbane tomorrow.

KERRY O'BRIEN: So, you want to limit one to half an hour, but you want to expand the other to two
hours because it suits you.

TONY ABBOTT: Well, the public, obviously, will have questions on a whole range of issues.


TONY ABBOTT: So, let's give them an hour at the Prime Minister and they can have an hour at me.
What could be fairer than that?

KERRY O'BRIEN: Well let's talk about the economy now. Can you just clear up once and for all when a
Coalition Government would get the budget back into surplus?

TONY ABBOTT: Ah, 2012-'13 - the same year that the Labor Party is estimating, but we think we will
get it into a surplus with a larger amount. We think we'll have bigger surpluses in the forward
years. And we think we'll have much less debt in the forward years.

KERRY O'BRIEN: And you are going to reveal tomorrow when you reveal your promises for costing how
much bigger your surplus will be?

TONY ABBOTT: That's correct.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Now, again, there's this coyness about identifying the accountants who have done
your costings for you. What on earth is that about?

TONY ABBOTT: Well you'll find out soon enough, Kerry.

KERRY O'BRIEN: So you will be releasing the identity of the - yeah, OK.

TONY ABBOTT: Yes, yes. It won't be a phantom accounting firm like the phantom railway line that
Julia Gillard and Kristina Keneally announced last week.

KERRY O'BRIEN: OK. Now the reason I wanted clarification on the surplus is because, again, we had a
senior Coalition frontbencher, George Brandis, your Shadow Attorney-General, say on Sky Television
today that you can't be certain when the budget will be back in surplus. You've promised to get it
back in three years; he says you can't be certain. So who's right?

TONY ABBOTT: Well, and you also had Gary Gray, a senior frontbencher for the Labor Party, making a
similar mistake. Look, in the heat of debate - we've had this discussion before - sometimes people

KERRY O'BRIEN: Mmmm. Might come back to it.

TONY ABBOTT: ... sometimes people get things wrong. Either it's slip of the tongue, they mishear
questions, they go a little too far. But the fact is we will get the budget back into surplus in

KERRY O'BRIEN: OK. And I'll now look at the confusion - further confusion on this. Because on
August 3, in response to a question about when a Coalition Government would get back to surplus,
you talked about managing to pay off the deficit, "... or at least to reduce the deficit within
three years." Quite different to getting back into surplus. The next day, you said you
misunderstood the question.

TONY ABBOTT: Yeah. Which is correct.

KERRY O'BRIEN: That was a pretty straightforward question.

TONY ABBOTT: Look, Kerry, as you know, you're sitting there in a news conference, people are firing
questions at you from all sides. Sometimes you mishear the question, sometimes you might run the
question together with something else that someone is asking you about. But the important thing is:
where is the truth? The truth is that the Government says we will have a $3.5 billion surplus in
2012-'13. We'll get back to surplus in that year, only our surplus will be significantly bigger and
we'll tell you tomorrow exactly how much bigger it will be.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Now, I've just been handed a piece of paper that has "Statement from Julia Gillard",
so she must have just released this. I'm not sure exactly when, but I've only just received it.
"Tomorrow night I will attend the event according organised by the Courier Mail at the Broncos
Leagues Club to debate Tony Abbott on the economy. If Tony Abbott continues to duck that debate, I
will participate in a town hall-style forum with the people of Brisbane following Mr Abbott's
appearance." So she is now prepared to at least meet you half way in that she - it would seem that
she is now going to go for a repeat of the Rooty Hill forum.

TONY ABBOTT: And good on her.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Well then why don't you meet her halfway and provide an hour's debate on the ...

TONY ABBOTT: Well, I did! I did! That's why I'm here. That's why I'm here, Kerry. And she's
squibbed it. She's flown off to Perth for a Labor Party fundraiser.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Mr Abbott, you are misconstruing. She hasn't squibbed it. She said, "We need an hour
to debate the economy," and let's not go back over it. But there is a clear difference between ...

TONY ABBOTT: Well, what's wrong with half an hour? A half an hour is better than nothing, Kerry.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Well, she would say if it's gonna be real it has to be an hour. We'll leave it

TONY ABBOTT: The shadow treasurers and the Treasurer got less than a half an hour on this program.
Was that a fake debate?

KERRY O'BRIEN: But they're not the leaders.

TONY ABBOTT: But was that a fake debate, Kerry?

KERRY O'BRIEN: They're not Prime Minister and the man who would be.

TONY ABBOTT: Look, if she was fair dinkum, she would have turned up tonight and taken her half

KERRY O'BRIEN: OK. OK. Well let's come back to the confusion on some of your policy areas. This one
on whether your tax on the 3,500 biggest Australian companies to pay for your paid parental leave
scheme really is temporary, as you originally suggested, or not. Joe Hockey said on radio earlier
this month that when you get the budget back to surplus, you can get rid of a levy like this one.
You call it a levy because you see it as temporary. Last night on Q&A, you said that the tax might
say for three years or five years or even 10. So if you're going to be back in surplus in three
years, why would you keep a temporary tax for 10 years or more when Joe Hockey says well, when
you're in surplus you can get rid of a levy like this?

TONY ABBOTT: Well, Kerry, let me make just two points. The first point I make that we wanna get the
budget back to good repair, and that doesn't just mean getting back to surplus; it means paying the
debt off. And we don't know how quickly that can be achieved. The other point I make is that there
will be a 1.5 per cent cut in the company tax rate, so except for the first year in which the levy
will apply, the overall tax burden on large business will not go up.

KERRY O'BRIEN: So with these 3,500 companies, you will take with one hand and give back with

TONY ABBOTT: The overall burden will not go up.

KERRY O'BRIEN: I quite don't understand the logic of it.

TONY ABBOTT: Well, Kerry, the logic is we need to have a fair dinkum paid parental leave scheme.
And you know, I think the Labor Party is upset that they didn't do this first. I think the Labor
Party and the Labor Party supporters in the community are quite upset that it's in fact the
conservatives which have had the decency to come up with, at last, good economic policy and
visionary social policy, giving women the fair dinkum choice that they have always deserved and
should have had a long time ago.

KERRY O'BRIEN: You seem intent in this campaign on getting a message out there that there was an
old Tony and now there's a new Tony. The old Tony was rash Tony who sometimes said things he later
came to regret. The old Tony was something of a big spender, and new Tony is thrifty Tony. Does a
leopard really change its spots at your age? Hasn't a man made his face by the time he's 50?

TONY ABBOTT: Well, Kerry, look, I certainly don't pretend that I've been manipulated by the
faceless men until a few weeks ago and I've suddenly come into my own as real Tony just in the last
few weeks the way the Prime Minister has in a moment of panic earlier in her campaign. I like to
think that what people have seen has always been the real deal. But, people grow. People ...

KERRY O'BRIEN: No, I said old Tony and new Tony.

TONY ABBOTT: People grow. People grow, Kerry.

KERRY O'BRIEN: In a matter of weeks?

TONY ABBOTT: Look, I think, as I said when I when I became the leader: when people get a new job,
when politicians are promoted, the public has another look at them, and I think what the public is
seeing in me are signs that were always there, but perhaps they hadn't recognised before.

KERRY O'BRIEN: But in what way have you changed. Are you saying you're more mature, more reliable
and when did this change occur? When leadership was thrust upon you by a vote?

TONY ABBOTT: Kerry, I will - I'm not gonna pigeonhole myself. People like yourself are more than
capable of passing judgment on me and I assume what you're saying to me is that you think I've
grown in the job, and if that's what you're saying, I'm happy to accept the compliment.

KERRY O'BRIEN: What I'm intent on trying to do, Mr Abbott, is to cast light on your character, on
the kind of Prime Minister you will be. And we have seen, we have seen comments in the past that
have got you into trouble and you obviously have felt that you need to distance yourself from a
number of things. Now, that's not just about growing and maturing, that's about being conscious
that there are negatives that you need to take out of the minds of voters, isn't it?

TONY ABBOTT: Well, Kerry, as I said, I've put forward some very clear policies in this election
campaign. Everything that I have been and done and said is all on the public record. You don't find
out about my position on paid parental leave and on pension increases by Cabinet leaks. My position
has always been upfront and on the record and I'll just let the people of Australia make their

KERRY O'BRIEN: Well, you talk about - I could say which position on paid parental leave. I'll just
say to you - what about weathervane Tony, the man who once said, "Paid parental leave: over my dead
body," the man who said in February this year "No new taxes" and one month later announced a new
company tax to pay for paid parental leave. The man who supported his leader on emissions trading
scheme then pulled the rug from under his leader and deposed him. What about the man who wrote a
year ago he wanted to revisit workplace reforms a la WorkChoices, now says he won't ever, ever,
ever again. Now those are - that is a string of contradictions and some of them in the very recent

TONY ABBOTT: Well, Kerry, look, I have been a very active participant in all of the debates of our
time. On some issues, yes, I've changed my mind. On some issues, yes, I think I've grown and
matured. On other issues, look, you've got to support your leader. You've got to try to make the
leaders' life easier. And certainly, I tried to do that when I was supporting the former leader of
our party.

KERRY O'BRIEN: But you did more than that. You actually argued - you argued for the Emissions
Trading Scheme, you argued for your party to have an emissions trading scheme. And it was more than
just supporting Malcolm Turnbull and you know that; it was in 'Battlelines'.

TONY ABBOTT: Well, Kerry, you can put whatever construction you like on that ...

KERRY O'BRIEN: But are you saying that's wrong?

TONY ABBOTT: The point I'm making is when Malcolm was the leader, I did my best to give him
complete support. Circumstances changed pretty dramatically, obviously, in December last year, and
I wanna pay tribute to Malcolm for the way he's dealt with all of that and the terrific team player
that he's been over the last nine months. I'm now the leader, our policies are clear and as I keep
saying, if you elect us, you know what you'll get: we'll end the waste, we'll pay back the debt,
we'll stop the big, new taxes and we'll stop the boats.

TONY ABBOTT: And sitting in the background of this campaign is that smelly cat that emerged for you
when we spoke back in May and you tried to excuse yourself for sometimes straying from the truth,
that sometimes you speak the gospel truth and sometimes you don't. So how are voters supposed to
know, now, in this campaign when you've been telling the gospel truth and when you haven't?

TONY ABBOTT: People can take all of the commitments that I have made extremely seriously. I will
honour the commitments that I've made and I have been at pains in this election campaign only to
make commitments which are prudent, responsible and deliverable.

KERRY O'BRIEN: And that's the gospel truth.

TONY ABBOTT: Oh, Kerry, look you can joke all you like and you can give me that little sarcastic
smile, but these are fair dinkum commitments and I will honour them.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Tony Abbott, thanks for talking with us.

TONY ABBOTT: Thanks, Kerry.