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Transcript of doorstop interview: New York: 19 July 2012: visit to the United States; conflict in Syria; Labor leadership



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aJOH

LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION THE HON. TONY ABBOTT MHR FEDERAL MEMBER FOR WARRINGAH

19 July 2012

TRANSCRIPT OF THE HON. TONY ABBOTT MHR DOORSTOP INTERVIEW, NEW YORK

Subjects: Visit to the United States; conflict in Syria; Labor leadership.

EO&E..............................................................................................................................................................

TONY ABBOTT:

It’s terrific to be here at the New York Stock Exchange. The New York Stock Exchange is probably the world’s greatest centre of capitalism and people can argue the toss about capitalism but as far as I’m concerned, one thing that we can never forget is that you cannot have strong and cohesive societies without strong economies and strong economies critically depend on strong and profitable private businesses.

I’ve been in Washington for a couple of days before being here in New York. It was good to be in Washington and to touch base with some of the key people in the US government and in the US Congress. It’s also been good to be here in New York for the last day or so, talking to people about the state of the world economy. The world economy is quite fragile, confidence is not strong and that just makes me more determined than ever to do what we can in Australia to put our economy in the best possible shape. Fundamentally, that means government living within its means. It also means government doing what it can to boost our national productivity.

We are in an international race for economic prosperity. We’ve got to make the most of ourselves. We have so many natural advantages in Australia; we don’t want to miss out on all of the success which is potentially ours through political and economic complacency.

QUESTION:

What has been your message to those you met in Washington and here in New York about the Australian economy?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well obviously we have some fundamental strengths in Australia. We have an abundance of natural resources, we have a stable political system and we have talented and creative people. Obviously there are some question marks about government policy. I haven’t been here to fight the political battles of back home on the streets of New York but nevertheless, that’s always part of the general discussion.

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QUESTION:

And what about the global economy, particularly the US economy, what mood have you detected here and what message do you have for the people here about what they need to do?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well as I think was pretty obvious from my speech at the Heritage Foundation in Washington the other day, I think that America is still a beacon of hope and freedom for the world. I think that the American economy is still fundamentally strong but confidence is weak and I thought it was important for me to do what I can as an outsider who’s full of goodwill towards America to remind them of just how high their standing is in so many parts of the world.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, are you endorsing Mitt Romney?

TONY ABBOTT:

Look, I’m not here to get involved in US politics. I’m here to learn and I’m here to remind America, to the extent that I can, of the fundamental strengths that they have as a nation and as an inspiration to the rest of the world.

QUESTION:

But what lessons have you learned about what works to improve confidence in an economy, what doesn’t work, because although Australia doesn’t have America’s problems, confidence in all parts of our economy is not strong.

TONY ABBOTT:

Well I think it’s important to give business encouragement. I think it’s very important to let the businesses of a country understand that they are the engine of employment, they are the engine of prosperity and certainly that’s my message to the businesses of Australia and I think it was President Coolidge who said that the business of America is business, and I think it’s important to remember that.

QUESTION:

Isn’t it true that the Americans would kill for the sort of economy we have in Australia at the moment?

TONY ABBOTT:

There’s no doubt, David, that we have some fundamental strengths, but as I keep pointing out, they owe far more to the reforms of previous governments than they do to the spending spree of the current one.

QUESTION:

Can I ask you about Syria? The battles rage on in the capital, the UN Security Council has rejected tougher sanctions. China and Russia are vetoing that action. What’s your response to that?

TONY ABBOTT:

Look, the massive loss of life in Syria over the last few months primarily due to the repressive actions of the Syrian regime, are deeply, deeply, regrettable. I think that we should have a transition as soon as possible to

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a more representative government, a government which is more respectful of the rights for the Syrian people.

QUESTION:

Does it look like President Assad’s government’s days are numbered?

TONY ABBOTT:

Look, I don’t want to get into too much commentary on day-by-day activities, for better or for worse, in Syria. I think the important thing is to move as quickly as possible to a more democratic government that has more respect for human rights.

QUESTION:

Should NATO be playing a stronger role to try and encourage that outcome?

TONY ABBOTT:

Again, Australia is not a member of NATO. We work very effectively with NATO in Afghanistan. We have very good relations including strong military alliances with some of the most important NATO powers, but in the end, that is a question for them.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, can I ask you a quick question just on domestic politics? The federal police have referred Peter Slipper’s case to the DPP. Do you think he will ever return to the Speaker’s chair?

TONY ABBOTT:

The point the Opposition has been making all along is that he shouldn’t go back to the Speaker’s chair until all of these outstanding matters have been fully dealt with but as I have said in respect of the sexual harassment matter, let me say in respect of the misuse of entitlements matter, it is now before the proper authorities. Let those proper authorities do their job and the only question that really counts is: did he or did he not do what is alleged against him?

QUESTION:

What do you think of the Obama healthcare model, the health insurance model?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well again, I’m not here to engage in American party politics. You know what our position on healthcare is. We support a strong Medicare system. We also support a strong private health system and I think Australia has got it pretty well right when it comes to the way of making healthcare affordable and accessible.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible]

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TONY ABBOTT:

You know, I’m not going to be too party-political here. I just think it’s important for our country that we have strong and effective government and plainly, if the Government’s focused on itself, it’s not focused on governing.

QUESTION:

Do you think there’s a reason why Mr Rudd’s name keeps popping into question, on the Labor leadership?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well he was an elected Prime Minister, he wasn’t chosen by the faceless men and I think that’s why there’s a certain nostalgia for him.

QUESTION:

Do you have any comment on an article in the paper yesterday saying that Mr Tony Sheldon of the TWU may withdraw $200,000 to party funds, if Mr Rudd became the leader again?

TONY ABBOTT:

I think this is part of the Labor Party’s problem. It looks to be the play thing of the faceless men. Now, Tony Sheldon is all very well as a union leader but the general public think that they should be choosing the Prime Minister, not subcontracting the job out to faceless men and when union leaders start making these kinds of threats I think it worries people. They think that the Labor Party is the play thing of unelected union officials not the servant of the Australian people.

QUESTION:

Have you learned anything here about the corrosive effects on confidence of excessive partisanship? And what would be the positive messages you’ll be taking to the Australian people when you return?

TONY ABBOTT:

In the end it’s very important for politicians to stand up for what they think is right and sure, you don’t want gridlock in your political system but I think the best way to avoid gridlock is to have leaders who know what they want and get things done and the problem in Australia has been the deals that the Prime Minister did with minor parties which she hasn’t been able to deliver on and frankly should never have made in the first place.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, President Obama made a statement yesterday which has very quickly turned into an ad by the Romney campaign. Now, I know you’re not going to talk about Mr Obama, but he said words to the effect that government has facilitated business, I mean, you’d be nothing without government. What do you think about that sentiment?

QUESTION:

‘You didn’t build it yourself’.

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TONY ABBOTT:

It’s true that all business takes place within a social framework, within a legal framework, within a community framework, so that’s obviously true but I do think it is important to acknowledge the importance of business. Yes, business can’t operate without government there to get the framework right but nevertheless it is important to acknowledge the importance of business and I’m sure that both sides of US politics appreciate that.

[ends]