Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Transcript of interview with Neil Mitchell: 3AW, Melbourne: 20 February 2013: 2013 election; Labor leadership; the Greens; Centenary of ANZAC; the Gillard Government's budget cuts to Victorian hospitals; private health insurance rebate; industrial relations; Geert Wilders; opinion polls.



Download PDFDownload PDF

1

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

20 February 2013

TRANSCRIPT OF THE HON. TONY ABBOTT MHR, INTERVIEW WITH NEIL MITCHELL, RADIO 3AW, MELBOURNE

Subjects: 2013 election; Labor leadership; the Greens; Centenary of ANZAC; the Gillard Government’s budget cuts to Victorian hospitals; private health insurance rebate; industrial relations; Geert Wilders; opinion polls.

E&OE……………………….…………………………………………………………………

NEIL MITCHELL:

Tony Abbott, good morning.

TONY ABBOTT:

`Morning, Neil.

NEIL MITCHELL:

The Government seems in disarray. Do you think there’s a chance of an election earlier than September?

TONY ABBOTT:

I think there would be many Australians who would love one earlier than September but let’s wait and see. It is ultimately in the hands of the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister of the day. Now, Julia Gillard has said that it will be September the 14th. Who knows what might happen.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Do you think you will be facing Julia Gillard or Bill Shorten or Kevin Rudd or Simon Crean? Who do you think it will be?

TONY ABBOTT:

At one level, for me, it doesn’t really matter because my job is the same every day: to promote our Real Solutions plan and to hold a bad government to account. Obviously the public are understandably interested but I think the problem, Neil, is that whoever the Prime Minister is will be chosen by the faceless men. I mean, the faceless men got rid of Kevin Rudd back in 2010. Now the faceless men are pondering whether to get rid of Julia Gillard and the difficulty they’ve got is you’ve got one failure or another failure and I guess that’s why they’re thinking about a possible third candidate as well.

2

NEIL MITCHELL:

Do you think Kevin Rudd will be more difficult for you to beat?

TONY ABBOTT:

Kevin Rudd is Kevin Rudd and I never underestimate my opponent, whoever that might be, but obviously a lot of people inside the Labor Party made some extraordinarily damning statements about Kevin Rudd this time last year and there was some truth in those statements.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But who would you rather be facing?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well I’d rather be going swiftly to an election because I think the Australian public need a strong and stable government and the Labor Party are incapable of giving a strong and stable government right now.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But do you seriously not care who is leader of the Government?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well I have opinions about both of them. I have opinions about people like Bill Shorten and Greg Combet but in the end for me who the Labor Party leader is, is a bit of a parlour game because I don’t influence that. My job is to be a strong, credible alternative and that’s what our Real Solutions plan is all about Neil, being a strong alternative.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But you have strategists. Your strategists must be saying, well, what about options B or C, how do we prepare for that? How do you prepare if it’s Kevin Rudd? How do you prepare if it’s Bill Shorten? How’s it different?

TONY ABBOTT:

Obviously, Labor Party people are saying that we can’t go to Rudd because the Opposition have got a ready-made campaign against Rudd based on what we ourselves said about him 12 months ago. Obviously other Labor people are saying, well we can’t stick with Gillard because you just have to look at what our own people are saying about her and what the Greens said about her yesterday, you can’t trust her.

So look, the tragedy for Australia at the moment is that we are stuck, for the moment at least, with a government which is just incorrigibly divided and unstable and I keep saying the Government, whoever the leader is, should be focused on preparing a budget, not on this kind of self-destructive internal examination.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Do you think Bill Shorten is a chance?

3

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, again Neil, it’s really up to the Labor Party. I think Bill sees himself as a future Prime Minister but Bill is very ambitious and I don’t know that Bill wants to cruel his pitch by drinking from a poison chalice.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Ok, but my point is that obviously your party, your strategists, are going through all these options and saying, well, we’re ready for X, Y or Z. Is that right?

TONY ABBOTT:

That is, I think, a very fair judgement but most of all what we want to do is be ready to provide a strong and stable government because in the end the public don’t want politicians playing their games, they want politicians giving them what they need, which is a better government than they’ve got.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Will you talk to the Greens about cooperating with you?

TONY ABBOTT:

Look, I think that’s been part of Julia Gillard’s problem. She embraced the Greens. This turned out to be a fatal embrace and I don’t do these sorts of deals with people. I mean, I wasn’t prepared to give the independents, I wasn’t prepared to give the Greens what they wanted. Julia Gillard was and I think her government, from the beginning, has been fatally compromised.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So no deals to get into power?

TONY ABBOTT:

I don’t do deals, Neil.

NEIL MITCHELL:

You tried to.

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, back then I said, look, happy to talk to you, happy to come up with things provided they are not inconsistent with what I said before the election and provided they’re not incompatible with the Coalition’s principles.

NEIL MITCHELL:

What’s your tip? Is the election going to be earlier than September or not?

TONY ABBOTT:

I just don’t know. I think the public would want it earlier. I think it would be better for our country if it were earlier but in the end, it is in the hands of the Prime Minister of the day. She’s told us September the 14th but she’s broken a few commitments before.

4

NEIL MITCHELL:

Ok. A couple of specific things. The Government’s announced $15 million for the Gallipoli Centenary, $100,000 to each electorate. Will you let that stand if you win?

TONY ABBOTT:

Look it sounds like a pretty good way forward. I remember the “Australia Remembers” programme which the former Labor government put in place in 1994 or thereabouts to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II. That was a good programme. In my own electorate, Neil, we still have Defence of Sydney commemorations on the Friday nearest to the 31st of May. That was the night the war came to Sydney with the midget submarine attack and that was, that is, the ongoing legacy of a former government programme.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So will you stay with the $15 million?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well look, the Budget is tight but $15 million doesn’t seem an unreasonable amount to celebrate the centenary of ANZAC.

NEIL MITCHELL:

What about the innovation package announced this week? Would you stay with that?

TONY ABBOTT:

I think it was fundamentally misconceived. They’ve moved away from industry led research and toward bureaucracy led research and I think that’s always counter-productive in principle. The other thing is that it isn’t a $1 billion boost to research, it’s actually a $600 million cut to research, once you examine the figures and as with so many things that this government does, it’s not what it seems. Misconceived and misleading is how I describe it.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So will you dump it?

TONY ABBOTT:

I’m not going to say yes to that until we’ve looked more closely at it but it doesn’t strike me as a particularly smart way to go. It seems more about protecting the Prime Minister’s job than about preserving manufacturing jobs.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I’m getting a lot of emails from single mothers who say Julia Gillard has dudded them over single parent payments, the changes to the dole. What would you do about that?

5

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, I think the principle of trying to encourage people back into the workforce is a good one and this is why the Coalition didn’t oppose the Government’s legislation. If we are going to get them back into the workforce, they’ve got to get proper support and one of the difficulties that we’ve got with this government is that while trying to get people off the supporting parents benefit and onto Newstart they have reduced the level of support available for people in that situation, and that’s the difficulty there.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So what can you do about it? What will you do about it?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, we will look at what we can do to ensure that people in this situation have more effective job search support.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Hospital funding is causing enormous angst in Victoria. Ted Baillieu says he’s been dudded. Will you restore the hospital funding that’s been cut to Victoria?

TONY ABBOTT:

We would like to, we would very much like to, Neil. Until we’ve seen the final budget figures it’s difficult to give a commitment. The $109 million that has come out of this financial year is a real disaster because the hospitals have set their budgets and all of a sudden they’ve got to unscramble the egg in the middle of the financial year and this is why beds are closing at, amongst other places, the Peter Mac. So it is a real disaster for the Victorian public hospital system but it’s a disaster that will tragically be in place before there can be a change of government.

NEIL MITCHELL:

And you can’t promise to reverse it?

TONY ABBOTT:

We’d like to, we’d like to, but again, it does depend upon the fiscal position we inherit.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Can you promise not to cut further hospital funding?

TONY ABBOTT:

That would certainly be my hope and my firm intention, whenever we are looking for savings, is to look for savings in the bureaucracy rather than to inflict savings on frontline services and I don’t think anyone who’s worked in health would say that there aren’t potential for savings in the bureaucracy. I mean, there’s more than, I think, 5,000 Commonwealth public servants in the health department. Now, as a former minister, I respect the public service but I’d be surprised if we couldn’t do just as good a job with fewer public servants in Canberra.

6

NEIL MITCHELL:

Hello Peter, question Peter?

CALLER:

Yes, morning guys. Mr Abbott, just on the health insurance rebate, would you be reinstating that?

TONY ABBOTT:

Peter, we’ve said that we would like to but we’ve also said that we can’t undo all the damage that this government has done in a single term. I mean, we put the rebate in, it’s in our DNA. We opposed the means test because we think that health should be a universal system rather than one which is given to some but not to others. So we’d like to but we can’t put a time frame on it yet, I’m afraid.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Just about every question we have asked about specifics you have said you can’t commit yourself, you’d like to and that’s our aim etcetera. When will you be able to commit yourself?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, we will make it crystal clear in the run up to the election exactly what we will do and when we will do it. Now, some of the things that we would like to do we may not be able to fully do in a first term of an incoming Coalition government precisely because the fiscal situation has deteriorated so badly Neil. Let’s not forget what was possible under John Howard with a $20 billion surplus is not responsible now when we have had the four biggest deficits in our history and when you have had a situation of $70 billion of net Commonwealth assets turned into almost $300 billion of gross Commonwealth debt.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So, how long before the election will you be able to tell us about single mothers and hospital funding and the health rebate and Gallipoli and when would you be able to tell us that?

TONY ABBOTT:

We will be finalising our fiscal position in the wake of the PEFO statement which comes out about 10 days into the campaign. Individual policies will start to be released well before then. So some things we’ll be able to give you a definite answer on well before the election, other things will have to happen in the days before the election. But no one will be under any doubt and Neil, what I want to be remembered for should we get there is a Prime Minister who does what he says and who doesn’t do what he said he wouldn’t.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I know you need to get to Ringwood. A couple of very quick questions. When do we get the IR policy?

TONY ABBOTT:

Sooner rather than later.

NEIL MITCHELL:

No WorkChoices?

7

TONY ABBOTT:

Absolutely not. I think I signed a bit of paper in this very studio on that subject Neil.

NEIL MITCHELL:

That piece of paper still stands?

TONY ABBOTT:

I’m sure you’ve got it somewhere. It would be in your archives. You’ll bring it out on me if I was ever to start getting wobbly but of course it stands. It absolutely stands.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Any deregulation of the labour market at all?

TONY ABBOTT:

Look, we will fully restore the Australian Building & Construction Commission which would have helped to prevent the kind of mess we saw outside the Grocon site last year. We will ensure that dodgy union officials face the same sanctions that dodgy company officials face. We are going to have a registered organisations commission to police the governance of unions. So, we won’t see the kind of scandals that we have had in the Health Services Union and earlier in the Australian Workers Union. So, there is already a fair bit of workplace relations policy out there but we will finalise it sooner rather than later.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Will you enshrine protection of workers from exploitation?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, of course because that is the Australian way. We have a workplace…

NEIL MITCHELL:

WorkChoices didn’t do that.

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, it had some very significant defects which obviously we are all only too aware of but the Australian way is to ensure that the workers of this country get a fair go. Now, I want people to be able to have a go as well but you have a go best when you know you can count on a fair go.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Just quickly, Geert Wilders is a Dutch politician last night evoking the spirit of the ANZACs to spread what was pretty nasty stuff. What was your reaction to that?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, I always think it is a bit odd when non-Australians talk about our sacred traditions just as it would be a bit odd for an Australian politician to evoke the spirit of Dunkirk or something like that or the spirit of the

8

Blitz. So, look, he is here, he is saying his piece, he is a democratically elected politician in the Parliament of a friendly country, a country that we have good relations with. Let him say his piece but I think there are very few lessons that Holland has to teach Australia when it comes to the integration of newcomers. I mean…

NEIL MITCHELL:

Is he wrong on Islam?

TONY ABBOTT:

Substantially, yes. Obviously he is entitled to his viewpoint but I think that the Muslims in this country see themselves rightly as fair dinkum dinky dye Australians, just as the Catholics and the Jews and the Protestants and the Atheists, we see ourselves as Australians. We don’t like to divide ourselves on the basis of race, of faith, of colour, of class, of gender. That’s one of the great strengths of our country. We are always conscious of what we have in common rather than the things that divide us.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Do you think he has insulted the memory of the ANZACS?

TONY ABBOTT:

I wouldn’t want to get too far down that path. Look, he is here, he has said his piece, let people make their own judgements.

NEIL MITCHELL:

A lot of respect between the ANZACS and the Turks and the Turks are Muslim.

TONY ABBOTT:

Exactly right and Ataturk was very moving about the first Australian imperial force in the aftermath of World War One and Australians who fought in that campaign had enormous respect from Mustafa Kemal.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Thank you for coming in. One very final point on the polls, you would have a large majority. How will you stop your government being arrogant?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, look, I’m not taking anything for granted and polls can go up and down and I suspect they will go down at different times between now and polling day. Look, the best way to keep politicians grounded is for the politicians to spend a lot of time out of their offices and amongst the people and John Howard helped to keep himself grounded by appearing regularly on this programme Neil. Should I get to be the Prime Minister, I hope that you will extend the same honour to me…

NEIL MITCHELL:

I will.

9

TONY ABBOTT:

And that will help to keep my feet on the ground.

NEIL MITCHELL:

As I have to the current Prime Minister who has declined, but will you be out in the community more as Prime Minister?

TONY ABBOTT:

Look, the short answer is I will make an enormous effort to continue my community involvement. Things like the surf club, the fire brigade, the annual charity bike ride that I do, I will, my week’s trip volunteering in indigenous communities, I want to keep that going because in the end the best guarantee of good government is a real conversation between politicians and the people they are elected to serve.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Ringwood awaits. Thank you for coming in.

TONY ABBOTT:

Thanks so much Neil.

[ends]