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Transcript of interview with Andrew Bolt: The Bolt Report: 25 August 2013: 2013 election



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THE BOLT REPORT

25 AUGUST 2013

INTERVIEW WITH TONY ABBOTT

ANDREW BOLT, PRESENTER: Today - polls say Tony Abbott will be Prime Minister in a fortnight. What kind of leader does he want to be? How Kevin Rudd’s comeback hit the wall. Former treasurer Peter Costello and Belinda Neal on Labor’s big scare campaign. And did this minister just say the dumbest thing in this campaign? I’m Andrew Bolt, and that this is the Bolt Report.

ANDREW BOLT: The polls say Tony Abbott will in two weeks become our next Prime Minister. Now, if you believed Labor, this man is - and I quote - a thug. He’s sexist, a bully, and a misogynist - all quotes from Labor politicians. Well, it seems a lot of voters have seen through Labor’s abuse, and are going to give Abbott a go. One poll yesterday said the Coalition is now well in front. Kevin Rudd could even lose his own seat. Tony Abbott joins me from Brisbane, where he will today formally launch the Liberal campaign. Thanks for joining me.

TONY ABBOTT: Thanks, Andrew.

ANDREW BOLT: You’ve campaigned for four long years as leader to get to this day. It’s been a hell of a marathon. In that time, what was your lowest point?

TONY ABBOTT: Andrew, there’ve been some good times, some not-so-good times. I guess probably the most frustrating times were one or two not so great interviews that I gave, but thankfully they were mostly before the 2010 election.

ANDREW BOLT: It was interesting, you were talking about two interviews on ‘7:30’ on the ABC, where it seemed you were in a confessional mood, etc. I got the impression then that you didn’t feel quite worthy yet of the responsibility - that you hadn’t quite grown into the job. Is that how you felt at the time?

TONY ABBOTT: Andrew, no-one is perfect in this world, and there’s a sense in which no-one is really worthy of the great honour of the Prime Ministership of our country - but I am certainly very conscious of the fact that I have grown over the last few years. I am ready, and more importantly - just as importantly - my team is ready. So I’m ready, we’re ready, to do the right thing by the people of Australia.

ANDREW BOLT: But at what stage did you really think “I can do this. I really can do this. I own the job”?

TONY ABBOTT: I was confident that I could do it from the moment I became the Leader of the Opposition, but I guess the level of confidence, and the level of conviction, grows over time. The fact that I saw off Kevin Rudd in June of 2010, and then, eight weeks ago or so, saw off Julia Gillard, is an indication to me that I am more than capable of doing this job. In the end the question is: do you have a vision for Australia? And my vision for Australia, after three years of a Coalition government, should we win - the boats will be stopped, the Budget will be back under

control, our country will be stronger and more confident, we will feel that we are closer to being our best selves, and very importantly, there’ll be bulldozers on the ground and cranes in our skies - because I’d like to be known as an infrastructure Prime Minister.

ANDREW BOLT: Now it’s interesting, one of the things that has changed, obviously - early on you were prepared to go through questions like that, more self-reflective, and now obviously you feel this is an area that you can’t do. You have to not project any sense of doubt or anything - any introspection. Do you feel that leadership makes you lose the ability to be freer with people?

TONY ABBOTT: If you’re a leader, Andrew, you have got to radiate confidence and competence. The last thing -

ANDREW BOLT: Even if you don’t feel it?

TONY ABBOTT: Well look, the people of Australia expect their leaders to know what they’re doing. The last thing they want to see in their leaders is some kind of meltdown in public. That is the last thing anyone wants from a leader, and I’m determined not to give it to people.

ANDREW BOLT: Well, can you just tell us this, though - I mean, you’ve had a fair bit of character assassination, and knowing you personally, a lot of it I thought was just outrageous. But has there been some aspect of your character you thought “Well, they have got me on something, and I need to change it.”

TONY ABBOTT: I suppose all of us sometimes think we can do better. There’ve certainly been times in the past, Andrew, when I probably could have thought more before I spoke. There have been times in the past where I’ve said things which I believe, but I haven’t said them as clearly or in as sensitive a way as I might have. And when you’re a major party leader, when you’re a national leader, you don’t have the luxury of a loose comment. You don’t have the luxury of being able to think out loud. Everything has got to be right when it’s said. Now, no-one gets it right 100 per cent of the time, but you’ve got to be constantly trying to approach more closely that ideal.

ANDREW BOLT: Alright. After the break, John Howard once said he hoped to make Australians feel “comfortable and relaxed”. What is Tony Abbott’s vision?

AD BREAK

ANDREW BOLT: John Howard was asked just before he became Prime Minister in 1996 what legacy he hoped he’d leave for Australians.

JOHN HOWARD: I would like to see them comfortable and relaxed about their history. I’d like to see them comfortable and relaxed about, about the present. And I’d also like to see them comfortable and relaxed about the future.

ANDREW BOLT: Many journalists made fun of such seemingly humble ambitions, but Howard probably achieved them, and one of his ministers was Tony Abbott. How

would you answer that question - how would you like Australia to be, after three years of an Abbott government?

TONY ABBOTT: Andrew, I would like Australians to feel that each of them - each of us - is coming closer to being our best selves. We all know when we are being our best selves, or when we are coming closer to being our best selves, and I’d like each of us, in his or her own way, to feel that at the end of a term of Coalition government. Because my vision is not so much to impose my views on people, but to give each and every one of us more chance to be our best selves, as we see it.

ANDREW BOLT: You seem to be suggesting you would like Australia to be, in some ways, a freer place, where people can go about acting on their own ambitions. In what way do you want Australia to be freer?

TONY ABBOTT: Well, that’s the classic Liberal position, isn’t it? Lower taxes, smaller government, greater freedom - that’s the classic Liberal position. And then of course there’s the classic conservative position - respect for the family, respect for institutions and values that have stood the test of time, and the Coalition that I have the honour to lead is the Australian custodian of both the Liberal and the conservative traditions. And I guess in our culture - our English-speaking tradition - what you’ve seen is a happy marriage between Liberalism and conservatism. I think it was Tennyson who summed it up, Andrew, when he talked of “a land of just and old renown, a land of settled government, where freedom broadened slowly down from precedent to precedent”. I think that nicely captures the paradox of freedom and order.

ANDREW BOLT: Well in his answer, John Howard referred in passing to the culture wars - he wanted Australia to feel more comfortable and relaxed about their history, prouder about it. How do you plan to engage in the culture wars, so to speak?

TONY ABBOTT: In the immediate future, I think the challenge is to fix practical problems, and obviously the border protection disaster needs to be fixed, and I think Australians will feel happier about our country if we think that we’re in charge, and we’re deciding who comes here. We’ve got to get the Budget back under control because, again, people will feel happier about our country if they think that the Government is not racking up billions and billions - almost $400 billion - for their children and grandchildren to repay.

ANDREW BOLT: But that’s been your pitch - I understand that, that has been the central pitch, but there - you’re a very literate leader, and I would have thought you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the culture. For example, the ABC, the fact that the cultural elite have always had a problem with conservative leaders - do you plan to engage in that area as well?

TONY ABBOTT: Well obviously, Andrew, the short answer is, if things are put to me, I will respond appropriately. I guess at core, it’s important that we are more conscious of our blessings. Now, there are some things that are not right about our country - some things which the so-called right focuses on, other things that the so-called left tends to focus on. And there’s something in each side’s perspective, but the important thing overall is to remember that we are a great country, and a great people. Yes, we can improve, and I’d hope to lead a government that does improve things, but

we should be conscious of our fundamental underlying strengths - of the fact that no country on earth is as well-placed as we are, and yes, our challenge, our duty, is to make the most of those blessings so that we can continue to be a beacon to the world.

ANDREW BOLT: But you’re not actually engaging with the question. I mean, you know, privately you might debate about some of those things. You’re not saying anything publicly. For example, how would you - what would you do with the ABC, or the arts community, to overcome this state of war, almost, between conservatism and the left?

TONY ABBOTT: Well, I’d encourage the ABC to do its job better, but I’d encourage everyone to try to do their job better. I’d, I suppose, even admonish myself, from time to time, to do my job better, Andrew. Look, I’ve been on lots of ABC programs, as you can imagine, and as you’d know. Sometimes I come off second best, but when that happens it’s much more my fault than it is the ABC’s.

ANDREW BOLT: Well, it’s strange that you won’t engage with the culture wars, but you know, maybe you will when you’ve got your feet under the desk. Thank you very much for joining us.

TONY ABBOTT: And Andrew, I’m taking nothing for granted. Yes, there’s a sense in which this election should rest on the last six years, more than the next fortnight, but as they say, a week is a hell of a long time in politics. A fortnight is an eternity.

ANDREW BOLT: I think you got this one sewn up. Coming up - our panel, Peter Costello, and Belinda Neal. Is Kevin Rudd’s new aggression working, or did a make-up artist derail it?