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Transcript of interview with Linda Mottram: 702 ABC Sydney: 26 August 2013: Apprenticeships; $70 billion black hole; Changes to the GST; Training and unemployment figures; Higher education investment; Sydney's second airport; Syria

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E & O E - PROOF ONLY _____________________________________________________________

Subjects: Apprenticeships; $70 billion black hole; Changes to the GST; Training and unemployment figures; Higher education investment; Sydney’s second airport; Syria _____________________________________________________________

HOST: Mr Abb…Mr Rudd, good morning.

PM: Hello Linda, or was that someone else?

HOST: I’ve got the Abbott worm in my ear.

PM: That’s ok, just be careful of your ABC funding if the Coalition wins. They’ve got your name and address, you know that…

HOST: Yes, yes, I’m sure that true. As does the Labor Party actually. Yes, no - no one’s our particular friends.

Look if I can start with those policies that Mr Abbott announced on the weekend. He goes some way to addressing the concerns of retirees over his paid parental leave scheme arrangement. He also has that interesting initiative, tax free - sorry, interest free loans for apprentices. That sounds like a good idea don’t you think?

PM: Well I think, let me just make one or two general remarks and then, as you know our plan for Australia’s future is one of building for the future, which is industries, new industries, new jobs, not having all our eggs in one basket, building the schools and hospitals we need for the future, building the National Broadband Network for the future, which Mr Abbott is happy to effectively rip up.

HOST: Oh no, they will continue it, just a different scheme.

PM: No, that’s quite wrong actually. In the state of NSW, the National Broadband Network under us will mean that every household and every premise, business premise, will have high-speed, affordable broadband delivered to each of those places. In the case of Mr Abbott’s plan, it would mean 1.4 million households and businesses would not be connected to fibre optic cable, they would be back on clapped out copper cable, which is my point about the future.

Broadband is part of the future, that’s our plan for the future, and what I didn’t hear from Mr Abbott last night was what his vision was for the country’s future. I heard a lot of bits and pieces, but no vision for where he wants to land the country in five or ten years’ time. That, I think, is the core gap in what I heard last night, on trades, which is what you just said.

HOST: Yes, yes.

PM: We take this passionately seriously. We have now built a network and are building a network of more than 500 apprenticeship training centres attached to secondary schools right across this country. That is the biggest investment in apprenticeship training the country has ever seen.

And on priorities, Mr Abbott is quite happy to back his $22 billion, unaffordable, paid parental leave scheme on the one hand, but frankly, to oppose the future expansion and much of the current work on apprenticeship training centres and schools. I don’t quite get it in terms of the priorities there.

HOST: In broad terms, do you now accept that there is not, as you have been claiming, a $70 billion hole in the Coalition’s policy costings after Saul Eslake’s work on this last week?

PM: Not at all. $70 billion is not our figure. It’s Joe Hockey’s figure and it’s Andrew Robb’s figure. They stated it. And if you look at Mr Robb’s statement on the public record, he was definitive. Mr Hockey 50, 60, or 70 billion, Mr Robb said $70 billion definitively. He is the Shadow Finance spokesperson.

HOST: Saul Eslake has found $30 billion - that’s an independent assessment.

PM: Well, Mr Eslake’s figure looks at one element of it, which is, he says that that $30 billion relates to a number concerning certain categories, but I don’t wish to enter into a debate about which element is covered and which is not covered, what I’m saying is that Mr Abbott and - sorry, Mr Hockey’s and Mr Robb’s figures are $70 billion, and he could happily for your benefit, for all your listeners benefit, simply put out under the Charter of Budget Honesty, his full reconciliation table and his budget bottom line of what he’s going to cut, and what he’s going to spend. He refuses to do that.

HOST: He says he will do that in the election campaign though, to be fair.

PM: Well, Linda, to be fair under the Charter of Budget Honesty, it’s quite plain that what he’s going to do is seek to drop this out on the eve of the election and not allow any scrutiny to be attached to it. And there's a reason for it. When you’re talking about $70 billion, or even if you’re just talking about the $22 billion which his unaffordable and unfair paid parental leave scheme would cost, the only way you can do that is through higher taxes, which is what he’s doing with his proposed levy on business which will be passed through to consumers. It will be achieved by cuts to hospitals, health and education, and achieved by cuts to jobs as well. All of that adds to cost of living pressures for families. That’s the bottom line, and that’s just to pay for the $22 billion, which is one part of the $70 billion, which both Mr Robb and Mr Hockey have referred to.

HOST: Ok, but whoever wins this election, you’re not going to inherit, either side, a mining investment and asset price boom like you had in the late 90s into the early 2000s even. Wont any future Australian Government, including you if you’re re-elected, have to consider something such as raising or widening the GST to increase the tax take?

PM: Well, the first thing that I have said from day one of my return to the Prime Ministership, is our international economic circumstances are changing. The China mining boom is slowing, global economic circumstances are problematic, and it’s for those reasons we must have a clear cut plan to build the industries of the future, build the jobs of the future, not have all our eggs in the mining industry basket. I’ve been very clear about that.

I have been very clear about how you do that with the economy, the seven point productivity program that I have released. I have been very clear also about the need to take a measured approach to fiscal policy because if you are going to be in the business of doing $70 billion worth of cuts, or the cuts necessary simply to deliver his $22 billion paid parental leave plan, which gives $75,000 to billionaires to have a baby, then all this actually hits the economy and there’s a real risk, based on British experience, that if you take the fiscal sledge hammer to the economy, as Mr Abbott indicates that he will do, there’s a real risk of throwing the economy into recession at a time of great international economic uncertainty.

HOST: Ok, but on the GST, if you were re-elected would you have to consider raising it or widening it because the tax take, as we keep being told, is decreasing and you don’t have that boom climate to rely on?

PM: The bottom line is this - that our position on the Goods and Services Tax is crystal clear. There will be no increase in the rate and it will not be extended to food.

Mr Abbott has said it’s all on the table through his tax review and the GST is part of that. Our position is clear on that, just as our position is clear on the Fair Work Act. Mr Abbott’s position on the Fair Work Act is the protections of penalty rates

and overtime are up in the air, though there is a bit of weasel word language around that.

But more importantly, what we do know is where the other cuts, which affect your listeners in terms of their jobs, their schools, their hospitals, their National Broadband Network, their access to basic things like the Schoolkids Bonus, which would be cut to 1.3 million families in Australia - that’s what goes in order for Mr Abbott to deliver his priorities, which is this, I believe, unaffordable, and unfair paid parental leave scheme.

HOST: Can I ask you about the unemployment rate, Prime Minister. Some work done by the Institute for Public Affairs finds that…

PM: That’s a well-known independent authority (laughs). It’s a think tank of the Liberal party.

HOST: Can I just back it up by the OECD - the OECD says that there is a need for more analysis of Australia’s unemployment figures. It also cites concerns about how the unemployed are being measured in this country, particularly the numbers being put into training schemes and taken off the unemployment rate. Is your Government using training schemes to manipulate the unemployment figures?

PM: You know the number one priority of this government and if we’re elected for the future? Is jobs. We take it passionately. We’re a Labor government. The communication I put out to all Labor supporters in the last 24 hours underlines that fact. If you don’t have a job there’s no household pay packet and therefore the core organising principle of what we seek to do as a Labor government is to maximise employment.

The IPA that you just referred to, which is the think tank of the Liberal Party, let’s be very blunt about-

HOST: But it doesn’t mean that their not capable of doing an assessment of the numbers though.

PM: By the way the same IPA just put out a statement the other day for Minister Roxon, saying that the ABC should be privatised so let’s just bear that in mind…

HOST: We can have that discussion with both political parties but let’s not. The OECD-

PM: Let’s just have it here. We will not privatise the ABC - their think tank says that they should-

HOST: OK thank you. The OECD says the unemployment figures do need more assessment. That must give you pause for thought surely?

PM: The OECD is made up 30 or 32 member states which analysis critically on a comparative basis the unemployment data from across all countries - so our country will always work with the OECD and all international authorities to make sure that the data is as comparative as possible.

Every country in the world has its own labour market programs. It has its own apprenticeship schemes of one form or another. The investment we have made into ensuring that Australians are provided, and young Australians are provided with the best apprenticeship opportunities though the network of 500 apprenticeship training schools which I’ve just mentioned before-


PM: -is huge.

HOST: Can I pick you up just on that though. At the same time your government has a policy that is pulling funding out of tertiary education in order to fund the Gonski, you’ve renamed it, but we did come to know it fondly as the Gonski Better Schools scheme. How does that contribute to improving the work climate, the education of our community for the future?

PM: The investment in higher education now relative to what it was in 2007 represents a massive increased investment.

You want the proof of that? There are now 190,000 more kids at Australian universities in 2013 than there were in 2007.

There’s been a massive investment in the universities of the country across a whole range of different programs. The core of which, of which we are most proud, is the uncapping of university places to make sure that any kid in any part of the country who’s qualified to get to university, can get to university, rather than having those places capped to prevent them from getting there-


PM: So on Higher Ed we are proud of our record and at the end of the day we’ve still got to balance the budget and make sure that we bring the budget back to surplus responsibly over time without throwing the economy into recession which is what the British Conservatives did after they were elected. They thought it was smart to have a national austerity drive and they threw the country into recession. The British economy today is 3.7 percentage points smaller than it was in 2007. Our economy is 14 per cent bigger than it was in 2007.

HOST: Prime Minister, you’re in Sydney today at Badgerys Creek - a second Sydney airport - big issue. Galaxy has polled the seats in the area, they all favour Badgerys Creek over Wilton for a site for a second airport. This was your response in the first leaders’ debate to a question about that second airport.

AUDIO OF PM: I’ll defer that question to those, for example, Minister Albanese, the Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Transport because that is how it’s appropriately deliberated on.

HOST: Do you now accept that the need for a second Sydney airport is a number one national infrastructure priority deserving of the leader’s attention?

PM: Can I just say, every city in the country has an airport which is important. There’s one in Brisbane; there’s one in Melbourne, and the one in Sydney is the biggest in the country…

HOST: Is it a priority to get a second airport for Sydney, Prime Minister?

PM: Of course it is. The question is to make sure you get the location right and so for the people of Sydney, and the people of Melbourne, people of Brisbane and all the other capital cities this is critical. And Anthony Albanese, the Deputy Prime Minister’s made it absolutely clear that Sydney needs a second airport site and sooner rather than later. Bipartisan support is critical to resolve what has been a difficult issue for decades and we believe that this is an important priority for the future.

But, you know something, apart from Sydney airport, all your listeners this morning, on infrastructure you said it’s a critical infrastructure priority, whether or not all your listeners have access to affordable high speed, reliable broadband is in fact the information super highway for their life opportunities and business opportunities in the future. That’s what our plan is. Mr Abbott’s plan is to throw most of them back onto clapped out copper.

HOST: OK. Prime Minister I just need to ask you if I could please about Syria. You’ve had briefings on the weekend obviously. UN weapons inspectors have now been granted an opportunity to inspect the area where hundreds were killed - a suspected chemical weapons attack but is it too late for those inspectors to do the work. Could the site have been degraded or tampered with?

PM: There are grave concerns about the degradation of the site and your point there Linda is absolutely right. The more time elapses with the use, for example, of a nerve gas type like sarin, its presence in the soil or the ground or in materials degrades over time and that makes it harder to detect. However when it has been the cause of people’s deaths it provides- there are still opportunities to establish though toxicology as to whether sarin’s been used.

The core point is this, everyone of your listeners is horrified by what they’ve seen on their television sets. Australia is a member of the UN Security Council after a process of much domestic controversy in this country. As of the next Sunday with the president of the UN Security Council - this will be a vital period ahead. We must act responsibly with the international community to make sure that those who were responsible for this mass atrocity are brought to justice; make sure that there is a coordinated and appropriate international response to those who are

responsible for this atrocity. You cannot just wave these things through to the keeper…

HOST: So do you expect military action. Say cruise missile strikes, something like that?

PM: Well the President of the United States through a statement of the White House stated quite clearly from the last 24 hours or so that he’s received his own briefings on a set of possible responses against the use of chemical weapons in Syria. The President of the United States also indicated these are responses are not just for the United States but for the international community more broadly. We are of course working through that with our friends, partners and allies. I spoke about this at some length last night with the President of France and I look forward to speaking to other international leaders on this in the days ahead as well.

Whatever happens in this election, this is important for our basic humanity and people might say Syria is a long way away but the murder of 350 people and the injuring of 3,600 people through what appears to be a chemical weapons attack is something you cannot ignore.

HOST: Prime Minister thanks for your time this morning.

PM: Thanks for having me on the program.


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