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Transcript of interview with Neil Mitchell: Radio 3AW, Melbourne: 6 August 2013: Federal election 2013;the Coalition's Real Solutions plan; the Coalition's commitment to abolish the carbon tax; the Coalition's commitment to paid parental leave; and the Coalition's commitment to a national broadband network.



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

6 August 2013

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

Subjects: Federal election 2013; the Coalition’s Real Solutions plan; the Coalition’s commitment to abolish the carbon tax; the Coalition’s commitment to paid parental leave; the Coalition’s commitment to a national broadband network.

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

NEIL MITCHELL:

Mr Abbott, good morning.

TONY ABBOTT:

Good morning Neil.

NEIL MITCHELL:

You know you’re not the most popular leader. You’re perhaps seen as the best of a bad lot, but you want to take people with you clearly if you win. What will you do? How do you do that? How do you get people behind you?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well by doing exactly what I’ve said I will do and that is to scrap the carbon tax, end the waste, stop the boats and build the roads of the 21st century, like East West Link here in Melbourne.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But that’s a slogan. Let’s forget about the slogans. What about communicating with people?

TONY ABBOTT:

Ok, well Neil, the problem over the last three years and over the last six years, but particularly the last three years is that government has said that they will do a whole lot of things and they haven’t done them. Sometimes they’ve done the opposite of what they’d said they’d do like the carbon tax that wasn’t going to happen and then did happen. Like the surplus that was going to be achieved and never was and never will be under this Government.

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NEIL MITCHELL:

This is history, what about the future?

TONY ABBOTT:

Now, I think that the Australian people being sensible, pragmatic people judge individuals and political parties and government on deeds, not mere words. I will I suspect rise very much in public standing if I get the chance to actually put our policies into practice and when people see that it is possible to go to an election with a whole lot of commitments and then to put those commitments into practice.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Do you reckon after the election we could drop the spin?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, look I don’t like spin, sure I was a journalist once years ago, but I hate the spin and I think that’s one of the real problems with politics at the moment. Too much spin and not enough substance.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Ok, but there’s been a fair bit of spin from both sides through this campaign hasn’t there? Do you reckon we can do away with it?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, I respectfully disagree with you on that one Neil. I think that we have been as straight as we humanly can be. Sure we try to put the best possible gloss on things, but I haven’t said that black is white or white is black. If we’ve stuffed up, I’ve said so.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Where did you stuff up?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well apparently we got a couple of lines in a policy last night and as soon as we realised we made a mistake, we corrected it.

NEIL MITCHELL:

This is in the internet policy. It was pretty sloppy wasn’t it?

TONY ABBOTT:

Look, a bit of bad final proofing, but we do not support any attempt to put a filter on the internet. Never have, never will, the only one who supported that was Kevin Rudd and it took him three years to realise it made a mistake. It took us three minutes.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Chances are in not much more than 24 hours, you’ll be prime minister, how do you feel about that?

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TONY ABBOTT:

I feel, if it’s to happen and we can’t take it for granted, because there are a lot of people playing with minor parties at the moment and that could produce another hung Parliament I regret to say, but if it happens, I will be extraordinarily conscious of the heavy burden of responsibility of the duties, the extraordinary duties that will have descended upon my shoulder.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Are you getting any nerves, any trepidation?

TONY ABBOTT:

Look, inevitably, anyone who is suddenly given a big job, even if it’s one that you’ve been preparing for, for years and even if it’s one that you believe you’re more than ready for, when it happens if it happens, you’re conscious of being on a great threshold.

NEIL MITCHELL:

If you’re elected, what will you do Sunday?

TONY ABBOTT:

If and I keep stressing, a lot can go wrong, it’s like being in a Grand Final, five minutes to go, only a goal or two in it. Anything can happen.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But you are a goal or two in front aren’t you?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well I think we are, but we’ve got all these spectators running interference you might say. These minor parties and independents who are trying to invade the pitch and muck up the way the game concludes, but look, if we win the election, I would probably go for an early morning bike ride with the guys I’ve been riding with for years, for an hour or so and then it will be basically into the office to do briefings because you can’t muck around with something as important as the future of our country.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So there’s no Whitlamesque burst of activity in the first few days?

TONY ABBOTT:

It’s important to get things right and look I know the things that we need to do, but we’ve got to make sure that we do them the right way and that means talking to the professional public servants. I respect the professionalism of the Australian Public Service. I’ve worked with the public servants closely for almost twelve years in government and we need to work with them and through them.

NEIL MITCHELL:

We’re a wealthy country, we’re a lucky country - I think you’d agree, so why are you cutting back growth in foreign aid? It looks mean spirited, is that putting Australians ahead of poorer people overseas?

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TONY ABBOTT:

No, it’s saying to our people and to the rest of the world that the stronger we are, the more able we are to help and at the moment we’re borrowing money from overseas to send it off overseas and I don’t think that’s a particularly smart thing to do. So we’ll limit the growth to CPI until such time as the budgetary position is repaired and then of course we’ll resume our advance to 0.5 per cent of Gross National Income.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So it’s an effective cut though isn’t it?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, the rate of increase has been reduced. Every year under us, foreign aid will be greater, but it will be greater by CPI, that’s all.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I’d hate to see you applying this approach to wages. It’s not a cut, it’s just a reduction of an increase.

TONY ABBOTT:

And that’s not what we’re doing with wages.

NEIL MITCHELL:

The Government says you’re going to cut penalty rates.

TONY ABBOTT:

The Government is engaging in bare-faced lies yet again. They have no evidence for this because it’s not true. It’s not true. We leave the wage fixing system exactly as it is and penalty rates will be a matter for the Fair Work Commission tomorrow as they are today.

NEIL MITCHELL:

If the economy has been… not the economy, if the management of the economy has been such a mess as you’ve been telling us for a long time, how come you’re not able to find more savings in your Budget?

TONY ABBOTT:

We’ve come up with $42 billion of sensible savings. Some of them are difficult, I accept that, but we’ve been out there for months with most of these savings. The only significant saving which was announced this week was the reduction in the amount of increase of foreign aid, because what you’ve seen from us Neil is the same strong united team for three years and the same clear plans. There’s been no chopping and changing. No last minute about faces and no change of leadership in panic with the opinion polls or anything like that, just consistency and steadiness.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But if it’s been as sloppy as you’ve been telling us for years, how come you can’t save more?

TONY ABBOTT:

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Well I reckon, well the Government tells the world that life as we know it will end, because of these massive cuts. They are not massive cuts, they are sensible savings - $42 billion of them over the forward estimates period.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Do you remember at the beginning of the last campaign in the last election, day one you were in the studio.

TONY ABBOTT:

I remember it well.

NEIL MITCHELL:

And you signed a pledge.

TONY ABBOTT:

I did, you’ve probably got it for me have you?

NEIL MITCHELL:

No, no, no.

TONY ABBOTT:

Did you frame it? Where is it?

NEIL MITCHELL:

It is framed, it’s sitting around somewhere, that was a pledge not to return to WorkChoices. Would you pledge now that you will not make any surprise cuts once elected?

TONY ABBOTT:

There will be no surprises, there will be no excuses, we will do what we’ve said we will do.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But how can you do that when you don’t really know the state of the books?

TONY ABBOTT:

The fact is that the most important thing I can do for our country in coming months is to ensure that it is possible once more to have faith in your polity, to have faith in your government and that means keeping commitments. I’ve been very careful about making too many commitments in this election campaign Neil. They’re modest, they’re understandable and above all else, they’re achievable and we can do what we have said we will do regardless of the circumstances that we might find ourselves in six months or twelve months down the track.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So what will your audit commission do?

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TONY ABBOTT:

The audit commission will go through the administration of government to see if we can do things more effectively and more efficiently.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Won’t it cut?

TONY ABBOTT:

Let’s wait and see what it comes up with, but everyone wants tax payers’ dollars to be sensibly spent, no-one wants people to be doing things a stupid way if there’s a smart way available and that’s what the commission of audit will be on about, to see if there’s a smarter way of doing the things that government does.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well that’s true, but you said let’s wait and see what it comes up with. That means a step into the unknown, because if you implement what it comes up with, we don’t know what it is.

TONY ABBOTT:

We’ve already said that we will modestly slim down the public sector. The Commonwealth public sector has some 20,000 more in it than it did in 2007 and we’ve said we’ll get that number down by 12,000 through natural attrition and the commission of audit process will no doubt help to make that happen.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So what are the no-go zones?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, if you can be more efficient, obviously you should be more efficient. There’s no point preserving inefficiency if efficiency is possible. What we aren’t going to do is we’re not going to cut health spending, we’re not going to cut education spending. We’re not going to reduce pensions, we’re not going to change the GST - all of the scares that Kevin Rudd has been hyperventilating over, over the last few weeks is simple nonsense.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But if you are applying efficiency through the audit commission, you mightn’t cut spending, but you might cut the number of staff in health or education?

TONY ABBOTT:

But I’ve said that we’ll reduce the numbers by 12,000, but…

NEIL MITCHELL:

In education and health?

TONY ABBOTT:

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But we’re not talking about nurses and doctors here. The Commonwealth doesn’t employ any nurses or doctors. We’re not talking about teachers or teachers’ aids here. The Commonwealth doesn’t employ any teachers. So if we can get the money to the schools and to the hospitals more effectively with fewer bureaucrats, why wouldn’t we?

NEIL MITCHELL:

Famously, your opponent said first time around as prime minister, the buck stops with him on health. Does the buck stop with you on health?

TONY ABBOTT:

I want to see our health system work better and when I was the Health Minister Neil, we used to interview each other, I can remember you used to often give me a very hard time about the kids hospital here in Victoria and I would say well…

NEIL MITCHELL:

We got some money for them though.

TONY ABBOTT:

Yes indeed. For better or for worse, the Commonwealth does not run hospitals. Now Kevin Rudd wasn’t all wrong when he said that he wanted to devolve control of public hospitals to the community, to local management boards. In fact that was a policy of mine when I was the Health Minister. It wasn’t one that we got very far with in those days. The great thing about Victorian public hospitals is that they have always been the most devolved, the most decentralised, the most self-managed hospitals in the country. It’s one of the reasons why for all the issues that come up from time-to-time, the Victorian public hospital system is probably the best in the country.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I hope that doesn’t mean we get less money.

TONY ABBOTT:

No, it doesn’t mate. It doesn’t. The only people who have actually cut public hospital funding is the current Government and this is why the Prime Minister is such a phoney and a fake when he starts talking about these things, because he’s own Government cut $1.6 billion out of public hospitals including a retrospective cut of $107 million here in Victoria and his own Government cut $3.8 billion out of education.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Mental health - will you restore the number of claimable visits to a psychologist, it used to be 18, it was knocked back to 10 or 12.

TONY ABBOTT:

It was 12. See I put this in. I put this in as Health Minister. It was 12 psychologists consultations with the option of an additional six and I was in a park in Brisbane yesterday. I met a clinical psychologist in private practice who was just there with her child. She was telling us that it was the one thing that she really, really felt bad about from this Government. She wanted it restored. I couldn’t give her immediate comfort, I regret to say, because we are in a very difficult budgetary position, but you can be quite confident Neil that something that I thought was a good thing as Health Minister, I will continue to think is a good thing as

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prime minister and if we can and I say if we responsibly can, of course, but I’m not making a commitment, because we’ve just got to do our best to get the budgetary position under control and we will.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Hello Chris, go ahead please.

CALLER:

G’day Neil. Mr Abbott, a pleasure to talk to you. My question is in regard to the carbon tax.

TONY ABBOTT:

Yes Chris.

CALLER:

Now, are you going to take the carbon tax off?

TONY ABBOTT:

Absolutely, it goes.

CALLER:

It’s led to significant increases in cost of living pressures, council rates, energy bills and so forth. Once you take the tax off, how are you going to make sure the money comes back to us?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, it’s interesting you ask that question Chris, because earlier in the campaign I committed an additional $16 million to the ACCC so that the ACCC had the resources necessary to police pricing when the carbon tax comes off so that power prices will go down by about ten per cent. Gas prices will go down by about nine per cent. Now, I know the carbon tax is not the only factor in power prices, but the Government tells us, this Government tells us that ten per cent of the price of power right now is the carbon tax. The day that the carbon tax comes off, there should be a commensurate reduction in your power prices and the ACCC will be there to police it.

NEIL MITCHELL:

You’re talking about the budgetary position. The promises you’ve made and the contentious ones are the paid parental leave - the Government’s claiming $5.5 billion going to 160,000 wealthy women.

TONY ABBOTT:

That’s nonsense again, I mean 80 per cent of the people who will benefit from our paid parental leave scheme are earning less than 65,000 a year…

NEIL MITCHELL:

And the jobs bonus. Now, there is no change on those? You are locked into those regardless of the depth of the budgetary problem?

TONY ABBOTT:

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Look, paid parental leave is a watershed social and economic reform. Every major reform has its critics. There are people who say now is not the right time, it costs too much. I didn’t get it when I was young, so why should these people get it now? Look, I think as a nation, we are ready for this, just like we’re ready for the national disability insurance scheme. It should happen and if we’re elected, it will happen.

NEIL MITCHELL:

What about the jobs bonus?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well again…

NEIL MITCHELL:

…for staying on in a job for a period of time.

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, what we’ve proposed is that if you’re a young person who has been unemployed for twelve months or more on a benefit, you get a job and you keep it and stay off benefits for twelve months and in 24 months, there’ll be a modest bonus, but the problem with so many young people who’ve got used to life on the dole is their attitude. It’s the job seekers attitude. We want to change their attitude and there’ll be a bit of carrot and a bit of stick and this is the carrot. With older people, the problem is not the job seekers’ attitude, it’s the employers’ attitude because too many employers are a bit hesitant if someone comes in with grey hair and that’s why the incentive for older people will be with the employer, not with the employee.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I understand that, but what I’m saying is that up for review, or is that a rock solid commitment?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well the interesting thing… it is a commitment, it’s a rock solid commitment. The interesting thing about those particular commitments is that some economists such as NATSEM who model these in the run up to the last election believe that these will be Budget positive, rather than Budget negative. Now we’ve taken a very careful and cautious and conservative approach this time and the Parliamentary Budget Office has said that there could be some modest costs.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So, is the audit commission, does its brief include looking at these promises?

TONY ABBOTT:

It’s not to review programmes, it’s to review administration. So, the audit commissioner is not going to go in there and say, oh, we think paid parental leave is a bad idea for instance. The audit commission is to go through the administration of government and to say well this is what you’re doing, maybe it can be done better by doing it this way rather than that way. It’s about making the programmes that the Government has run as efficiently and effectively as they can.

NEIL MITCHELL:

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Hello John, go ahead.

CALLER:

Good morning Neil and good morning Mr Abbott. Thanks for taking my call.

TONY ABBOTT:

Thanks John, thanks for calling in.

CALLER:

I agree with most of the things that you say. I agree with not having a filter on the internet. My biggest beef is your internet policy is the lack of speed. I probably speak on behalf of many hundreds if not millions of Australia who are doing online gaming and also who are trying to upload large files, upload and download from the internet. Our internet speed and what you’re proposing are very slow. We need the 100 megabits per second speed at least.

TONY ABBOTT:

Well John, look you will almost certainly get it under us. What you won’t get from us digging up every street just about to put fibre to every home whether it’s necessary or wanted or affordable, but we can give you five times the current average maximum download speeds. Every premises in the country will get at least 25 megabits per second download speeds by 2016. That’s our guarantee and many, many premises will get much, much more than that and we’ll do all of that for $60 billion less than Labor’s NBN. The trouble John if I may say so and we all want faster broadband, the trouble with Labor’s scheme is that it’s costing a fortune, it’s way over budget and it’s miles behind schedule. I bet you any money you have not got the NBN at your place have you?

CALLER:

No, I don’t and it is very frustrating but 25 megabits is not that quick either.

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, it is better than 5 which are the current speeds that people are getting on average around the country; the problem with Labor’s scheme is that they will never deliver it. At current rates of rollout it will take 20 years to deliver it and frankly time will have moved on technology will have moved on. It is much better to get our system quickly and we can build on it in the years ahead.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Thank you John - both you and the Prime Minister have involved your families in the campaign and I know there has been some objection to a cartoon involving your daughters in the Financial Review do you, were you offended by that?

TONY ABBOTT:

I don’t know which cartoon we are talking about.

NEIL MITCHELL:

It was yesterday.

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TONY ABBOTT:

Ok, well look if it was the one that I saw in the Fin yesterday I was actually sitting with Francie my middle daughter looking at the Fin and we were both laughing about it. That is not to say that other people might not have taken some offence. Look we live in a robust democracy and the cartoonists in particular are no respecters of persons.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Do you have any intention of changing the media laws?

TONY ABBOTT:

No if anything we want a freer media, not a more restricted media. Section 18 C of the Racial Discrimination Act is the section which was used against Andrew Bolt. Now Andrew Bolt is a commentator I respect, I think I could even say that Andrew is a friend of mine, it wasn’t his best column but nevertheless the best way to handle things you don’t agree with is to argue against them not to take legal action against them unless they are actually defamatory. There was no defamation as such in there, so we will change Section 18 C of the Racial Discrimination Act so that merely giving offence is not a ground for a successful prosecution.

NEIL MITCHELL:

When did you last speak with Rupert Murdoch?

TONY ABBOTT:

Rupert Murdoch was in Australia a few months ago and I spoke with him then as I dare say half the members of Parliament did.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Did you he tell you that he was going to support you this avidly in the election campaign?

TONY ABBOTT:

Look like a lot of people he indicated that he thought that Australia could do better when it comes to a government and just like every other Australian, like you, like Roger Corbett, everyone is entitled to a political opinion and everyone is entitled to express it.

NEIL MITCHELL:

There is that famous saying if you change the government you change the country. What sort of country, how would Australia change under you?

TONY ABBOTT:

We would be, I hope and I believe, we will be stronger, more fair dinkum, more of us will be able to make more of our potential.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Do you want to get politics off the front page?

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TONY ABBOTT:

Look it should be on the front page when significant things are happening but I don’t think we should be obsessive about politics. Happy the country, where we don’t need to obsess about politics. Countries where people obsess about politics are usually wracked with division and dissention and for most of our history that hasn’t been the case here and long may that continue.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Who will you take advice from if you are Prime Minister?

TONY ABBOTT:

I will take advice from the professional public service, I will take advice from my own very distinguished staff and I am blessed with a terrific personal staff who have demonstrated enormous insight and competence over the last three years. Naturally I won’t just take advice but I will be a part of a cabinet, we will restore cabinet government where the Prime Minister is first amongst equals and I don’t believe in second guessing ministerial decisions 99.9 per cent of the time. Obviously that is where I will take advice form, but if you are asking me if I occasionally listen to John Howard, why wouldn’t I?

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well I wasn’t but it is a fair point. It is fair to say that you won’t be in this job at this time next year?

TONY ABBOTT:

I think it is fair to say that I am running to be Prime Minister Neil, not to be Leader of the Opposition and come Sunday morning, I will be heading for a bigger job or I will be heading for retirement.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Retirement? What would you do?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well let’s not worry about that lets worry about winning this election Neil and if want to see a strong and stable majority government they should vote for the Liberal or National Party candidate in the House and in the Senate.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I know you need to get away but it would have to change you life significantly wouldn’t it? It would have to change your exercise, everything.

TONY ABBOTT:

John Howard managed to get up at about 5-5:30 every morning and he was walking for almost an hour every day and he played golf for four or five hours most weekends. So I will get up at about the same time and I will do the same exercise and hopefully on the weekends where John was playing golf I will be out having a bit of a bike ride.

NEIL MITCHELL:

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Just a personal question so I understand if you don’t want to answer it, you are a religious man, have you prayed for advice throughout the campaign?

TONY ABBOTT:

I think everyone constantly, whether religious or not, I think we are all asking for wisdom, for strength, and if you are sensible you ask for humility and humour as well.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Do you ask for victory?

TONY ABBOTT:

You ask for good things for our country and our families and our communities.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But have you ever asked the big fella, can you get me up as PM?

TONY ABBOTT:

I am sure that he has his own plans, he has his own plans. Yeah he has his own plans.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But that is not an answer.

TONY ABBOTT:

What did Shakespeare say? There is a divinity that shapes our ends…

NEIL MITCHELL:

Yeah but that is not an answer either.

TONY ABBOTT:

Well there are some things that we might have to leave shrouded in mystery.

NEIL MITCHELL:

One other thing and I know, I won’t ask you to commit to it yet because you are not there yet but the offer stands as it has to all of your predecessors to come on every couple of weeks and come and talk to the audience.

TONY ABBOTT:

Well Neil it is a very good offer and I think it would be a sensible national leader who takes it up, you know over the last few years Prime Ministers and Ministers seem to feel that they have got to have daily press conferences and have really had nothing to say. I think a much better system is to speak when you do have something worth saying and worth listening to but certainly every so often it is good to be able to sit down and give an account of your stewardship.

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NEIL MITCHELL:

One last thing, I will have a bet with you that within five years you change your mind on gay marriage.

TONY ABBOTT:

I can’t speak for the Parliament because it is 150 people in the House of reps and 70 odd in the senate but look my view has always been clear on this. I am not a flip flop merchant on these things.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Oh no but you are entitled to change your mind and you will.

TONY ABBOTT:

Well I doubt it Neil I very much doubt it. We shouldn’t lightly change things that have existed form time immemorial and we certainly should grow, no doubt about that, we should grow on the sure and firm foundations of the values and institutions that have stood the test of time.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Thank you very much for your time and all the best for the next few days.

TONY ABBOTT:

Thanks so much Neil.

[ends]