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Transcript of interview with Neil Mitchell: 3AW, Melbourne: 23 October 2013: Medibank Private; Commission of Audit; New South Wales bushfires; same-sex marriage; Queensland bikie laws; military cemetery in Canberra; Peter Cosgrove; Australia-US relations; health and medical research grants.



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PRIME MINISTER

23 October 2013

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

Subjects: Medibank Private; Commission of Audit; New South Wales bushfires; same-sex marriage; Queensland bikie laws; military cemetery in Canberra; Peter Cosgrove; Australia-US relations; health and medical research grants.

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

NEIL MITCHELL:

Prime Minister, good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

`Morning, Neil.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Do you plan to sell Medibank?

PRIME MINISTER:

Medibank Private. We’ve been saying for years that it would be better off in the private sector. It’s a competitive market and we think that this would actually help the customers of Medibank because we think that the services would improve and certainly it will bring some money back to taxpayers, but all we’ve done so far, Neil, is say that there will be a scoping study because we would want to sell it at the right time, not the wrong time, so we maximise the price and get the best possible value for taxpayers.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Would you like to sell it sooner rather than later?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well again, Neil, we want to do what’s right for taxpayers. We want to do what’s right for the Australian public. Medibank have been saying for years that they think they could operate better in the private sector. Certainly under the former government Medibank Private was raided for compulsory dividends and so on. If

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they’re in the private sector, they’ll be free of that kind of demand from a sometimes unreasonable owner. So it will be good for Medibank and Medibank’s policy holders. Ultimately, good for taxpayers as well, but we’ve got to maximise the price. We’ve got to do it at the right time, not the wrong time and that’s what will happen.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Do you have a figure in mind? I read $4 billion is likely.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well again, that’s the kind of thing that we’ll have more to say about when we’ve seen this scoping study.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But you do have a figure in mind yet, or not?

PRIME MINISTER:

Let’s see what the scoping study comes up with. We want to maximise the return to taxpayers, obviously. That’s why we’ve got to do it at the right time, not the wrong time.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So if it’s not enough, will you not sell?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we want to see it return, we want to see it in the private sector, but we’ve got to do it the right way, not the wrong way, at the right time, not the wrong time. It’s been our policy for years, Neil. It was the policy of the Howard Government in its last term. Legislation passed the Parliament to do it. It was our policy at the 2010 election. It was our policy at the recent election. So we do intend to do it but we are not in a rush. We’ll do it calmly, purposefully, methodically and we’ll do it when it’s best for our country.

NEIL MITCHELL:

You don’t believe the danger that fees would go up if it was privatised?

PRIME MINISTER:

Don’t forget, Neil, that there is some regulation of private health insurance premiums. There’s an annual premium round and the Minister for Health has to approve premium increases. They’re not unreasonably refused but we’ve got to be confident that they’re necessary and not just a bit of commercial gauging.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Are other assets being reviewed for sale?

PRIME MINISTER:

We’re going to do no more and no less than we promised people at the election. The only privatisation that we’ve got slated is Medibank Private.

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NEIL MITCHELL:

Would you look at other assets?

PRIME MINISTER:

We’ll honour our election mandate, Neil. Now, that’s not to say that nothing apart from Medibank Private will ever, ever be sold but we won’t do anything which is inconsistent with our mandate. Now, who knows what the recommendations of the Commission of Audit might be, but we will only act on recommendations in ways which are consistent with a mandate.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well, your Commission of Audit has a very broad scope, very broad scope.

PRIME MINISTER:

As you’d expect, Neil.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Everything’s on the table.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we’ve said, ‘think outside the circle’. We’ve said it’s almost two decades since the exercise was last done. In that time the size, scope and the conduct of government has changed. Let’s look at it all again to see what can we do better and please, ‘be bold’, we’ve said. Come up with whatever you think is going to be better for taxpayers, better for the clients and the customers of government, better for our great nation because what we want as a country is the most efficient and the most effective government possible but we won’t act in ways which are inconsistent with our mandate.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So are tax rises on the table?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, this is a government that believes in lower, simpler, fairer taxes and this is going to be about more efficient government and I think we can be confident that we’ll be much more about smaller government than bigger government.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So regardless of their recommendations, you won’t consider tax rises?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think it’s almost inconceivable that the Commission of Audit would be going down that path. I mean, the Commission of Audit, their mandate is to go through government branch by branch, division by division, agency by agency, asking itself the question: are we doing this in the best possible way? Are there better ways of doing this? Because everyone wants to see a government which is as efficient and as effective as possible and delivers the best possible value for taxpayers.

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NEIL MITCHELL:

You’re talking about smaller government. That means cuts in some areas.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we’ve said, Neil, going into the election, that we did want to trim the size of the Commonwealth public sector. We’ve pointed out that it was roughly 20,000 larger in head count now than at the close of the Howard Government. Now, the former government had begun a trimming process and we are going to build on that. We are going to have a shrinkage of 12,000 over the forward estimates period but we think this is manageable.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Ok, if there are cuts, will we also have to look at services being cut or else transferred to the states?

PRIME MINISTER:

The important thing is to give people the best possible services and that’s what we want to ensure. Now, there may well be some services that can be better delivered. You might remember a long time ago, Neil, I was the Minister for Employment Services and in that capacity I was responsible for helping to shift employment services from the old Commonwealth Employment Service to the then new Job Network and the transition was not entirely smooth; but nevertheless, the result for the public was a big improvement in employment services and much better outcomes in terms of getting people into jobs. So, if we can do things like that - I’m not assuming that we can, but if we can do things like that, why shouldn’t we?

NEIL MITCHELL:

In a general sense, is it possible to achieve what you’re talking about without pain somewhere for somebody?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m not saying that everything that the new Government does over the next three years is going to be rapturously received and I am sure that we will see a stream of press releases, particularly from public sector unions, saying how terrible the Government is. The important thing is to get the best possible services for the lowest possible cost to taxpayers and that’s what we’re exploring right now.

NEIL MITCHELL:

And will you look at transferring the responsibilities to the State, perhaps even hospitals?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the States are responsible for public hospitals. Yes, the Commonwealth has a role in funding them but….

NEIL MITCHELL:

But you’ve got a big bureaucracy…

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PRIME MINISTER:

And one of the points I’ve made is that there’s something like five to six thousand Commonwealth health department employees and yet we don’t provide a single medical service. We don’t run a hospital. Now, sure, we help to fund hospitals and yes, through Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and the Aged Care arrangements we fund and organise an enormous range of health services but we don’t directly deliver them and this is one of the many reasons why I think that it ought to be possible to operate just as well with a somewhat slimmer Commonwealth public sector.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Why are you increasing the debt ceiling by so much?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, peak debt had been forecast to hit $370 billion. We were going to hit Labor’s debt ceiling in December. That’s just two months away. We were going to hit Labor’s debt ceiling in just two months and the last thing we wanted, Neil, is a crisis in this country like the crisis that they’ve just gone through in Washington in the United States. So we did have to increase the debt ceiling. You might remember on this very programme in May, Wayne Swan, the then Treasurer, basically washed his hands of this. He said, well really this is going to be a problem for the next government to face. You know, Wayne Swan was like the bad tenant who was trashing the house before he got evicted. So we had Wayne Swan washing his hands of this matter on your programme in May.

The debt ceiling does have to go up. The $300 billion limit is going to be reached within two months. So peak debt was forecast to reach $370 billion. The latest estimates from Treasury are that peak debt will be well over $400 billion. That’s why we think it’s prudent to have a $500 billion limit but our job - and there’s a world of difference, if I may say so, Neil, between the limit and what you actually borrow - our job is to get debt down and we will and that’s why this Commission of Audit is so important. We’ve got the problem, which is Labor’s sky rocketing debt, and we’ve got the solution which is sensible savings and sensible efficiencies in government and that’s what the Commission of Audit will help us to deliver.

NEIL MITCHELL:

See my point is I don’t think you can achieve that without pain, and yes, there’s pain to the public service but are you saying to the people of Australia as you go through this audit: you’re going to have to carry a bit of the load as well?

PRIME MINISTER:

If we are going to get debt under control, if we’re going to get the Budget back into the black, yes, inevitably, things will have to change and there will be some things that people don’t like but I think the public, Neil, understand that government has been living beyond its means. Let’s face it, we have the five biggest deficits in Australian history from Wayne Swan’s five budgets. We can’t continue, we can’t continue and that’s why, amongst other things, we’re having this Commission of Audit.

NEIL MITCHELL:

We’ll take a break and come back with more from the Prime Minister in a moment. I want to talk about the Sydney fires, gay marriage etcetera and your role as a fire-fighter, Prime Minister, in a moment.

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NEIL MITCHELL:

Prime Minister, will you continue in your role as a rural fire fighter?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’ve been in the brigade now, the local Davidson Rural Fire Brigade for 13 years Neil. I love my service with the Brigade. It helps to keep me grounded, quite apart from being an important form of community service. Obviously, my time is much more limited, but yes from time-to-time, I will do my best to turn out with the Brigade.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Are the security people happy about that?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think the short answer is not very, but I’ve explained to them that we don’t go out there to take silly risks, we go out there to do what’s necessary to defend peoples’ homes and communities and I’ll be with the crew and I’ll act under the instructions of the deputy captain and the other officers and it’ll be done as effectively as it can be.

NEIL MITCHELL:

What do you do?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well on Saturday night when I was out with the Davidson crew as part of the Warringah/Pittwater strike team, we were up in the Blue Mountains around the Bilpin area. We lit up various back burns. So you get out the drip torch, you light up along a fire trail or a cleared area, you get the fire going, then you watch for a while to make sure it’s behaving itself, then you wait to get re-tasked and…

NEIL MITCHELL:

Have you been in a dangerous position in the years you’ve been doing it?

PRIME MINISTER:

There’ve been moments when you start to get a bit of adrenaline. There are moments when you think, ‘oh dear’, but the fires in the Blue Mountains in 2001, Boxing Day 2001, was probably my hairiest day out on the fire ground and that was a bad day.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Did you [inaudible] your life was in danger?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I didn’t because, we were well trained, we’re well equipped. We’re well supervised and the risks are all well and truly considered and they’re taken for good reason.

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NEIL MITCHELL:

But as Prime Minister, should you be taking those risks?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think the risks are well within the bounds of what’s acceptable and you see, even as a Prime Minister, you’ve got to be a human being first and it is a normal part of a normal Australian life to serve in various community organisations. Whether it be the Rotary club on the one hand, the church auxiliary on the other hand or the surf life-saving patrol or the Rural Fire Service on the other hand and I will do my best to continue to be a citizen as well as a Prime Minister.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Does climate change have anything to do with the New South Wales fires? I know the head of the UN climate change negotiations says there’s a clear link, she said this week, a clear link between climate change and the New South Wales fires.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think the official in question is talking through her hat, if I may say so, Neil. Look, we’ve had bad fires since almost the beginning of European settlement. I think the first massive bushfires in Victoria were back in the 1850s. We had terrible fires in 1939 in Victoria. We had shocking fires in 1983 in South Australia, in Victoria. We had terrible fires in Hobart in 1968 - something like 70 people were killed on the edges of Hobart. We’ve had bad fires in New South Wales in 1968, in 1994, in 2001. Of course, we had the terrible fires here in Victoria in 2009. Look, fire is a part of the Australian experience. It has been since humans were on this continent. The Aboriginal people managed the landscape through various forms of fire stick farming. It took us a long time to figure out that our landscape needed to be managed and at times burnt. So, look, climate change is real as I’ve often said and we should take strong action against it, but these fires are certainly not a function of climate change, they’re just a function of life in Australia.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Calls for the Prime Minister and I’ve got some more questions. Chris, go ahead please.

CALLER:

Yes, good morning Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning Chris.

CALLER:

I just wanted to quickly ask why the government would not consider selling SBS and the ABC since they’re spending a lot of taxpayer money every year and I presume, and please correct me if I’m wrong, there’ll be in circa of $10 billion if both are sold, thank you.

NEIL MITCHELL:

ABC and SBS for sale?

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PRIME MINISTER:

Well, no, they’re not for sale. Some would say they’re cultural icons. Some would say that there’s only a limited advertising market so why flood the market with more advertisers and drive others out of business or compromise the already shaky profitability of free to air broadcasters. Look, one way or another Chris, they’re not for sale, but certainly it’s important that they be as well managed as possible, that they be as well run as possible and the new Government will do its best to make sure that’s the case.

NEIL MITCHELL:

And as fair as possible?

PRIME MINISTER:

As fair as possible. Look, every politician sometimes feels that he or she has been hard done by. Whether it’s at the hands of the ABC or even sometimes perhaps Neil, here on 3AW, we sometimes feel we’ve been hard done by. I think it’s true that at times, there is an ABC, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age view of the world, if you like. That said, there’s probably also a Daily Telegraph, Herald Sun view of the world and it might be rather different and in a robust democracy like ours, thank God there are a multitude of different voices and for a politician like me on the ABC, the important thing is to have a good argument and make it as best you can.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Gay marriage, what if people marry under the ACT law later this year, will that be void if you then go on to block it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well what’s happening Neil, is that the Attorney-General has instructed the Commonwealth lawyers to challenge this legislation in the High Court because under our Constitution, pretty clearly, the Commonwealth has responsibility for marriage and the regulation of marriage. So, it’s not a question of being for or against gay marriage, it’s a question of adhering to the Constitution. Now, if as I think, the ACT legislation turns out to be invalid under the Constitution, well then those marriages wouldn’t be valid. So, I suggest to people who would like to be married under the ACT legislation, hold on ‘til its validity is tested.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So you’re definitely going to fight it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, we are going to challenge this because we think that the Constitution should be adhered to.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So is this therefore, is the decision to fight it a moral one or a legal one?

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s purely a legal one. If the truth be known, there’s a range of views within the Coalition Party room and I suspect the Attorney’s view is probably more ‘progressive’ in inverted commas, than some others’ views

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might be, but the job of the Attorney is to uphold the Constitution and that’s what we are determined to do, to ensure that our Constitution is adhered to.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So George Brandis is, I was going to say in the closet, but he’s in fact a supporter of gay marriage?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m not going to put words into anyone’s mouth. I’m not going to put people on one side or the other of these issues, just to say that it is the responsibility of the Commonwealth and in particular of the Attorney to ensure that the Constitution is adhered to and that’s what we’re determined to do here.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Your sister was a very good advocate.

PRIME MINISTER:

She’s a terrific advocate. Outstanding advocate and she chews my ear uphill and down dale on this subject and I wish her and Virginia all the best for their future happiness.

NEIL MITCHELL:

And you will go to her wedding?

PRIME MINISTER:

And if there’s a ceremony of some kind, yes I will be there with a present. I’ll do the right thing, but look, I am a traditionalist Neil, on this. From time immemorial in every culture that’s been known marriage, or that kind of solemnised relationship, has been between a man and a woman.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I did remind her, I’ve got a bet with you that you’ll change your mind within five years.

PRIME MINISTER:

I fear that’s a bet you’re likely to lose Neil.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Darren, go ahead please.

CALLER:

Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Darren, how are you?

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CALLER:

I’m excellent. I have a gay son. I was brought up in a Christian house. I don’t support gay marriage. I do, however, think that we could see ourselves to have a legal civil union so gay people do have all the benefits of being in a committed relationship and so on. Is it possible to see something like that in the near future rather than, I mean I believe that marriage itself is religious, it’s more religious based and I think Christianity doesn’t support gay marriage, but I think from a government point of view, is it possible that we could possibly see a legal framework so as they do have the legal benefit of marriage?

NEIL MITCHELL:

Some sort of civil union you’re talking about Darren?

CALLER:

Exactly.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Darren, if we were starting from scratch, you’d probably have a situation where the state formally acknowledges relationships of great significance, but then if you want to go and get married you go off and do that in a church. I gather that is the kind of thing that happens in France. So, if we were starting from scratch it may well be that we go down that path. Of course we are not starting from scratch. We have got a Commonwealth Marriage Act which provides that marriage is between a man and a woman. I am not proposing to change that. When people did propose to change that in the last Parliament, I voted against it. My Party voted against it because that was the position we’d taken to the election as had the Labor Party. The Labor Party took the view that they might say one thing before the election and do the opposite afterwards but we took the view that we weren’t going to do that and therefore that we would stay with the traditional position as a Party. Now, I don’t know what is going to happen in this and subsequent Parliaments if this whole question of gay marriage were to come up in the coming Commonwealth Parliament, the Coalition party room would deal with it in the usual way.

NEIL MITCHELL:

There are a number of issues I would like to get through quickly if I may. The bikie laws in Queensland, pretty tough, extra jail time for being a bikie, pink jumpsuits, no right to refuse questions - are they going too far?

PRIME MINISTER:

They are tough laws and I have discussed these with Campbell Newman. He is determined to make a difference and he accepts that this is draconian legislation - that is one of the reasons there is a time limit on it - but he wants to make a difference, he is determined to ensure that these bikie gangs are defeated at least in his state.

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NEIL MITCHELL:

Do you support them or are they going too far?

PRIME MINISTER:

I support the right of the state governments to do what they think is necessary to ensure peace, order and good government in their states.

NEIL MITCHELL:

There’s likely to be some High Court challenges on them. Will the Federal Government be involved in this as you would be on gay marriage?

PRIME MINISTER:

We would support the right of the states to get on with good government.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So, they have got the right on bikies but not on gay marriage?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it is a question of the Constitution. Under the Constitution, standard normal policing is a matter for the states and territories. Now, the criminal law is normally a matter for the states and territories under the Constitution, but marriage under the Constitution is a matter for the Commonwealth.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Is it correct you are looking, or you are planning an Arlington-like cemetery in Canberra?

PRIME MINISTER:

I am not planning it but I do think it is important that we have a lasting legacy out of the whole Centenary of ANZAC process. We are going to have various local commemorations. Every electorate will be given $125,000 to help with these local commemorations and that might involve refurbishing memorials, having essay competitions, art competitions, public speaking competitions on the theme of ANZAC. There will be a major travelling exhibition which the War Memorial will be organising.

I would like to think that we could do some more. We have got this significant commemorative centre being opened in Albany from where many of our World War I veterans, World War I soldiers departed. That was the last sight of Australia that many of them had. That’s good but let’s see if we can do some more.

Now, the Canadians have got, I believe, a magnificent interpretive centre at Vimy Ridge, where the Canadian Army did such significant work in 1917. The Canadians and the Australians were the shock troops of the British Army in World War I. The Australian Army was in fact decisive in the defeat of the final German offensive in March of 1918, and we spear headed the big push against the Germans which ultimately led to what Ludendorff said was the ‘black day’ of the German Army. I mean, this was all Australia’s doing.

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We are much more familiar with the Gallipoli story then we are with the story of the Western Front and yet on the Western Front, which was the main game in World War I, Australia was often the decisive military actor. Now, our exploits have sometimes been lost because we were operating as part of the wider British Army.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So, how does that relate to the cemetery?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I am saying the two things that we ought to consider, Neil, are a major interpretive centre on the Western Front along the lines of what the Canadians have done at Vimy, and an Arlington-style national war cemetery in Canberra. Now, the Americans obviously have a magnificent national cemetery and many Australians who visit Washington go there. The Indonesians, your listeners might be interested to know, have a national war cemetery in Jakarta, where many of their senior military leaders and war heroes are buried. I am not saying that we must do it but I think we should consider it.

The RSL a few years ago thought it was a good idea. I suspect that the families of quite a number of VC winners would be happy to see their famous family member reinterred in a national cemetery. So, let’s have the debate and see what we can come up with. I think it would be sad if in 2018 we looked back on four years and we had had essay competitions and memorial refurbishments but we didn’t have some more lasting legacy.

NEIL MITCHELL:

A couple of very quick things if I may? What do you think Peter Cosgrove will be doing in June next year?

PRIME MINISTER:

He’ll be doing a very good job.

NEIL MITCHELL:

What as?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, he is a busy man, he gets all sorts of invitations to do all sorts of things. He has a very busy life.

NEIL MITCHELL:

He would be a good Governor-General, wouldn’t he?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I have seen speculation but I don’t comment on speculation.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Ok, fair enough. Malcolm Fraser seems to be saying we are too close to the US. Is he right?

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PRIME MINISTER:

We should be close to the United States. The United States is our best friend in the whole world. They are our most important security partner, they are a very important trading partner, they are a democracy, they speak our language, they share our values, our television programmes are broadcast there, their programmes are broadcast here. Australians don’t feel like strangers in the United States. Americans don’t feel like strangers here. We are hardly foreign countries so we should be very close to the United States.

NEIL MITCHELL:

The Australian newspaper reporting that Barrie Cassidy appointed by Labor to chair the old Parliament House Advisory Committee the day after the election was called. Does that concern you? Are you going to reverse it or doesn’t it matter?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, the former government, Neil, rushed to appoint its friends to all sorts of positions in the dying days. Barrie Cassidy is a good bloke. I don’t begrudge him the appointment but it did all seem to be done with a certain unseemly haste.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Are you going to watch his expenses closer than the Members of Parliament? I can’t understand why you just won’t tighten them? Not Opposition Leaders, not Prime Minister’s - backbenchers.

PRIME MINISTER:

Neil, I appreciate that the public are always concerned and annoyed whenever there are stories of politicians allegedly misusing entitlements. Now, I am not saying that we are never going to change the system. I am always vigilant for ways to improve. The difficulty is that whatever the system is there is always going to be arguments at the margin and the only proposal that has come up so far is the Greens proposal for an Integrity Commissioner. Now, this was one that they actually put to the former government with whom they were in alliance and not even the former government thought it was a great idea.

NEIL MITCHELL:

You could find an answer if there was a will there. It is not on the margins to fly from Perth to Cairns to buy a house on the taxpayer and then pay it back.

PRIME MINISTER:

The gentleman in question tells me that he didn’t do that. That he went from Perth to Cairns to have some very important discussions with the whip.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Haven’t they got a telephone?

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PRIME MINISTER:

Neil, look, there are some discussions that are best done face to face. I can remember in December last year coming down to Melbourne for a fantastic event that you might be familiar with.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Yes, you came to a Christmas lunch but that was in your role as…

PRIME MINISTER:

But you can’t have that on the phone. I mean there are certain things which just have to happen face to face and look, Members of Parliament are entitled to travel to have important meetings because teleconferencing is sometimes no substitute for a face to face discussion. Now, I am not defending any particular action and look over the years there have been a lot of things which look contrived, I have got to say. All I am saying Neil, is that whatever the system is there is going to be arguments at the margins. I am not ruling out improvements but no one has come to me yet with a proposal which I am confident on balance would take things forward.

NEIL MITCHELL:

We will work on that for you. Prime Minister, later today you are announcing grants, medical grants, which quite a few of them are going to Victoria.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, essentially this is the next round of National Health and Medical Research Council grants. Australia really does punch above its weight when it comes to medical research. Victoria punches above every other state when it comes to medical research. Melbourne is essentially the health and medical research capital of Australia. There is about $560 million worth of grants. I think $250 million will be here in Victoria. So, it is a great outcome for health and medical research in Victoria. The interesting thing about health and medical research - which is one of the reasons Neil, why we promised absolutely no cuts whatsoever in this area - is that for every dollar spent the econometricians tell us there is $5 worth of value in that spending. So, it’s good for our research community and ultimately it is very good for Australia and the world that this research is being done.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Thank you very much for coming in. I appreciate your time. Many surprises in the job so far? Harder than you expected?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, you can never really anticipate what it is going to be like to be in a big new job and I guess I spent 20 years watching prime ministers, increasingly close to prime ministers and to the prime ministership, but nothing ever really prepares you for the job and this is why good prime ministers grow in the job. Poor prime ministers sometimes seem to shrink in the job and I will let you and others decide down the track Neil, whether I have grown or shrunk.

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NEIL MITCHELL:

Have you started growing yet?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, as I said I will leave others to judge that.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Thank you for your time.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

[ends]