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Transcript of interview with Barrie Cassidy: Insiders, ABC TV: 1 spetember 2013: Costings; the Coalition’s Direct Action Plan; the Coalition’s border protection policy; the Coalition’s commitment to paid parental leave; crisis in Syria



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Interview with Barrie Cassidy, Insiders, ABC TV September 01, 2013

Subjects: Costings; the Coalition’s Direct Action Plan; the Coalition’s border protection policy; the Coalition’s commitment to paid parental leave; crisis in Syria.

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

BARRIE CASSIDY:

Tony Abbott, good morning. Thanks for coming into the studio.

TONY ABBOTT:

Good Morning Barrie.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

Why do you want to be Prime Minister?

TONY ABBOTT:

I want a stronger Australia and that means building a stronger economy so everyone can get ahead. It means scrapping the carbon tax, ending the waste, stopping the boats and building the roads of the 21st century.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

Well, then let's talk about some of the policies and we’ll start with ones we don’t yet know about - the cuts to come. How severe will they be?

TONY ABBOTT:

There will be no surprises and no excuses from a Coalition government, Barrie. We have already put out a lot of the savings that we think are necessary. Joe Hockey outlined $31 billion worth of savings this week. There will be some additional savings to be announced later this week…

BARRIE CASSIDY:

That is what I as asking about. How severe will they be?

TONY ABBOTT:

Nothing like Labor's scare campaign. All eminently defensible because, let's face it, Barrie. Our first priority here is to build a stronger economy and that means reinvesting taxpayers' dollars in things that will actually strengthen our economy rather than just build bureaucracies.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

But you now know the size of these cuts, how significant, how big?

TONY ABBOTT:

Look, there will be some further relatively modest savings announced later in the week but I don't think anyone is going to think at the end of this week "My God there is this massive fiscal squeeze coming.” If anything, what they will think is there has been a massive scare campaign, a massive campaign of exaggerations and even lies from the Labor Party.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

Well put it this way, will the cuts impact on ordinary Australians?

TONY ABBOTT:

Inevitably there will be some changes that people won't like, for instance…

BARRIE CASSIDY:

Ordinary Australians will feel it?

TONY ABBOTT:

…ending the so-called school kids bonus.

Tony Abbott Federal Member for Warringah | Leader of the Opposition

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BARRIE CASSIDY:

We know about that one.

TONY ABBOTT:

I don't believe the additional savings to be announced later in this week, will impact on ordinary Australians. I want to give people this absolute assurance, no cuts to education, no cuts to health, no changes to pensions and no changes to the GST.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

And on timing, you say later in the week, clearly they will come after the electronic black-out happens. But will Kevin Rudd, when he stands up at the National Press Club on Thursday, will he know what the cuts are by then?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, what will be, it is not so much whether Kevin Rudd will know, the important thing is will the Australian people know Barrie? The answer is yes, they will.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

They will know by Thursday?

TONY ABBOTT:

We can't give you our final figures until we have given you our final policy initiatives and we will be making policy initiatives, new policy initiatives right up until the middle of the week.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

On climate change, we have just had the warmest winter ever along the east coast. Is that evidence of climate change?

TONY ABBOTT:

It is evidence of the variability in our weather, but just to make it clear, I think that climate change is real, humanity does make a contribution. It is important to take strong and effective action against it and that is what our direct action policy does.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

But you say it is in evidence of variability but it is getting warmer.

TONY ABBOTT:

And look, there is no doubt that we have had a warm winter. No doubt whatsoever. The important thing is to take strong and effective action to tackle climate change; action that doesn't damage our economy and that is why the incentive based system that we have got; the direct action policies, which are similar to those that President Obama has put into practice, is, that is the smart way to deal with this. A big tax is a dumb way to deal with it.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

The target within the direct action is a 5 per cent reduction on 2000 levels by 2020 and yet there are a lot of experts around who say you can't achieve that with $3 billion?

TONY ABBOTT:

We believe we can. When we released our policy back in 2010, we released a range of letters of comfort from different reputable organisations that said that they thought that it was possible to achieve very large amounts of emissions reduction at a relatively low cost per tonne.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

What if, down the track, say a year or two from now, it became obvious that you can't hit that 5 per cent target, would you A, increase the funding so that you would meet the target or B, would you abandon the target?

TONY ABBOTT:

I don't accept that we are going to be in that position, Barrie. Let's also remember that business has a very strong incentive to reduce its costs and some of the highest costs are power, fuel, etc: which are the big sources of emissions. Now given that power is expensive, given that fuel is expensive, there is a big incentive for business to reduce those costs anyway. Take for instance the big transport company Linfox, they think they have reduced their emissions as a corporate by 35 per cent since 2007 and they didn't need a tax to do that. They did that to save themselves money. They did it because it was simple, good economics for them.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

I accept that it is a hypothetical question in a sense but it still goes to the level of your commitment as to whether, if you face that situation, whether you would increase the funding or abandon the target.

TONY ABBOTT:

We're determined to reduce emissions but we think common sense and standard economics, along with some targeted incentives is going to get us there.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

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On boats and this idea of buying boats in Indonesia, do you think it is just possible that we will never buy a single boat from Indonesia?

TONY ABBOTT:

Look, it is possible. But what we were announcing during the week was a fund, $20-odd million that would be available to our people on the ground in consultation and cooperation with the Indonesians to try to ensure that the local villages were working with us rather than with the people smugglers. We may not buy boats back but if we did have the opportunity to pay someone a couple of thousand dollars to stop a boat from being launched, when, if that boat arrived in Australia, it would cost some $12 million per boat to deal with people, that would be a shrewd investment.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

Surely on reflection, you now appreciate that they will just go and find another boat - there is so many of another of them out there.

TONY ABBOTT:

And yet there is often a very narrow window of time for these things to happen and if we can interrupt a particular operation in this way, that may well be a sensible thing to do but, again, it’s adding to the resources, adding to the flexibility of our response on the ground.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

The paid parental leave scheme - it’s generous, I think everybody says, but it’s generous at a time when you say we have a budget emergency. Is this the wrong time for generosity?

TONY ABBOTT:

It is always easy to pick holes in an important social advance. Every social advance, whether it was the pensions, whether it was superannuation, has always been criticised as being too much too soon. Look, this is an important social advance, I think it has important economic spin offs. If we want to ensure that 50 per cent of our work force, the female percentage of our work force, has every incentive to stay in the economy and to have a family, this is an idea whose time has come.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

Sure, but the criticism is you have gone right over the top.

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, I don't believe that I have. I think that six months at your real wage, capped, is the right way forward. It acknowledges the contribution that women make to our country, both economically and socially.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

You call it a social issue but there was an observation made, I think, in the Financial Review yesterday that you won't be as much interested in economic management as you will be in cultural and social issues, is that a fair characterisation?

TONY ABBOTT:

Not really Barrie, because while economic strength is not an end in itself, we want a richer Australia so we can have a better Australia. Economic strength is the foundation of almost everything else, for instance, if we want a better environment, a stronger economy helps. If we want more national security, a stronger economy helps. If we want a better health and education system, a stronger economy helps. So a stronger economy is the key to everything else.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

The other observation I saw in that article was that of previous Prime Minsters, you are more likely to throw taxpayers' money at failing businesses than any other Prime Minister. What do you say to that?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, I do not accept that. Certainly, we have been criticised uphill and down dale by the Labor Party for not wanting quite as much assistance to the car industry as they are proposing. Look I just don't accept that. It is a caricature.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

It could be though, just a week before you're Prime Minster of the country; is there any trepidations, any apprehension about that?

TONY ABBOTT:

Barrie, I am incredibly conscious of what an extraordinary privilege it is to lead a major political party and should we win the election, I will be acutely conscious of the burden of duty and responsibility that has descended upon my shoulders. I will be very, very conscious of that. But, I think I am ready, my team is ready, our plan is ready and we can produce a better country.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

It comes at a time when Australia's about to take over the leadership of the UN Security Council. Whoever is Prime Minister next year will hosting the G20 meeting. Australia is about to take a lead in world affairs, in other words, and Kevin Rudd says you're not up to it.

TONY ABBOTT:

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I thought that was a comment that was a little beneath our Prime Minister. It was an echo of something that Paul Keating, in his desperate last moments, said of John Howard back in early 1996 and, as you know, John Howard turned out to be almost certainly our best Prime Minister since Menzies and a very effective foreign policy Prime Minister. Look, I am ready for the responsibilities of the highest office including foreign responsibilities.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

It is fair to ask the question though, where are your foreign policy credentials?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, I was a minister for nine years in a successful Government. I was leader of the House of Representatives for six years in a successful Government. I worked very closely with John Howard and Alexander Downer. Sure, I don't have the overseas experience that they had at the end of their time but I have the overseas experience that they had at the beginning of their time and look how well they turned out.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

President Obama said overnight the United States will take military action against the Syrian regime targets and he won't be waiting for UN inspectors. What do you think of that approach?

TONY ABBOTT:

All Australian governments instinctively want to support our friends and allies and our greatest ally is obviously the United States. All Australian Governments instinctively want to uphold the universal human decencies and the regime's use of poison gas on its own people is an utter abomination. That said, any punitive strike, it has got to be targeted, it has got to be proportionate and it has got to be carefully considered to try and ensure that as far as is humanly possible, we aren't making a bad situation worse.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

When the Secretary General of the UN says he would like to see a political solution, not a military solution, the United States says otherwise. Your inclination would be to support the US on this?

TONY ABBOTT:

If we could get a political solution tomorrow that would be terrific but I don't believe we're likely to get a political solution tomorrow. We have a civil war going on in that benightedcountry between two pretty unsavoury sides. It is not goodies versus baddies, it is baddies versus baddies and that is why it is very important that we don't make a very difficult situation worse. The other point I should make Barrie, is Australia has a role here but it is a diplomatic role, not a military role. There are probably only three Western countries with the ability to actually take military action. That is the United States, Britain, which has apparently ruled itself out, and France, which has a very limited capacity.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

The other thing that President Obama said is that the UN Security Council has become completely paralysed. Now there is a challenge for you. How do you make the Security Council more active?

TONY ABBOTT:

This is really a difficulty between the United States and Britain and France on one hand and Russia and China on the other hand. Plainly, Russia thinks that it has an important strategic interest in propping up the Assad regime. Where the Security Council is, for whatever reason ineffective, there is precedent for right thinking powers, if you like, to take action and that was in former Yugoslavia, when Britain, the United States and other countries took action in Kosovo.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

Just finally, you were press secretary to John Hewson when he lost the unlosable election in 1993. Did you learn anything from that experience that will get you through the next week?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, you take nothing for granted, you absolutely take nothing for granted, and every day for the next six days Barrie, I will talk about our positive plans versus more of the same from the Labor Party. Build a stronger economy, so that everyone can get ahead, scrap the carbon tax, end the waste, stop the boats and build the roads of the 21st century - but to do that we need a stable majority Government.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

So there will be no public rallies, no shouting slogans at crowds?

TONY ABBOTT:

There will be all sorts of events over the next few days but I am conscious of the fact that the Australian people want to be confident that their next Government is vastly better and vastly more adult, if I may say so, than the one they have got now.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

Thanks for coming in this morning and good luck on Saturday.

TONY ABBOTT:

Thanks so much Barrie.

[ends]

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