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Transcript of doorstop interview: Tokyo: 6 April 2014: Visit to North Asia; Free Trade Agreement; WA Senate by-election; Malaysian Airlines flight; Japanese National Security Council; whaling; aged pension; the Government's commitment to a paid parental leave scheme



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Prime Minister of Australia

The Hon Tony Abbott MP

Doorstop Interview, Tokyo Sunday, 6 April 2014 Japan Prime Minister Subjects:

Visit to North Asia; Free Trade Agreement; WA Senate by-election; Malaysian Airlines flight; Japanese National Security Council; whaling; aged pension; the Government’s commitment to a paid parental leave scheme. E&OE PRIME MINISTER: It’s terrific to be here in Japan. It is great to be here at Toll in Tokyo. Can I say at the outset of this trip how thrilled I am at the warmth of the welcome. This is a very good friendship. Australia and Japan have been very good friends for a very long time and while the focus of this visit is trade, certainly I want to broaden and deepen the friendship more generally. It is good to see a business like Toll flourishing here in Japan. There are some 3,000 Toll Japan staff, about 100 depots right around the country and under the free trade agreement, about which we are optimistic, we are hopeful not just of getting more Australian produce sold in Japan, more Japanese products sold in Australia but we want to have more investment - more two way investment - and more opportunities for Australian companies to flourish here in Japan. As I said, I am optimistic about the free trade negotiations but they have been difficult negotiations. As you know they started back in 2007 under the Howard Government when Prime Minister Abe was in his first term. They have meandered around and around in circles under the former Labor government but this Government is determined to bring them to a swift and satisfactory conclusion. QUESTION: Prime Minister, you say you are optimistic about those negotiation, are you talking about within the time frame of your visit? Does that still remain the hope? PRIME MINISTER: I am hopeful but not certain. There are still some final matters to be resolved and while we do want a swift conclusion, we want a satisfactory conclusion as well. QUESTION: Prime Minister, can I ask you about the WA Senate election? Major Parties have taken a bit of a battering and a belting - 10.3 per cent swing against Labor and Liberals combined, 5.5 per cent swing against the Libs. What do you take out of this? PRIME MINISTER: I think it is a typical by-election result. You get a pretty broad range of candidates and a pretty broad range of voting in by-elections but what we can be very certain of is that candidates who are against the carbon tax and against the mining tax have performed very strongly. There is an overwhelming rejection of the carbon tax and the mining tax on these results. QUESTION: Do you think that Clive Palmer bought himself a seat? He got a swing of 7.5 per cent. The millions seemed to be worthwhile. PRIME MINISTER: Well, let’s wait and see what the final analysis shows but as far as I am concerned the very strong take out of this result is that the Australian people yet again have voted to get rid of the carbon tax and get rid of the mining tax and I expect these taxes to be swiftly scrapped when the new Senate takes office on the first of July. QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, the result also had a swing against the Liberal Party. It is a federal by-election. That can be seen as a verdict on the Government. Does it give you any pause for thought about the response that voters have to your Government after six months? Does it lead you to think that you should change what you are doing in any way? PRIME MINISTER: The Liberal vote has gone down a little, the Labor vote has gone down a little but this is the kind of result you would expect in a by-election. The essential point is that for the third time running we have got a very strong vote against the carbon tax and against the mining tax. In September there was an overwhelming rejection of the carbon tax and the mining tax. At the Griffith by-election, again, we saw a strong vote for candidates who want to get rid of the carbon tax and the mining tax, and again yesterday in Western Australia. QUESTION: Mr Abbott, as the Leader of the Liberal Party, do you feel somewhat shafted given that you won fair and square three years in September in the WA Senate and now you may not win that back? Is there some sense of personal anger there? PRIME MINISTER: Phil, look, politics is an uncertain business and if you are looking for perfect justice you don’t normally run for Parliament because that is just the nature of this business, but the public are entitled to vote the way they wish and if they wish to vote slightly differently six months afterwards well that is there privilege. QUESTION: Prime Minister, have you been briefed overnight on these reports from China about the signal picked up in the Indian Ocean? PRIME MINISTER: My understanding is that they’re unconfirmed and, look, the point I make is that we are hopeful but by no means certain. This is the most difficult search in human history. We are searching for an aircraft which is at the bottom of a very deep ocean and it is a very, very wide search area. So, it is a very, very difficult search and while we certainly are throwing everything we have at it, and while the best brains and the best technology in the world will be deployed, we need to be very careful about coming to hard and fast conclusions to the search. QUESTION: Prime Minister, back on WA’s election, given the change of result from September to now, will this give you pause for thought should you have to make good on your threat to hold a double-d on the carbon tax or are you convinced you don’t want it to come to that? PRIME MINISTER: This Government is absolutely committed to eliminating the carbon tax and the mining tax. If there was one thing that we took to the Australian people above all else it was scrapping the carbon tax. Now, sure we said we would stop the boats, we said we would get the Budget back under control, we said we would build the roads of the 21st century but front and centre was the elimination of the carbon tax. I certainly expect the Senate on the first of July to respect the Government’s mandate. There was absolutely nothing in this vote yesterday to suggest that voters have suddenly decided that they love the carbon tax or love the mining tax. QUESTION: Mr Abbott, what advice have you been given about the aged care at home votes - the 75 which seems to have been…upset certain processes, have you been given legal advice? PRIME MINISTER: No, Andrew, I mean I am aware of the problem but I haven’t been given legal advice on this. QUESTION: Prime Minister, you are going to take part in the Japanese newly founded National Security Council as the first Prime Minister. What would you like to discuss in that opportunity to strengthen the relationship in security issues? PRIME MINISTER: Well, obviously, the relationship between Australia and Japan is broad and deep and for quite a few years now there has been strong defence and security cooperation between Australia and Japan. Obviously I am always keen to explore opportunities to deepen that. Australia is looking for better defence and security relationships in our region generally, but Japan is a very good friend of Australia. We have been doing a lot of good work with Japan over the years. As you know we worked with the Japanese in Cambodia and in East Timor. We worked very closely with Japan in Iraq a few years ago and we are certainly looking at a stronger and deeper relationship in the months and years ahead. QUESTION: Mr Abbott has anyone raised the whaling court decision with you and are there any concerns that could affect the free trade talks? PRIME MINISTER:

Japan is a very good international citizen and Japan’s ready acceptance - I suppose disappointed acceptance - but nevertheless it was a ready acceptance of the ICJ’s decision is typical of the good international citizenship which has typified Japan for many decades now. QUESTION: Mr Abbott, there is a story running back home on the aged pension. Have you been briefed on the final report from the Commission of Audit and are you concerned about the weight on the Budget in the future from the aged pension? Do you think that Australians will have to accept some changes there? PRIME MINISTER: Obviously, as we have known for quite some time now, there is a demographic issue that our country is grappling with. The whole point of the inter-generational reports that started under Peter Costello was to alert people to the fact that as time goes by we will have fewer and fewer people in the workforce. That is why it is so important that the measures to boost participation that this Government is on about - such as a fair dinkum paid parental leave scheme - get put into place quickly. Just on the subject of the aged pension, the reassurance that I want to give to pensioners is that you will lose the carbon tax but keep the compensation. You will lose the carbon tax but keep the compensation. That is why I am confident that pensioners will get a good deal from this Government. QUESTION: But will they lose the higher level of indexation? That seems to be the suggestion in the story today. PRIME MINISTER: Look, I am not going to comment on particular recommendations that the Commission of Audit may or may not have made. We will release the Commission of Audit before the Budget so people will have plenty of time to read its report, to digest it recommendations and to debate them. QUESTION: Is there a risk that siding closer to Japan or strengthen the military relationship there, could send perhaps a signal to the region that Australia is taking sides? PRIME MINISTER: I want to stress the fact that Australia wants to be a better friend with everyone in our region. Obviously on this North Asia trip I’m coming first to Japan but then I am going to Korea, then I am going to China - including the Boao Forum. I want to strengthen and deepen all of our friendships in our region. They are all important. They are all very important and the point that I make is that you don’t make new friends by losing old ones and you don’t strengthen some friendships by weakening other ones. That’s the very strong message that I bring - that Australia is in the business of making friends, we are in the business of strengthening our friendships. [ends]