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Transcript of interview with Ray Hadley: Radio 2GB Sydney: 20 June 2014: Medical Research Future Fund; Budget 2014; Senate; Iraq; Operation Sovereign Borders; High Court decision on chaplaincy; opening of The Shepherd Centre



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PRIME MINISTER

20 June 2014

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON. TONY ABBOTT MP INTERVIEW WITH RAY HADLEY, RADIO 2GB, SYDNEY

Subjects: Medical Research Future Fund; Budget 2014; Senate; Iraq; Operation Sovereign Borders; High Court decision on chaplaincy; Opening of The Shepherd Centre.

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

RAY HADLEY:

Mr Abbott, good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Mate, it‟s lovely to be with you and it was lovely to hear the lady mayoress of Toowoomba talking so movingly about this disease which is a terrible affliction, but she‟s obviously handling it with enormous courage.

RAY HADLEY:

Well, Prime Minister, we didn‟t ring you to talk about that or have contact with you about that but it‟s nice that you should mention that because for the last 10 or 12 years since Scotty Gale first contracted it and passed away, the great Rugby League player for Balmain, I was made aware of it and it‟s just terrible and we need research dollars and Professor Rowe at the Macquarie University Hospital. We need the best researchers, we have the best researchers, but they‟re trying to pinch them off us all the time because one day, I hope in my lifetime and certainly in yours, we‟ll have an answer to this dreadful, dreadful affliction.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, look, you‟re dead right, Ray. I recently went to a dinner to help raise money and awareness to tackle this. It is an awful, awful affliction, it really is and they‟re doing great work at Macquarie University to try to combat it and one of the reasons why the Commonwealth has put aside - ultimately it will be $20 billion - in this Medical Research Future Fund is to help our really outstanding medical researchers to get on top of this and many other terrible diseases because the money you spend on medical research has a tremendous payoff in a year, a decade, a couple of decades‟ time. The cures of tomorrow are the research of today and that‟s why it‟s so important that we get cracking.

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RAY HADLEY:

I think that your wife has been at quite a number of functions. Is someone she knows affected by it because I know she‟s a great supporter of motor neurone disease research and trying to find the answers?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Ray, you might have come across the former editor of The Australian David Armstrong. His wife Deb Bailey died tragically of motor neurone disease about a decade ago and…

RAY HADLEY:

I‟ve spoken about her, yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

… I watched Deb weaken and I saw myself how the disease progressed. In some cases it‟s slowish, in other cases it‟s very rapid and with Deb it was pretty rapid and a very, very dynamic person was laid low and ultimately left us in just about six months. It‟s a terrible, terrible disease but it‟s not the only terrible disease, but all of them - all of them - need more research and that‟s why the Commonwealth is putting this Medical Research Future Fund into place.

We have a real advantage as a nation when it comes to medical research; it‟s one of the things we‟re particularly good at. We‟re very good at everything to do with resources, we‟re very good at sport, we‟re particularly good at medical research - I think we‟ve had nine Nobel Prizes in medical research, I think four out of 10 Australians of the Year over the last decade have been medical researchers including people like Professor Ian Frazer who invented the Gardasil vaccine for cervical cancer. So, this is something that we need to invest in and that was one of the changes in the recent Budget. The Budget hasn‟t always been praised, but this is something very positive coming out of the recent Budget.

RAY HADLEY:

Well, what I appeal that people do in relation to that $7 levy, I appeal to people that if we get $20 billion that might mean that your aunt, your uncle, your brother, your mother, your father, your sister, your brother might not die of cancer or might not die of motor neurone disease or might not die of something else that they would normally die of.

PRIME MINISTER:

That‟s right, and I know that it‟s possible to support medical research but oppose the Medicare co-payment but the truth is that everything we do, every dollar we spend has to come from somewhere and I think that the modest co-payment that we‟re proposing to bring in, just like we‟ve always had a modest co-payment for the PBS, I think it will do good things; it will be good for the system and certainly it‟s going to be a massive boost to medical research.

RAY HADLEY:

Now, that leads to the next question and it flows onto the new Senate and getting these Budget measures through the Upper House and there‟s a front page story in The Financial Review today that some people might say, „divide and conquer‟ others might be more charitable, but getting hold of the Palmer United Party senators and dealing with them on a one-off basis and seeing if you can find some way to negotiate through individuals as opposed to a collective. Does that have some traction?

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PRIME MINISTER:

Well Ray, look, we‟re going to be talking to the crossbench in the Senate, both individually and collectively, and I certainly expect to deal with the Palmer United Party senators and it‟s really up to them I guess whether they want to deal with people collectively or individually. But, as I know with my own Senate team, every Senator regards himself or herself as a proud representative of the state they come from and they all have minds of their own and I daresay that the same will be true of the Palmer senators just as with the Coalition senators.

RAY HADLEY:

Well let‟s hope there are minds in operation there in some cases, but I mean, I‟m sure that, you know, the mention this morning from Mr Palmer that he might go after your senators is in vain and Senator Heffernan and Senator Macdonald will no doubt find their way through the minefield. However, however, it‟s reported today that you‟re about to sit down with Mr Palmer. You see, it must be very strange, not that you‟re a confrontational person, but it must be very strange that you have to be so courteous and so understanding of so many people as you negotiate your way through the minefield that is the new Senate that the circumstances sometimes prevail whether you‟ll sit in the same room of a person you‟d rather not be in the same postcode of?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Ray, look, you have to interview all sorts of people, too, and I daresay there are some people who you interview who you wouldn‟t sit down and have a cup of coffee with…

RAY HADLEY:

No, no, well…

PRIME MINISTER:

… and you‟ve got to interview them…

RAY HADLEY:

… Prime Minister, no, no, no. I‟ve got to a level in life and an age in life when if Sarah Hanson-Young threw herself at my beck and call, I‟d say, “I‟m sorry, Sarah, my blood pressure will not allow me to talk to you on the radio, I can‟t do it”. So I think that you are in a far more difficult position, particularly given what‟s happening at the moment than anyone else, let alone a broadcaster, about who you have to talk to and who you have to be nice to. But at the end of the day, it must be very hard to deal with people who appear to be moving in all sorts of directions at the same time.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, that‟s a fair point but the truth is that that‟s the way our system works. If governments want to get their legislation through the Senate they invariably have to negotiate with the crossbench because not often in recent times has a government had a majority in its own right in the Senate. The Fraser Government briefly had a majority in the Senate, the Howard Government in its last term had a majority in the Senate; it didn‟t make the Senate entirely pain-free for us but nevertheless, I guess we had some advantages then. But governments typically have to do it and I‟ll say this, Ray: anyone who has been elected by the Australian people has to be treated with a degree of respect. Whether you dislike the person or like the person, whether you agree with them or disagree with them, whether you think they‟re easy to deal with or difficult to deal with, the fact is the democratic process has produced them and so if you respect the public, you‟ve got to respect the people who the public‟s elected.

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RAY HADLEY:

See, I would think that there‟s someone is the Senate that I‟ve already mentioned today from your side of politics, who could be the ultimate diplomat, who could gather the Palmer United Party and the others together and just guide them through all of this in his own calm, inimitable way - I‟m talking about Bill Heffernan. Either that or he‟d blow the joint up and you‟d have nothing left to work with!

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look, Bill does have a gift for friendship, there‟s no doubt about that…

RAY HADLEY:

There‟s no doubt about that! He‟s also got a gift for getting offside with people!

PRIME MINISTER:

But the thing about Bill is he‟s an incredibly fair dinkum bloke. He tells you what he thinks in no uncertain terms, but he‟s always prepared to take people as he finds them and I think that‟s one of the things that makes him a great human being as well as a very substantial person in the Senate.

RAY HADLEY:

So, can I take it as read he‟ll be the moderator for you in the Senate?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I think you can take it as read that Bill will have plenty to say one way or another to all of the crossbench senators and there‟ll be much wisdom there that they can learn from.

RAY HADLEY:

Lock them in a room with him for half a day and see what happens!

PRIME MINISTER:

I mean, the official negotiations will always be done by the leadership team and by ministers, but there‟s no doubt that there‟ll be a lot of personal exchanges and there‟ll be a lot of bonds built and friendships formed in the new Senate and I suspect that Bill will certainly be one who will build strong bonds with the new senators.

RAY HADLEY:

When do you say „enough‟s enough‟ and we go to a double dissolution? If it doesn‟t work out, diplomacy doesn‟t work, if they become recalcitrant, if they won‟t in any way bend, what do you do then?

PRIME MINISTER:

My feeling, Ray, is that they will all want in the end to respect the Government‟s mandate and they will all in the end appreciate that the Government does have to govern. So, I think we will be able to work with this Senate. In the end, of course we will one way or another do what we have to do to get our policies - particularly our election commitments - through, but I don‟t think any Australian wants governments to rush back to the polls. We‟ve had an election about nine months ago, the election I think provided the Government with a very clear mandate on things like scrapping the carbon tax and scrapping the mining tax

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and I think people expect the Parliament to get on with that, and sure there‟s always a bit of theatre, particularly with new parties and with independents and so on, but in the end I think the public will get what they want which is a functioning government, an effective Parliament and an end to the carbon tax, the mining tax and an end to debt and deficit stretching out as far as the eye can see which is what they got from the Labor Party.

RAY HADLEY:

When you were recently in America and having discussions with the American President, things seem to have deteriorated in Iraq and they‟re now sending 300 military advisers to work with local forces to combat these extremists. What role, if any, will we play in that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we haven‟t been asked as yet for any assistance. We are a very strong and close ally of the United States and it‟s possible that we will be asked for help and obviously we‟ll carefully consider any request that we get. At the moment we are focused on ensuring that our people in Baghdad are safe and we are able to respond the any eventuality in Baghdad itself. We‟re also ensuring that our borders are secure. Secure borders is not just a question of stopping the illegal boats that have been coming to our country under Labor, it‟s also a question of ensuring that we don‟t get these jihadists coming back to our country trained up in the techniques of death and destruction. I mean, one of the terrible, terrible things, Ray, is that there are up to 100 Australians who have apparently travelled to Syria and Iraq. Some of them are involved with this murderous, murderous al Qaeda splinter group. Some of them are involved in atrocities and we are going to do our damnedest to ensure that they never come back to this country and if there are some that we have to take back, well we will make sure that they are not a threat to the Australian community.

RAY HADLEY:

So do you take your lead from what they‟ve done in the UK where once these people were going to Syria for instance they just said well you are citizens but no longer and revoked the citizenship on the basis that there‟s a breach of internal security and a big problem? There are suggestions - I heard Alan Jones talking about it yesterday - that perhaps our forces could become involved in identifying people who should not be back here and special legislation‟s drawn up to prevent those people from coming back and their citizenship is revoked on that basis?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, the important thing, Ray, is to ensure that as far as is humanly possible they don‟t come back into our country and if they do come back into our country they are taken into detention because what we can‟t have is trained killers - who hate our way of life, who hate us - making mischief with the potential to cause mayhem in our country. We just can‟t have that. So, that‟s the absolute determination of the Australian Government: we will keep our borders secure, not just from illegal boats, but from returning jihadists as well.

RAY HADLEY:

So have you spoken to the Opposition about possible bipartisan support for an idea like this? Surely no one in Government, no one in Australia, could oppose the view that people like this can‟t be part of culture.

PRIME MINISTER:

Ray, look, the Opposition have certainly been offered a briefing, I‟m not sure whether that‟s been taken up as yet, but they sought a briefing, they‟ve been offered a briefing. I‟d imagine that they will be getting it

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pretty quickly because let‟s give credit where it‟s due. I think that Bill Shorten is just as keen as I am to ensure that when it comes to protecting our country against this kind of thing, we are of one mind.

RAY HADLEY:

Are you worried you‟re going to mock yourself? I saw you with Scott Morrison the other say talking about you won‟t declare it a success - Operation Sovereign Borders - despite the fact that six months since a boat arrived. Are you a bit worried about coming out and saying we‟ve done it and then one will come over the horizon all of a sudden?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we‟ve got precautions in place to ensure that that‟s not the case. We‟ve got a strong cordon as part of Operation Sovereign Borders and we‟ve made it very clear that we reserve our right to take a whole range of actions, including if necessary turning boats around. If the boats can‟t get to Australia, Ray, they don‟t bother leaving Indonesia or Sri Lanka in the first place and that‟s what we‟ve done and that‟s what we‟ll continue to do and as I suspect you might have noted, yesterday marked six months without a successful illegal people smuggling venture to Australia and in the same period under the former government we had almost 200 boats and almost 13,000 people. So, that is strong evidence that the policies of the new Government are working.

RAY HADLEY:

I was always confident it could be done, you just have to have the will to impose the necessary restraints to stop it happening and that‟s happened on two separate occasions. Now it happened under the Howard Government, it‟s happened under the Abbott Government.

PRIME MINISTER:

That‟s right and you can rely on the Coalition to keep our country safe. We‟re dedicated to national security and to economic security. Economic security and national security were the dominant themes of the trip I‟ve just come back from to four countries because this is an uncertain world, sometimes the dangerous world, and that‟s why it‟s so important that our national security partnerships are in good shape and we are constantly looking for more opportunities, Ray, to strengthen our economy, to create jobs, to become more prosperous and that‟s the objective of the Government.

RAY HADLEY:

One final thing, this High Court ruling yesterday about the school chaplain programme; I can‟t believe that someone is so single-minded - the gentleman from the Darling Downs region - to go after this on two separate occasions. You‟ve allocated $243 million in the Budget. I mean, wouldn‟t it be a simple matter seeing they‟ve deemed it unconstitutional simply to give the money to the states and let them deal with this matter in terms of schools chaplains? Because school chaplains, I mean even the gentleman opposing it admits that it‟s a pretty good idea. I just don‟t understand why we‟ve been to the High Court twice about it.

PRIME MINISTER:

That‟s what we‟ve been doing, Ray, we‟ve been giving the money directly to the schools. That was what the High Court found unconstitutional. We‟re considering a range of options; we want the programme to continue and if we have to go through the states, no doubt that‟s what we‟ll end up doing, but the important thing is to ensure that even going through the states the same quantum of spending gets the same quantum of results and the difficulty with using the states as a middleman is that sometimes the states cream off some of the money, sometimes the states want to impose their own conditions of things and we want to ensure that

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this money really does produce chaplaincy services because there are already a range of counselling services in schools and this is not just for general counselling, this is for chaplaincy.

RAY HADLEY:

I mean, and of course it should happen and should continue to happen. The only thing you don‟t want is a BER-type system where the money gets frittered away on the way down to where it should be going if you give it to some other agency.

PRIME MINISTER:

Exactly right. We want to try to ensure that the money goes precisely to the people to whom it is directed.

RAY HADLEY:

I suspect your security detail are telling you this as you‟re talking to me - this has just been passed to me from the newsroom. A Melbourne Uni law building is in lockdown after more than two dozen protestors tried to storm the building with your Foreign Minister Julie Bishop inside. They‟ve been forced out by security, but their building‟s gone into lockdown. So, most unpleasant that Ms Bishop should be subjected to this yet again.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, look, I‟m just outside the Shepherd Centre and it doesn‟t look like there‟s going to be any lockdown here. They all look pretty friendly!

RAY HADLEY:

Ok, well you‟re opening that today. It‟s an organisation giving deaf children a voice and they‟ve been doing that for a long time and there‟s a new centre to be opened, apparently?

PRIME MINISTER:

Two thousand youngsters have gone through The Shepherd Centre over the last 40 years and 90 per cent of them have gone into mainstream education despite being profoundly deaf. So, this is a marvellous tribute to the work of Bruce Shepherd and his late wife and it‟s been a tremendous service to thousands of families and the least I can do is turn up and salute the good work that‟s done here.

RAY HADLEY:

Thanks for your time as always, Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you so much, Ray.

[ends]