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Transcript of doorstop interview: Canberra: 20 June 2008: Scrapping of Commercial Ready; charitable sector; Prime Minister's overseas trips; binge drinking advertising; Jeddah oil summit; petrol excise; Northern Territory intervention; visit to the Lower Lakes.

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20 June 2008


Subjects: Scrapping of Commercial Ready; charitable sector; Prime Minister’s overseas trips; binge drinking advertising; Jeddah oil summit; petrol excise; Northern Territory intervention; visit to the Lower Lakes.



The Government’s hypocrisy is really exposed by the decision to give Toyota motor company $35 million that it didn’t ask for and doesn’t yet know how to use. And yet we’ve got an Australian company with the technology that would reduce the fuel consumption in trucks by up to 25 per cent that’s now going to have to go bust because it couldn’t get $5 million from the Commercial Ready program that the Government scrapped in the Budget.

Mr Rudd needs to understand that he’s got to make decisions for Australia that are in the best interests of Australians. The Commercial Ready program was about innovation and is about supporting small businesses in Australia. And what he was more concerned about was getting a $35 million photo opportunity with Toyota that didn’t ask for $35 million of Australian taxpayers’ money. We still don’t know how Toyota is actually going to use it and I think Mr Rudd if he’s serious about Australia’s environment he’s now got to look at the Permo-Drive company. He needs to talk directly to the people that run the company and restore the $5 million investment.

In relation to the FBT changes, these are changes that were not foreshadowed nor appreciated either by the previous government or the now Government when in opposition as evidenced by the fact that Mr Rudd’s been in government for nearly seven months and it’s only in the last week or so that the Government appreciated there was a problem. Of course we will support these changes subject to examining the detail.


I don’t think anybody ever wanted to nor expected that we’d have working Australians who are working in charities that would be caught up in an important initiative to make sure that we didn’t have deadbeat fathers that were trying to avoid their child support obligations.


Just on the fuel efficiency, the Toyota funding issue, given the amount of overseas trips the Prime Minister has been making or plans to make, is he in danger of losing focus on his own backyard in favour of what’s happening overseas?


Well Mr Rudd seems to have grandiose plans for the rest of the world and for Asia but he doesn’t seem to have a clear-cut plan for Australia. There don’t seem to be any strategic priorities for Australia and the fundamentals that Australians are dealing with every day - in groceries, petrol and interest rates and pensioners that are still waiting for some kind of action from the Government with skyrocketing rents and petrol prices. I think Mr Rudd if he’s not careful risks within the first year of his own government of losing sight of the real concerns of real, everyday Australians.

As far as the Olympics is concerned I have for several months said that I think that Mr Rudd as the Prime Minister of Australia should attend the Olympics. I think our sportsmen and women and their families expect to see their Prime Minister at the Olympic Games and I certainly won’t be joining in any criticism of Mr Rudd for going to the Olympics.


There’s a new ad campaign out today on binge drinking encouraging parents to take responsibility and set a good example to their kids. Do you think that firstly Australian parents have not been setting a good example, and is there a need for an ad campaign like this?


Well look it’s one of the toughest jobs you get in life, being a parent, and I don’t think anybody should be critical of parents. But we’ve not yet seen the advertising but we will support anything which helps parents in the difficult task of parenting. And if it helps us as parents, including myself, help us to talk to our own kids about their patterns of drinking behaviour and alcohol consumption then that’s likely to be a good thing. But as with all things with Mr Rudd we’ll actually wait until we see the ads.


Mr Ferguson is flying out either today or tomorrow I would assume for Jeddah. I just wonder if you would be calling on them to perhaps soften their rhetoric given that if that head to Jeddah with such a tough stance they’re unlikely to be even considered willing to negotiate on these matters?



Well look again you get from Mr Rudd a lot of rhetoric, a lot of it is over-inflated and overheated. He says he is going to take a blowtorch to OPEC. I think it’s appropriate to have a senior Government minister attend OPEC to listen to what is being said and make an appropriate contribution, but Australians are trying to fill up today at $1.70 a litre. The only thing that is going to produce any relief this year is a cut in the excise and that’s what Mr Rudd really should be looking at. Of course we all know it’s about international oil production, about refining, about speculation. It is in part about the rate at which the OPEC countries produce oil. But it’s also about short and medium term initiatives and one of the things that’s really important is for the Government to have a look at cutting the excise. Anyone with half a brain knows that watching the price of petrol is not actually going to bring it down. Taking the blowtorch to OPEC in the form of Mr Ferguson is obviously something that no-one would oppose, but I don’t think it’s likely to achieve the outcomes that Australians desperately need and need now.


You mentioned a cut in the excise, are you thinking about following Chris Pearce’s suggestion of 10 cents?


Well Chris Pearce is so impressed with the Coalition policy to cut the excise that he wants to go further. Our commitment to Australians is that whatever the price at the bowser it will be at least five cents a litre cheaper under a Coalition government. We know that every cent counts. We know that Australians are desperate; they’re at breaking point at the moment. Mr Rudd is all talk, wants to give you a pair of binoculars to watch the price of petrol but what he won’t do is take decisive action. I mean you’ve got to say to yourself, Mr Rudd is taking 38 cents a litre in tax in petrol but he wants to go to OPEC and try to get the OPEC countries in some way to provide relief for Australian motorists at the bowser in the next few months. I don’t think that’s likely to be achieved.


Australians have been watching the fuel price go up and up as this debate goes on. Is it time to maybe revisit the five cents? Should a 10 cent or even more cut to the excise be considered given that we’ve seen these increases in oil and fuel?


Well our commitment that it’s at least five cents a litre under us. We will cut the excise by at least five cents a litre and we believe in lower taxes, always have done.


Can I just get your thoughts on I think today is the one year anniversary of the Top End intervention or it’s certainly close by. Is it working under its current system and


what praise to you have for the architect of it Mal Brough who is now obviously a pretty important cog in the Liberal Party wheel?


Well the Northern Territory intervention is one of the most significant, positive and important things that’s been done by any Australian government in the last 30 years to support Indigenous Australians. The review of the intervention of course is appropriate; we’ve got to work out exactly what is working, are there things that we can do better? The Government has got to make a long term financial commitment to see that the intervention continues and I think great credit should be given to Mal Brough and to John Howard for putting it in train.

We’ve got to be vigilant to make sure that the Labor Government which is a bit soft as far as the intervention is concerned keeps it on track. We’ve already seen Mr Rudd move to soften some of the laws in relation to pornography in those remote communities. We’ve also seen the Government starting to back pedal on the permit system. It’s very, very important that every Australian who doesn’t have much contact with remote Aboriginal Australians understand that in those 45 communities that were visited, sexual abuse and neglect of children was found in every one of them. They are Aboriginal children, they are Australian children and we’ve got to make sure this intervention continues for their protection and their welfare.

One other thing by the way in relation to Mr Rudd’s travel. I think it would be very important if Mr Rudd and I together were to go to the Murray Lower Lakes. I think it’s very important that the leaders of this nation have a first hand look at the environmental, economic and human catastrophe which is unfolding in the Murray Lower Lakes. It is not something that is appreciated by many Australians but Mr Rudd who is going around the world and visiting celebrities and doing a variety of things, I think our first obligation is to Australians. This is a tough year for our country and nowhere is it tougher than in the Lower Lakes.

Thanks very much.