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Budget 2018: Transcript of interview with Neil Mitchell: 3AW: 15 May 2018: energy prices; airport security; terrorist attacks in Indonesia; 2018 Federal Budget; immigration; pre-selections; protests in Gaza; royal wedding



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PRIME MINISTER

THE HON. MALCOLM TURNBULL MP

TRANSCRIPT

Tuesday, 15 May 2018 Radio interview with Neil Mitchell, 3AW

E&OE…

SUBJECTS: Energy prices, airport security, terrorist attacks in Indonesia, 2018 Federal Budget, immigration, pre-selections, protests in Gaza and the Royal Wedding.

NEIL MITCHELL:

In the studio the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is announcing today tougher security at airports, which will include greater powers for police, full body scanners for 94 per cent of passengers. Mr Turnbull, Good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning Neil. Great to be with you.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Just before we get to that - forget the fair go country, is Australia is emerging as the country of the rip off? I mean the banks, the Royal Commission shows they have been screwing us, the ACCC says we're being ripped off on petrol prices and these reports today that electricity and gas companies have overcharged us at a rate of $400 million a year. Now we’ve talked about the cost of living before. How do you restore fairness for the consumer? Here let's start with power and gas, how do you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well you need to crack down on people that are overcharging. I mean we've been doing that step by step.

Josh Frydenberg, your fellow Victorian, has been doing a very good job as Energy Minister. And one of the things one of the things we've already achieved and legislated, for example is to abolish the right of the network companies - these are the people that own the poles and wires - to keep on appealing against decisions of the regulator on how much they can charge for their assets.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well that’s true but there's another thing 400 million dollar a year rip off. Can we get that money back?

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm not sure whether it can be recovered but it certainly - if they are they are charging for costs they don't have, they may well be obliged to pay compensation. But it will certainly be stopped in the future.

But you can see we are relentless.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So would we accept it is happening? It has happened?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it's look it's alleged it's being investigated but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

But it shows you the attention that we're paying to ensure that we put, at every turn, with every lever, downward pressure on energy prices.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Or what about petrol? What can you do about that? I mean the ACCC - how long has this been going on? I mean Kevin Rudd had petrol commissioners and things. It seems to have been going on for 30 years the petrol rip off. What can you do about that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well again, this this is where you need to have a tough consumer watchdog and I have to say Rod Sims who I know comes in and talks to you from time to time is showing himself to be a very tough and energetic head of the ACCC.

NEIL MITCHELL:

It’s not working on petrol prices is it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well petrol prices you know the petrol price is determined by the global price of oil obviously, which goes up and down depending on all sorts of factors. But we've got to make sure the market is competitive and transparent and that's the ACCC’s job to do that.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I find the most complaints we get these days are the energy companies, the power the gas companies. Is it time for a Royal Commission into them?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I think the most important thing is to get is to get action now and we have made some big steps. We've got greater availability of gas on the East Coast - no thanks to the Victorian Government which of course won't allow gas to be developed in Victoria notwithstanding there is a lot of gas here - but we've taken very strong measures to ensure that there is more gas supplied on the East Coast. That has brought wholesale gas prices down and that puts downward pressure on electricity prices and of course on residential gas prices as well.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Security, these terrorist attacks in Indonesia on our doorstep. Four children used. What sort of culture uses children as suicide bombers?

PRIME MINISTER:

Brutal, inhumane, blasphemous, sickeningly cruel. It's a reminder that these terrorists have got nothing to do with God, they've got nothing to do with - they're not defending Islam. They are as President Widodo of Indonesia says: “blaspheming it and defaming it”. And I just want to express again our condolences to all of the victims and families of the victims in Surabaya. And repeat again our solidarity and support for President Widodo in standing up to terrorism in his country.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Does this potentially increase the threat within Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

The threat? Yes potentially.

Obviously, in Indonesia they have 500 - we think - around 500 people that have returned from the conflict zone. Of course the bomber, the man who you know used his family, killed his family in these attacks was not had not come back from Syria. But nonetheless it is a real challenge.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So how many have we got by the way? Last November Julie Bishop said about 40 had come back from the conflict zone?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah that’s about right.

NEIL MITCHELL:

It’s still about that. And families?

PRIME MINISTER:

Some families have come back I can't give you a precise number on that here.

NEIL MITCHELL:

That then raises in your mind children and God forbid in this country.

PRIME MINISTER:

We keep a very close eye on these things. A lot of the Australians who went to fight in the conflict zone will never come back because they've been killed. And a number of them won't come back for obviously because they don't want to you know end up going to jail here.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But we've got a few walking the streets who were there?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we do and we keep a very close eye on them.

But look Neil, can I just say the challenge in Indonesia, and you've got to give President Widodo great credit for this, he is a he is a young, charismatic, democratically elected leader of the largest majority Muslim country in the world. And he stands up, and he stands up for the tradition of Indonesia and he says Indonesia proves that Islam moderation and democracy are compatible. Now he's got people who are seeking to undo that in Indonesia. And we give him enormous credit for standing up to that and trying, seeking to maintain that great moderate tradition in Indonesia.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Is it time to be cutting aid to Indonesia, because we have haven't we? I mean it's not a time to be putting more in?

PRIME MINISTER:

We provide a lot of assistance to Indonesia on the security front certainly.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well we’ve cut back our aid haven’t we? On the last figures I saw.

PRIME MINISTER:

Look again, I can't give you the precise figure there. But I mean Indonesia is a is a rapidly growing economy. What we are negotiating with at the moment with Indonesia is a free trade agreement. The you know so-called IA-CEPA and I look forward to making more progress on that.

NEIL MITCHELL:

The airport changes now, the full body scan is this the millimetre wave technology or backscatter?

PRIME MINISTER:

This is the computerised tomography. This is the one where you would have seen them in some airports where you know you stand up and hold your arms up and they take a scan of your whole body. Privacy is protected, nothing is stored. But it is the it is the best way of scanning people.

NEIL MITCHELL:

One of them shows you pretty much naked, the other one doesn’t. Which is it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, all I know it's computerised tomography it's CT technology, it's not showing you naked, but it is, it is not, but there's no invasion of privacy here. But is obviously determining whether you have any metal objects or anything of that kind.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So 94 per cent of passengers will be scanned?

PRIME MINISTER:

That's the goal yep.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well, you’re also giving police more powers. What are they?

PRIME MINISTER:

To ask people for identification. So, the police would be able to come up to you and say: “Hello,” you know, “who are you sir? Can I see your ID?”

NEIL MITCHELL:

On what grounds?

PRIME MINISTER:

Just, they'll be able to do that.

NEIL MITCHELL:

To anybody?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yep, yep, yep in an airport.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So you're not doing anything wrong, just walking through them or something?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah, that's right, they’ll just asked for your ID. That's the idea.

NEIL MITCHELL:

It's a big step.

PRIME MINISTER:

It is.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Why do we need it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Dangerous times, Neil.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well, but surely they need some suspicion to approach somebody, or some reason to approach somebody? Or they’re just doing random checks? “Who are you and show us your ID?”

PRIME MINISTER:

Random checks, yeah.

NEIL MITCHELL:

What do I do, do I have to carry ID?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well you don’t have to, there’s no law that requires you to. But it's hard to think of anyone that wouldn't have some ID and wouldn't be able to say a bit about themselves.

I mean the police are being trained to observe behavior. They pay very close attention to people who are looking anxious or you know, creating a suspicious environment.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So you’re comfortable with this idea?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, you’ve got to, Neil. Neil we’ve got to keep people safe. I mean look, there was a there was a couple of people that came very close to blowing up an A380 with the best part of 400 people on it the other day, leaving Sydney.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So it’s alleged.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, so it’s alleged yeah, thank you.

NEIL MITCHELL:

No, it’s interesting.

PRIME MINISTER:

So it is alleged, but there’s no question that, that was the plot.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Interesting point, I’ve got I've got about a 90 per cent hit rate on being bomb-checked when I go through airport. I guess people might recognise me I want to talk to me but, I don’t know, because I've got a beard, do I look suspicious?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, look. The reality is you're probably not being targeted or picked on. But if I was doing that, if I was running that and I'm not, it's not my job. I would think people like yourself, that are that are well-known, that are high profile - it’s actually a good look, because then when somebody else says: “Oh, why they picking on me?” if they go: “Oh, I just saw Neil Mitchell, they gave him a once over,” and I think that's quite, that’s very Australian, it's very egalitarian. It shows that we don't give famous people privileges.

NEIL MITCHELL:

They used to do it to Peter Costello all the time too. You’d probably approve that given he’s trolling you at the moment.

PRIME MINISTER:

[Laughter]

No he’s not.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well he’s after you.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, he’s not.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Isn’t he? He’s certainly critical, he’s critical again today, saying: “Get the top tax rate down, pay off debt”.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we are.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Yeah, but see, not useful is it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, let's get on to the Budget, that's a good segue.

We are paying off debt. Net debt will peak this year as a percentage of GDP.

NEIL MITCHELL:

What’s your spending by the way?

PRIME MINISTER:

What are we spending?

NEIL MITCHELL:

No, what’s the percentage

PRIME MINISTER:

Our spending is around 23, it’ll be under 23.9 per cent of GDP. Sorry, that’s the tax. Tax is under 23.9 per cent, spending is around 25 per cent at the moment.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay, was Peter Costello higher than that was he?

PRIME MINISTER:

Peter Costello’s rate of growth in spending was higher.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay.

PRIME MINISTER:

I can’t give you the exact percentage, but the growth in, this is the real rate of growth in spending under this Coalition government that was elected in 2013 under Tony, and under our time and over the forwards, is 1.9 per cent.

NEIL MITCHELL:

You’ve set what Scott Morrison called a “speed limit on taxes”?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes that's 23.9 per cent.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Will you do the same on spending? “We won't go above” … whatever you are now, just under 25?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that's the goal, yes, that’s right.

NEIL MITCHELL:

There’s no promise on that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, no, I'm not making a commitment on that here, but what we're seeking to do is bring the Budget back into balance.

If you control your taxation, if you put a limit speed limit on tax, by definition, you control what you're spending, if at the same time you're coming back into balance.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Do you agree that your Budget predictions and strategy is, in part, based on maintaining the current level of immigration?

PRIME MINISTER:

Not really Neil. I know you've raised that with Scott Morrison the other day.

NEIL MITCHELL:

And Albo yesterday.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah look, it’s not right and can I just say to you I think, your analysis of migration, I have to respectfully disagree with you. Now, as I was saying to you earlier - we were having a chat about you on the tram on the way here - some of the passengers said you were charming, some of them said you were aggressive.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Stick around.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah, no it was good, we had a little focus group on the tram up here.

But I’ll say this - the 190,000 figure is a ceiling. It is not a target, in terms of permanent migration. Permanent migration is a small, smaller percentage of the total movements in people.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay, well what is the permanent migration. What is it at the moment? How many in a year?

PRIME MINISTER:

How many? Well this year I would think it will be somewhere between 170 and 180,000.

NEIL MITCHELL:

That's the figures we're talking about.

But the point is, with all these side issues, I am arguing that it’s time for a pause and a reassessment. I'm arguing that on the basis of the infrastructure struggle, the roads being jammed and people being socially uncertain.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah.

NEIL MITCHELL:

That's something Geoffrey Blainey raised not long ago and got kicked for it, but it's a reasonable thing. People are socially uncertain and want to pause. Maybe it's right, maybe it should go up, let’s have a think about it. If we’re predicating our Budget strategy on continued immigration at this level, we're not going to have think about it? Do you think it’s still possible we’ll cut it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Neil, immigration is run solely in the national interest of Australia.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Yes, but we don’t review it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes we do. But Neil, it is constantly under review.

NEIL MITCHELL:

By whom?

PRIME MINISTER:

By the government.

NEIL MITCHELL:

We’ve got both sides saying we’re at about the right level, what sort of review is that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Neil, we are constantly ensuring that we get the highest quality of migrants we can. You see, you talk about numbers as though every person is exactly the same. This is a talent business. We're in a war for

talent and we want to get, through our skilled permanent migration program, the smartest people who bring skills that are not available here and by bringing their skills here, we ensure that Australian businesses grow and prosper.

NEIL MITCHELL:

People are unsettled by it. There's no question about that and there has been, not now, but there has been a tradition to say: “If you question migration, you're racist.” Which isn't true.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, well no one has suggested - I would never suggest that.

NEIL MITCHELL:

No, I know you’re not, I know you’re not, look, that perhaps went back in history a little.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah, a long way back.

NEIL MITCHELL:

No, so why can we not have a debate now?

PRIME MINISTER:

Of course we can have a debate - do you want to have the debate? I’ll debate with you.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But are you locked into the level? What level are you locked into? What do you want?

PRIME MINISTER:

What we want to have is not one more person coming to Australia - not one - that we do not want or need.

I'm giving you this commitment: that my government and my government alone, the Australian Government elected by the Australian people, determines who comes to Australia. Whether they are on the humanitarian program, whether on family reunion, whether they're skilled migration, whether they're a student, a foreign student sitting on the tram with me this morning going off to his lectures. We determine who comes here.

And that's the big difference between us and Labor. Because under Shorten and Labor when they were in government they outsourced our migration program to people smugglers. That's a fact. That's not political rhetoric, that's the truth. And we're not having anymore of that again. We decide who comes here. We being the government representing the Australian people.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Is the Liberal Party sexist?

PRIME MINISTER:

No.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well you’re getting a bit of it - Jane Prentice, Assistant Minister - gone for a man, lost preselection, others under pressure. There’s an impression and argument that the Liberal Party is sexist.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I disagree with that. I think the Liberal Party is a grassroots political organisation and the preselections are determined by the membership. And that's the fact. I mean look, I regret Jane losing preselection, she's a friend of mine, she's a very good Assistant Minister-

NEIL MITCHELL:

Couldn’t you stand up for her? Couldn’t you override it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I certainly stood up for her, I gave a reference, my representative who went to the meeting voted for her, but he was one out of just under 370 people at the meeting. Overwhelmingly local members of her conference.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So your own members have rejected your requirement, your request?

PRIME MINISTER:

The members of the Liberal Party have got their own minds and as they should. Everyone calls for democracy in political parties, you know you can't have it both ways. If you say: “join the Liberal Party and have a say in who is going to be your Member of Parliament”, then if the membership choose someone - make a choice you don't agree with, you can't then turn around and cancel it.

NEIL MITCHELL:

What about a quota system?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well this is what Labor has sort to do.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Do you think it's right or is it illogical?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think the difficulty for our party is it's a grassroots political party.

See if you've got if you've got a conference - you know a federal electorate - and you've got four or five hundred people, or three or four hundred people. And they turn up there and they decide that the best candidate is a man or best candidate is a woman, you can't turn around and say: “oh no you can't have that choice because we've got a quota”.

What we need to do is encourage more women to be in the party and more women to nominate. And that's why I welcome the initiative of Kelly O’Dwyer’s.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So no quota?

PRIME MINISTER:

No I don't I don't think a quota system can work in a grassroots political organisation like ours.

NEIL MITCHELL:

It’s been suggested that Kelly O'Dwyer was in some danger herself, is that right?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Kelly is, again you'd have to speak to Kelly about that. But Kelly is doing a phenomenal job.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But so is Jane Prentice.

PRIME MINISTER:

I’ve not heard that about Kelly.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay. But she’s put 50,000 of her own money into her campaign to get women into the Liberal Party.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that shows great initiative and great leadership.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Will you match it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Wentworth, my conference, the Liberal Party in Sydney will certainly match that.

If Kelly’s going to create a sort of a fund to support women candidates for Liberal Party preselected candidates for the Liberal Party, yeah sure.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But not a personal cheque from you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we've got - we’ll contribute through the party, yeah.

NEIL MITCHELL:

You will, personally?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, our conference will.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay. Do you think these Super Saturday by elections is a test for Bill Shorten’s leadership?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I mean every election is a test for both leaders.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So it is for you as well?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well yes it is. But I mean I just want to be realistic about this. You know the last time the government won a by election seat from an opposition in a by election was 1911, so.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So you're not expecting to win any?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we always try to win. We campaign hard to win. But you've got to be realistic about your expectations.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Strong result, it’d be very tempting to go to an election by the end of the year wont it? If you get a strong result?

PRIME MINISTER:

We’re planning on, and you should plan, everyone should plan on an election next year. I mean that should be your assumption. Second quarter of 2019, when it’s due.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Second quarter? Yeah okay. You’re not going early at all.

Israel, 50 Palestinians killed in Gaza. They’re saying it’s Hamas.

PRIME MINISTER:

So this is another, tragic. Yes this is Hamas pushing people to the border, pushing them - with Israel - pushing them to challenge the border, to try to get through the border. It’s tragic, any loss of life is - like this or any loss of life - is tragic in these circumstances, but Hamas’ conduct is confrontational. They're seeking to provoke the Israeli defence forces.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So their life is on the hands of Hamas?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well if they’re pushing people to the border in an area, you know in that context, in that conflict zone, you're basically pushing people into circumstances where they are very likely to be shot at, as Israel seeks to defend itself.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Couple of quick things. John Howard says schools that don't allow parents to opt out of sex education should lose federal funding, any chance of that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that's not something that's being considered because I'm not aware of any schools where parents can't take their kids out of sex education. I think the universal practice around the country is to give parents that right, as they should have that right.

NEIL MITCHELL:

The old war horses are giving you some trouble aren’t they? Howard and Costello.

PRIME MINISTER:

They’re going great guns don’t worry.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Have you got a present for Harry and Meghan?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we thought of it sort of a Victorian tourism experience perhaps, you know a nice trip along…

NEIL MITCHELL:

A couple of penguins?

[Laughter]

Do we give them a present or not?

PRIME MINISTER:

But yes we are, we do have a present.

NEIL MITCHELL:

What is it?

PRIME MINISTER:

We can’t revel it quite yet, but its…

NEIL MITCHELL:

Haven’t decided?

PRIME MINISTER:

No we do. We do. It is very Australian and appeals to their, you know their interests.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Feeling confident with your opinion poll boost?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I'm always sunny and optimistic. Particularly.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Sometimes more than others.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Also the union campaign, tells me once a banker always.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes.

NEIL MITCHELL:

You see those ads?

[Laughter]

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes I saw the ads. The only thing that was missing was the white cat on the lap. Sort of like the character out of a Bond movie, yeah.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Thanks for coming in, Malcolm Turnbull Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks very much.

[ENDS]