Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Transcript of television Interview with Leigh Sales: 7.30: 6 August 2018: drought assistance; National Energy Guarantee; Great Barrier Reef; enterprise tax plan and by-elections



Download PDFDownload PDF

THE HON. MALCOLM TURNBULL MP PRIME MINISTER

TRANSCRIPT

Monday, 6 August 2018

Television Interview with Leigh Sales, 7.30

E&OE…

SUBJECT/S: Drought assistance, National Energy Guarantee, Great Barrier Reef, Enterprise Tax Plan and by-elections.

LEIGH SALES:

Thank you very much for your time. What is your response to what Edwina Robertson had to say just now?

PRIME MINISTER:

I spent a lot of time in the bush. I would like to spend more. In the last few months I've been in many parts of regional Australia from Queensland, North Queensland, Western Queensland, Western New South Wales, the Upper Hunter Valley, of course Lucy and I have got cattle and sheep properties there and have had there for 36 years so we know firsthand in a very real way the impacts of drought on people in the livestock business. I've been in Tennant Creek I’ll be in Alice Springs this week. It's a big country and as Prime Minister I get around it.

You'd be amazed, Leigh, how many places go to where I'm apparently the first Prime Minister to go there or the first since Malcolm Fraser so I don't know whether the two Malcolm’s are following a similar trail around the country.

LEIGH SALES:

What about her point that it's too little too late and that the $12,000 is insufficient?

PRIME MINISTER:

It's not $12,000 by itself. The Farm Household Allowance varies on people's family circumstances, but typically it's about $15,000, $16,000 for a year. So we're adding for a family another $12,000 to that.

So Fiona Simpson, the President of the National Farmers’ Federation said it is a generous increase, it’s a generous supplement, but it is designed to keep body and soul together, not designed to pay for fodder. It wouldn't pay - it would be - $12,000 would barely pay for a truckload of hay at the moment.

LEIGH SALES:

Why would the $12,000 have you decided to do it in two $6,000 instalments the second in March, because people are hurting now? Money would help now.

PRIME MINISTER:

They will likely be hurting in March, too by the way. Well, we all pray for rain, we've had 16mms in the Upper Hunter just as your weatherman was showing, that's terrific. But the prospect is that it's going to be a dry spring and a hot dry summer. So, they will need more support right through that period.

LEIGH SALES:

Why not just give $12,000 now and if we're still in drought in March, more money then?

PRIME MINISTER:

That is the decision we've made. We met as a Cabinet subcommittee to discuss that. That's what we've done. It is a very substantial increase on the Farm Household Allowance. But remember it's a safety net. Now just to be clear - Australia's farmers are not helpless. They are very enterprising, courageous, innovative business people.

There are 90,000 farmers, about 8,000 or 9,000 are receiving the Farm Household Allowance, and because we increased the assets test, up to $5 million of assets that will bring potentially another 8,000 into the position of being eligible that would be able to claim it. So, the drought is part of the Australian climate and farmers plan and prepare and manage for the dry times.

LEIGH SALES:

On that point.

PRIME MINISTER:

I just want to make two other points. Firstly, livestock prices remain high and property prices remain strong. So, you know, there is a lot of strength and optimism in rural Australia and what we're doing is backing Australian farmers in their resilience.

LEIGH SALES:

You mentioned that Australia has a history of periods of drought. You have noted that the current drought is of a severity and length we've not seen for more than 50 years. What role does climate change play in that?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't have any doubt that climate is changing that we're seeing at the moment, now people will say the climate has always changed on the earth, of course people point to the ice ages and various changes over the years.

But just in the 36 years I've been involved with Luce in the farming business and going, talking to neighbours who have been involved, families been involved for over a century, I think everyone agrees that we're seeing rainfall that is, if you like, more erratic and droughts that are more frequent and seasons that are hotter. All of that means that it is, that the land of droughts and flooding rains is going to continue to be a challenging environment.

LEIGH SALES:

Barnaby Joyce, the former Deputy Prime Minister, has said on television this evening, that no matter what Australia does to reduce emissions it is going to have zero impact on climate change and therefore it will have zero impact on future droughts in Australia. What do you say to that?

PRIME MINISTER:

I mean, if Australia was the only country in the world that was reducing its emissions, he’d be right. But of course the goal of reducing greenhouse emissions is a global one and as one nation out of many, we obviously play our part.

LEIGH SALES:

But I guess the point he's making is essentially correct though, no matter what we did for emissions, it’s not going to change the frequency or severity of droughts that happen in Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm not quite sure what point you're making or he was making, but let me be clear. Australia has always had a variable, volatile, sometimes capricious climate, if you like. As the poet wrote, we are the land of droughts and flooding rains.

The last drought that was as bad and as widespread as this one in eastern Australia was according to the Bureau of Meteorology in 1965. Now I don't remember that one, but that - it's been a long time.

But in terms of the goal of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions in accordance with the Paris Agreement, every nation is playing its part and our part, because you know, we're only about 1.5 per cent, I think, of global emissions or thereabouts, is obviously a small one, but if everybody took the view that they weren't going to do anything because their contribution doesn't make much difference, then nothing would happen. So it's a global effort.

LEIGH SALES:

On emissions, you were trying to get the states to sign up to your National Energy Guarantee at a meeting this Friday - are you prepared to increase Australia's emissions' reductions targets to win the supports of the states to come on board with your plan?

PRIME MINISTER:

What we are setting out is the plan of the Energy Security Board which will reduce emissions in the electricity sector by 26 per cent by 2030, but most importantly it will reduce the average household’s electricity bill by $550.

LEIGH SALES:

What I'm asking is, is there is wiggle room in negotiations or Friday for you to raise those targets?

PRIME MINISTER:

We have got a target, it’s consistent with our Paris commitment and this is all about cheaper electricity. Now the pressure is on - the state Premiers and Bill Shorten, Leader of the Labor Party - does he want Australians to pay less for electricity or more? We want them to pay less.

The National Energy Guarantee, so the experts say - you don't take my word or Josh's - it's the experts on the Energy Security Board have got it all modelled - it will reduce electricity prices.

My government is committed to cheaper, reliable electricity. That is what the NEG will deliver.

LEIGH SALES:

You’ve got to get the plan through. The states are saying, a couple of them this evening, that they want to see your plan go through and get the endorsement of your party room before they’re willing sign up for it.

PRIME MINISTER:

It's been endorsed by the party room already.

LEIGH SALES:

They want to see it goes through the party room next Tuesday before they’ll agree to something.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it's been endorsed by the party room already and will be endorsed again. It's got overwhelming support because my party, the Coalition I lead the Liberal Party and National Party, the government I lead, wants Australians to pay less for electricity.

We've already succeeded in turning thing the corner on electricity prices. We took strong action on gas, got the wholesale price of gas down, we started to see retail prices come down, there's more to go. $550 is what we will see in a reduction of energy prices a year - that’s what I’m committed to, cheaper electricity.

LEIGH SALES:

Let's whip through some other things that people are likely to be talking about when parliament resumes next week. Can you explain why you gave almost half a billion dollar grant to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation without any tender process or grant application or competition?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it was a very thorough process. It was a whole Cabinet process leading up to the budget.

LEIGH SALES:

Before or after you offered the money, did the Cabinet process happen?

PRIME MINISTER:

No it went through beforehand. We had an ERC process. We concluded that we wanted to offer the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, which the Labor party has given money.

LEIGH SALES:

How did you settle on them? Because they said they never asked for money.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, that is right. But they are an outstanding reef charity. They have had substantial money from the Federal Government before, including from a Federal Labor government.

LEIGH SALES:

But we have to take your word on that. There was a tender process.

PRIME MINISTER:

You don't have to take my word for it, it's a fact. Tony was - you know, the former Environment Minister.

LEIGH SALES:

Burke.

PRIME MINISTER:

Tony Burke, he provided, I think, $12 million to them.

LEIGH SALES:

How do we know for the use of this money, an enormous investment in the reef, how do we know they are the best organisation to spend that half a billion dollars?

PRIME MINISTER:

Because that's the judgement we took as a government.

LEIGH SALES:

Why wouldn't you put that to competitive tender?

PRIME MINISTER:

Because they were clearly the best team to do it. Can I say to you, Leigh, what the Labor Party is doing now is they are embarrassed they did not put serious funding into the reef. Under the Labor Party's watch, the reef was put on the endangered watch by UNESCO because of our good management it has come off that endangered watch list.

The management of the reef is regarded as the best in the world. We put this substantial amount of funding into it. The Great Barrier Reef Foundation attracts substantial funding from the private sector, it has support from the Queensland State Government and this grant, by the way, went not only through a Cabinet process, it actually went, it's in the budget, it was voted on in Parliament. It's in an appropriations act.

LEIGH SALES:

In an appropriations act, not as its stand-alone legislation.

PRIME MINISTER:

It's been considered and approved by the Parliament.

LEIGH SALES:

Let's move on to your company tax cuts. Will you be putting the current plan to the Senate when Parliament resumes?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, of course.

LEIGH SALES:

What compromises are you prepared to offer to get it there? Would you exempt, for example, the big four banks from getting a company tax cut?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Leigh, we negotiate always in good faith and great respect with the crossbench, but when I last checked you're not a Senator, so I'm not able to negotiate with you.

LEIGH SALES:

Are you prepared to make changes to that package?

PRIME MINISTER:

Leigh, again, we don't engage in speculation or negotiation, you know, in the media. We talk to the crossbenchers and the other senators and we've had remarkable success getting a lot of tax reform through, including most recently the largest reform of personal income tax in a generation.

Remember, not only this year, Australians on middle incomes, are getting $530 back from the tax-man, what we are going to see is when the tax reform is fully rolled out, 94 per cent of the Australians will pay no more than 32.5 cents in any extra dollar they earn. That's real reform. Many people said we couldn't do it and invited us to speculate about how we would cut and dice it. We didn't engage in that. We negotiated and we got it through the Senate.

LEIGH SALES:

If your company tax package can't survive the Senate will you be campaigning on company cuts at the next election?

PRIME MINISTER:

Again, I thank you for your interest.

LEIGH SALES:

I just want to know about the next election.

PRIME MINISTER:

Leigh, the parliament is coming back next week and we will sitting down, as we always do, with the crossbench.

LEIGH SALES:

If you can’t get it through would you take it to the election to seek a mandate?

PRIME MINISTER:

We actually have a mandate from the last election you may recall. We took it to the last election. The reality is Australia needs to have a competitive tax system. Which are going to approach this issue, as we always do, with respect and constructive negotiation with the crossbench. We have to work with the realities of the Senate and we do so respectfully, but with them.

LEIGH SALES:

And you said after the recent Super Saturday by-elections you would consider the results and whether you needed to change any policies. What's your conclusion?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we obviously take those results on board. I have to say I think the media if you like exaggerated.

LEIGH SALES:

I'm quoting you, you said you were going to think about it.

PRIME MINISTER:

You are quoting me, and we take them carefully on board. In Longman there was a 3.5 per cent swing against the Government, which was less than the average.

LEIGH SALES:

But we know about that.

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm not sure everyone does because the media created the expectation that we were going to win the by-elections which had no basis in fact.

LEIGH SALES:

Are you going to be changing.

PRIME MINISTER:

That was media hype. The Labor Party got a below-average swing in Longman and virtually no swing at all in Braddon so it was not exactly a triumph.

LEIGH SALES:

My question to you, is are you thinking of your policies and tweaking them?

PRIME MINISTER:

Of course we do.

LEIGH SALES:

Which ones?

PRIME MINISTER:

Again, when we, as we refine policies that we will take to the next election, which is early next year, or first half of next year, I should say, we will obviously be bringing policies to the election then.

LEIGH SALES:

Prime Minister, thank you for your time.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks very much, Leigh.

[ENDS]

Press Office of the Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP, Prime Minister, Canberra