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Transcript of interview with Greg Casey: Radio 4BC, Brisbane: 7 June 2011: Labor's Malaysian people swap; Bob Katter's Australian Party; Julia Gillard’s carbon tax; National Broadband Network; Afghanistan



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LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION THE HON. TONY ABBOTT MHR FEDERAL MEMBER FOR WARRINGAH

7 June 2011

TRANSCRIPT OF THE HON. TONY ABBOTT MHR INTERVIEW WITH GREG CARY, RADIO 4BC, BRISBANE

Subjects: Labor’s Malaysian people swap; Bob Katter’s Australian Party; Julia Gillard’s carbon tax; National Broadband Network; Afghanistan.

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

GREG CARY:

Mr Abbott, good morning.

TONY ABBOTT:

`Morning, Greg.

GREG CARY:

It is good to see you at a time when, it‟s a very sad day for us here and you fully appreciate that but there are issues to discuss and we will do that. It would seem your stocks are very high at this time but things in politics can change quickly.

TONY ABBOTT:

It‟s an inherently unpredictable business but I think one thing we can be pretty sure of is that the Gillard Government will continue to be utterly incompetent and will continue to have the Midas touch in reverse but that‟s not to say there won‟t be problems for the Opposition from time to time. So look, I‟ll just keep doing my job as best I can, Greg.

GREG CARY:

What drives their incompetence, do you think?

TONY ABBOTT:

I don‟t think they believe in anything. Take this Malaysian Solution. Julia Gillard was one of the most ferocious critics of the Howard Government‟s Pacific Solution. Now she‟s doing something which is actually far more brutal on boat people than anything that John Howard ever tried. I mean, a lot of people

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were critical of Nauru but Nauru was run by Australians in accordance with Australian standards of human rights. There was no question that people were treated humanely on Nauru. Not everyone wanted to be there, of course, but while they were there they were treated well and humanely. The Prime Minister can give no guarantees about the treatment of any boat people sent to Malaysia and Amnesty report that people who are illegally in Malaysia are regularly treated in ways that we in Australia would find really very, very cruel.

GREG CARY:

Do you think that will go ahead?

TONY ABBOTT:

I think there is enormous concern inside the caucus. I think this is a caucus which is on the verge of a meltdown. There are a lot of issues which are really troubling the caucus at the moment but I think this Malaysian people swap, this form of people trafficking that the Government wants to engage in is certainly one of the ones that‟s most exercising them.

GREG CARY:

Tony Abbott is our guest. We‟ll get into your calls in a moment, too. 131332, feel free to give us a call. This is only a few days after we‟ve heard of the announcement of a new party, the Australian Party, Bob Katter‟s party. What would be the impact of that, more widely, but also on the conservative vote, do you think?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well let‟s see how it actually goes. I mean, I know Bob pretty well. I think Bob is essentially a good guy. He‟s quirky but I think nearly all of his quirks are endearing and he‟s a very popular local member up there in north Queensland. How far that travels is a moot point and the point I keep making to Bob is that there is a new party in Queensland, it‟s a very good new party, it‟s called the Liberal National Party. It‟s very different from the party that he left some years ago and if Bob wants to join a new party I reckon he ought to look at the LNP.

GREG CARY:

Is he the type to be a part of any party, though? He seems to be, I mentioned yesterday, you can imagine a report card back in school, seems best when playing by himself. I mean, if anyone was, you know, defined as being an independent, it‟s Bob Katter.

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, Bob is a unique individual. I mean, Bob is very much a one-off model but look, for many, many years he was a fine and successful member of the National Party. He was a successful minister, a very successful minister in the Bjelke-Petersen Government and is still remembered as one of the best ever ministers for indigenous affairs in Queensland. So, the fact that these days Bob has a very broad maverick streak doesn‟t mean that he hasn‟t been in the past and possibly again a good and contributing senior member of an established political party.

GREG CARY:

Let‟s take a call from Emerald. Ashley, go right ahead for Tony Abbott, mate.

CALLER:

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Yeah, good morning Greg and Mr Abbott. I‟m just enquiring, like to declare my position with, I‟m trying to start a small business selling energy efficient technology but the Federal Government are trying to tell us that the taxes that they‟re going to take from us are going to be invested back into renewable technology but at the end of this month alone they‟re going to wind back the subsidies. So, they‟re sort of giving with one hand and taking with the other.

TONY ABBOTT:

Well again, Ashley, I think this is a remarkably incompetent government and it seems that you‟ve run up against that self-same thing where they say one thing and do something quite different. As you probably know, Ashley, the Coalition does take climate change seriously and we do want to reduce emissions and we‟re going to put in place a direct action policy including an emissions reduction fund. Now, one of the things that people will be able to get paid for under our emissions reduction fund is schemes that really will significantly reduce our emissions. So, if you‟ve got something that is a cost-effective way of reducing emissions, it‟s the kind of thing that we would like to see more funding available for under our policy.

GREG CARY:

Ok, thanks for your call, Ashley. We‟ll get to more soon. 13 13 32. On the carbon tax and a large majority of Australians at this point clearly don‟t want it for a variety of reasons. This is the same carbon tax that the Government told us we wouldn‟t have if they were elected. What more can you or what more can we or should we be expected to be able to do about all of this? We have a charter of budget honesty, what about election promise honesty, particularly when elections oftentimes hinge on things of this nature?

TONY ABBOTT:

Look Greg, no one is more frustrated than I am with the fact that this is a government that was elected on a lie. I mean, it was elected on a lie. Let‟s make no bones about it. If the Prime Minister had said six days out from an election “there will be a carbon tax under the government I lead” she would not have been elected. She would certainly have gone. So, it is a fundamentally illegitimate government, not because it lacks the numbers in the House but because it lacked that basic integrity with the electorate. Now, what can we do about it? Well, I‟ve said there should be a people‟s revolt and the best way for the people to revolt is to use all the avenues at their command to make it clear to their Labor or independent member of parliament that it‟s just not on, just not on. So, if you can, ring the Labor member of parliament.

GREG CARY:

It doesn‟t change things though, does it?

TONY ABBOTT:

But look, members of parliament, in the end, are responsive to pressure. Now, I know that there is a lot of concern in the caucus about the impact of a carbon tax on the manufacturing industry. There are 5,000 workers at BlueScope in Port Kembla alone - that‟s the old BHP Steel - and it‟s going to be almost impossible for the steel industry to continue in this country. There are 5,000 workers at Whyalla, at One Steel, there are thousands of workers at different plants, motor plants around the country. It‟s going to be very difficult for the motor industry, for the steel industry, for the aluminium industry, for the cement industry. Gladstone will be in all sorts of trouble. Townsville will be in trouble. Mt Isa will be in trouble. I mean, these are towns whose livelihood will be snatched away by the carbon tax and I just think that if people make it crystal clear to their local member, even Labor members of parliament are human beings as well as members of a caucus and I think they‟ll respond.

GREG CARY:

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Is there a danger for you here - and I understand Wayne Swan‟s going to have more to say about this today, that it‟s not going to be nearly as bad as some projections are suggesting - is there a danger for you that they do get this thing through, that it isn‟t as bad as you‟re suggesting it‟s going to be and then you‟re left out of it?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, I‟m not saying that the world will end if a carbon tax comes in but your cost of living will go up and up and up and certain industries in this country, industries that are vital for our survival as a first world economy, will decline and die. I mean, the coal industry will go. I mean, the whole point of a carbon tax is to say, don‟t use coal. I mean, that‟s the logic of a carbon tax.

GREG CARY:

Or use less coal.

TONY ABBOTT:

Don‟t use it, don‟t use it because whenever we burn coal we are emitting and if the advocates of a carbon tax are correct, this is not the necessary foundation of a modern economy, it is something that is going over time to devastate our planet, so…

GREG CARY:

But we‟re growing our coal exports at the moment.

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, exactly right and under a carbon tax regime that shouldn‟t happen. I mean even the Government‟s own modelling says that coal production will decline by 35 per cent by 2020 under a carbon tax and coal investment will decline by 13 per cent.

GREG CARY:

Brad wants to ask a question I had in my mind too. Go right ahead, Brad.

CALLER:

Yeah, Mr Abbott, we‟re hurting out here. We‟re hurting out here big time and my question to you is what can you do to stop this government and the Greens from bringing in these rules, these new rules and regulations that we don‟t want, that the people just absolutely don‟t want. What can you do to stop it?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well the best thing I can do is win an election. The unfortunate thing is that I can‟t force the Government to an election but one Labor member quitting the parliament and forcing a by-election, that could bring this government down. One member of parliament crossing the floor on a particular vote could bring this government down and that‟s where I‟ll keep up my pressure as best I can but it‟s important for people in the community to keep up their pressure.

GREG CARY:

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By you keeping up that pressure - and Brad didn‟t quite ask the question that I want to so I will in a sec - but by you keeping up that pressure on things you sincerely believe in, you‟re being portrayed by many as being a negativist. Negative, negative, negative. How do you respond to that?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, they don‟t call it the Opposition for nothing. I mean, my job is to expose the errors, the mistakes, the folly of the Government. That‟s what oppositions are supposed to do but if you actually look at what I‟ve been doing, Greg, since Christmas, I mean, a new water management position including new dams - and I brought this forward before the floods in Brisbane - a new anti-dumping policy, working with the Prime Minister on welfare reform and on spending cuts, a four point plan for participation reform, a new approach to infrastructure where we actually get value for the federal government‟s spending...

GREG CARY:

So you‟d argue that the negatives are being focused on.

TONY ABBOTT:

…red tape reduction for small business. I mean, there have been a lot of positive policy measures announced by the Coalition since Christmas.

GREG CARY:

Ok. Going back to that point about what would happen to this legislation, if you won the next election - and Carol, I‟ll get to your call and others in just a sec - what would you do about a carbon tax? A carbon tax is in, you‟re talking about repealing it, what if it‟s so bedded in that you couldn‟t? And let me add to that, NBN is up and away, NBN Co has done business, I understand, negotiated deals worth $7 billion, you‟re committed to unwinding that somehow or other…

TONY ABBOTT:

Not throwing good money after bad.

GREG CARY:

Well, there‟s so much money engaged in that now, I guess the wider question is, you get into government, what are you going to do about all these things?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well I don‟t know where we will be at when we get into government, obviously, but the absolute rule is that you don‟t throw good money after bad and I‟m all in favour of better broadband services, Greg, but that doesn‟t mean a government monopoly putting fibre to every home whether the home needs it or not. Now, we are all these days very wired up so to speak, but we use wireless. I mean, you go to a café, you go on the bus and every second person is there with their computer or their iPhone or their iPad or their BlackBerry, they‟re all working away online but it‟s all wireless connectivity. Now, fibre is going to be important as part of the broadband infrastructure, but this idea that every home has got to be connected by fibre, it‟s almost like „unchain my laptop.‟

GREG CARY:

Ok, I understand that argument though, but just come back to the question for a moment though and I had this list from the Australian Financial Review yesterday and all the deals that NBN Co have done. It

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amounts up to $7 billion or more with about 14 or 15 different companies. What do you do there? Are you going to have to pay them out? Or how does that work?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, we‟d have to look at exactly what the contracts entailed. We‟d have to take legal advice, obviously. But even if that money turned out to be wasted it would be this government‟s fault not ours and, as I say, you don‟t throw good money after bad and this government is proposing to spend ultimately $50 billion-plus on this. Now, think what $50 billion could do. It could build the Melbourne to Brisbane inland railway, that‟s about $4 billion. It could build the Brisbane rail loop, that‟s about $8 billion. It could finish the duplication of the Pacific Highway, that‟s about $6 billion. It could connect up the M4 at Strathfield to the CBD in Sydney, that‟s about another $6 billion. It could build on top of that twenty major teaching hospitals at a billion dollars a throw and you‟d still have enough change left over to spend the $6 billion that the Coalition was proposing to spend on better broadband at the last election.

GREG CARY:

But Tony, on these two things, even if you win the election - Carol, sorry to keep you, we‟ll get to your call, it‟s important, in just a second - you win the election, you won‟t be controlling the Senate however with the new numbers coming in. Would you call a double dissolution on whether it‟s the carbon tax or whether it‟s NBN Co or whatever?

TONY ABBOTT:

We‟re speaking hypothetically because we don‟t know what the result of the next election might be, but I would do whatever was necessary to implement our commitments and when I say we will repeal these taxes we will repeal these taxes. If that means taking whatever measures were available under the Constitution, well let‟s not assume that that would be necessary because I think that the public will be so sick of this government by the time of the next election that I just don‟t think assumptions about who might control the Senate are correct.

GREG CARY:

Carol at Yungaburra, go right ahead.

CALLER:

Hi everybody. I just wanted to say, Tony, I watched the video of you on Q&A last night in 2009. You said you were agreeing with a carbon tax and you spoke out about how you would put a tax on petrol and other items. Why are you spreading fear in the community now about a carbon tax only two years later?

TONY ABBOTT:

And Carol, did they show you the clip of Julia Gillard saying six days before the election…

CALLER:

I‟m not talking about Julia Gillard, sorry Tony. I‟m asking you the question why in 2009 on that video did you agree exactly with what Julia Gillard is saying now?

TONY ABBOTT:

Be accurate, Carol.

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CALLER:

I am accurate. I saw the video.

TONY ABBOTT:

Sorry…

CALLER:

I saw the video last night, did you?

TONY ABBOTT:

Look, I had better things to do with my time, but be accurate. I was speaking hypothetically and as I said if Q&A had been fair they would have also put up Julia Gillard‟s old quotes about the Pacific Solution and about how evil it would be to send asylum seekers to Manus Island. They would also have put up Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan saying “there would be no carbon tax under the government I lead”.

GREG CARY:

That‟s a true point, Tony, but going back to Carol‟s point though, and I didn‟t see that show last night, was the context as you understand it fair? Because she does have a point, there was a time when you argued that there could be a case for this?

TONY ABBOTT:

It was a discussion on Sky Agenda at the time when my book had come out back in I think July 2009 and we were discussing this whole concept of a carbon price. Don‟t forget that it was in 2009, Malcolm Turnbull was our leader and everything was different. It was before Copenhagen. But I have been absolutely faithful to the policies that I took to the election unlike the Prime Minister.

GREG CARY:

Tim at Tully, go right ahead Tim.

CALLER:

Mr Abbott.

TONY ABBOTT:

G‟day Tim.

CALLER:

Your government under John Howard involved Australian soldiers in the so-called war against terror in Afghanistan and this Labor government has continued the involvement.

TONY ABBOTT:

Yep.

CALLER:

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Would you continue the involvement and why, especially as you have just moments ago said that you are in opposition and it is your job to oppose?

GREG CARY:

That‟s a fair question, isn‟t it?

TONY ABBOTT:

Yeah look, it‟s a fair question, but we oppose when we think the Government is wrong, we don‟t oppose when we think the Government is right. Now, we don‟t always broadcast our agreement with the Government because you tend to spend most of your time on the areas where you don‟t agree rather than the areas where you do agree. But, Tim, look I support our commitment to Afghanistan. Now, as I said I don‟t want our soldiers to stay there any longer than is absolutely necessary but I think it is necessary that they stay as long as there is a job that‟s important, that‟s worthwhile and that they are doing effectively and I have no reason to think that‟s not the case now.

GREG CARY:

What is it going to take then for us to leave there? We‟ve got, you know, you can‟t be totally governed by polls, but a vast majority of Australians now think we should be leaving Afghanistan sooner rather than later. What is the definitive argument for staying, particularly given what we now know about Pakistan, the borders are porous, we‟ve achieved the initial goals?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, let‟s ask ourselves what‟s the alternative? Now, if we withdrew our forces from Afghanistan in conjunction with our major allies America and Britain, I think there‟s no doubt that the Taliban would return to power in Afghanistan and that wouldn‟t just mean the risk of terrorist bases re-establishing themselves it would also mean a terrible future for the Afghan people, particularly women who were mercilessly persecuted under the Taliban. I think it would destabilise Pakistan. Now, Pakistan is a failing state with nuclear weapons. Now, it‟s not in a happy state, there‟s no doubt about that. I mean, Pakistan is a very fragile state and lots of things happen in Pakistan that frankly are appalling. But nevertheless it is more or less on our side and it is still just functioning. If it ceased to function, if it wasn‟t more or less on our side the whole world would be a much more uncertain and much more dangerous place.

GREG CARY:

But Tony, using the logic of that argument we would stay forever. America is already committed to getting out in the next couple of years.

TONY ABBOTT:

No, that‟s not true, Greg. I mean, what they‟re saying is that they hope to be able to draw down their forces, to start drawing down their forces, but basically as I understand it America wants to achieve its objectives, Britain wants to achieve its objectives. Australia wants to achieve its objectives and our objectives, Australia‟s objectives, are to train up the Afghan Army in Uruzgan province so that they can effectively maintain internal security and to do what we can in our part of Afghanistan to ensure that the government there is as effective and as efficient as government in that part of the world reasonably can be.

GREG CARY:

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As reasonably can be, though, it‟s a corrupt and almost illegitimate government, it‟s a state that is nearly inoperable and Pakistan is going down that road as well.

TONY ABBOTT:

So we wash our hands of the whole business and let it all get worse?

GREG CARY:

No, I don‟t know that we‟re saying wash our hands of the whole thing, but we‟re starting to try and balance what is the worth of every magnificent Australian life that we lose there against a country that eventually needs to stand up and we went in there to remove the Taliban. We‟ve taken out bin Laden. When do these people now stand up for their own country and either make it work or it doesn‟t?

TONY ABBOTT:

And, you know, there are very brave Afghans who are working with our soldiers and they are fighting and dying for a better Afghanistan. Now, what they think is a better Afghanistan and what we think is a good society might be different, but nevertheless what they are fighting for is a lot better than what they‟ve had and I am very reluctant to say let‟s cut and run. Now, Greg, I think it‟s right and proper that Australians should bleed whenever one of our soldiers dies in Afghanistan. But I have been now to about a dozen military funerals, I make a point of saying to the soldiers there, the senior officers and the rank and file, what do you think, how do you feel, and not once as yet has one of them said to me that we should get out. Now, they are often in tears of grief over their fallen comrades but they all think they are doing a good job and none of them think, or at least none of them have said to me and I am freely available for anyone to talk to in this context, not one has said to me „look, this is all too hard, we should get out.‟

GREG CARY:

They wouldn‟t say that though, would they?

TONY ABBOTT:

But if they thought that it was in vain, why wouldn‟t they say that?

GREG CARY:

Because they are doing what the Government is asking them to do and what the Opposition is supporting the Government in asking them to do and that‟s what our great soldiers do.

TONY ABBOTT:

But if they thought we were throwing them away uselessly they would tell us in no uncertain terms. If they thought they were being asked to risk their lives in a pointless battle they would tell us. I mean, Australian soldiers are not robots. They are very, very sophisticated young men and women. They would tell us in double quick time if they thought we were abusing them.

GREG CARY:

Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott. A lot of calls there, Tony does need to be elsewhere in just a few minutes, though. So you‟ll come back again soon and we‟ll get more of those calls.

TONY ABBOTT:

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Happy to come back, mate.

GREG CARY:

It‟s good to see you.

TONY ABBOTT:

Thanks, Greg.

[ends]