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Transcript of joint press conference: Colo Heights: 13 August 2013: Coalition's commitment to eliminate hundreds of mobile phone black spots; PEFO; election debates; the Coalition's commitment to paid parental leave; the Coalition's plan to build a stronger economy; Budget costings; GST; and Kevin Rudd's border protection failures.



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JOH

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

13 August 2013

TRANSCRIPT OF THE HON. TONY ABBOTT MHR JOINT PRESS CONFERENCE WITH THE HON. MALCOLM TURNBULL, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS AND BROADBAND, COLO HEIGHTS, NEW SOUTH WALES

Subjects: The Coalition’s commitment to eliminate hundreds of mobile phone black spots; PEFO; election debates; the Coalition's commitment to paid parental leave; the Coalition's plan to build a stronger economy; Budget costings; GST; Kevin Rudd's border protection failures.

EO&E...........................................................................................................................................

TONY ABBOTT:

It’s good to be here in Colo Heights, it is great to be with Louise, with Malcolm and with Luke. I don’t want to at great length repeat what has already been said but just want to say how important it is that we tackle the real problems that our country faces and as Malcolm said earlier the issue that is most often complained about in the communications area is lack of mobile phone coverage. This $100 million is fairly and squarely designed to tackle this issue of inadequate mobile phone coverage in the communities that don't have it and on the roads that don't have coverage. So, this is more good news from a Federal Coalition which is determined to tackle the issues that are of real concern to the people of Australia.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, how many mobile phone towers will you be able to build for $100 million?

TONY ABBOTT:

We estimate, based on the results of a similar programme in Western Australia, that we can build between 200 and 250 towers. It will be a tender-based process but obviously an area like this, which has very high road usage and quite a significant local community would be a prime contender.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, Kevin Rudd says that it is D-day for you to release your policy costings. Can you give the Australian people a more clearer time frame than in good time before the election as to when they will see some of the Coalition's costings?

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TONY ABBOTT:

The interesting thing is we have just had the PEFO come out today and the PEFO confirms that the Government got all of its costings wrong at Budget time, the PEFO confirms that there has been a $30 billion deterioration in the Government's own Budget numbers since May.

It also confirms that unemployment is marching towards 800,000, that the debt is spiraling towards $400 billion and that the carbon tax is racing towards $38 a tonne. It is $24 a tonne now. It is racing towards $38 a tonne. Mr Rudd said earlier that he was abolishing the carbon tax - wrong. It is going up to $38 a tonne on the figures the Government released today. Now, as for our costings, PEFO is a document that fundamentally deals with the Budget starting off point. Obviously the starting off point now is significantly worse than it was back in May when the Budget was brought down. What we will be doing is telling you exactly how much our policies cost, exactly how we are going to pay for them and everyone will be able to see how the overall Budgetary position is better off under the Coalition.

QUESTION:

When?

TONY ABBOTT:

Again, I remind you, Mark, that the current Government released its costings document at 5 o'clock on the Friday before the 2010 election. We will do it a lot, lot better than that. We will be starting to announce some of our significant savings after we have had a thorough consideration of the PEFO document.

QUESTION:

Do you think in hindsight it was a mistake for your economic team not to clarify the amount of savings you had to make and to let this $70 billion of cuts hang in the air for what has been years?

TONY ABBOTT:

It is a complete fantasy and as the respected Fairfax checking service Politifact, pointed out when the Government recycled this fantasy, it is simply false. It is yet another desperate scare campaign from a Labor Party which has no record to run on and nothing to say about our future. I mean, I ask the people of Australia what they make, what do you the people of Australia make about someone who has been Prime Minister for three years, a Government which has been here for six years and can't say anything meaningful about the future and is constantly pedalling scares based on lies.

QUESTION:

With the announcement today, aren't you just fixing up the legacy of the Coalition's privatisation of Telstra, how can regional communities trust you when we have got these black spots and especially given you have gotten rid of universal pricing for the NBN?

TONY ABBOTT:

I’ll have a go and then Malcolm will add to it. We set aside a $2.4 billion fund and we could do that when we were in government because we ran up surpluses after surpluses after surpluses, every - just about every year - there was a strong surplus under the Coalition, our surplus averaged almost one per cent of GDP over the life of the last Coalition Government and as I have said before, those surpluses weren't just Howard and Costello surpluses, they were Turnbull and Abbott and Truss and Hockey and Bishop surpluses as well. We know what it is like to run a strong Budget. We know what it is like to run a strong economy. We set aside,

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out of our surpluses, $2.4 billion to deal with this issue, that money has simply been squandered by the current Government. That’s why we need a programme like this.

Malcolm?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Just adding to that, the reality is this. Over six years the Labor Party has spent nothing on mobile phone black spots. Every year under the Howard Government the situation improved due to support from a Coalition Government. For six years, Labor has done nothing about the single biggest communications problem in regional Australia. Now as far as the NBN is concerned and universal pricing, there will be a cap set on the wholesale price by the ACCC that will apply across the whole country.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, Mr Rudd today said no to the News Limited pay TV debates. He wants to do one on each of the television networks over the next three weekends. Will you turn up?

TONY ABBOTT:

My view is that the journos had a good go on Sunday. The journos have a good go every day. I spend several times a day during the election campaign answering questions from journalists. So, the journos already have their vehicles for asking questions of me and of Mr Rudd. I think the people should have a go. I am happy to see the formats as open to use by all of the media as possible, but I think these peoples’ forums are a very good format and I’ll certainly be turning up to them.

QUESTION:

Will any indigenous communities get a phone tower?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, it is going to be a tender process. The whole point of this is to try to make it more economic to put mobile phone services in areas which are currently without mobile phone services and I would be confident that there would be all sorts of remote communities, including indigenous communities, where a mobile phone service is much more economic under our proposal.

QUESTION:

How can voters trust promises like the $100 million today when one of your own MPs says after the election you may come under pressure to scrap some of your pre-election commitments?

TONY ABBOTT:

It will be pressure that I will resist, I will defy because I want to be known as a politician, as a Prime Minister, should I get elected, should I be elected on the 7th of September. I want to be known as a Prime Minister who keeps commitments. I appreciate that the trust that the public have in Prime Ministers and other significant members of Parliament has been trashed because this Government, this Prime Minister, and his predecessor, have been just appalling, scandalous at making promises and not keeping them - whether it be the no carbon tax promise, whether it be the surplus promise, these people have been hopeless at maintaining the public's trust. I want to restore it.

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QUESTION:

So, all your promises that you're announcing during this election campaign, they will be implemented in full, That is a rock solid commitment?

TONY ABBOTT:

I will do what I say we will do. I want to be known as someone who under-promises and over-delivers.

QUESTION:

The condition of the Budget will not be an excuse for breaking promises?

TONY ABBOTT:

Exactly right. We will make - we will keep the commitments that we make. All of the commitments that we make will be commitments that are carefully costed and the savings to fund them will all be well-known well before people go to the polls on Saturday, September the 7th.

QUESTION:

Will you be releasing your paid parental leave policy this week along with the full costing details for it?

TONY ABBOTT:

I don't want to tell you exactly when it is going to be released, but it will be released soon and it will become operational in the first term of an incoming Coalition government and I believe this will be and should be a signature policy for the Coalition. I want to be known as a Prime Minister who made a historic change. Who for the first time in our history delivered justice to the parents and to the families of our country.

QUESTION:

Just to clarify Mr Abbott, if revenues continue to fall, you're happy to find yourself in the same position as Labor, spending money that you don't have?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, unlike the Labor Party, which has no plan for growth, we have a plan to build a stronger economy and it starts with abolishing the carbon tax, it continues with abolishing the mining tax, it continues with a billion dollars a year in red tape savings for business, particularly small business. It goes further with returning the workplace pendulum to the sensible centre, restoring the Australian Building and Construction Commission, ensuring that there are proper governance standards for industrial organisations. I am confident, although because we're careful and conservative, I am not going to factor this into our ongoing numbers, but I am confident that if we make these changes, our economy will perform more strongly and that means more revenue and more prosperity.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, when it comes to your commitment today to go through with all your pledges, does that mean an affect similar to your pledge on superannuation, there will be no unexpected adverse changes when it comes to spending a la a commission of audit and major cuts there?

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TONY ABBOTT:

Well, I was asked about this the other day and I said that the public expect us to run an efficient and effective government. The public expect us to get value from the taxpayers’ dollar. They want us to be as careful with their dollars as they would be themselves. You at home, you don't waste your money and you don't want government to waste your money. So, if the commission of audit identifies ways of getting better value for the taxpayers' dollars, of course we will be happy to consider that. We won’t do anything that is contrary to our mandate.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, given that we have now had two economic statements in relatively short time with roughly the same figures, is there any need, if you win, for a future Coalition government to ask Treasury to look again as was reported today that you might want them to change their assumptions on some factors?

TONY ABBOTT:

We want to get the best possible advice. I absolutely respect the professionalism of the Treasury. I totally respect the professionalism of the Treasury. It is unfortunate though that under this Government the figures, the forecasts, the costings have been consistently unreliable. Now, we want everyone to lift their game and I am determined that as far as I am concerned, at every level, Government will lift its game and I am going to lift the Prime Ministerial game by not making promises that I can't keep and absolutely keeping the promises that I make.

QUESTION:

On the question - can we just clear up once and for all, for all Australians the question of the GST because there is some confusion? We know that you are taking the tax as part of a tax review but you said in the debate that there won't be an increase in the GST. Christopher Pyne said categorically last night there would be no increase in the GST under an Abbott government. That seems to imply more than one term. Which is it? Is it a Julia Gillard no GST under the government I lead, we may consider it, we may not, what can we expect?

TONY ABBOTT:

Let me be as categoric as I can, the GST won't change, full stop, end of story….

QUESTION:

Under a government I lead?

TONY ABBOTT:

Let me repeat it - the GST won't change, full stop, end of story. Again, this is just a pathetic scare from a Labor Party which has no record to defend and nothing to say.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, aren't you giving the business community then false hope by keeping the GST in your review of taxation?

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TONY ABBOTT:

As I said, the GST isn't going to change. Full stop, end of story. It can't change without all the states and territories agreeing.

QUESTION:

So, why bother keeping it in the review?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, look, I don't know what people are going to raise in the review. I just don't. All sorts of things will be put forward by all sorts of people. I am telling you the GST won't change. It is not going to change, full stop end of story.

QUESTION:

To clear up the confusion, would you like to take the opportunity to take it out of the review? Why keep it in? Why not take it out?

TONY ABBOTT:

Let's not play these sorts of games. We all know that this is a desperate Labor Party that is running around trying to scare the bejeezus out of people. Well, look Mr Rudd, grow up, grow up, get real. The GST is not going to change, full stop, end of story. It can't change. It can’t change unless the states and territories all agree, including the Labor states.

QUESTION:

Are there other taxes that could change as a result of your review, like negative gearing for instance, and have you disciplined Mr Randall for his contribution today?

TONY ABBOTT:

Look, I have been trying to call Mr Randall, but there is no mobile phone reception up here. Until we win government and put our mobile phone black spot programme into place, it will be difficult to call people from places like this. But he knows what he said was wrong. I will keep my commitments. We will do exactly what we say we will do. I am not going to be a Prime Minister like Mr Rudd, like Ms Gillard who makes a whole lot of promises before an election to win votes and then abandons them afterwards.

QUESTION:

Will he be disciplined? You have said you have tried to call him but will he be disciplined?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, he knows that he has done wrong.

QUESTION:

He is not exactly a first time offender….

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TONY ABBOTT:

Look, he is one of the colourful cast of characters that make up the Coalition. We are not an identikit political party. We aren’t full of superannuated union hacks and has-been union officials. We have a party room which is full of people who represent the length and breadth and diversity of our country and occasionally, some of them say things that are wrong.

QUESTION:

Can I ask about asylum seekers. Your colleagues have expressed concerns about the movement of asylum seekers from PNG through the Torres Strait, given that you have said you will salvage what you can of Labor's PNG solution, how will you ensure that this doesn't continue to occur?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, what the movement of asylum seekers, or illegal boat people, through the Torres Strait shows, is that on its own, the PNG deal is not going to be effective. All it does is open a new front for the people smugglers. That is all it does on its own. Now, we will certainly salvage what we can from it. We think it is very important to make the best possible use of Manus Island. Let's face it, it was the Howard Government that invented Manus Island as a boat people processing centre. So, I am all in favour of offshore processing. No one is more in favour of processing than I am and I have consistently supported offshore processing, unlike Mr Rudd who yet again has been Mr Flip-Flop on this as he has been on everything else.

So, we will make the most of all of the opportunities that our friends and neighbours provide us but know this - to stop the boats you have got to put a series of strong measures in place. Yes, there has to be vigorous offshore processing at places like Nauru and Manus. Yes, there has got to be temporary protection visas to deny the people smugglers a product to sell. Yes, we have to cooperate strongly with our friends and neighbours such as Indonesia and Sri Lanka, but in the end we have got to demonstrate the will that shows that our borders are secure. That means the willingness to turn boats around when it is safe to do so. This is something that Mr Rudd said he would do before the 07 election. He claims he has just implemented a mandate, well he has forgotten what he said before the 07 election which was - we will turn them round - and he never has. What Mr Rudd hasn’t been man enough to do the Coalition is tough enough to do.

Thank you.

[ends]