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Transcript of interview with Hugh Riminton: Meet the Press: 1 April 2012: Carbon pricing; Budget; National Disability Insurance Scheme; Australian Defence Force; Child care rebate; Foreign aid; Asylum seekers; Afghanistan



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PRIME MINISTER TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW WITH HUGH RIMINTON MEET THE PRESS 1 APRIL 2012

E & O E - PROOF ONLY

Subjects: Carbon pricing; Budget; National Disability Insurance Scheme; Australian Defence Force; Child care rebate; Foreign aid; Asylum seekers; Afghanistan

HOST: Welcome back to the program, Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Good morning.

PM: Good morning Hugh.

HOST: Now in Korea, as the news was coming in from Queensland and the latest Newspoll was also coming in, you said your job was “to listen and to lead.” As you listen, what now are you hearing across Australia?

PM: Well, right across our nation I think people are anxious about the changes in the world we are living through. We came through the global financial crisis and whilst we protected Australians from the worst, people knew that something big in the world had changed. And then they look at the news, particularly from Europe and they see more doom and gloom and then they look in our own economy and whilst they see huge opportunities with mining regions jumping ahead and people going there for work, they also see manufacturing under pressure and job losses.

So I think that all means that people are anxious and they want to know what the future is going to hold. They’re right to be asking that question and it’s my job to be leading the nation during this time and to be saying to the nation that despite current pressures, I am incredibly optimistic that the best days of our nation are in front of it. We’ve got to make the right decisions now to seize the opportunities of the future but if we do that, then we will be more prosperous and we can be fairer in the future we will live through together.

HOST: So are you suggesting that the hostility towards Labor at the moment is really just a function of a general anxiety - that it is nothing to do with Labor itself?

PM: You have invited me to reflect on how people are feeling and I do think that people know something big has changed in the world and they want a clear path for the future and it is my job to be explaining that path for the future. Of course, as people feel that anxiety we are challenging them to say, "You don’t shape that future by simply sitting and standing still, you do not shape that future by not engaging in change yourself, you have to get out and engage in change" and we are asking the nation to make some big changes, like getting our economy ready for a clean energy future which is what carbon pricing is about.

But anybody who is pretending to people in our nation or indeed around the world, that the answer to today's anxiety is to pretend that we can stand still, isn’t telling you the truth. We have got to overcome today's anxiety by moving forward confidently to shape that future together and to make sure that that future is a time when we realise all the opportunities of the spectacular growth in our region, all of the jobs and prosperity that will flow with it - all of the potential of the new technology that is coming like the National Broadband Network and all of the Australian potential to shape that future as a future of fairness as we take our great Aussie values of a fair go with us.

HOST: So if you are reading a sense of anxiety across the land, how much is the Carbon Tax, which is due to come in from 1 July, exacerbating that anxiety?

PM: Look, I think the kind of hyper-partisanship we are seeing in the modern political debate does feed the anxiety. People have been force-fed a diet now from the Opposition, force-fed for many months a diet of completely outlandish scare campaigns about what carbon pricing is going to mean. So people have been told it’s going to mean huge job losses where of course, employment is going to grow. They have been told it is going to mean huge price increases where of course, we know that price increases will be less than 1% and all of that has obscured the fact that people are getting money to assist them, tax cuts, family payment increases, pension increases.

I mean, I know what it’s like to grow up in a family - my parents are migrants, they worked incredibly hard. I know what it’s like to be in a family where people puzzle over the bills and worry about how you are going to get those bills paid and as we engage in this time of change for a clean energy future, I am not going to leave working families behind, which is why we are providing them with money through tax cuts, pension increase and family payment increases to help them through.

HOST: You mentioned the Opposition but it’s not just the Opposition is it? We are now pretty familiar with the view of the former head of the Future Fund, retiring head of the Future Fund David Murray. Here is what he said on Friday.

DAVID MURRAY: It is the worst piece of economic reform I have ever seen in my life in this country.

HOST: That’s pretty damning. Now the point has been made that he has been somewhat sceptical about the link between carbon dioxide and global warming but he is arguing that as an economist, that it is economically a poor piece of policy - and he is not alone. There are others who support the science in the business world who have been enthusiastic and also very negative about the economic impacts and efficacy of this piece of legislation. Is there nothing in this that rings any warning bells to you, this late in the day?

PM: The most efficient thing we can do to tackle carbon pollution - and I do believe climate change is real, I accept the science - we have to live and work in a way that generates less carbon pollution. The most efficient way of doing that is by putting a price on carbon pollution.

Now I'm saying that to you - when John Howard was Prime Minister he could have come on this show and said exactly the same words to you, that a price on carbon, a market-based mechanism to get carbon pollution reduced is the best way that our nation can tackle this problem and that is what is going to happen from 1 July.

HOST: The only way this legislation can stick is for you to win the next election because Tony Abbott has made plain that he will get rid of it. Do you believe you can win the next election with this piece of legislation or is this the millstone that is going to end Labor?

PM: I certainly believe every election is there to be won and we will go to 2013, saying the nation faces an incredibly clear choice, a very stark choice. Hugh, there has been a lot of fashionable commentary in modern politics that the choice between the two political parties is a bit of a Tweedledum, Tweedledee choice. Well at this time in our nation's history, nothing could be further from the truth.

I will go to the 2013 election saying we can shape the future together to make sure that it is a prosperous future where we all get to share its benefits. Mr Abbott will go to that election inviting people to stand still, pretend that the future is just not going to happen and he is going to go to that election effectively saying, the benefits Labor wants to provide to you I want to take away and give to a few, to a few billionaires.

He will go to that election carrying a candle for a privileged few rather than the vast majority of the Australian people. And when it specifically comes to carbon pricing, Hugh, no-one is really going to believe Mr Abbott at the 2013 election in my view. By that time carbon pricing would have started, our economy would have started the adjustment. People would have got the money in their hands and Mr Abbott I think, will find it very difficult indeed to pretend to the Australian people that he is seriously going to dismantle all that. I think this chest-beating right now is going to prove to be incredibly hollow.

PANEL - SEGMENT 1

HOST: Welcome back, this is Meet the Press. Our guest is the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. Let’s introduce now our journos, Michelle Grattan from The Age, Greg Sheridan from The Australian. Good morning to both of you.

JOURNALISTS: Good morning.

GRATTAN: Prime Minister, can you - just turning to the budget, can you tell us if there are any areas which are quarantined from what the Treasurer has said will be pretty swingeing cuts?

PM: Michelle, I know it’s budget speculation season, it’s kind of started early this year and I'm not going to engage in speculation about individual items, but I can certainly say to you Michelle, that as we return the budget to surplus which is the right economic decision now to lock in confidence for the future, we’ll be taking our Labor values with us so as we do what we need to, to get the budget into surplus, we will be keeping frontline services, doctors, nurses, the kind of things that people want to see in the hospital system. We’ll be continuing to support jobs and we’ll be making sure too that those who need our support the most continue to get that support.

GRATTAN: Well if I can just tempt you a tiny bit - clearly the Government has been talking up the whole disability area and your Disability Insurance Scheme. Could we expect that maybe you will be doing more in the first years about that than we have previously been given to believe?

PM: Well, thank you for trying to tempt me, Michelle, but I'm going to give the same answer on budget speculation. But I am going to say to you too, I am passionately committed to seeing us as a nation doing better by people with a disability. I think it should dishearten all of us that right now in our country whether or not you get a decent package of care or not enough support depends on this cruel lottery about how you acquired your disability - whether you got it for example in a transport accident or at work or you were born with it or had a accident at home.

We can do better than that. We should do better than that, but I'm also going to be very clear - a National Disability Insurance Scheme is a very complicated thing to build. We are talking about a social reform at least as big as Medicare. As Prime Minister I believe using all of my Labor heritage and Labor values, that it’s Labor that can get these big things done and we’re continuing to work on a National Disability Insurance Scheme.

SHERIDAN: Prime Minister, your Government committed to a Defence Force structure in the 2009 White Paper -12 submarines, 100 joint strike fighters, three air warfare destroyers, an army of 30,000. It also made some funding commitments, which it said, and this was after the GFC, and it said these were essential to achieve that.

In the last budget money was ripped away from Defence and all the indications are the same will happen with this budget. Have you in effect, abandoned the White Paper force structure and if that is the case, shouldn't you tell the Australian people what our Defence Force structure will be?

PM: Greg, thank you for that question. Once again, like I responded to Michelle, I'm not going to get swept up in budget speculation on any item in the budget. What I can say to you about defence is we remain committed to the core capabilities that were identified in the White Paper and indeed, we’ve been working on the acquisition of those core capabilities. Around $6 billion of acquisition decisions have been made and are in progress.

You would be aware, too, that there are some issues with capabilities like the Joint Strike Fighter which aren’t anything to do with Australian Government decisions, but are to do with the US approach to Defence during its budget difficulties and the fact that that project has been slowed and of course, our ability to access joint strike fighters depends on when the Americans are making them and how they are going about that major procurement project.

GRATTAN: Could I just ask you about childcare - I think the indications have been the Government is going to protect childcare in its decisions. But the Government has also been very critical of Tony Abbott's idea about the possibility of including nannies in the childcare scheme - what is wrong with having a Productivity

Commission inquiry about this? Because after all they are a very hard-headed group and if it is not going to fly they will say so.

PM: Michelle, I'm very soft-hearted if you like, when it comes to childcare. I'm hard-headed in the sense I know it is a participation measure, it helps women in particular get to work. But we have also wanted to benefit families because we know what a cost of living pressure childcare fees have been, so we have instituted a scheme that has benefited 780,000 families around the nation. We have instituted a scheme that has increased the childcare rebate from 30% to 50% and we’re getting the money to people fortnightly-

HOST: But Prime Minister, the question is about the suggestion of a Productivity Commission inquiry into the nannies.

JULIA GILLARD: And I'm happy to come to that right now, Hugh. I do want to just make the point that we are getting money into the hands of people quickly, fortnightly. They used to wait for up to 18 months.

Now, my criticism of the Opposition on all of this is first and foremost, it’s quite clear from yesterday's newspapers they are nowhere near serious. This is all a bit of a fig leaf to start a debate about childcare, to pretend that they are interested in it - presumably to try to detract from their track record in Government. But you can see Liberal sources in the newspaper saying we are not serious, we are never going to do it, and then when Tony Abbott has been pressed on the figures he says, well, we will have to rip childcare money off someone to make this $2 billion available. Well, who is going to bear that cut? So really, this is all a political game from the Opposition while we are getting on the job of making childcare more accessible and more affordable for Australian families.

SHERIDAN: Prime Minister, another big money commitment in the foreign field was aid. Kevin Rudd was very committed to raising the foreign aid budget to 5% of gross national product by 2015. It is already $5 billion and is going out quicker than we know how to spend it properly. Are you committed to keeping this aid increase going so that by 2015, it will be in excess of $8 billion a year?

PM: The Government is committed to the millennium development goals. Once again, Greg, you are inviting me to engage in individual items of speculation about expenditure and I'm not going to do it - even at the risk of seeing another stinging Greg Sheridan column at some point, so I won’t be doing that. On how important aid expenditure is, I think we are making a difference in many parts of the world - whether it is alleviating poverty experienced by children, whether it’s building capability for better education, whether it’s addressing challenges like getting vaccines in the arms of kids so that they don’t die of preventable diseases. So there is a lot to be proud of in our current aid program.

PANEL - SEGMENT 2

HOST: Welcome back. The Prime Minister is our guest. Prime Minister, we just heard that play-off of Germaine Greer, the Tony Abbott. I fervently would hope that gender is not an issue in national politics but it seems that it is. Tony Abbott has expressed his regrets about his comments. Is that good enough for you?

PM: Tony Abbott's words are matter for Mr Abbott.

HOST: You do not think he should say sorry, I mean - climbing in as he did on that point?

PM: Hugh, I'm not going to add to what I have just said.

SHERIDAN: Prime Minister, could I ask you about the budget surplus. The deficit looks as though it’s going to be $37 billion now. To get into your surplus you are going to have to take $40 billion out of the economy. Isn't there a risk that to fulfil the surplus commitment, you might actually tip this economy back into recession?

PM: Well, Greg, our economy didn’t go into recession as a result of what the Government did to protect Australian jobs during the global financial crisis. And we’ll keep protecting Australian jobs as we work our way through the big structural adjustments in our economy and we build the economy we will need for the future.

For this budget, we have got an economic goal of bringing the budget to surplus because our economy will be returning to around trend growth and so having a surplus is the right thing to do when you have got that kind of growth. But importantly in this changed world in which we live, this post-GFC world, the best way we can lock in confidence about the future and send a message to the world about the Australian economy is to deliver a budget surplus.

HOST: But you spent us out of the GFC. You went into debt to get us out of the GFC. The task now is to not spend - to actually save money. Is there not, as Greg asked, the risk of a recession being brought down upon Australia because of what you say, is an economic imperative?

PM: No, there’s not, Hugh and to be talking in that language is to completely misunderstand what is happening in the Australian economy today. We’ve got an economy that has got turbo-charged parts of it. More than $400 billion of investment in the resources pipeline. We have also got an economy that is showing signs of strain from the high Australian dollar putting pressure on manufacturing and tourism and industries like that, that are, you know, very exposed to fluctuation movements in our currency. But at this time, we are seeing our economy in a period of change - structurally adjusting, getting used to a higher currency, getting itself ready to seize the benefits that will come down the track during this century of Asian growth and we are working today to make the right decisions to seize the benefits of this century of Asian growth. So as your economy grows in this way, locking in a budget surplus and all the confidence that comes with it is the right thing to do.

GRATTAN: Ms Gillard, could I ask you about a quite critical report that came down on Friday from a parliamentary inquiry on detention policy which said no-one should be in detention for more than 90 days, except on security grounds and did recommend an independent system for assessing adverse security findings. What do you take from that report and also, do you have any more ideas on how you can deal with the whole border security issue, now that the Malaysian solution is not possible?

PM: We will respond to the parliamentary inquiry as we usually do. We have worked hard to make sure that when we do detain people - and I do support mandatory detention of people who arrive unauthorised by boat - so when we do detain people, that we get about processing claims as quickly as possible and that we have detention conditions which are acceptable. We have worked hard on that.

GRATTAN: Are you satisfied with the results though? Do you think you have done enough?

PM: We have done a lot. Of course, I will look at the parliamentary report and we will respond to it in due course. But we have done a lot and the situation is not the same as when we came to Government, where you could see children in high-security detention for endless amounts of time. That isn’t happening as a result of the changes that we have brought.

On the future for asylum seeker policy, Michelle - I little before I talked to Hugh a little bit about, hyper-partisanship about the way in which the Opposition just says “no” to everything. Well we are in a position where Tony Abbott has said “no” to offshore processing, which means he has effectively said “yes” to there being more boats. So really, for Mr Abbott, it is for him to explain how he can possibly pretend to the Australian people he is opposed to boats arriving on our shore when he has taken this position.

SHERIDAN: Prime Minister, one question on foreign policy - we have seen a colossal drop in public support for the US commitment in Afghanistan. We are the second-largest provider of military training to Pakistan in the world after the United States. It’s very clear that Pakistani intelligence services are helping the Taliban and the Haqqani network kill Australian soldiers. Are you happy with that?

PM: We certainly know that as we work towards a solution in Afghanistan and we continue our training mission and acquit our mission and transition in Uruzgan province that there are issues about Pakistan and its involvement. Of course we know that, Greg. At the highest levels we are working to make our position clear. We do think the training that we provide of military offices is an important contribution -

HOST: Prime Minister, I do apologise - we are going to have to wrap it up. We are hard out of time. Thank you very much for joining us today, also to our panel.

[ENDS]