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Transcript of joint doorstop interview: Parliament House, Canberra: 23 July 2013: royal baby; Kevin Rudd's border protection failures; paid parental leave; Newspoll



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JOH

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

23 July 2013

TRANSCRIPT OF THE HON. TONY ABBOTT MHR JOINT DOORSTOP INTERVIEW WITH THE HON. JULIE BISHOP MHR, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE FEDERAL OPPOSITION, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS & TRADE,

PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA

Subjects: Royal Baby; Kevin Rudd’s border protection failures; paid parental leave; Newspoll.

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

TONY ABBOTT:

It’s good to be here with Julie Bishop, the Shadow Foreign Minister. We’ve got a bit to say about some issues relating to PNG but before we do, I just want to say on behalf of the Coalition, and I am sure adding to the sentiments of the Australian people generally, congratulations, heartiest congratulations to Prince William and Kate on the birth of the royal Prince. The birth of a child is a marvellous thing for any family. I remember how excited Margie and I were at the birth of all our children and when a royal baby is born, families everywhere are reminded of the joy of parenthood, they are reminded of the joy that children bring into our lives. So, congratulations again to Prince William and to Kate, congratulations to Prince Charles and to Camilla and congratulations to the Queen and Prince Philip. I am sure they are the world's proudest great grandparents this day.

If I may now slightly change tone and subject. Look, this deal with PNG gets murkier and murkier by the day. By the day it gets leakier and leakier. Two particular issues - the deal doesn't say what Mr Rudd said it meant. It does not say that everyone who comes to Australia illegally by boat will go to PNG and it does not say that everyone who goes to PNG will never come to Australia. It doesn't even mean, so it seems, that the people arriving now are going to go to PNG any time soon. Since Mr Rudd announced this deal on Friday night, several hundred people have come illegally by boat, not a single one of them has so far gone to Manus Island. If Mr Rudd is serious about intimidating the people smugglers and their customers, people have got to be leaving for Manus Island now. People have got to be leaving for Manus Island now and it is absolutely clear that no-one is going to Manus any time soon which is why I say that whatever the merits in any arrangements that this Government enters into, you simply can’t trust them to put it into practice.

The other point I want to make is that it is now pretty clear, based on statements made by Prime Minister O'Neill in PNG, that not only has this Government subcontracted out to people smugglers the management of our refugee and humanitarian immigration programme but they have subcontracted out to PNG the management of our aid program at least in that country. Australian aid to PNG used to be decided, yes, in consultation and in cooperation with the PNG Government, but ultimately by Australia. Now it seems we are basically just handing over cash to the PNG Government. Australian aid should never be a free gift to a foreign Government. I want to repeat that. Australian aid should never be a free gift to a foreign

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Government. We should never be making simple cash advances to a foreign Government. Our aid should be spent on an accountable basis, on a careful prudent basis. It has got to go to exactly the right recipients. That is why we should manage our aid programme rather than simply give cash to a foreign Government. That is what it seems Mr Rudd has agreed to do in order to secure the agreement of PNG to his latest boat people announcements and I call on Mr Rudd to come clean on exactly what he has done.

Now, I am going to ask Julie who obviously has a lot more to say on this subject to add to my remarks.

JULIE BISHOP:

Thanks Tony. The familiar pattern is emerging once more. Kevin Rudd has made a big announcement and then before the paint is dry he moves on leaving others to flesh out the detail but in fact there are so many unanswered questions, we are left with a great deal of uncertainty and I suspect chaos and we’ve seen this before with Kevin Rudd's big announcements that then unravel after a short while.

The fact is the Government has not given Government has not given any indication of how much this new announcement is going to cost the Australian taxpayer, in terms of the support for people who arrive by boat. For how long Australia will be paying support for these people in Papua New Guinea, how much time they will be spending in Australia and the cost overall to the Australian taxpayer. It is completely open-ended. I am deeply concerned about the foreign aid budget to Papua New Guinea.

There is a document that exists, a partnership for development agreement between the Government of Australia and the Government of Papua New Guinea. It was signed on the 20th of August in 2008 by Kevin Rudd on behalf of the Australian Government. This comprehensive document sets out a framework for the joint management of our foreign aid budget for Papua New Guinea. It is currently half a billion dollars. That is $500 million of Australian taxpayers’ money, provided to PNG each year for foreign aid and this document sets out how it will be jointly managed.

There are obligations on the part of the Australian Government and obligations on the part of the PNG Government. Accountability, transparency, governance, all these issues are set out in detail in this document.

Yet Prime Minister O'Neill has claimed and certainly believes that Kevin Rudd has agreed to hand over total control of the entire PNG aid budget from Australia to PNG. Absolute and total control to Papua New Guinea. So what is the status of this document which set out joint management of the aid budget?

Prime Minister O'Neill has also indicated that he expects this to be a bonanza for Papua New Guinea. He has spoken of new roads, new infrastructure, new schools, new hospitals, a massive amount of infrastructure and Kevin Rudd has indicated - but he hasn't been clear about this - that there may well be additional funds to Papua New Guinea in addition to the half a billion dollars that he is already provided by way of aid.

So my questions to the Prime Minister are these. What is the status of this document? What has happened to the joint management of our aid budget? What are the obligations on Australia? What are the obligations on Papua New Guinea to jointly manage the $500 million of Australian taxpayers’ money? If there are to be additional funds - and these are in addition to all the funds in relation to the asylum seeker issue - if there are to be additional funds, in addition to the $500 million, where are those funds coming from? Are those funds coming out of the aid budget, in other words, away from other programmes to other countries? Where is this money coming from?

In relation to the half a billion dollars that is provided to PNG which is estimated to be $507 million next year, how is that money to be allocated and what say does the Australian Government have over issues such as accountability, governance and transparency?

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Clearly, Prime Minister O'Neill believes that Kevin Rudd has walked away from any responsibility on behalf of the Australian taxpayer for that half a billion dollars of Australian taxpayer funds. The Prime Minister must answer these questions now and particularly tell us the status of this agreement that he signed with Papua New Guinea in 2008.

QUESTION:

So is the more autonomy issue in terms of the aid budget a deal breaker for the Opposition?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well we are only too happy to cooperate with other countries to handle the boat people disaster that Mr Rudd has created but we understand that in the end this is Australia's problem and Australia has got to take the lead here. We can't entirely lead rely on the goodwill of others.

So, we are very happy to cooperate with PNG in the same way that the Howard Government cooperated with PNG. Very happy to do that but what we now know from the public statements of Prime Minister O’Neill in PNG as well as secure the agreement with PNG - or secure an arrangement with PNG - for more people to go to Manus if and when Manus is upgraded. There has been a relinquishment by the Australian Government of control over a half a billion dollars a year in aid money to PNG. Now, why didn’t Mr Rudd tell us this on Friday night? Why didn’t he? Yet another example of the slipperiness and the sneakiness of Mr Rudd, yet another example of the fact that you can never take what he says at face value. There is always fine print that he just doesn’t tell you about.

QUESTION:

What’s your concern about what PNG might do with the money if the agreement isn’t adhered to?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well I just make the basic point it is wrong in principle for Australian taxpayers’ money to be given to a foreign government as a free gift, as a simple cash grant with no accountability. It's just wrong in principle. And that doesn't matter whether the money is going to PNG or to Indonesia or to Fiji or to any other country that might warrant our help. And I'm all in favour of appropriate Australian assistance to PNG, but it's our taxpayers’ money. We need to make sure that it's spent responsibly and we need to make sure that ultimately, it's spent with accountability. And it won't be if what Mr O'Neill is saying is correct. The only accountability will be with the PNG Government, not with the Australian Government.

QUESTION:

That’s not right Mr Abbott. I’m just looking at what Mr O'Neill said and he says there is still AusAID oversight, that the priorities will be determined in discussions between his Government and the Australian Government, but that he believes that his Government will have a greater say on where the money is spent?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, what he said is that this money will now be spent by PNG in accordance with PNG's priorities. Now this is a dramatic change and as Julie has indicated, it's quite at variance with the detailed agreement which Mr Rudd signed with PNG back in 2008.

JULIE BISHOP:

Should the coalition be elected to government, we will put in place benchmarks, key performance indicators against which all our foreign aid money will be judged. And this arrangement that Mr Rudd has come to

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with Prime Minister O'Neill doesn't have in place any of those benchmarks, any of those key performance indicators that we would insist upon to ensure that Australian taxpayers' money is being spent effectively and efficiently in pursuance of goals that not only PNG wishes to pursue but that the Australian Government believes are appropriate. This is meant to be a joint exercise as set out in this document with joint obligations, joint accountability and transparency in governance on the part of PNG and none of that has been mentioned. And the fact is Prime Minister O’Neill says that he believes that PNG will have total control over the entire aid budget. They were his words.

QUESTION:

So, you would seek to renegotiate it rather than dump the deal?

TONY ABBOTT:

We just make the general point, I mean Mr Rudd needs to come clean. He needs to come clean. He needs to tell us exactly what changes he has now made on the run because it's always on the run - what changes he has made on the run to the detailed agreement that he himself signed with PNG back in 2008 to justify Prime Minister O'Neill's belief and claim that it's now entirely in the hands of PNG.

QUESTION:

When did Mr O’Neil make these comments?

TONY ABBOTT:

These are the comments that were reported in The Australian this morning.

JULIE BISHOP:

They were made in PNG on Monday.

QUESTION:

On a separate topic - paid parental leave. The Greens have pretty much embraced your policy as a few differences, but the principle and so forth. If you do win the election, can you see yourself sitting down and negotiating the passage of your legislation if Labor won't support it?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, if we do win the election, I expect the Parliament to respect the mandate and we'll have a clear mandate to implement not anyone else's policy, but our policy on this matter. The point I’d like to make though Phil is that when it comes to the fundamental principle that paid parental leave should be paid at someone's real salary, real wage, rather than simply at a welfare amount, the Labor Party is now on its own. We don't agree with them. The Greens don't agree with them. Much of the union movement doesn't agree with them and I challenge Minister Macklin and Prime Minister Rudd to justify why their staff who go on parental leave should be paid at their real wage but the shop assistants and the factory workers only get paid at a welfare wage.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, on the issue of mandate, you would have noticed that Chris Bowen last week was saying that should Labor win the election, they would claim a mandate to move earlier to a floating carbon price. Now you're claiming that you would be asking or claiming a mandate should you win on scrapping the carbon tax. Are you willing to trade mandates and respect their mandate if you respect theirs?

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TONY ABBOTT:

I'm not really in the business of trying to negotiate now post-election outcomes, I'm in the business of trying to win an election and I'm just focusing on that.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, you’ve previously described Kevin Rudd as the people smugglers’ best friend. Right at the moment, he’s obviously out of favour with them. By expressing doubts about this deal, are you not giving them an argument to give to their hapless clientele?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well Mark, I’m just looking at Mr Rudd’s record. I’m just looking at this Government’s record. Everything they have announced on this issue has turned out to fail. Everything that they've announced on this issue has turned out to be less than it seemed at first. The East Timor solution, it fell over, the Malaysia deal was ruled to be illegal by the High Court. The initial deals with PNG over Manus and with Nauru, were never properly executed. For instance the first time this Government announced that illegal arrivals by boat were going to be sent to Nauru or Manus, less than one in 20 of these illegal arrivals were sent there. The test of whether Mr Rudd is fair dinkum is clear. Will every single illegal arrival by boat from Friday end up in Manus and will they be sent now? Will they be sent within 24 or 48 hours of arriving in this country? Now, if Mr Rudd wants to make a difference, he's got to actually show a bit of will. He's got to actually show a bit of steel. They're already making excuses for themselves, saying that the first people will start to go in a few weeks' time. Well, that is yet another deadline that this government will miss.

QUESTION:

In regard to your foreign aid policy, if a country including PNG doesn't agree to your KPIs, they don't get the money?

JULIE BISHOP:

This is always a matter of negotiation and consultation and that's what is set out in this agreement. We have these development agreements with other countries and it's as a result of a lot of hard work and effort over a long period of time, negotiating over priorities, over Millennium Development goals, the achievement outcomes. But Kevin Rudd seems the achievement of to have trashed all of that in just one announcement on Friday. This whole document and all the work that underpins it, the negotiations over a period of time, the consultations, the governance principles, the accountability, the transparency, all gone. And he needs to answer, what replaces this?

QUESTION:

Will you be prepared to sit down with PNG and negotiate a level of control over that aid money?

JULIE BISHOP:

But that's what happens now. You discuss and jointly agree the amount.

QUESTION:

Isn’t that what’s happened here though?

JULIE BISHOP:

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Not at all. According to Prime Minister O'Neill, and I can reassure you, this is the understanding that he had on Friday as well. According to Prime Minister O'Neill, he, the Papua New Guinea Government, now has total control over the entire aid budget. They might talk about oversight of the projects down the track, but in terms of...

QUESTION:

What precisely did he tell you?

JULIE BISHOP:

Precisely what he said to the PNG people on Monday. That they have control over the entire aid budget in so far as it relates to PNG.

QUESTION:

So if you are elected, will you pull out of the deal with PNG on this? The original document?

JULIE BISHOP:

Well, we don’t know what deal is. Mr Rudd must tell us the status of this signed agreement between the Australian Government and the Papua New Guinean Government. What is the status of this? You can go and have a look at it. It's got all of these frameworks for accountability and performance and the like. Very, very detailed document. What is the status of this? What's the current arrangement? How is it that Prime Minister O'Neill can say that PNG now has total control over the entire Australian aid budget?

QUESTION:

Did he use the words precisely “total control”?

JULIE BISHOP:

Exactly what he said in PNG on Monday.

QUESTION:

Could he be spinning his people a line like politicians sometimes use to sell something…?

JULIE BISHOP:

That’s right. Prime Minister Rudd must come clean with the Australian people. This is half a billion dollars of Australian taxpayers’ money, ok? $500 million this year. So Mr Rudd, if there's any doubt, Mr Rudd must come clean and say the status of the management of half a billion dollars of Australian taxpayers' money in relation to PNG.

QUESTION:

Do you think Kevin Rudd's honeymoon is over? The Australian people have tasted it and don't like the taste?

TONY ABBOTT:

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Look, you know, the thing about Kevin Rudd, Lane, is that he's all talk and no action. He's all announcement and no delivery. We've seen a lot of announcements from Mr Rudd over the last few weeks but the carbon tax is still there. The boats keep coming. The faceless men are still in charge. The only concrete change that we have seen since Mr Rudd has become Prime Minister again is the fringe benefits tax announcement on the run which has resulted in hundreds of people losing their jobs. This is the only real change that we've seen, hundreds of people losing their jobs because he's the same old Mr Rudd. The same person who gave us the mining tax disaster has now inflicted the mining tax mark two on us with these fringe benefits tax changes which are going to cost jobs and kill economic activity.

So look, in the end, Lane, my judgment is that the Australian people had a good look at him last time, they were preparing to vote him out of office when the faceless men pre-empted them and put Julia Gillard there. Yes, there may have been a bit of sympathy over the manner of his brutal political execution the first time round but I think they're seeing more and more that it's the same Kevin Rudd and it's the same Labor Party.

Thanks.

[ends]