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Transcript of interview with Michael Brissenden: ABC AM: 22 March 2016: ABCC; double dissolution; tax reform; Tony Abbott; the Budget



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UNCLASSIFIED

PRIME MINISTER

THE HON. MALCOLM TURNBULL MP

TRANSCRIPT

22 March 2016

Interview with Michael Brissenden, ABC AM

E&OE…

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

I’m joined live in our Sydney studio by the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Prime Minister, welcome to the program.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah good morning.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

Well let’s look first at the ABCC - the trigger for your double dissolution. There are conflicting reports about how effective it was but ABS figures from December last year show overall industrial disputes diminishing and days lost due to industrial disputes down considerably from

2012 which was when the ABCC was dissolved. So why do we need it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, actually industrial disputes are higher and what is most disturbing is that nearly 70 per cent of them were in the construction sector. There are 100 officials of the CFMEU and members of the CFMEU before the courts at the moment with over a thousand different separate charges relating to breaches of the industrial law.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

Ok but the ABS figures…

PRIME MINISTER:

In late last year… just let me go on, in late last year, one Federal Court judge described the CFMEU as the worst recidivist, i.e. repeat offender, in the history of the common law. So the, you know, the Heydon Royal Commission, the evidence is overwhelming that there is a culture of lawlessness in the construction sector and that diminishes productivity.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

I don't think anybody would disagree with that but deal with that corruption and lawlessness within the union. I mean, the ABCC is not a corruption watchdog is it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Absolutely - well, it absolutely is.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

Well it’s an industry watchdog.

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s an industry watchdog

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

Yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

And I might say that this is a very important point. The reforms that we are trying to get through the Senate actually are the beneficiaries of it, obviously, are all Australians who benefit from a more efficient, productive construction sector and more transparent and accountable trade unions. But the biggest direct beneficiaries are actually the members of those unions and the people that work in those industries. You see, a union movement that is more transparent and accountable, that doesn't receive secret commissions from employers like the AWU did in respect of the Cleanevent contracts that you know that was the subject of so much commentary in the royal commission, are unions that don’t do that, that actually are accountable, transparent, there are no conflicts of interest. They’re more likely to attract members. I mean union membership is declining and one of the reasons it’s declining is because people don't have confidence in the unions. Our laws will improve the standing, the reputation, the - clearly - the integrity of unions and that's why it’s a key building block in our economic plan. I mean every..

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

Sure, sure, sure.

PRIME MINISTER:

We have a large, comprehensive economic plan and we’re putting one block into place after another and ensuring that we have an efficient construction sector, employs a million people, an efficient and transparent union movement. This is a key part of our economic agenda.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

Ok. ABS figures to one side, which you know I mean they do show that in 2012, over 100 days, nearly 120 days were lost to strikes and I think in December 2015, it was around 20, 22...

PRIME MINISTER:

Can I just make a point, this is a small point but it’s an important one to make. The ABS figures on industrial disputes and this is acknowledged in the Productivity Commission's report, in fact, highlighted by them, they do not record a lot of other industrial disruptions such as work-to-rule, go-slows and so forth, so there is a lot of - nobody, no-one with any familiarity, Michael, of the construction sector could say that this is not a sector that is plagued by disputation, by thuggery, by standover, by bad practices and that's why you need a tough cop on the beat and frankly, if we succeed in this, I tell you what, this is what I’ll predict: there will be more investment, more infrastructure, more housing, more construction and more jobs in construction and it will add more positively to our economic growth and jobs in the future.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

It seems pretty clear you’re not going to get this passed through the Senate. You heard what Jacqui Lambie said there, a double dissolution does seem inevitable but have you spoken to any of the crossbenchers in the last 24 hours?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’ve spoken to one and I’ve spoken to Bob Day but..

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

Who supported it anyway, didn't he?

PRIME MINISTER:

He did. Look, Bob is listened to by the other crossbenchers. I’ve discussed this matter with them many times and I no doubt will do so again but you see, we thought, we hoped that after the Heydon Royal Commission's findings came down and they were so, so compelling, so clear that

this type of legislation was required and recommended, we hoped that that would persuade the

crossbenchers to support these bills but regrettably, they seem to be even also supportive of the bills this year than they were last year.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

OK, let's assume as everybody does we’re heading to a double dissolution election on July the 2nd.

PRIME MINISTER:

You’re free to assume that.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

Presumably the Budget will be a significant part of your election platform but on tax policy there’s not much substantive left on the table now is there? I mean there’s no changes to negative gearing, there’s no changes to GST, there may be some changes to superannuation tax

concessions but it seems no personal income tax cuts. So what room have you got left to deliver a platform substantially different from the one you’ve inherited from Tony Abbott?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well in terms of tax there will be important changes to tax but you’ll have to wait til May the 3rd for the Budget.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

Okay, so the, I mean will there be company tax cuts for instance?

PRIME MINISTER:

You’ll have to wait until the Budget Michael. As I was saying on your…

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

Sure.

PRIME MINISTER:

On 7.30 Report last night, I know a lot of journalists like politicians to think aloud and constantly front-run and pre-brief everything that they’re doing. My strong belief is that government is best managed when ministers and cabinets make decisions carefully, taking all the issues into account, carefully, confidentially and when a decision is made, announce it and of course the big economic tax statement of any government is the budget and it will be on the 3rd of May which is not far away.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

OK. So you will deliver something substantially different from the policy platform you've inherited from Tony Abbott, so Tony Abbott’s not right when he says you’re going to run to the election fundamentally on the record of the Abbott Government?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well he’s not right in the sense that the, yes there is continuity, you've got to remember I was a part of the Abbott Government and there are many policies, including for example registered organisations and ABCC that I've had strong views about and contributed to in terms of particularly the Registered Organisations legislation back when we were discussing this type of thing in opposition but the, you know, the bottom line is there is continuity and there is change and there are many policies that have been announced and many initiatives that have been undertaken that were either not policies or not being pursued by Mr Abbott. I mean Senate voting reform is one I mean that is now done, those reforms are part of the law of the land. Media law reform, Section 46, that had been kicked into the long grass, it has now been - we've committed to changing it, to better protect small business. Innovation - there was not a comprehensive innovation agenda under the Abbott Government, there is now under the Turnbull Government.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

Ok. On substantive tax policy, though, as you say we’ll wait until the Budget, clearly we’re not going to get too many details before then and you did say you needed time to work things through but it is true that you have delivered mixed messages on some fundamental tax positions over the last few months haven't you that perhaps have confused people about where you stand?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I'm not sure what you mean by that but the..

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

Well we had a discussion about the GST for instance which went backwards and forwards.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well exactly Michael. Of course, that was the whole point, to have a discussion about these things. You see, this is where politicians and governments can be caught in a cleft stick. On the one hand everyone says we want to have an open debate and discuss policies and their merits and then when we do do that, the journalists and political journalists like yourself then say oh you've

got to commit, this means you’re going to do this, this means you’re going to do that. The reality is we have had a very good discussion about the GST, we looked at it very carefully and we came to the view which I'm sure is correct, that by the time, if you were to increase the GST, by the time you ensure that people on lower incomes are not worse off which is obviously essential

from a fairness point of view, once you've achieved that, the level of compensation is so high that the amount of money left to provide tax relief is relatively small and you've got to remember that the so-called GST tax mix switch is essentially saying to people we’ll increase the GST, that reduces your purchasing power and then we give money back in tax.

Well you say you don’t want to go back into it but the point is you either want to have a discussion. I’ve explained to you why we’re not moving on the GST. It’s not because of politics, it is because of economics. Now

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

It’s fair to say though, isn’t it…

PRIME MINISTER:

Now what I have is a very clear economic plan to ensure that we continue successfully to transition from an economy driven by a mining construction boom to one that is more diverse. Innovation is a big part of it, investment is a big part of it, ensuring that we have a construction sector where the rule of law prevails is also a big part of it.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

It is fair to say though isn't it that there is a perception around that, among the public, that your Government at this stage isn't that much different from the Abbott government. Many expected your focus to be different and fundamentally it hasn't been, up to this point?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Michael I disagree with that. There is continuity and there is change and there are many areas of change.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

Have you spent too much time keeping the fringe on the right of your party happy though?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I look really these are matters for your editorial not for me to respond to.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

Well they’re matters for the voting public too I think. They expected to see some different policies. I think one of the problems is people know who Tony Abbott is; people have started to wonder who Malcolm Turnbull is?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well again this is all part of your, I think I've been a public figure for many decades, I don't think anyone’s got any doubt who I am.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

Right and your policies on climate change and some of the other issues that people I think thought you would champion but you haven’t yet, you will at some point?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well our policy on climate change is clear.

We are committed to the cuts in emissions that we, as other countries did, committed to at Paris and we will deliver them.

That is, you know, that is our - there are obviously a whole lot of measures, there’s a renewable energy target, you know there is an Emissions Reduction Fund and so forth, but you know at the end of the day they are just means to an end.

The critical climate change policy for every country in the world and every country has got somewhat different policies to get there, right?

But the key policy is what is the level of emissions reduction you are going to effect? As you know we have a 26 to 28 per cent reduction by 2030. That’s our policy and we will deliver it, we're on track to deliver it.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

Yesterday in your announcement, you spent a lot of time talking about the economy obviously and the Budget to come. No mention of schools or health or universities or other substantive social policy issues. When will voters know what your plans are for some of those, particularly for higher education? Are higher fees and fee deregulation going to be part of it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Michael there is a COAG meeting, a meeting of the premiers and chief ministers of the Territories on the 31st of this month and the 1st of next month and there will be, I’ll have more to say in the lead-up to that relating to health and schools and so forth.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

Okay. Do you concede the Senate got it right by rejecting some bad policy in the past?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I'm not, again, you know these questions are of such generality, the Senate, it’s not a question of whether the Senate gets it right or not I mean the fact of the…

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

Well, the higher education reforms, the GP co-payment, those were things that were contentious from the 2014 Budget.

PRIME MINISTER:

They were indeed contentious. The only legislation that I'm focused on at present with the Senate are these two industrial relations reforms, registered organisations which will ensure that unions and employer organisations I should say, will have the same or comparable levels of

accountability and transparency as companies, as public companies right and the second one is the ABCC. They, registered organisations, the Senate’s rejected three times now. ABCC they've rejected once. We’re giving them three weeks of additional sittings in which they can reconsider that bill and they can, they should either pass it or fail to pass it and if they fail to pass it, then there will be a double dissolution election on the 2nd of July and if we win that election then at the joint sitting that follows the election both of those bills will become law.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

And will we see shadows of the 2014 Budget in the 2016 Budget?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well again you write your editorial and then as though it’s a question of such imprecision that these are matters for your editorial on The Drum Michael. It’s very hard for me to respond to that sort of commentary. If you’ve got a specific question, I'm very happy to address it.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

Ok Malcolm Turnbull, we’ll leave it there. Thank you very much.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks so much, Michael.

Ends