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Transcript of interview with Neil Mitchell: 3AW: 24 March 2017: London terror attack; Hazelwood power station; parliamentarian's travel expenses; child care reforms



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THE HON. MALCOLM TURNBULL MP PRIME MINISTER

TRANSCRIPT

24 March 2017

Radio interview with Neil Mitchell

3AW

SUBJECTS: London terror attack; Hazelwood power station; parliamentarian’s travel expenses; child care reforms.

E&OE…

NEIL MITCHELL:

The Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning Neil.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Thank you for your time. Prime Minister, in the wake of the terrorist attacks, Senator Pauline Hanson has renewed her call for a ban on Muslims. This is what - she’s put out, a video saying this:

PAULINE HANSON:

I have my own hashtag. You won’t need to be praying for this place or that place. It’s this. It’s #Pray4MuslimBan. That is how you solve the problem. Put a ban on it and then let’s deal with the issues here.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well if the problem is terrorism, policies like that would only make it worse. The object of the terrorist, Neil, is to divide us and make us turn on each other. Demonising the Muslim community or attributing to all Muslims responsibility for the crimes of a tiny percentage, is exactly what the terrorists want.

We are the most successful multicultural society in the world. It is built on a foundation of mutual respect. The vast, overwhelming majority of Australian Muslims are committed to Australia. They’re patriotic, they’re hard working families seeking to get ahead.

As far as the tragic event in London and of course, as you know, the Parliament solemnly recorded its sorrow and passed its condolences on to the mother of Parliaments and the people of Britain yesterday. But it is worth noting that the criminal involved, who perpetrated this attack, appears to have been born in the United Kingdom.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay. What you’re saying here is that Pauline Hanson is really promoting terrorism.

PRIME MINISTER:

What I’m saying is, that the object of the terrorist - I’ve been very clear about this, crystal clear - the object of the terrorist, the Islamist terrorist - is to get the broader society to turn on Muslims at large. The reason they want to do that, is because their message, their recruiting message to Muslims and Australian Muslims, is to say, ‘This country really doesn’t want you, you’re not really Australian, they all hate you, so you may as well join with us.’

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well, have you tried -

PRIME MINISTER:

So what you do, if you turn on Muslims, if you were to be seen to be anti-Muslim in that way, that is precisely what the terrorists would like the Australian Government and the Australian community at large to do. It would help their work. You know, if you were talking to Duncan Lewis, the Director General of ASIO or Andrew Colvin the Chief Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police, or Graham Ashton in Victoria -

NEIL MITCHELL:

Yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

They would tell you exactly the same thing.

NEIL MITCHELL:

That is true. Have you attempted to explain this, or will you attempt to get this through to Pauline Hanson? Because on what you’re saying, what she’s doing is dangerous.

PRIME MINISTER:

I have made this point, in pretty much those terms, essentially precisely those terms to Senator Hanson in the past.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Is what she’s doing dangerous?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well inciting hatred against any member or any part of the Australian community is always dangerous. It undermines the mutual respect that we have in our community. Now, what we’ve got to be very careful about, is to ensure that we maintain - look free speech is very important. You see the reforms we’ve proposed this week, and everyone is entitled to free speech, that’s critically important. But we’ve got to be very clear about this; that if you seek to - as I say - attribute to all Australian Muslims, or all Muslims, responsibility for the crimes of ISIL, then you are doing what ISIL wants. That is the classic strategy of the terrorists and it has been forever. It’s the strategy of terrorists in Afghanistan and the Middle East, around the world.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Some of the terrorism experts I’m talking to are concerned about the environment we’re in because they say that there’s a propensity in the sort of cycle of terror for the terrorists to step up their action to get more attention. You’ve got four dead, four innocent people in the streets of London, it gets attention then we move on. We’re becoming numb to it. The theory is that they say, ‘Okay we need more bodies, we need more deaths.’ Is that the briefing you get? Are you concerned about that theory?

PRIME MINISTER:

We’re very concerned about all forms of terrorist attack -

NEIL MITCHELL:

But is it being ramped up? Is that the danger?

PRIME MINISTER:

Let me just go on Neil. We have disrupted many terrorist attacks - many terror plots and you remember the good example was the one planned around Christmas in Melbourne, the people that were planning to let off a bomb there. We’ve been very - our agencies have been very effective in disrupting these plots. There have been over 60 people arrested and charged with terrorist offences.

So while the terrorist threat is very real, it’s set at probable. There is a real risk there. Now our agencies are the best in the world, they’re working very hard to keep us safe. There have been developments in recent times that have raised real concern and again we saw an example of this in Melbourne - although not as it turned out by a terrorist - of these vehicle attacks. Just as we saw in Niece, you saw in Berlin, saw in Melbourne - although that was somebody who apparently was not driven by terrorist motives or political motives. And then of course you’ve seen this attack in London.

This requires a response in terms of making places of mass gathering more safe. And I’ve been working with State counterparts, I’ve spoken with your Premier in Victoria recently about this. It is a very high priority of my Counter-Terrorism Coordinator and our work with the State and Territory Governments to make these places of mass gathering - malls and so forth safer.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Yes, I was talking to Graham Ashton about this. If I may, a couple of other things. Its reported that you had a meeting with the Australian Energy Market Operator last night, overnight, about the possibility of power cuts particularly in Victoria because of a power shortage, because of the closure of Hazelwood. Is there a danger of power cuts in Victoria?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the Energy Market Operator has assured us and has said publically that the closure of Hazelwood will not represent a threat to system security. In other words, it won’t make the risk of blackouts greater because there are other power generation resources available in Victoria and the national electricity market that are currently not operating at all or to their full capacity, that can be made available. I’m just quoting now from their public statement. So that is the assurance that they have provided to us and they’ve obviously provided that to the Victorian Government as well.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Tony Abbott, your colleague is writing today saying it’s up to you as Prime Minister, to keep Hazelwood open. Your answer to that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the closure of Hazelwood is a decision of the owner Engie. It’s a commercial decision that they have taken -

NEIL MITCHELL:

But we could put money into it, the Government could put money into to keep it going?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well let me say this, the Victorian Government I know has had extensive discussions with Engie over some time and they have shown a complete determination to close the plant. And the reason they give for it and I heard their Chief Executive on the radio this morning explaining it, is the very high cost -running into hundreds of millions of dollars - to keep the plant operating even for the balance of this year -

NEIL MITCHELL:

So the Government won’t look at it federally?

PRIME MINISTER:

No we are not going to step in to acquire or subsidise the Hazelwood Power Station. And as I said, the responsibility here is fundamentally that of the owners, Engie, and of course they have made a decision about this plant which is the oldest coal-fired power station in Australia and has been slated to close for a very long time.

The cost of keeping it running runs into hundreds of millions and the cost of rehabilitation, which obviously a new owner would have to take over is approaching a billion dollars.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Prime Minister, there is a lot of talk about the old sniff test and the pub test at the moment, can I run a couple past you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Sure.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Sussan Ley - would you ever have her back in the ministry?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Sussan is a very capable, very capable Member. She was a very capable Minister. Look, everything, it is certainly no reason why after her resignation, there is certainly no reason why she couldn’t make a return to the ministry in the future.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay. One of your Ministers, Michael McCormack has claimed under the rules $50,000 to stay at his wife’s house in Canberra. So effectively paying off the mortgage. Does that pass the sniff test?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think when it is expressed that way I can see why people raise -

NEIL MITCHELL:

I’m not arguing he is entitled here.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no, but you’ve just got to let me explain it, Neil. Look, everybody who travels for business gets a travel expense. They either get it from their employer or they deduct it from their tax. Politicians, when they’re in Canberra get paid about $276 a night to cover the cost of accommodation and meals and so forth, and the way the system works, and has done for many years, for decades I believe is that where you stay is a matter for you.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

So in other words, it is very simple administratively. You could be staying in a $1000 a night suite at the Park Hyatt, you could be staying in the apartment of yours or your friends or your wife -

NEIL MITCHELL:

Or your wife, yep.

PRIME MINISTER:

Or you could be sleeping in a swag in a tent I suppose.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So you’re paying your wife to sleep in her house.

PRIME MINISTER:

But you still get the same amount of money.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I understand.

PRIME MINISTER:

I think that, it was set up many years ago for administrative simplicity.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But does it pass the sniff test? Prime Minister, does it pass the sniff test?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, I think as, well let me put it this way.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay.

PRIME MINISTER:

The question is, does giving everybody $276 a night travelling expense in Canberra pass the sniff test? Yes, I think clearly it does. Assuming you think that is the right amount. If then does it matter

whether that person, where that person stays, is that of any concern to the Government and or the taxpayer and I think the question is as long as the cost is the same across the board then that is a fair system. Because the alternative is that you would say, well you can’t stay in, what would be the limitations in where you would say someone could stay - that would be then the question.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay. Look, I know you need to get away. There are a million other things, including child care payments which went through last night. I appreciate your time.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah - they’re very big reforms and I might say what we’ve achieved is an outstanding reform here. It will benefit around a million families. Its targeted to those who work the longest hours but earn the least. And we believe it is going to encourage more than 230,000 families to increase the hours that they work, their involvement in paid employment. I’ll just give you one example, if I may, of the fairness of this?

NEIL MITCHELL:

Sure, I am not in a hurry. You are!

PRIME MINISTER:

You’ve got to remember the Labor Party, the Labor Party opposed this. Now think about this - a family on $80,000, both parents working, two kids under six, in day care three days a week, they will be $3,424 better off a year. Now that is a middle income family and you can imagine that there would be thousands of families like that and they’re the ones that are benefitting. Labor voted against this and did everything they could to stop this reform. So right across the board, it is a very good reform, it is a very fair reform and it gives hard working Australian families a better opportunity to get access to available, affordable, high quality child care and obviously the ability to work the hours that they want.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Have you ever taken any welfare?

PRIME MINISTER:

Any welfare?

NEIL MITCHELL:

Yeah - ever been on welfare payments? You know, Austudy or anything like that?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I don’t, no, I don’t believe I have Neil.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay. I know you need to go. Thank you very much for your time.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks so much.

[ENDS]