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Transcript of interview with Barrie Cassidy: Insiders: 6 February 2011: Julia Gillard's flood tax; support for disaster-affected small businesses



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

6 February 2011

TRANSCRIPT OF THE HON. TONY ABBOTT MHR INTERVIEW WITH BARRIE CASSIDY INSIDERS

Subjects: Julia Gillard’s flood tax; support for disaster-affected small businesses.

E&OE……………………….…………………………………………………………………

BARRIE CASSIDY:

Good morning. Welcome.

TONY ABBOTT:

`Morning, Barrie.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

On the flood levy, one thing we seem to have learned from this is that in times of crisis, while Australians pull together, politicians rarely do.

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, look, there are all sorts of lessons from this, but I don't want to be part of a higher taxing political party. The Government, unfortunately, is addicted to taxes and it's addicted to spending, often wasteful spending. I think I've set a very clear contrast between a government whose first instinct is to tax and an opposition which thinks that governments, like households, like businesses, should live within their means.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

But if that is your problem then why did you support a levy to raise money for gun owners and why have you still got on your books a levy to pay for what a lot of people regard as a way too generous parental leave scheme?

TONY ABBOTT:

Don’t forget Barrie, that the parental scheme is being paid for by a company tax cut so there will be no overall increase in the burden on business and there'll be a tax cut for small business.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

Ok, the gun levy, what’s the difference between that and this?

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TONY ABBOTT:

Well, this is a government which can't be trusted to spend money wisely, which means that it's all the more importance for the Government to reorder its priorities and to find savings. The Prime Minister herself admitted at the Press Club that there were further savings that could be found and that's where the Government should be looking, to the fat in the budget to meet reconstruction costs.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

We’ll get to that in a minute. But the former Victorian Premier, Jeff Kennett, is interesting on this. He doesn't like the levy either but he says he won't rail against it because the focus should be on rebuilding Queensland. Now, what's wrong with that as an approach?

TONY ABBOTT:

And this is one of the reasons why I said, Barrie, that I was only too happy to sit down with the Prime Minister in a spirit of national unity, in the spirit of bipartisanship and identify where these additional savings could be found. And that way I would share, if you like, the political responsibility for it.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

But surely the extension of what Jeff Kennett is saying is that if the levy, is it so economically responsible, it is so unfair that you have to turn it into a divisive issue at a time like this?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, the Prime Minister didn't have to propose it and I just think that Queenslanders…

BARRIE CASSIDY:

But you didn't have to oppose it.

TONY ABBOTT:

I think that Queenslanders and Victorians have suffered enough without having to suffer yet another new tax and let's not forget, Barrie, that this is a Government that wants to hit us with a carbon tax and a mining tax this year and the carbon tax is essentially a tax on you. Every time you turn on your TV, your air-conditioner, your fridge, that carbon tax is going to be paid.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

Let’s stay on the levy just for a moment. And what's your alternative to the levy? What will you cut to find the money?

TONY ABBOTT:

We’ll have more to say about this in coming days, Barrie, but if you go through the budget, there are certainly areas where there could be savings and deferral of spending. Just to give you one instance, there are hundreds of millions of dollars still in the budget for water buybacks. Now, we have got water everywhere at the moment. Now is not the time to be buying back water, particularly when the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is up for grabs, it seems. So that would be one area that could be very substantially deferred or cut back in the years ahead.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

Ok, that’s one area but your shadow cabinet has met. You’ve apparently got a plan. The fact that you don't

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release those details now seems to suggest that finding these cuts is not as easy as you say it is.

TONY ABBOTT:

It’s never easy to find savings, but, as I said, we will have more to say about this in the days ahead and we will have a package of savings and deferrals that will mean that Australia could do what is necessary with these floods without yet another new tax.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

You say it’s not easy to find the savings. I’m sure you've said in recent times that it is easy and the Government should be doing it.

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, government is not easy; that's why there's a lot of argument over how government should be conducted but the essential point, Barrie, is that we'll have more to say about where we can find the savings and we will not shirk this task.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

Alright. Well Julia Gillard has said that your position has been stomach churning, but perhaps, more to the point, Tony Windsor, an important independent, said that you've shown an extraordinary lack of judgment to debate a change of government on the back of a disaster.

TONY ABBOTT:

Look, this is a finally balanced parliament. That’s a self-evident fact and who knows what the future holds. But my job, Barrie, is to get on with the job of holding the Government to account and being a credible alternative.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

But you look at the politics of this and when somebody like Tony Windsor, who's critical to this, you seem to be building distance between yourself and Tony Windsor.

TONY ABBOTT:

My argument is essentially with the Government and I'm going to continue to prosecute that argument. It will then be up to Tony Windsor to decide who he thinks is doing the best job and, look, that's for him to make up his mind.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

But probably the wrong time that pitch to him was in the middle of this flood crisis?

TONY ABBOTT:

Barrie, look, as I said, we're going into a new year. It's a year when I'll be holding the Government to account. It's a year when I'll be presenting what I hope are credible alternatives. It's a year when I would like the Government of Australia to be on about lower taxes, no more waste, better services, stronger borders and a fair go for families. That's what I'll be on about and let's see how people react.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

How embarrassed where you about that email that went out asking for donations, not for flood victims but

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for funds to run a political campaign against the levy?

TONY ABBOTT:

Barrie, look, political parties in the real world are always appealing for donations and the point is that the Labor Party just a week earlier had sent out a flood update that had also included information about how to donate to the Labor Party. So it's a fact of life. Political parties need money to exist. The Coalition is very much in need of money to exist because we don't have the rivers of gold coming in from the union movement and I'm afraid appeals for funds by political parties is just a fact of life.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

But to do it that way, to attach it to a letter detailing information about the floods, you don't think that was a little insensitive and in poor taste on the part of the party?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, people will make their own judgments but I just make this point, Barrie, this is not the issue that the public are raising with me. It's not the issue that the public are raising with me in flood-affected areas. What the public are on about is hits on their cost of living. That's what they're generally on about, and in flood-affected areas they just want government to help them to get on with their lives, and that's why I'm proposing today an additional concessional loan for businesses which haven't actually been physically damaged by the floods but which have been economically impacted by the floods, like truckers who have no produce to cart, retailers who have no customers to sell to right now. I think that these concessional loans which the government has quite properly announced for businesses that have been physically damaged by the floods should also be made available to businesses which have been economically damaged by the floods.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

Is that what you say is the difference, because Julia Gillard said this morning these concessional loans already exist.

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, there are concessional loans but I think they should be extended to businesses which have suffered consequential damage, not necessarily been physically damaged by the floods.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

I just want to go back to the email. Did you read it? Did you read it before it went out? It went out under your signature.

TONY ABBOTT:

Yeah, look, I read the text of a letter but the information that was then added is up to the Liberal Party.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

But it was a p.s. under your signature. So the whole thing was your letter. I just, it does seem to be a bit sloppy. Would you allow that in government? Would you allow a letter to go out under your name without reading it?

TONY ABBOTT:

Barrie, look, people will make up their own minds about this. I think I've said all I humanly can about it. As

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I said to you earlier, out there on the streets, the flood-affected streets of Queensland and Victoria, this is not what people are talking to me about.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

Alright, well, let me put it this way. If there are donors out there with cash to spare, should they give it to the Liberal Party for your campaign against the levy or should they give to the Premier's Flood Appeal?

TONY ABBOTT:

I don't want people to have to make those sorts of choices, I want people to give generously to the causes that they believe in and I think that the flood appeal is an incredibly worthy cause and I hope donations continue to mount. I believe they're up to about $200 million so far.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

But when you are saying about people making choices, surely you can say here and now the flood appeal is a far more deserving cause than donating to the Liberal Party right at the moment.

TONY ABBOTT:

I’m just not going to get into this game that you're playing, Barrie. I want people to donate to the flood appeal. Simple as that.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

And to the Liberal Party.

TONY ABBOTT:

I'm not going to discourage them.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

Ok. You said recently that Julia Gillard displayed a wooden demeanour during the floods. What did you mean by that?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, I was reflecting comments that have been widely made but the essential point that I was trying to make is that we do not need a new tax on top of all the other misery which these natural disasters have visited upon the Australian people.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

But where is the relevance of that; Julia Gillard having a wooden demeanour?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, I was making the point that she had a tin ear in thinking that what the Australian public now want is…

BARRIE CASSIDY:

No, that was a separate comment that you made but you talked about her being wooden. I think it's an odd criticism. It suggests there's a certain demeanour that leaders should fabricate at times.

TONY ABBOTT:

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Barrie, I've made my point here and my point is that any Prime Minister who thinks that you should respond to a crisis with a new tax I think has a tin ear.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

Ok. With the new parliamentary year about to begin on Tuesday, are you as determined as ever to stay in for the long haul and fight Julia Gillard at the next election?

TONY ABBOTT:

This is a very bad government. It's a bad government getting worse and it's more important than ever that we have that government strongly held to account but also that there be a credible alternative, and that’s what I am determined to provide.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

And do you think there is any prospect at all that the independents might hand you government at some point along the way without an election?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, that’s really a question for them. I will get on with my job of holding the Government to account and of being a credible alternative and let's see what happens to the Government. As I said, I think they are a bad government getting worse. Let's see if they can save themselves.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

We opened up with some, that story about some discontent within the Liberal Party about your position on a levy. Laurie Oakes wrote yesterday there’s a small group of MPs would like to see you rolled and others would not take much persuading if your ratings do not improve. What do you make of that?

TONY ABBOTT:

Look, Laurie is entitled to write what he wants but I'd much rather be in my political position than Julia Gillard's political position.

BARRIE CASSIDY:

Ok, thanks for your time this morning.

[ends]