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Transcript of interview with Peter Perrin: Territory FM 104.1: visit to the Top End; Royal Darwin Hospital; Labor's failed policies on people smuggling; Coalition's plan for economic recovery; remarks of IMF Chief Economist; Kevin Rudd's failure to invest in economic infrastructure; higher education; National Broadband Network.



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LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION THE HON. MALCOLM TURNBULL MP FEDERAL MEMBER FOR WENTWORTH

24 April 2009

TRANSCRIPT OF THE HON. MALCOLM TURNBULL MP INTERVIEW WITH PETER PERRIN TERRITORY FM 104.1

Subjects: Visit to the Top End; Royal Darwin Hospital; Labor’s failed policies on people smuggling; Coalition’s plan for economic recovery; remarks of IMF Chief Economist; Kevin Rudd’s failure to invest in economic infrastructure; higher education; National Broadband Network.

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

PETER PERRIN:

Malcolm Turnbull, welcome to the campus of CDU and particularly to the Territory FM studios. We’re honoured you saw fit to visit us.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well it’s great to be here with you Peter.

PETER PERRIN:

It’s always a journey to get people to get out of the city and come out here to Casuarina, although compared to Sydney and…

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Yeah, it wasn’t a big commute.

PETER PERRIN:

No, it’s not what you’d call stuck in traffic time.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well I just had a really good meeting with the Vice Chancellor of CDU, Barney Glover, so we had a good chat about what the University is doing. It’s very impressive.

PETER PERRIN:

He certainly is making an impact and I guess that happens with any CEO when they move into a new position.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well, we hope so.

PETER PERRIN:

Yeah, early days, early days. Hope he’s not listening. Malcolm Turnbull, when did you arrive?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

I came in late on Wednesday night, so here Thursday, Friday - today, and tomorrow for Anzac Day. And we’ll be at the Dawn Service tomorrow.

PETER PERRIN:

Okay. So is Anzac Day the primary reason or is it your jobs forum you’re holding today?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well, you know, it’s a bunch of things. When I travel around the country, particularly when I go out into regional Australia outside of the Sydney-Melbourne-Canberra axis, I like to not just fly in and fly out. So I like to make a solid commitment of time. So we’ve had a very good visit. We’ve done a lot of things. Obviously on Thursday morning, a sad but important occasion - the requiem mass for Mr Tungutalum, the first full-blooded Aboriginal to be a member of an Australian parliament and a very important leader both nationally, Territory-wise and of course in his Tiwi community. And then we visited the hospital. I wanted to go there and say thank you to Len Notaras and Dianne Stephens.

PETER PERRIN:

They’ve done a great job.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

They have done a great job and they do a great job all the time. It is a really outstanding team and I think the whole nation admires the work they do and they’ve done, particularly in the light of this dreadful accident on Ashmore Reef. And also visited the Northern Command and saw David Gwyther, Commodore Gwyther there and also visited with some of his people and said, again, said thank you to them because really the remarkable thing about the Ashmore Reef accident was the way in which all of the agencies co-operated, the great logistical support. The fact that people could be horribly burnt in the water and then within hours be able to be lifted out of there, onto an oil platform, to an air base and into safety in a first class hospital. And then the way in which Royal Darwin Hospital collaborated with other hospitals around Australia. They really are an extraordinary team. I met very, very impressive, so many impressive people at Royal Darwin Hospital and singling any of them out is obviously invidious, but I met Dianne Stephens, who is one of the leaders in the whole intensive care unit there, the head of the intensive care unit. She was very, very interesting, she and her team talking about the way in which they deal with these emergencies thanks to the big funding boost they got from John Howard following the first Bali disaster.

They have the capacity to respond very quickly in that trauma centre there and Dianne of course has worked in Iraq, so she’s been there - I think she said she’d spent four months there, working in the big hospital that is the first hospital for victims of war injuries in Iraq and so she’s had really remarkable experience, as have a number of other doctors there, dealing with victims of bombs, burns, blasts. So it’s a very, very skilled group here at Royal Darwin Hospital.

PETER PERRIN:

I think Darwin fights above its weight. It really does.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Way above its weight in my view. Yeah, way above its weight.

PETER PERRIN:

And then how quickly the passengers or should I say the victims were moved to other specialist facilities once they’d been stabilised. Yeah, I think we always rise to the occasion.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

I think you do, and that’s why it was important for Lucy and I to go there and say thank you. Lucy my wife is here with us on this trip. So it was good and I must say - I just repeat - the whole nation admires the work that’s done here in Darwin. We recognise that your medical teams, your Defence team is really in the front line. It’s a long way from Melbourne to Darwin and Sydney to Darwin, and we recognise you’re a lot closer to the trouble spots of the world than we are down in the south.

PETER PERRIN:

Speaking of that tragedy off the north-west, as you say it’s certainly been a test for the resources of Australia, two states and a territory in particular. Do you believe, in an overview, it was avoidable?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

What, the actual accident on Ashmore Reef?

PETER PERRIN:

Yeah. Could we do more in regards of boat people and people seeing Australia as a target in that regard?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well Peter, I don’t think there’s any longer any doubt. I mean Nigel, Senator Nigel Scullion and I were talking about this yesterday with a range of people. Nigel has been a part of this visit of ours and he is a very experienced Territorian, and obviously with his background in fishing and so forth. He’s got a very good understanding of these issues. And the reality is that the Rudd Government’s changes of policy have been perceived as making Australia a softer target. And of course in many respects they have because they’ve changed a lot of the rules and practices, if you like, of the previous government.

Now we had, under the Coalition, we had a package of policies people, which you’ve got to look at as a whole, which saw people smuggling dwindle to a trickle. We’ve now had nearly twice as many people unlawfully entering Australia via people smuggling since August as we’d had in the previous six years. So it’s been a dramatic increase and of course you’ve got the report - so we’ve heard - the Rudd Government’s policies resulted or caused a increase in people smuggling. We heard that from the International Organisation for Migration in December, we’ve heard it from the Indonesian Ambassador and now on the news today we’ve got the ABC with interviews with an Iraqi gentleman in Indonesia who’s just said, in his own words, it’s easier to get into Australia now with Mr Rudd than it was with Mr Howard.

PETER PERRIN:

Well I mean statistically, I went to your website - which is great incidentally - it’s full of useful information…

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

malcolmturnbull.com.au

PETER PERRIN:

Yep, that one.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Yep, good.

PETER PERRIN:

And 13 boats have arrived since August 2008.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

I think that’s now 14.

PETER PERRIN:

14, of course with what, 400 plus people.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

I think - if my memory serves me right - it’s 485.

PETER PERRIN:

And they’re thinking of closing down the facility on Christmas Island.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well, that would be, that would be… I hope they’re not thinking of closing it down. That would be an extremely unwise thing to do; that would be crazy to do that.

PETER PERRIN:

I just, I don’t understand the logic.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

No, I can’t. I hope that’s not part of their plan. I haven’t heard that, but if the Government is planning to do that that would be very unwise.

PETER PERRIN:

I mean it cost something like $300 million to build in the first place.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

The whole object of your policies has got to be to stop the boats coming. Now Mr Rudd has got to own up to the fact, Peter, that his policies have failed. Now they changed the Howard Government’s policies after the election and particularly in August last year and they said it would have no impact on the number of boat arrivals. That was their view. They said no, they rejected the warnings we were making and others were making. They said you’re all wrong; it will not make any difference. But clearly the increase has been so dramatic and as far as I can see, when challenged about it, Mr Rudd just washes his hands and says well there’s nothing I can do. Well that’s not good enough.

Australians want their borders to be protected and frankly, if you look at that Ashmore Reef incident, obviously there were people there that were killed; there were people there who’ve been horribly injured. There were three ADF personnel that were injured, thankfully not seriously as it turned out. But they could have been. So every time our Defence Forces’ personnel intervene to protect or intervene to stop these boats arriving in Australia, as they’re doing their duty, their lives are being put at risk too. So what should the object of our policy be? No people smuggling. Now if that’s the object of the policy, Mr Rudd’s policy has failed. That’s plain enough.

PETER PERRIN:

Having you in the studio we can’t really not talk about the financial situation.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Yep.

PETER PERRIN:

There’s no doubt about it that the Coalition Government left the country in probably the best financial position it has ever been in. Can we afford to continue to spend as freely as we are at the moment?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

No. In my view, no. I think Mr Rudd has behaved in a way that most people wouldn’t have been able to imagine a year ago. The idea that would you go and borrow $23 billion and then give it away. Now we said, we’ve been saying for months now, that if you want to have an effective economic stimulus, if you’re concerned the economy is running down because of global conditions and you want to stimulate the local economy, you’ve got to use your money very wisely. You’ve got to support businesses.

We have positive plans that will involve the expenditure of much less money but will provide really targeted support. That’s one of the reasons we’re having a jobs forum here in Darwin today. This will be my 20th that I’ve been to around the country. Our six point plan for small business, which is on my website, has been developed in large measure from the feedback we’ve had from jobs forums, both meeting physically and also on the web. We’ve got a Jobs for Australia website - jobsforaustralia.com - where there’s a lot of good feedback and debate about it.

Now, as you saw last night, Olivier Blanchard who is the Chief Economist of the IMF making exactly the same point we’ve been making for months, which the Rudd Government dismissed, and he said the problem with just having cash handouts is that people save it and they don’t spend it. So you’re running up a bigger and bigger debt at the government level, but you’re not providing any effective economic stimulus.

PETER PERRIN:

I thought that this was supposed to create jobs. I don’t see any increase in the employment rate whatsoever. In fact, it’s going the other way still.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

There’s no doubt. I mean Mr Rudd actually said with his cash handout in December that it would create 75,000 jobs - it hasn’t created one. He said with the cash handout in April it would support - he changed his language slightly - 90,000 jobs. It hasn’t created or supported any - unemployment is continuing to rise. It’s rising more rapidly then the Government thought it would back in February.

So the problem with this is cash handouts, as the IMF has said, as we’ve been saying, [inaudible] with little or no economic effect. On the other hand what they’re not doing is spending money on economic infrastructure. You know I’m sure we’ll hear about cases like this here in Darwin today but round Australia when I sit down and talk to communities you will find, you know whether it’s a missing rail link in Mackay, whether it’s an airport in Gladstone, whether it’s a freeway extension in the lower Hunter in New South Wales, you’ll find people identifying projects which are basically ready to go. Where all that’s needed is funding - economic infrastructure that will create jobs both in the construction and in the future - but the Government is not putting money in.

Now I think the concern that everybody has is having wasted so much money, wasted it in the sense that it hasn’t provided the economic stimulus they claimed it would, the Government will run up a gigantic debt - they’re now talking about $300 billion of Commonwealth Government debt. Think about this - it took ten years for John Howard to pay off $96 billion of Labor debt. How long will it take us to pay off $300 billion of Kevin Rudd’s debt? How high will our taxes have to be? How high will interest rates have to be to pay for all of this debt?

PETER PERRIN:

Well I’ve been looking at your website, as I mentioned, and I can’t keep up with the ticker there on how much money is going to be spent or is being spent, literally. It’s scary.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well it is scary and we’ve got every reason to be concerned about it. Back in March, Lindsay Tanner, the finance minister, said he lay awake at night worrying about debt levels.

PETER PERRIN:

I don’t blame him.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well he shouldn’t be able to get any sleep at all now. There’s no point even turning in, but it’s his Government that’s doing it. And he was on the radio this morning defending the cash splashes and yet, you know, they are now indefensible because you’ve not only got the IMF making the point that we’ve just discussed but the statistics are in.

The latest economic evidence I saw about the December cash handout was that only 17 per cent of it was spent. So that means you hand out say $10 billion and you only get $1.7 billion of spending - I mean that is a hopeless return. Whereas as if you spent it on a road or infrastructure of some kind it would all be spent and you end up with an asset that adds to economic growth and prosperity in the years ahead.

PETER PERRIN:

And that was one of the solutions the Americans adopted after the Great Depression back in the 30s, was to invest in infrastructure.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well it’s actually what the Chinese are doing too, by the way, and they are, I would say, of all the countries in the world they are the ones whose government is having the most success in stimulating their economy because they’ve obviously had a terrific hit from the decline in exports because the Americans and the Europeans are not buying as much of their exports as they used to and they are pouring a lot of money into infrastructure.

Now in reality some of it will probably be better invested than other parts of it. But nonetheless you know that, as long as they’re well situated and well planned, roads, bridges, ports, electricity transmission, infrastructure that adds to your economic capacity is going to be a good investment, both in the short term because it puts people to work and in the long term.

I mean, I’ll give you just a little example - and it’s a lot of money, it’s $65 million, but it’s little compared to Kevin Rudd’s spending. In Gladstone there’s an airport, Gladstone in central Queensland, which has basically got a hump in it or a hollow in it and so bigger planes can’t land. That has an impact on the economy of the local community. It obviously means they can’t get the same amount of competition in terms of airlines that they should have, say that a place like Rockhampton has. So they need to upgrade it - $65 million.

The Federal Government hasn’t put and won’t put any money into it. We’ve been calling on them to do so. The very contractors, earthmoving in effect, earthmoving contractors who are losing their contracts as the mining industry slows down would be deployed doing the airport. It’s the same type of work, essentially pushing lots of earth around and rock and so forth. So those guys would stay busy if you did the job on the Gladstone Airport and you add enormous strength and capacity to the economy…..

PETER PERRIN:

Benefits to the facility, don’t you.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

…yeah and that’s just one. I mean you could round Australia, there are literally dozens of projects like this but they are not being funded. You know Rudd talks about infrastructure all the time - where is the major road, the major bit of economic infrastructure, the rail link or whatever that he has put money into? I can’t think of one.

PETER PERRIN:

I know you have to go because you’ve got to be at the museum theatrette for the Jobs Forum at 10 o’clock. I’m more or less obliged to ask you this question, and that is that, as we’re here at CDU, where do you stand on public education?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well I’m in favour of it, obviously. Of course I’m passionately in favour of it. When we were in government we put a lot of money into public education at every level, from primary schools right up to universities and obviously particularly into higher education. We established a Higher Education Fund.

Having been a recipient of a lot of higher education, I’m a great supporter of it and we were talking to the Vice Chancellor earlier. As you invest in education, and you invest in the skills of the population. That also is building the prosperity…..

PETER PERRIN:

….that’s where the future is, isn’t it?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

….of course it is, absolutely. And we’ve got terrific capacity. You’re doing great work here. I discussed with Barney the MALUs, the mobile learning units…..

PETER PERRIN:

They’re a fabulous creation.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Yeah, very, very interesting. They clearly deserve more support, and also what you’re doing in terms of distance learning and using the internet, which is phenomenal.

PETER PERRIN:

Well you see Charles Darwin University has got a relationship with about 11 per cent of Territorians and I mean that’s pretty significant given that this is one institution.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

It is. It’s very impressive.

PETER PERRIN:

When you get back to Sydney would you mind doing me a favour and that’s having a word to the powers that be and saying look, you know, Northern Territory needs to go digital in terms of broadcasting. Although I think they’ve got enough problems at the moment with the National Broadband Network, which was another one of my points because we’re one of the few states or territories in the country that’s not automatically going over to digital broadcasting next month.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Yeah, well, that’s certainly something we should take up. I’ll speak to Nigel Scullion about that today at the jobs forum and we’ll also take that up with Nick Minchin. I might get Nick Minchin, the Shadow Communications Minister, Senator Nick Minchin…

PETER PERRIN:

I’d love to talk to him. I just don’t know why we’ve been left out of it. I mean we’re not the only one - Canberra or the ACT is exactly the same. This National Broadband Network that’s being rolled out too, I mean…

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well it’s not being rolled out at all Peter…

PETER PERRIN:

Well, it’s being purported to.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

This gives you an indication of how out of control Kevin Rudd is in economic matters. He stands up and he says we’re going to have a National Broadband Network, it will cost $43 billion, it’s going to be commercially viable, the private sector will invest in it and he goes on television and urges mums and dads to buy bonds in it.

He doesn’t have a business plan. He doesn’t have any financial analysis. His Treasurer is asked the next day, how many customers will it have? Doesn’t know. What will the price be of the service? Doesn’t know. They have no idea at all. If somebody in the business world went on television and urged people to invest in a project like that, they’d have some very serious questions to answer down at ASIC, extremely serious and unpleasant questions I might say. So it’s just recklessness.

PETER PERRIN:

If we couldn’t get commercial interest in the last flag that went up - what was that, $10 billion I think - how in the world are we going to convince people to invest in something for $43 billion?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well this is right. I am very committed to broadband, to the internet as you know. I was one - or you may not know - I was one of the founders of a company called OzEmail, which was the first large Australian internet service provider. So I’m passionately interested and involved in the internet and businesses associated with the internet for many years. So there is no question that we should support the expansion of broadband. But it has to be done using public money very wisely.

Now when we were in government we recognised that the areas that the private sector, if you like, you know natural market, free market forces, were unlikely to deliver broadband effectively at a realistic cost, at an affordable cost, was in regional and rural Australia and so that’s why we set up a project with Optus and Elders called OPEL, where we had a government subsidy of a bit under a billion dollars which would have brought high speed broadband - wireless broadband for the most part - to regional and rural Australia.

That would now be rolled out. We’d probably be half way being rolled out had it not been for the Rudd Government abandoning it because they had their own grander vision, they had their own national broadband tender - which fell over as we know, that failed - and so now Mr Rudd turns up and says, we’re going to do something for $43 billion but in truth he doesn’t have a clue whether it’s feasible or not and every financial analysis that’s been done of it demonstrates that it isn’t. So the fact is he does not have a broadband policy at all. He’s got a sound bite not a policy.

PETER PERRIN:

Malcolm Turnbull it’s been a pleasure speaking with you. Enjoy the rest of your time here.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Great Peter. It’s been good to be here. Thank you.

PETER PERRIN:

Bye bye for now.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Thanks mate.

[ends]