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Transcript of interview with Paul Kennedy: ABC News Breakfast: 14 January 2018: Australia Day; a strong economy and budget surplus; Pacific step up; Labor's higher taxes; Murray-Darling Basin

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The Hon. Scott Morrison MP Prime Minister




SUBJECTS: Australia Day; a strong economy and Budget surplus; Pacific step up; Labor’s higher taxes; Murray-Darling Basin.

PAUL KENNEDY: The Prime Minister joins us now live from Kirribilli. Good morning to you Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER: Good morning Paul, happy new year.

KENNEDY: And to you. Firstly I just want to take you to your announcements on Australia Day ceremonies over the weekend. Now, in discussions on other issues recently, you spoke about diversity being a great characteristic of Australia. Why shouldn't that extend to a diversity of opinions on the best way to commemorate Australia Day?

PRIME MINISTER: Well there will be plenty of diversity of opinions but the Commonwealth, the Australian Government runs citizenship ceremonies and celebrating that diversity on Australia Day I think is very important. I think the best way to do that is to ensure we have citizenship ceremonies and celebrate the fact that we’re the most successful migrant country on earth.


PRIME MINISTER: Around 70 per cent of Councils do just that. But for new Australians, what better day to become an Australian on Australia's national day, which is Australia Day? I don't want to see that undermined.

KENNEDY: I have covered dozens of citizenship ceremonies, Mr Morrison, over the years. They’re great events. I have never seen people better presented. Why is it necessary to establish a new rule for dress code and tell them what to wear?

PRIME MINISTER: Well no, that’s not always the case. Maybe I’ve been to more than you have, but those citizenship ceremonies - the vast majority of people do come along, particularly the kids - but there are some who don’t do that. I think that doesn’t respect the other participants on that day or respect the very serious nature of what’s happening on that day. By all means wear the boardies and the thongs at the barbeque after, at the beach or wherever you're doing it. But on the day I think it’s important to have standards around these important institutions. Citizenship is a very important decision and a very important responsibility and privilege that is conferred on new Australians and it should be treated as such. They’re the standards.

KENNEDY: When I hear you talk about Australia Day, it seems that you think that it’s under threat from a lot of quarters. But most people don't think the date should be changed, you’re not going to change it and a Labor government, if it was to be elected, wouldn't change it. Is it really under threat?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I’m not going to let it get eroded, that’s my point. I'm not just going to not change it, I’m going to ensure it doesn't get eroded and that it is constantly being reinvested in and continually held up as an important day for all Australians to come together on that day. That’s our historical day and we need to work together, to come together on that day to ensure that we can make it an important day for all Australians, whatever their background.

KENNEDY: Just finally on this matter, where have your discussions taken you on a new date to celebrate Indigenous Australia?

PRIME MINISTER: Well what I’m going to be doing this year - and I have had those discussions with my advisory council - on the day before Australia Day, there are ceremonies held all around the country, Indigenous ceremonies, they’re contemplative, reflective ceremonies. I think they are great, they have them here in Sydney, they have them in all parts of the country. I think they’re a good opportunity to pause and reflect. I commend those to anyone around the country who wants to go along to one. There aren't too many of them these days, but I would like to see that as a very informal tradition taken up around the country.

KENNEDY: Now Prime Minister, you wrote a newspaper piece published today that talks about what matters most to Australians and how they approach their lives. Towards the end you wrote something that interested me: "I won't be dragged off to the left or right, or intimidated by shouting". Now those terms, left and right, are not used widely in the suburbs of Australia, they’re political terms. How conscious are you of setting the pre-election tone for people within your Coalition Government?

PRIME MINISTER: I’ve always been clear where I stood, whether it’s on family issues or whether it’s on the rule of law or making sure we stand up for respect and integrity and all of these issues, a strong economy. These there the things that have guided me as a politician and as a person over a long period of time.

You know, what I found when I went to the Shoalhaven Heads Hotel, called in there with my family over the break, was people weren't there shouting at each other like you find on social media or otherwise in the media. They’re just quiet Australians living their lives and they need a strong economy to realise their future, to ensure the services they rely on are there for them and their families. That’s what I’m focused on. I’m focused on those quiet Australians out there, going to work every day, running their businesses, caring for others, doing their jobs and not having the time to frankly, to get caught up in the activism and Twitter shouting that seems to dominate the headlines these days.

KENNEDY: So can we say this campaign will be fought firmly in the social and economic middle ground?

PRIME MINISTER: I can tell you we're about a strong economy. If you don't have a strong economy you can't guarantee Medicare. We’re about lower taxes, and having lower taxes and having record health and education funding.

Every time you hear Bill Shorten talk about more money being spent, he is taxing you at the same time. I am for services without higher taxes and a stronger economy that can support Australians now and into the next decade, where they will live in that economy.

KENNEDY: What events or political circumstances might cause you to call an early election?

PRIME MINISTER: I am not contemplating one.

KENNEDY: So you’ve totally ruled that out? You’re going to have a Budget and then election after that, that’s firm?

PRIME MINISTER: We’re having a Budget in April, that will be the first surplus Budget we have seen in over a decade. That will demonstrate once again the soundness of our Government's economic management and fiscal responsibility. That has put the Budget back into shape, which means we can invest record levels in health and education, guaranteeing Medicare and ensuring that affordable medicines - medicines like for MS that I announced just before Christmas - can be paid for and delivered. That’s the dividend of a strong economy. We can't take it for granted. There are strong headwinds coming our way this year, whether it’s in trade or other things around the world.

Now is not the time for Labor to go and dump $200 billion of higher taxes on the Australian economy. It’s not a good plan.

KENNEDY: There are very few sitting days before the election even if it goes as you say it’s going to go in May, what is your number one legislative priority, your number one?

PRIME MINISTER: We’re continuing to take issues like national security and other things through the Parliament on a range of measures. But largely the legislative agenda we’ve been able to work through in the course of this year -

KENNEDY: What do you want to get through?

PRIME MINISTER: We want to make sure that we continue the momentum we’ve had with the measures on national security. They’re the things that have always kept my focus. But there are a range of remaining items that have been outstanding on the legislative agenda for this year and we’re just going to make sure we take them through. There’s some environmental legislation to that end that I know is important for native species and a few other things like this. So we’re going to keep our focus on finishing off that legislative programme, but this year it’s about the Budget, a Budget that will be in surplus. And keeping our economy strong to guarantee the essential services like Medicare that Australians rely on.

You can't guarantee them with higher taxes. You guarantee them through strong Budget management and a strong economy.

KENNEDY: The Agriculture Minister David Littleproud is warning of more fish deaths in the Murray-Darling Basin, what’s the Government going to do to address this and investigate the causes of the ecological situation?

PRIME MINISTER: It’s a devastating ecological event, I think particularly for those who live throughout the region, the sheer visual image of this is just terribly upsetting. What the Water Minister David Littleproud has done is he’s convening together the environmental waterholders and the water managers that work together under what is a bipartisan Murray-Darling Basin Plan and ensuring that they’re getting to the bottom of the issues that have come up most recently. There is $5 million that we want to put in through that strategy to look at the native fish recovery plan as well. So look, he is taking action with those that are responsible for it, the New South Wales Government and their Minister Niall Blair. They have responsibility for the water flows and I know they’re working constructively to deal with those issues. But the Murray Darling Basin Authority is a bipartisan initiative, the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is a bipartisan plan and I’m concerned today that some might want to play politics with that. There were reports done by scientists under Labor's contribution to that plan back in 2012 and the plan has been operating in accordance with that advice.

So we just need to keep on working on the issue. There’s a drought and this is one of the consequences of drought. There are many, and my focus on drought has not shifted one inch.

KENNEDY: Just briefly Prime Minister, you’re going on a trip to Pacific island nations this week, what do you hope to achieve from that?

PRIME MINISTER: This is part of our Pacific ‘step-up’. It’s part of our refocusing of our international efforts on our own region, in our own backyard and making sure we can make the biggest possible difference. We will be there both in Fiji and Vanuatu, this will be the first visit of a Prime Minister outside of the Pacific Islands Forum to Vanuatu we understand, ever. This is really about demonstrating, following through on the announcements I made last year, about stepping up our security partnerships, stepping up our economic and cultural partnerships. There is also the work we’re doing with Blackrock in Fiji, which is very important about boosting the training and presence for police and other forces, international forces that Fijians are a big part of, around the world. This is a big partnership.

KENNEDY: Prime Minister, I know you’re short on time so I wanted to ask you, will the Neil Prakash citizenship mistake be addressed? Will you discuss that, is that on your agenda?

PRIME MINISTER: We’ve been dealing with that issue between the Governments over the last few weeks, including directly from leader to leader.

KENNEDY: Okay, finally you said yesterday you're a ‘Prime Minister for standards’ as we head full bore into that election campaign, I want to ask whether Australian politicians are to be held to the same standards as everyone else or a higher standard?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we should be should be setting standards, we are leaders in the community and people have high expectations of us. They’re things we always have to aspire to. I have never shirked away from that, where those standards are not met, then Australians are disappointed.

But we have a big task ahead of us this year. Those economic storm clouds are gathering. This is not a time to put our economic future at risk. The economy that we will all live in over the next decade, will determine choices for our kids, for our future and for the funding of services. So my focus is on ensuring the economy is strong so we can deliver for all Australians.

KENNEDY: Prime Minister thanks for your time this morning and we hope to see you more often on News Breakfast in the lead-up to the election.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks for being here with me this morning Paul.


Contacts: Press Office, (02) 6277 7744 The Hon. Scott Morrison MP, Sydney