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Transcript of radio interview with Luke Grant: 2HD: 27 February 2009: Pacific Brands; employment; Labor's debt train; Joel Fitzgibbon's SAS pay scandal.



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

27 February 2009

TRANSCRIPT OF THE HON. MALCOLM TURNBULL MP INTERVIEW WITH LUKE GRANT 2HD RADIO NEWCASTLE

Subjects: Pacific Brands; employment; Labor’s debt train; Joel Fitzgibbon’s SAS pay scandal.

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

GRANT:

He’s on the line, morning Malcolm.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Good morning Luke.

GRANT:

Thanks very much for your time today. What do you intend to do when you’re in the region today?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well we’re always meeting people, listening to the local community, getting good feedback, it’s particularly important to understand the implications of these job losses for Cessnock and the lower Hunter. And that’s why we’re meeting with the community leaders, with the Mayor, Alison Davey, and the Deputy Mayor Dale Troy and the Council. And also getting out and meeting with small business people and members of the community.

GRANT:

Yeah, given the report in the Telegraph today in relation to what the directors have allegedly voted themselves, that increase, you can understand there’s a fair bit of anger in the community about this today.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Not only can I understand it, I share it. I have been advocating changes to the way executive remuneration is set for a very long time. In fact many years ago, more than 15 years ago I took one of the big listed companies in Sydney, Fairfax which publishes the Sydney Morning Herald and of course the Newcastle Herald, I took them to court when they were giving themselves options exercisable at a dollar when the share price was $1.50. They were giving themselves cash.

[line drops out]

GRANT:

He’s back on the line now.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Sorry about that I don’t know what happened. So I was just saying that in the past I took the directors of Fairfax to court to stop them overpaying themselves and I believe there’s a very straightforward reform that we could make now and Mr Rudd should make now if he’s fair dinkum about this issue, which is to say that senior executives’ pay must be approved by the shareholders. Now at the moment the senior executive remuneration package, if you like, goes to the shareholders and they can express an opinion but it isn’t binding. But it should actually be voted on by the shareholders and that will see a great deal more moderation and circumspection in some of these salary increases.

GRANT:

You would certainly hope so because right now all of us think well, we’ve given that company something like $17 million and a year later after receiving that money in two licks they practically double their directors’ bonuses and they sack nearly 2,000 people. It just doesn’t seem to be right. But what about this issue, where we’ve got - now it’s out there for everyone to understand they’re going to let those workers go. But if those workers leave today because there’s a job down the road that suits them today they’ll lose their entitlements. There’s got to be some protection for those people don’t you think?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Absolutely and this is one of the issues I look forward to discussing with the company and I don’t [inaudible] major political issue out of the very, very [inaudible] circumstances of these workers. Our concern is that the Government has good economic policies that promote jobs and lower wherever possible the cost of employment. Now we believe the Government’s economic policies since they have come in have actually made a difficult economic situation a lot worse. We have a different view, we recognise people, you know there’s a legitimate range of debate about that but that’s our view that they talked up inflation last year, contributed to higher interest rates last year. They have blasted away a lot of money in spending which is all borrowed money, all of which will have to be paid back but which has been done in a way that does not, and is not obviously contributing to employment. So they’re spending a lot of money ineffectively.

But as far as the particular workers involved here are concerned, they must be treated fairly and generously, and whatever we can do to assist them and protect their interests with the company, we will do.

GRANT:

The average bloke in the street or average lady in the street hearing people like you talk and the Treasurer talk, and we hear the world financial turmoil which gets the blame now for everything that exists in a negative way on planet earth. We hear things like the Industry Minister say ‘no job is safe’ and a lot of people nod and say ‘yeah, that’s right given what we hear.’ Was he wrong to say that yesterday or right to say that yesterday?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well it was an absolutely reckless and destructive thing to say Luke. You know the key element here is confidence. Kevin Rudd is like the coach of a football team that is struggling a bit at half time. And instead of going into the dressing room and saying ‘guys, you can walk through brick walls, you can walk over broken glass, you can tear the hearts out of your opponents, you can win, you can do anything, you’re supermen.’ Instead of talking, instead of doing that he’s like a coach who goes in there and says ‘we’re doomed, we’ve lost, give up.’ All he does is talk down the economy.

You know the other day in parliament I sat there, I was stunned to hear him talk about the global financial crisis, this is what he said, I’m paraphrasing but this is essentially what he said; he said ‘it is an economic cyclone that is going from country to country, devastating nations, crushing industries, destroying jobs.’ Anyone who listened to that and believed it would just want to go and hide. What you need is confidence. The fact is jobs are being lost, but the fact is most Australians have still got their jobs and a year from now will still have their jobs, the vast majority.

What we need is confidence and a belief in ourselves, a recognition that we have a strong economy. Kevin Rudd inherited a very strong economy, a Commonwealth Government that had paid off all the previous Labor Party debt. He was dealt by John Howard the very best economic cards he could have ever asked for. And what he has been doing now is talking down the economy from the day he got into office. He undermines confidence and he is making a difficult - it is a difficult situation - he is making it a lot worse. That is my criticism of him.

GRANT:

But doesn’t Joe Hockey also talk it down when he talks to the fact that they’ve now gone into so much debt, or the Government has gone into so much debt it will take forever to pay off? I mean isn’t that more gloomy talk there, the stuff that Joe Hockey [inaudible]

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well I think you’ve got to build up confidence but the reality is Luke, I’m afraid to say Joe is telling the truth there. It’s not pleasant but it is true, if the Government runs up $200 billion of debt which they’re doing, everybody knows it will have to be paid off. Whether you run up $200 billion of debt as a government, or $200,000 as an individual you know you’re going to have to pay it off at some point.

GRANT:

Yeah.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

And the fact is it will be our kids and our grandkids that will be paying it off.

GRANT:

I’ve only got a minute to go, apparently Joel Fitzgibbon, the local member here and Minister for Defence has said that your party has misrepresented a blank payslip in its dealings with the SAS pay dispute this week, and that you owe them an apology. Do you?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Joel Fitzgibbon has said again and again in parliament that he didn’t know what was going on. He’s corrected himself frequently about his blunders but Joel has totally mishandled this. The fact of the matter is, and there’s a story on the front page of The Australian quoting the partner of the soldier concerned, there was a soldier, there is a payslip - it was from January - where there are so many deductions clawing that money that had been previously paid that the payslip ended up with a zero on it.

Now the reality is that what Joel Fitzgibbon is now doing is he is seeking out, trying to find out the people who have complained about this so they can be victimised. And this is a very shabby exercise. Now Joel is a nice bloke and a good guy to have beer with and all of that stuff, but he has completely mishandled this situation and the SAS and every member of the Defence Forces know that if John Howard had been prime minister, if Brendan Nelson had been defence minister or Robert Hill had been defence minister, this problem would have been fixed up in an afternoon. There’s not a lot of men involved, it’s a relatively small number of men, in the context of the defence budget a relatively small amount of money, they could have fixed it up in an afternoon and Joel has allowed it to go on for months and months. Frankly he’s just not competent enough to fix it up.

GRANT:

I’ve got to leave it there. Thanks for your time, have a good day up here today.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Thanks.

[ends]