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Transcript of interview with Leon Compton: ABC radio, Darwin: 23 April 2009: Labor's failed policies on people smuggling; IMF report; Australian economy; visit to Darwin.



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

23 April 2009

TRANSCRIPT OF THE HON. MALCOLM TURNBULL MP INTERVIEW WITH LEON COMPTON ABC RADIO, DARWIN

Subjects: Labor’s failed policies on people smuggling; IMF report; Australian economy; visit to Darwin.

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

COMPTON:

Malcolm Turnbull good morning to you and thank you for coming in.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Yeah, great to be with you Leon.

COMPTON:

So another boat of asylum seekers arrived off the coast of Western Australia yesterday, asylum seekers from the tragedy off Ashmore Reef last week are still being treated in Northern Territory hospitals, what briefings have you received on the number of asylum seekers in Indonesia at the moment, still waiting to come here?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well we haven’t received any confidential, any private briefings that are any different from what’s been said by the ministers, which is that there is a lot, some thousands, potentially, coming to Australia. So there is certainly, well the Government is acknowledging that its border protection policies have failed - there’s no other way you can put it. We are now very close to having had twice as many unlawful arrivals since August last year as we’d had in the previous six years. Now on any view that is a failure of policy. The Rudd Government is not protecting our borders. They are not stopping the boats. The boats are coming, putting life and limb at very grave risk - as we saw tragically on the Ashmore Reef - and of course putting at risk the lives of the Australian Defence Force personnel who go to their aid.

COMPTON:

And is the policy prescription coming from the conservatives that would mark a difference between the two parties that temporary protection visas need to be implemented again?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

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Well that’s just one aspect of it. You’ve got to remember we had a whole range of policies, a whole suite of policy if you like, which the Labor Government has walked away from and they’ve made significant changes. They abandoned the temporary protection visas - that’s true - in August last year and they’ve now got their own package of policies, but the problem we face is that they’re not working. I mean the pressure has to be on Mr Rudd - what is his answer going to be?

COMPTON:

Is it your answer to reinstate temporary protection visas?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Leon what we have to do, and this what I’ve offered to do to Mr Rudd, I’ve offered to sit down with him, if he’s prepared to give us the benefit of the latest intelligence, the up-to-date intelligence from the AFP. I mean we’re told that the Australian Federal Police have advised the Government that their change in policies has resulted in this dramatic increase in unauthorised boat arrivals. We saw Steve Cook from the International Organisation for Migration in December last year, based in Indonesia, predicting this would happen…..

COMPTON:

What is your policy response?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Just let me go on, the interesting thing is, you’re asking me this - and I’ll answer you - but I’ll just tell you something, I have not heard one journalist ask the Government what they’re going to do. The media are very concerned about what the Opposition would do if we were in government. But there is no interest, no pressure on the Government to say what it’s going to do to stop this dramatic increase in boats - and I think a lot of people listening to this will be puzzled as to why the questions are not being put to Mr Rudd. He doesn’t get asked that.

COMPTON:

Is it not reasonable for people listening to accept as a policy response to sit and continue to allow people to come where they do, to continue working with Indonesia as the Government has done and as your government did before that, to continue trying to intercept people as they move into our waters, to process them in places like Christmas Island and to see what happens from there?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Leon I think you need to have a suite of policies. The ideal…..

COMPTON:

Well what’s yours? It doesn’t seem that you do.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well I was just about to say so until you interrupted me. You need to have a suite of policies and the first objective is that to ensure boats don’t leave Indonesia, plainly. So we need to improve the level of cooperation with Indonesia. What Mr Rudd should have as a top priority is reaching agreement with Indonesia to process these asylum seekers in Indonesia. That is the ideal, that is unquestionably the ideal

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solution. That should be highest, if you like, diplomatic priority in relation to asylum seekers. We also need to provide a very high level of, if you like, of assurance that the asylum seekers will not be able to reach the Australian mainland - in other words that they’ll be processed offshore, assuming they leave Indonesia - and that’s why interception is vital. The Rudd Government has reduced the resources available for monitoring and interception of asylum seekers and you saw the boat yesterday got very close to the Australian mainland, in which case it couldn’t have been taken to Christmas Island. So he needs to put more resources to work and stop chopping back on it.

COMPTON:

But correct me if I’m wrong, the Navy were arguing that they’d been following that boat for 24 hours and had it well and truly in their sights before they got here. Their argument was they had it under control.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

All I’m saying to you Leon is that it was very close to the Australian mainland.

COMPTON:

But do you also accept that the Navy had it under control?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well I’ve noted what’s been said. I’m saying it was very close, Barrow Island is very close to the Australian mainland. The next point is whether we should - this is the question you’ve posed earlier - whether we should reinstate the temporary protection visas? Now let’s just focus on that. What temporary protection visas means is that people who arrive by boat have a different visa entitlement than people who come by other means, right? And it was a deliberate attempt to create a disincentive for people to get into those boats at danger to themselves and to everybody else. So that was the policy.

COMPTON:

By denying them access to, for example, learning English when they got here, by denying them access to family reunion, amongst other things…..

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Leon, the reality is however that the package of measures we’ve had in years passed worked, the evidence was that they worked.

COMPTON:

Is it policy now, Mr Turnbull?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

What I have said and I will repeat again here, if you’ll let me….

COMPTON:

Is it policy now; is the reinstatement of temporary protection visas policy for the conservatives now?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

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Leon, what I have said is that we believe that the reinstatement of temporary protection visas or a variant of them, which provides a differentiated set of visa entitlements for people who arrive by boat, should be very high on the agenda for discussion with the Government in terms of creating a new, amended set of policies that will be effective.

You see temporary protection visas simply means a way of saying you have a different visa entitlement if you come by boat - it’s designed to be a disincentive. Now we had a package of policies under the previous government that worked. That package has now been changed by Mr Rudd and we have a dramatic increase in boat arrivals. What Mr Rudd is doing is he is saying ‘I am helpless’. He is saying there is nothing the Australian Government can do to prevent unauthorised boat arrivals. Now our policies when we were in government changed in the light of circumstances and in the light of intelligence and events as we learned more about the problem. They evolved. We inherited mandatory detention from the Labor Party - don’t forget that.

COMPTON:

Do you think Mr Turnbull that we’re about to see significantly larger numbers of people attempting to seek asylum here by boat, significantly larger numbers?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

It appears to be, that’s certainly what the Government is saying and that’s certainly what is being indicated by reports in the media, yes. And it’s a matter of very grave concern. But the big difference between us and the Government, Leon, is that they are in Government, they are responsible for protecting our borders, they have access to the up-to-date information about people smuggling - which they are refusing to share with the Australian people.

Now if I was the Prime Minister today I can guarantee you this; that I would be doing everything I can, undertaking whatever policies would be effective to keep our borders safe. We are committed to that. The policies will have to change, whoever is in government, from time to time to meet the circumstances. But what Mr Rudd is saying is it’s too hard. He is saying it is helpless and instead of people focussing on what the Government is going to do, you are asking us hypothetical questions about what we would do were we in government today.

Now what we would do if we were in government is make sure the policies worked. What Mr Rudd’s policies are doing is they are not working. They are not keeping the boats out.

COMPTON:

Mr Turnbull I’d like to move on to other subjects, I’m sure there are plenty of other things the Territorians will be raising with you across the course of the next few days that you spend in the Northern Territory attending Anzac Day services, Robertson Barracks, amongst other things. You’re on 105.7 ABC Darwin. My guest this morning; Malcolm Turnbull, Leader of the Opposition, at 18 past nine. You’re welcome to give us a call if you’d like to join the discussion, 1300 057 222 is the number or you can send us a text to 1999 1057. Let’s have a look at some of the figures released by the IMF today and the figures that they’re talking about in the context of the Australian economy. One point four per cent contraction in our economy, unemployment to rise significantly, I think they’re talking about 7.8 per cent, although the Northern Territory seems to be immune to some of that at the moment. What are you expecting, how bad do you think things will get?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

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Well I can’t improve or vary, challenge the IMF’s forecasts, every forecaster has got slightly different numbers but nobody is expecting the economy to get better for a while. Clearly we are in a very significant downturn, both locally and of course globally.

The issue really is not how deep is the hole that we’re in; the question is what are we doing to get out of it. And so I’m more focused on what policies are being deployed today to get our economy on the move again. What is the plan for recovery?

My criticism of the Government is that they have had a range of big spending, big borrowing programs which have been ineffective, which have not created any jobs. You know, remember they borrowed $23 billion in the last four months just for cash splashes alone and haven’t created a single job. On the other hand, I have a positive plan for measures which are much better targeted, which will create jobs and provide real incentives, particularly for small businesses, to employ Australians and keep Australians on the payroll.

COMPTON:

The IMF seems to say we will avoid the worst of the global contraction. Could that not be attributed to the pump-priming of the economy that the Rudd Government’s been involving itself in?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

No, absolutely not. And I think Mr Swan actually, as best he could - through gritted teeth no doubt - conceded this today that the reason Australia is relatively better off to other developed countries is because of the very strong position it was left in by the previous government…

COMPTON:

So what would you do? What is one thing that you could name that would significantly improve the capacity of Australians to weather the storm affecting the globe?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well, firstly, what we have to do is not borrow money for extravagant and poorly targeted spending. So you’ve got to remember that the more money you borrow today, the higher the taxes and higher interest rates are going to be in the future. So making every dollar count, getting the best bang for the taxpayers’ buck is vital.

We would bring forward the tax cuts for July 1 this year and July 1 next year to provide real incentive. We would provide a rebate from the Government for a portion of the superannuation guarantee contribution paid by small businesses to put cash back into small businesses. They are at the frontline of employment. We would provide real incentives for green refits for companies to or people to refit their buildings, to have greater water efficiency and energy efficiency - double the depreciation for that - again that provides jobs. It’s also good for the environment.

We would allow companies to carry backwards tax losses instead of only being able to carry - or losses I should say - instead of only being able to carry them forwards, be able to carry them back and get back the tax they’ve paid from past years. This is a practice that’s available in many other countries. It would provide real relief in terms of cash flow, particularly for small businesses, in this environment. We would slash through red tape, make it easier for people to start businesses and keep businesses going.

We have a whole range of measures. They are on my website - the small business plan is a six-point plan - and it’s malcolmturnbull.com.au and I would encourage everyone to have a look at it.

COMPTON:

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Mr Turnbull, let’s have a chat about the upcoming federal election. It isn’t too far away. Have you started looking for candidates in the seat of Solomon?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well, that’s a matter for the CLP of course but I’m sure they’re looking out for candidates and, you know, if you’re interested in nominating you’ve just got to join the CLP. And I’m sure there’s a preselection you could participate in, Leon.

LEON COMPTON:

You’re not talking to me personally of course but suggesting that people…

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

The reality is, Leon, that we are a grassroots political movement on the conservative side of politics. The preselections are done by the local members in each division. In the case of Solomon, obviously here in Darwin, and that is a matter for them. But we are always looking for talent; politics is a talent business. People think politicians aren’t talented enough I imagine but, nonetheless, we’re always looking for good people. We had a great local member in Dave Tollner. He was outstanding. Of course he was unfortunately defeated in the last election and is now serving in the Territory Parliament. But we will be looking for somebody to do that, to stand as our candidate here, but that will be the responsibility of the members of the CLP in Solomon.

COMPTON: We still have asylum seekers being treated here at Royal Darwin Hospital. Will you be meeting any of them during your time in the Northern Territory?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

I would like to but I don’t think that will be possible. I’m going to the hospital and I’m going to see Len Notaras and see some of his emergency team there and really hear what they have been doing and pass on to them our thanks for the absolutely courageous and unstinting efforts they’ve been making to helping these people. I mean, this is an important thing, Leon - just getting back to the point about border protection policy - we have to remember that there is a massive public interest from every aspect in stopping these unauthorised boat arrivals because the more boats, you know, these are not - let’s face it - these are not ocean liners, these are often very unseaworthy boats, there’s a lot of risk and these accidents and, indeed, incidents do happen. Now, we still don’t know exactly what happened on that boat and the sooner those facts are laid out the better.

COMPTON:

It seems like there’s a pretty good opportunity while you’re in the Northern Territory to have a chat to some of the people on the boat who might be being treated here.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

I would very much like to but the question is whether that will be made available.

COMPTON:

Will you try and do it?

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MALCOLM TURNBULL:

We’ve certainly sought to do that but my understanding is that is not going to be possible.

COMPTON:

It will be interesting to see what happens at that and the rest of your time in the Northern Territory.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Yeah, thanks a lot Leon.

COMPTON:

Thank you for coming into the studio and talking with us this morning.

[ends]