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Transcript of interview with Leigh Sales: ABC 7:30: 24 June 2016



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PRIME MINISTER

THE HON. MALCOLM TURNBULL MP

TRANSCRIPT

24 June 2016

Interview with Leigh Sales, 730 ABC

E&OE…

LEIGH SALES:

Prime Minister thanks for joining me.

PRIME MINISTER:

Very good to be here.

LEIGH SALES:

What is the Australian government’s response to Britain voting to leave the EU and the subsequent resignation of the British Prime Minister David Cameron?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we respect the decision of the British people and we know that we will continue to have in the future the very closest relations with the United Kingdom. At a personal level, I’m sorry to see David resign but I can understand his reasons for doing so. Our relations with Britain are as close as two countries relations could be and nothing will change there. Equally in terms of the European Union we have strong relations with all of the countries of the European Union but particularly the two biggest economies France and Germany. And we have strong support in both those countries to the negotiation of a free trade agreement with the EU which is one of our next export trade deals that we’re seeking to achieve, building on the success of the others that we achieved over the last few years.

LEIGH SALES:

I’ll come to that big picture in a second but firstly have you spoken to Prime Minister Cameron?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes I spoke to Mr Cameron a few hours ago before he announced his resignation.

LEIGH SALES:

And what did you say to him?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it was a private conversation. But I’m - naturally I consoled him on the defeat in the referendum and we discussed his next steps and what he announced did not come as any surprise.

LEIGH SALES:

Australia would have preferred Britain to remain within the EU, so therefore I assume we think this is not an optimal outcome, what do you think the impact on the Australian economy will be?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I think the immediate impact is going to be a period of instability in markets and we’ve already seen that. We’ve seen the pound sold off, the Aussie dollar was sold off too. We’ve seen big falls in equity markets. These events unsettle markets, they undermine confidence to some extent. And there is a process that has to be gone through. I think it would be difficult to say precisely how long it will be before equanimity is restored but I think we could be looking at a period of some uncertainty. It’s a reminder Leigh of a point I often make that we are living in a period of rapid economic change; we’re living in a period of volatility. We have to embrace that. We have to recognise that we have got to make sure that we have stable leadership, an economic plan, stable government so that we are able to deal with the unforeseen, as Margaret Thatcher would have said, expect the unexpected. We’ve got to be able to deal with those eventualities and of course cease the opportunities as they arrive.

LEIGH SALES:

But I just wonder if that message though, when you look at what’s happened in Britain, the message about change and the need to embrace it and so forth, people find change scary and lots of things about it scary - that technology takes jobs, that markets are open, that flow of labour is open, there’s increased immigration for example back and forth within Europe. I just wonder if that message that you’re making perhaps scares and alienates people?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Leigh, I think the big - you mentioned immigration and that was a very big issue in Britain, probably the single biggest one. That Britons felt they had lost their sovereignty, well many Britons did, and this was the argument that because other citizens of other European Union countries could come and go into the United Kingdom as they pleased Britons felt that they had lost control of their own country. Now rightly or wrongly that was a perception, that was something that reminds us of how really important it is for the government to be seen to control its borders and of course we are able to do that in Australia and that’s one of the issues in this election.

LEIGH SALES:

Nonetheless what about my message more broadly that this message of optimism and change is unsettling to people?

PRIME MINISTER:

If you look at the cases made by people like Boris Johnson, it is very much about Britain being able to better engage in the 21st century freed from the shackles of bureaucratic Europe and better able to embrace the world. Part of the argument that the leave case made was they said, in this age of technological change, in this age of the internet, in this age of globalism, why would we remain part of

Europe for no reason other than geographic proximity at a time when technology has abolished geography? Now that was part of their case I’m not saying it was right but that was part of their argument. So the leave case actually embraced a message of optimism and belief in Britain and a belief in Britain’s sovereignty to go it alone and of course then be able to deal with everybody - every country in the world as an international citizen and being particularly able to do that because of the independence and so the abolition of geography occasioned by technology and the internet.

LEIGH SALES:

You mentioned before that this will inevitably result in a period of instability. Some voters might think well the last time we had a period of global instability with the global financial crisis Labor was in Government. They shepherded the country through safely, we avoided going into a recession unlike many industrialised countries around the world, therefore that is evidence that it is Labor with the experience to manage the economy through times of instability and trouble.

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t think anyone could put that with a straight face. I mean the prospect - being deadly serious about this, the prospect of a Labor - Greens - Independent alliance and all of the instability that brings with it, a Labor Party with no economic plan other than to run up higher deficits…

LEIGH SALES:

But Labor shepherded Australia through the GFC successfully?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think what shepherded Australia through the GFC successfully was the Chinese stimulus and the large amount of cash that John Howard left in the bank. You may recall when I was Opposition Leader I begged Kevin Rudd not to spend so much, and with the benefit of hindsight there’s no doubt he spent far too much and he left us with a huge structural deficit and of course a mountain of debt which we are struggling to deal with.

LEIGH SALES:

But the deficit has tripled under the Coalition, so are we not in an even worse position now?

PRIME MINISTER:

Leigh that is - the deficit was massively understated by Labor when they left Government and what we have been endeavouring to do as you know, is to bring it back and we’ve had savings rejected by Labor in the Senate. There’s no question that we are, if you compare our economic plan, which is the Budget, versus what we know of Labor’s - they are proposing to deliver higher deficits and more debt. So there’s no question about that, they’ve owned up to at least that, they haven’t told us how much more in deficits and how much more in debt yet.

LEIGH SALES:

Before we run out of time, let’s run through a couple of other domestic political issues that have been a feature of the campaign today. In October last year, according to Hansard, you said that of a same-sex marriage plebiscite it is clear that every Australian will get a vote and that vote will be respected, if the vote is carried it will become law. Yet today you’re saying that MPs will have a free vote which means it may not become law, why have you changed your position?

PRIME MINISTER:

No I haven’t changed my position at all. It absolutely will become law because it will sail through the Parliament.

LEIGH SALES:

Why do you think that though?

PRIME MINISTER:

Because I understand the Parliament.

LEIGH SALES:

Sorry to cut you off but previously, many people on your own side and people on Labor’s side have said they don’t support same-sex marriage so why do you think it will get through the Parliament?

PRIME MINISTER:

Because there is - there was probably not support on a free vote basis for same sex marriage in the last Parliament. Of course we don’t know who will be in the next Parliament. But I know Parliamentarians well enough to know this, and I know my colleagues well enough that if the Australian people vote yes in a plebiscite for same-sex marriage - I will be encouraging them to vote yes and I will be voting yes, as will Lucy - I have no doubt it will sail through the Parliament. Leigh that is the last thing to be concerned about. You can make all sorts of arguments for and against the plebiscite. I understand that. If that plebiscite is carried, as I believe it will be, the Parliament will pass into law legislation which legalises same-sex marriage, without any doubt.

LEIGH SALES:

If MPs are going to have a free vote anyway, then what’s the point of having a plebiscite, why not just have a free vote?

PRIME MINISTER:

Because we have offered the plebiscite - my predecessor, his government, the Coalition Government led by Mr Abbott offered the Australian people that plebiscite, it was a commitment that we’ve made. There’s very high levels of support for it. It’s a commitment we have to honour. I understand the arguments against it very well but it is thoroughly democratic and every Australian will get a say in it and I’m very confident that the plebiscite will be carried. I think the argument that Mr Shorten makes, that the Australian people can’t be trusted to have a civil conversation and a decent and respectful conversation about this, is really - he’s really selling the Australian people short. He’s not giving Australians credit for the…

LEIGH SALES:

But Scott Morrison was sort of backing that this week because he was coming in after Penny Wong said that she feared it would open up a sort of hateful national conversation. He said that he felt people with his point of view were also subject to hate. So he’s sort of backing Bill Shorten…

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t - I have discussed this issue with Scott on numerous occasions as recently as today. So the - that’s not - Scott is confident, as I am, that there will be a respectful, no doubt robust debate about the issue. But you know we resolve controversial issues by referendum. The republic was one - sadly I was on the losing side there but it was certainly, we managed to have a respectful debate there. We’ve got in the issue of the recognition of our First Australians in the Constitution that will require a referendum. Nobody is suggesting we can’t have a respectful debate about that. So I have more faith in the Australian peoples good sense than Mr Shorten does I’m afraid.

LEIGH SALES:

One more question - latest claim that the Coalition has a plan to privatise Medicare. In your first interview on this program as Prime Minister you nominated as one of your first principles the free market. So isn’t it a logical conclusion therefore that a Coalition Government would prefer to privatise every aspect of Medicare that you could? I’m not saying privatising Medicare overall - you’d like to privatise whatever aspects would appeal to the free market?

PRIME MINISTER:

That is not correct and can I..

LEIGH SALES:

You’re a free marketeer.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I do believe in the free market but I also believe in Government and one of the criticisms I’ve made of government in the past is that it outsources too much of its own business. Now look..

LEIGH SALES:

How does that fit with your first principles?

PRIME MINISTER:

Let me just continue. As Michael Gannon the AMA president said a couple of times this week if you were to outsource to a payments firm the payments of Medicare that would not be privatising Medicare. It’s nonsense to say its privatising Medicare. It’s just the mechanism for ensuring that money gets to doctors and patients and so forth. As it happens Governments in my view have outsourced too much in the area of technology and systems and often at great cost. So if you look at what I’ve done I set up the Digital Transformation Office within Government in order that we can bring government services in to the 21st century without having to pay enormous fees to big systems integrators like IBM and others. I’ve got nothing against IBM of course. It is important that the Australian Public Service has the capacity to deliver 21st century services and of course we can do that. We can access all of that technology and my commitment is that none of the payment services or any of the services of Medicare, that have been undertaken by Government today will cease being undertaken by Government in the future. Now, Mr Shorten knows that, but nonetheless he has persisted with this shocking lie. You asked him to put his hand on his heart and repeat it and he wasn’t prepared to do so. It is a desperate lie and he’s been calling up older Australians, late at night, and frightening them over this.

LEIGH SALES:

Do you want to put your hand on your heart and look Australians in the eye and say you’re not privatising any aspects of Medicare?

PRIME MINISTER:

You can absolutely take my word for it. There is no way we will privatise any part of Medicare at all.

LEIGH SALES:

Prime Minister thank you very much for joining us.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

Ends