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Transcript of doorstop interview: Brisbane: 2 March 2009: the economy; Joel Fitzgibbon; executive pay; Rio/Chinalco; Jobs for Australia.



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

2 March 2009

TRANSCRIPT OF THE HON. MALCOLM TURNBULL MP DOORSTOP INTERVIEW BRISBANE

Subjects: the economy; Joel Fitzgibbon; executive pay; Rio/Chinalco; Jobs for Australia.

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

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

I’m here with my colleague Andrew Laming, the Member for Bowman, and Mark Robinson, the LNP candidate for Cleveland in the state election. In this state election, Queenslanders are being asked who do they trust to manage their state, to manage its finances and to manage this great economy of Queensland in what we know are going to be challenging times ahead. And they have a Labor Government that has run this state into massive debt in good times, in the middle of a mining boom. Ran up enormous debt and lost the state’s AAA rating. The real question then for Queenslanders is, how can you trust the Labor Party to manage this state, the jobs of Queenslanders, the future of Queenslanders, in tough times when they have so badly mismanaged it and run up so much debt in good times.

The other thing I want to make some remarks about is Joel Fitzgibbon. In October last year, Joel Fitzgibbon said he would fix the problems with the SAS pay. These are Australia’s elite fighting men. They are in the front line of the battle against terrorism. They’re the men we send into the most dangerous part of the world to fight the most ruthless enemy, the Taliban, and their pay has been in a state of disarray for months. Joel Fitzgibbon said in October he’d fix it up. He said in Parliament in the last few weeks that it was all fixed and now today he has thrown up his hands in despair, acknowledged that he has no idea what the real facts are, and called in independent auditors to investigate. The sad fact of life is this; Joel Fitzgibbon is completely out of his depth. He does not know whether the soldiers have been properly paid or not. He does not know how much they have been underpaid by. He does not know how much has been claimed back. He does not know how many soldiers are involved. He doesn’t know anything at all and Mr Rudd should put him out of his misery and appoint somebody competent as Minister for Defence.

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QUESTION:

In that case, are you calling for Mr Rudd to sack Joel Fitzgibbon?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Absolutely. Mr Rudd should dismiss Joel Fitzgibbon. If Joel Fitzgibbon is not prepared to do the right thing and resign, then Mr Rudd should sack him. We have a Defence Minister who has said again and again, over months, that there is not a problem or that the problem will be fixed or that the problem has been fixed and yet the only thing we know about Joel Fitzgibbon is that he doesn’t know what’s going on and he has now admitted to that today by saying he is so despairing of his ability to find out the real facts, to find out what’s going on, he’s calling in the auditors. Now, there has been a complete collapse in confidence between the Minister and the Defence Department. He has to fall on his sword, and if he doesn’t, Mr Rudd should give him a push.

QUESTION:

So it’s no doubt that the relationship between the Minister and the Department is at an all time low. What does that mean for our troops serving over in Afghanistan?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

There is nothing more important than morale. When we send our troops into the frontline, they have to know that they have a Government and a Minister for Defence who is rock solid behind them. They have to know that that Minister will move mountains to sort out any problems they have. Now every soldier in the Australian Army knows that if John Howard was still Prime Minister and this problem had arisen, it would have been fixed on the spot. Immediately. It would have been fixed. It doesn’t involve a large number of men. It isn’t a huge amount of money. It is simply a question of incompetence, indifference, laziness, that has seen this situation where we have a Minister who genuinely does not have a clue. He is clueless, and he’s admitted he’s clueless today by calling in independent auditors to try to find out the real facts of the matter.

QUESTION:

But the accounting problems in the Defence Department were an open and acknowledged problem even during the previous Howard Government. If the Howard Government couldn’t fix the problem in all the time they were in Government, how can you expect Joel Fitzgibbon to have fixed it in the short time he’s been the Minister?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

There hasn’t been a precedent for this. This is a bizarre situation where we have our finest soldiers on the front line and a Minister leaving their families on the bread line. That hasn’t happened before. It shouldn’t have happened now, and Mr Fitzgibbon should resign.

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QUESTION:

Moving to executive pay, what’s your stance? The Greens have come out saying one thing and Lindsay Tanner said shareholders should decide. What’s your stance on what they should get paid?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

I thought Lindsay Tanner had said the opposite, actually. He said shareholders shouldn’t decide. I’ll tell you what our position is. I have stated last year and I’ve stated again this year, and I might say this has been my view for many, many years, that the senior executive salaries - certainly, the salary and the remuneration of the chief executive - should be decided by the shareholders. That’s to say, it should get the approval of the shareholders. Now, there’s plenty of precedent for that. There are many decisions that are taken in companies, particularly public companies, that have to go to shareholders for approval. That simple change, just a little bit of democracy in the corporate world, would ensure that you would not get some of these over the top salaries and, frankly, if shareholders want to pay their chief executives a lot of money, it’s their company, they can do it. But what outrages a lot of shareholders, a lot of mums and dads with shares in companies, in their super funds, who have seen the value of their investments plummet, what enrages them is to see executives being paid big money when the shareholders have been losing. It’s a sort of heads they win, tails they win situation and that’s not fair.

QUESTION:

Do you think that Chinalco should be able to invest in Rio?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

This is a big issue, Chinese investment in Australian mining companies. We are continuing to get information on it from the company and we are looking forward to the Government’s consideration of it through the Foreign Investment Review Board process. There are a lot of issues there, and we are carefully considering it and monitoring it, and we’ll be expressing our views on it in a considered way in due course.

QUESTION:

So at this stage you don’t have a position?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

This is a complex situation. Rio has some very big financing challenges. It needs to raise money to reduce debt. There are a lot of questions as to whether this is the best way for it to do so. There are some shareholders that have been arguing they could raise that money through a rights issue. Rio has said that’s not open to them. It’s a complex structure that is being proposed. There are questions about how much control the Chinese investors will have and we’re seeking more information on that, as I’m sure the Government is, and we’ll be forming a considered opinion in due course

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having regard to all of the issues, including the thousands of jobs that depend on Rio in Australia.

QUESTION:

Well, then, what are some of the reasons that a Chinese company shouldn’t be able to invest in an Australian mining company? What would it mean for our resources sector?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well, I think those issues have been well aired in the press. There are questions about control. That’s why we have a Foreign Takeovers and Acquisitions Act. That’s the whole purpose of the regulation is to ensure that the national interest is protected. It’s a question of getting the balance right. None of these issues are ever straight forward. They’re always complex, and it’s important to look at them very carefully and have regard to the competing issues, not least of which, of course, are the jobs of Australians and also, of course, the question of control of Australia’s resources so it is always a balancing issue. The Government is dealing with it right now, as they should be, and we’re certainly monitoring it very closely. But we’ll be forming our views in the light of all the information.

What we’re doing today, this is a jobs forum. What we’re doing around Australia is reaching out, both in public meetings like this and through our website Jobs for Australia, to seek ideas, suggestions, policy suggestions, from the public, particularly from small business, as to the policies we can propose and that governments can undertake to protect jobs. The three top priorities of every government in Australia today are jobs, jobs, jobs. That is our focus and that’s what we’re holding the Government to account for. Now so far they’ve spent a lot of money, a lot of borrowed money, and haven’t created any jobs. When Mr Rudd was asked to demonstrate that his $10 billion cash splash in December had created the 75,000 jobs that he said it would, he couldn’t demonstrate that it created one job. There’s a lot of wisdom out there in the community and we’re reaching out all over Australia in forums like this and on our website for ideas, suggestions that will enable us to present the policy proposals that will enable Australian business to keep their employees on the payroll.

QUESTION:

Is this the first forum of its kind in Queensland, or have you held some already?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

We’ve held forums around Australia. This is not the first, but this is probably the largest one that’s been held in Queensland to date. Andrew Laming, as you know, is the Member for Bowman and heads up our Opposition Economics Committee. Andrew’s very focused on the needs of small business, very alert to the opportunities for action and policies that will create, make it easier for businesses to keep people on the payroll. That’s why when Mr Rudd was proposing his $42 billion stimulus, we proposed a different, a smaller amount of money therefore less debt but a more effectively targeted stimulus. And one of the elements in that was a proposal that

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would rebate a proportion of the Superannuation Guarantee contribution for small business, thereby directly reducing over a period of several years the cost of employment. So that was one constructive suggestion that we put forward, and we’ll be putting forward others, particularly as we draw on the ideas from the community and in particular the small business community which is really the engine room of the Australian economy.

[ends]