Media Release

Tony Abbott - Doorstop interview, Sydney

Subjects: The Coalition's plans for a stronger Australia; National Disability Insurance Scheme; visit to Jakarta; border protection; Fair Work Australia; Craig Thomson; David Hicks; Robert McClelland; Australia Day riot; Sachin Tendulkar.

EO&E...........................................................................................................................................

TONY ABBOTT:

It’s terrific to be here at Sunnyfield. Sunnyfield is one of the iconic establishments of my electorate. Sunnyfield is now in in its 60th year of operation. It's a great local institution delivering very important services to people right around Sydney.

As far as the Coalition is concerned, our mission is to build a better Australia. We think that this is a great country and a great people currently let down by a bad government. So, every day I re-pledge this Coalition to rebuilding our country. We want to rebuild family budgets by ending Labor's taxes. We want to rebuild the infrastructure that families use every day by ending Labor's neglect. Above all else, we want to rebuild trust in our polity by ending Labor's lies. That is the mission of the Coalition. That is what I am on about every day and one of the things that I will be stressing in the run-up to the next election is the importance of getting our fiscal situation back under control because if we can get the budget back into strong surplus, and I believe we can get the budget back into surplus, then we will be much better placed to pay for things like the National Disability Insurance Scheme which is so important for people like the staff here at Sunnyfield.
This is all about building a better Australia. That is what I have always dedicated my public life to and it is a disappointment to me to see a Prime Minister and a government which is so focused on political attacks, on personal attacks and I think it is high time that we had a Prime Minister who stopped complaining and started governing.

QUESTION:

The finance department says there is no plan for long term funding for the NDIS yet and it can't plan until the Government shows a firm commitment. Is the Opposition committed to fully fund the NDIS?

TONY ABBOTT:

We think that it is possible to implement the NDIS in accordance with the Productivity Commission's timetable. Obviously, it will be much easier to do that responsibly if we can get the budget back into strong surplus and that’s our firm intention should we be in government and we believe that it is possible to do so much better than the current government is.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, you referred to personal attacks. There was a personal attack yesterday overseas by the Prime Minister, which seemed to be a little unusual given that domestic politics usually stay at home. Were you surprised?

TONY ABBOTT:

I thought it was pretty odd of the Prime Minister refusing to take questions about Craig Thomson because she was overseas and then launching into an attack on the Opposition, even though she was overseas. Look, this is a government which more and more acts like an alternative Opposition, rather than a real government. I think that it is a real pity that the Prime Minister didn't spend some time in Jakarta as well as time in Bali as well as time in Afghanistan and time in New Delhi because the relationship with Indonesia is one of our most crucial and if we are serious about stopping the boats, there needs to be much closer cooperation with Indonesia. Unfortunately, with the live cattle trade in particular, this is a government which has regularly played fast and loose with one of Australia's most important relationships.

QUESTION:

So, is the relationship between Australia and Indonesia at the moment fractured because of that?

TONY ABBOTT:

There is a fundamental strength to the relationship. One of the things that impressed me very much about President Yudhoyono and his senior ministers is their tremendous goodwill towards Australia and I think all too often the current government has trespassed on that goodwill rather than add to it.

QUESTION:

You haven't raised your turning the boats back policy with the Indonesian President. Why not and when will you do that?

TONY ABBOTT:

The last thing I am going to do is go into detail of discussions that I have had with the President and other officials in Indonesia but it is simply wrong to say that we haven't discussed Coalition policies with the Indonesians and particularly the meeting between Julie Bishop and Scott Morrison and Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa went into considerable detail of the Opposition's policies and I think the Indonesians now have a very clear understanding of what our position is and I think they are looking forward to the chance, should we become a government, to working cooperatively with us and to try and address issues of mutual interest.

QUESTION:

[inaudible]...that particular policy, the turning back the boats policy?

TONY ABBOTT:

I am just not going to get into the detail and I am not going to be lectured to by a Prime Minister who is more interested in complaining about the Opposition than she is in getting on with government and I think if the Prime Minister would focus less on playing political games and on petty point-scoring and more on addressing the issues of concern to the Australian public, all of us would be better off.

QUESTION:

Indonesia’s Foreign Minister has expressed in the past some hesitation or opposition to the turning the boats back policies. Was that changed in the meetings with the shadow ministers? Did he express any interest in looking at that in the future?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, again, I’m not going to go into specific details of discussions suffice to say that the Indonesian Government now has the clearest possible understanding of exactly where the Coalition stands and I’m confident that the next Coalition government can work constructively and cooperatively with the Indonesians in the same way that the last Coalition government has and, again, I think it comes ill from ministers who have never met President Yudhoyono to start giving lectures to opposition shadows who have met President Yudhoyono and have had very constructive dialogue with him and with this senior ministers.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, this morning the editor of Macquarie Dictionary decided to expand the meaning of the word misogyny which, as you would know, you’ve probably heard recently a number of times; that expansion basically validating the attack by the Prime Minister and her ministers, where before it was being suggested she was misusing the language. Are you surprised at that?

TONY ABBOTT:

I don’t accept your construction and I’m just going to leave the cheap personal politics to the Labor Party. I think the Australian people are sick and tired of the kind of personal attacks that we see again and again from the Prime Minister and her senior ministers. I think they want both government and opposition to focus on building a better Australia. That’s what I’m trying to do every day and, as I said, I’ll leave the personal attacks and the cheap, grubby smears to the Labor Party.

QUESTION:

Do you have a view, though, on the Macquarie Dictionary’s redefinition? They’re including the words ‘entrenched prejudice against women’.

TONY ABBOTT:

I’m just not going to get into the politics of smear. I think this is something which the Labor Party are expert at and I think the Australian public are heartily sick of.

QUESTION:

Fair Work Australia has been before the Senate Estimates this morning and on the HSU investigation involving Craig Thomson and they mentioned the bill at the moment is $1.3 million. That’s an extraordinary amount of money.

TONY ABBOTT:

And it’s an extraordinary amount of abuse of low paid workers’ funds which we’ve seen from senior officials of the Health Services Union, including - if the Fair Work Australia report is to be believed, and I think it should be taken seriously - Craig Thomson, the Member for Dobell. I think that what we need to see from our Prime Minister is more concern about the misuse of Labor union funds, more concern about the misuse of low paid workers’ money and less concern over protecting her own position in the Parliament.

QUESTION:

Can I ask you about David Hicks? Are you concerned that it was perhaps a mistake or was it manipulative for him to be charged retrospectively, given what has happened in the US appeals court?

TONY ABBOTT:

That is really a matter for the American system of justice under which he was charged.

QUESTION:

The Greens, though, are calling for an independent investigation into his case.

TONY ABBOTT:

It seems that the matter is now potentially again before the US legal system and let's see where it goes.

QUESTION:

Would you support an independent investigation?

TONY ABBOTT:

I would support allowing the United States legal system to do its work.

QUESTION:

The former Attorney-General Robert McClelland says that the Australia Day protests have scuttled any chance of a referendum to recognise indigenous Australians. Do you agree?

TONY ABBOTT:

I certainly think that it is important to progress reconciliation. That is why the Coalition is committed in principle to recognising indigenous people in the Constitution. It was former Prime Minister Howard back in 1999 who in fact put to the public a new preamble that did recognise indigenous people. So, I defer to no one when it comes to my commitment to ensure that indigenous people get a fair go, particularly recognition in the Constitution.

I note the comments that we saw from Robert McClelland in the last day or so. One of most interesting observations of Robert McClelland was that he doesn't believe that the Australia Day riot was simply the work of one low-paid staffer and he does think there should be a much more thorough investigation into who was responsible for the Australia Day riot and who was responsible for inciting the Australia Day riot and I think his words are pretty clear evidence of a lot of unhappiness inside the caucus with the workings of the Prime Minister's office.

QUESTION:

Do you think sports stars like Sachin Tendulkar should get an Order of Australia?

TONY ABBOTT:

I think Sachin Tendulkar has given a lot of pleasure to Australian cricket fans over the years. He's not the only one who has given a lot of pleasure to Australian cricket fans over the years, but I think it is fair enough for him to be acknowledged and recognised as someone who has been a great figure in what is for us a great game. In some respects, cricket is our national game. Certainly, it is our most significant spectator sport in summer and I welcome this and I say good on Sachin Tendulkar for everything that he's done for millions of cricket fans right around the world.

Thank you.