Transcript

Tony Abbott transcript - Joint Doorstop Interview, Melbourne

Subjects: Tony Abbott’s visit to the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute; the federal election; the Coalition’s commitment to Australia’s automotive industry; school funding; Kevin Rudd’s failed border protection policies.

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

TONY ABBOTT:

It’s terrific to be here in Melbourne at the famous Walter and Eliza Hall Institute – one of Australia’s leading medical research institutes. I’d like to thank the President, Chris Thomas, the Deputy Director, Professor David Vaux for making Peter Dutton and myself so welcome today.

It really does make me very proud to be at a world-leading institute like this. All too often at the moment we get gloomy and doomy about Australia’s prospects, but the fact is, we are the best country on Earth, we are world beaters at so many things and one of the things that we are remarkably good at is health and medical research. It’s been good to talk to the researchers this morning and just recently, to talk to them about the fact that under the Coalition, health and medical research will be quarantined from cuts. We’re going to improve the administration of our national health and medical research grant process so that our world-beating researchers spend more time in a laboratory and less time at their desk doing paperwork. We will streamline the grant application process, we will streamline the grant approval process, we will streamline the ethical approval process. We will ensure that there are longer terms to research grants so that our world-beating researchers can make the most of their talents for the benefit of patients here and right around the world.

I am really proud of the work that happens here. I couldn’t help but notice this magnificent new facility that we’re currently in which was built with the assistance of a $50 million federal grant made when I was the Health Minister. When last in Government, the Coalition had a very good record in increasing funding for Health and Medical research. Given the fiscal constraint, it’s not possible at this time to announce funding increases, but certainly it would be a false economy to cut funding in this area. Yet I fear this is what will happen under the current Government.

I want to thank Peter Dutton for his work as Shadow Health Minister, for the commitment of – that he has made to the sector, the conscientiousness to which he’s done his job and I might ask Peter to say a few words before taking some questions.

PETER DUTTON:

Well thank you very much, Tony. I’d also like to say thank you very much to the institute today in particular to the researchers, the scientists, in particular the young scientists. We are amazingly punching above our weight in the area of medical research and a large part of that is due to Tony’s time as Health Minister.

When we came into Government in 1996, there was only just under $100 million being spent on medical research. When Tony Abbott was Health Minister, he increased that to over half a billion dollars a year. So it provided opportunities for young researchers and it provided opportunities for us to come up with developments so that not only we improve the health of the nation that we live in, but for peoples around the world. That’s a real increase of over 200 per cent in medical research when Tony Abbott was Health Minister. And if you contrast that against Kevin Rudd’s actions, he’s added the words medical research to the title of the Health Minister. That’s the contribution from the current Government to medical research. They metered cuts in 2011 and they’ve made it harder given the debt that they’ve thrusted this country in for us to be able to build these amazing institutions and to future proof them. To provide opportunities for the medical researchers – the world class medical researchers.

With the amount of debt that Labor’s got, it makes it harder for medical research in this country. I’m very proud to have worked very closely with Tony on the issue of medical research and to provide certainty into the future for those medical researchers and I think that will be to the betterment of our country’s health into the future and I’m very pleased to be here at the invitation of the institute. It’s an amazing centre and I wish them all the very best into the future.

TONY ABBOTT:

Thank you. Do we have any questions?

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, are you having second thoughts about being in Melbourne today? Do you feel you should be in Canberra debating Mr Rudd on the economy?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well the interesting thing is I am here to talk about specific changes that we will make to improve our health and medical research sector. Unfortunately, Mr Rudd has no specific announcements to make. All he can talk about is process, not change and what our country needs is real change, not fake change. So look, I welcome the fact that Mr Rudd is at the Press Club being accountable, but what the Australian public want is a new and different Government, not just a different face at the head of an old failed Government.

QUESTION:

You got the opportunity to put to Mr Rudd all the criticisms you have made about the handling of the Budget and the economy, why wouldn’t you take that opportunity?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well if Mr Rudd is governing, he can call back the Parliament and we will have debates every day, if Mr Rudd is campaigning, name the election date – we will have election debates. But at the moment, we’ve got a Prime Minister who is frightened of the Caucus – that’s why he wants to take away their right to determine who leads the Labor Party and he’s frightened of the people. That’s why he won’t actually name the election date and get on with it.

QUESTION:

Is that why you don’t want to debate him in Canberra today? He says you’re scared to do that.

TONY ABBOTT:

Look, I have been promoting the same strong team and the same clear plans for months now – in fact for three years now. Unfortunately Mr Rudd has a plan to tear down a Prime Minister, but he doesn’t have a plan for our country and I’m disappointed that in his speech to the Press Club, he seemed to be much more interested in attacking the Opposition than he does in talking about what changes, what specific changes he will make for the benefit of our country.

QUESTION:

In that speech, he’s calling for a new productivity pact with business and unions with an annual productivity growth target of at least two per cent after a 1.6 per cent at the core. What’s your feeling on that and do you think it’s not specific enough?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well it’s all talk isn’t it? What specific change is he going to make? Now, multifactor productivity has actually declined by three per cent since 2008. What changes is he going to make to improve the productivity of our country? What tax cut has he announced? What regulatory cut has he announced? What workplace relations change has he announced? What new changes to the Government’s fiscal targets has he announced? There’s none of that, it’s just more flim flam from someone who is a master of flim flam, but very poor at actually making changes that Australia needs. In the end we have a Government and a Prime Minister who are very clever at politics but they are hopeless at administration and what we want is a competent and trustworthy Government and sadly we don’t have that right now.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, this close to an election, is it appropriate for a Government to be negotiating a quarter of a billion dollars potentially to give to your car maker? Should that be put to the people for their opinion?

TONY ABBOTT:

Look, I think all Australians want to see car manufacturing continue in this country. A first world economy should be able to make motor cars on a long-term viable basis. Certainly the Coalition is more than ready to support the car industry. The only difference between us and the Government when it comes to car industry funding is that we thought $1 billion rather than $1.5 billion was enough to put in the automotive transformation scheme. The third point I want to make on the car industry is should the discussions between Holden and the Government be continuing and there be a change of government we would want to ensure that Holden have a credible serious plan to reduce costs and a credible serious plan to boost volumes, particularly to boost exports because in the end what a flourishing car industry in this country needs is a serious export programme and Toyota to their great credit have integrated their domestic production into their world car plan and it is no coincidence that Toyota is the one profitable car manufacturer in this country.

QUESTION:

So, a domestic only car company shouldn’t expect Coalition hand-outs?

TONY ABBOTT:

No, I’m not saying that. What we would expect from Holden for additional support is a very credible plan to get their cost down and their volumes up.

QUESTION:

Joe Hockey seems to be taking a pretty hard ball against the car manufacturers. Is there a bit of disagreement there between you and he?

TONY ABBOTT:

Absolutely not.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott how do you respond to the Prime Minister’s ongoing criticisms of you, negative politics, he is using his Press Club address at the moment saying you’re cutting and running, you are a no show, the Mr Negative tag that you have got from Mr Rudd?

TONY ABBOTT:

All Mr Rudd has is criticisms of the Opposition. I mean how can you credibly claim to want positive politics in one breath when in your next breath you are attacking the Opposition? When you spent three years and three days viciously undermining the former leader of your own Party. Look, you journalists know what Mr Rudd is like. He has rung most of you on numerous occasions. He has probably phone-stalked many of you to talk to you about Julia Gillard. So, you know all about the real nature of our Prime Minister and I think you know just how seriously we should take it when he says he wants positive politics.

QUESTION:

Just on the productivity and cost of business agenda, there is a case running at Fair Work Australia at the moment that said that 20 year olds should be paid the full adult wage under awards does the Coalition support that?

TONY ABBOTT:

We support measures that boost productivity. We don’t support measures that detract from productivity. We support measures that make people more employable. We don’t support measures that make people less employable. We are certainly in favour of higher wages but if we want our workers to be amongst the world’s best paid they have got to be amongst the world’s most productive and I think the Australian work force is more than capable of being amongst the world’s most productive.

QUESTION:

Retailers in that case have said they can’t afford it. Do you agree with that view?

TONY ABBOTT:

I am sure the commission will take all those submissions into account and make the appropriate judgement.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott under what conditions, under what conditions will a Coalition government, if it comes to that, support the Gonski reforms? You seem to have changed the goalposts.

TONY ABBOTT:

No, we have said all along that in order to do Gonski you need $6.5 billion a year more. If every school is to be better off under the Gonski reforms you need $6.5 billion a year more. Now, our country just does not have $6.5 billion a year more to spend on schools. If we weren’t blowing more than $10 billion on illegal boat arrivals, a whole lot of things including Gonski would become more affordable but at the moment because of Mr Rudd’ border protection failures, because Mr Rudd is the best friend that the people smugglers have ever had we have run up more than $10 billion in border protection budget blow-outs. So, my view on school reform is that I am all in favour of better schools. Yes, more money would help but as much as more money what our schools need is more principal autonomy, better teachers, better teaching, more parental engagement, stronger curriculum and all of that can be done quite apart from increasing funding. As for new funding systems, what we should do is have an adult discussion about it. Not hold a gun at the head of the states, not negotiate through public threats and bluster. Let’s sit down like adults and have a discussion. When we are confident that there is a new system that will deliver improvements and is affordable then you go forward.

QUESTION:

But how many states have to be on board before you will go ahead with it?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well you can’t have a national change unless all states are on board. At the moment Western Australia is not on board, Queensland is not on board, Victoria is not on board and the conditions that Victoria has placed for coming on board are impossible for this government to meet because the government has already passed the legislation and Victoria has said that the legislation is unacceptable.

QUESTION:

Is it a majority or a consensus of states?

TONY ABBOTT:

You cannot have national change unless all the states are on board.

QUESTION:

Given that you have pledged to stop the boats doesn’t that mean that that money will no longer need to be spent? Doesn’t that mean you have money for education? Doesn’t that float?

TONY ABBOTT:

We will make a difference from day one and we will stop the boats, that is absolutely crystal clear but we are not going to make the mistake of this government of spending money before we have got it. I mean if Mr Rudd was fair dinkum at the Press Club today he would be telling us how he is going to stop the boats. He would be telling us that he is going to scrap the mining tax because the mining tax imposes costs without raising any revenue. He wouldn’t be talking about an emissions trading scheme he would be telling us how he is going to move to it. Mr Rudd would be telling us all these things and until he can tell us those things the only conclusion the public can adopt is that he had a plan to destroy a Prime Minister but he doesn’t have a plan to build a country. He doesn’t have a plan to make our nation great.

QUESTION:

How are you going to stop Rudd honeymoon period in this run up to the election. What are you going to change?

TONY ABBOTT:

I’m sorry?

QUESTION:

How are you going to stop this honeymoon period that Rudd is experiencing in the run up to the election?

TONY ABBOTT:

Look, the Australian people at the moment are relieved to see the back of a Prime Minister they didn’t like. They are prepared to give the newcomer, even though he is really a recycled newcomer, the benefit of the doubt but what they expect from him is real change and if it just looks to be a stunt a day rather than a solution a week they will quickly pass critical judgement. Let’s not forget that the last time I went up against Mr Rudd his own party sacked him because they thought he was going to lose an election and just two weeks ago when Mr Rudd became Prime Minister again one third of the Cabinet refused to serve. Now, as a politician I know what a big step it is for a Cabinet Minister to resign. It effectively means that your career is over. So, for a third of the Cabinet to surrender their political careers rather than serve with a new Prime Minister is an extraordinary indictment. An absolutely extraordinary indictment and I think that the people will soon have a chance to pass judgement on this.