Transcript

Tony Abbott Transcript - Joint Press Conference, Brisbane

Subjects: The Coalition’s commitment to reduce company tax; Judicial inquiry into Kevin Rudd's home insulation programme; Kevin Rudd's border protection failures; the Coalition’s Operation Sovereign Borders; election debates; Kim Williams; policy costings; Kevin Rudd’s tax increase on cigarettes; the Coalition’s Plan for Fast Broadband and an Affordable NBN; Peter Beattie.

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

TONY ABBOTT:

I want to openthis press conference by just re-affirming that the election campaign we're having is not about anyone's ego, it's about the Australian people. It's not about me, it's not about Kevin Rudd, it's not about celebrity, it's about a better life for you the Australian people and everything that the Coalition has been doing in the six days or so since Mr Rudd called this election, is about giving the Australian people a better life. We will get rid of the carbon tax but we will keep the carbon tax compensation because that means that your cost of living pressure reduces, it means that your job security increases. We will reduce the company tax from 30 per cent to 28.5 per cent because that will be good for investment and again it will be good for jobs. So, as far as I am concerned, this election is about building a better life for the Australian people, and that means you've got to have a serious economic strategy, not just a strategy for political survival.

Now, Mr Rudd likes to boast about what he says saved Australia from the global financial crisis. I want to say that Mr Rudd did not save Australia from the global financial crisis. What saved Australia from the global financial crisis was good economic management over the previous 25 years, sensible economic reforms over the previous 25 years, and the China boom which Mr Rudd has done his best to kill with bad policies like the carbon tax and the mining tax. What Mr Rudd did is in fact all around us now - a dead factory, a factory that expanded massively to take up a government programme and which was effectively destroyed when that government programme ended.

Mr Rudd likes to make big promises about the future. Fair enough, promise the world, but let's look at the performance of this Prime Minister and this Government, and all around us today we have evidence of what Mr Rudd was like in government. Let's remember the facts of the home insulation programme. Four deaths tragically, 220 house fires, a thousand electrified roofs, almost a quarter of a million dodgy or substandard insulations and almost $2.5 billion wasted. That didn't save Australia from the global financial crisis. That just indicated what an inept and untrustworthy Prime Minister Mr Rudd has been.

Mr Rudd likes to say that this election is all about trust. Well, the people in this business put their trust in Mr Rudd, put their trust in a government programme, and look what happened to them, look what happened to them. So, look, sure the next four weeks are important in determining the outcome of this election, but not as important as the last six years, not as important as what this Government has actually done and failed to do and all around us we see evidence of this Government's and this Prime Minister's failure.

I'm going to ask Bill Glasson, my friend, the candidate for Griffith, to say a few words in a moment. I'm going to turn now to Greg Hunt to support these remarks. Before I turn to Greg, I just want to say that he has done a remarkable job as the Shadow Minister for the Environment, a really outstanding job in every respect, but the thing that has perhaps most impressed me about Greg is the way he anticipated the disasters of this programme long before they’d happened, and he was warning Minister Garrett of the problems that were going to happen with this programme long before anything ever found its way into the press.

Now, you know, a lot of us are very good at running commentary, a lot of us are very good at public criticism, but this was a Shadow Minister who was acting in the national interest out of the decency of his heart, long before there was anything in the public arena that he could possibly have taken political advantage of. I want to say how proud I am of his work and how pleased I am to have him as a colleague. It is important to get to the bottom of this. It is really important to get to the bottom of this for the families of the young men who died; Matthew Fuller, Rueben Barnes, Mitchell Sweeney, Marcus Wilson, and for all the people whose businesses have been damaged or destroyed whose lives have been put on hold, who have lost their homes as a result of this, we've got to make sure that this kind of disaster never happens again. That's why we need to get to the bottom of it. That's why within a month of an incoming Coalition government taking office, the judicial inquiry will be under way.

Greg?

GREG HUNT:

Look, thanks very much to Tony. The home insulation programme was a human disaster, it was a disaster for small business, it was a disaster for workers, and it was an economic waste of grand proportions.

Unfortunately, the pain still continues. For people such as Matthew and Sue, this business has been a nightmare for the three and a half years since Mr Rudd destroyed what had been a 30-year successful operating business. For people around Australia, it continues to be an economic disaster, a commercial disaster which is affecting their homes, which is affecting their livelihoods, and which affects their ability to get on with the job of living. The pain and the financial stress are still there. Most significantly, for the four families involved, that pain will never, ever go away.

So, what we see here is it is time to finally bring to light the truth. Only this week we've had new revelations that warnings were given directly to departmental officials of deaths, and that their response was that there would be injuries and there would be fires. The closest departmental advisers to the Prime Minister of Australia knew that there would be fires and knew that there would be injuries.

This deserves a judicial inquiry so as we can learn the lessons of the past and this can never, ever, ever happen again.

I've got to say this and I want to give a personal commentary just for a second, my view is that Mr Rudd is careless. He smashes up people's lives, he smashes up people's businesses, he gives a casual flick of his hair and then he walks off, but other people have to pick up the damage from Mr Rudd and he has learnt nothing. He is the same person with the same careless attitude and it's time to finally hold him to account and everybody else who was involved in this programme.

TONY ABBOTT:

Bill?

BILL GLASSON:

Thank you, Tony, thank you, Greg. Just to say briefly, I think this is another example, and there are plenty of them around the seat of Griffith, and this business sits right in the heart of Griffith, of a programme, I suppose, or businesses that have been dudded by Mr Rudd. There is a series of examples of poor programme, poorly thought out, poorly implemented and done on the run.

Can I say, as I walk around Griffith, again the businesses have lacked confidence and as Mr Abbott has just said, they lack trust. We have to restore trust and confidence back into our businesses, and the only way we can do that is by having a change in government on the 7th of September.

TONY ABBOTT:

Thanks mate.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott on the 5th of July this year, Greg Hunt said in a press event, the Queensland Government through the coroner has just had what is effectively a judicial inquiry. Isn't that an acknowledgement that this issue has been investigated and the Coalition thinks it has been investigated?

TONY ABBOTT:

I’m not saying that there’s been no investigation. Obviously there was a coronial inquiry – a lengthy coronial inquiry that arose because the Fullers and other parents campaigned for it. There has been an Auditor-General's report, no doubt about that. Two points to make: first, we are calling for a judicial inquiry in large measure in response to Kevin and Christine Fuller and the other parents of the dead boys who want a judicial inquiry and also because a judicial inquiry can go where the previous inquiries can't. A judicial inquiry can investigate all of the deaths, not just the three Queensland deaths. A judicial inquiry can summon public servants and examine them on oath in a way that couldn't happen via the coronial inquiry. A judicial inquiry will deal with every aspect of this, not just the commercial aspects which I gather are now subject to some legal proceedings. That's why a judicial inquiry is important, to keep faith with the families of the young men who died.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott you have chosen to visit this business in Kevin Rudd's electorate.

TONY ABBOTT:

Yes.

QUESTION:

Are you just playing politics with the deaths of four Australians?

TONY ABBOTT:

Look, if this was something that I had just decided to do on the spur of moment today, I could understand you being cynical, but it is very important that government keep faith with the Australian people. It is very important that government earn the trust of the Australian people that Mr Rudd himself thinks is so important and here is trust broken, trust betrayed and I've been talking about this matter for more than three years now. Greg Hunt, to his enormous credit, has been warning about this matter for four years. I mean, Greg was writing letters in the middle of 2009 about this, before the programme even got underway. So, look, by all means be cynical about politicians, but we are fair dinkum about wanting to do the right thing by the people who have been very badly let down on this.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, what sort of resources are you proposing to devote to this judicial inquiry, and given a lot of the material that the Government says it can't release is Cabinet in confidence, what are you hoping it will turn up?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, a judicial inquiry can cross-examine people, including public servants and others it chooses to call. Sure, there will inevitably be some documents over which privilege is claimed but nevertheless judicial inquiries are the best mechanism for getting to the bottom of these sorts of disasters, so that's why it needs to go ahead. As to the cost, obviously something like this will cost some millions of dollars, but I'm confident that it can be funded out of existing departmental resources.

QUESTION:

How long do you expect it to take before the judicial inquiry reports back?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, again I want the judicial inquiry to do its work properly. There is no point skimping on these things. On the other hand, given the psychological pain, the physical trauma and the financial damage that has been done as a result of this disastrous programme, it's important that it do its work as swiftly as possible. So I would certainly hope that the inquiry can be over within, say, six months, the coronial inquiry, I think, from memory, took about that length of time, and if that was the approximate time for the coronial inquiry, I would think that the judicial inquiry could do the same thing. As for compensation, well, this is one of the things that the judicial inquiry would examine. It was interesting talking to Matt Hannam and Sue today. Yes, the Government did offer assistance to people when the home insulation programme was closed down, but the assistance itself was costly to receive, slow in coming, and in the end hopelessly inadequate, and having done the initial damage, they then in many cases compounded the damage with their ham-fisted attempts to help at the end.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible] a royal commission into the home insulation scheme, now we've got a judicial inquiry. What's changed since then?

TONY ABBOTT:

Look, a judicial inquiry - a royal commission is, if you like, a grand title for a judicial inquiry, but the judicial inquiry and royal commission have all the same powers.

QUESTION:

In regards to the debate, what format do you want it to take?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, I want it to be a standard Press Club debate of the type that we have had in every election campaign for almost as long as I can remember. I understand that the Federal Director of the Liberal Party and the National Secretary of the Labor Party are now discussing exactly what that will be.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott you said just now that the government needs a serious economic plan. The Coalition has said it will disregard the contents of the pre-election fiscal outlook which is released next Tuesday. Will you, if you become Prime Minister in four weeks, whose figures will you rely on for your outlooks if you're not going to rely on Treasury's?

TONY ABBOTT:

I don't think that anyone has quite said what you've put to me, Jacqueline, what we've said is that this Government has got all of its figures wrong. They've never got a figure right, they’ve never got a forecast right. But look, the best estimate going will be PEFO. Hopefully it will be more accurate than previous figures that we've had and we will obviously be working off PEFO figures.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, Scott Morrison said that he would leave it up to the 3 star general in charge of Operation Sovereign Borders to decide whether a press release is issued when an asylum seeker boat arrives. Doesn't this open up to charges that you are trying to hide your pledge to stop the boats from scrutiny?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, we are an open society. There are, I think, 3,000 people resident on Christmas Island and I'm sure that those 3,000 people will be only too happy to tell the wider world what's happening on their island. So, the last thing we want to do is to hide anything from the Australian people. On the other hand, we do have to be guided by operational commanders as to what information is released and when in terms of the decisions that they are taking and the actions that they are taking to protect our borders.

QUESTION:

The Opposition has counted every single boat that has come through immigration - our immigration zone under the Labor Government. Don't the Australian people deserve exactly the same form of scrutiny if you were to win government?

TONY ABBOTT:

Look, I absolutely accept that.

QUESTION:

Will you commit to putting out an alert when every boat comes through?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, I absolutely accept that you need to know how we're going. You absolutely need to know how we are going, and if we have a good week, a bad week, an in-between week, you will know all about it. One way or another, we will get full disclosure to the Australian people. The only point that Scott was making is that in the end, there are some bits of information which are operationally sensitive and that particular judgment has to be left to the commander of Operation Sovereign Borders.

QUESTION:

The Prime Minister is not overly impressed with today's front page of the Courier-Mail. What do you make of it? Do you think it's fair and also a related question, what do you make of Kim Williams' shock resignation today?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, let's take the Kim Williams matter first. I don't know Kim Williams well, but as you would expect I met him on a number of occasions in his position as CEO of News Corp here in Australia. I think he did a very good job. Obviously for various reasons he has decided to move on, but I do want to praise Kim Williams and pay tribute to the work he did to defend the right of free speech in our country. Of all of the various media executives, he was the one who most powerfully, most effectively and most consistently stood up for free speech, and whatever the future holds for Kim Williams, I will always have enormous admiration and respect for the way he led the fight for free speech when free speech was under attack by the Rudd-Gillard Government.

QUESTION:

And the front page?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, again we have a very robust media in this country. We have a very robust free media. It operates in many different forms these days, and I tell you, there are some extraordinarily satirical things said about all sorts of people in different forms of media, including from time to time on the front page of newspapers and I just think that people have to take the rough with the smooth. Peter Beattie was a self-confessed media tart, so he has used some pretty interesting language about himself, and I think that if the Government was serious about giving Australia a new way, it wouldn't be recycling failed former leaders.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, you said you would release your policy costings in good time. When is good time? Is it before the last debate? Will the Australian people still have to do the arithmetic on your Budget bottom line?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, I want to make it crystal-clear that the Budget bottom line will be there for everyone to see. The Government's Budget bottom line, the Coalition's Budget bottom line, and it will be better under us than under the Labor Party. All of our policies will be costed and funded, and you will be able to see the net outcome in good time before the election. What I do want to point out, though, is that the Government has not released any costings whatsoever. The Government has not released any costings of anything - none - and last time, in the last election, then Treasurer Wayne Swan released the Government's costings at 5 o'clock on a Friday afternoon. Polls opened at 8 o'clock on a Saturday morning. So, look, people will have plenty of time to scrutinise what we're spending and what we're saving, and as I said, so far in the Budget Reply and my National Press Club speech, I've identified more than $17 billion worth of saves, and that's more than enough to cover the carbon tax compensation without a carbon tax, and the company tax cut that are the centrepieces of our plan to help you with your cost of living, and to help create job security that have been announced so far in this election.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, I don't want to verbal Mr Glasson there next to you, but last week he spoke about the Government's increased excise on tobacco. Have you had a rethink about whether you might keep that and also there was a wants the few protesters out the front wanting the Cross River Rail. Is that something you might reconsider?

TONY ABBOTT:

Look, it is very hard to fund vital infrastructure when you've got debt sky rocketing towards $400 billion. That's the first point I want to make. The second point I want to make is that we are going to properly fund national roads to the tune of an 80/20 funding split, unlike the 50/50 that this Government is trying to foist on the states, and because we are funding national roads properly, the state governments which own, operate and run the state rail systems, commuter rail systems, will be in a much better position to afford them. Essentially, commuter rail is a state-owned business enterprise, a State Government-owned business enterprise. That's why we think it's up to the states to fund them, but I've got to say, I am all in favour of Cross River Rail. I am all in favour of better rail services in Victoria, but I think it's up to the relevant state governments to get cracking on them, and they will be in a much better position to do so under the Coalition.

QUESTION:

The tobacco excise?

TONY ABBOTT:

And tobacco. Look, we will give you our full fiscal position, including our position on the new taxes that the Government announced just before the election was called, and in passing, I observe that if they hit you with three new taxes before the election, just think what they're going to do after the election if they are returned to office. The only party which is going to increase taxes after the election is the Labor Party. But can I just take the opportunity afforded by this question to say that when I was the Health Minister, Laura, in conjunction with my then Parliamentary Secretary, the redoubtable Christopher Pyne, I slapped graphic health warnings all over cigarette packets, and during the time of the Howard Government, smoking rates declined, I think from memory, from 21 per cent to 17 per cent. I don't like smoking any more than anyone else. I want to see smoking rates decline, as does Bill, and look, I'm proud to have people in my Party Room, or I hope in my Party Room, who aren't cyphers, who are decent Australians, who will speak their mind, on behalf of their constituents and in accordance with their own judgement. So, well said the other day, mate.

QUESTION:

Mr Glasson, you used to be an ambassador for the National Broadband Network. Do you still think it's a good idea?

BILL GLASSON:

Listen, the Coalition policy for the NBN, the National Broadband Network, please understand that the only difference between the two is ours is delivering essentially the same speeds, but ours is affordable. The current recommendation by the Federal Government is not affordable, ladies and gentlemen. It is going to cost probably in excess of $100 billion. Our recommendation is going to cost around about $30 billion. It will deliver for the average household the same speeds or the necessary speeds that you all run your computers or whatever you need at home. We will still run fibre to the schools, still run fibre to big business or government enterprises but we're not running fibre to everybody's home. The other technology around the use, the wireless technology, and all we are going to make sure is we have the big pipes going into lots of our towns and if you have the wireless technology delivering that, that will deliver sufficient Internet speeds for the vast majority of the community across Australia, particularly to the rural and regional areas which I am particularly interested in as well.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, back on the recruitment of Peter Beattie , are you concerned that Labor will use him as a weapon to ramp up its attack on Campbell Newman and his so-called austerity measures, or do you think that that was blunted by the jobs figures yesterday?

TONY ABBOTT:

There is no doubt that the Government's claim that somehow there was a jobs disaster in Queensland was exposed yesterday as absolutely false and fraudulent. Sure there may have been a reduction in public sector jobs but there has been an expansion in private sector jobs and a job is a job is a job. We want to create more jobs, we believe we can create one million new jobs within five years and two million new jobs within a decade and we will do that not by puffing up government, but by creating stronger citizens with lower taxes, with higher productivity, with stronger economic growth. Look, you're dead right about the Government's claims about jobs in Queensland. I think Peter Beattie's campaign, like Kevin Rudd's campaign, relies on memory loss. They both rely on memory loss. We aren't supposed to remember what Kevin Rudd was like because we all know it was a shambles, he was so bad he was sacked by his own Party Room for arrogance and incompetence, and we aren't supposed to remember what Peter Beattie was like because he got out before the disaster hit, he gave poor old Anna Bligh the hospital pass and we all know what happened after that.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, will you be campaigning with the Queensland Premier throughout the election or is he political poison for you?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, I like Campbell Newman very much indeed, and I respect Campbell Newman very much indeed. Campbell Newman inherited a debt and deficit disaster. He inherited a debt and deficit disaster. He inherited a public sector which had blown out by about 60,000 individuals over the previous decade. He is doing what is necessary to restore the AAA rating to Queensland, and to restore a stronger economy and a good life to Queensland. Now, you've got to respect, even if you don't necessarily like everything that he has done, even if you would prefer that some things were done differently, you've got to respect the way he has manfully putting his shoulder to the wheel and doing the things that are necessary to make this State great. Look, Coalition governments restore AAA ratings. Labor governments lose them. The Beattie-Bligh Labor Government in Queensland destroyed Queensland’s AAA rating. Campbell Newman is doing what he can to restore it as quickly as he can. The Hawke-Keating Labor Government saw Australia's AAA rating downgraded twice. It was restored by the subsequent Coalition Government. We are the people who Australians turn to when you want strong economic management after a period when you just couldn't trust them to be competent and straight.

Thank you.