I want to pay my respects and thank from the bottom of my heart – and I think all Australians would feel exactly the same way - thank the volunteers, the SES volunteers in particular and all the emergency workers, both the full-time workers and the volunteers, who are protecting lives and property in these storms.
There are concerns, as you know, we've had reports of two people who have lost their lives in NSW and one in the ACT. There are reports of persons being missing in Tasmania, but I have no further information than that. I’ve just spoken to the Minister for Justice Michael Keenan, who is responsible for emergency response at the federal level. Of course Mark Crossweller who is the Director-General of Emergency Management Australia. We have not had call for Commonwealth assistance at this stage but we obviously stand ready to do that. I spoke to the NSW Premier earlier this morning. Now can I just say to everyone that is watching this, if they are in an area with flooding. Please, if it’s flooded, don’t try to cross. Do not try to cross flooded roads. Do not try to drive through or travel through flood waters, stay on high ground and wait for the water to come down. Please take the advice, always, of your local emergency workers. Take the advice of the SES and the police and the other emergency workers.
Now can I say that, earlier today, these are tough times. These bring out the best of Australia. They bring out the work of our volunteers and our volunteer emergency workers. Again I want to conclude my remarks on these storms by once again thanking them. They are out there today and they were out all last night, putting their lives on the line, risking their lives to keep Australians safe. We thank them and we honour them.
Now on a brighter note, it is good to be here at Engineers Australia and see so many talented, innovative, young engineers and perhaps some of them not so young. But all of them leading the way to our future prosperity. Our national economic plan, as you know, depends upon a more innovative, more competitive, more productive Australia. That's how we pave the way to the strong new economy. That's what our plan sets out and you can see we have the talent to do it. You can see you have young Australians here designing, here in Melbourne, products that are the best in the world. Australians can do anything. We have the talent, we have the brains, the imagination the determination to do anything. You’ve seen evidence of it today.
In particular, I want to say, as I said this morning with Kelly O'Dwyer and I said again with Kelly and Karen Andrews; girls can do anything. In particular they can do engineering. You’ve seen so many impressive, talented women who are engineers. Karen, of course, was one of the first two women to graduate in mechanical engineering from QUT, as she said earlier. But you see the young women that have succeeded her in that profession, inventing robots and technology that is taking the world by storm.
This is what our economic plan is all about. It's about confidence, it's about technology, it's about innovation, it's about exports, it's about backing business. All of these businesses, all of these small businesses are supported by our national economic plan because they are backing Australia and they are securing our future.
Prime Minister, on girls and STEM, you spend a lot of time talking about female empowerment, would you describe yourself as a feminist? Also in terms of the people’s forum in Brisbane will you commit to going to that?
I would describe myself as a feminist. As I often say, women hold up half the sky. Respect for women, absolutely ingrained in me at a very early age by my father in particular and also by my mum. But it is absolutely critical and I quote if I may, my wife Lucy, it’s a point she makes all the time; one of the most important things we can do as parents is ensure that our sons grow up to respect the women in their lives. In other words, respect their mothers and their sisters.
Speaking of sisters I don’t know whether you saw it but it was a beautiful moment. Do you remember at the Malvern Town Hall? There were so many kids and mostly girls because they were netballers. They were all crowding around and there was a very small boy, you may have seen him, he had a pullover with a puppy dog on it. He got a bit anxious at one point because it was all getting very pressed and you guys were all pushing around and he said, ‘ I want to find my mummy’. At that moment, I saw an arm reach through and that arm was connected to his big sister. He felt secure then, wasn’t that great? So I reckon he’ll grow up respecting women, his mother, his grandmother- whom I know, will make sure of that. That’s good.
But I am a feminist, yes indeed.
Can I just say to you, sorry to interrupt you, one of the major parts of our innovation and science agenda is ensuring that more women, more girls and women study STEM subjects, study maths and science and go on to study subjects like engineering when they go on to university. We have an $8 million ‘Women in STEM’ program. Applications for that will be opening in July and the aim is to get submissions from groups, and I imagine Engineers Australia will be one of them, that will have ideas to engage more women and girls. Like Robogals is a very good example that Marita Cheng started here in Melbourne. These are very important programs because we don’t have in Australia, we frankly don’t have enough young people studying STEM subjects. We absolutely do not have enough girls and women.
The latest Newspoll shows a record number of voters, 15% are considering voting for a minor party or Independent, despite your warnings not to. What are the major parties failing to do to convince people to vote for one of them?
Well can I say, as I've said before, the only way to be sure that there will be a stable Federal Government, committed to a national economic plan that will deliver stronger economic growth and more and better jobs, is to vote for the Coalition.
Any other vote - a vote for Labor, a vote for the Greens, a vote for independents - risks the chaos and the instability that we saw in the years of Julia Gillard’s government. A stable Coalition government which I lead will deliver on our national economic plan and will deliver strong growth and more jobs.
Will you join the Opposition Leader in apologising to veterans for not attending the Richmond repatriation? Secondly, is your government doing enough to help veterans?
Well, can I just say regarding the repatriation at Richmond, I addressed that in my remarks today and I don't want to, I don't intend to politicise it by any further comment.
Now, as far as veterans are concerned, as you would have heard, in my address to the RSL today, we are absolutely committed to supporting our veterans. I've said it many times and I will say it again now. The best way we honour the diggers of 100 years ago - the diggers of the First World War - is to support the veterans and their families of today and we do that. You've seen a number of new initiatives that I've announced, particularly relating to employment, which is very important. I'm very confident that we will have real success with this. I don't think Australian business generally is sufficiently aware of the leadership skills and abilities that servicemen and women bring to the world of civil employment when they leave the armed forces. So I'm very confident that as we move to raise that awareness, working with John Bale from Soldier On whom I greatly admire, that we will be able to achieve stronger support for veteran's employment.
Prime Minister, under your Government, families won't receive any childcare fee relief until 2018. Is this this a fatal flaw in your economic plan for jobs and growth, considering one of the greatest barriers for women returning to work is access to affordable childcare?
We have a very substantial childcare reform package, as you know. It will constrain price increases from the childcare sector. As you know the experience during the Labor government was that there was massive increase in childcare costs. Of course, that has the effect that additional government support is just lost as far as parents are concerned and they are no better off than they were before. So our proposal or our plan, as you know, our legislation, will have the result of putting downward pressure or constraining pressure, I would say, it will restrain price increases by allowing an 85 per cent subsidy, up to an hourly limit of $11.55 for families earning $65,000 or less. Then as you know, that tapers down to 50 per cent and then up to $170,000 and then in fact right up to $350,000 - it tapers down and then down from $350,000 it comes down to 20 per cent. So it is means-tested. But the important thing about it, is that it does constrain those price increases from the childcare sector. It is targeted at families on lower incomes. There is no question about that, because we believe that is where we will get the greatest result in terms of additional female participation in the workforce.
There is an activity test 4 hours work to get 18 hours of childcare. 4 hours work or volunteering or studying, so it is not an onerous activity test, but it is one that will ensure that the subsidy achieves the objective, which is to see women more connected or connected to the workforce, ideally employed as of course they seek to be.
Now, can I just say in terms of timing and that's a very fair point you've raised, we need to get our savings through the Senate as well. So we have out of prudence I suppose, or caution, we've said that it will start from 1st July 2018.
If we can secure the passage of our legislation after Parliament gets back, assuming we are returned to government, and if we can start it earlier, then we will. But it will obviously – and Simon Birmingham made this point on the radio this morning - it will obviously depend on the ability to get the legislation passed.
We have a genuine reform package. It’s a genuine reform package and it is one that will provide greater support, considerably enhanced support to families on lower incomes.
So there won't be any addition to that reform package in this campaign at all?
Well, it is a comprehensive, well thought-out reform package which will make substantial changes for the better. It adds $3 billion to childcare, but it does so in a way that will ensure that the benefit goes to the families that need the support most, and will get the best outcome in terms of more women being able to combine work and family.
Do you have any alternative savings for childcare, if the Senate does block these measures in the next Parliament?
Well, it is a package, as you know - we have other savings, as you know, in the social welfare budget. We believe they are prudent savings. Look, the reality is Labor is proposing to spend $3 billion extra and they have not indicated at all where it is going to come from.
All of the money we are spending, all of the promises we are committing to, are fully paid for. They are all set out in the Budget. The decisions have been taken, the money is there.
You can't say that about Labor. They are just throwing, regrettably, they are just throwing more billions of dollars on what Mr Shorten calls the spend-o-meter. The spend-o-meter is whirring like it never has before. At this rate, it is whirring, he has spent well over 10 times what the Coalition has promised in this election.
Your family has been a big focus of the campaign the last couple of days. Do you want Australians to get to know you better and why? And would you say this is now the ‘real Malcolm’ campaigning?
I will leave you to the commentary.
Do you have a question?
On union governance, can I ask, what do you ultimately hope to achieve in that space? What areas do you see as areas for change? Do you see the community, that this is an issue that the community can really get interested and involved in?
Well I'm glad you've asked me about union governance. Now, this double dissolution election has been called because of the Senate blocking two vitally important pieces of industrial reform legislation. They are also vital pieces of economic reform.
The first one is the Registered Organisations Bill. What that does essentially is require trade unions and employer organisations as well, to be as accountable and transparent as a public company would be, with obvious changes for the context but it is something the union movement, after all of the corruption and the horrors and the dishonesty that has been revealed over recent years, this is before the royal commission, all of that malfeasance. The union movement should have said, "yes, clearly we need to make some changes." They should have signed up to that, but they've opposed it, absolutely opposed it. So that’s one.
The other one is the restoration of the Building and Construction Commission. The construction sector in Australia employs a million Australians. It’s a vital part of our economy. We all know the way the unions are operating there, which is beyond the law. You’ve seen the CFMEU with over 100 officials on more than a thousand charges of breaching industrial agreements and industrial law before the courts. It is adding a very substantial amount, 30% or more, to the cost of union projects. Clearly the law must be complied with everywhere.
Now, I have to say this but what we've seen - we see this in Victoria now, you saw this with Labor when they were in government federally - the Labor Party will do anything to advance the interests of the militant trade unions to whom it is responsible.
You've seen the extraordinary events here in Victoria where you would have the 60,000 volunteers of the CFA - these are the men and women who stand between Victorians and the inferno of the Australian bushfire - those heroes, those volunteers, those community organisations are, if the government has its way, if the Premier has his way, are going to be subordinated to the firefighters’ union, at the union's demand. That's their price that they are exacting from Premier Andrews. You saw under the Gillard Government - let's not forget that - when Bill Shorten was the minister, you saw again, doing the bidding of the Transport Workers Union, the introduction of the RSRT tribunal, the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, so called, which had the consequence, as we saw not so long ago of putting out of business 50,000 owner-drivers. These are mum and dad small businesses. They were put off the road.
Now it was very fortunate for them that we were able, that the Parliament was coming back early and we were able to secure the support of sufficient crossbenchers to abolish that tribunal. Otherwise those families would be out of work. Those trucks would be off the road and the union's objective would have been achieved but Bill Shorten and the Labor Party voted against the abolition of the RSRT. They had no sympathy for those owner-drivers just as apparently they have no sympathy at all for the volunteers of the CFA.
These changes to the Fair Work Act. What exactly would they be?
Well as you know under the Fair Work Act there is a list of what are called ‘objectionable clauses’ in EBAs, in industrial agreements. What we would do, what we propose to do is to include into that list of objectionable clauses, ones which would have an adverse impact on volunteer organisations such as the CFA.
I know, I understand this morning that Mr Shorten, who obviously was secretary of a trade union and it’s an area he no doubt feels he is very knowledgeable in, has said - has expressed some scepticism about our ability to deal with this. Well we are quite satisfied that we have the ability to amend the Fair Work Act to deal with this but frankly Mr Shorten has got to decide whether he is on the side of the volunteers or on the side of the union. He has got to decide whether he wants to remain part of the problem or become part of the solution. If Mr Shorten really believed in those volunteers, if he believed in supporting the courage of those men and women who were gathered together on the steps of the Victorian Parliament here in Melbourne yesterday, if he believes in supporting them, then he should join with me and agree that we will deal with it and we will fix it. But he is, as he was with the truck drivers, lined up with the interests of the militant unions, standing against small business on the one hand, volunteers on the other.
I tell you my party, my Government stands for small business. We back small business in. We back those mum- and dad businesses in and we back in the volunteers right across the country. Do you know there were SES volunteers there yesterday? Those SES volunteers across this country, right now, are battling floods. They’re the volunteers that the Labor Party and the unions have taken on. They’re the volunteers that have been disrespected by the Labor Party. We respect them, we honour them, we stand up for them.
Mr Turnbull could I just ask you about the video your campaign released last night, your reflections on your relationship with your father and your upbringing. Why was it important to release that? Is that to counter misconceptions about you?
It's important to honour your parents Mark. It is important to honour your father. I was brought up by my father. He taught me so many things, some of them I talked about in that video. He taught me how to cook not with great talent I hasten to add but competently. He taught me how to iron competently. I've been given high marks by Mrs Turnbull on that score. He taught me respect and loyalty.
As I said I would not be the man I am today without him. You know, there are many remarkable things about my dad but I tell you one thing that was in some ways the most remarkable. When my mother left us, we had nowhere to live. Dad rented a flat and didn't have any furniture. I think the only bit of furniture we had left was my bed so he had every reason to be a bit unhappy, to say the least. Yet he never, ever said a bad word about her. You think about, you know, you think about how rare that is. He never uttered a critical word of my mother in all of those years. When he died - he was killed young - he was killed in an aeroplane crash when he was 56 in ‘82 - and my mother died in 1991, I had both of their sets of correspondence. I could read the letters that Bruce wrote to my mother. The letters, they were filled with sadness and reproach and you know, “how could you do this?” and “why did you do that?” and the back and forth. I literally have the two sides of the correspondence. I thought, what does it say about a man? What does it say about his love that he could sit down and write letters like that, pouring out his heart and then turn to his little boy and say, "your mother is the greatest woman in the world and she loves you more than anything." What a man. What a great man. So fathers, fathers rock. There you go. Fathers rock and so do the mothers too. Are there any other questions?
I asked before about the Sky News People's Forum with the Courier-Mail. Will you go to that on Wednesday? Mr Shorten said that it would be offensive to Queenslanders if you don't.
I'm sure he did.
Look we are actually - we are looking at some alternatives. What I'm hoping to do is to have a debate that is a bit different, that involves Facebook and that involves a larger audience and that is more engaging. So I can assure you I enjoy debating and I want to reach as many people as I possibly can in the debate because we have a great story to tell. Our national economic plan is vitally important for our nation's future. I want to have the opportunity to explain it and take questions on it for as many people as possible. So we're looking at how we can achieve wider and greater reach for the debate. So if that's all, thank you very much indeed for being here.
As I said, fathers rock, mothers are great, engineers’ rock and girls can do anything. Remember that, including engineering. See you.