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Radio interview with Miranda Devine

15th February 2017  |  Comments  |  Transcripts

Radio interview with Miranda Devine

Subjects: Energy security; business tax cuts; Senate crossbench; same-sex marriage; 18c.

E&OE…

MIRANDA DEVINE:

Good evening Prime Minister, thank you for coming on the program.

PRIME MINISTER:

Great to be on with you Miranda, it’s a good opportunity to have a chat.

MIRANDA DEVINE:

Now you’ve been having a pretty good couple of weeks in Parliament. Your social climbing sycophant speech really boosted morale of your troops didn’t it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it cut through to the fact about Bill Shorten. He says one thing at one time and another thing at another. He is not a straight-talker. He basically has been consistently disingenuous; in the way he’s dealt with the members of the AWU, the way he deals with the Australian people now. You can see it in just about every policy area.

Look at him on renewable energy for example. He’s got this massive renewable energy target, 50 per cent. And we’ve seen what an unplanned introduction of a massive amount of renewables have done in South Australia. It has delivered the most expensive and the least reliable electricity in Australia. And blackouts, it is disastrous for businesses, dreadful for families and households. And he wants to do that to all of Australia.

So he was asked today, four times, what’s it going to cost? And he couldn’t give an answer. So what does that tell you about his competence? What does that tell you about his integrity in terms of just fessing up? If you’re going to put in a big plan like this, you’ve got to be able to tell people what it will cost.

MIRANDA DEVINE:

Josh Frydenberg said today in Question Time that Anne Aly had said that the cost would be $48 billion. So does that mean, if that’s correct, that your Renewable Energy Target cost would be upward of $20 billion anyway? If it’s just under half?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, the estimate has been that the completion of the currently legislated Renewable Energy Target, the cost of completing it is around $10 billion. So it is a lot less. What Labor is proposing, the estimate has come from Bloomberg Energy Finance I believe, so it’s a respected third party estimate. But the real point is Miranda, not just the cost, I mean it’s a big number - that’s obviously an impact on households - but how do you integrate that into the grid? Labor has no plan.

If you’re going to introduce more and more variable renewable energy - so that’s to say wind and solar – which all have great strengths and great merit and the cost is coming down - and I’m not against renewables, no one is against renewables - but if you’re going to do that, you’ve got to plan it properly. You’ve got to either have storage or energy sources that will back it up when the wind’s not blowing or the sun’s not shining. That’s what they didn’t do in South Australia. That’s why they’ve had the disaster there.

MIRANDA DEVINE:

So why would we tie our ourselves, why have you tied us to this arbitrary United Nations target? Why not just -

PRIME MINISTER:

We’re talking about two different things. The Renewable Energy Target is a legislated Australian program, which is part of our law and that requires up to 2020, the increase of the amount of renewable generation in Australia. As you know, it was renegotiated, re-legislated just 18 months ago.

The Paris target is a different matter. That is an emissions reduction target and our commitment is 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels of emissions by 2030. We are on track to meet that. We will meet and beat our 2020 target. We are confident that we will meet the 2030 target. But they’re two different things, because you can obviously reduce your emissions Miranda, in many ways. Renewable energy is just one part of it.

MIRANDA DEVINE:

That’s the point because they’re linked, so why not do something like Gary Johns talks about? Instead of having a renewable energy target, have a clean energy target, which means that you still reduce your emissions but you’re not tied to this renewable energy situation?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well - another way of describing it is a low emissions target so that you’re not solely favouring renewable energy. I’ve seen that. They’re the type of ideas that are among those being considered, as we review what our energy policy is going to look like, post 2020, in this review we’ve been committed to for many years, in fact, is being undertaken this year.

Can I make another point about renewable energy Miranda - Renewable Energy Targets. Yes, they’ve often been justified on the basis that they lead to a reduction in emissions. But the main justification for renewable energy targets, feed-in tariffs and subsidies, the theory has been that you will get greater use, deployment, of these renewable energy sources, and that technologies will improve, and costs will come down. It’s basically what’s called a ‘technology pull-through’ policy. People are sceptical about it but as it happens the cost of renewable energy and its efficiency has improved dramatically. Now whether that would have happened anyway is another question. But in terms of reducing emissions, there are many, many ways of doing it and Renewable energy is just one of those.

MIRANDA DEVINE:

And clean coal?

PRIME MINISTER:

Absolutely. I mean this is the part that’s extraordinary for the Labor Party. Shorten repeated it again today - he does not believe that we should ever build another coal-fired power station.

Now, we’re getting 65 per cent, or thereabouts, of our energy from burning coal. The coal-fired power stations are mostly old. Over time, they will close down as they get to the end of life. Now he has no plan to deal with that. No plan to provide that base-load power.

We on the other hand are looking at all of the options. We’re not ideological about this at all.

One of the technologies that I’m promoting and I’m getting the CEFC and ARENA to provide support for, is storage. Clearly, one way to deal with variable energy sources is to have more storage. We have got very little in Australia. Pumped hydro is a big opportunity. You can see the CEFC is looking at one big project, or one medium-sized project I’d call it actually, in Queensland. And there are others.

MIRANDA DEVINE:

Building more dams.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well yes, it means building more dams. What it means is you’re basically using water as storage.

Now they do this in the Snowy. This is not a particularly novel idea. They do it in the Snowy and in Shoalhaven in particular, but the big scheme is in the Snowy.

You literally are using off-peak power, in the dead of night, when it’s cheap, which could be from coal-fired power station or it could be from a windmill. You pump the water up the hill and then it runs down the hill when you need the energy during the day. About 99 per cent of the world energy storage is done like that. We haven’t done anything on it here for around 50 years. So I’m getting cracking on getting that underway so that we’re using all of the options.

You see Labor has no answers - they haven’t thought about any of this. I mean the irony of South Australia is so extraordinary. Here they are, they said: ‘We’re going to have a great experiment’ - Jay Weatherill called it – ‘We’re going to have 40 and then 50 per cent renewables.’ So they closed down a coal-fired power station. They effectively mothballed a gas-fired power station. They have huge wind power. That’s what they’ve set up. But where do they get the energy from, when the wind isn’t blowing?

MIRANDA DEVINE:

Well exactly.

PRIME MINISTER:

They get it from the La Trobe Valley in Victoria, which burns brown coal. That is the most emissions-intensive way of generating electricity in Australia. So the whole thing is just hypocritical. 

MIRANDA DEVINE:

But we have such an abundant amount of coal and gas, fossil fuels.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yep.

MIRANDA DEVINE:

It just seems, since Donald Trump is now tearing up the Paris climate emissions treaty, why would we continue on? Why wouldn’t we just go our own way, set our own targets if we like, but not be bound?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the target we’ve agreed to for Paris, this is a treaty or an agreement that we’ve entered into. And Australia doesn’t make international agreements only to break them. They’re ones that are achievable and that we can meet. And of course we don’t know what other countries are going to do yet.

Can I just make the fundamental point? The critical point Miranda, is this - what Labor is doing is putting pressure on Australian families and households, on their cost of living. We are already paying very, very high energy bills in Australia. They’ve more than doubled over the last decade. In South Australia, as I said, where you get the full brunt of the Labor experiment, you have the most expensive and the least reliable power in Australia. Also, of course, you know, businesses, particularly industry, the manufacturing industry, depend on affordable electricity. And you’re seeing, I was meeting yesterday, business leaders from South Australia who are talking about, questioning whether they have the ability to expand their businesses, or even keep their businesses in South Australia. Because the energy supply is so unreliable. They’re having the buy backup generators.

When I was in Port Lincoln the other day, some of the tuna fishermen were saying, they said: ‘Look, it’s like living in a Third World country. You’ve got to buy a backup generator because you can’t rely on the electricity networks.’ So this is what happens when you allow ideology to take over from sensible, sound planning and proper engineering.

MIRANDA DEVINE:

And we need more, obviously, coal-fired stations, power stations, clean ones, don’t we? With our old ones being mothballed?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well clearly, Miranda, absolutely. Think about this - we are the biggest coal exporter in the world. Coal will be part of our energy mix, the world’s energy mix, for many decades to come. Every study and agency confirms that. Now, if anyone has a vested interest in having the world’s best, most efficient, clean coal power stations, surely it would be us.

I mean, when I was Opposition Leader back in 2009, I made this point then. This is, I think, a very obvious objective for us. The biggest coal exporter in the world has a vested interest in showing that coal can play a part in a lower emissions future. Because it’s one of our biggest exports. But the Labor Party says there should never be any more coal-fired power stations. So what is that saying to their union members working in coal mines?

MIRANDA DEVINE:

Exactly.

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s saying you’re going to be out of a job if Bill Shorten becomes Prime Minister. That’s what it says.

MIRANDA DEVINE:

They’re already losing them.

Now let’s talk about you Prime Minister. You’ve been given this sort of image of the harbourside mansion, the wealthy banker, the insider, the silver spoon. But I know you did it tough growing up - not necessarily financially but emotionally - your mother left you and your dad when you were just ten. How did that searing experience influence who you are? And how you perform as Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

I was very lucky to have a remarkable father, who stuck with me with extraordinary love and loyalty. I learned quite a lot from being brought up by a single dad. I learned how to cook, I’m a pretty good ironer actually. Lucy would confirm that. She may not be so positive about my cooking skills.

[Laughter]

But it was a great relationship, a very close relationship I had with my dad. The best thing he did, you know, Miranda – and this is in a sense the most remarkable thing – he never said a bad word about my mother to me. So he ensured that even though she had left us, and you know, looking at it objectively it wasn’t a great thing to do, he always spoke well of her. So he made sure that his son, me, maintained that affection for my mother, despite the circumstances.

I think that for me, it’s important to understand the – you know – the challenges of people, that everyone faces. All of us have to have in the back of their mind, no matter how successful they are: “There but for the grace of God go I”. When you see somebody who is down on their luck, is broke, has suffered injuries, is disabled, remember - that could be you. It is only fortune that puts you in your particular, happy circumstances.

So I think Lucy and I are very, very conscious that we’ve had many blessings. Yes, sure, we’ve worked hard and so forth, and that’s important too. But plenty of people have worked harder than us and have not been so fortunate. So we are very committed to giving back. We’ve always done that. Also, very keenly understand that when we reach out and make sure that Australia advances – as our national anthem says – fair, so that we advance Australia fair, that fairness, that fair go, that equal opportunity, that hand up if you slip behind, that is absolutely critical. I tell you, I feel that very deeply in my heart.

MIRANDA DEVINE:

And so what are three things, if I asked you, what you stand for? What would be the top three things?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I just mentioned one, opportunity. The opportunity to get ahead, to get back on your feet when times are tough. That is built on security, it’s built on the foundation of economic and national security. It’s built on a foundation of energy security. Opportunity built on security is critical.

Those are two things we must make available for all Australians.

That means generating jobs, improving child care, making it more affordable and available.

Keeping power prices down.

Improving the performance of our schools, so that we don’t keep spending more money and getting worse outcomes.

The ability to realise your dreams, the opportunity to do that. I believe Australia is the best place in the world to realise your dreams. We’ve got to make it more so.

So opportunities underpin everything we do and everything that we believe as a Government.

Now you asked for three things, let me add another one - integrity. That is absolutely critical. I can’t be bought. I’m my own man. I won’t say one thing, and then do the opposite. I won’t sell out people that I’m representing. I’m not a wholly-owned subsidiary of a militant trade union like Bill Shorten is. I won’t say company tax cuts are a great idea one year and talk them up, as Bill Shorten did, and then oppose them vociferously, as he is doing at the moment. So I won’t praise the NDIS and then fail to fund it. I won’t talk about protecting Australian jobs, as Shorten does, when he was only a few years ago, the Olympic champion of handing out 457 visas.

MIRANDA DEVINE:

So how do you reconnect the Liberal Party with the outsiders? You know, the people who feel disenfranchised from the political process, who might be flirting with Pauline Hanson or Cory Bernardi or some independent party.

PRIME MINISTER:

The task for us is to focus on the issues that matter to Australian families. The issues that will determine whether they have the opportunities to get ahead. That’s why we’re addressing those core issues; jobs, job security, energy affordability, easing those cost of living pressures, focusing on the real issues, the hard core real issues that determine whether your business will succeed, whether you’ll be able to stay and keep your job and get a better job, whether your kids will get a great education at school. All of those things, you know, they often call them bread and butter issues. What you’re really talking about, is the issues that are of most vital concern to Australian families.

MIRANDA DEVINE:

But the problem is you can’t get any of your policies through the Senate. Well, not any of them, but the Senate seems to just increasingly be providing this blocking role. How do you manage that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, can I just gently disagree with you, if I may. The Senate, we obviously don’t have a majority in the Senate and it’s very unlikely that any Government would. But we have got more through the Senate in the last six months, with fewer seats in the Senate and in the House of Representatives, than we did in the three years of the previous Parliament. So, you know, look at the big industrial reforms, the restoration of the Australian Building and Construction Commission and reintroducing the rule of law to the construction sector, which employs a million Australians and the Registered Organisations law, which does no more than require union officials to follow the same laws of accountability as company directors. Now both of those, as you know, were blocked again and again by the previous Senate. They were fought vehemently, aggressively opposed by Labor and the Greens. And yet now, they’re the law of the land.

And I have to say, I did plenty of press conferences, Miranda, where wise figures in the press gallery told me we didn’t have the numbers, we couldn’t get them through, it was, you know, a disaster. Now they’re the law of the land.

And we’ve secured, achieved a lot of savings - not enough yet – through the Senate. So we’re getting there. But it’s an exercise in negotiation.

MIRANDA DEVINE:

And now Nick Xenophon is blocking things again. I mean is this something that, I mean surely Labor has a vested interest as well, if they’re going to be in government at some point, in actually helping you do these reforms and fix the budget up?

PRIME MINISTER:

You would think so. You would think so.

But Labor went to the last election with a fiscal plan that involved worse budget outcomes right through the four years of the forward estimates and beyond. It involved much higher debt, much higher deficit and higher taxes. Of course, there was nothing in Labor’s plan, and there still isn’t - they’ve literally not got one policy that would encourage anyone to make an investment or hire a new employee.

So if you think that investment and jobs are important and I think most Australians would absolutely agree with that, Labor doesn’t even have an alternative policy on that. They have nothing to say. It’s literally a list of grievances and at this stage, they’re just in full Opposition mode.

MIRANDA DEVINE:

And particular on your company tax cuts, which are very minor. Do you think you are doing enough in tax cuts, when it comes to keeping Australia competitive? Particularly when you see overseas, people like Donald Trump talking about quite drastic cuts? Personal income tax too?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, well I can certainly see the argument that they’re not going far enough. But we obviously have to balance between affordability and achievability.

I’d say this – the tax cuts that we’re proposing start with small and medium companies. They start, if they’re passed, if we get them through, this financial year, businesses with turnovers of $10 million or less. That’s, about 837,000 businesses by the way. So that’s a lot, employing 3.4 million Australians. So that’s a lot of the corporate world. And then the next year it’s a turnover of 25, next year 50 million and it steps up, it’s not until ten years that you’ve got all companies at 25 per cent. So -

MIRANDA DEVINE:

It’s very slow isn’t it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, but I designed this thoughtfully. I’ll explain the rationale. Smaller businesses tend to make decisions on shorter timeframes so the tax incentive, tax reduction, will give them an incentive to invest. Larger companies are making generally larger and longer term investments. So they’re looking, not at what the tax rate is going to be next year, but what it’s going to be in five, six, seven and for the big projects ten or even more years’ time. So I think the reasoning is that you can get a lot of the investment effect now, even though the bulk of the tax cut for the largest companies is postponed. So that’s the reasoning. Clearly we’ve got a task of negotiating with the Senate to get these through and we’re working on it.

MIRANDA DEVINE:

Couple of quick final questions. Same –sex marriage – will you go to the next election promising a plebiscite again?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we took a plebiscite to the last election and we haven’t determined what our policies will be at the next election. So we’ll announce –

MIRANDA DEVINE:

Do you want to go with the plebiscite?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Miranda, we’ll confer about that closer to the next election. But our policy at the moment, right now, is that we will not support the introduction of a bill on same-sex marriage until there has been a plebiscite, a vote of all the Australian people endorsing it.

MIRANDA DEVINE:

Now Section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act, it was sort of an esoteric idea talked about just a few journalist but until these Queensland University students were hammered, dragged through the courts. Alex Wood was on the program this week. 22-years old, $41,000 legal bill – his life almost ruined. And just in the last few days in fact, he’s raised that money, he’s increased it and he’s made something like $43,000 already. And these are just small donations, $20, $50, $100. You know it really has resonated with our listeners and The Daily Telegraph readers. It is different now, and I know you have the inquiry, but in your heart of hearts I know you’re a free speech guy, wouldn’t you like to repeal 18C?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I’ve said in the past that I think it can be usefully amended. But it’s something that we need to get proper – we need to consult properly on this. I think we’ve set up the Parliamentary Committee to inquire into its operation. It’s a good bipartisan way to examine issues of this kind because everyone with an interest can make a submission. Look, you’re right Miranda, I’m a very strong supporter of free speech, so I think we’ll see what the Committee reports. Its –

MIRANDA DEVINE:

Because, how do you feel about Alex Wood? You know, his story – it’s awful.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look, the way that matter was treated was extraordinary. Of course it was. I mean it should never have been subject to this type of proceeding.

MIRANDA DEVINE:

And it could happen to anyone.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well indeed it could. You know, Julian Leeser for example, has made some very powerful, thoughtful contributions on the way in which the Human Rights Commission manages these complaints and these issues. You have to ask about an issue like that one, if we are talking about the QUT case, the Queensland students’ case - why that wasn’t knocked out very quickly, I mean, there should have been a means of dealing with that, you would think, very quickly.

MIRANDA DEVINE:

But still the fact, I mean for you it would symbolical and in every way it would show that you really are putting your money where your mouth is where free speech is. I mean, it would be an enormous victory in that sense? I mean, I know there is -

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, I know Miranda. I understand the point you’re making. But I’ve set in place a proper consultation. This is what we do here - this is a consultative place, Parliament. We’ve got the committee examining it. They will present a report. I think that’s a good way to proceed. Their recommendations will be presented on the 28th of February. The worst thing I could do, is to, you know -

MIRANDA DEVINE:

Pre-empt it.

PRIME MINISTER:

Is to pre-empt what they’re doing - that would be disrespecting the work of the committee. I think that’s a critically important thing, because a lot of Australians with different views have presented their submissions to the Committee. The Committee has got my colleagues members of parliament from all parties on the Committee. So we’ve got to respect the work that they’re doing.

MIRANDA DEVINE:

But it sounds like you’d love to repeal it.

PRIME MINISTER:

[Laughter]

Look you don’t want to put words into my mouth. But you know it’s interesting you raised the issue just a moment ago, about the plebiscite. And, of course, if the plebiscite had been held on gay marriage, it would have been held last Saturday and I reckon it would have been passed and it would have been made law this week.

So the only reason same sex couples are not able to get married in Australia this week is because Bill Shorten – again, did another backflip because he previously supported a plebiscite – he did a backflip, opposed it. It wasn’t passed through the Senate, hence there wasn’t a plebiscite. So again, this is something he has to wear. This is his responsibility. He chose for purely political reasons to oppose it.

So it’s interesting to reflect in this week, of all weeks.

MIRANDA DEVINE:

So are you going to be back in Parliament continuing all year to hammer him, flick the switch to vaudeville as they say, like you did last week?

PRIME MINISTER:

[Laughs]

Well, is that a compliment? Is that a bouquet or a brickbat?

MIRANDA DEVINE:

I thought it was great actually, personally.

PRIME MINISTER:

Okay. Well thank you. Look I will expose his hypocrisy, every day. He speaks to one audience one way, and to another, another. I mean look, you should at least be consistent. People are entitled to expect integrity and consistency. And if you change your mind, explain why. What Shorten does, again and again, is you know, he’ll do a deal with an employer when he was a union leader on the basis that money is paid to the union, and trade away union members penalty rates. He talks about his commitment to company tax reductions when he was in government, now he says it’s the worst thing in the world. You know, right across the board there’s no consistency. No integrity.

MIRANDA DEVINE:

Well, Prime Minister, thank you so much for coming on this evening.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks so much Miranda.

[ENDS]

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