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Transcript - Bolt Report - The ABC, Climate Change and Racial Discrimination Act

17th May 2015  |  Comments  |  Transcripts

INTERVIEW OF THE COMMUNICATIONS MINISTER

THE HON MALCOLM TURNBULL MP

THE BOLT REPORT, CHANNEL TEN

 

Topics: ABC, Climate Change, Racial Discrimination Act

E&OE

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ANDREW BOLT:

My guest is the Communications Minister, Malcolm Turnbull. Thank you very much for your time.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Great to be with you.

ANDREW BOLT:

Now, you’ve seen the 7.30 interview with Joe Hockey and the Lateline interview with the Finance Minister. Is the Prime Minister right in a broad sense about the ABC? And does the ABC seem determined to be as critical of the Government as possible? Is it biased? 

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well, there are two different points, Andrew. I think the ABC, like most media organisations, is determined to hold the Government, any government, up to account, and speaking of politicians, of course, always feel that the media is too critical. But we should remember, as Winston Churchill said, that complaining about the newspapers is about as useful as complaining about the weather. 

So I – look, you mentioned two interviews, Leigh Sales’s interview with Joe Hockey and Emma Alberici’s with Mathias Cormann. They were both very aggressive interviews. They were both, I would say, as somebody who used to interview people for a living, both as a journalist and then as a barrister, and then, of course, as a politician, I would say that a more effective interviewing style is one that is less aggressive and more forensic. But that’s, in effect, an editorial opinion. 

ANDREW BOLT:

Yeah, but that’s a technique issue. Well, I’m really wondering about the bias part. I mean, you have a look, for example, at the list of the ABC’s main current affairs presenters, right? You’ve got Tony Jones, Emma Alberici, Barry Cassidy, Virginia Trioli, Mark Colvin, Jon Faine, Paul Barry – I could go on, and on and on. The thing is, every single one is of the left, not one is a conservative. Does that strike you as fair and in accordance with the ABC’s charter duty to be balanced, have a range of views? 

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well, they do – I’d make two points. They do offer a range of views. I do think the ABC and the journalists of the ABC, if you like, lean more to the left than to the right. But you would say that about most journalists. I think we’d agree on that, and clearly, that’s going to be more obvious when we’re in Government, and clearly, the job of the media is to hold the Government to account. 

The ABC has taken steps to put conservative commentators on. You’ve obviously got Amanda Vanstone on radio and of course Tom Switzer, who is a very, very eloquent commentator from the right. 

ANDREW BOLT:

But that’s the ABC’s spin, isn’t it? Because really, you look at those two people, they’re in very minor positions. One heads a program called Counter Point, which is directly meant to say this is counter to everything else on the ABC. And even in those minor jobs they’re outnumbered by the Doctor Karls, the Robyn Williamses, the Phillip Adamses, the Patricia Karvelases. I mean, on it goes. The ABC should have a conservative in a main current affairs show as a host, shouldn’t it? To outweigh – 

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well, well, maybe.  When does your contract with Channel Ten run out? Are you looking for a new gig?

ANDREW BOLT:

No, I don’t want to posit this as me trying to argue for a position on the ABC. I’m saying, I argue, is the ABC doing enough to counter what is clearly a bias and an imbalance, at the very least, in the number of leftist presenters it has in current affairs? 

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well, I wouldn’t characterise all of those people as being leftist. I think that’s far too strong a term. They’re certainly to the left of you. And that’s – because you are, you know, you are a conservative commentator, and you’ve got every right to be. But you have a right to be biased, if you like, that the ABC does not.

Now, the critical thing to remember is that I’m the Communications Minister. Yes, the ABC’s in my portfolio. I have no right, no power, nor should I have, to direct the editorial content of the ABC. The responsibility for ensuring that the ABC’s news and information services are balanced and objective and impartial, and accurate, is in section eight of the Act, and that responsibility lies with the Board of Directors. And I have been assiduous, both publicly and privately, in reminding the directors of the ABC that they have to get involved. Not as the Sydney Morning Herald said in terms of writing the copy, but they have a responsibility, those directors, to ensure that the ABC’s news and current affairs is accurate and impartial. 

There is a tendency, I think, sometimes, for people on a board of media companies to say, “Oh, well, we shouldn’t get involved in these editorial matters.” Well, I’m sorry. With the ABC, there’s an Act of Parliament that says you should and your job involved the balance. 

ANDREW BOLT:

But shouldn’t you get more involved, Malcolm? 

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well I get as involved as I can. 

ANDREW BOLT:

Because most conservatives are screaming at the TV when they see the ABC present the news in such a skewed way. I mean, for example we now hear that ABC Managing Director Mark Scott, who has overseen this bias, is reportedly in discussions about extending his term by a year. Given his record, please tell us that he will not get that one-year extension. 

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well, firstly, it’s not up to him to extend his term. The ABC is currently engaged in a search for his successor. So, the board is -- you know, Mark Scott’s tenure as MD of the ABC is coming to an end, and they’re looking for a successor. But again, just remember this. Speaking as a politician, the ABC gives us politicians – indeed, all politicians – an enormous amount of air time. 

So, you know, people sometimes get upset about an interviewer having a biased question or interrupting too much, or whatever.  And I’ve said what I said about overly aggressive interview styles, but you’ve got to remember, as a politician, that as long as that microphone is open, you can say whatever you like and you’ve got that ability to channel directly to the people who support your trying to achieve. 

ANDREW BOLT:

But that’s right, you’re responding to questions, though, that are set by an interviewer with an agenda. The questions I’m setting for you, for example, are never ones you would hear an ABC presenter put. So, it does make a difference who’s actually conducting the interview. And I’m just wondering why conservatives listening to you now are hearing you defend the ABC rather than insist that it be held to account for its bias. 

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well, but it is. Andrew, it is held to its account --

ANDREW BOLT:

I don’t see it. 

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

For all of its news and information. But, you see, what – the problem that people who disagree with the ABC, and let’s be frank, you work for a competitor of the ABC – I mean, there is a lot of, you know, there is a lot of commercial competitive rivalry between media organisations – 

ANDREW BOLT:

Wait, wait, wait, I said exactly the same thing as when I appeared on the ABC’s Insiders when I was there. It’s not something driven by Channel Ten. 

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

No, Andrew, I understand that, but I’m saying to you is that there is a healthy competition between media outlets and each of them has a go at each other. And I think as a conservative, I believe that it’s important to have a wide range of views and competing opinions. The big difference with the ABC is that unlike Channel Ten, unlike The Australian or The Telegraph, or The Herald Sun, they have to be accurate and impartial.

ANDREW BOLT:

Exactly. 

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

And what I do as the Minister, and it’s all I can do, is ensure that when the opportunity comes to put people on the board we put people capable people who have got corporate experience and the judgement to ensure that the ABC lives up to its charter. 

ANDREW BOLT:

Well, look, that is right, that is right. But they are not doing that now.

Anyway, look, we’ve run out of time for this segment. I want to talk to you about what divides us philosophically after the break. 

ANDREW BOLT:

I’ve said Malcolm Turnbull isn’t conservative enough, and he’s said I haven’t been Liberal enough. But we did once put that more rudely.

MALCOLM TURNBULL [VIDEO GRAB]:

I just have to say to Mr Bolt, he proclaims loudly that he is a friend of the Government. Well, with friends like Bolt, we don’t need any enemies. 

ANDREW BOLT [VIDEO GRAB]:

With Liberals like Malcolm Turnbull, who needs Labor? 

ANDREW BOLT:

And didn’t Labor love teasing the Prime Minister into choosing between us.

JASON CLARE [VIDEO GRAB]:

Andrew Bolt then said, “If only Malcolm Turnbull spent half his charm fighting for Tony Abbott’s Budget.” Prime Minister, who is right – your friend, Andrew Bolt, or your frenemy, Malcolm Turnbull? 

ANDREW BOLT:

So, let’s sort this out, like gentlemen, in a conversation. Malcolm Turnbull, have you ever been a conservative? 

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well, I’ve always regarded myself as a conservative. But conservatism, Andrew, is very much a process. And I might say that, you know, from the time I’ve been a – when I was a university student, I read widely, and wrote, about conservatism and political conservatism, and its philosophy, going back as far as Burke and succeeding writers like Quintin Hogg or Lord Hugh Cecil. 

But the reality is that conservatism, a conservative approach is, I think, a very responsible approach to government and to policy. It’s not being reactionary, and a lot of people who would put themselves on the political right are not actually thinking in a conservative way. A conservative seeks to change, seeks to reform, in an organic way. And rather like somebody, you know, going out, you know, out into the surf with a lifeline, goes further out, but making sure they’ve got a strong link back to the shore, back to the traditions and practices, to ensure that change is organically integrated into your society. So it’s a -- 

ANDREW BOLT:

Spot on – evolution, not revolution. Can we talk then about some concrete examples here. First, global warming, of course. Here are the four pillars of my position. I’m just wondering which, if any, you disagree with. Now one, the first, of course you won’t – that man’s gases do have an effect on the climate. We’d both agree there. Two, that effect is less than predicted, given that the earth’s atmosphere has not warmed for 17 years. Three, some warming might actually be good – more crops, for example. And four, slashing emissions costs a fortune, without actually doing much at all to reduce temperatures. Which of those statements would you dispute? 

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well again, as I said in another context, I’m not doing a sort of pick-a-box or a questionnaire here, but let me just give you my position on global warming, and I think it is a very conservative one, and it is one that is shared by many conservative leaders, both present and past. 

Firstly, there is clearly an impact of more – you know, greenhouse gases in the atmosphere clearly affect the climate. That’s obvious.

ANDREW BOLT:

We agree there. 

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

We all agree on that.

ANDREW BOLT:

Yeah, but then there’s the warming pause, for example. 

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

There is a very large body of opinion – I know you would say it’s not a consensus, but a very large body of opinion – that this effect, this greenhouse effect, is one that is going to produce global warming, which will have a very damaging effect to the earth’s climate, to our population, to all of the biosphere. And that is one that we should seek to mitigate. Is there doubt about the rate of warming, the accuracy of models? Of course there is. There’s doubt about all of this – all of the forecasting. But --

ANDREW BOLT:

Do you share any of the doubt, given that 17-year pause in the warming of the atmosphere? Do you share any of that doubt? 

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well, I am – in areas like this, Andrew, I think any intelligent person, any sensible person, has to have doubt, and has to be some degree sceptical, but with but with an intelligent scepticism. And so my point of view, and this is exactly the point of view that David Cameron takes in the UK, or indeed that many other conservatives take, and that John Howard took when he was Prime Minister, is we should take a prudent, cautious, insurance approach, and say, we should seek to restrain the growth of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, insofar as we can, in order to offset that chance. Now it may be – 

ANDREW BOLT:

Well, it’s a pity.  Alright, well, I don’t know that we’re going to agreeing on that, then. But another issue: free speech. Do you support reforming the Racial Discrimination Act to allow more debate, say, on the race politics that is now confronting us? 

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well, firstly, Andrew, I think there is plenty of scope in the Act as it stands for there to be debate. As you know, there is a provision that, in effect, exempts from the prohibitions not to, on the basis of racial characteristics, to insult, offend, humiliate or intimidate people. There’s an exemption if it is in a public debate, and it is – the debate is conducted reasonably.

ANDREW BOLT:

You know how tight the law is, because I mean, a couple of my articles are banned to this day. I’m just saying -- 

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well, I -- 

ANDREW BOLT:

Do you support the Racial Discrimination Act as it stands? 

MALCOLM TURNBULL

Well, the Government’s position is to leave it as it is, you know that. And I’m a member of the Government. Let me just give you a little bit of history, though, because I think this debate honestly ran off the rails. There was a very general consensus that – well, a broad consensus, among lots of interested groups and stakeholders, that the words “insult” and “offend” could be removed, leaving the words “humiliate” and “intimidate”. 

ANDREW BOLT:

Did you support that? 

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

I think that was broadly supported across the board. 

ANDREW BOLT:

By you too?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

I was very comfortable about that. I didn’t think that would have any sort of negative impact. 

ANDREW BOLT:

Well that’s good. 

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

The changes --

ANDREW BOLT:

And look, can I just move, because we’re running out of time, and I think that’s good. 

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Let me just add one thing. The proposals that the Government produced last year went much further than that. And to some extent, some considerable extent actually, surprised people in the community, and produced a backlash. And so we pulled back, and we’ve left things as they are. 

But I think the – you know, if you look back at it, being honest and self-critical, I think the Government went further than it should have. The reality is, with change like this, you’ve got to do it very delicately, and you’ve got to bring people along with you, so that they understand that what you’re not seeking to do is to license hate speech, quite the contrary. You’re trying to get just the right balance between freedom of speech and social harmony. 

ANDREW BOLT:

Look, that’s good, a nice, conservative position. A nice conservative position. Unfortunately I’ve run out of time to discuss same-sex marriage. I must have you back. But before I go, very quickly, Tony Abbott was within a whisker of losing his job to you in January and February, and his Government looked terminal. How different is the Government today to what it was just three months ago?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well, I’m not sure that the premise is correct, Andrew, but I think the Government is united. And we are –we have a good Budget. It’s a Budget that is for growth. It’s really seeking to supercharge the small business sector, which is the part of the economy that is most dynamic, most able to respond, and most able to, you know, put on more jobs, and get the economy cranked up again, after the inevitable slowing because of the ending of the mining construction boom. 

So I think we’ve got a good Budget, we’ve got a united Government, but we obviously have a lot of work ahead of us. 

ANDREW BOLT:

Malcolm Turnbull, it was very good of you to come on. Thank you very much. 

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Thank you, Andrew. 

ENDS

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