One month out from the federal election, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott have met in a televised debate at the National Press Club.
The debate was moderated by David Speers from Sky News. The panel of journalists consisted of Lyndal Curtis (ABC), Peter Hartcher (Fairfax) and Simon Benson (News Corporation).
This page contains the full transcript, audio and video of the debate. There are 11 ABC videos of the debate, by question.
- Listen to the full debate (59m)
- Opening Statements (7m)
- The Economy (9m)
- Asylum Seekers (6m)
- Trust (3m)
- Airports and Productivity (5m)
- Taxation and Service Cuts (7m)
- Aged Care (5m)
- Climate Change (5m)
- Resources Boom (5m)
- Gay Marriage (2m)
- Closing Remarks (6m)
Transcript of the Federal Election Debate at the National Press Club.
DAVID SPEERS: Good evening and welcome to the National Press Club election leaders’ debate. Please put your hands together for Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.
My name is David Speers, I’m the Political Editor of Sky News Australia and we have three other Press Gallery journalists on our panel tonight, Lyndal Curtis from the ABC, Simon Benson from News Corp and Peter Hartcher from Fairfax. Hannah Porter is our official timekeeper from the National Press Club. Now, we’ve asked the audience here in this room to remain silent now until the end of the debate but for those of you watching on the couch at home, feel free to cheer, boo or shout at the TV as you see fit. Now, both parties have agreed to a set of rules this evening and you will hear a chime sound when their time for answering each question is almost up. But we do want this to be a genuine debate, as much as I will be endeavouring to ensure equal time and equal treatment, we want this to be a genuine contest of the visions these two men have for our country’s future.
We tossed a coin before the debate, Kevin Rudd won the toss; he has decided to speak first. This means he will also speak first at the conclusion of the debate. So, Prime Minister, I’ll invite you now to make your opening remarks.
RUDD: This country of ours, Australia, is one of the best countries in the world. We have a strong and dynamic economy, recognised as such around the world. We believe passionately in a fair go, and a fair go for all. We’re also by instinct a positive people and we prefer to work together rather than tear each other apart. That’s who we are as Australians. And the Australia we all know and love has been built by you, the Australian people. Built by you, our businesses both big and small, built by you, our seniors, who’ve worked so hard in the past and built by you, young people out there who are our dynamos of the future. Most importantly, it’s built by you, the families of Australia, saving and providing for your kids’ future.
This economy is strong. This election is about the future strength of our economy and how best to secure it. The election is about a clear choice on the economy, on jobs, on how we support families under pressure and how we support education and health. We’ve managed to keep the economy strong. We are supporting families under financial pressure by a number of different measures. We’ve helped to keep interest rates low, the lowest they’ve been in 60 years. We’ve helped also by lifting the childcare rebate from 30 to 50 per cent.
We’ve also brought in paid parental leave, we’ve also got rid of Work Choices to protect fair pay and conditions, penalty rates and overtime. We’ve made record investments in education and record investments in health, the party that has brought you Medicare is the party has now has brought you DisabilityCare. There’s so much more to be done. The truth is, with the ending of the decade-long mining boom, we face new economic challenges. We must not have all our eggs just in one basket. We must now diversify to grow the industries and jobs of the future. We’ve got to manage a new great economic transition. We did this in the Hawke and Keating Government when we actually had to modernise the economy from the old economy of the past. We did so during the Global Financial Crisis, keeping Australia out of the great global recession and keeping our AAA rating but now we must transition again.
That’s why I argue we need a new way to take Australia forward because of the new challenges we face. A new way to turbo charge our small businesses in the future through a National Broadband Network to boost productivity, a new way to invest in our kids through a $15 billion Better Schools plan that will benefit every school and kid in the country. A new way to fund our hospitals, a new way of positive politics in this country as well. And to conclude, I can see a great new future for Australia and the Government I lead knows how to build that future for all Australians.
To you, my fellow Australians, drawing on the great strengths of our country as it exists now under my Prime Ministership, I offer a new way to secure Australia’s future.
SPEERS: Prime Minister, thank you. Tony Abbott I would like you now to make your opening remarks.
TONY ABBOTT: Thanks very much, David.
This debate is between Mr Rudd and me but the election is not about Mr Rudd, it’s not about me, it’s about you, the people of Australia. Who can make your future more secure? Who can make your life better? Who can ease your cost-of-living pressures and who can make your job more safe? Elect a Liberal National Coalition Government and this is how our country will change: we’ll build a stronger economy so that everyone can get ahead. We’ll scrap the Carbon Tax but we’ll keep the compensation so that the tax cuts and the pension increases are real. We’ll get the Budget back under control because Governments, like families and businesses, have to live within their means. We’ll build the roads of the 21st century. That means WestConnex in Sydney, it means the East West Link in Melbourne, it means the Gateway upgrade in Brisbane, it means the North-South road in Adelaide, it means Gateway in Perth, it means duplicating, finally, the Pacific Highway, upgrading the Bruce Highway, and also the Midland Highway in Tasmania, and we’ll stop the boats because no self-respecting country can hand over control of part of its immigration program to people smugglers.
This is the positive plan that the Liberal National Coalition offers Australia. This is our positive plan for a better future to restore hope, reward and opportunity. We are a great country but we can’t afford another three years like the last six. Mr Rudd talks about a new way. Well, if you want a new way, you’ve got to choose a new Government.
SPEERS: Tony Abbott, Thank you very much for that. Now before we get to questions from my colleagues on the panel, as agreed we are going to debate the major issues of the campaign, let’s start with the economy. Now Prime Minister, you mentioned the Global Financial Crisis in your opening remarks, it is five years since that hit and yet you’re spending more this year, this financial year than at any time during Labor’s period in office and indeed any time during the Howard years as well. You’re also forecasting unemployment to continue rising by another 80 thousand places. Can you understand people feeling a little nervous about giving Labor another three years?
RUDD: David, the key challenge for the Global Financial Crisis was to prevent our economy from falling into recession and practically every other economy in the world did. And while millions of people lost their jobs around the world, we have, until today, added nearly a million more than we had than when we went to office. 450 new jobs each day despite the state of the global economy. If you look to the future, we also believe in keeping our economy strong. You’ve also questioned our performance relative to our predecessors on things such as tax and expenditure and employment.
SPEERS: It was on spending. It’s higher now than at any time in the Howard years.
RUDD: Expenditure now as a proportion of GDP is a little greater than it was on the average for the Howard Government period, about 24 per cent of GDP under them, about 25 per cent under us, and the reason for that difference was investing in our country’s future to ensure that we did not allow the country to fall into recession, and as a result, have, frankly, hundreds of thousands more Australians out of a job. That would have collapsed tax revenues, increased what we’d have to spend in terms of unemployment benefits and created a real debt problem for the future as well. So I would simply make that point in terms of making a hard choice, the alternative of course is slash and burn, and we’ve seen cutting to the bone in so many other parts of the world. The Brits have done that and produced a recession. That’s not our way.
SPEERS: Let’s get to the alternative, Tony Abbott, you do criticise Labor often for running up debt but your own plans – now, just listing a few, you want to cut the Company Tax, you want to scrap the Carbon Tax, you want to scrap the Mining Tax, you want to undo the Fringe Benefits Tax changes, you’re saying you’ll match Labor’s spending on schools and disabilities. You also want to spend a lot more on paid parental leave and a multibillion dollar direct action plan. Where is the money coming from?
ABBOTT: Well David, the thing that you’ve got to understand is that there has been an enormous amount of waste over the last six years. Mr Rudd talks about keeping Australia out of a recession but spending money on pink batts that caught fire in people’s roofs or spending money on over-priced school halls that double what would have been a fair market value…
SPEERS: Let’s stick with your plans.
ABBOTT: That didn’t keep us out of recession. What kept us out of recession was the fact that Mr Rudd inherited a strong economy thanks to the reforms of Mr Hawke, Mr Keating, Mr Howard and Mr Costello, and the China boom kept going. That was what kept us out of the recession.
SPEERS: My question is about how your numbers add up.
ABBOTT: You will see in good time before polling day exactly how much we’re going to spend and exactly how much we’re going to save and exactly how much better the bank balance will be under the Coalition than under the Labor Party.
SPEERS: Mr Abbott, do you acknowledge people are tuning in tonight, you’ve been in this job for a few years, they want to hear tonight how you’re going to stop things getting worse.
ABBOTT: Just on the savings thing, David, the tax cuts without a Carbon Tax, and the pension increases without a Carbon Tax that I’m committed to, and the Company Tax cut that I’m committed to costs $17 billion over the forward estimates period. Now in my National Press Club Speech in January in this very venue and in my Budget reply speech I identified a series of savings that equal $17 billion.
SPEERS: Is that good enough, Prime Minister? You’re the one raising fear campaigns about the GST. Are those savings measures good enough?
RUDD: I deal in facts actually, David, and the facts are these: Mr Hockey, Mr Abbott’s Treasury spokesman, has said that the Liberal Party faces a $70 billion funding gap, their figure, not ours. Senator Wong, the Finance Minister, has verified that in a statement as recently as last week, in detail, line by line. And the bottom line is this, here we are, four weeks before an election, and the Australian people, if they were voting yesterday, according to the opinion polls, would have elected Mr Abbott Prime Minister. Surely four weeks before an election he can stop being evasive about where the $70 billion worth of cuts to jobs, to health an education would fall, and in the absence of that…
SPEERS: The numbers have moved around lot. Treasury’s numbers have been downgraded and downgraded and downgraded. You can understand some reluctance to lock in on the current set of numbers?
RUDD: Our experience has been that it is important to be transparent about what you’re going to cut and what you’re going to save. What we’ve had from our opponents in this election campaign is a continued policy of evasion on this. Let’s just say that the $70 billion can’t be made up in terms of all the cuts which have been partly foreshadowed to jobs, health and education, well, it’s legitimate then for us to raise a question about the future of the Goods and Services Tax? Mr Abbott and the Deputy Leader, Julie Bishop who’s here this evening, and Mr Hockey have said that the review of the Goods and Services Tax is on the table. Will it be increased, when will it go to food?
SPEERS: Will it be increased, Tony?
ABBOTT: No, No. No, it won’t. The GST doesn’t changed under the Coalition and I think our country, I think the people at home who are watching this, deserve better than a cheap scare campaign from the Prime Minister of this country. Look, this idea that the Coalition is ready with a great big scalpel to slash health, to slash education, to slash jobs is simply wrong. It’s in fact Mr Rudd’s Government which cut $1.5 billion out of hospital funding, including retrospective cuts in the last mid-year economic update.
SPEERS: OK, no change to the GST. Is that just for one term?
ABBOTT: No change to the GST and, look, a matter of fact which I think is very important, the GST cannot change without the consent of all the State and Territory Governments, and last time I looked that include two Labor Governments.
SPEERS: Is that good enough for you, Prime Minister?
RUDD: No, it’s not for two reasons. Mr Abbott and Mr Hockey and Julie Bishop have been asked this very question in the last week.
SPEERS: He’s been clear tonight.
RUDD: What he has said and they have said repeatedly is their tax review will include the future of the Goods and Services Tax. If you’re not going to change the tax, why is it in the review? We have made a clear commitment it will not be increased from its existing level of 10% and won’t be applied to food. They haven’t said that. On Mr Abbott’s second point, let me remind him about the agreement of the Commonwealth and states. That exists as a product of legislation by the Australian Parliament which any future Parliament can change. In other words, the national Parliament could act on the basis of a new policy decision by Mr Abbott’s Government.
SPEERS: A quick response from you, Tony Abbott.
ABBOTT: It’s a little embarrassing, David. This Government has been in power for six years.
SPEERS: Just on the GST and your plans. It is in your review.
ABBOTT: The GST is not going to change.
ABBOTT: The GST can’t change without the agreement of the States and Territories and last time I looked that meant the agreement of the Labor Party but it is a little embarrassing-
SPEERS: You won’t, you won’t review it?
ABBOTT: It’s not going to change. It’s a little embarrassing to have the Prime Minister of this country, who had three years in power himself, who is a member of the Government for the rest of the three years, who voted for everything, including the Carbon Tax, who was part of the promise to deliver the surplus that never turned up, after six years, the best he can do is run this embarrassing scare campaign.
SPEERS: The other big issue in this election campaign and over the last few years has been asylum seekers. Kevin Rudd, we know you went to the 2007 election promising to dismantle Pacific Solutions. We know there was popular support for doing that and you did it but with the benefit of hindsight, do you, along with many others who have done, now acknowledge that was wrong?
RUDD: As I answer that, one concluding point on the previous discussion.
SPEERS: Let’s move on if we can.
RUDD: I want to say this – if you’re not going to change the GST, why is it subject to the tax review by the Coalition? Secondly, you have raised asylum seekers, this is a difficult question for the country and the activities of people smugglers concern all Australians. You’re right in 2007 we had a mandate, we implemented that mandate and then our external circumstances, as you know during the course of 2008, 09 and 10, changed. Many things which happened in the international community including a civil war in Sri Lanka, so what I have said on many times already is that, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight you would have begun to adjust the policy earlier.
SPEERS: With that hindsight, do you acknowledge you should not have done what you did and dismantled the Pacific Solutions?
RUDD: I believe in acting in accordance with your democratic mandate. That is what we took to the people and the people supported it. The so-called Pacific Solution, let’s put that under scrutiny given you’ve just raised it. The truth about the Pacific Solution is that 70%, thereabouts, of those people sent by Mr Howard to Nauru and elsewhere as part of the Pacific Solution, used it as a wait station and within a couple of years were in Australia anyway. What I have put forward is a new policy for the future with one simple principle attached – if you’re a people smuggler bringing someone to Australia and seeking to settle them in Australia, we will not allow them to be settled here. They will be sent for processing in Papua New Guinea and if they are proven to be bona fide refugees, settled in Papua New Guinea.
SPEERS: Tony Abbott, what is your problem with this current policy? We know you’ve been very critical about Labor’s chopping and changing on this and the number of people who’ve come but what is wrong with this current policy?
ABBOTT: We will salvage what we can from the arrangements that Mr Rudd has made with PNG and let’s face it, we invented off-shore processing. The Coalition invented processing at Nauru. The Coalition invented processing at Manus Island.
SPEERS: Is there anything wrong with the current policy?
ABBOTT: And Mr Rudd closed it all down and it’s because Mr Rudd closed it all down that we’ve had more than 50,000 illegal arrivals, more than 800 boats, $11 billion in Budget blow-outs and tragically more than a thousand deaths at sea. It’s important to get the facts straight here, David. We will salvage what we can of the PNG solution, but the PNG solution is not what the Prime Minister says it is. He says no-one who goes to PNG will ever come to Australia. That’s not what the document says and I understand that today we had two Somalis come across the Torres Strait so, look, I’m not saying off-shore processing isn’t important but on its own it’s not enough to work.
SPEERS: You also want to turn back boats where it’s safe to do so. Can you explain tonight for us exactly what you would do if a boat tries to enter Australian waters?
ABBOTT: If it’s safe to do so, as advised by the operational commanders on the ground, it will be turned around. Now, there’s no mystery to this. This is not some unprecedented action. The Australian navy, for more than a decade, has been dealing with pirate boats in the Persian Gulf, the US coast guard, for more than two decades, has been turning around boats in the Caribbean coming from Cuba to Florida. The Australian navy did it several times successfully before.
SPEERS: Prime Minister, do you think this would spark some sort of conflict with Indonesia?
RUDD: I think the first point to make about it is when Mr Abbott says “when it’s safe”, the truth is the operational command given by people smugglers to those boats is this – if the Australian navy or anyone else tries to turn your boat around, scuttle the ship. Under those circumstances people drown and under international maritime law, what then happens is the nearest ship is required to rescue. That’s the problem, the key operational problem. If we didn’t think that problem existed we’d have a different approach. Secondly, it is in direct contrast and conflict with the stated policy of the Government of Indonesia.
SPEERS: You think it would lead to conflict?
RUDD: I go back to one other point, David, and that is that Mr Abbott, in pointing to this halcyon past of the Pacific Solution, has not answered the core question. 70% of the people who went to Nauru ended up in Australia as permanent residents later.
ABBOTT: Not true.
RUDD: If it’s not true, what is the number then? I would appreciate clarification of that.
ABBOTT: As your own former Minister Senator Evans made clear, 30% went home, 30% went to a country other than Australia and, yes, 40% did come to Australia but the Prime Minister owes it to the Australian people to get his facts right, not to invent them, and the boats stopped. That’s the key point. The boats stopped. Since the PNG solution we’ve had more than 2000 illegal arrivals. Less than 200 have gone to PNG.
SPEERS: Let’s get to our first question from our panel of journalists, from the ABC’s Lyndal Curtis.
LYNDAL CURTIS: A question to Mr Rudd but to you too Mr Abbott on the issue of trust. Mr Rudd, you’re suggesting the Coalition would raise a tax but in the past six years the Labor Government has raised a number of taxes or charges or levies. Recently you raised a tax a little more than a week ago. Mr Abbott, you’ve criticised the Labour Party for not taking policies to an election, for implementing them without taking them to people but you’d implement recommendations of your audit commission that you’d deem within your mandate without putting them to the people. Why should people trust you when you criticise the other side for doing something you’d do yourself?
RUDD: Are you asking me the question first and then Mr Abbott? Let’s go back to a very basic measure here. You talk about the tax impost on Australians. Under this Government, the tax to GDP ratio has been, in the period we’ve been in office, an average of 22.7%. Under the Coalition, the average for the period they were in office was 25.1%. That’s a big difference. It’s a huge difference. Therefore, the whole premise of the argument that this Government is over-taxing the Australian people really has to be tested against the facts. The other thing I’d say is that with income tax cuts, we have rolled out three years’ worth of those and they have had a benefit to families in Australia under financial pressure. There is always more to do on tax, but on tax policy I’d also say this, if Mr Abbott is in the business of rolling out proposed tax cuts for the company rate of 1.5% and abolishing the mining tax, well, they are tax cuts which benefit very large corporations in the main. They don’t do a lot for small business, particularly the unincorporated ones. Further to that, if the way of offsetting that, for ordinary Australian families is to hold over a possibility of a review of the goods and services tax, I don’t think there’s lot of equity on that. Our record on tax as a proportion of the economy is a strong one, introducing personal income tax cuts which benefit families under financial pressure. Mr Abbott seems to be heading in the reverse direction, for big companies and mining companies who frankly have enjoyed high levels of profitability for a long period of time.
ABBOTT: If I could just, Lyndal, remind the Prime Minister and viewers at home of the words of the former Prime Minister, Ms Gillard, who said in the parliament in early 2012, “If you’re against cutting the company tax, you’re against jobs,” and the words of the former Treasury Secretary, Dr Henry, who said that the principal beneficiaries of any company tax cut are workers so our company tax cut, our carbon tax cuts are designed to increase jobs, to improve job security and help people with their cost of living. Abolishing the carbon tax will mean a $550 a year saving for the average household. As for the commission of audit, well, it’s not a tax review. It’s a review into the size, scope and efficiency of Government and we wouldn’t implement any recommendations that we felt were contrary to a mandate.
SPEERS: Our next question comes from Peter Hartcher.
PETER HARTCHER: Mr Rudd, you were talking just now – this question is for you but I would be interested in Mr Abbott’s thoughts – Mr Rudd, you were talk about the relatively small size of the tax revenue take in the economy and indeed, since the last election the Labor Government has revised downwards, has cut on six separate occasions its forecast tax revenue. It’s got to the point where the former Treasury secretary, whom Mr Abbott cited a minute ago, Ken Henry, has said, “What we see is a structural change in the ability of the economy to produce tax revenues.” Ken Henry has said that any Government, any incoming Government, whether led by you or Mr Abbott, will be force into a permanent process – and that’s quoting Ken Henry – a permanent process of cutting spending. So my question to you, Mr Rudd, but also interested in your thoughts, Mr Abbott, what programs will you cut and if you’re not going to cut any programs, what taxes will you increase?
RUDD: On the question of tax, I would simply reiterate one point I made before. In a perfect world you would be able to reduce the company tax rate but as many others have said recently in response to Mr Abbott’s proposal, that is not the right course of action at this time in the history of our economy. We face a whole bunch of new challenges. I referred to those before in my opening remarks. Therefore, what Mr Abbott’s proposal does is in fact remove two significant slices of revenue from the Government and I fear transfers that burden potentially to families in terms of any future change to the Goods and Services Tax.
HARTCHER: What programs would you cut or taxes would you increase?
RUDD: On the question of our approach to managing our Budget, I’ve got to say we have produced in full an economic statement only a week or so ago, which details our approach both to how we’re managing on the tax side and what we’re doing as far as expenditure is concerned as well. And this returns the Budget to surplus responsibly over time without engaging in massive, major cuts which have a danger of throwing the economy into recession. We will always keep an open mind in terms of how we manage expenditures in the future but economic wisdom right now lies not in cutting things to the bone – jobs, education, health – because if you do that, not only are those people going to be hurt badly at a time when there’s global economic softness, on top of that you’re going to create real problems down the track in terms of, frankly, keeping the economy going. One other point I’d add is this, if you’re going to talk about growing revenues in the future, what we must do is boost the productivity of our businesses and that is why we’re investing in one of the greatest productivity enhancers in the future for businesses including small business and that is broadband to everybody which we know from studies boosts overall profitability over time.
ABBOTT: On the National Broadband Network, it’s way behind schedule, it’s way over budget and we are absolutely convinced, based on expert advice, that we can produce five times the present average maximum download speeds for $60 billion dollars less. We can get 25 megabits per second everywhere in Australia by 2016. At the current rate of roll-out, the National Broadband Network won’t cover the whole country for 20 years.
On, Peter, your fundamental question, yes, revenues are under pressure. No doubt about that. What we need to do is grow a stronger economy. That’s why it’s so important to reduce unnecessary taxes, eliminate unnecessary taxes, eliminate unnecessary taxes like the carbon tax and the mining tax which have damaged confidence and reduce red tape. Mr Rudd talks about productivity but his last speech at the National Press Club which talked about productivity, in the end what did it all add up to? Establishing a committee. There were no specific plans that would actually boost productivity. Well, reducing red tape boosts productivity, restoring the workplace relations pendulum to the sensible centre, that increases productivity, re-establishing the Australian Building and Construction Commission, that increases productivity and that will give our country the stronger economy that we need if we are to have well-funded education, well-funded health and well-funded disability systems in the years ahead.
SPEERS: The question was actually what programs are you willing to cut, I don’t think we’ve heard any from either of you. Tony Abbott, you are willing to cut the School Kids’ Bonus still, aren’t you?
ABBOTT: Look, as we’ve said all along, this a cash splash with borrowed money that has nothing to do with education. Now, the letters are already going out, as I understand it, from the Labor Party. Yet another scare campaign from the Labor Party. I am being honest and upfront with people. We can’t afford it at this time.
What you’ll get from Mr Rudd and from the Labor Party, promises made before an election scrapped after an election. We already had suggestions from one of the panellists tonight, Simon Benson that the Government was looking at abolishing the school kids’ bonus. It was an article, Simon, you published I think on 26 July in the Daily Telegraph.
SPEERS: Let’s clear that up. Is that staying?
RUDD: I think let’s just level here about what the alternatives are. We believe that families across Australia are under significant cost-of-living pressures. One measure we’ve taken is to increase the childcare rebate from 30 to 50 per cent, another measure we’ve taken is to ensure that kids who are at school, supporting their families, receive a School Kids’ Bonus. That’s committed. That’s in the forward estimates. It’s there and we’re already paying it and that’s $410 a year for a primary school kid, $820 a year for a secondary school kid and that, I believe, helps relieves some of the pressure faced by working families.
I go back to the tax and spending question from Peter Harcher before. What I see from Mr Abbott’s side of the argument is a series of actions to reduce the taxation burden on big companies and in the mining sector and I worry about families and where it goes to them, particularly the GST.
SPEERS: Our next question is from Simon Benson.
SIMON BENSON: This may not come as a surprise to either of you, this question. Both of you have promised a productivity drive to re-energise the economy and to create jobs. Both of you are aware of successive Government reports that tell you that the greatest boost to the nation’s productivity, one which could create up to 50,000 jobs over time, could be achieved by building a second international airport at Badgerys Creek. I want to pose this question first to you, Mr Abbott, and forgive me for being blunt, but surely after 30 years of debate it is time to act in the nation’s economic interests and just build the bloody thing?
ABBOTT: Well, Simon, I accept that we do need to do something about airport capacity serving Sydney. I absolutely accept that. We cannot go on for another decade the way we have over the last six years and we’ve had a Government which has not advanced us one inch, one yard over the last six years on this. Just a few weeks ago the Infrastructure Minister said that a decision would be made in the next term. Well, I will make a decision on this in a term of Government, should I get it.
The first thing you’ve got to do though – this is the first thing you’ve got to do- to improve the infrastructure surrounding the existing Sydney Airport which is clogged at peak periods, completely clogged, that will boost the capacity of the existing Sydney Airport. That’s why I’m so determined to build WestConnex. It will happen under the Coalition. It won’t happen under Mr Rudd and if you take the pressure off major roads, you take the pressure off the feeder roads as well.
SPEERS: So you have committed to make a decision – matched the commitment to make a decision in the next term of Government. Yes. Prime Minister, your response?
RUDD: Let me answer this in two ways because I think it answers two parts of Simon’s question. He talked about productivity and specifically about Sydney Airport. Can I just make the point on productivity? Under the Fair Work Act, labour productivity has been growing at 1.9 per cent, under WorkChoices it was 0.7 per cent. Let’s bear that in mind before everyone assumes that the Fair Work Act is counter to productivity outcomes. Secondly, productivity is driven by a bunch of things. It is driven by relative energy prices including the burden faced by a bunch of people through gouging by State Government owned electricity utilities as well. That brings down relative competitiveness and efficiency and productivity of firms. The level of skills we’re investing in for firms; that drives productivity. That’s why we are so passionate about our investment in education.
Furthermore, our investment in infrastructure, enabling infrastructure like the national broadband network goes to all of Australia not just to Sydney, Simon, and therefore that also is capable of lifting the productivity of firms. These are the drivers of productivity. We’re passionate about that. On Sydney Airport, there’s a massive debate about where any second airport should be. I’m from Queensland, I’m not from Sydney. I hear contending arguments in terms of where or if such a new airport should be located. This lies with the Infrastructure Minister. I’m sure recommendations will come forward at the right time and that appropriate decisions will be made on when the existing site at Kingsford Smith reaches its capacity.
But I go back to the productivity drivers. That is a much broader equation for all Australians and therefore it’s got to be investing in people’s skills, investing in the new infrastructure and making sure we’ve got competitive energy prices like, for example, bringing on new gas supplies to bring down the energy price like in the United States.
SPEERS: You did say when and if. Are you saying that there’s some question mark over whether Sydney needs a second airport?
RUDD: I’ll defer that question to those, for example, Minister Albanese, the Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Transport, because that is how it’s appropriately deliberated on. I don’t believe.
SPEERS: That’s leadership though…
RUDD: But hang on, I’d hate again to say to the good folk of Sydney that theirs is not the only airport in the country. There’s one in Brisbane, one in Melbourne, and if the argument which Simon put was about productivity, I’m just making a pretty forthright argument that it’s the efficiency of ourimportant infrastructure in which we’ve massively invested, the efficiency of our rail networks we’re massively investing in and Mr Abbott is saying he won’t ever invest in an urban rail network and we’ve currently got billions going into Brisbane, Redcliffe rail into other and project around the country including Melbourne with the Regional Rail Link…
SPEERS: I think we got the list on various projects. Next question from Lyndal Curtis.
CURTIS: Firstly to Tony Abbott and then to Kevin Rudd about aged care. About 6 million voters in this election are aged 50 and over, 2 million aged 70 or over, that’s lot of people who are thinking about care for themselves or their parents. The Government made a change in policy legislated earlier this year with almost no publicity. Mr Abbott, you don’t have a detailed aged care policy in your Real Solutions booklet, I think your aged care statement ran to about a paragraph. What would a Coalition Government do? Mr Rudd, can you explain what the central changes are and whether there would be any more?
ABBOTT: Thanks, Lyndal. Look, all of us absolutely accept and understand that we do need better aged care systems. Most of us have had aged relatives in aged care institutions of one sort or another. I’ve certainly had both of my grandparents in aged care institutions. They’re good but we want them to be better. Essentially, our policy will be about reducing the paperwork that aged care providers face because if they’re spending less time doing bureaucracy they’ll have more time and more money to spend on providing better care.
CURTIS: But the Government’s changes were quite wide-ranging. They went to not only making the process easier but looking at how aged care is paid for, how people pay for it themselves. What will you do on that policy?
ABBOTT: Well, I accept that it was quite a detailed set of changes and it was largely based on a report by the Productivity Commission. I thought that the Productivity Commission report was a good report, as did my Shadow Minister, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells. On this issue there isn’t an enormous difference between the Coalition and the Government but we do need to try to ensure that the providers, that the nurses, that the other workers in these aged care centres who do such a terrific job, such a terrific job, and are so helpful to very vulnerable Australians, don’t have to spend as much time on paperwork as they currently do under a paper-based accountability system.
SPEERS: Will you implement the productivity commission recommendations?
ABBOTT: We have no plans to make significant changes to the system that the Government’s put in place.
RUDD: Aged care is a vital issue and it’s important you’ve raised it here. It is a growing challenge for the country as our population ages and any country worth its salt is seeking to deal with this in an effective way. In terms of the core elements of what we’ve put forward, part of it goes to how it’s financed, part of it goes to another core element – which is how do we enable people to age with dignity in a home environment as well?
And frankly, can I just make one point about that it goes back to the National Broadband Network, through more attentive and accurate care systems which can be delivered online as we roll out this system, aged care is going to be a huge beneficiary in terms of monitoring a person’s health and wellbeing, bringing in one-on-one treatment when needed and to make it better for families and particularly for those of us who have had aging parent and have seen the needs which lie ahead. There’s one other thing I’d say as well. Mr Abbott just mentioned the workforce. I agree with him. Our nurses out there do a fantastic job in the aged care sector and more broadly across the Health sector.
One of the things they have always been worried about, and I’ve dealt with many of them in my own electorate is whether, if there is any future change, as Mr Abbott has indicated to the Fair Work Act, what will happen to their industrial conditions? They’ve said this to me a thousand times. They are really worried about it. We need to have more people attracted to working in that sector, caring for people in aged care homes but also becoming part of that professional network of carers which assists in caring for people more at home, using the new technologies which can do that.
CURTIS: But you don’t see further change to your policy?
RUDD: I’m of the view, and I note carefully what the Productivity Commission has said, I believe because this is a growing challenge for the nation, this must be kept under continue review. It’s only fair to seniors who have served our country so well, that they are guaranteed proper are into the future.
SPEERS: Our next question comes from Peter Harcher.
HARTCHER: Mr Abbott, setting aside some of your earlier comments on climate change, you said here in this Press Club in January that climate change is real, that humanity is contributing and that strong, effective policy is required to deal with it.
ABBOTT: Thank you for remembering what I said, Peter.
HARTCHER: I’m happy to quote you back to you any time, Mr Abbott. Particularly when I can get you to tell us if you’re going to honour your commitments because you and the Government have both committed to cut carbon emission by a minimum of 5 per cent by 2020 and up to as much as 25 per cent, depending on international progress. Under global negotiations, Australia will have to decide next year on the next phase. Will you keep your commitment? If there is global progress, will you agree to cut carbon emissions above and beyond the 5 per cent target? And Mr Rudd, part of that question for you – what would you do to help prepare Australia for climate change impacts?
ABBOTT: Well, Peter, I’d rather deal with the facts rather than with hypotheticals. We will reduce-
HARTCHER: Your commitment is not a hypothetical.
ABBOTT: We will reduce emissions by 5 per cent by 2020 through what we call Direct Action rather than through a great big new tax, or it’s not a new tax now, it’s an existing tax and a tax that’s just going to increase if Mr Rudd gets re-elected to $38 a ton by 2020. We will do this by going to the market and purchasing what we think are cost-effective ways of getting reduced emissions. More trees, better soils, smarter technology, that’s what we’ll be doing. We will deliver the 5 per cent reduction. If you actually look at the modelling that Mr Rudd’s Government released back in 2011, under the carbon tax our domestic emissions go up by 8 per cent by 2020, not down by 5 per cent, and you’ve got to buy about $3.5 billion worth of carbon credits from abroad to get the reduction they’re seeking.
HARTCHER: You commitment rather than Mr Rudd’s. If there is international progress, would you keep your commitment to consider cuts above and beyond the 5 per cent?
ABBOTT: We’ve always said that if circumstances change we will adjust appropriately but there is no way that other countries are embracing the kind of carbon tax and the kind of Emissions Trading Scheme that Australia has if anything the trend is all the other way and if you look at what has happened in this country of ours, our emissions…
RUDD: Let me tell you climate change is there front and centre and we will be doing a disservice to our kids and our grandkids if we do not act. That’s why we brought in the mandatory renewable energy target of 20%, that’s why we’re moving towards an Emissions Trading Scheme. That’s why, despite the Howard Government being in office for 12 years, I, as one of my first acts, ratified the Kyoto Protocol. These are important measures, important steps, and we’ve never doubted the science, unlike some. On the key question of impacts which Peter went to before, what really frightens the hell out of me to be blunt is in my State of Queensland, the impact on the Great Barrier Reef over time. It is a fragile ecosystem that’s been knocked around by storms and extreme weather events which may be the product of Climate Change according to CSIRO scientists, that is more extreme weather events the more climate change intensifies so we therefore have no alternative but to act collaboratively with the rest of the world.
SPEERS: And your willingness to increase the target if the rest of the world shows action?
RUDD: We honour our international obligations and will make a careful judgment about what the rest of the world does. Can I also correct a figure before? Mr Abbott was pointing to increased carbon prices. We’re moving towards an Emissions Trading Scheme.
I’ve announced the abolition of the carbon tax. That would bring down the price from $26 a ton to $6 a ton. That’s a fact. People just need to be aware of that.
SPEERS: They do forecast it to increase…
RUDD: Can I add one other thing too? Electricity emissions, under the measures we’ve taken in this country, have reduced by 7% and I’m advised under the policies we’ve had in place for several years, carbon emissions are stopping increasing. We are starting to see the product of real policy at work for our kids’ future.
SPEERS: Our next question from Simon Benson.
BENSON: I’d like to keep you on the economy and this question is to you, Mr Rudd. Only a couple of weeks ago in this very room, your Treasurer declared the resources boom was over, that the country had reached a cross-roads. These were his words. Yet a report from your own Department in May this year, a government department, cited record high levels of committed investment in the resources and energy sectors. The Department goes on to say: ‘The total committed expenditure of Australia’s oil and gas projects is comparable to the total cost of the Apollo moon program in 2012 prices’ You have said we’re in a transition to a new economy when your own Department and the industry say the old economy is still doing just fine thank you very much. Is this just rhetoric on your part to excuse the Budget problems that the Government has or can you outline tonight precisely what you mean by the new economy? What are we supposed to be transitioning into and where people can expect to get jobs from this new economy?
RUDD: Simon, that’s a critical question. I believe it goes to the absolute core of the economic debate that lies ahead of us, for the nation. On the question of the end of the China mining boom or more broadly the resources boom, this has been a decade-long in its evolution and has been critical not just for WA and for Queensland, but for the whole country. We’ve had this huge addition to our nation’s wealth permanently as a result. The mining industry’s been fantastic at doing that work. But the truth is if you look carefully at China’s economic growth model, they are changing their model. They are changing into a less resource-intensive economy and backing on to an earlier point by Mr Abbott, they are embracing carbon pricing across the economy through tax or floating price because they see the impact of Climate Change as well. Also they’re moving to a new economic model based on consumption. Now what’s the consequence for us? It is that this investment phase, which you correctly refer to, is ongoing but coming to a close if you look at several years ahead.
The business of national political leadership is to look beyond the horizon to see where the new challenges are coming. Our production will go up as a result of this new investment and we’re going to benefit from that but we must prepare for this great economic transition to an economy where we don’t have the ability to put all our eggs in one basket. We must diversify the economy and you ask where the new jobs will come from – through boosting productivity, taking advantage of the lower Australian Dollar, you see new jobs emerging from our manufacturing sector. Not a new industry but I believe an industry of the future.
Also from agribusiness across the country. We have terrific farm production which can find new markets in Asia which is why we’re negotiating a free trade agreement with the Chinese to get access to those ag markets and critical service industries as well. This is the challenge of leadership now, to manage the transition. If we’re having this debate in three years time and we haven’t, we’ve got a problem.
SPEERS: Mr Abbott.
ABBOTT: The interesting thing about Mr Rudd’s statement then is he said almost the same thing six years ago. If any of you can remember the debate with Mr Howard in 2007, he said exactly the same thing and the trouble is we’ve just got the same waffle today that we had six years ago. Now, if the mining boom is over – I say if the mining boom is over, at least in part, it’s because Mr Rudd’s Government has killed it with things like the Carbon Tax, with things like the Mining Tax, abolishing the Australian Building and Construction Commission, added green tape on development approvals. Well, we’ll abolish the Carbon Tax, we’ll abolish the Mining Tax, we’ll restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission and we will give a one-stop shop for major environment approvals. Now, we also want to see a 5-pillar economy that is not so dependent on mining as we have been in the last few years but a strong resources sector is very good for Australia and you’re much more likely to get that under the Coalition than under Mr Rudd.
SPEERS: We’re fast running out of time.
RUDD: I need to add one point. There was a reference to what I said six years ago. What I said six years ago was this: We have to prepare for the day when the mining boom is coming to an end. It’s actually absolutely right. And what I am saying, Mr Abbott, you might laugh but what you said was a little inaccurate. What I’m saying is you need to prepare for the future. That’s what this is about.
SPEERS: We haven’t got time to get all the to and fro we would like on so many issues. Can I squeeze in one more and maybe a 30-second response from each of you on the question of same-sex marriage, will it be legislated, legalised in the next term of parliament? Tony Abbott just a quick response.
ABBOTT: It’s a very important issue. My sister Chris in the audience. I know how important an issue it is. It’s not the only important issue and I’ve got to say that as far as an incoming Coalition Government is concerned, the priority will be on things like reducing cost-of-living pressure and increasing job security.
SPEERS: Would you allow a conscience vote?
ABBOTT: We had a vote in the national parliament about a year ago. It was fairly decisive against same-sex marriage. If this issue were to come up again in the future, it would be a matter for a future party room to determine.
SPEERS: Prime Minister, a quick response from you. Will we see this legislated in the next term?
RUDD: One, I support marriage equality and the reason I do has been well canvassed in the national debate and why I changed my position. Number two, I believe this is just a mark of decency to same sex couples across the country who wish the same loving, caring relationship that for example I’ve had with Therese, my wife now, for the last 32 years, and for that to be formalised. Number three is, my commitment is within the first 100 days of a re-elected Government a bill would come forth to legalise marriage equality, we would, of course on our side of politics, allow a full conscience vote and I would just appeal to Mr Abbott to do the same, because folk out there want this to happen.
SPEERS: We are out of time for questions. Time for closing remarks. Mr Rudd, as you had the opening statement, you also lead off with the closing remarks.
RUDD: Thanks very much, David. Well, it’s been a privilege to be able to talk to the Australian people tonight about my plans for the country’s future. It’s a highly uncertain world out there and Australians legitimately have real concerns. What I’ve tried to outline tonight are some of the actions we’ve taken so far to secure our future, how we’ve kept the economy strong despite the financial crisis, how together with businesses, big and small, we’ve added nearly 1 million jobs and how we’ve sought to support families facing cost-of-living pressures, how we’ve invested in early childhood education, new libraries in our primary schools, new language and science centres in our high schools, trades training centres and now, with nearly 190,000 more kids in university than when we first came to office. As well as investing in our hospitals, in new emergency departments, in hospital beds, new operating theatres and 26 new regional cancer care centres. But there’s much to be done for the future.
We need a new way to build the industries of the future to create the new jobs of the future so that all of our eggs are not in one basket. We must boost small business productivity by laying out a National Broadband Network for all Australians, every family, every household as well as every small business. A new way to invest in our schools needs for the future through the Better Schools Plan, and a new way of politics which puts to bed wall-to-wall negativity and puts to but bed the politics of division and gets industry, the unions and Government around one table, focussing on our country’s future. I believe that’s what’s necessary for the future.
As we approach this election, I believe there are four basic undertakings which the Australian people want to see. I don’t believe they want to see someone saying they can build a stronger economy by cutting $70 billion worth of jobs, health and education, or that you can build a stronger economy by disconnecting the National Broadband Network, or that you can build a stronger economy by saying the Better Schools Plan is a con. I don’t believe that’s the right way forward. We believe that the right way forward is to build a new industries of the future after the China resources boom is over. Second, to produce the best we can for our kids through the implementation of the Better Schools Plan and on top of that, to continue to invest in our health and hospital system, not cut it. Unfortunately, that’s what Mr Abbott did when he was Health Minister when he took $1 billion out of hospital funding for the states at a time when he had responsibility to oversee that expenditure. Fourth, we as a Government will also be forging a new way to deal with the new challenges of the future, including aged care and disability care. We are proud of the fact that we’ve introduced the first National Disability Scheme in the country, that’s my vision for the future, a new way to get things done. It’s now over to the people to decide, come the election on the 7th of September.
SPEERS: Mr Abbott, your closing remarks
ABBOTT: Thanks, David. If I may, the $70 billion figure, like the Prime Minister’s GST scare, is simply a fantasy. We’ve seen a fair bit of argy bargy in the course of tonight’s debate and I hope to get back to basics over the next couple of minutes. In my first speech to the national Parliament some 20 years ago, I said that we should put no limits on what Australians could achieve. I know it’s hard to be optimistic about the current Government, but we should never be pessimistic about our great country and there’s almost nothing at all wrong with Australia right now that wouldn’t be improved by a change of Government.
So let’s be clear, if there is a Liberal National Government elected, we will build a stronger economy so that everyone can get ahead. We will scrap the Carbon Tax, we will get the Budget back into the black, we will build the roads of the 21st century and we will stop the boats. This is our positive plan for a better future. I believe in this plan. We’ve had the same clear plans for three years now. I believe in my team. We’ve had the same strong and united team for three years now. Most of all, I believe in our people. I believe in you. Australians, in Menzies’ phrase, are a nation of lifters not leaners. I believe that our best years are ahead of us but not if we have another three years like the last six.
So I am ready, my team is ready, our plans are ready, our nation is ready and it’s now up to you to choose real change, to choose a strong and united Government with a clear majority in the Parliament.
SPEERS: Well, gentlemen, thank you both. We wish you well for the remaining four weeks of this election campaign. We also wish you, the viewers, well in making your decision and hope tonight has helped at least a bit. On behalf of the Press Club, I would like to thank our panel of journalists and also the ABC for their production support tonight. As we say goodnight, would everyone please thank Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.