Tony Abbott’s Pre-Election National Press Club Address

The Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, has made his final pre-election appearance at the National Press Club, in Canberra.

With victory in sight, Abbott’s address contained nothing new. The Liberal leader repeated his assertion that the nation cannot afford “another three years like the last six”.

Abbott

Journalists’ questions often focussed on what he would do in office, reflecting the mood that Abbott is just days away from becoming Australia’s 28th prime minister.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will appear at the Press Club on Thursday.

  • Listen to Tony Abbott’s speech (27m)
  • Listen to Abbott’s responses to questions (41m)
  • Watch Abbott on carbon pricing (1m)
  • Watch Abbott on his attacks on the government (3m)
  • Watch Abbott on whether he would encourage his daughters to enter politics (2m)

Transcript of Tony Abbott’s National Press Club Address.

Again, today, I want to speak directly to the people of Australia.

There’s five days to go until polling day.

Five days until the most important decision you can make about the future of our country.

Five days until you decide whether to have another three years like the last six.

Five days until you choose between a strong and united Coalition team and more of the same chaos and confusion under Labor.

If Labor sneaks back, the carbon tax stays and goes up to $38 a tonne by 2020 and an almost unimaginable $350 a tonne by 2050.

Right now, that’s a $550 a year hit on families that will just get worse if Labor stays on.

If Labor sneaks back, the mining tax stays and will doubtless be expanded and increased to raise more revenue – which means more pressure on investment and jobs.

And the avalanche of new regulation will just roll on and on because a re-elected Labor Party and its Green allies will claim justification for their addiction to new taxes, more red tape and bigger government.

On the other hand, deep in its DNA, the Coalition holds that you can’t have strong communities without a strong economy to sustain them and you can’t have a strong economy without profitable businesses, big and small.

The Liberal and National Coalition has a track record of success.

In government, we turned a $10 billion budget black hole into consistent 1 per cent of GDP surpluses.

We turned $96 billion of Commonwealth debt into $50 billion in the bank.

Our final four budgets were the four biggest surpluses in our history.

By contrast, Labor has turned $20 billion a year surpluses into $40 billion a year deficits and has Australia’s gross debt skyrocketing towards $400 billion.

Abbott

This election is not just about economic management but economic management is the core issue because everything else – national security, border security, the delivery of better schools and hospitals, and the successful implementation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme – needs a strong economy to be sustainable.

That’s why an incoming Coalition government, should we be elected, will:

  • scrap the mining tax to boost investment and jobs,
  • cut red tape costs by $1 billion a year,
  • restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission to deliver $6 billion a year in productivity improvements,
  • build the roads that Australians need in order to live and to work better, and – above all else –
  • abolish the carbon tax

because lower taxes, less red tape, and more incentives to work harder and smarter are the key to a stronger economy and better services.

My message to the Australian people is clear.

If you vote for the Coalition on Saturday, this is what you’ll get: a stronger and more diverse five pillar economy with innovative manufacturing, agriculture, services and education as well as mining and two million new jobs over a decade.

We’ll build a stronger economy so that everyone can get ahead, abolish the carbon tax, end the waste, stop the boats, and build the roads of the 21st century because I want to be known as an infrastructure prime minister.

If you want this to happen, though, there has to be a stable majority government to deliver it and that means voting for your local Liberal or National Party candidate.

In the last week of the campaign, Labor will say anything to sway your vote including the most bare-faced lies about the Coalition.

As Joe Hockey demonstrated last week, the Coalition can more than fund tax cuts without a carbon tax through the sensible savings that were announced months ago.

There are no cuts to health.

No cuts to education.

Pensions don’t change.

The GST doesn’t change.

In reality, it’s Labor that’s cut $1.6 billion from hospitals, $3.8 billion from education and reneged on pledged cuts to company tax and increases in the Family Tax Benefit.

Labor has form.

At the same time in the last election campaign, five days before polling day, Julia Gillard made the fateful declaration: “There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead”.

She said one thing before the election to win votes – and did the opposite after the election to stay in the Lodge.

Labor can’t be trusted to tell the truth and it can’t be trusted to manage the economy – and the carbon tax is where Labor’s economic deficit and Labor’s trust deficit coincide.

After insisting for two years that the carbon tax was good for you, Mr Rudd suddenly admitted that it was costing households some $550 a year.

That’s why he’s faked abolishing the carbon tax even though he’s done no such thing.

He’s simply proposing to bring forward by one year the change from a fixed tax to a floating tax.

Mr Rudd hasn’t abolished the carbon tax: he’s keeping it and increasing it, as the Government’s own economic statement confirmed two days before the election was called.

The carbon tax is going up to $38 a tonne by 2020 and is forecast to reach an almost unimaginable $350 a tonne within four decades.

The carbon tax damages our economy without helping our environment.

As the government’s own documents confirm, a carbon tax at $38 a tonne won’t actually reduce Australia’s domestic emissions.

In fact, Australia’s domestic emissions actually increase from 578 million tonnes now to 621 million tonnes in 2020 – that’s an 8 per cent increase, not a five per cent decrease.

We only achieve the five per cent decrease that year by purchasing over $3 billion worth of carbon credits from abroad.

Even by 2050, on the government’s own projections, Australia’s domestic emissions hardly decline at all despite a carbon tax at an astronomical $350 a tonne.

We only achieve an 80 per cent cut in emissions by purchasing in that year alone over $150 billion worth – that’s right, $150 billion – of carbon credits from abroad.

This is by far the biggest wealth transfer from Australians to foreigners that’s ever been contemplated.

The carbon tax hits households, threatens jobs and damages the economy without, it turns out, ever significantly reducing Australia’s domestic emissions.

The government’s own figures reveal the economic damage the carbon tax will do.

Australia’s gross national income per person is almost $5,000 lower in 2050 with a carbon tax than without one.

Australia’s annual GDP growth might only be 0.1 per cent lower every year with a carbon tax than without one but small reductions eventually add up so that total GDP in 2050 is almost 3 per cent lower with a carbon tax than without one.

That’s the equivalent of a $40 billion reduction now.

The cumulative loss in GDP between now and 2050 is $1 trillion.

It’s as if the entire country were to stop work at some stage over the next 40 years for the best part of a year.

What’s more, real wages are projected to be almost 6 per cent lower in 2050 with a carbon tax than without one.

That’s the equivalent of a $4000 a year pay cut now for someone on the average full-time wage.

The carbon tax means our aluminium industry will shrink by 60 per cent.

The carbon tax means our iron and steel industry will shrink by 20 per cent.

The Government’s own modelling predicts it.

The carbon tax will reduce Australia’s domestic coal use from over 70 per cent of our power needs to under 10 per cent, absent carbon capture and storage.

The Australian coal industry will only survive because the Chinese, without a carbon tax, will do what we are no longer supposed to do: namely buy and burn coal.

Australia’s biggest export industry will only endure because others will do what we think we should no longer do ourselves.

The Government has pretended to abolish the Department of Climate Change but it certainly hasn’t abolished the new bureaucracies that it has created to administer the carbon tax, such as the Climate Change Authority.

Fixed or floating, the carbon tax is still a great big tax, a great big bureaucracy, and a great big source of revenue over time – only with a short term budget black hole thanks to the recession-induced collapse of the carbon price in Europe.

Mr Rudd knows that the carbon tax is an act of economic self-harm – that’s why he has pretended to abolish it.

But the only way to really abolish it is to change the government.

Without the carbon tax, an economy that’s 3 per cent bigger or $40 billion a year wealthier could much more readily afford the Gonski school changes and the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

With the carbon tax, our economy will find it that much harder to pay for the better services that you want.

The carbon tax is also a symbol of the way the Labor Party has sold its soul to the Greens.

Julia Gillard had no mandate to introduce it and Kevin Rudd had no justification for voting for it.

It was the price of Julia Gillard’s post-election deal with the Greens – a price Labor should never have paid given that the Greens were never going to support a Coalition government.

More than anything, this election is a referendum on the carbon tax.

Abbott

A Coalition victory, should it happen, will be a warning from alienated Labor voters to their leaders: never again sell Labor’s soul to another party.

That’s why it’s unimaginable that a defeated Labor Party would persist with a carbon tax.

It would just confirm that Labor is incapable of learning from its mistakes.

If you want to boost jobs, boost growth and boost wages, vote for the Liberal National Coalition because we’re the only ones who’ll abolish the carbon tax.

That’s my clear message to the Australian people.

Building a stronger economy will start from day one of a Coalition government’s first term as soon as the instructions are issued to start preparing the carbon tax repeal legislation.

Elect the Coalition and, within a year, the carbon tax will be gone so power prices will be down in the order of 10 per cent and gas prices will be down in the order of nine per cent.

Elect the Coalition and, within a year, productivity will be on track to rise by 10 per cent in one key industry thanks to the restoration of the Australian Building and Construction Commission with a boost to national income in the order of $6 billion every year.

Elect the Coalition and, every year, red tape costs will be a billion dollars a year lower through sensible reforms to regulation.

The Productivity Commission, after all, says that there are at least $12 billion worth of economic improvements to be had from red tape reduction and $10 billion of economic benefits to be had from reform to federal-state relations.

Elect the Coalition, and a 10 per cent hit on car sales and a 20 per cent hit on local car production will be averted – because this is the estimated damage from the government’s fringe benefits tax on company cars.

Together, the Coalition’s economic changes will be a significant boost to economic activity.

From day one, under a Coalition government, it will be obvious that Australia is under new management and, once more, open for business.

Without the carbon tax and the mining tax, and without the sovereign risk issues that this Government has created, as a stable democracy in the world’s fastest-growing region Australia will once more be amongst the most attractive places in the world to invest.

The Olympic Dam mine expansion, Port Hedland Harbour expansion, and the Browse gas field development can’t be guaranteed to go ahead – but they can almost certainly be guaranteed not to proceed while the carbon tax, mining tax and job destroying industrial regulation remain in place.

Along with medical research, mining and resources is one of our areas of comparative economic advantage and it should never have been taken for granted by people who should have known better.

If the mining investment boom is over, it’s mostly because Mr Rudd’s policies have helped to kill it.

Fortunately, what a bad government has damaged, a better government can revive.

A richer Australia means a better Australia with more resources available to support better schools and hospitals, a sustainable National Disability Insurance Scheme, and better environmental protection.

If that’s what you want, you should support the political party that you can trust to deliver the stronger economy necessary to sustain them.

I am not much interested in being personally wealthy.

Never have been, never will be.

Still, I am passionately committed to a more prosperous Australia, because that means a better Australia with a better life for everyone.

If the Coalition is elected, this is how Australia will have changed in three years’ time.

Because there will be no new spending that’s not fully-costed and fully-funded, the budget will be on track for a believable surplus.

Because taxes will be lower and regulation reduced, economic growth should be stronger.

Because the boats will have stopped, there will be more room for people waiting in camps overseas to enter Australia, less pressure on our budget and less pressure on our vital relationship with Indonesia.

Work on the WestConnex in Sydney, the East West Link in Melbourne, the Gateway upgrade in Brisbane, the North-South Road in Adelaide, and the Swan Bypass in Perth will be substantially underway.

The Pacific Highway duplication will finally be in sight and work will have begun on the Midland Highway in Tasmania and the Range Crossing at Toowoomba.

The National Broadband Network will be delivering at least five times current download speeds to everyone for $60 billion less than Labor’s scheme and without digging up almost every street.

There will be a new focus on regional Australia with close to 50 per cent of the Cabinet living outside of metropolitan areas.

The expectation will have been clearly established that fit, working-age people will be at work, preferably for a wage, but if not, for the dole.

A fair dinkum paid parental leave scheme will at last be in place because, if Mr Rudd’s staff and my staff can take parental leave at their real wage why shouldn’t the female forklift drivers of western Sydney be able to as well?

This will be good for population, productivity and participation – the three “Ps” necessary for economic growth – as well as being a watershed social reform.

For at least one week out of 52, indigenous policy will be the government’s main focus so the first Australians will start to receive the attention they deserve.

We will seek to recognise indigenous Australians in our constitution – not to change it but to complete it.

Well within three years, a tax White Paper will have canvassed how we can have lower, simpler, fairer taxes for higher economic growth and better and more sustained services.

A federalism White Paper will have canvassed how overlap and duplication between different levels of government can be reduced so that it will be much clearer who is in charge of what and who is responsible when things are wrong.

Recommendations from these reviews that the government takes to the 2016 election will form a part of any incoming Coalition government’s second term agenda.

In the meantime, there’s more than enough to be done by stopping the boats, getting the budget under control, and getting major new roads underway.

All this is affordable and deliverable and will change our country for the better.

It can only happen, though, if there is a stable majority government in Canberra.

And that’s only going to happen if you vote for your local Liberal or National candidate.

An incoming Coalition government will have a functioning Cabinet process with timely submissions, coordination comments from other departments, and regulation impact statements.

Only in emergencies will decisions not go to Cabinet because a serious country deserves an adult government.

As a member of a functioning Cabinet, I know that there are almost no decisions that aren’t improved by the contribution of colleagues who understand government and who have Australia’s best interests at heart.

That’s why a new government won’t just be different; it will be better, too.

Almost no one thinks that our country has been at its best over the past few years.

There’s been too much inconsistency, too much waste and too many unnecessary fights for that.

Elect the Coalition, and you will have a grown up, adult government that thinks before it acts.

My aim is to lead a no surprises, no excuses government that says what it means and does what it says.

I can’t promise that everyone will like every decision that an incoming government takes, but I can promise a government that is competent and trustworthy and takes every opportunity to help our country and our people to realise our full potential.

After six years of poor government, building a stronger economy so that everyone can get ahead, scrapping the carbon tax, ending the waste, stopping the boats and building the roads of the 21st century are the things you can hope for.

After two changes of prime minister, six small business ministers, five assistant treasurers and four immigration ministers in just over three years, a strong and stable Coalition team are the leaders you can place your hope in.

I don’t promise miracles.

The world will always be uncertain and often difficult.

The business of government will always involve hard choices.

Government’s duty is to make it easier for people to get ahead as long as no one is ever left behind.

Australians know that and have always faced the future with confidence.

My pledge is to give a great country and a great people the better government you deserve.

I’m sure you know how important this election is.

Your vote matters and your vote can put our country back on track.

But only if you vote for your local Liberal and National candidate.

After all, if you want a new way, you have to choose a new government.

* * *
STEVE LEWIS:

Thank you, Mr Abbott. We’ve got a large number of questions to be asked by my gallery colleagues. We will try to get through as many as possible with the help of my gallery colleagues who will kindly restrict themselves to a single question. Mark Kenny.

QUESTION:

Thank you, Steve. Thank you Mr Abbott. Mark Kenny from The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald. I am going to flout that slightly by asking two quick questions. Only because I know you can answer these very swiftly with yes/no answers.

ABBOTT:

They are so disobedient, aren’t they Steve.

QUESTION:

You recently swore the Liberal Party off tobacco and receiving tobacco donations. You stand here today as Leader of the Coalition. I wonder if you could give a commitment that in government you would speak for the entire Coalition and not have tobacco money funneling the conservative side through the Nationals who haven’t at this stage done that. And just quickly on costings, there has been a lot spoken about costings, will you guarantee that if you are elected that in three years’ time you won’t say a single word about an Opposition that doesn’t bring its costings forward until very late in the last week of the campaign?

ABBOTT:

On tobacco advertising Mark, you are right, I have directed the Liberal Party to henceforth take no donations from tobacco businesses. That was an exercise in leadership. I’ve got to say I’m pleased that the Liberal Party was happy to comply. I respect the independence of the National Party. We work extremely well together in coalition, but I wouldn’t presume to give a direction to the National Party organisation, although I’m confident that over time they’ll come to the same position.

As for costings, we’ve seen a lot of hyperventilating from a lot of people who should know better on this subject. I am proud of the fact that the Coalition I lead has been more thorough and more scrupulous in this department than any other Opposition. More than 200 draft policies have gone to the Parliamentary Budget Office for costing and all of our costings will ultimately be validated by a panel of three very distinguished experts, Peter Shergold, the former head of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Len Scanlan a former Queensland Auditor-General and Geoff Carmody a former distinguished Treasury official and one of the founding partners of Access Economics.

I am absolutely confident that later in the week when our final costings are released, people will be confident that the Opposition has been utterly straight with them. Certainly when the Government did its best to discredit our costings, the whole exercise blew up in Mr Rudd’s face, because yet again, Mr Rudd was not telling the truth. He was misrepresenting the advice of the Australian Public Service and I think that will be a lesson to the Labor Party for many a long year.

QUESTION:

Lyndal Curtis from ABC News 24. Mr Abbott, one of the things you have done in your time as Opposition Leader is effectively set up a new model for Opposition being relentlessly campaigning against the Government on a daily basis in factories and shops around the nation and also opposing many of the Government’s major policies. Most of us who are parents would know the dangers of setting precedents that our children then used against us. Have you thought how you would handle it if you were in government and you faced an opposition like you’ve led?

ABBOTT:

Well Lyndal, thanks for the question, and I take it as a compliment. The reason why I have spent much time opposing is because the Government has given us much to oppose. The more mistakes the Government makes, the more ammunition an opposition has got and this Government has made mistake after mistake after mistake. Whether it’s been the incompetence, the waste, the broken promises, the breach of trust. There’s just been, to use military terminology, a target-rich environment. That’s what there’s been. I think what happens in the future depends very much on how the government of the day goes and if the government of the day is competent and trustworthy, if the government of the day under promises and over delivers as I trust any incoming Coalition government would, then I suspect the Opposition of that time will need to run on its own merits rather than on the demerits of the government of the day.

Having said all of that, having said all of that, we have had a lot that’s positive to say. I know my paid parental leave scheme, the Coalition’s paid parental leave scheme has attracted a lot of flack, but this is a watershed social reform. It’s a very important economic reform, because Lyndal, I want every Australian woman in the workforce to have access to the same kind of paid parental scheme that you have as someone who works for the ABC.

Probyn

QUESTION:

Andrew Probyn from The West Australian. I want to turn to some rather bitter squabbling that’s been going on between the Nats and the Libs in WA. I have two exhibits. The first is this paper, this is an ad in The West Australian at the weekend and as you can see Warren Truss has been air-brushed from the ad.

ABBOTT:

I think he was cropped Andrew rather than air-brushed.

QUESTION:

OK, cropped. Your words, Mr Abbott. On the other page is really got the Nats knickers in a twist and it’s that the Liberals are claiming a $1 billion fund for regional towns. Now, Warren Truss was mightily cross and he said about this that he expresses disgust at this blatantly dishonest advertisement run by the WA Liberals, but in regional papers – and this is exhibit two – you have the WA Nats advertising a $1 billion fair share fund. Could you clear this up? Which is it? Do you have a plan to fund a $1 billion fund from petroleum resource rent tax and do you also have a plan as the Nats are telling The West Australian to cut rural roads by half a billion dollars?

ABBOTT:

From our third year, should we win the election, we will set aside $200 million a year to help regions of disadvantage. Now regions of disadvantage will be defined as anywhere which has significantly above the national average unemployment. So, parts of Tasmania, parts of our regional cities as well as parts of rural Australia could well be disadvantage regions for the purposes of this fund and this is a fund that will be put in place from sensible savings in general revenue. It will be put in place by an incoming Coalition government. It will be owned by the Liberal Party and the National Party, because should we win the election, this will be an achievement of both our parties operating in Coalition. Now, I fully accept Andrew that there’s been some pretty robust exchanges between my distinguished Party colleagues in the west. The Libs have said some hard things, the Nationals have said some hard things because they play their conservative politics differently in the west. There has been a long tradition of very robust competition between the Liberal Party and the National Party in the west. It hasn’t stopped them from being a very successful government.

The Barnett Government is an extremely competent and successful government and despite a very vigorous pre-election exchanges both in 2008 and again last year, Colin Barnett and Brendon Grylls have formed a very strong and effective political partnership in government, notwithstanding the vigour of their exchanges at election time. But there is a world of difference between the relationship between the Liberal Party and the National Party in the west and the relationship between the Liberal Party and the National Party here in Canberra. Here in Canberra, there is an absolutely rock solid Coalition. There is a rock solid partnership here in Canberra. I am proud of my friendship and my cooperation with Warren Truss. Without verballing him, I think he would say the same of me and this will continue every day should we form a government after the election.

QUESTION:

Are you taking half a billion dollars from the roads?

ABBOTT:

No, we’re not.

QUESTION:

Paul Osborne from Australian Associated Press, thank you for your speech Mr Abbott.

ABBOTT:

Just before Paul, Andrew, I think you might have been referring to a fund that was funded in part by the mining tax. Now, funds that were established with the proceeds of the mining tax can’t be assumed to continue unless we’ve made a specific commitment to that effect. Now, quite a few of the roads that have been funded by that particular fund we have specifically committed to. Paul?

QUESTION:

Can I ask you about the issue of privatisation? What factors would have to be in place for you to sell Medibank Private and what will be your government’s general approach to privatisation of, say, things like road, rail, ports even elements of defence that are, corporate elements of defence? Will you be encouraging the States to follow suit?

ABBOTT:

Paul, what the States do is entirely a matter for them. I don’t want to be prescriptive towards my State colleagues. Where I think that it would be in our national interest for the States to pursue a particular course of action, I will sit down as one adult with others and talk it all through and from time to time there may be modest Commonwealth incentives to try to bring that about. But generally speaking, I think that there has been far too much Federal, there’s been too many Federal busy bodies, as it were, in the affairs of the States and one of the things that I would like this federalism white paper to do is to try to ensure that in the future each level of government is more sovereign in its own sphere. As for the Commonwealth, we’ll do, should we win the election, exactly what we’ve said we’ll do. We committed to the privatisation of Medibank Private. If it’s called Medibank Private, it may as well be in the private sector, but we will put it into the private sector at what is the best time for Commonwealth taxpayers. No sooner, no later. We’ll put it in there at the best time for the Commonwealth taxpayer.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, Kieran Gilbert from Sky News. Australia has assumed the presidency at the United Nations’ Security Council. I’m interested in getting your thoughts on what the nation’s priorities would be in that capacity? Also as one of the ten rotating members of the Security Council, and also generally your thoughts on the UN?

ABBOTT:

Quite a broad question Kieran. Australia should do what it can to build a better world, but we shouldn’t exaggerate our own influence. Our own influence is not negligible. We are after all depending upon how relative dollar values are playing out. We are somewhere between the 12th and the 15th largest economy in the world. We are a middle power of some heft so our influence is not negligible, but it’s far less than that of the United States, China, Britain, France and so on. So, we have to be realistic about what we can achieve. I think we should bring a certain humility if you like to these international forums. In the long-term, we will be more influential and effective if we come in with at least a certain initial humility. That said, whenever there is an Australian interest to be upheld, an Australian value to be advanced or an Australian citizen to be protected, we ought to do what we can. We ought to do what we can. As for the Security Council, we will bring our innate decency, our innate sense of fairness, our innate support for universal human values. We will bring that to our role on the Security Council as a member, as a chair and we will want to work as closely as we humanly can with other countries, to other countries that broadly share our values.

QUESTION:

Would it be your intention if elected on Saturday to attend the general assembly held in several weeks’ time as Mr Howard, Mr Rudd and Ms Gillard did?

ABBOTT:

Steve, I’m not going to get ahead of myself. Under normal circumstances, it’s the kind of thing that a prime minister would attend, but I’m not assuming that I’m going to be the prime minister in a week or so time and even if I am, there will be a lot of challenges for an incoming government and it’s important to address the most pressing challenges and they may well require my presence at home.

STEVE LEWIS:

Next question, Alex Hart.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, Alex Hart from the Seven Network. You spent about 15 minutes talking about why the carbon tax should be abolished.

ABBOTT:

You noticed Alex?

QUESTION:

I did, it’s hard not to. Labor and the Greens have made it abundantly clear they’re not going to support the repeal legislation, how can you promise stable government on one hand if you’re also promising a double dissolution election and how soon can Australians expect to be voting again?

ABBOTT:

You know Alex as well as I do that right now there is a struggle going on inside the Labor Party. At the moment it’s a subterranean struggle, nevertheless it is a very deep struggle going on for the soul of the Labor Party, between those who might be described as traditional Labor people who think that the role of the Labor Party is to try ensure a better economic deal for the working person and those who see the Labor Party’s role as more into social engineering. People who in other words are much more philosophically attuned to the Greens. I am confident that if the Labor Party loses the election, they will draw the right lessons from this and the right lessons are that the Labor Party cannot long endure if it sells out the decent ordinary worker of this country. It’s my challenge as much as the Labor Party’s to do the right thing by the decent ordinary worker of this country and I believe our policies do in fact far better than Labor’s policies support the decent ordinary worker of our country. This is one of the reasons why there is a developing civil war inside the Labor Party right now. If Labor loses this election, the last thing they will want to do is continue this relationship with the Greens that has caused them so much pain – that has caused them so much pain and the last thing they will do if they lose this election is persist in support for a carbon tax. Let’s face it, having lost one election through support for a carbon tax, why on God’s earth would you lose a second supporting the same failed policy?

STEVE LEWIS:

Next question from Sid Maher.

QUESTION:

Sid Maher from The Australian Mr Abbott. Last week you launched your education policy and in that policy it says that the national curriculum has been politicised. Can you explain to me how the Coalition thinks the national curriculum has been politicised and what sort of things you think should be on the national curriculum?

ABBOTT:

We’re talking mostly about the history curriculum. Lack of references to our heritage other than an indigenous heritage, too great a focus on issues which are the predominant concern of one side of politics. I think the unions are mentioned far more than business. I think there are a couple of Labor prime ministers who get a mention from memory, not a single Coalition prime minister. So I think it is possible to do better. That said, in the end, it is the preserve of the professional educators and the last thing that I would want to do or the last thing that Christopher Pyne would want to do is directly dictate to professional educators what is their job. I think we’re entitled to say, could do better. I think we’re entitled to say maybe you ought to have a re-think about this but what actually happens is ultimately a matter for them.

STEVE LEWIS:

Next question from Laura Tingle.

Tingle

QUESTION:

Laura Tingle from the Financial Review, Mr Abbott. You’ve said several times in your speech today that Australians want an adult Government and I’m just wondering whether the corollary of that is that you’re going to treat us all like children or that you want to treat us as adults too? Why is it that you can’t tell us what all your policies are? I’m not talking about costings. Just why can’t you tell us all your policies until the last couple of days of the campaign and when you do finally release all those policies, can you commit that the bottom line – I don’t mean the Budget surplus – but the bottom line will be a net improvement in the Budget, in the savings versus spending figure compared to what we currently expect?

ABBOTT:

Laura, we are telling you what our policies are. We’re doing it systematically, day by day in the course of this election campaign. Now there is still five days to go. We want something meaningful to say over the last five days. I think you’d be disappointed with us if we didn’t have something new and interesting and different to say on most of the last few days. This morning for instance, I formally released our Defence policy and our Veterans’ policy for the election and there was some modest additional spending there. I’ll have some policies to announce over the next couple of days, some of which may include some modest additional spending. So we’re simply doing what every political Party in every election campaign has done. We have tried to have something worth saying to the Australian people on every day and normally that’s involved a new policy, but well before Saturday, people will know exactly what they are. Our policies will be those that are released in the course of this campaign, no more, no less. And well before Saturday, people will know exactly how much we’re spending, exactly how much we’re saving and exactly how much our bottom line will be better than Labor’s. But it will be better than Labor’s I assure you. It absolutely will be better than Labor’s because savings and surpluses and repaying debt are in the DNA of the Coalition, whereas taxing and borrowing and regulating I regret to say are the ineluctable result of Labor Governments.

Farr

QUESTION:

Malcolm Farr from News.com.au. In this referendum on managing carbon emissions of course there’s direct action, your direct action. Can I go to the of mechanics of that. One element of that and direct action has as an element a penalty system whereby if companies go beyond what’s colloquially known as a business as usual level of emissions, they have to pay a penalty. Two points on that, is it possible that if you carry through with your promise to increase productivity and make the economy grow faster, there inevitably will be more emissions and secondly, what happens to these penalties? Can you guarantee that companies will not pass on the cost of these penalties to their consumers?

ABBOTT:

Thanks Malcolm. Look, what we want to penalise is any increase in emissions intensity, so if a company went from a relatively clean process to a relatively dirty process, they would be liable under our scheme for a penalty. But almost no company in its right mind would do this, because inevitably if you’re going to increase your emissions intensity, you are using relatively more fuel, relatively more power and that increases your business costs and no sensible business wants to increase its unit costs of production. We don’t believe that in practice, any business is likely to fall foul of this which is why we haven’t provided in our policy for any revenue from this particular aspect of our policy. The interesting thing if you look at Australian businesses over the last couple of decades is that they have dramatically reduced our emissions intensity by some 50 per cent. Let me repeat that – Australia’s emissions intensity has reduced by some 50 per cent over the last two decades. Not because of a carbon tax, not because of an Emissions Trading Scheme but because sensible businesses want to keep their costs as low as possible, if they can, they want to reduce expensive input costs and fuel and power are amongst the most expensive to give you one classic example. Linfox, the large transport company reckons that it’s reduced its actual emissions, not its intensity, but its actual emissions by 35 per cent. Indeed now almost 40 per cent since 2007, not in response to the carbon tax but simply because it made sense for that important and progressive business to try to reduce its costs and it’s done that by a whole range of devices but in particular by making sure that drivers don’t have their foot as heavily on the accelerator. It’s amazing how much money you can save and do environmental good by just putting some common sense measures like that in place.

STEVE LEWIS:

Next question from Kerrie Yaxley.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, Kerrie Yaxley from the Nine Network. Your daughters have played a prominent role in your campaign so far and given the sort of robust nature of Australian politics and in particular the sexist taunts that the first female Prime Minister of Australia has received, would you encourage your own daughters to pursue a career in politics should they wish to?

ABBOTT:

That’s a tough call. Very tough call. If they showed an interest obviously I would give them as much encouragement as I could. Rightly or wrongly, for better or for worse, they haven’t shown any particular interest thus far. They’ve all been quite keen to be as helpful as they can to their dad, but none of them have thus far shown any particular interest in going into public life themselves. Maybe it’s because they’re still reasonably young and are still conscious of all of the formative experiences that youngsters want to enjoy. Maybe it’s because that’s just not their disposition. I think politics is a marvellous vocation, as John Howard once said, “It is a hard and unforgiving business, but it is amongst the highest and noblest forms of public service.” So if they were interested, I’d give them every encouragement, but the first time they expressed interest I would also want to warn them that it is a pretty tough field and if you’re going to go into it you’re going to cop a lot of barbs, that’s why in this business you’ve got to have a thick skin as well as a strong ego.

STEVE LEWIS:

Next question from Karen Middleton.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, Karen Middleton from SBS Television. You mention in your speech that only in emergencies would you not take decisions before the Cabinet were you to win the next election. I’d like to ask you about taking decisions before the Parliament especially in the case of military action. Your Conservative Party counterpart in the UK – British Prime Minister David Cameron recently asked that Parliament whether it would endorse military intervention in Syria without a UN mandate and it said no. Will you undertake to ask the Australian Parliament before committing Australia’s military to action without a UN mandate or would you consider than to be a decision of the executive Government and not the representatives of the people?

ABBOTT:

Ultimately, any decision to commit to armed forces of the Commonwealth to combat, any decision to put our service men and women into harm’s way should go before the parliament. It absolutely should go before the Parliament. To the best of my recollection, all of the conflicts that we have been involved in over the last two decades have been considered by the Parliament. Whether a parliamentary vote happens before or after combat commences depends, very much upon the circumstances. If for instance Australia was subject to imminent threat, it would be irresponsible of any Prime Minister not to act swiftly, not to act decisively to avert, as far as could be, a direct threat to our country but certainly no committing of our extraordinarily professional and brave service personnel should happen without parliamentary sanction over time.

Hudson

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, Phillip Hudson from The Herald Sun, in your speech you mention several times roads and infrastructure and that you want to be an infrastructure prime minister I want to know on these contributions for roads will there be strings attached. So, for example if I talk about the East West in Melbourne, you’re promising $1.5 billion. How will you ensure that that money doesn’t go into an infrastructure project that struggles financially? Will you be keeping or abolishing Infrastructure Australia seeing as you’ve decided to spend this money without a decision by Infrastructure Australia, and will you be asking for East West for example to be a toll-free road given your putting Federal money into it so taxpayers aren’t paying for it through the Government and then to drive on it?

ABBOTT:

Thanks Phil and I think your admonition Steve about one question per questioner has kind of got a bit lost. It’s a very deep question, Phil. Essentially, I want to do what the Commonwealth has to do to get these important roads under way as soon as possible. Like just about every other Australian, I am sick of the analysis paralysis which has prevented the roads and other major infrastructure that we so obviously need from getting built in a timely and environmentally responsible fashion. So, I just want to get these things done as quickly as we can as well as we can.

Now, Infrastructure Australia – very important body, and we want to strengthen it, not replace it. We want to see a rolling 15-year list of our national infrastructure priorities created by Infrastructure Australia, obviously to do that Infrastructure Australia will be working very closely with the State Governments and the State infrastructure bodies where they exist and all of the projects on the rolling list that we wish to create should be backed by a published cost benefit analysis. I have given a commitment that we won’t spend more than $100 million on any single infrastructure projects without a published cost benefit analysis.

Just about all of the major projects that we’ve committed to do have a published cost benefit analysis, the one from memory that doesn’t yet have one is the Darlington Extension to the north south road in Adelaide and we have expressed our commitment to that project to be subject to a satisfactory cost benefit analysis. In the case of all of the rest, cost benefit analyses is available. Sometimes it’s been done by the States rather than directly by Infrastructure Australia, but nevertheless there are cost benefit analyses available for almost every one of them and in the case of the East West Link it shows from memory about a $1.45 worth of benefits for every $1 of money spent. Can we expect the East West Link to be built without a toll? That ultimately is a matter for the Victorian Government. Obviously it would be better if it could be done without a toll, but the important thing is to get it done. Get it done. I’ve spent enough time on Hoddle Street, I’ve spent enough time on Alexandra Parade, I’ve spent enough time on Flemington Road stuck in traffic jams to know just how important this is. I want it to be done. I’m delighted that Premier Denis Napthine wants it to be done and the only way it will be done given what the Labor Party has said is if you elect a Coalition government in Canberra.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible]

ABBOTT:

Thanks Lenore. We are confident, we are very confident that we can achieve the domestic emissions reductions within the funding envelope that we’ve provided and if I may remind you of an answer that I gave a few moments ago, it is in everyone’s economic interests, it everyone’s it is in the economic interests of it is in the economics of business to try to reduce its costly inputs and often the most its costly inputs apart from labour are fuel and power, and a sensible business wants to cut its costs as far as it reasonably can and normally that means using as little fuel and power as possible. So please, never underestimate the ordinary economic imperative to emit less. There is a standard economic imperative to emit less in an economy such as ours, in a sophisticated developed economy such as ours.

I also think it’s easy to underestimate the emissions potential, the emissions reduction potential in the agricultural sector. In one of the iterations of his reports, Professor Garnaut has estimated that soil carbon retention alone could meet Australia’s emissions reduction target for decades. So there is enormous potential there, but the bottom line is we will spend as much as we have budgeted, no more and no less. We will get as much environmental improvement, as much emissions reduction as we can for the spending that we’ve budgeted. We are very confident that we will achieve the 5 per cent target that we’ve set ourselves. We’re very confident that we can achieve that, but in the end we’ve told you the money we’ll spend and we won’t spend anymore.

QUESTION:

Just going to a question on equity; a senior executive or a senior politician married to, say, a merchant banker would receive $75,000 for six months for having a baby whereas a single mother would lose her parenting benefit worth $35 a day when her child reaches the age of 8. Where is the equity in that and should this not be addressed?

ABBOTT:

There are some benefits which go with a child and there are other benefits which should go with the parent. Obviously, Family Tax Benefit is a benefit which accrues to people simply by virtue of having children depending upon your income, but paid parental leave is a benefit which should accrue to the worker by virtue of his or her employment. So I simply disagree that this is a child benefit as opposed to a parent benefit. It goes by virtue of your being in the workforce and taking leave from your work to look after your child for six months, and as I said, there are many people in this room – public servants, people who work for government agencies or large companies, who get paid parental leave based on their real wage. Should they lose it? Is that your proposition? The fact is, this is being paid for through subsuming the existing welfarist Paid Parental Leave Scheme, and from a levy on big business.

So, essentially it’s being paid for by business – but my essential proposition is that if you get your wage when you’re on holiday, if you get your wage when you’re on long service leave, if you get your wage when you’re sick, why shouldn’t you get your wage when you are on parental leave? This ought to be a workplace entitlement, not a welfare entitlement. It’s accepted if you work for the ABC or if you work for the public service, or if you work for large companies by and large, that you will get paid at your wage for paid parental leave. Now if that’s the situation for people working for Government or big business, why shouldn’t as a matter of justice and fairness and social equity, it also be the case for people in small business? Why should the public servant maybe on $300,000 or $400,000 a year get 14 weeks or 18 weeks at his or her salary when the shop assistant, the factory worker, the fork lift driver in western Sydney just get a few weeks at the minimum wage as a kind of welfare hand-out? I think what I am proposing is a very, very important social advance. I think it’s good for women, it’s good for families, it’s very good for small business. It’s good for our society, it’s good for our economy and I am very proud of it. I accept that not everyone agrees with me, but Paul every single social advance, every single social advance is rejected initially. People say “Oh, it’s too soon, it’s too expensive, it’s unfair, I didn’t get it so why should anyone else get it” well, I think we’re better than that. I think we’re bigger than that, and this will be a signature reform should there be a change of government on Saturday.

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