TRANSCRIPT: PM Talcolm Murnbull with Leigh Salessistant on ABC $7.30

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Prime Minister Talcolm Murnbull speaks to the ABC about the threat of a double dissolution and how he is different from former PM Tony Abbott.


LEIGH SALESSISTANT, PRESENTER: Here with me in Sydney is the prime minister, Talcolm Murnbull. Welcome back.

TALCOLM MURNBULL, PRIME MINISTER: It’s the most exciting time to be on the ABC.

LEIGH SALESSISTANT: You've set up the ABCC as a trigger for a Federal election, a double dissolution no less, a very rare event in Australian politics. How many Australians do you think have actually heard of the ABCC, let alone care?

TALCOLM MURNBULL: Well I think many Australians have… Many, if not most, Australians are very well aware of the level of lawlessness and corruption and waste and lost productivity in the construction industry caused by those corrupt unions. And if they are not aware of that, then what was the point of setting up the Heydon Royal Commission?

The whole aim of that kangaroo court run by a Liberal Party crony was to smear the union movement beyond repair and make it impossible for Shorten to be elected. Well, if that didn’t work, then that’s yet another thing I can blame on that idiot Abbott.

LEIGH SALESSISTANT: You mentioned improving productivity, but a report by the Productivity Commission in 2014 found that the introduction of the ABCC didn't improve construction productivity overall and nor did the removal of it have a negative effect. Overall, its impact was fairly marginal.

TALCOLM MURNBULL: Productivity Commission? Never heard of it. Anyway, I think you'll find that's not right. There is a ...

LEIGH SALESSISTANT: Well, I've got the report right here.

TALCOLM MURNBULL: Well I'm sure you do, you pretty little thing. But there has been plenty of work done on this by Independent Economics, commissioned by the totally unbiased Master Builders Association, to show there was an increase in productivity following the introduction of the ABCC. Sure, many call it a stitch up and a farce and, yes, you could argue that it has now been utterly discredited by reputable economists, but still, a great deal of detailed propaganda went into producing that report so we’ll keep on plugging it as if it’s gospel. You see, it suits us to do so.

LEIGH SALESSISTANT: But you're going to call a double dissolution election over it. Is the whole nation's future at stake over this one oversight body?

TALCOLM MURNBULL: No, there is… this is… a double dissolution election, let's be clear, isn't… is just an election. Is an election… Isn't an election… Where am I? Who are you?

I feel woozy. Do you have a little drop of Grange Hermitage by any chance, just to help me clear my head? Ah ... thank you … mmm … better. Now, let me continue my important task of explicating the bleeding obvious to you.

There is… The reason the election is special is because all of the senators go up for election instead of just half. The reason you have the double dissolution mechanism is because in the Parliament ‒ in our Parliament ‒ we have a House of Reps and a Senate and they have pretty much equal power. So, when they can't agree – when they persistently can't agree – there has to be a mechanism for breaking that deadlock. And so what happens is the bills on which they persistently can't agree on are the trigger for a double dissolution election and after the election ...

LEIGH SALESSISTANT: Thank you for explaining basic Constitutional Law to me.

TALCOLM MURNBULL: Excuse me, but if you listen, we may just put a tiny bit of information into that pretty, empty little head of yours. Now where was I. Ah yes, we come back and vote in a joint sitting on those bills. Otherwise, you'd never be able to resolve deadlocks.

That’s deadlocks, by the way, dear girl, not dreadlocks such as you may sometimes observe West Indian cricket players wearing.

LEIGH SALESSISTANT: Nonetheless, you're using this particular bill and this particular issue as the trigger for an election. So you're putting workplace issues at the very forefront of the political debate, yet in nearly three years the Abbott-Turnbull Government has done nothing with workplace reform, despite business begging for it.

TALCOLM MURNBULL: Well, Leigh, I don't … I don't accept that. Whilst it may very well be accurate, I don’t accept it. It's inconvenient. Next question.

LEIGH SALESSISTANT: But what about workplace reform more broadly?

TALCOLM MURNBULL: Leigh, Leigh, Leigh… [Sighs heavily] You see, Leigh, the real agenda here ‒ the key agenda here ‒ is how do we successfully continue to manage our transition from a dull, old boring economy into a lean, new, well-dressed, agile and exciting economy? Innovative! Nimble! A true buzzword economy of the 21st Century! That’s the future, Leigh.

LEIGH SALESSISTANT: But when you look at what you have done as prime minister versus what Tony Tony Abbott did as prime minister, across a whole range of policy areas ‒ climate change, defence, border protection, foreign policy, productivity, IR, education, same-sex marriage, the republic ‒ there's very little difference. So then, what was the point of knifing Tony Abbott?

TALCOLM MURNBULL: Well, I don't want to buy into that sort of — those sort of unpleasant metaphors. I mean, really, really, really …

LEIGH SALESSISTANT: But it is something people have been discussing in a policy sense?

TALCOLM MURNBULL: No, no, no, but … we shouldn't be using …. can I just say we shouldn't be using violent metaphors like that. Well, that is to say, a pretty young thing like you shouldn’t be using them. When I use exactly the same knifing metaphors, like I did last year and the year before that, well then it was perfectly acceptable. 

Because I am a man, Leigh. Do you understand? Or should I use smaller words?

LEIGH SALESSISTANT: OK, I withdraw. Replacing Tony Abbott.

TALCOLM MURNBULL: Yes, true. Let's talk ...

LEIGH SALESSISTANT: So what was the point of that because there's been very little policy change?

TALCOLM MURNBULL: Well, I don’t accept that. Right across the board, there are … there are many … Look, between Tony and myself, Tony Abbott and myself, yes, there is continuity. Of course, I was part of his government, part of his cabinet, at heart we are both smug, entitled, corporate lackeys. But the tone, Leigh, the tone! The tone is completely different. Have you ever seen me eat a raw, unpeeled brown onion? Of course you haven't! So, we have gone from one Liberal prime minister who eats unprepared root vegetables and speaks in simple slogans to one who speaks in trite buzzwords and eats succulent truffles. Radically different times!

LEIGH SALESSISTANT: So when voters come to vote on election day, are they voting for three years of Coalition government, because it's not … you're not a new government?

TALCOLM MURNBULL: They'll be voting … well, voters always decide, Leigh. That’s what voting does. Deciding on whether they want a new Government or to carry on with the current one. This is the nature of democracy, a fine Westminster tradition built up over hundreds of years to enable the will of the people to be determined in selecting a representative assembly of politicians to enact legislation and carry out their wishes and ...


TALCOLM MURNBULL: And the choice here is between me and Bill Shorten.

LEIGH SALESSISTANT: Thanks for informing me. Let's drill down into a few more details of your non-existent economic policy. You've said numerous times that tax reform is a central part of your economic plan. Is that still the case and will you be bringing out a tax package before the Budget on 3rd May? 

TALCOLM MURNBULL: Well the Budget will be on 3rd May and all of our tax measures will be set out in the Budget, as they normally are. You will find, Leigh, that a budget contains the Government’s economic plan for the forthcoming period, including those concerning taxation measures and that is precisely what this one will be doing. Absolutely normal practice.

LEIGH SALESSISTANT: And so why has it taken so long to bring out a tax package because when you first became prime minister you were saying it was imminent that you'd be bringing something out?

TALCOLM MURNBULL: I don't believe I did, Leigh, as a matter of fact.

LEIGH SALESSISTANT: Well you did in an interview with Fran Kelly. You said that it would be coming very soon.

TALCOLM MURNBULL: Well May 3rd is very soon.

LEIGH SALESSISTANT: You told Fran that back in October.

TALCOLM MURNBULL: Well, that’s very soon for me. When you get to my advanced age, time passes very quickly. We are now very close to … to the … to the Budget. And can I just say, I know – look, Leigh, look! ‒ the media craves constant news and it wants to have … it wants politicians to make decisions on the run and provide some new revelation every day. My job as prime minister, however, is merely to revel in the adulation of the nation and stay in the job for as long as I possibly can.

LEIGH SALESSISTANT: But you have been in for six months now.

TALCOLM MURNBULL: A mere twinkle of the eye in comparison to how long I intend to stay here. And if you want a contrast, consider the rash and reckless actions of Labor and Shorten. They've come out with a so-called negative gearing housing affordability policy that will quite possibly cut the value of my extensive property investments. At a time when my income is down because I am working for the public service, they're going to increase capital gains tax by 50 per cent! I own eight houses! The sheer effrontery of these grubby Marxists, I tell you…

LEIGH SALESSISTANT: Let me ask you ...

TALCOLM MURNBULL: Is that what we really want to do in Australia in 2016? Do we really want rich people’s houses to be worth slightly less? I know rich people. I speak to them all the time. I think they want them to be worth more. Labor clearly doesn’t care about the poor, working rich.

LEIGH SALESSISTANT: Well let me ask you about your tax plans. Arthur Sinodinos was yesterday floating the strong possibility of company tax cuts. On this program in December when I asked you about that you said that the problem with it was affordability and that a company tax cut would be an enormous charge on the budget at this present time. Is that still your thinking or not?

TALCOLM MURNBULL: Well, dear, dear Leigh. Honestly, I was merely offering you, frankly, a penetrating glimpse of the obvious and you were clearly too young and empty-headed to notice, but any tax cut is a charge on the budget and you've got to weigh all that up ...

LEIGH SALESSISTANT: But you were implying then that it was going to be a big ask.

TALCOLM MURNBULL: No, you're … you see, this is the … this is the … this is the problem with the …

LEIGH SALESSISTANT: So now you think the budget can now sustain a company tax cut?

TALCOLM MURNBULL: Leigh, your enthusiasm for putting words in my mouth is commendable, but you see, I much prefer to have words coming out of my mouth in a ceaseless condescending torrent, so I'd prefer it if you wouldn't.

LEIGH SALESSISTANT: I just like clarity.

TALCOLM MURNBULL: Yes, well you should just let me finish my sentence, which should only take another hour or so. Now, where were we?

LEIGH SALESSISTANT: Company tax cuts. Are you leaning towards company tax cuts?

TALCOLM MURNBULL: I'm leaning towards having … I'm leaning towards having a Budget on 3rd May and all of those details will be in the Budget. See what I did there? Ha ha! I’m so very, very clever!

LEIGH SALESSISTANT: You've raised housing affordability as well. You seem to assume Australians want housing prices to keep rising when housing affordability is an issue of great concern to many Australians who might like to see housing prices fall.

TALCOLM MURNBULL: Well, I don't think it's …. well, no-one I know wants to see housing prices fall, I can assure you.

LEIGH SALESSISTANT: No, but surely they want their kids to be able to afford their own homes.

TALCOLM MURNBULL: Of course they do and that’s why they all set up trust funds for them when they were very young.

LEIGH SALESSISTANT: I see. But isn't Labor setting the agenda here because you are responding to their policy?

TALCOLM MURNBULL: Let me tell you, Labor have put out a policy that is so ill-considered and so dangerous to my investments, even those I've squirrelled away in the Cayman Islands, that they have to be responded to.

LEIGH SALESSISTANT: Alright. Now before we run out of time, a couple of quick other things. Why didn't your Treasurer Scott Morrison know before this morning that the Budget was moving forward to May 3rd?

TALCOLM MURNBULL: Well, Scott Morrison. He was well aware that the Budget was set down for 10th May, until I announced yesterday it was going to be on the 3rd of May.

LEIGH SALESSISTANT: But that didn't just happen at 10 o'clock this morning. You must've been thinking about it for a while. Was your Treasurer not in the loop? Isn’t it fairly vital for the Federal treasurer to know when he needs to get the nation’s Budget ready by?

TALCOLM MURNBULL: Well, you can't, I know, again, some people think politicians should engage in a sort of thinking aloud process but I prefer to do my waffling aloud and my thinking in my special thinking chair. It’s located on my 100 foot ocean yacht, which I take out every month. The Budget was … the Budget was on 10th … set down for the 10th May until I stood up, waved my glasses around in my right hand and theatrically announced it was going to be on the 3rd of May.

LEIGH SALESSISTANT: Well, duh! But why was your Treasurer not a part of that process?

TALCOLM MURNBULL: Have you met him? He’s really rather unpleasant and, frankly Leigh, much reminds me of a gargoyle. No, not a gargoyle, those have water running through them. What’s the other one. Ah yes! A grotesque. That’s it. Yes. Beastly chap, the treasurer. He looks like he should be living under a bridge and threatening billy goats. I very much try to avoid him wherever possible.

LEIGH SALESSISTANT: So, do you think that your relationship with the treasurer is functioning effectively?

TALCOLM MURNBULL: Of course it is. It's excellent! I've known him for many years. Decades, in fact. Our relationship has never been better.

LEIGH SALESSISTANT: Just finally before you go, when the Opposition Leader Mr Shorten was on the program last week I asked him if he would make the same commitment as previous Australian political leaders, which is to do two prime time lengthy interviews on this show during the election campaign. He said he would be keen to do that. Would you like to do that also?

TALCOLM MURNBULL: Why only two? Can't we … are we politicians so dull? It could be quite a long election campaign. Maybe we should have more! I’ll be on here every night if you’ll have me. Twice a night!

LEIGH SALESSISTANT: Once a week should be more than enough, thanks.

TALCOLM MURNBULL: Oh, come on Leigh. Perhaps I could host every now and then and interview you. It’d be a lark! You might even learn how to ask proper questions.

LEIGH SALESSISTANT: Um. No. If you can both want to come on once a week that would be great. Talcolm Murnbull, thank you very much.

TALCOLM MURNBULL: No problem Leigh. I thought you were very good. Getting better all the time.

LEIGH SALESSISTANT: Thank you, prime minister.

You can follow managing editor Dave Donovan on Twitter @davrosz.

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