Well ladies and gentlemen I want to give you firstly – I’m here with the Deputy Prime Minister - an update on the electoral process.
This has been the largest election in terms of numbers of voters in Australia's history. There were one million electors added to the roll since the last election. 9 million Australians walked through polling places on Saturday or voted in polling places on Saturday. There were 5,000 staff working on the count and have been so since Saturday night.
70 per cent of the total votes cast have been counted, but it's important to note there are more than one million voters who used declaration votes, that's to say they are outside of their electorate or otherwise silent voters, not on the roll or not disclosed on the roll. Then 1.5 million postal vote forms were provided, around one million have been so far returned and they have until the 15th of July to be received. We're advised that we don't expect, or the AEC doesn't expect them all to be returned, but can imagine 300,000 to 400,000 still to come.
So what that means is there are around or up to 3 million votes to be added to the count over the next few days. That is the process that is underway. It's an exhaustive one.
Now, dealing with the more political matters, I want to make it quite clear that as Prime Minister and Leader of the Liberal Party, I take full responsibility for our campaign, absolutely full responsibility for the campaign. The Australian people have voted and we respect the result. The actual settlement of the decisions with respect to particular seats obviously awaits the conclusion of the count, which is very close. It will be a few more days before we get a clearer picture.
Now I want to note that the Labor Party - while we suffered a swing against us, that is undoubtedly right and we recognise that and I will come to that in a moment - but I should also note that Labor has recorded their second lowest primary vote in its history.
There is no doubt that there is a level of disillusionment with politics, with government and with the major parties, our own included. We note that and we respect it. Now we need to listen very carefully to the concerns of the Australian people expressed through this election and look at how we are going to address those concerns. That's what the Deputy Prime Minister and I have been discussing today. Now there are lessons to be learned from this election. It's too early for definitive judgements and it will take time to analyse and absorb all of the learnings from the campaign. I believe there will be more than a few of them. But I want to make one very important observation.
We put forward a very positive agenda, based on my continued belief that the best days are yet ahead of us as Australians and that we need to build a strong economy as the foundation for our success, for the foundation of our security. I remain optimistic, I remain confident, I remain determined to ensure that the foundations of Australia's success, its economic growth and the jobs that flow from it, continue to be supported. That remains a vital objective.
But we have to recognise that the success of Labor's “Mediscare” campaign - as it's been called - this base, this extraordinary, outrageous lie, the fact that this resonated at all, sends a very clear message to us. There is no doubt that Labor cynically abused the trust of Australians by lying to them about this. It is something for all of us - politicians and the media - to contemplate. We have to think about this, that a falsehood as gross as that was exposed in the media as a falsehood, was condemned in the media as a falsehood, was unable to be defended by the Leader of the Labor Party when he was called on to do so. Yet nonetheless the Labor Party continued pressing ahead with enormous weight, with millions of robocalls, with millions of text messages and other forms of direct communication. So they piled on, even as the mainstream media and politicians recognise that claim - that the Coalition was going to privatise Medicare - as a lie. They pressed ahead with it.
Now what we have to recognise is that many Australians were troubled by it. They believed it or at least had anxieties raised with it. It is very clear - it is very, very clear - that Barnaby and I and our colleagues have to work harder to rebuild or strengthen the trust of the Australian people in our side of politics when it comes to health. There is no question about that.
This was a shocking lie, I'm not going to pretend it's anything else. But the fact that significant numbers of people believed it or at least believed it enough to change their vote, tells us that we have work to do and we are committed to that. That is a very clear lesson. We have to do more to reaffirm the faith of the Australian people in our commitment to health and to Medicare. Now, that commitment is there, but plainly there were concerns. There are other issues relating to a general distrust or sense of disenfranchisement from government. We will work harder, much harder, to again ensure that Australians understand our very deep commitment to them. Politics after all, despite what we sometimes read, is not about the personalities of politicians. It’s not about Barnaby and me, not about the media, it's about 24 million Australians. It's about their dreams, their aspirations, their families, their sense of security, their anxieties about the future, about government services, whether they can keep their job, whether they will get a better job and so forth.
Now on Sunday I promised all Australians that we and the Coalition will dedicate our efforts to resolving the state of the next Parliament without division or rancour. That remains my absolute commitment as Prime Minister. As far as the outcome is concerned, the counting as I said, is continuing. We remain confident of securing a majority in the Parliament. We remain confident of forming, of re-forming our Government after the count is completed, but we do of course await the conclusion of the count. We will have a clearer idea of the direction over the next few days.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER:
Thank you Prime Minister and might I start by saying once more, thank you to the people of New England and the incredible honour that they have bestowed on me by allowing me to serve them for another three years. So I always start with that and recognise that.
I'd also like to extend that thanks to the people of regional Australia, who have backed us so strongly during this election and to say that we will, we start immediately. That's why myself and the Prime Minister are here; to start the process of serving them and making sure that the future for them is as good as we can possibly make it. To the Australian people, they have had their say and we absolutely respect the decision of the ballot box. It is so wonderful to live in a democracy where people's views can be so clearly shown and we do it in that great Australian way, that egalitarian, easy-going way, where people walk forward, cast their vote and then people of different sides walk out together and have a cup of tea or have a beer and the world moves on.
But the point of being here with the Prime Minister today is to show the Australian people quite clearly that we're back at work. We are at work, not in some form of retribution or reminiscence. What we're doing is thinking about the future. We're thinking about the future and where this nation goes next and how we best serve this nation. I'm confident as I was in New England but not cocky. Confident but not cocky that we will be the Government and the Government will be formed in the near future in the next days or weeks. That Coalition Government will have at the forefront of its mind, how we take the lives and aspirations of people ahead.
In regional areas, we are the Party that has the vision to build the dams. The Labor Party's vision was to take money from that dams building fund. It is a hard task to break the ice and have a vision that looks to the future but the Coalition has that. We are the Party that has a vision for the regional or rural investment corporation, so that we work in partnership with people in regional areas to be part of the deal, in making sure that the things they believe are worthwhile investing in, that drive jobs - here it goes, hate to say it again - but drives jobs and growth, those are the issues that we will be in partnership with. We are the Party, the Coalition that believes in mobile phone towers and we’ve seen that go to seats that both the Coalition has held and others held, because we believe it's so vitally important for them. We are the Party, we are the Coalition that has given you record cattle prices, record meat sheep prices, record pork prices, extremely strong sugar prices, the largest turnaround in rural commodities, so that the second biggest export of our nation is rural exports. Why is that important? Because it improves the standard of living of people in regional areas. We are the Party that talked about building an oncology unit at Dubbo. We are the Party that talked about the construction of the inland rail and put money on the table for it - the Party of vision.
In regional seats they are looking forward to seeing a Party that has that vision and they want to be part of it. So to be here with the Prime Minister today is a clear statement to the Australian people that we accept the result of the ballot box and we acknowledge that there is work to do. We are absolutely and utterly prepared to do it, because we are first and foremost servants of the Australian people. We are back at work, preparing for the future of this nation and planning for the future of this nation.
Prime Minister, you mentioned today that there was a distrust of your Party on health. How much of the blame for that distrust falls at Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott's feet for the 2014 budget?
I'm not going to get into the political archaeology of this but it is clear that, look Charles, the bottom line is this; Barnaby and I and my colleagues are as committed to Medicare as any other Member in the Parliament. That's a fact.
However there was some fertile ground in which that grotesque lie could be sown. There is no doubt about that. It was a grotesque lie. All of you condemned it as such, framed it as such. Nonetheless it was very effective. Very cynical, very dishonest, but very effective. Now it's important to call Labor out for that, there's no doubt about that and there are obviously all sorts of implications.
But for us, we have to recognise that a material number of Australians were sufficiently concerned about our commitment to Medicare, that they changed their vote. That’s something we need to address. If somebody decided to vote Labor rather than Liberal because they didn't like, you know, business tax cuts, fair enough. That was absolutely clear, we had a policy to do that, Labor did not. If someone voted Labor because they thought we should increase capital gains tax by 50 per cent, fair enough. That was Labor's policy, it wasn't ours. But we have to recognise that there is a real issue for us if people voted Labor because they genuinely believed or they feared that we were not committed to Medicare, because that is not the case.
So that is why Barnaby and I, as we reflect on this and our colleagues reflect on this, that is something that is an issue we have to address. We have to make sure that Australians have complete security - ideally - my sincere belief and commitment is, I would like Australians to believe that commitment to Medicare is completely bipartisan. You know it's like commitment to the aged pension, you know it's there. Everyone is committed to it. That was what we felt was the case, but clearly that lie and its effectiveness gave rise to what was obviously evidence that there were some people that have lacked that belief.
Prime Minister, do you have the skills personally to lead a minority Government or a majority Government with a slim majority and will you consider a steel bailout given what Nick Xenophon has said, that would be the price of Rebekha Sharkie’s vote?
Well, you bundled up a whole lot. I am satisfied, very satisfied that I have the skills and the capability to do my job as Prime Minister. But of course you know you’re all free to express your own opinions as to whether you agree with that.
But as far as Arrium is concerned, let me make this observation; the administrators of Arrium, Mark Mentha and Mark Korda had one project, one investment - what's called a beneficiation plan, which is essentially a washery - to take already-mined ore and in effect upgrade it by removing waste material and thereby improve the grade of the ore and lower the cost of the iron ore that's going into the steelworks and also improve the profitability of the iron ore mine, because most of its iron ore is exported. What we committed to do if re-elected, was to provide the receivers with a concessional loan to acquire that plant. As soon as we form our Government again, as we expect to do, we will do that. That's the one thing they have said they would like to do soon, because it's a perfectly defensible, rational commercial investment but it would enable them to really improve the security and profitability of the integrated iron ore and steelworks.
So I've been paying very close attention to it. Very close personal attention to the Arrium situation and I have had detailed discussions with Mark Mentha about it.
You have talked, Prime Minister about respecting the people’s say and the people that elected three Nick Xenophon Team senators in South Australia. Doesn’t that indicate that you need to do more in Whyalla?
Well we will see how many Nick Xenophon Team people are elected but I accept the Nick Xenophon Team has polled very strongly in South Australia. Can I say that we respect whoever is elected to the Senate or the House of Representatives from wherever they were elected. We respect the people's choice. Whoever - we don't know the final composition of the Parliament but Barnaby and I absolutely agree - that whoever is elected, they are there because the people voted for them and we respect the people's choice. Because of the change in the Senate voting rules, anyone who is elected to the Senate will have had a large number of people actually choose to vote for them, as opposed to being the product of a group voting ticket and the so-called preference whispering arrangements.
Do you feel comfortable that your Senate reforms have resulted in Pauline Hanson being elected to the Senate?
Can I make this point to you; the reason that Pauline Hanson is elected to the Senate is because a large number of Queenslanders voted for her. That's the reason she was elected to the Senate. The quota is obviously less, it’s around half if you have a double dissolution election. But the reason we had a double dissolution election was not related to the composition of the Senate, it is the only way we could get the passage of the Australian Building and Construction Commission legislation and the Registered Organisation legislation. That Section 57 deadlock procedure is literally the only option we had other than saying, “we give up and we will just wait until some remarkable day when there is a majority in the Senate to support it”.
So you know we had and have the courage of our convictions. We will, if we are returned to Government as I'm confident we will, we will re-present those bills in accordance with Section 57.
Prime Minister the bottom line, who do you say is to blame for the mess and who are you going to sack, if I may?
It’s a silly question with great respect. I mean, you know, I've just said it is a campaign that I led, I take responsibility for it. It's a team effort of course but as the Leader I take full responsibility for it.
Leaders don't go around blaming people and frankly the Australian people have voted. We haven't counted all the votes but they have voted. We have learned, we have taken some learnings from this. I have talked about one in particular, there will be others. We will go ahead, as they expect us to do, leading the country, working with the Parliament they have elected.
Wallowing in blame and recriminations, that's for people who want to look backwards. Barnaby and I look forwards. Leaders lead you know, others can blame. I'm not interested in that. We've had a campaign, we fought hard, we presented a powerful case. We weren't as successful as we would have wished. We have found the result disappointing, we accept the verdict of the people. I take full responsibility for the campaign, as a leader should and I do. But my job as the leader now, as the Prime Minister now is to get on and govern; form the government with the Parliament as it is presented by the people and get on and advance the interests of 24 million Australians who it is our duty to serve.
Can I ask one quick question. Could you update us if you have any update and Barnaby Joyce too, on any further discussions you’ve had with the crossbenchers and also any moves for a Party room by either Party, any date or -
Well we will, in terms of a Party room meeting, obviously it will take some time to work out, or for the Electoral Commission to work out, who has actually been elected. Obviously the parties, once that is done, the Party room will reassemble, plainly. So that's the first thing. As far as discussions with the crossbenchers, Barnaby and I know them all well. Very well, in fact and we have long standing relationships with them. We have good, respectful relations with them and we will continue to talk with them.
So there’s ongoing discussions?
Well, Marian, there have been discussions but until such time as we know what the outcome of the House of Representatives' election is, obviously that's going to be the first thing to consider.
But you know, in terms of those independents, we know them well. We have a lot in common particularly with Cathy McGowan and Bob Katter, you know a lot of common interests. We know Nick Xenophon very well and we have had a lot of dealings with him over the years. Obviously the Greens are you know - their side of politics is the other side of quite a wide gulf from ours. Andrew Wilkie is determined to remain above the fray.
But anyway we look forward to having good discussions with all of them, but they build upon a long-standing relationship of respect and in a number of cases, very common interests.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER:
Marian, if I might say so, you can be in different football teams and still be mates with people on the other team. I have been friends with Nick since he started. I don't hold for one second that that gives you any sway or favour, it's just the fact of how human beings get along. With Bob, I've known him for years but they will be doing - I'm sure - their deliberations in what they believe is the best outcome for our nation. It would be absurd to say that in a time like this, that you are not going to be discussing issues of the nation with people who have a responsibility, or possible responsibility, for where the nation may go. But I absolutely respect that they will make a decision that they think is the best one for where Australia goes. You know the weight would be bearing on their shoulders. I don't know whether, to be frank, at this point in time, whether there will be a so-called balance of power, hung parliament arrangement.
If we look at what's happening in Flynn and in Capricornia. In Flynn there is 11,000 postal votes to come in, in Capricornia around about 9,000. There's absentee votes, they work strongly in our favour. We have diligent people who reflect on exactly which way the postal votes went last time, taking into account any swing against the Coalition and being conservative in that estimate and their conservative estimate is that we will probably get across the line on both of those. The most likely bid is that we will get across the line in both Flynn and Capricornia. If course this means we start to get very close to the numbers we need. But that doesn't diminish the role that other people – possibility - that they might have to play. They will be making their deliberations like anybody else and I'm absolutely certain that these people that will be front and centre for what's best for Australia.
Prime Minister, are you as confident today of forming a majority government as you were 48 hours ago?
The answer is yes, if not a little more so. Ultimately - Barnaby's given, explained some of the reasons - yes, we are quietly confident, reasonably confident. But the people have spoken. The votes have been cast. They're in the envelopes, the postal votes, the postal ballots anyway. They're being examined and counted. But it is, but yes, but you know we will see.
I know many Australians find this sort of frustrating, the wait, and you can imagine that we are among them.
We all would have liked to get a clearer result on Saturday night. But the truth is that we've had long waits before, many times actually, over the years. In many countries, many other countries, similar western democracies, it takes a long time to determine the outcome of an election.
So this is not unprecedented. It will be resolved, I would have no doubt, I would expect within a week. I'd be amazed if it wasn't resolved within a week, but it's just a question, we have to await the count. I mean that's the reality.
In the meantime, we are obviously absorbing the lessons from the election and the one I mentioned earlier, about the “Mediscare” lie and the fact that it did get traction despite it being denounced and recognised as a lie. There is a big lesson in that for us, and we have to pay attention to that and we are and we will.
Barnaby, Adam Marshall’s accused your campaign of using his name and signature in campaign material without his permission, did you and did they, and have you mentioned it to him or apologised?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER:
I don’t know that. I heard a report about that. I don't know of anything to do with that. So you know, if that is true, then obviously I will apologise, but I really don't know. The first I heard about it was when I read about it this morning so I am as much in the dark as you are.
Prime Minister, do you have a message for the conservatives in your Party who seem to be causing a lot of trouble behind the scenes?
Well I don't accept your premise. We are, as John Howard always says we are a broad church and we work very closely together with a common objective of giving; delivering strong leadership, good Government and securing the future of 24 million Australians.
I think we are all done now. Now as Barnaby has said - he thanks the electors of New England for returning him. They were very wise Barnaby, that's good.
I want to also acknowledge the electors of Wentworth – not very far from here, for returning me again too. An important thing to remember, no matter how high an office you may have in the Australian Parliament, there is a very important qualification, at least to be Prime Minister or Deputy Prime Minister and that is to be elected as a Member of Parliament.
So, thank you all very much indeed. We look forward to the result of the counting of the postal and other absentee votes and so forth. Thanks very much.