SUBJECTS: Getting electricity prices down; the Liberal Party; drought relief; dairy farming; religious freedom.
ALAN JONES: The Prime Minister is on the line. Prime Minister, good morning.
PRIME MINISTER: Good morning Alan.
JONES: Just a brief comment on that, I mean, the Liberals couldn’t get 30 per cent of the vote in the Longman by-election. In Wagga, the Liberals couldn’t get 25 per cent. So just on that vote, how do you turn that primary vote around?
PRIME MINISTER: Well the first thing is to reassure Australians about what we believe. We have been very good at the “what” – a million jobs, all of the achievements we’ve had on funding, whether it’s for schools, disability schemes or all of this, we’ve been delivering as a Government.
But the “why”, the why, people want to know. They want to be able to be assured that we believe passionately in the same things that the Australian people believe in. That’s a fair go for those who have a go. That you come to make a contribution not take one. That the best form of welfare is a job. These are the things that we believe and that will drive our policies as a Government.
JONES: Alright, so you say you want to be sure that you believe in what they believe in. Now the last time we spoke, I put the interview up on the Facebook page. There were literally hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of comments, saying that if you’re committed to Paris; “It’s more of the same left-wing rubbish, little has changed.” Another one said; “If he wants to keep Bill out of the top job, he’ll drop Paris.” Another one said, “Why in the heck doesn’t he come straight out and say he’s pulling out of the Paris Agreement and stopping subsidies?” Another; “If he hasn’t ditched Paris for a start, then nothing has changed, that’s the litmus test.”
Now, I just asked people this morning on the open line, what did they think about Question Time yesterday, your performance and so on. These are very supportive people. Now, this is from Michael, Prime Minister, listen to Michael.
CALLER: I’d like you to ask the Prime Minister, get rid of this Paris Accord. Absolutely get rid of it and once again the migration thing is a big issue too. But that I think is a big issue and I think it would be great if you could if we could, go nuclear.
JONES: Well nuclear we’ll come to at a later date. Then Nick, Prime Minister, said this.
CALLER: Alan, I’ve written to you about my electricity bill. I’m pretty sick of my partner and I - just two of us - paying $800 a fortnight. I live in Liverpool and they’re just putting up high-rise after high-rise and bringing in people to move into the area but the roads network, the transport network around it, can’t handle it. No matter which motorway you’re on around here, you’re sitting in traffic from 5.30 to 6 o’clock in the morning.
JONES: So there you are. Now on that, you’ve - are you listening, are you listening? Now you’ve either got to dump Paris or ignore it. Which is it?
PRIME MINISTER: Well Alan, I’ll be getting electricity prices down.
JONES: No, but hang on, hang on, hang on. Are you going to dump Paris, or ignore it, which is it?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, we meet it in a canter. So therefore -
JONES: You can’t meet it.
PRIME MINISTER: Alan, just let me finish. We meet it in a canter. It’ll have no impact on electricity prices. But I’ll tell you what will; Labor will legislate a 45 per cent emissions reductions target. That will push people’s power prices up by $1,400 dollars a year. The policies that we’re working on will see prices fall by around $400 a year and that’s just on the price guarantee.
JONES: That’s down the never-never. You’ve got to be sure -
PRIME MINISTER: No, no, that’s -
JONES: No, these people are telling me, they’re telling me that the prices haven’t gone down.
See, if you say to me, those are your words, I’ve just written them down, “No impact on electricity prices.” Then you don’t need it. Then you can rip it up, throw it in the bin if it’s going to have no impact on electricity prices. Why do you allow your name and your Prime Ministership, to be tied to something that belongs to someone else?
PRIME MINISTER: I’ll tell you what I’m going to do Alan.
JONES: Go on.
PRIME MINISTER: I’m going to make decisions in the national interest.
JONES: Yep, well if we rip up Paris -
PRIME MINISTER: I have to consider not just the issues here. Let me tell you what’s happening in the Pacific. In the Pacific, this is an issue which is incredibly important. In the Pacific, this issue dominates their thinking and agenda. Now, the Pacific is one of the most strategic areas of influence in our world today.
26 per cent, we will meet in a canter. It won’t have any impact on electricity prices. Angus Taylor will tell you the same thing. This doesn’t determine what’ll happen with electricity prices. What it will do, we will just meet it because of technology and business as usual.
So I’m not going to get distracted by those sort of litmus tests. What I’ll get focused on is getting people’s electricity prices down. Now I know some people can have a different view to me about Paris, but honestly, this has distracted people for a decade. It’s not the thing that I’m focusing my attention on. The 26 per cent was set four years ago, it’s been there all of that time and in that time we have created a million jobs. So we’ll get on with growing the economy, I’m just going to keep focusing on getting electricity prices down with the policies that I know will work.
JONES: Ok, well one final comment I’ve got to say to you here, because people are angry about this. Now, the farmers are saying, they heard what you said. “Oh, we’ll meet this 26 per cent quite comfortably”. The farmers are saying, yes you most probably will, because this will be done by carbon sequestration – that is that grass and trees will absorb the carbon dioxide - because the science proves that more carbon is sequested by grass and by trees. So, they have, the farmers have, the Queensland Vegetation Management Act, which punishes the farmer.
PRIME MINISTER: Which I don’t support, Alan.
JONES: No, well I mean, you’re the leader. I’m saying this is how you’ll get the carbon dioxide thing down.
PRIME MINISTER: No, no –
JONES: That is, don’t touch the trees and don’t touch the grass.
PRIME MINISTER: No, it’s going to be because of technology and people’s energy usage. That’s what’s also changing. I mean people’s energy usage has been changing for years.
JONES: Well, of course it’ll be changing, if they can’t afford it.
PRIME MINISTER: No, it’s changing because it gets more efficient. The devices they use, the way that they build houses these days, all of this, it’s all changing.
JONES: There are thousands and thousands of Australians who have had their electricity bill cut off, so they’re not using it, there’s less electricity being used.
PRIME MINISTER: Alan, I plan to win the next election. I’m not going to win the next election by fighting it on Bill Shorten’s ground. Bill Shorten wants to have an ideological debate about climate. I want to have a practical debate about reducing electricity prices. So if people want to see a Liberal Party win at the next election, the thing to focus on is the practical things that reduce electricity prices. That’s what I’m focused on.
JONES: Well, your Deputy – I’ll just finish on this question – your Deputy Josh Frydenberg told the ABC at the weekend that; “No one is more disappointed than I am at the demise of the National Energy Guarantee.” I mean those mixed messages don’t help, do they?
PRIME MINISTER: The National Energy Guarantee legislation, which was going to legislate the Paris Target, is not going ahead. We confirmed that decision at Cabinet last night.
I tell you who is going to legislate an emissions reduction target, that’s Bill Shorten. He will do it at 45 per cent. That’s the difference between a low alcohol beer at about two to three per cent and a full glass of single malt whiskey. That’s the difference, if people want to understand what the difference between 26 per cent is and 45 per cent. That’s the difference.
JONES: Right. Well I’m not here to pump up your tires but I can assure you, I have been saying for about two years, no one, no one can win an election with a 50 per cent renewable energy target.
PRIME MINISTER: No.
JONES: So that ought to console you to some extent. Now, let’s go back to all this sort of left wing nonsense. Now, a by-election in the seat of Wentworth. I’m told that you and Photios – I hope you’re not tying your cart to the Photios horse?
PRIME MINISTER: I haven’t spoken to him -
JONES: Want a woman. Want a woman to be the candidate. Now people are already writing to me this morning and Janet Albrechtsen writing in the Australian Newspaper, says; “There could be nothing more demeaning to women to think that the only way a woman could win preselection, is if the men pull out”. I mean, do we go - are you a merit person, or not?
PRIME MINISTER: I’m a merit person and the Party members will decide our candidate in Wentworth.
JONES: Right, you haven’t been advocating, that there should be a woman?
PRIME MINISTER: It’s their choice Alan. Just like it has to be, in every single seat in the country -
JONES: But you’re the leader. You’re the leader.
PRIME MINISTER: Look, of course I want to see more women in the Federal Parliament. I want to see more -
JONES: There might be a lot of women who don’t want to be there.
PRIME MINISTER: In New South Wales and in every state and territory. We have not done as well in that area as I’d like us to do, but the Party members are the ones who have to take on that responsibility. They’re the ones that have to make those decisions.
JONES: Are you talking to this woman, Julia Banks? Don’t you love the fact that people make these allegations about bullying, but there’s no substantive proof of this? What kind of setup are we running here?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, I don’t know what ‘setup’ you’re talking about. This is the set up, we have Party Whips, they provide the pastoral care amongst colleagues in the Parliament. I talk to all of my colleagues and we deal with those issues, to the extent, inside the tent and inside the family -
JONES: Is there bullying? Is there bullying?
PRIME MINISTER: No, look -
JONES: Have you seen bullying?
PRIME MINISTER: I’ve talked to people and some have been concerned about things that have happened in their Party divisions. But it was a pretty torrid week a few weeks ago and the Party membership here in Canberra are getting past that and they’re getting on with the job. Which is what I expect them to do.
JONES: Have you though, spoken to Julia Banks?
PRIME MINISTER: Yes.
JONES: And asked her to stay in the Parliament, at least until the election?
PRIME MINISTER: Well I didn’t have to ask her, because that’s what she’s committed to do.
JONES: But she wasn’t in Parliament yesterday, what, is she on holiday or something?
PRIME MINISTER: No, she was in Parliament yesterday.
JONES: Oh, was she?
PRIME MINISTER: Yes.
JONES: She’s normally standing beside you, she missed the publicity did she?
PRIME MINISTER: No, she’s sitting in a different seat now because she said she’s not contesting the next election.
JONES: Righto. Are you aware though, while all this was going on in Question Time – and I think you were as frustrated as everybody – there are real problems in other parts of Australia? This coordination of drought relief. Thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars, Prime Minister, have been given and the famers I speak to haven’t seen the money. When is this bloke in charge, the coordinator, going to start telling people where the collection point is for this money and how it’s going to be distributed? Because the farmers aren’t seeing it.
PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, no he’s been in the job one week longer than I have and last night we confirmed all of his powers through Cabinet. The way that works is instead of having to work through umpteen different departments, he will have people working across multiple different departments answering directly into him, at the Commonwealth level. Now, obviously he can’t -
JONES: Would you declare, making this a national disaster?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, effectively that’s happening. By putting one person in charge of a whole range of public service offices, from everything from Human Services across to the executive action -
JONES: Alright, but just supposing you were the farmer, Prime Minister. Just suppose you were the farmer and you’ve heard the Government announce a Farm Household Allowance. Now basically it’s taking hours and hours to complete it, there are 110 questions.
PRIME MINISTER: It takes seven hours for a couple with a financial counsellor, that’s what they told me.
JONES: That’s it. But I mean, right, an assets and income form, a company form, a real estate form. You’ve got to collate the last two years profit and loss accounts, balance sheets, business tax returns.
PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, it’s ridiculous.
JONES: Well, have you stopped that?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, we’ve got it down by 25 per cent. I’ve told them that’s not enough, so they’re going back to work and getting it down further.
JONES: Good on you. Now dairy farming, do you know anything about this? Most probably not, but can I just tell you this 50 cents -
PRIME MINISTER: Well, as much as I do about sheep.
JONES: Yeah, you do, that was a good answer, by the way. You didn’t know the back from the front.
PRIME MINISTER: Have milked one though.
JONES: [Laughter] This is meant to be a serious conversation.
PRIME MINISTER: Sorry. Particularly on this issue.
JONES: Right, now dairy farming. Now, dairy farmers are simply saying the farm gate price of 50 cents a litre will not pay the bills. Now, a farmer I spoke to yesterday said that basically the fodder price has gone up from $200 a bale to $500 a bale. He can only get 50 cents a litre for his milk, he’s got to shut the shop down.
Now, surely to God, who’s going to pull all these processes of others together to see that the dairy farmers can get a fair farm gate price, which is higher than the cost of production?
PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, well, there’s two things here. One is what’s driving the prices up and we all know the reason for that. The other issue is more generally how you’re dealing with the pricing that takes place in the dairy industry. Now, David Littleproud as you know, has been consulting with industry. There’s not a common view about how this gets sorted. There is not a common view about whether a levy is the way to do that. I’m never a fan of taxes being the answer to problems. He’s bringing that forward as a package -
JONES: You whacked one onto the banks.
PRIME MINISTER: Sorry?
JONES: You whacked one onto the banks.
PRIME MINISTER: I did.
JONES: You said you’re not in favour of taxes.
PRIME MINISTER: No, no, I’ll tell you why I did that. Let me tell you why I did that, because the banks actually receive, effectively, a guarantee over their operations on their funding and that’s provided by the Government.
JONES: Are you going to whack up that levy?
PRIME MINISTER: No, I’m not.
PRIME MINISTER: No, I said at the time, I said what it was.
JONES: Just coming back to the dairy farmer, can you understand -
PRIME MINISTER: So, David’s coming back to me and Cabinet with a plan. I’m also talking to Fiona Simson over at the National Farmers’ Federation, as you’d expect and other key stakeholders and I get it. I mean, I used to flat down here with Bill Heffernan and most Sunday nights -
JONES: Well, you could do worse than talk to him every Sunday night. He knows the scene backwards. But just one point there; a farmer told me yesterday, 36 bales of hay in June cost $5,000. A month ago it was $19,000. Now at 50 cents a litre, he’s got to close the joint down.
PRIME MINISTER: It’s like the impact of gas prices, isn’t it?
PRIME MINISTER: If the gas feedstock price is going into commercial, industrial businesses – you know, you ask Dick Honan about that, down on the south coast of New South Wales.
PRIME MINISTER: You’ve seen what his gas feedstock prices have done. That’s why we need more gas, whether it’s in New South Wales, Victoria or anywhere else.
JONES: Just before you go, a Christian community care organisation in Queensland is facing the Industrial Relations Commission because its’ chief executive advocated against gay marriage in an email to staff. This goes to the heart of the religious freedom debate.
PRIME MINISTER: Agreed.
JONES: Dozens of chief executives were arguing in favour, in favour of same-sex marriage. Nothing happened to them. Here’s a man who just simply wrote a courteous email to staff and he told them courteously, why they should argue a ‘no’ case. Now he faces the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Commission.
What is the new Prime Minister going to do about this issue of religious freedom?
PRIME MINISTER: I’m going to protect it. I’ve got the report back from Philip Ruddock and I’m working through that now as we speak. I’ll be making some announcements about that over the next few months as we get that response in place.
But I can tell you this’ people know what I said about this last year. They heard what I said in the Parliament last year about protecting people against these very circumstances. Now, people say: “Oh,” you know, “There’s been none of that and there’s no risk and there’s no threat and you don’t need to do anything.”
Well, I disagree. I think, if you don’t have freedom of your faith, of your belief – and in whatever religion that is – then you don’t have freedom in this country at all.
JONES: Good on you.
PRIME MINISTER: It is the most profound thing an Australian -
JONES: Well, you might have to put that in legislation because -
PRIME MINISTER: Well, I just might. Alan.
JONES: Okay. We’ll talk again soon. You’ve got to go, I’ve got to go. But I really appreciate your time.
PRIME MINISTER: Thanks a lot, Alan.
JONES: Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister.