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Weather(vane)man: The 28th Prime Minister of Australia?

Ed: Poor fellow my country. We get the politicians we deserve? I hope not, but I weep.

Weather(vane)man: The 28th Prime Minister of Australia? 
Laurie Oakes interviews Tony Abbott on Channel 9

Sunday, 01 August 2010 10:36

LO: Good morning, Mr Abbott, welcome to the program.

TA: Nice to be with you Laurie.

LO: In light of that latest poll, have you started measuring the curtains at the Lodge?

TA: Look, Laurie, this isn't about me and my chances. It's about our country and its future. That's why I keep saying that we've got to end the waste; we've got to pay back the debt; we've got to stop the big new taxes and stop the boats.

LO: And stay on message. Which you're doing there, I notice.

TA: Thanks.

LO: Now, there's a story in some of the papers today about allegations that party officials, Labor, but some Coalition too, apparently, are gambling on this election, betting on the results in some seats. What's your attitude to that?

TA: Look, I don't think it should happen. I've never put a bet on an election result, and I would certainly want to discourage it.

LO: Nick Xenophon says that you and Julia Gillard should ban your people from doing that. Will you impose a ban?

TA: I am a reluctant bann-er, but I would certainly be very happy to say that it should not be happening.

LO: While we're talking Sunday papers, what's your comment on Alexander Downer's claim that the Coalition used to feed information to Kevin Rudd so that he could use it against party rivals like Laurie Brereton?

TA: My understanding, Laurie, is that Alexander has disputed the story, and I doubt that it's true.

LO: So, why did he say it? Are you saying that he didn't say that?

TA: Well, he's put out a statement and he disputes the story.

LO: OK. Well, you told Malcolm Turnbull once that you were a weathervane. Does Australia need a weathervane as a Prime Minister?

TA: Um, it was a bit of light-hearted banter.

LO: It was followed by the word, "Mate".

TA: Yeah, it was light-hearted banter, and obviously, I want to do what I'm saying I'm going to do, and that is, as we said earlier, it's to end the waste, it's to repay the debt, it's to stop the new taxes and it's to stop the boats Laurie.

LO: That was specifically about your attitude towards climate change and the Emissions Trading Scheme. You've had more positions on that than the karma sutra haven't you?

TA: That's an old joke Laurie.

LO: It's true!

TA: Look I've always thought that climate change happens. The important thing, though is how do you deal with it? And I think that the best way to deal with it is to take practical action that will achieve the 5% emissions reduction target by 2020.

LO: That's now, but last year, you wrote a "op ed" piece in a newspaper saying that the best thing that for the coalition to do was pass the emissions trading legislation, get it out of the way?

TA: I was trying to support the leader, and obviously, the leader, then, had a rather different position to me on this.

LO: Then you said that climate change was crap?

TA: I think what I actually said was the idea of the settled science of climate change is a bit aromatic.

LO: And then you said you only said that, in fact, on this program, you said you only said that climate change was crap because you were trying to persuade a group of Liberals in Beaufort Victoria that negotiating an improved ETS scheme would be the best thing to do?

TA: Sure, Laurie. Look we can go ...

LO: That's four positions so far?

TA: We can go over all the history, but the important thing is...

LO: The important thing is that then you had another position where Malcolm Turnbull did negotiate a compromise, you pulled the rug out from under him and you became the leader and said no ETS now or ever.

TA: The important thing Laurie is what will happen if the Coalition wins. We will achieve our 5% reduction through some direct action measures. What will happen if Labor wins? If Labor wins, we will have a carbon tax. Simple as that and that will put up the price of everything. A $40 a tonne carbon tax will double the price of electricity.

LO: But, isn't it important if you become Prime Minister, that Australians can believe what their Prime Minister says?

TA: It is and I am very happy to pit my record against that of Julia Gillard. Why should the public trust the Prime Minister when not even Kevin Rudd could?

LO: All right, but I'm interviewing you today, not Julia Gillard? Another weathervane example, you said that you would not have a new tax under any circumstances? A month later, you announced would be a 1.7 % tax levy to pay for the paid parental scheme. Weathervain!

TA: Well Laurie, the point is that paid parental leave is not only a visionary, social change, but it's an important economic forum..

LO: You're talking about the broken promise on taxes within a month. You couldn't hold a position for a month?

TA: The point I'm trying to make Laurie, is that paid parental leave is a very important social change and an economic reform and if we're going to get it any time soon, it does have to be paid for. LO: So another example where people couldn't believe what you said?

TA: I think it was a situation where I changed my mind about how we were best going to achieve a very important social change and a very important economic reform.

LO: There's a lot of mind-changing. On paid parental leave itself. First it would only happen over your dead body?

TA: Look, I've been quite upfront about the fact that I did change my mind on this issue but ...

LO: A lot of issues.

TA: That's what people do when they are mature people. They are capable of growing and changing in response to changing circumstances.

LO: But it keeps changing. In your book, "Battle Lines", you said you'd come around to believe that in a paid parental scheme, which was a modest scheme funded by a small levy on all business. Then you produce something that's not modest at all, very generous people - get full pay, up to $150,000 a year, and it's paid for on a tax only by big business?

TA: And, I think if you go back to the "Battle Lines" Laurie, you'll see that the scheme the Coalition has proposed is quite similar to the scheme that I came up with in "Battle Lines".

LO: The scheme you came up with is not modest, let alone ? Modest.

TA: Well - Look, people can argue the toss backwards and forwards, but do we or do we not want a fair dinkum paid parental leave scheme? Years and years ago I didn't.. I have grown into this position and I don't apologise for growing out of old-fashioned positions and coming into better positions, which better reflect the enduring values of the political movement that I now lead.

LO: They say people change their minds, but you change yours a lot for someone who wants to be Prime Minister. I mean, now, you're talking about changing the paid parental leave scheme again and you haven't held that position through you the election campaign?

TA: Labor can't have it both ways. On the one hand, they can't say that I'm an old-fashioned ogre, and on the other hand, say that I change my mind too much.

LO: Do we want a Prime Minister who changes his mind all the time? And you can't believe what he says because he's a weathervane?

TA: As I said, I'll leave all of this to the public to judge. I mean, on the one hand, you've got the Labor Party saying that I'm desperately old-fashioned and reactionary and on the other hand you've got the Labor Party saying that I change my mind all the time so I think the Labor Party needs to...

LO: It's not the Labor Party saying it, I'm saying it.

TA: I think that Labor needs to get its story straight, Laurie.

LO: You know that I'm not spouting Labor Party lines. This is fact, I'm quoting you, not the Labor Party. Let's look at immigration. Where do you stand on immigration at the moment. You announced a week ago that you wanted to halve the instake?

TA: What we need - we need to get the intake down from the current unsustainable levels. We had 301,000 in 2008. We had 277,000 last year, and we'll get it down to a maximum of 170,000 in the first term of a Coalition Government.

LO: So you're a small immigration man?

TA: I'm an appropriate immigration man. And I want a strong Australia. Over time, a strong Australia will be a bigger Australia, but not nearly as big as the kind of figures that recent levels of immigration would give us. We don't need 43 million people by 2050.

LO: Well, in May 2008, you said, and this I'm quoting you again, not the Labor Party. You said, "One of the Howard Government's greatest but least recognised achievements was to rehabilitate the immigration program, increasing numbers to record levels." Woopee, big immigration.

TA: And the interesting thing about the Howard Government's record in immigration Laurie, is that public support for the program increased at the same time as the numbers increased, and one of the reasons for that was because the Howard Government stopped the boats. One of the problems at the present time is that public support for immigration is falling away because the Rudd/Gillard Government has not been able to control our borders.

LO: But you know that the asylum seeker boats don't affect the population, because refugees who arrive that way are taken off the top of our program, so it's got no impact on population. Now, let me put this to you. In January, you said, "There's no reason to think that Australia has a fixed caring capacity. My instinct is to extend to as many people as possible, the freedom and benefits of life in Australia."

TA: Of course, I said that. But the point is, - the point is Laurie, recent immigration numbers have been unstainably high...

LO: But that was only January?

TA: Yes, but one can be in favour of an immigration program. I mean, I was born overseas myself, Laurie. I support an immigration program. I support migrants. The Liberal Party always has and always will be a pro-immigrant party. But it's got to be a sustainable program, and that's the whole point of bringing the numbers down from the current unsustainable figures to a sustainable figure. And unlike Julia Gillard, who tries to have a population debate without talking about immigration, I'm being upfront with people and I'm saying that if we are elected...

LO: You've done a total 180 degree turn since January?

TA: The point that I make...

LO: Weathervane!

TA: The point I make Laurie, is that there's got to be public support for the immigration program, and with out of control borders, it's very hard to have public support for the immigration program. If the people think that a component of our program has been subcontracted out to people smugglers, they're not going to be very supportive of immigration.

LO: Another weathervane issue WorkChoices. Your current policy is not to touch Julia Gillard's industrial relations laws. You say that they deserve a fair trial and business deserve certainty. That wasn't your view, only - what - two months ago?

TA: The point is that I have been absolutely crystal clear...

LO: About changing your mind?

TA: Because I accept the verdict of the people in 07. And over the last few months in particular Laurie, I've been talking a great deal to the business people who live under these laws, to the people who work under these laws and they say that they can live with imperfect laws, what they can't deal with is constant change, and that's why I say I'll give them a period of certainty and stability.

LO: But as recently as your Budget Speech in May, you said these the laws would destroy small business.

TA: That's not quite what I said. What I said is I would like to see more flexibility, and the interesting thing about the legislation is that it does provide for flexibility.

LO: You said a few months ago that it's massively unfair to small business?

TA: And as I said to you Laurie, I've been talking to small business and they say...

LO: Why wouldn't you talk to them before you said that it was massively unfair to them?

TA: They make the point...

LO: Off the top of the head?

TA: They make the point, Laurie, that there are aspects of the legislation that they don't like. But what they want above all else is a period of stability and certainty, and that's what they'll get under me.

LO: So, are you a weathervane?

TA: I'll leave others to make their judgments. What I am trying to do is the right thing by the Australian people and as circumstances change, sure, the appropriate policies will change, but at the moment, what we need above all else is to end the waste, to pay back the debt, to stop the big new taxes and to stop the boats.

LO: In the notorious "7: 30 Report" interview, with Kerry O'Brien, you said in the heat of discussion... I can't read my writing. But you said, - no "but in the heat of discussion You go a little bit further than you would if it was absolutely calm, considered, prepared, scripted." Now, that's an exact quote. A lot of people leapt on that as questioning your truthfulness. I was more concerned what it said about you, the admission that in the heat of the moment, you go further than you should. Is that a good quality for a Prime Minister?

TA: It's something that has got to be kept under the best possible control Laurie, and that's something that obviously I'm very, very determined to do.

LO: All right, now, you've got a policy out there today on aged care. Can you tell us about that?

TA: Yes, sure, it's $935 million. And our objective is first of all to get more beds, and second, to get more high-care beds, and third, to cut the red tape, which is such a practical problem for the nursing home operators.

LO: Now, Julia Gillard's also announcing a policy today. She's going to allow super funds to offer a simple low-cost product called MySuper, which she says will give average workers an extra $40,000 when they retire. Do you favour that system?

TA: I understand that this is one ever the recommendations of the Cooper Review. What we've said Laurie is that we will carefully consider those recommendations. We haven't given a formal response to them, but we will carefully consider them.

LO: What are you going to do about Parliament? I know this is not a mainstream issue, belclay?? issue.

TA: It's important to me Laurie.

LO: Well, I think that it is probably important to Australians.

TA: I think it is..

LO: Are you going to do something about it?

TA: The problem in Parliament Laurie is that all people see is Question Time, and Question Time is basically adults, responsible adults, shouting at each other. It's not a good look and it doesn't actually enhance our system of Government. So what I want to do is to try to get away from the ferocious adversarial partisanship of Question Time, and one way to do that or -- to help do that, is to limit the length of ministerial answers, to limit the length of questions. To try to ensure that the answer is directly relevant to the question. And to make sure that we go straight out of Question Time into the matter of public importance debate without waffly ministerial statements on things like the accessibility of cinemas. So I will change or I will seek to have the standing orders changed.

LO: Kevin Rudd used to sometimes go for 12 minutes with a boring answer to a question. What limit will you put on it?

TA: He said, as you said Laurie, the Bradman of boredom. An excellentline line! I think four minutes is more than ample time to get out a ministerial answer. If you need more time than that, you have a ministerial statement. So, there'll be a one limit on questions and four minute limit on answers. This is the system that's worked pretty well in the Senate and I think it can work well in the House.

LO: A quick final issue. The Greens look like having a balance of power in the new parliament, could you work with the Greens if you were Prime Minister?

TA: I don't know Bob Brown well. But we have got on well on those occasions where we've needed to talk about things. I think he's sincere. I think he sincerely wants a carbon tax, which is one of the reasons why...

LO: Which you I don't?

TA: Which is one of the things that a re-elected Gillard Government is going to be a real problem. But I will do my best to work with whoever I have to work with. But I'll have my objectives and they'll be clear ones. To end the waste, to pay back the debt. To stop the big new taxes and to stop the boats.

LO: Again on message. We thank you.

TA: Thanks Laurie

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Selecting leaders

How should we select leaders:

  • on what they say/promise;
  • on their perceived competence; or
  • on their trustworthiness?

Politicians rarely keep their promises. Major successful changes (GST) are often those for which no mandate was given. Even when they more or less keep their promises, the devil is in the detail, and end up more of a mess than before.

Politicians competent? At what? At politics or at running multi-billion dollar industries - which is what most ministries are. 

Trustworthiness? It seems to me that the only ones we can trust are the loonies at the extremes. 

Right now, I'm starting to think that Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull would have been better choices... 

illegal exportation of local birdlife

Richard beat me to the punch and by some several days, here.

Was going to say that Abbott himself would be more comfortable with the notion that he is more a weather "cock" than a weather vane, just following after each change in wind direction.


Now, there's a thought - Abbott as double agent for a certain sect of the SDS.

To change topic slightly, I must say that I am astounded that not one Webdiarist has picked on my wickedly cruel allusion.

Eh bien...

You're so vane

Of course, now there's the new added element of the "new" Julia Gillard to make the, um,  rooster on Tony's barn spin wildly.  

I'd enjoyed reading this on Sunday - thanks for putting it up Fiona! I've been wonderiing since if, given that Julia's supposedly throwing away the Hawker-Britton script (yeah, right, those wondering about the Rudd/Gillard swapover plan aren't buying the notion that the Gillard/Gillard swap is anything but a rewrite) we now have to wonder who's writing for Tony, and how he's going to handle Julia's "transformatiion" 

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