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  • Written by Scott Morrison


SABRA LANE: Gentlemen, welcome to the Press Club. Sometimes, hopefully all of the time, leadership is about doing what is right and sometimes it's not popular. Could you please give me an example of a decision that you have made in your political life that wasn't popular, but was right? I'm going to go to you first, Scott Morrison.

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well thank you Sabra. I've made many of those decisions. It started off when I was Shadow Minister for Immigration and became the Minister for Immigration. Many of the policies we took to that election to secure our borders, to turn boats back where it was safe to do so, were opposed by many people. I’ve got to say, the turn back policy wasn't popular. But we did it and achieved the outcome. We saved thousands of lives and we were able to secure our borders and ensure that ultimately, we have got every child out of detention and every child off Nauru. This was a hard decision.

As a Social Services Minister I reformed retirement incomes. As a Treasurer, we've been bringing the Budget back to surplus for many years and that's required difficult decisions, often disappointing many people on my own side of politics. I took those policies to the last election. But these are the decisions you have to make if you want to have a strong economy and if you want to have strong national security. Over my political life, I've always focused on what I believe is the right thing to do and have always pursued that with everything I have.

BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION:  Well, thinking through my time in public life, even before I was in politics when I was a union rep, sometimes you’d have to say to people you're representing that there was only so much which could be won for them, but no more. Sometimes you'd have to argue in favour of workplace change which would see people have to change their work practices to maintain the long-term profitability of the organisation. More recently in politics, we've had to confront some issues. I know for example that some in my Party didn't want to support boat turn backs. That would have been easy to say to people that we shouldn't change our policy in terms of boat turn backs and regional processing. But I felt that the experience of defeating the people smugglers proved that Labor needed to change, because I have a view that Labor isn't always right an everything and Liberals aren't always wrong and of course vice versa.

LANE: Now both of you have raised the issue of both turn backs. This is also a follow-up question to both of you. What happens to the 950 approximately, people still left on Manus Island and Nauru? First to you, Scott Morrison.

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well first of all I am pleased that one of the first things I did as Prime Minister was continue the work to ensure we got every child and every family off Nauru.  I commend the former prime minister Mr Turnbull, for the arrangement he put in place with the United States to achieve that and we followed through on that. But largely we continued the policy of dealing with people's medical situations and ensuring that we got all those children off Nauru.

The policy though, is what the policy is; that those who sought to illegally enter Australia, they will not be settled in Australia. We will seek to pursue the arrangements and fulfil the arrangements with the United States in particular which we were able to broker, but the bottom line is, as difficult as this policy is, if you change it, if you weaken it, if you show a lack of resolve, then you invite on this country and the poor souls who would take the risks, the worst of all possible outcomes. I can never return to that.

LANE:  But my question is what happens to the 950 approximately people? Will they be there forever?

PRIME MINISTER: Those have been recognised as refugees in both of those countries, for those who remain there and see, the refugee resettlement programme and indeed the United Nations treaty, what it does is ensures people don't return to the country in which they were persecuted and that will not happen to them.

OPPOSITION LEADER: We agree that we want to discourage people coming here by boat. We want to discourage people being exploited by people smugglers and indeed risking their lives as we've seen, with cost. But in terms of the remaining people on Manus and Nauru, if I was elected your prime minister, we would put as much effort as we humanly could to resettle them. I don't accept that the corollary of strong borders is indefinite detention. So I acknowledge the work of Malcolm Turnbull in terms - and all the Department who negotiated with the US in securing that deal. We would redouble our efforts, we would contemplate using New Zealand as a source to resettle people and revisiting that offer from Jacinda Ardern.

 

LANE: Many Australians are still worried about the issue of stability. Bill Shorten, we’ve have six prime ministers over the past decade. What lessons have you learned from the era, including your own role in removing two prime ministers, the factional divisions undermining and are you sorry about it?

OPPOSITION LEADER: Well, I think we need one more change of prime minister and then we can finish it for a while. But I think that, I know the Labor Party's learned and it's been on both sides. But Labor has the lived experience of the last six years. Whatever one says about all of our policies, we've demonstrated that we can be a united force in Opposition. We don't have government to bind us together. So you know, I started off leading the opposition against Tony Abbott, then it went to Malcolm Turnbull, now it's to Mr Morrison. So, we've learned our lesson. We've put in place rules, five or six years ago, but it's more than just the rules. There's no doubt that when you look at a united party, Labor is the better of the two mainstream parties.

LANE: Are you sorry about it?

OPPOSITION LEADER: I do regret that we had the instability in our time, absolutely. But what I'm also sorry about is that the Australian people, they're fed up with politics as usual, the idea that they can vote for one PM and get someone else. So, we understand that if we're to re-win the trust, it's not just our stability, it's also putting forward good policies to the Australian people. It also creating greater institutions and more institutions which Australians can trust, such as a national integrity commission.

LANE: You have a chance to rebut this before I’m going to put a question to you, Mr Morrison.

PRIME MINISTER: Bill and I came into the Parliament in the same year in 2007 and since that period of time I think there's been a toxicity in politics which Australians have grown very tired of. This whole era of where prime ministers were changed during the course of elections of course began with the rolling of Kevin Rudd and it ended with Malcolm Turnbull’s end of his prime ministership. That's where it must end and that's where it should stop. The reason I believe that, is the reason I changed the rules after I became Prime Minister. The Labor Party has changed it’s rules. The Liberal Party has changed its rules. In fact, our rules are the strongest change we've seen since Robert Menzies founded the Party. So, for the first time since 2004, the Australian people can go to this election and they can be absolutely confident, because of the rules of both parties, that who they elect will be the Prime Minister for the next three years. Either Bill Shorten or myself and it’s their choice.

LANE: The Party can change the rules again?

PRIME MINISTER: No, it requires a special majority, an even stronger majority that it requires to change in the Labor Party. I think that era is over and I set about changing the rules to make sure it was over.

LANE: The Coalition ditched Tony Abbott and it turned to Malcolm Turnbull. You're now the leader because of Peter Dutton's failed attempt to take the prime ministership. What lessons have you learned specifically from this era and if you win, how will you ensure that your Party's conservative wing doesn't continue the era of disruption?

PRIME MINISTER: I will lead as I always have, from the middle. As I said to my Party after I became Prime Minister, I said to them; ‘You have elected me to lead and I'm asking you to follow. That I wouldn't be running off to one side or the other side, I've always been very clear in my views and my position on things. And to work with everyone from across the Party and that's always been my history. Whether when I used to work in the Party itself or as I’ve worked as a Minister, a Treasurer and Prime Minister, working right across the spectrum of our Party. So, I've said to my Party; ‘This is the direction I'm heading in and I'm asking you to join me’, and they have and today the Liberal Party, has not known the level of purpose and unity under my leadership, than we've seen for a very long time.

LANE: Bill Shorten, you now have a chance to rebut that.

OPPOSITION LEADER: Some of the reasons why the Liberal Party has had instability have got nothing to do with rules, they've got to do with climate change. Half of the Liberal Party don't accept climate change is real or if they think it's real, they certainly don't think they should do anything about it. So I think some of the fault lines in this current Government extend beyond rules. The reality is that if the Liberal Party and the National Party were united, then Malcolm Turnbull would still be prime minister because they'd still – they’d have a policy on climate change. So I think some of the fault lines in the Government are real. Another example would be the increasing move to the extreme right in the pre-selections of Liberal candidates. I mean, we’ve got the lived experience of some pretty extremist people being picked in the Liberal Party and then of course the third concern I have about so-called ‘ending the chaos’ in the Government is that they've now done coalition, or not coalition, they’ve done preference agreements with Pauline Hanson, they've got preference agreements with Clive Palmer. I tell you, when you do a deal with Clive Palmer, there's always a bill to pay him at the end.

LANE: Now I'm going to shake things up a bit. This is the first opportunity for the leader’s questions and we tossed a coin before the broadcast tonight to determine who would go first and Scott Morrison, you won that.

PRIME MINISTER: Well thank you very much Sabra. The question I have for Bill is on behalf of more than 800,000 Australians, I would like to know - and these are self-employed Australians, Australians, that when they make their superannuation contributions, self-employed people, these are tradies, these people running home-based businesses, men and women, entrepreneurs, they will not get access to the tax dedications for their superannuation contributions, that wage earners get. Labor is changing that policy. What I’d like to know is, why Bill Shorten wants to target  those individuals, those self-employed Australians and how  much revenue will he be raising from that increase in tax on those  Australians?

OPPOSITION LEADER: First of all, superannuation will still be preferentially treated. What I mean by that is that if you pay money into superannuation it is taxed more beneficially than if you take it as income. So this general Government scare campaign that somehow superannuation is not going to be available to all, is not correct. But we are making some changes, there's no question about that. In terms of the costings we'll release our final costings on Friday.

LANE: That’s a bit of a cop out, you’re not going to give us an example tonight?

OPPOSITION LEADER: Well no, to be fair, we’ll be releasing our full costings on Friday and whilst you just said it's not to your satisfaction, the reality is that in the 2010 election when the Liberals ran, they released their costings two days before the general election. In the 2013 election, they released it three days before. We intend to release our policies, our final costings, eight days before. There's no doubt what we want to do is, superannuation will still be preferentially treated, but it won’t be quite as generously treated as it was previously.

LANE: So the costings tomorrow or Friday?

OPPOSITION LEADER: Friday.

LANE: Now Bill Shorten your opportunity to ask Scott Morrison a question.

OPPOSITION LEADER: Thanks. In my Budget reply speech I announced a plan to help eliminate to quite a great extent, the cost of cancer treatment.  What that included was millions of extra scans funded through Medicare, visits to oncologists, a range of measures which we think will help with the out of pocket costs of fighting cancer. Initially the Government, you've ruled that out, that you're not interested in our $2.4 billion cancer plan. I would just like to invite you to, would you agree to implement our cancer plan which will lower the out of pocket costs to practically nil for hundreds of thousands of our fellow Australians?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I thank Bill for his question. Our Government has listed 130 drugs for cancer patients, important medicines that become affordable for cancer patients to be able to access those medicines that save their lives, improve their lives and lengthen their lives. Now the Labor Party have put forward a proposal which is not frankly - still - clear to us the details of that policy and how it is structured to we could properly assess it. If we are re-elected I'm happy to assess it in the context of the next Budget. But what I would say is this; Australians know, if you're in a public hospital at the moment, all of your cancer treatment is free. You know that to be the case and I think that’s exactly as it should be.  There are out of pocket expenses of course, when it comes to dealing with the challenges of meeting the costs of having been sick and having cancer.

SABRA LANE: Sorry I have to pick you up. That’s not if you’re in a hospital, there are plenty of out of pocket costs and people can attest to that.

PRIME MINISTER: If you’re receiving public treatment for your cancer, it is fully covered, that is the rule in the state system and it’s funded by the Commonwealth and supported as well. But the point I was going to make is to meet those out of pocket expenses for those Australians who are doing it through the private system and other systems, then you need your private health insurance and your private health insurance is really important. Now there's only one side of politics in this election that has absolutely ruled out any changes to the private health insurance rebate. Not  ‘don't have any plans for it’ - we are not doing it. It will not happen, never under a Coalition Government would we attack the private health insurance system which when Labor was last in power, that's where they went to get the money when they ran out of money. They used that as a slush fund to try and cover up their wasted spending in so many areas.

But I applaud Bill for highlighting the issue of cancer, I do. We will continue to work on that issue as we always have and deliver.

LANE: Not everyone can afford private health.

PRIME MINISTER: And that's why you have a private health insurance rebate and that's why it’s targeted to those on low and middle incomes. If you take that rug away from people and if you take away the franking credits for people who are retirees - and that's what they use the money to pay for, which is their private health insurance - I guarantee Australians your private health insurance rebate will be safe with the Liberals.

LANE: Thank you.

LANE: We’re moving to another issue of cost of living pressures and the economy.

OPPOSITION LEADER: Sorry but was that a yes or a no on cancer plan? Was it a definite maybe?

PRIME MINISTER: Bill, once you can tell us what everything costs and you can tell us what your policies are, then people can assess them. I think Australians are still waiting to the answer to that question on all of your policies and all your taxes. They’re still waiting, the election is on Saturday week.

OPPOSITION LEADER: Our cancer package it’s a very important issue out of pockets for cancer. Mr Morrison unfortunately is out of touch with what's really happening in the day oncology wards around Australia. I can give a couple of real life examples very briefly.

LANE: Very briefly.

OPPOSITION LEADER: Elaine Smith, Royal Brisbane Hospital, she's had to draw upon her superannuation to pay for out of pockets because she doesn't want to die and leave her family a debt. Sandy and Kim who I met more recently at Nepean Hospital in Western Sydney, she’s got level four, stage 4 pancreatic cancer. I said; ‘Is this system free?’ She said; ‘We’re $100,000, it’s cost us.” Now It's about priorities and choices.

Mr Morrison said about our costings, the reality is that our cancer package which will help out of pockets and help hundreds of thousands of people in the fight of their lives, is $2.3 billion. The cost of the changes to our superannuation treatment which you asked earlier, will be about $30 billion in savings over 10 years.

PRIME MINISTER: I just have a simple question. How many Medicare benefit items are actually addressed under your policy? How many have changed and how will you make the specialists and others who are treating, pay only the fee that you're saying they should pay? Not pay a higher fee, only put their prices up? Because in my experience Bill, every time you subsidise something, it always pushes the price up.

SHORTEN: I welcome your second question. In terms of the Medicare items, there's two specifically we're proposing to change. In terms of access to scans and in terms of seeing specialists and oncologists, so two.

PRIME MINISTER: There are well over 100.

OPPOSITION LEADER: Yes, but we're improving two which are fundamental. 6 million more scans, 3 million more visits to oncologists.

PRIME MINISTER: But what about the other 100?

OPPOSITION LEADER: Don't look so disappointed I answered your question. The second point I was going to say, in terms of, in terms of  … what was the second part of your question, Scott?

PRIME MINISTER: I was simply asking how you were going to ensure the specialists and others don't put their fees up, because subsidies lift prices?

OPPOSITION LEADER: Thank you for that.

LANE: I'll give you 20 seconds.

OPPOSITION LEADER: What we want to do is make this item to see the specialists, if you want to claim this item you have to 100 per cent bulk bill. Now, if you want to go to someone else, they won't be able to offer you the increased bulk bill item, the repayment or the payment from the item at Medicare. So we believe and we have spoken to oncologists and specialists, Brian Owler our candidate of Bennelong has been very help helpful along with Catherine King in this policy.

LANE: You’ll have to wrap it up, sorry Mr Shorten.

OPPOSITION LEADER:  You’ll have competition which means that if a specialist wants to be able to offer the full 100 per cent bulk billing, then that will keep the others honest.

PRIME MINISTER: Right, so the others will charge more and you'll pay more. Ok.

LANE: We’re on to the next topic, sorry gentlemen. Whoever wins, there are no doubts there are very strong economic challenges ahead. There is a global slowdown happening and a trade war will only exacerbate that. In the event of sharp downturn, will you allow the Budget to slip further into deficit? First to you, Bill Shorten.

OPPOSITION LEADER: We won't have to because of the reform decisions which we're presenting to the Australian people at this election. I mean, you're quite right, there are global trade winds. The biggest problem I see globally is expanding global debt. 10 years ago it was $130 trillion US, now that's $230 trillion US. This is an enormous challenge and so what we need to do is create a surplus which is a national fighting fund to deal with what happens in the future. We are making hard decisions. We are saying that we don't want to keep spending taxpayers subsidies on people to make a loss on their investment property for example.

This decision means that we can and we’ll show it on Friday, we can go for better surpluses than the Government is proposing because we're willing to actually future-proof our economy. We can also do this because we're making serious reform decisions and still reverse the cuts to schools and hospitals and the investment in people, which is also important in sustaining our economy in the future.

LANE: Scott Morrison?

PRIME MINISTER: We are facing some difficult challenges ahead, not just globally. Here in Australia we face the drought. We face the floods. There's been the fires. I've been right out across rural and regional Australia and I know how much pain there is there. So that starts us in a difficult situation and with a trade war between China and the United States and all the other uncertainties that are in our region, I believe that what is important for Australians who will live in our economy, is that we ensure that they have as much resources able to them themselves, as possible.

That's why I believe the short answer to your question is yes, we will keep the Budget in surplus. And I can tell you why; because we have brought our Budget back to surplus. We’re the Party and the Government that has done that. We were the Party that did it when we were last in Government as well. That’s why I think Australians can trust us to keep it in surplus -

LANE: Sorry, it's not in surplus now.

PRIME MINISTER: I’ve said next year, that’s what I’ve said.

 

LANE: We won’t know that until then.

 

PRIME MINISTER: I’ve said we brought the Budget back to surplus next year and well, the last surplus Labor did was in 1989, if you want to have a competition on that score.

 

But it's not about that competition, it's about how you keep the Budget in surplus. The way you do that is, one you keep your expenditure under control and two you back Australians who go out there and create economic activity. The small and family businesses that are out there who have created, together with the rest of the economy the record employment growth. 100,000 young people employed in just one year, the strongest growth of youth employment in Australia's history.

You don't grow your economy by taxing it more. You didn't hear Mr Shorten say ‘tax’ once. When he talks about ‘changes’ and ‘hard decisions’, that reads $387 billion in higher tax.

 

That will put a dead weight on the economy, on all Australians, on small and family businesses, which will hold them back at a time when we need them to be as absolutely match fit as possible. Higher taxes will slow the economy down and ensure that Australians are not in the strongest possible position to face the challenges ahead.

 

LANE: Mr Shorten, I’ll come back to you, you said you won't need to allow the Budget to slip further into deficit because of the policy changes that you're making. So what are the other options that are open to you, given monetary policy at the moment is at it’s limits?

OPPOSITION LEADER: Invest in infrastructure. Build more public transport, work with the States in our big cities. Spend money on important regional roads like the Bruce Highway or the beef roads of western Queensland. So that’s one, one lever is infrastructure.

LANE: To spend money on infrastructure though, you need to get that money from somewhere?

 

OPPOSITION LEADER: That's true, Sabra. The other proposition, along with infrastructure which I want to go to, is we will take real action on climate change. I waited to see if the Prime Minister would say that’s going to be a challenge in the future around the world and it is. It's a very real challenge. We've got policies to tackle climate change. I don't think you can be a government that is serious about tackling future challenges, if you don't have a fair dinkum approach on climate change, which is why we do. The third strategy we offer, along with infrastructure and having policies on climate change, is investing in people. The best thing this country has got going for it, is it’s people. We intend to invest in 3-year-old and 4-year-old kindergarten, because that’s what the smartest countries in the world are doing. We intend to invest in our schools and put back the money that they promised and never delivered and indeed invest in 150,000 extra apprenticeships and university places.

 

LANE: Sorry your time is up.

 

LANE: To the Prime Minister, we hear you often you talking about Labor’s policy on taxing credits, on, sorry, franking credits, negative gearing changes. In 1993 Paul Keating warned the public in Parliament that if John Hewson won that election, which was contested over the fightback GST plan, that Labor would pass this package holus-bolus in the Senate and it wouldn't block it whatsoever. Why don't you use the same tactic this time around?

 

PRIME MINISTER: Because you’re right it was a tactic. Politics isn't about tactics, politics is about what you believe.

 

LANE: I have it on good authority that the leadership team has considered this.

 

PRIME MINISTER: It's not of interest to me for this reason; I think it's a heinous tax on Australians who have worked hard all of their lives. To be told they have to pay a higher rate of tax than others do on their dividends, based on their marginal rate of tax I think is wrong. I think to treat retirees as if they're - self-funded retirees who have put themselves in that situation - to say they're no longer independent and the recipient of some special largess from the government, is very offensive to them. All we're simply doing is making sure that they get the same benefit of a franking credit than anyone else does, that they get the full value of that franking credit regardless of what their marginal tax rate is.

 

It's not right that someone on a large income, that Bill and I can own shares in Qantas or the Commonwealth Bank and get the full value of the franking credits that are passed through in the tax system. But someone who has worked hard all of their life and relies on that income, some $1,200 in some cases well over $10,000 in others to pay their private health insurance, to pay their bills, to pay their electricity bill and to ensure they can go and spend time with their kids at Christmas. This is real income that these 1 million Australians are relying on. And Labor is callously taking it away and I will never support that.

 

LANE: Bill Shorten?

 

OPPOSITION LEADER: Mr Morrison is deliberately calling, taking back a subsidy that gets paid to people and he's pretending it's a tax. It's not. If you get an income tax refund and you haven't paid income tax in that year, it is not a refund. It's a gift. Now it's not illegal, it's not immoral. It's the law. But it's not sustainable. When John Howard  introduced this gift which can go to people where they can get a tax cheque back even though they haven't paid income tax that year, was costing half a billion dollars. Now it's costing $6 billion a year to the Budget. Mr Morrison says that it's not fair these people are being treated differently.

 

Under our proposals, if you receive a dividend from your superannuation from your accounts, you will not be taxed on it. But what we won't do, is give you a 30 per cent top-up. That is all. Why should millions of Australians go to work and pay their taxes, so they can pay it to other people who get a tax refund, when they haven’t paid taxes. There will be no new tax levied on anyone, that is an untruth.

 

But what we can’t keep doing is afford to giving a gift to people. I mean some people under this scheme are getting hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Government because they got dividends from their shares. Not because it's a tax refund. It is not a tax refund when you send money back to someone when they haven’t paid tax. It’s a gift. It’s not sustainable. $6 billion will soon become $8 billion in the Budget. What schools do you want to cut? What hospitals do you want to cut? And by the way, we're the only country in the world where you can get an income tax refund when you haven't paid income tax. No-one else in the world does it and there's a good reason why they don't, because it's not a good, sustainable idea.

 

LANE: Just a quick follow-up question. A lot of people who’ve built their retirement planning around this policy think that they are being penalised. Why aren't you grandfathering this provision, when you're grandfathering the negative gearing changes for example?

 

OPPOSITION LEADER: It’s not sustainable to keep paying people $6 billion a year. It's not sustainable to keep paying people $6 billion a year in the form of an income tax refund, when they're not paying income tax. Now I can understand why some people don't want to lose the money. I get it. But at the end of the day there's no principle of tax law anywhere since the ancient Romans, which says you get a tax refund when you haven't paid income tax. It's a gift. But it ain't a principle of tax law.

 

LANE: I'll allow you a short opportunity to reply.

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, thanks Sabra, I know Bill had a lot of explaining to do on that one and that’s why I’m sure he took the extra time. But Sabra it is part of the tax law. It is a franking credit. There is a value for every franking credit on the tax paid by the company and the value of that franking credit is passed on to the ultimate shareholder. All of those shareholders who invest in Australian businesses, Australian businesses, should all get the same value of that same credit. That's why under what Mr Shorten is proposing, some people on high incomes will get the full value of that franking credit and those whose marginal tax rates are lower than 30 cents in the dollar, they will actually lose the benefit of that credit.

 

Because the whole purpose is not to tax twice. The company pays the tax and then it’s ultimately taxed in the hands of the shareholder at their marginal rate of tax. That's the tax principle. As a Treasurer, I understand how the tax system works. Mr Shorten is misrepresenting it. That that means he's saying to Australians - who as you rightly say have depended on this for their income - he's changing the rules.  

 

I think they should take Mr Bowen's advice; if you don't like it, don't vote Labor.

 

LANE: Turning to religious freedoms. Wallabies star Israel Folau has been found guilty of a very high breach of the Rugby Australia rules over his social media posts. Should people be allowed to express their fundamental beliefs or is free speech being threatened in this country? Scott Morrison.

PRIME MINISTER: Free speech is one of our fundamental freedoms, so is religious freedom. I feel this very strongly. I mentioned it in my first speech, my maiden speech to the Parliament. If you're not free to believe, then what are you free to do in this country?

 

The reason so many Australians who have come from other countries, escaping religious persecution in other places - I spoke about the Lebanese Maronite community in the Parliament on this score. They have come here to escape that. They want to be sure that in the future, their religious freedoms are protected. They want to be sure about it.

 

That's why we'd be pursuing a Religious Discrimination Act, which would provide the same protections to those of sexual gender and orientation and all the other many appropriate forms of discrimination legislation that we have.

 

Freedom of speech is important but we have to exercise it responsibly.  We have to exercise it, I believe, in a society such as ours, with civility and with due care and consideration to others. That is what I seek to do as a public figure and as public figures, we have I think, a higher and more special responsibility.

 

In relation to what happens in matters of contracts law and employment law, well, we're all subjects to those if we enter into those contracts. But I admire people of religious conviction. I admire people who draw strength from their faith, I am one of those people. I admire people who have no faith, that's their choice. That's the great thing about Australia; you're free to believe and I want to ensure Australians can always not only be free to believe, but feel they can be free to believe.

 

SABRA LANE: Bill Shorten.

OPPOSITION LEADER: Well, I think this is one of these topics which thankfully for Australians the leaders of the two major parties have a closer sense of position, than a greater sense of argument.

 

People should be free to practice their religion. I think you go - so we've got to work through, the Australian Law Reform Commission is working out how we work this through, how we work out exemptions in the law which get the balance right between anti-discrimination laws and religious freedom. So we'll work through that. If we're elected as the government, we’ll sit down with the churches we’ll sit down lawyers, we’ll sit down with the Law Reform Commission and just work through that issue, as we should.

 

You went to the specific issue of Israel Folau and you know, Mr Morrison is right there, it's a contractual negotiation at one level. But I'm uneasy about where that debate has gone. On one hand, I think Israel Folau is entitled to his views and he shouldn't suffer employment penalty for it. So I'm uneasy about that part of it.

 

But I also think that we've got to be mindful about the other side of the equation. People putting out on social media that if you're gay you're going to go to hell. You know, I get that's what he genuinely believes, but when you're a public figure, you know that has negative impact, a hurtful impact on other people. So, I understand the matter for Mr Folau is under appeal. Let's hope that common sense prevails and they find a happy medium. I don't think it's a simple issue. I don't  think it's a clear-cut issue when the edges bump up against each other. I don't think if you're gay you're going to go to hell. I don't know if hell exists actually. But I don't think, if it does, that being gay is what sends you there.

 

So I am uneasy. But on the Folau matter I'm also uneasy if he has genuinely held views and he could suffer some sort of really significant penalty. It's a matter of respecting each other and I do wish that, this is one of the challenges of social media, it can really dumb things down, can't it?

LANE: It can make public life really hard living. You both agree with that? Social media can sometimes make public life very hard living?

PRIME MINISTER: Yes. I certainly agree with that. You should read my Twitter feed, the comments on it. I suspect Bill's is similar.

OPPOSITION LEADER: I don't always read my Twitter feed actually. I saw very funny cartoon, I don’t know if it’s true, a meme of Michelle Obama and Barack Obama is looking at a computer screen. Michelle is saying; ‘Don't read it, just go to bed’, some good advice there I suspect.

LANE: Alright. Turning to climate change which unfortunately it has prompted a lot of fractious debate online. There are many signs that things are changing on our planet. Warmer temperatures, more intense cyclones, dry conditions in the bush. Business, agriculture and science sectors are all urging action. To both of you, your approach in this next Parliament, whoever wins, will they have a mandate to enact their policies and should the Opposition, whoever that be, acknowledge that it's time to end the climate wars? First to you, Bill Shorten?

 

OPPOSITION LEADER: Well, if the Government win the election, I think their minimalist approach to climate change means the argument goes on. Now the good news is if we win the election, some of our ideas we borrowed from Malcolm Turnbull, so hopefully at least half the Liberal Party could back them in pretty comfortably.

[Laughter]

But we need to take real action. We need to have ambitious targets. Climate change is a gigantic problem. I listened carefully to Mr Morrison talk drought and flood and fire making those very legitimate point. But there's a role climate change plays in that. So, we want to go to 50 per cent renewables by 2030. We want to get to a 45 per cent reduction in our emissions. Now the Government says that's too hard or too expensive. I think that the cost of not acting is even more expensive. The more that you delay the solutions, the more expensive the solutions become and the greater the damage is done in the course of the delay.

LANE: Scott Morrison?

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you Sabra. It's important we act on climate change. I think that's a matter of consensus between, I think, almost all of the members of Parliament. We believe that. We believe it because I have kids you have kids, others have kids and their future environment depends on taking those actions - and you take responsible actions. You take measures that you can implement and that you can achieve.

You recognise, particularly on climate change that Australia doesn't act alone. Australia doesn't solve climate change by itself. It actually does its bit in concert with other countries. So, let me tell you what we have done. We’ve talked about renewables. We’ve had $11 billion dollars of investment in renewable energy in 2017. That was the third highest per capita of any country in the world and the seventh absolute.

We've got $25 billion of investment in renewable energy technologies going into Australia between 2018 and 2020. These are record levels of investment in renewable technologies and energy in Australia. Now on top of that, we've got 2.1 million additional households now with solar panels on their roof. When we came to Government there were 980,000. All of these things, in the uptake and adoption and investment in renewables, has occurred under the policies that we’ve pursued as a Government over the last five and a half years.

And yes, under the policies we put in place, we will meet our Kyoto 2020 targets. We have the policies in place to meet the 2030 targets as well. So, the question here at this election is not; ‘Should we be taking action on climate change’, that is agreed. The question here is; ‘What is a responsible approach to take?’ Should we be choosing between our economy - which my kids are interested in as well by the way - and the environment?

My view is you don't have to pick between those two, you can accommodate both by setting responsible targets that you achieve and continue to take action.

LANE: You have a chance to rebut, Bill Shorten. I see you've been busily taking notes.

OPPOSITION LEADER: Yeah well, I was just ... if you believe the Prime Minister, we’re doing everything that needs to be done and no need to look here any further. Move along please to the next issue, but I don't buy that. The reality is that carbon pollution has gone up under this Government. When Abbott, Mr Abbott was elected, it was about 512 mega tonnes of carbon pollution. Now it’s 541 mega and it’s going up to 563 mega tonnes of carbon pollution, so we're going up in pollution. So whatever they’re doing, it ain’t working. Secondly when we look at this issue, what has happened is that Australian businesses and Australian households have invested in renewables despite the Government. We've had 13 different energy policies. The single greatest driver of energy prices in this country going up and up and up and up as they have, is a lack of coherent energy policy. That is the biggest single problem and we all know the Liberal Party tears itself apart over climate change.

This isn't me saying that, just ask Malcolm Turnbull. So what we've proposed is serious policies which are more ambitious than the Government's, but see, we understand that if we don't take action now the cost to our kids will be greater. The other thing is there's trillions of dollars of investment around the world. If we don't invest in renewables now, someone else will get the jobs, someone else will get the technology. We should be an energy superpower in Australia. We're the sunniest continent, the windiest continent, but somehow, we’ve got a Government that is so far behind the Australian people that it's one of the key issues at this election.

LANE: You do get a chance to rebut that Scott Morrison, but also a lot of Australians would be mindful that there's a group of MPs in your Party that tore down the NEG which Malcolm Turnbull negotiated, so they do worry that those forces might resume business as normal if you're re-elected.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, let me deal with some of the points Bill made and I'll come to that. It's been now, well over three weeks during the course of this election campaign. It's just about 10 or so days until everyone will finally go to the polls. Yet we still haven't heard what the cost to Australians is, what price will Australians will pay in their hip pockets, in their jobs, in economic costs as a result of the policies of 45 per cent emissions reduction target. Bill Shorten said it was ‘a dumb question’ the others day to ask what the cost was. I don't think it is, I think it's a very fair question and Australians deserve to know what that cost is. I was down at Ron Finemore’s Transport Company in northern Victoria the other day. They are one of the companies that will have to go and pay for foreign carbon credits from overseas. It could cost them as much as $10 million a year. You’ve got Manildra down on the South Coast of New South Wales, they'll have to pay more out of their pocket, that's money that could be in Australia, employing and training Australians and can put those companies at competitive disadvantage to their competitors overseas. So I don't want to see Australians disadvantaged. I want to see Australians advantaged and I think you can do that and take action on climate change as we've demonstrated.

LANE: You’re still taking notes, Bill Shorten?

OPPOSITION LEADER: No, I’m happy to answer that. Actually, something that Scott said that I agree with, I accept the cost question is not a dumb question. I'll rephrase that; I think it's a dishonest question.

This argument that somehow - you know, the Government ministers here can laugh, but your 6-year record is hardly anything to laugh about.  

The idea that you only look at the investment in new energy, without looking at the consequences of not acting on climate change is a charlatan’s argument, it's a crooked, charlatan’s argument. I mean for example, I could well imagine that when people were proposing that you have clean rivers legislation, where you can't just dump chemicals in the river, that would have cost those chemical companies something to change their processes, to have a closed loop, not to pollute the rivers. But the cost is not the cost of them upgrading and stopping polluting, the benefit is that our rivers are cleaner. The same with asbestos. There was a cost to stop using asbestos in buildings, but I tell you what the advantage was; it saved lives. So when we've look at this debate about cost, it is a dishonest argument when you've don't look at the net benefit. And I've seen the lived experience. I’ve been up at Sun Metals in Townsville and sure, they had a cost of $200 million to put in their solar farm. But it's what's kept the refinery open now, because renewables are generating power at half the cost of the coal fired power stations. So what this Government calls a cost, I call an investment. What this Government calls a cost, I call the future. What this Government calls a cost, I call a transition in our economy to a low carbon, much more productive economy.

LANE: You’ll have a short opportunity to rebut that and then we'll have to move on.

PRIME MINISTER: I’m happy to do that Sabra. The shifty nature of this argument is this; it’s the assumption that the Leader of the Opposition is making, that there is not action being taken on climate change and that there isn’t an increased investments in renewables and the very companies he wants to put increased costs on, are doing nothing. None of that is true.

Action is being taken. Businesses are making investments. They're making themselves more competitive. They just are simply saying; "Tell us the price, Bill. Tell us the price."

It's not a dishonest question, it's a fair question, because they'll have to pay it.

LANE: Alright, this is where we shake things up again. Bill Shorten, this is your opportunity to ask a question of Scott Morrison.

OPPOSITION LEADER: The cost of child care under this Government has gone up for everyday Australian households. Whilst the Government has made some changes, Labor has proposed, because of our reforms, that we’re able to provide far better subsidies to households up to $174,000 specifically. We basically proposed to provide a 100 per cent subsidy for households up to, whose income is $69,500. Subsidies of households to $100,000 of about 85 per cent and for household incomes between $100,000 and $174,000, subsidies between 85 per cent and 60 per cent. This means effectively -

LANE: Is there a question coming?

OPPOSITION LEADER: Well, yes. It means that's a benefit of about $2,000 for households. Why does the Government think that Australian families don't deserve this policy?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I thank Bill for his question. When I was Social Services Minister, I designed the child care policy changes. When I came into that portfolio we know from the previous government that childcare costs had increased by 53 per cent. The funding model that was there to support people to get access to child care, I called the policy ‘Jobs for Families’ because I understood that getting access to child care particularly for those on low to middle incomes, was incredibly important.

So we set about designing some changes. Those changes have assisted a million families and they’re $1,300 better off as a result of the changes that I was able to craft and that we're able to legislate. What's interesting is that the Labor Party opposed those changes, they opposed the changes that would achieve that. Now since we introduced our child care changes, the cost of child care has actually fallen by 9 per cent. The changes that I designed and that our Government put in place and we passed through the Parliament, without the support of the Labor Party, have actually brought down child care costs in the last 12 months, since we've had that policy in place.

See, when I see a problem I like to fix it, I just don't throw lots of money at it. What you do is you design the system so it benefits people and it better targets the resources you have.

I think Australians have got to the point Bill, where they've grown very tired of politicians who come and say; ‘Give me all your money and I'll solve all your problems’. I think that's what a lot of this election is about; asking for $387 billion of higher taxes, thinking just by spending that all again you can solve all the problems of the world. Australians expect us to do things like we did on child care; think it through, come up with a plan, reduce the costs, increase the support for those on low and middle incomes, legislate it, even when the Opposition opposes you and then follow it through. That's my history of dealing with difficult problems.

LANE: And now your chance to ask a question of Mr Shorten.

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you Sabra. My question to Bill is this and I ask it on behalf of about 5.2 million Australians, 5.4 million in fact - households, families who own their own home or are buying it, they're paying their mortgage - and the 2.6 million households and families who rent. The questions about your changes to abolish negative gearing as we know it and to increase the capital gains tax by 50 per cent.

 

I wonder if you can give on behalf of a Shorten government, an absolute guarantee that those changes will not lead to a fall in value, the value of their home or increase their rent? Can you give them that absolute guarantee?

OPPOSITION LEADER: The Grattan Institute and the New South Wales Treasury, even as late as today, have indicated our policies and our reforms will not have an impact on housing prices. The New South Wales Treasury said it would be, it would affect turnover of houses by about 0.3 per cent to 1 per cent. So this is a scare campaign looking for some credibility. We're not making changes to people who have currently invested in negative gearing. But the issue is, can this country keep affording to give taxpayer expenditure to people who invest in existing houses, who buy existing houses and make a loss? Like, it's a very expensive policy.

We estimate that we're giving $35 billion over 10 years to a group of people who are able to buy investment properties and then claim the loss and offset it against other income. This is a very expensive policy.

 

As for falling house prices, the biggest falls in house prices have happened under this Government's watch. If you want to talk about renters, look at the reduction in the amount of social housing. Like, this is an out of touch Government. They don't understand that first-home buyers every week save up their money, they go along to the auctions and for young people in particular, who have seen the price of housing massively increase in the last 10 and 20 years, first-home buyers in this country, the young, are locked out of the housing market. We want to change that. But this is part of what I think is the problem with the Government, they just argue everything is Ok.

I listened to that childcare number, Mr Morrison said, he said; Oh, child care prices have fallen”. Really? Go and ask any of a million households if you think your child care has got cheaper under this Government. Ask first-home buyers if they think the real estate market is not stacked against them. This is a country who has to make choices. I choose first-home buyers over future property investors. I choose working families to provide resources for them, rather than giving away taxpayer subsidy to the top end of town in the form of the capital gains tax discounts of 50 per cent.

 

PRIME MINISTER: So I take it that's a no? That's a no?

OPPOSITION LEADER: You heard the answer.

PRIME MINISTER: So there's no guarantee.

OPPOSITION LEADER: No, you heard the answer.

 

PRIME MINISTER: I asked a simple question, will you guarantee that rents won't go up and values won't go down?

OPPOSITION LEADER: No, you don't like our policy but that doesn't give you the right to scare Australians or ignore first-home buyers.

PRIME MINISTER: All I know Bill, is that first home-buyers now have reached up to the highest level in the housing markets in nine years. That's what's happened.

OPPOSITION LEADER: Again, we hear from the Government; ‘Nothing to see here, no problem, move along, please’. Climate change, child care affordability, first-home buyers, no problems in Australia. They want three more of the same of the last six years.

PRIME MINISTER: That’s just progress we continue to keep making Bill. Progress we’ll continue to make.

OPPOSITION LEADER: Business as usual for the top end of town and everyone else, you’ll just have to look after yourselves.

LANE: We have to move on and we're almost out at time. When you consider how unstable the world has become and the uncertainty with our trading partners China and our ally the United States, what approach will you take to national security to ensure that Australia’s interests are protected? Scott Morrison?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, this is obviously been a strength of our Government ever since we came in and it wasn't just by securing our borders. It was restoring the investment in our national security agencies, that have thwarted 15 terrorist attacks here in Australia. It has been about investing again in our Defence Forces, our Defence Forces for which investment had fallen to 1.56 per cent of GDP in this country, which is the lowest level since the Second World War. We'll get that back by 2021 to 2 per cent, restoring the investment in the defence of our nation that our soldiers, our men and women wherever they serve in our Defence Forces, get the support and equipment and capability that they need that we ask them to do that job.

I’ve sat on the National Security Committee now for five out of the last six years and every time I've been part of a decision that has sought to put - and we have 1,600 servicemen and women around the world today - for them to go in harm's way, I'm going to make sure they have the right equipment and the right tools. You know, we have commissioned over 50 ships to be built since we have been elected. Under the previous government, they didn't commission any. Not one. They let our Defence spending run down and let down our Defence personnel by raiding their budget to pay for their budget blowouts. See, this is the big problem. This is why this matters to people, because when you can't manage money, not only do they go after yours in higher taxes, but they go and raid important things like the private health insurance rebate. Or they go and raid the Defence budget and they allow that to run down. They don't list medicines on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme when they ran out of money, as their own Budget papers showed.

 

When you don't manage money you can't run the country and it means you can't defend the country and protect our national interests. We've invested in the agencies, we backed them in. We've secured Australia's future and we've secured our borders. Australians know they can trust us to make the right decisions to keep Australians safe and our borders secure.

LANE: Bill Shorten.

OPPOSITION LEADER: Well the initial part of Mr Morrison's contribution I agreed with. Labor's committed to two per cent of our GDP being on defence expenditure. In terms of national security, as Opposition leader I've been very diligent in terms of maintaining high level communication and briefings with not just defence but with our security agencies. Whenever the Government has proposed new security laws we've eventually voted them through, we've had to tidy them up and make them a little more effective. But that worked. So there has, I've worked with Tony Abbott, I've worked with Malcolm Turnbull, we’ve worked with the current Government too. But I noticed Mr Morrison - and so you know that's true and we respect the contribution of our ADF. I've made it a part of my feature of my six years as Opposition leader to engage regularly both overseas and with the defence forces here. So we agree on that. Like many Liberals I've had plenty of my family serve. But having said that, when Mr Morrison repeats untruths such as that they build all the ships and nothing happened under Labor. I'd heard him say before, so I just came with a little bit of homework to just set the record straight.

 

On the LHD vessels, they were started under Howard in terms of the plan to have them and that they are, the construction was under Labor. Under the Air Warfare Destroyers they were initiated in 2001 and construction was in 2010. Under Future Frigates and the OPVs the Offshore Patrol Vessels, they were Labor who initiated them, there's no construction started although the OPVs will start in October or November of this year. This Government sent our supply vessels to be built in Spain. The Future subs were proposed under Labor and if it hadn't been for Labor standing up, they'd be being built in Japan. Under this Government, if we want to talk about the record of shipbuilding and defence industries, the Newcastle shipyard is now shut the Williamstown shipyard is now shut, Osborne shipyard has a thousand less people working there. So this Government wraps the flag around itself and says; ‘Look at what we've done’. The reality is on national security there's a high level of consensus that this Government's record - and they've had five Defence ministers in six years - that's not exactly providing certainty in national security is it.

PRIME MINISTER: Who is your Home Affairs Minister going to be?

OPPOSITION LEADER: We will pick our ministers after the election.

PRIME MINISTER: Oh, okay. Just one little thing.

 

OPPOSITION LEADER: Well okay, okay. Are you going to keep the same Environment Minister?

PRIME MINISTER: Yes.

OPPOSITION LEADER: Well where is she? Where is she?

 

PRIME MINISTER: I can answer the question -

 

OPPOSITION LEADER: To be fair if you win, you're going to have more people to promote because so many of your current ministry is leaving.

PRIME MINISTER: No need to get nasty.

OPPOSITION LEADER: I'm sorry if you think … I'm sorry if you think -

 

PRIME MINISTER: Smile Bill, it was a joke.

 

OPPOSITION LEADER: Sorry if you think so many of your people, sorry if you think so many of your people leaving is the source of great amusement. I think it's more a judgment on the Government.

 

LANE: Ok.

 

PRIME MINISTER: Hang on a second, I’ll pick him there. He has just said that Kelly O'Dwyer who is a dear friend of mine, who decided to retire from Parliament because of her choices about her own family - I'm not going to stand there and allow that statement to stand. When Australians who have served in our Parliament on either side - many who have served on Labor's side, many have served on the Liberal side - when they decide to retire, politics is a tough business.

 

OPPOSITION LEADER: Ok.  

 

PRIME MINISTER: I mean today, as you know, our families shouldn't be part of the things that happen in terms of politics and political exchange. I agree with that. But certainly we shouldn't reflect on members for their decisions to leave the Parliament, as the leader of the Opposition just did.

OPPOSITION LEADER: Just on, just on Mr Morrison's, you know, meaningful and appreciated expression of sympathy for today, I appreciate that. But the point that I was making today wasn't about my own Mum. It's about thousands of Australian men and women who were denied a fair go by virtue of lack of financial wherewithal or other opportunity. So when I was speaking today I'm speaking and that's why I believe in the fair go and that's why I want to be prime minister. Because I want a lot of people to get a fair go not just our immediate families.

LANE: Now gentlemen, we are at our last question and you each have a minute to answer this. You're both the father of young kids; paint a picture for me, paint a picture for Australia. What will Australia look like for them in ten years’ time if you are elected prime minister Saturday week, Scott Morrison.

PRIME MINISTER: For a start there will be 2.5 million more Australians employed in this country, with jobs. We will have achieved our 2030 emissions reduction target that we've set for ourselves. We will have ensured that we've maintained and increased funding at record levels for our hospitals and schools and our roads. We will have delivered $100 billion in infrastructure investment, busting congestion in our cities and making our rural and regional roads safer, so Australians can get home sooner and safer, whether it's from being out in the town and getting back on the farm, or getting home on Racecourse Road out there in Packenham in the electorate of La Trobe. All of these things, the investment in our hospitals, the investment in our schools.  Youth suicide, it is my goal at this election and in this next term to ensure we tackle this with a vigor and resources and a focus that we've never seen in this country, to ensure that every single Australian who needs those affordable medicines, like young Luke Emery with cystic fibrosis, get them every single time, by managing our money and keeping our economy strong.

LANE: Thank you. Bill Shorten

OPPOSITION LEADER: I want my kids to grow up in 2030 and see a more modern Australia. I want them to see a nation which has embraced climate change and action on climate change. I want to see half of our energy coming from renewable energy. I want to see the young women in my family, my daughters, being paid the same as my son. So I want genuine equality for women. I want to see us have an expenditure on science and research in this country, which is currently 2 per cent of our GDP, go to 3 per cent. I want us to be a scientific nation, a research nation. I want to make sure that this is an economy which works in the interests of working and middle-class people. I want to see a country where your postcode, your gender, your parents wealth, the faith you follow and how many generations you've been in this country, are not the predictors of your success. I want us to be a nation which is more equal and in becoming more equal, what we'll actually deliver is a more prosperous and wealthy nation for my kids and indeed, their kids after that.

LANE: I have actually just got one more little question and it only is a yes or no. To avoid the controversy about debates next time, would both of you agree to an independent debates commission to be able to establish the rules between when debates are set up and how many of them there are at the next federal campaign?

PRIME MINISTER: Yes.

OPPOSITION LEADER: Yep.

LANE: A terrific result. Gentlemen, thank you very much for being part of the National Press Club leaders' debate tonight. I wish you both good luck.

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you, Sabra.

OPPOSITION LEADER: Thank you, Sabra.

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