ALAN JONES: Prime Minister, good morning.
PRIME MINISTER: Good morning Alan, how are you? Good to hear you back on the air.
JONES: Thank you. Thank you very much. Can I just - there's a lot of things to cover - can I just raise with you first though that Cricket Australia yesterday announced mandatory new guidelines for the inclusion of transgender players. The policy is to be adopted by every cricket club in the country. Juniors, women, indoor grade, the works. Under the guidelines, every club must accept a player based on the gender with which they identify. Clubs must not ask any player to undergo a medical examination for the purpose of gender verification. It simply comes down to if a player identifies as a boy or a girl and that player must have access to change rooms facilities and the lot. Is this stuff going to happen in a country that you lead?
PRIME MINISTER: Well I think it's pretty heavy-handed to put it pretty mildly. I mean, the thing about sport is it should be driven locally by local clubs and I have no doubt that if there are these sorts of issues that they be managed practically at a club level. And whether it's rugby, whether it's cricket, whether it's netball, whether it's... whatever it is, the clubs should run sport and they're the ones where the volunteers come. That's where the barbecues are, that's where all these are. And when you get these sort of quite heavy-handed…
JONES: This is mandatory. This is mandatory. This is policy.
PRIME MINISTER: That’s what I’m saying. That’s about the heaviest hand you can have.
JONES: Well are you going to pick the phone up and talk to this bloke?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, Alan, this has only come up overnight…
JONES: It has.
PRIME MINISTER: I have been focused on the COAG meetings here and I’m sure the Sport Minister will have a bit to say about this at some point with them. But I just think local sport should be run by local sport. And I think…
JONES: Well, see Scott, what the point is this is not for tomorrow or the next day. I mean, I rate this as one of the biggest stories in the country. A women's under 15 team will now have to - must - accept a player who was born a boy but identifies as a girl. This person would bowl faster, would hit the ball further, and some people are writing. I put this up on my Facebook page, it's gone nuts and they're saying this is the end of women's sport as we know it. This is national leadership, isn't it?
PRIME MINISTER: Well look, Alan, to be honest, making sure people are skilled to get a job, dealing with mental health challenges. All of these things are the things that I'm focusing on at COAG today, not this issue to be quite honest with you.
JONES: But you’ve got girls, you've got daughters. Daughters who go into school and those daughters under this rule, cricketers, can go into their changing room.
PRIME MINISTER: Look, Alan, I think it's a very sensitive issue. I would need to have Cricket Australia understand that this is a very heavy-handed approach they’re taking with local sport, and I think there are far more practical ways to handle these issues than these sort of heavy mandatory ways of doing it. And I'm sure these issues have been quite carefully and practically managed at a club level already, and so why is there is that necessary to get the sledgehammer out on this is mystifying me. But I think we just need to get the issue in perspective and ensure we manage it calmly.
JONES: Newspaper reports said you were going to see how that region up there was recovering from the floods. The Townsville Mayor Jenny Hill said the floods were in February. It’s now August and they haven't seen the initial $242 million dollar package for reconstruction and that the local council is footing the bill. And Jenny Hill, now I know she's a Labor mayor, she said she was even unaware of your arrival. She was advised by local journalists. Now, there were 22,000 homes and properties in Townsville damaged or destroyed in February. You pledged $3 billion. How come in August they haven't seen any of the money?
PRIME MINISTER: The State Government has got it. That's what I told them yesterday. Jenny got her figures wrong yesterday and she was called out on it.
JONES: But they haven't got any money, whether it's the state government or the federal government. What's going to happen?
PRIME MINISTER: They’re a council, and state governments are responsible for councils. We send the money to the state government - and they have it, it's actually in their bank account - and why the state government hasn't given it to Jenny is a matter she has to raise with the Premier.
JONES: It doesn't help these poor people where their homes have been destroyed, does it?
PRIME MINISTER: Well of course not. That's why they should access the funds from the state government. The state government should be working with them to deliver those.
JONES: If it was a tsunami in Indonesia the payments wouldn’t be held off, would they?
PRIME MINISTER: Well we're not holding them up.
JONES: What is it you’re saying, we'll leave it to the state government? Are you exercising a little bit of direction? Have you spoken to Palaszczuk?
PRIME MINISTER: We’ve been working with them on these issues ever since the floods first hit and there's been no question about the responsiveness of the Commonwealth Government to this, whether it's on the pastoral and grazing properties out to the west or what happened in Townsville specifically. Our response to those floods was the best we've seen from a Commonwealth Government and we've worked closely. So I'm not going to jump into the politics of…
JONES: But you’re saying you’re just a post office, in other words.
PRIME MINISTER: Alan, with respect, I don't think that's a fair way to present it. The way the funding works on all of these issues is the Commonwealth provides money to the states and then the states provide them to the councils. We actually had a High Court case around this which prevented the Commonwealth from making direct payments to councils. So we have to abide by the law like anyone else. The money is in the state government's bank account.
JONES: How much?
PRIME MINISTER: The entire amount.
JONES: So you said $3 billion. You've handed over $3 billion?
PRIME MINISTER: No, no, the money that's Jenny is referring to that she's trying to access. That is with the State Government.
JONES: Gosh, I'd hate to be a person whose house was destroyed in February.
PRIME MINISTER: We've been providing that help, Alan, and I've been in Townsville many times since the floods and we’ve set up a recovery agency to deal directly with this, which Shane Stone has been leading, and I don't think it's helpful for any level of government to be playing politics with flood support funding and I'm not going to do it. I'm not going to get drawn into it either.
JONES: Did you pledge though $3 billion for relief?
PRIME MINISTER: Over five years, yes, and that's being rolled out.
JONES: And all your commitment has been paid to the state government?
PRIME MINISTER: Not the $3 billion.
JONES: No, no, no, no, over five years.
PRIME MINISTER: Yeah the $3 billion... there are two amounts. There's money that's going directly through the state government to support the sort of works that Jenny is talking about. There's also funds that we're putting which is the 50 per cent livestock grants that we're providing, which is shared half and half with the farmers… sorry, the graziers when they're putting stock back on their property. I mean, there's hundreds of millions in that program. It is a very comprehensive program of recovery for the north and it's been very successful, Alan.
JONES: I know, it's just that these people…
PRIME MINISTER: You know, people up there, they’ll tell you…
JONES: Get yourself to Townsville, I know. I've been up there, as you have. But the people haven’t seen the money. Can I just raise something else…
PRIME MINISTER: Well, they have out in the West, Alan, that's not fair to say they haven't seen the money. They have seen the money because my office has...
JONES: I said Townsville, I meant Townsville.
PRIME MINISTER: ...saying thank you for the support the Commonwealth Government has given.
JONES: I've given you credit for that, I'm talking about Townsville. Look I want to cover a bit of ground here, we don't get you often. I just raised yesterday and on TV - and you must join us on TV shortly - but almost 30,000 older Australians died or were forced into aged care last year when they were waiting to be approved for home care packages. And the Royal Commission into aged care has found that more than 44 seniors a day - over 16,000 a year - are waiting for home care packages. It's extraordinary. And they're dying waiting. Now, I've been inundated with letters: ‘Good morning Alan. I have a level 4 package from aged care. I've been told there are no caregivers in my area. I only wanted a hand to shower and get my dinner in the evening. I've been told maybe I should go into a nursing home.’ Another: ‘I've been told I may receive level 2 package by Christmas. It makes my life hard. I have no family to help me with anything. I'm unable to leave home without assistance. I have cancer and they can't get the home care package.’ What the hell is happening?
PRIME MINISTER: We've increased the number of home care places by 40,000 over the last couple of years and where we can keep increasing those packages, Alan, I will. Because people are increasingly - and I think this is a good trend - wanting to stay at home and not to be going into residential care.
PRIME MINISTER: And so we're going to keep doing that and increasing the number of in-home care places available through the system.
JONES: But 44 seniors a day dying waiting for their home care package.
PRIME MINISTER: And that's why we're increasing the number of in-home care places, Alan. It's a big project, it's an expensive project, and that's why it's got a priority from my Government to increase the number of places that are available. But one of your letter writers made another point here which is very important, and that is with increased ageing of the population as well as in the disabilities area there is a greater demand for people to be trained to be able to go and provide those services. And we need more people in those jobs and that's why reforming the way we do training in this country and getting more money to people to train them to do those jobs, particularly not just in the cities but in regional areas, is also a big priority. It's actually one of the things we’re going to be talking about at COAG today.
JONES: OK, well I'm sure at COAG you’re armed with these stats because again the board was on fire over TAFE. The national apprenticeships and traineeship numbers have fallen from 446,000 in 2012 to 295,000 last year. And TAFE is the only institution you can trust to deliver genuine vocational training. But there were 150 private colleges, which you rightly stripped of accreditation and that's correct. But since 2012 more than 5,700 New South Wales TAFE teachers have lost their jobs. 27 TAFE colleges in New South Wales have been sold. 5,689 TAFE teachers have lost their jobs, the same in Victoria. Now it's easy isn't it? If you want to fix vocational education, give these people some money.
PRIME MINISTER: 16 per cent of everybody who gets trained is done in TAFE. So more than 80 per cent is done outside of TAFE. That's... I mean, that's an important stat. TAFE is an important part of the system but it is actually, in the grand scheme of things, it's nowhere near the dominant part of the system. And the problem I've got at the moment is the way that the system is funded and the way the system is run and that's where the money really does look like a post box. There's no ties on it, it just goes to the states and they make a whole bunch of decisions. What we're not doing at the moment is the qualifications and the accreditations are not keeping pace with the modern economy and employers aren't getting the people out of the training system they need that can actually make their business work better. And so I had a major review done of this before the election. That has come back. We already had the National Skills Commission which was announced as a result of that, plus our support for 80,000 additional apprentices by changing the subsidy arrangements to get more apprentices. The figures you referred to, the big change there actually wasn’t in trade-based apprenticeships and traineeships, Alan, it was non-trade. So it wasn't for plumbers and carpenters and things like that. That has remained more consistent. But we did have that terrible incident a few years ago which was the VET Fee-Help scam that was going where we had all this money being pumped into the system and it was supporting basically, you know, dodgy courses. Now, that had to get fixed and we had and that's why you've seen some of those numbers bounce around. It's a huge issue and that's why it's on the COAG agenda and I had a good discussion with the Premiers last night about it and I hope we can make some more progress.
JONES: 75 per cent of employers are having problems recruiting qualified or skilled workers. We always run out of time. I want to cover this with you. I raised with your Treasurer Josh Frydenberg - he told me this was all too difficult - China has said now they'll refinance all Papua New Guinea's debt. And this mob are our nearest neighbours across the water. Money has never been cheaper, and I posed to the Treasurer, why wouldn't we convert - you've been the Treasurer - our entire federal debt to a 30-year term? Borrow a trillion dollars. The interest would be about $20 billion, we currently pay $17 billion anyway. It can't all be 30 year terms, we know that. Some of that might be 10 years, some of them might be for 30. However, $600 billion would pay off all our debt. We gave $400 billion to the Future Fund over the past year, it returned 9.7 per cent. So the $1 trillion would cost you now $20 billion a year. The $400 billion would generate $30 to $40 billion dollars in the Future Fund. There's your money. You say to Papua New Guinea, ‘We'll finance your debt, $12 billion.’ We'll still have 18 billion left and we can build all our infrastructure. Coal-fired power stations, dams, the lot. Your Treasurer said, ‘Oh, it's too difficult’.
PRIME MINISTER: Well, there's a lot in that. Let me unpack it. First of all, re Papua New Guinea. The Prime Minister yesterday clarified what that report was in terms of him refinancing his debt. And I've been in touch with him on the same day, and so that refinancing the debt in terms of what was reported and that been done by China, that is not something that they are progressing. The second point is, Alan, what you've just said we already do quite a bit of that. For example, in the Future Fund, we could have started drawing down money from the Future Fund this past year. And as Treasurer, I made sure we didn't do that because for the very reason you say. You're earning more in the Future Fund then you can to borrow money. Now, I remember when people were giving me a really hard time about gross debt being higher than it could otherwise be. And the reason for that is we were holding about $80 billion worth of gross debt that was being used so we wouldn't have to draw down on the Future Fund, because the Future Fund would keep earning.
JONES: I understand that, but why would you refinance all your debt at the current interest rate? Why wouldn't you refinance all your debt at the current interest rate and you’d pay off all your debt?
PRIME MINISTER: We do that. That's exactly what the Australian Office of Financial Management does. That's their day job. They continue to roll over the securities they issue into the international debt markets to ensure that we've got the best financed debt anywhere in the world, and our Triple-A credit rating that we've been able to sustain is a good reason why we can do that. You can't put all your debt, as you said, on 30-year terms. We were the first government to ever do a 30-year bond issuance. So this is something we do all the time. And when it comes to financing our infrastructure program, I mean, that's $100 billion dollars. Now that is where the debt is. The debt Australia has is actually to finance all of those projects to ensure we're not drawing down the Future Fund and if we were - and we're working closely with Papua New Guinea on these issues - because we want to make sure they’re sovereign.
JONES: We’re always beaten by the bell, there are a million things I… perhaps we can talk again next week. But it's always good to have you on, the public love hearing what is happening. So good luck up there. Talk again soon.
PRIME MINISTER: Thanks Alan.