Daily Bulletin


  • Written by Leigh Sales

LEIGH SALES: Prime Minister, welcome back, and congratulations on your re-election.


PRIME MINISTER: Well, thank you very much, Leigh. It's very good to be back.


SALES: Why is Labor's offer to pass the first two stages of the tax cuts in return for holding off the legislation for part three to preserve flexibility and economic management not a perfectly sensible compromise?


PRIME MINISTER: That's not what I put to the Australian people, and that's not what they voted for. They voted for the personal income tax plan that we set out in the Budget, which was a responsible plan that dealt with the immediate requirement to ensure that we put more money back in people's pockets - money they earned, keeping more of what they earned - and moving to the structural reform in a way, and on a timetable, that was supportive of our Budget strategy.


SALES: Nonetheless…


PRIME MINISTER: So that's what we set out. That's what we set out. That's what we put to the Australian people. And that's what we intend to legislate this week.


SALES: Nonetheless, Australians aren't stupid. They understand that, after you're elected, you have to deal with the realities of the Parliament that you have, and Australians like to see their politicians working together to get stuff done.


PRIME MINISTER: And the Labor Party has the opportunity to do that by supporting the package of measures that we put to the Australian people.


SALES: They've offered a compromise by saying they'll support the first two stages, so where's your compromise that you're prepared to make?


PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'm very confident we'll be able to take these bills through the Parliament with the support of the Parliament and those parliamentarians who don't want higher taxes, that want to ensure that the Government is able to implement the agenda that it took to the Australian people. And I think... see, when I said on election night, Leigh, that the election result was actually about not the Liberal Party or me - it was about them. It was about what they wanted to see happen. And that's what they do want to see happen. The Labor Party has had more positions on this since the election than you could possibly imagine. They've had multiple positions even today. I know what I think we should do. I put that to the Australian people. We did that as a team, and they want us to get on with it, and I’m going to hold my faith with them. That's who I'm going to back - them.


SALES: So if you aren’t prepared to compromise with Labor, what’s your pathway to getting your full package through the Parliament?


PRIME MINISTER: Working with the crossbench and ensuring that we work with the parliamentarians who are keen to see that the Government can implement its agenda that it had a very and clear mandate from the Australian people to deliver.


SALES: And so far with the negotiations, at this point in time, who do you believe you've got in your camp?


PRIME MINISTER: This will become clearer as the week progresses.


SALES: When will you introduce the legislation?


PRIME MINISTER: We'll do that tomorrow night.


SALES: And given the need for any government to have flexibility and agility with its economic management, why are you locking yourself into a policy that takes effect years in the future?


PRIME MINISTER: It's a plan, Leigh. It's a plan that actually deals with the immediate challenges as well as the longer-term challenges. We're getting rid of bracket creep. Bracket creep is a thief of what Australians earn. And it should go. The way you do it is you do it over time, and that's what a responsible plan does. And that's what we've put to the Australian people, and that's what we're putting to the Parliament. I mean, it's not unlike when you make commitments to hospital expenditure and education expenditure in schools, which we have also done at record levels. Or, indeed, fully funding the National Disability Insurance Scheme. That's not a plan for four years. That's a plan that goes for a decade and more. I mean, with the NDIS, is goes on permanently. So I've always found it a bit puzzling that the Labor Party are always very quick to want to spend money forever, but they're not prepared to let people keep more of their own money forever.


SALES: Let me run through some other issues. You have a religious freedom bill due as well. When will that be ready for the public to see?


PRIME MINISTER: Right now, we're putting our finishing touches on that, and an important part of that process is consulting with my colleagues - the members who have been duly elected at the last election. They're getting together for the first time this week in the Parliament, I should say - we've met once before as a Party Room - and we'll continue to consult with our own members to finalise a legislative proposal…


SALES: And is the - sorry to interrupt, but I want to get a sense of how far away, or otherwise, that is.


PRIME MINISTER: We'll be introducing that legislation this year, but the first step is to consult with our Parliamentary colleagues. And then I'm very keen to engage the Opposition in that process as well. I'm catching up with the Leader of the Opposition this week. We'll talk about a range of different issues where I would hope that we'd be able to come together on and I would hope that they would be taking a practical approach to this. I have no reason to think that they won't. But I would like to see this issue, Leigh, progressed with a sensitivity, with a sense of cooperation, and with a sense of balance. And that's certainly what I'll be seeking to do, and I'll be working with colleagues and others to ensure we achieve that outcome.


SALES: Under the changes you introduce, would you like to see somebody like Israel Folau be able to make the remarks that he made and be safe from being sacked?

PRIME MINISTER: I think it's important, ultimately, that employers have reasonable expectations of their employees, and that they don't impinge on their areas of private practice and private belief or private activity. And there's a balance that has to be struck in that, and our courts will always ultimately decide this based on the legislation that's presented. Now, that matter - I'm loathe to make further comment on - because that matter will be finding its way through the courts as well, and that will be done based on the existing legislative framework. We're looking at a religious discrimination act which I think which will provide more protections for people because of their religious faith and belief in the same way that people of whatever gender they have or sexuality or what nationality or ethnic background or the colour of their skin - they shouldn't be discriminated against also. We have discrimination acts that deal with that. But there is a gap when it comes to expressions of religious faith, and it's important our law respects that as well.


SALES: But on that point that you raise, broadening it out - if a public figure said, for example, that Jews are going to hell, they would be rightly and roundly condemned for that. But if a public figure says gays are going to hell, it can be defended as religious freedom. Do you see any problem with that situation?


PRIME MINISTER: Well, again, I mean, the issue is making sure you get the balance right in the legislation, which respects the same principle of anti-discrimination as applies to many other cases. We already have anti-discrimination legislation which deals with these sensitivities in other areas, and that will apply also to religious faith. And what I would hope is that we can have a sensible and adult debate about this one - not one that is drawn to extremes of examples or things like that to try and derail debates, but one that actually keeps people together and honours the key principle. I mean, religious freedom is a core pillar of our society. And it's not unreasonable. And I think there are many millions of Australians who would like to see that protected, and I intend to follow through on that commitment.


SALES: If we can turn to the G20 - Australia's had a somewhat troubled relationship with China of recent times, but you managed at the G20 to secure a quick sideline meeting with President Xi. What did you discuss?


PRIME MINISTER: The future of our relationship, ensuring that it remained positive - I made it very clear that Australia welcomes the strength of the Chinese economy, and it has an important impact on Australia's economy. I also made the same point I made to President Trump - and that is that the fact that we have tensions between the United States and China is not good for the global economy, and I urged him - as I did President Trump - that they seek to resolve these differences for the benefit of the global economy. We have a positive relationship with China, I believe, and we have a very large diaspora of ethnic Chinese as Australian citizens, and I think that's an important part of the people-to-people relationship. I mean, President Xi has been to every state of Australia. He has a keen interest and, I believe, affection for Australia. And that's something we will continue to build on. Australia has been very consistent and clear in our positions on these issues. We won't agree on everything. But I won't allow our relationship, (a) - to be defined by our differences, or (b) - by the binary prism that so many want to look at this issue through.


SALES: In one of our interviews during the election campaign, I asked who would dictate the Liberal Party's policy if you won the election. You very emphatically said, "I will." Do you see risks with that?


PRIME MINISTER: That’s what leaders must do Leigh, they lead. I said when I took over the leadership of the Liberal Party, I said, "You've asked me to lead, I'm asking you to follow." I'm not going to be running off to the left or the right, or to placate this group or that group. To want to maintain a very steady course, a very measured and balanced and responsible course that sticks true to the principles and values of the Liberal Party. That's…


SALES: Sorry, I was just going to say, to use the example you were saying before about your religious freedoms bill that you'll have to consult your colleagues on that. If it's your way and you're leading, then what's the point of the consultation?


PRIME MINISTER: That sounds like a pretty binary way to look at that, Leigh. I mean, you know what your principles are, you know what the direction is, you listen very carefully. I mean, when I think about, you know, those who I respect most in this job who've done it before, in John Howard, that was certainly as he approached it. But I'd also say this about Bob Hawke, when he was prime minister - that wonderful memorial service, I had the privilege to participate in, one of the marks of Bob Hawke's prime ministership - he certainly very much led his party, but was very able in bringing out the best in his team and ensuring there is a consultative approach to his government. You can do both, Leigh, and I intend to do just that. But people need to be clear about your direction and, as I work with people, they are rarely unclear about what direction I'm seeking to take the Government and the party in.


SALES: Is it possible that, given some of the recent internal fights in the Liberal Party - and I'm sure there'd be leftover feeling from that - plus the way you played a sort of singular, solo role in winning your party the election - that there's a risk that you're somewhat isolated from your colleagues?


PRIME MINISTER: Not at all. I'd say quite the reverse. I'm inspired by my colleagues but, more than that, we're all inspired by the Australian people. There's a humility that I hope people are seeing in our Government. A humility that I expect from all of my colleagues, all of my members. We're here to serve the people of Australia. It's about them, not about us. When we focus on them and what their needs are, then that is the best way to drive unity and devise focus in your team. Our job is to focus on the people who are not in this building, but the people who are outside this building.


SALES: Prime Minister, thanks for your time this evening.


PRIME MINISTER: Thank you very much, Leigh. Great to be with you again.

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