Transcript of doorstop

Parliament House, Canberra

Subjects: Abbott’s speech to the Liberal Party; asylum seeker policy.

Transcript, E&OE

30 June 2012

CRAIG EMERSON: In his speech to the Liberal Party today, Mr Abbott has made an absurd attempt in one speech to obliterate a lifetime of destructive negativity. Mr Abbott’s destructive negativity is well known and its consequences are becoming clearer by the day. From tomorrow, when the carbon price is implemented, Mr Abbott’s policy is to cut pensions, increase taxes and reverse the trebling of tax threshold that would take 800,000 Australians out of the tax system. That is but one example of his destructive negativity. Mr Abbott now seeks to claim, or share in the credit for surpluses that were delivered by Mr Costello. It would be interesting to get Mr Costello’s opinion of that because he has described Mr Abbott as being economically illiterate and bored with economics.

Mr Abbott has gone on further to announce that a Coalition government would spend a lot of money on roads. The previous Coalition government slashed $2 billion from roads funding. There was an infrastructure drought under the previous Coalition government of which Mr Abbott says he is a proud member. Now, if Mr Abbott is saying that he would change the habits of a lifetime and spend money on roads he needs to explain where the money is coming from and this will only add to Mr Abbott’s $70 billion budget black hole.

Finally, Mr Abbott has found Asia. He has said that he will embrace Asia, copying or at least seeking to copy the Prime Minister’s initiative of the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper. But at the same time that Mr Abbott is explicitly speaking of improving relations with Indonesia, what is his policy? To tow boats back into Indonesian waters. That would destroy the relationship with Indonesia and it would ensure that Indonesia does not cooperate in respect of asylum seekers. So Mr Abbott is always telling two stories to two different audiences. He says that he wants a better relationship with Indonesia, but at the same time he wants to tow boats back into Indonesian waters and destroy the relationship and destroy Indonesian cooperation on intercepting people smuggling operations.

JOURNALIST: Mr Abbott says the next federal election will be a referendum on prime ministers who lie. I mean, certainly isn’t the next election going to be hinging on credibility?

EMERSON: Well Mr Abbott has no credibility because he’s just added to a list of spending commitments which extends to $70 billion. And by saying that he’s going to fund a whole lot of roads, he’s added to the $70 billion budget black hole. Now what Mr Abbott is saying is ‘don’t worry about that. We’ll have a commission of audit after the election, after the election.’ That is just an excuse to break a whole bunch of promises; to not do what he said he would do before the election. It was Mr Abbott of course who wrote in an opinion piece that even the firmest positions arrived at in opposition can be overturned in government. They are Mr Abbott’s words.

JOURNALIST: You’ve got to admit that Mr Abbott was looking quite prime ministerial up there today, as opposed to Julia Gillard this morning who was just sitting at a table having coffee with a bunch of locals.

EMERSON: I think Prime Minister Gillard is certainly entitled to sit at a coffee table with locals and have a cup of coffee. I mean that is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. Mr Abbott cannot make the transition in a speech from a lifetime of destructive negativity to now saying that he will have a positive agenda for the future. And when he seeks to set out some semblance of an agenda, he can’t explain where the money is coming from to fund roads, which the previous Coalition government of which Mr Abbott is a proud member slashed $2 billion funding from roads. He says he wants to embrace Indonesia and the rest of Asia; he has a policy of towing back boats to Indonesia. Mr Abbott says that he shares in budget surpluses; Mr Costello has described him as economically illiterate and bored with economics. I think all of those critiques speak for themselves.

JOURNALIST: Mr Abbott was looking quite prime ministerial up there though, don’t you think?

EMERSON: I think Mr Abbott would be a disaster as a prime minister. He would be an absolute disaster because he cannot change a lifetime of destructive negativity. It is in his nature, it is in his DNA to be destructively negative. But what does that mean for the Australian people? It means that Mr Abbott, in pledging to remove the carbon price is saying that under him electricity prices will fall — well, pigs might fly. Electricity prices would not fall under Mr Abbott. But what he is promising to do is to cut pensions; to increase income taxes; and to abandon the trebling of the tax-free threshold which from tomorrow means that people earning up to $18,200 don’t have to pay any tax and don’t need to be part of the tax system. This is a great Labor reform that Mr Abbott wants to destroy; true to form it is his destructive negativity in action. He also wants to repeal the mining tax which means that small business tax breaks go down the gurgler. He wants to repeal the mining tax which means that working Australians would not get an increase in their superannuation from 9 per cent to 12 per cent — the Coalition has always opposed superannuation increases. And these are just more examples of the true effects of Mr Abbott’s destructive negativity.

JOURNALIST: Just quickly, any idea on where the terms of reference are for the multiparty committee on asylum seekers? Why haven’t we seen that yet?

EMERSON: Well, the terms of reference I have seen and they do indicate that we would look at whatever is put to us by the multiparty committee, which is a group of three eminent Australians: you’ve got Angus Houston, the Chief of the Defence Forces; you’ve got Michael L’Estrange, who is the former cabinet secretary to Prime Minister John Howard; and you’ve got Paris Aristotle who is a very passionate advocate for refugees but also a very practical man in seeking solutions to these issues that we face in respect to asylum seekers.

JOURNALIST: Alexander Downer also said that the Pacific Solution that save lives and was a humane policy. Do you agree with that?

EMERSON: Well, the so-called Pacific Solution according to the advice of Andrew Metcalfe, who is the secretary of the Department of Immigration, who helped devise the so-called Pacific Solution, Mr Metcalfe said that it has run its course. And the reason that he said it has run its course is because it became known to people smugglers that he vast majority of asylum seekers who were sent to Nauru were resettled either in Australia or New Zealand. Once that becomes known to people smugglers, they then pass that on to asylum seekers and it is Mr Metcalfe who said that Nauru has run its course. Nevertheless, the Gillard Government offered to open Nauru in a spirit of compromise. Mr Abbott and the Greens have said that there will be no compromise. If the Greens had got what they want — which is onshore processing — the consequence of that would be more deaths at sea.

Thank you very much.

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