- CHRIS UHLMANN, PRESENTER: Tony Abbott's been a dominant figure in federal politics for the last three years.
- In an unrivalled record, the Opposition Leader has had a hand in bringing down two prime ministers. And love him or loathe him, there's a better than even chance that he will be elected to lead the nation later this year.
- But the game has changed in the last fortnight with the return of Kevin Rudd and that means the Opposition Leader has a much tougher fight on his hands.
- I spoke with him a short time ago.
- Tony Abbott', welcome.
- TONY ABBOTT, OPPOSITION LEADER: Thanks, Chris.
- CHRIS UHLMANN: Now you can't stop the boats without Indonesia's cooperation, can you?
- TONY ABBOTT: But we can stop the boats. John Howard stopped the boats. We can do it again. You need a range of policy measures. You've gotta have temporary protection visas to deny the people smugglers a product to sell. You've gotta have rigorous offshore processing in places like Nauru. Very importantly, you've gotta have the option of turning boats around where it's safe to do so. The Howard Government did it. What's been done before can be done again.
- CHRIS UHLMANN: But the Indonesian President now couldn't be clearer that he doesn't agree with your boat turn-back policy, could he?
- TONY ABBOTT: Well, the interesting thing, Chris, is that Indonesia did not give explicit permission before, but that didn't stop it from happening and it didn't stop the Howard Government from having a very good and strengthening relationship with Indonesia.
- CHRIS UHLMANN: He seems to be explicitly denying the possibility this time though.
- TONY ABBOTT: Well, I'm not sure that he has. A lot of people are trying to read a lot of different things into a communiqué. Let's look at the facts. The facts are that the Howard Government stopped the boats by amongst other things turning boats around. What's been done in the past can be done again in the future.
- CHRIS UHLMANN: Would you do it without Indonesia's cooperation? Would you do it if they explicitly said to you that they don't want you to do it?
- TONY ABBOTT: Well, again, Chris, just look at the facts. The facts are that these are Indonesian crewed, Indonesian flagged, Indonesian home-ported vessels that have a right to access Indonesia.
- CHRIS UHLMANN: But would you turn boats round in the middle of the ocean in international waters and imagine that they're going to make their way back to Indonesian ports? Logistically, it's an extremely dangerous exercise.
- TONY ABBOTT: I'm not saying that it's hazard-free, but it has been done in the past and what's been done in the past can be done in the future. The other point I make is that the most dangerous thing of all is just to allow these boats to keep coming. Because as long as the boats keep coming, Chris, the deaths will continue.
- CHRIS UHLMANN: And if you turn a boat around at sea and people die because of your command, are you willing to take that on your conscience?
- TONY ABBOTT: Well, obviously I will take responsibility for what happens on my watch, but the important thing is to stop the boats. That's what the Australian people expect. That's what happened under John Howard. That's what will happen again under an incoming Coalition government.
- CHRIS UHLMANN: What if they sink their boats? What if they throw their children into the ocean?
- TONY ABBOTT: Well, these are all a range of hypotheticals, but I believe that the professionalism of our Navy is up to the challenges that the people smugglers might pose. Let's not forget that the US Coast Guard has been turning boats around in the Caribbean for years. The Sri Lankan Navy is turning boats around in the Indian Ocean. The Australian Navy is more than capable of stopping, searching and acting with pirate boats in the Persian Gulf. I think we sometimes do our sailors a disservice by suggesting that what they could do before, they can't do now.
- CHRIS UHLMANN: One last question on this: when will the boats stop?
- TONY ABBOTT: Well, we will make a difference from day one, Chris.
- CHRIS UHLMANN: And when will it end? You said you'd stop the boats ...
- TONY ABBOTT: We will stop the boats. I believe we can stop the boats in a term of government and certainly we will be judged, should we win an election, on our performance in that term.
- CHRIS UHLMANN: Can you stop Kevin Rudd? His appearance back on the scene seems to have changed the game for you.
- TONY ABBOTT: Well, look, obviously things do change when the Government changes its leader, but a government which feels the need to sack its own Prime Minister is obviously a government in enormous probably trouble. And let's not forget that the last time Kevin Rudd was up against me, his performance was so poor that he was sacked by his own party.
- CHRIS UHLMANN: And how do you think you'll go this time around? It is a shorter period of time and people seem to be warming to him.
- TONY ABBOTT: Well let's see if Kevin Rudd thinks that he's succeeding with the Australian people, let's put it to the test. Let's have an election.
- CHRIS UHLMANN: You seem to think, your party seems to think that he's a fake and that he's a phoney and yet when you're measured against him in opinion polls, he does better. Why's that?
- TONY ABBOTT: Well let's look at the people who know him well. The people who know him well are his own colleague. The first time he was Prime Minister he was sacked by his own party, and then when he came back again, seven cabinet ministers refused to serve with him. Now, look, I accept by some measures he looks very popular. But in the end, people will be judged by the people who know them.
- CHRIS UHLMANN: And the Australian people will be judging both of you come the election. At this stage they seem to judge that he's a better bet than you are. Why is that after three years of you at the top job in the Opposition?
- TONY ABBOTT: Well, as I said, Chris, in the end the public will make their choice. I'm only too happy to submit myself to the judgment of the Australian public and my challenge to the Prime Minister is: name the date and let's get on with it.
- CHRIS UHLMANN: Isn't the challenge to you to make sure that the Australian people think that you're a fair bet as alternative Prime Minister? Do you have too much scar tissue from the years of fighting that you've been involved in to be elected by the Australian people?
- TONY ABBOTT: Well let's not forget that last time Mr Rudd was the Prime Minister, he was sacked by his own party.
- CHRIS UHLMANN: I think we're talking about you.
- TONY ABBOTT: Yeah, but this is a comparison, this is a comparison, Chris. Now the last time Mr Rudd was Prime Minister, he was sacked by his own party because of pink batts, because of school halls, because of the mining tax, because of the boats, because of in Julia Gillard's own words, "the chaotic and dysfunctional government" that he ran, because of in Tony Burke's - no, sorry, I think it was Stephen Conroy's words, he had "contempt for the party, for the caucus, ultimately for the people themselves". Now, these are insider judgments, but I think they ring true.
- CHRIS UHLMANN: Why is it the Australian people don't seem to warm to you?
- TONY ABBOTT: Well, I will leave that to the judgment of the people at an election.
- CHRIS UHLMANN: Isn't the best way to judge leaders is up against each other? Kevin Rudd has offered you the opportunity of a debate on debt and deficit, a weak point you think of this government. Why don't you take up that challenge?
- TONY ABBOTT: Well, Chris, the Prime Minister needs to decide whether he's governing or whether he's campaigning. If he's governing, call back Parliament and we will be debating every day. If he's campaigning, name the date and we'll have election debates in the ordinary way. But as things stand, this is just another stunt from a guy who is a master of stunts and spin.
- CHRIS UHLMANN: Let's assume that he's campaigning. When was the last time that an opposition leader offered the opportunity of three debates with the Prime Minister, knocked it back?
- TONY ABBOTT: Well, again, if he wants the debate, he knows how to get one. Call back Parliament, we'll have a debate. Call the election, we'll have a debate.
- CHRIS UHLMANN: It might be a stunt, but doesn't it look like you're on the run?
- TONY ABBOTT: Well, look, I'm here. I'm only too happy to debate Kevin Rudd. But surely Kevin Rudd has a mess to fix, and if he's fair dinkum, rather than running around just talking, instead, just for once, he'd be acting and fixing things.
- CHRIS UHLMANN: Well he's acting at the moment, isn't he? He's acting on trying to fix the Labor Party. Today he's announced that the rank and file will have a say in who elects the leader of the party. Isn't that a good thing? Isn't that something that the Liberal Party could perhaps take a leaf out of their book from?
- TONY ABBOTT: Well, it strikes me, Chris, as more fake change from someone who's a master of that. It also strikes me that this is someone who is thinking about himself and his party on a day when the Coalition is releasing another policy. And the final point I should make is that surely it's the people who should be choosing and rather than speculating on what may or may not happen, let's give it back to the people to choose who the Prime Minister is
- CHRIS UHLMANN: Certainly. On July 22nd though we'll find out from caucus whether or not this is fake change or real change, won't we?
- TONY ABBOTT: Well it's interesting. The first three years of this government were so bad they sacked the Prime Minister. The second three years of this government were so bad they sacked the Prime Minister. Now they want another three years, and what's more, the bloke who's there now wants to change the rules so that he can't be sacked, no matter how bad he is.
- CHRIS UHLMANN: And if we look at last three elections, in 2007 you were selling the Howard Government. In 2010 you were selling us a Howard Government cabinet and you're doing it again in 2013. Isn't it time we saw what an Abbott Government would look like rather than a reheated Howard Government?
- TONY ABBOTT: And the great thing about the Coalition is you know exactly what you'll get from the Coalition ...
- CHRIS UHLMANN: The past?
- TONY ABBOTT: ... and you've always known what you'll get from the Coalition. You'll get the same strong team and the same clear policies. There's been certainty and stability for the Coalition.
- CHRIS UHLMANN: Aren't you selling the past though?
- TONY ABBOTT: Well, I am offering people a return to stable adult government. And I would ask people to compare the record of the last Coalition government with the current government. The last Coalition government gave us surpluses; this government's given us deficits. The last Coalition government stopped the boats; this government's started them again. This government gave us the carbon tax; the Coalition will get rid of the carbon tax, whether it's called a carbon tax or an emissions trading scheme.
- CHRIS UHLMANN: Now you've announced a plan today to lift the burden of regulation from business and industry. Can you tell us what's on offer?
- TONY ABBOTT: Well, essentially, we will begin to reduce the suffocating burden of red tape which is making it so much harder for business, making it so much harder for businesses to employ people, making it so much harder for businesses to expand. A typical mine, for instance, that five years ago took under 12 months to get the approvals done, it now takes over three years. No wonder the investment pipeline is starting to dry up.
- CHRIS UHLMANN: Is that typical of all mines though or is that just one or two examples that most mines in fact get approval within 12 months?
- TONY ABBOTT: Well, no, this is typical of what is happening in the mining industry.
- CHRIS UHLMANN: Now, you also said you're going to lift the burden of green tape and said today, "The states will administer things like the Commonwealth Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act on our behalf." It's your act; why aren't you administering it?
- TONY ABBOTT: Well, because, Chris, - (coughs) excuse me - business should only have to run the gauntlet once. We should have high standards, very high environmental standards, but running the gauntlet once should be enough and I think that there is the level of professionalism, the level of care and concern, the same duty of care in the state bureaucracies; let them get on with it.
- CHRIS UHLMANN: Isn't there the problem though that you might face, which is that you'll get the lowest common denominator? The way that the Commonwealth might see the interpretation of this act might be very different from a state government that absolutely desperately needs revenue.
- TONY ABBOTT: Well, um, it might be and if the people don't like what happens under the Coalition, they can take appropriate action at an election. But what I think should happen is that we should allow investment and employment to go ahead, and at the moment, investment and employment is drying up because of the red and green tape that we're seeing from this government.
- CHRIS UHLMANN: Finally, briefly, what would an Abbott Australia look like?
- TONY ABBOTT: Well, under a Coalition government, we'll build a stronger economy, we'll abolish unnecessary taxes, we'll get the budget back into the black and we'll stop the boats. We will be a consultative, collegial government. No surprises, no excuses. That's what you'll get under the Coalition.
- CHRIS UHLMANN: Tony Abbott, thank you.
- TONY ABBOTT: Thank you, Chris.
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