Laurie Oakes

Sunday November 15, 2009
Laurie (google)

LAURIE OAKES AND MALCOLM TURNBULL, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

LO: Mr Turnbull, welcome to the program.

MT: Morning Laurie.

LO: Now you know you don’t need the metal jacket, everyone knows I’m a pussy cat!

MT: Yes, that’s right, you’re just a nice furry fellow there.

LO: It looks as though the coalition has had a big win with the government announcing it’s prepared to excluded agriculture from the emissions trading system indefinitely, do you see that as a victory?

MT: Well is certainly a key part of our set of amendments that we’ve put to the government to exclude permanently agricultural emissions, direct emissions from agriculture, in line with what is being done in the United States and Europe, and also equally importantly to include agricultural offsets so that farmers and other land owners are able to generate carbon credits by more sustainable use of their land by environmental forestry, with bio char, increasing soil carbon and of course that offers for farmers in particular as it is already is doing in America a very substantial additional source of income. So it is good for the environment and it is good for the farmers.

LO: Well what the government seems to be saying although we haven’t seen the detail yet, they seem to be saying that they will look at, they will examine this question of offsets for farmers. Will that be good enough for you?

MT: Well Laurie, let’s wait and see what they come up. In the United States for example the agricultural offsets are being specifically legislated for in the Waxman Marky bill that has been through the House of Reps over there. There is actually quite a long list of them so you know, I don’t want to run a commentary on the negotiations or give forecasts of where they are going to end up, with having constructive negotiations with the government. Ian McFarland is doing a great job for our side, they’re constructive talks, they’ll reach a conclusion and then we’ll make a decision.

LO: Well one newspaper today is saying today is saying that this concession by the government means that we are likely to have an emissions trading system deal locked up by the t end of next week. Are they going too far or is it that good?

MT: Well, you now, comment is free and facts are sacred, and so I’ll leave the commentators to make whatever free opinions they like. And we’ll just deal with the facts. We’ll have a, we’ll

find out where the government, how far the government is prepared to come in addressing our amendments and then we will as an opposition make a decision.

LO: Assuming that the government is giving you what you want on agriculture, is that the only potential deal breaker or are there other potential stumbling blocks?

MT: Sorry, I couldn't hear any of that last question, could you just ask that again, there was some interference here.

LO: No, I was saying assuming the government is giving you what you want on agriculture, is that the only potential deal breaker or could there be other stumbling blocks in the negotiations?

MT: Laurie, there are a range of very important matters raised in the amendments, I've made a deliberate decision not to say what is a deal breaker, what is more important, what’s less important, the negotiations have been conducted constructively and I might say confidentially between the government and the opposition and they will reach a conclusion and then we will make a decision.

LO: How confident are you that if Ian Macfarlane does negotiate a deal with the government, one that you accept, how confident are you that the Coalition party room will go along with it?

MT: Well, Laurie, you ... I'm confident that you, despite your claim to be a pussy cat at the beginning, are as persistent and tenacious as a bulldog, because you're asking me the same question again and again and I'll give you the same answer, which is we will let the negotiations take their course, they're proceeding in good faith and at the end we will make a decision, we have to look at the whole package that can be agreed on.

LO: But it's not the same question of course, if a package is agreed on, then if the, are you confident it will get through the party room, you did stake your leadership on this after all?

MT: Well, Laurie, look, let me just be quite clear about this: there will be, we will discover at the end of the negotiations how far the government is prepared to go to address the amendments that we proposed. That will be considered by Shadow Cabinet which will then take a recommendation to the party room, which will of course make the final decision, and anything else beyond that is just speculation, to which I might say you are perfectly entitled but as the Leader of the Opposition I'm not going to engage in that speculation. Except that you did spark a lot of it when you put the leadership on the line, now there's been a recent analysis –

MT: Well Laure again, you are not – look - with respect, again, we should - we should be talking about some other issues this morning other than this, but let me just say this to you: the issue that I was concerned about and which I said was a leadership issue was the question whether we would engage in constructive negotiations with the government and take amendments to them. The party room supported me overwhelmingly on that, overwhelmingly, but the negotiations are going ahead. I have not made any commitment as personally or on behalf of the party as to whether we will support the outcome of those negotiations or not because we don't know what the negotiation also be, obviously if the government agree to everything, I would recommend they support it, if they agree to nothing, I recommend we oppose it, but we know that the outcome is going to be somewhere in the middle so let's not speculate about that, let's see what it is and then we will decide how we vote.

LO: But if a large slab of liberal Senators voted against you in the Senate, wouldn't that bring your leadership into question, I mean could you live with that humiliation?

MT: You'd be amazed what politicians can live with Laurie, look, I can even live with you going on and on about this so tediously! Look, Laurie at the moment, good I just - leaving the ETS for a second –

LO: Yeh.

MT: At the moment we're witnessing another colossal policy failure on the part of the Rudd government. I mean, our border protection policy is a shambles, he's offering special deals to get people off the Oceanic Viking, 22 out of 78, another boat has arrived overnight, with nearly 50 people on it , that’s 49 boats, and over 2200 unauthorised asylum seekers since Kevin Rudd abandoned the policies of the previous government that were working. This is a colossal failure in border protection,. If you talk about humiliation, how humiliated is Kevin Rudd to be having to offer special deals begging these people to leave an Australian government vessel and he's only been able to get 22 out of the 78 off. He's offering them a better deal than they would have received in terms of access to Australia than if they'd arrived at Christmas Island. This is an extraordinary and humiliating episode in our border protection history, it is a colossal failure.

LO: Well I do want to talk about that in more detail, but it was Nick Minchin who on Four Corners said ‘Hey don't forget about ETS and the Liberal Party’s division’. So let me ask you a couple more questions on that. How confident are you that if you get a deal with the government on the ETS that Nick Minchin will vote with you in the Senate?

MT: Well, Nick and I speak together a lot about all these issues, Nick is the leader in the Senate, he’s a member of the Shadow Cabinet and he understands the importance of Cabinet solidarity, so if the Shadow Cabinet agrees on a course of action and that is then endorsed by the party room, then every member of the Shadow Cabinet supports it, that goes without saying.

LO: Even though he thinks that the idea that humans have caused global warming is a vast left-wing conspiracy?

MT: Well, Cabinet solidarity means we agree on a position and then we all stick so it.

LO: Well, asylum seekers, as you say, that is the big issue.

MT: Yeh.

LO: And I've been very critical of Kevin Rudd and his management of this, another boat has been intercepted off Ashmore Reef and the Indonesians have stopped a boat with Afghanis aboard involved in some sort of gunfight, do you think you're on a potential election winner with this issue?

MT: Well I'm not interested in this …, you know, that aspect is something again for you to write about if you want to. The real issue here is that Kevin Rudd has comprehensively failed the Australian people. Every Australian government, Labor or Liberal has an obligation to keep borders secure and have policies that do the utmost to stamp out people smuggling and prevent and discourage unauthorised arrivals of people smugglers. What Kevin Rudd has done is roll out the Rudd carpet and no Laurie, I'm not speaking New Zealand, he has rolled out the Rudd carpet to these people, he’s put, he’s sent a big signal which says "Australia is open, our borders are open" and what we are seeing is a rising surge in unauthorised arrivals because of his softening of our policies. He said he could do all that and it would have no effect, well he's been proved quite comprehensively wrong. He's got to admit that his policy has failed and do something about it.

LO: Malcolm Fraser says you're after the redneck vote, or maybe I should say the Rudd-neck vote?

MT: Well, the – look – everyone - I understand that not everyone will agree with the position I take, and there will be critics but leadership is about making tough decisions. Kevin Rudd hasn’t made any tough decisions. We have to be firm in our resolve to protect our borders. Let me just make this point, Laurie, let's look at this coldly and objectively. The people smugglers are criminals. But they are in business. They are asking their potential customers for 10 - 15,000 dollars to secure a seat on their boat. And they are offering them a product and that product is the near certainty of permanent residence in Australia. Now, what Kevin Rudd has done has made that product more attractive and this is why the Sri Lankan ambassador to the UN, the Indonesian ambassador, the federal police, the international organisation on migration are all saying that it is Kevin Rudd's policies that have increased that pull factor. So that's why we have said we will, if returned to office, we will establish a safe haven visa that will mean that a person who comes in an unauthorised way as asylum seekers, will be given, and is proved to be a refugee, will be given protection but that their status will be reviewed, not later than three years and if it is found that the country from which they fled is no longer in a condition such that they can reasonably fear the risk of persecution, then they would be repatriated. What the government says...

LO: The government says temporary protection visas didn't work last time and they won't work this time.

MT: Well, Laurie the government said that unpicking the coalition's border protection policy wouldn't have any effect on the number of boat arrivals, they got that comprehensively wrong. I think the one thing that we know is that the previous government's policies worked. And I just - we've got to be rational about this. The people smuggler is selling a product. That product is a certainty of permanent residency in Australia, if we make that product less certain, then fewer people will part with ten or 15,000 dollars to get on the boat, there will be fewer boats, fewer unauthorised arrivals. And that - what I’ve proposed is entirely consistent with the UN convention on refugees, it is fair, it is humane, it is just, but what it does do is undermine the marketing efforts of these criminal businesses, these people smuggling businesses. And unless we do that, we are not going to be able to stop this surge.

LO: This … your announcement has caused some dissension in your party, Petro Georgio said protection visas are a cruel response to genuine refugees. Senator Judith Troeth says your proposed safe haven visa would be even worse than the Howard government model because it would give less security and certainty.

MT: Well look, I don't think either of those comments are correct. They're entitled to their view, I recognise leadership is about taking tough decisions. You cannot please everybody all of the time, the way Kevin Rudd tries to do. He’s tried to do that with immigration and he failed.

LO: But why didn't you take this to the Party room for discussion before announcing it?

MT: Laurie we discuss this issue all the time in the party room, and I know the mind of the party room and the measures that we’ve announced on Friday have the support of the overwhelming majority of the party room, there’s no doubt about that.

LO: But you can't say boo about an emissions trading system without going to the party room because the right-wing is keeping an eye on you. Is it only issues that are sensitive to the right-wing that go to the party meeting?

MT: Well, Laurie, it's new policies and developing policies and the fact of the matter is that the emissions trading scheme is a developing situation. You’ve seen the government announce some very significant changes today. You have got to remember just on that, I mean, it's not so long ago that the Agriculture Minister Tony Burke said that our proposals on agriculture were quote too good to be true unquote, well now if the press is to be believed, the government accepts that they are not simply true but good policy. Anyway we will see ..

LO: I hate to point out you're the one who just took us off the asylum seekers - back to the ETS.

MT: Well there you go, you see. But I did that … because you've been such an affable pussy cat this morning I thought I should give you a bit of a lead in there.

LO: Okay, now, you said that Kevin Rudd has given a special deal to the Tamils on the Oceanic Viking. He denies that. What should he have done to get these people off the ship, isn't it better to coax them off the ship with offers rather than use force?

MT: Well look, he should have told the truth. I mean the fact is he did offer them a special deal, that's clear, we’ve got the evidence is in writing, the Indonesian government has confirmed that, so what he has said about not offering them a special deal is simply untrue. As to the method of getting them off the ship the fact is the government has refused to give us a briefing on it so I can't give you an informed opinion about what would have been the best technique. But just bear this in mind, it was Kevin Rudd who said he had a deal whereby they could disembark in Indonesia, but he obviously failed to give any consideration as to how to get them off the ship. What does that say about his judgement, what does it say about his competence?

LO: Final question: I notice a news limited reporter today is saying that we're entering the political killing season t time, the time of the year where leaders normally get knocked off. Are you feeling uncomfortable, watching your back?

MT: I'm feeling very comfortable. And as you said, I didn't need the full metal jacket this morning and I don't need a full metal jacket at any time.

LO: Mr Turnbull, we thank you.

MT: It’s great to be with you Laurie.

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