LAURIE OAKES AND TONY ABBOTT, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
LO: Mr Abbott, welcome to the programme and congratulations,
TA: Thanks Laurie.
LO: We haven't had an Opposition Leader in that chair for almost a week.
TA: Yeah, and I think there will be fewer fireworks this morning Laurie.
LO: That's very sad. You've got reason to be pleased with yesterday's by-election results. Was Labor's no show in those by-elections a show of intelligence or gutlessness?
TA: I think it's important to contest all elections and I've never felt comfortable with political parties opting out of a fight, but I think all credit, Laurie, should go to our good local candidates and good local campaigns. Kelly O'Dwyer and Paul Fletcher are going to be very significant members of our team in the years to come.
LO: Why wasn't there a backlash against what's been happening in the Liberal Party though, it's been pretty ugly?
TA: But I think it's been resolved and I think that once it's resolved people look forward rather than look back. The other thing is that people want a contest. They think that the job of the opposition is to hold the government to account, they think that we have better government when we have strong oppositions and strong oppositions don't just wave stuff through.
LO: Bob Brown though seems to think the Greens have reason to be pleased with their vote yesterday. Is he right?
TA: Their vote was unreasonably inflated by the fact that they were the defacto Labor candidates.
LO: After yesterday you presumably wouldn't be nearly so worried about a by-election in Wentworth. Would you like to see the back of Mr Turnbull?
TA: I think Malcolm has been an adornment to public life. I think the Liberal Party was honoured when Malcolm put himself forward as a candidate....
LO: It's all past tense though isn't it?
TA: Well, I think that Malcolm still has a big contribution to make to Australia's public life, now exactly what capacity that might be in that's really up to Malcolm.
LO: Now, Malcolm's always got advice for people expressed forcefully, has he given you advice since you became the leader?
TA: We had - we had a good conversation, a brief conversation, but a good one after the party room on Tuesday and we've exchanged a text message since then.
LO: Any frank advice?
TA: Look, not yet, but I'm sure if he wants to give it to me, I'm all ears, all cauliflower ears you might say.
LO: When will you announce your shadow ministry and how extensive will the changes be?
TA: The plan is to do that early in the coming week. The changes won't be all that extensive. Obviously there are a few people that need to be replaced, because they're retiring. The important thing Laurie is to have a team which is really going to take the fight up to the government and that's what I want to see from my frontbenchs.
LO: Have you had your talk with Barnaby Joyce yet and has he agreed formally to go onto the frontbench?
TA: I have had a couple of conversations with Barnaby, Malcolm wanted him to come on the front bench, I want him to come on to the front bench, and I'm confident that he will.
LO: He's told you he will now?
TA: He has said that he's keen to come on and while he may not necessarily be looking forward to the discipline of the Shadow Cabinet, he said that he's happy to accept it.
LO: As Shadow Finance Minister?
TA: Let's not go into that, the important thing Laurie is that we will have a strong team and Barnaby will be part of it.
LO: You talk about discipline, will you expect Barnaby Joyce to tow the Shadow Cabinet line. Will you expect him to stop criticising the Liberal Party and will crossing the floor on anything be verboten for Barnaby Joyce from now on?
TA: Well, look, these things just go hand to hand with being part of the Shadow Cabinet, and don't forget that everyone who is part of the Shadow Cabinet is part of the decision-making process, so everyone has the chance to shape the decision and they should not wear it as a burden.
LO: So you get him inside the tent and you shut him down publicly?
TA: No, no, the last thing I want to see is our really good frontbenchers being quiet. I want our good frontbenchers out there, barnstorming the country, and that's what I'd expect from all of them.
LO: You've been called the most likeable hate figure in politics, how do you react to that description?
TA: Well, at least I'm a likeable hate figure, not just a hate figure, Laurie.
LO: You're certainly that. But you've said your mentor and hero, Catholic political activist B.A.Santamaria saw politics as a religious vocation, do you?
TA: It is a vocation, no-one would do it just for the money or the career satisfaction. You've got to believe that there is really something special in this, that you are really making a difference. But Laurie, I've had many mentors over the years, B.A Santamaria, my first, my first political mentor; John Howard was a mentor; my dad was a mentor; some of my teachers at school have been mentors. So look, they all go into the mix.
LO: I don't want to turn this into a religious inquisition so to speak, but I'd like to ask you one question. Do you believe in evolution?
TA: Yes, but I don't want to turn into a religious inquisition either.
LO: That's my only question, my only religious question.
TA: But Laurie, look you're asking me religious questions, you've never asked Kevin Rudd that question, have you?
LO: No, but it's an idea.
TA: But why not? Because I mean, Kevin Rudd's religious views are not so different from mine. You wouldn't ask Kristina Kinneally that question.
LO: No, but those people haven't been nicknamed by their critics things like captain Catholics, it is something people wonder about you, and I think it's important to clarify it.
TA: But the point I'm making Laurie is my religious views, are A, they're personal, they're not out there in the political market place, and they're very similar...
LO: Except to the extent you've put them out there.
TA: Well I don't do doorsteps in front of church Laurie. I mean, if there's one person who's put religion front and centre in the public square, to use his phrase, is Kevin Rudd, so please, next time Kevin's here, grill him on evolution and all these other subjects.
LO: I'll certainly ask him the question. In your book "Battlelines" and in various other public statements you've been doing a John Howard, shedding some of your past baggage, do you think you've succeeded?
TA: That's for the voters to judge.
LO: Because, I mean, you seem to me to have turned yourself, or tried to turn yourself into a SNAG - a sensitive new age guy?
TA: I know I'd never succeed in doing that.
LO: But, is that why you've been putting forward views in favour of paid maternity leave, even defending a woman's right to choose? Is that for political reasons? TA: I've been saying those things because they're what I think. Now, I have to say, on paid maternity leave, I have changed my mind, Laurie. And I guess what's changed my mind is first reflecting on the fact that I'm the father of three strong women, and I hope that they will want careers and families one day. And also reflecting on the predicament of some of my female colleagues who have struggled with the incredible demands of politics and the enormous demands of raising a family. And that's what happens as you go through life, you learn from those experiences.
LO: I'm not suting anything defairious, Paul Keeting for example, in his maiden speech, basically said a woman's place was in the home and he changed and learned through politics...
LO: I'm interested to know that you've done the same. Can we talk emissions trading, that's obviously the big issue. You've junked previous liberal policy on this, you're now totally against an Emissions Trading Scheme, how do you plan to carry this fight up to Kevin Rudd?
TA: Well, I think that this is something that the public are very conconcerned about Laurie. I mean, sure the public thinks something is happening to our climate, and they think that the government should be doing something about it, and that's right, we should, but they are very concerned about this tax, I mean, something like 80% of the public say that they need more information and that's code for saying that they don't understand it, what I'd look to do, Laurie is I'd like to challenge the Prime Minister to a series of public debates on this subject. I mean, climate change...
LO: In what time frame?
TA: Well, before Parliament comes back, because he says he's going to reintroduce emissions trading scheme legislation.
LO: On the first day.
TA: Let's have a big public debate, a series of them, if necessary, because you know, this big emissions tax, it's going to be not just for this year or next year, it going to be forever, if it comes in, and it shouldn't come in, with the public understanding exactly what it means. So I challenge Kevin Rudd to come and debate this with me, we'll debate it up hill and down dale, we'll debate it once, twice, three times, four times, however many times is necessary, until the public feel that they have had their questions answered to their satisfaction and perhaps he can explain what the emissions tax will do to the price of a birthday cake.
LO: That of course is a reference to the GST and you and Barnaby Joyce are both out to make that comparison, but you're talking about a public meeting or a television debate?
TA: Well, I don't want to be prescriptive, he is the Prime Minister. I am prepared to allow him to choose the venue. But certainly if it's to be a televised debate, before a live audience, that would be one way of doing it. It could be a town hall debate, with the cameras in there. It's really up to him. But he can't and shouldn't run away from explaining fully this great big new tax to the Australian public.
LO: We need to approach this fairly confidently, because you're a great critic of Kevin Rudd's communications talents aren't you?
TA: I think that Kevin Rudd often sounds more like a public servant in a seminar than a retail politician, but look, I don't underestimate him, Laurie. He didn't get to be the Prime Minister by being foolish, or by lacking the ability to communicate and I'm sure he would give a good account of himself.
LO: I want to ask you about your alternative to an emissions trading system, Greg Hunt who we read is said to be your new climate changes spokesman says you'll be advocating direct action in the first instance, in other words, direct regulation of energy production and consumption. Is that right?
TA: We think that there are a number of things that you can do that will significantly reduce emissions and significantly improve the environment that don't need a great big new tax. Now, there's a lot that you can do with tree planting, and that will be good for farmers and farming. There's a lot that you can do with more efficient energy efficient buildings and again that helps with energy bills, so to some extent these things over the long-term pay for themselves. There's a lot of talk about biochar. Now, I want to learn more about that before I'm committed to it. But nevertheless as Warwick McKibbons said the other day, one of our most distinguished economists, there is no doubt you can achieve a 5% reduction in emissions without a tax and McKinzies.
LO: But you're committed much more to 5%, you accepted the government's...
TA: But, they're subject to quite stringent conditions, the unconditional target is 5% and there's is McKinzies - again I need to become more familiar with their work, but they seem to think that it's possible to get a 20% reduction in emissions without a tax or an ETS.
LO: But they also say it wouldn't be cost free.
TA: Well I haven't said it will be cost free either, but I think there are all sorts of ways of paying for this that don't involve a great big new tax that we will live with forever.
LO: But you see the Financial Review yesterday quoted John Howard's Prime Ministerial Task Group on Emissions Trading from 2007, and it said "Market based approaches that deliver a price on carbon will achieve greenhouse gas abatement commensurate with an emissions target at least cost", in other words, they say an ETS would cost less than the kind of action you're talking about.
TA: OK and that was from 2007.
LO: That's not long ago.
TA: and we now have the IMF saying that the emissions trading systems are not the way...
LO: They want a carbon tax.
TA: But the ETS is what Kevin Rudd wants and the IMF, which is presumably the most reputable body when it comes to these sorts of things, is saying that Kevin Rudd has got it wrong.
LO: Yes but you don't want either, you want regulation and how John Howard's group said "Regulation places a significant impost on business" it also said "The budgetry and economic costs of scaling up current efforts to achieve more significant reduction green emissions would be enormous".
TA: Don't assume Laurie - don't assume Laurie, that I want regulation. What I want is appropriate ...
LO: That's what Greg Hunt said...
TA: What I want appropriate incentives, now, with appropriate incentives.
LO: Financial incentives?
TA: The policy will....
LO: Cost, you see. There is no cost free solution is there?
TA: I'm not saying there is a cost free solution, and I've never said there's a cost-free solution, but some of these, over time, will pay for themselves. And you can have a lot of environmental protection without a great big new tax.
LO: What is the point of cutting emissions by regulation or incentives if the cost to the economy is greater than the coft of an ETS?
TA: Well, I don't believe that it will be. I mean, for instance, you could have a fund that would directly purchase emission abatements, and that would be a lot less than the 10 billion or 12 billion dollar a year money go round which Labor is proposing, which just involves an enormous and inefficient churn.
LO: Money go round - that's a great segway. Lindsay Tanner has dubbed you the 63 billion dollar man, and it's certainly true that you've been spouting a whole lot of policy ideas since you became leader. Just one of them, where you want to reverse the means test on a whole lot, your phrase, of family benefits. It's been costed at 3 billion dollars, how can you justify pouring out all these policy ideas when you're claimin that the government needs to cut spending?
TA: WelI, well, I haven't been spouting a whole lot of ideas since I became...
LO: There's been three or four a day.
TA: People have been asking me about my book "Battleline" and I can hardly not discuss "Battlelines". But Laurie this is from a government which proposes to spend 43 billion on a national broadband network and they haven't even put out a business plan. They make the announcement and then do the feasibility studies, so I'm afraid Lindsay Tanner ought to be ashamed of himself saying things like that.
LO: But you say these are not policies that you've put forward. What are they? In the newspapers everyday, we've been reading Tony Abbott favours this, Tony Abbott wants that. They're not even non-core promises now you tell us?
TA: It's quite possible Laurie for someone to think that there are issues that are important, that deserve to be debated, but for them not to be concluded policy, we have a policy making process and we will be going through it. And in the run up to the election, policies will be announced, and that's what we're going forward with.
LO: Mr Tony Abbott we thank you.
LEILA McKINNON: Thank you, and that was Laurie's last political interview for the year. Politics around the nation can breathe a sigh of relief and have a happy Christmas. Laurie's Sunday Roast will be back early next year.