21 October 2018
Transcript - #2018047, 2018

Joint doorstop interview, Sydney

Joint doorstop interview with
The Hon Scott Morrison MP
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER:

Well thanks for coming together today, before I turn to events domestic, I just want to say a few things about Doctor Jamal Khashoggi. We deplore the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. We expect the Saudi government to cooperate fully with Turkish authorities regarding the investigation of this matter. Australia, as I instructed yesterday, will not be participating and has withdrawn our support for the future investment event in Saudi Arabia. This cannot stand. This will not do. Australia will stand with all other like-minded countries in condemning this death, this killing, and we expect there to be full cooperation. Those who have been arrested will go through the proper process. And we expect the truth to be determined through that process and those responsible to be held accountable.

Now, in terms of matters here domestic, as you know, counting is continuing in the Wentworth by-election. Things are a lot tighter today than they were last night, there is no doubt. It is down to less than 900 votes now. In what I always said and Joshua said was going to be a very tight by-election in Wentworth. And it is proving to be tighter by the minute, literally, in the 10-15 minutes before coming out to speak you, the gap closed by several hundred votes again and there are still many postal votes to be counted. We will simply wait for that normal, democratic, robust, credible process to follow its course before we are in a position to know who the successful candidate will be at that by-election. But, that said, yesterday Liberal voters expressed their anger at the parliamentary Liberal Party. There is no doubt about that. And we copped that fairly on the chin. The events of two months ago angered and outraged many Liberals and particularly those in the seat of Wentworth. That's on us, the parliamentary Liberal Party, for those who serve in the parliamentary ranks. That is not on Dave Sharma. Dave Sharma would have to be one of the most quality candidates I have ever seen stand for the Liberal Party in any election anywhere, any time. He and Rachel and their family are absolutely extraordinary and Josh and I both want to pass on again our thanks to them, to Dave and his family, for putting themselves forward.

It is also not on the rank-and-file of the Liberal Party, who were out there yesterday and were there last night, encouraging us on. They were there, they turned up. And I want to thank them for their participation and their loyal support. The anger was vented at the parliamentary Liberal Party and as the leader of the party I have to take responsibility for that. And in exercising that responsibility what I said to our Liberal family last night is that we will continue and, in fact, are more determined now than ever before to fight for those beliefs that we hold so dear, which is why people vote for the Liberal Party, which is why people support the Liberal Party. The principles I have talked about many times since I have become leader and, indeed, well before then.

We will continue to stand and get to work, as Josh and I are today, on the things that count to Australians. To create those jobs, to bring those electricity prices down, to stand with and for small and family businesses around the country. To stand with our farmers and rural communities as we work our way through and prepare for the better periods ahead for our rural and regional communities on the other side of the drought. We are the Party which stands by all of these Australians, retirees, those starting families, those looking to buy a house and get ahead, those who want to earn for a living and want to be able to keep more of what they earn so they can put it into the things they believe their families, their communities. So that is what we are about. That is what we will keep fighting for.

I know the Labor Party will be all cocky about this. Bill Shorten is always cocky. He hasn't got a lot to be cocky about from yesterday. The Labor Party vote fell by one third, just like our vote fell by a third, just like the Greens vote fell by a third. The suggestion was that the Labor Party ran dead. Well, if they were really running dead they would have sent Bill Shorten to Wentworth, because that would have driven their vote down even more. They were in it to win it, that is why Bill Shorten never showed up in Wentworth. So there is not much for him to crow about or others to crow about.

But what is for us to do is to soberly look and understand and acknowledge the anger that has been vented at the parliamentary Liberal Party by Liberal voters, in particular. And it is our task to win them back. We are united in that cause as a Parliamentary team. We are united in a cause as a Party across the country and we will stay the course of that sensible centre. We will stay that course and stick to the policies that are growing our economy to deliver the essential services that Australians rely on to keep Australians save and to keep Australians together. I will ask Josh to say one or two things and then we are happy to take questions.

TREASURER, JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well thanks, PM. After the events of eight weeks ago, Dave Sharma was kicking into a ten goal wind. Despite that, he brought dignity and distinctive to the campaign. He was an outstanding candidate, it says a lot about the Liberal Party that we can attract someone of the calibre of Dave Sharma, but it says a lot about his character and capacity about the way he has conducted himself over the course of this campaign. But the people of Wentworth have sent us a message and we have listened and heard that, loud and clear. And as the Prime Minister says, we are now back at work and we are committed to implementing our economic plan for Australia. Our plan that has delivered more than a million new jobs. A plan that has seen us have our triple-A credit rating reaffirmed. A plan that is seeing our Budget come back to balance a year earlier than expected. And a plan that is delivering the essential services of health, education, and disability support to the people who need it most. The economy cannot be risked with a return to Labor's spend and tax approach.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, we have taken last night's Liberal speeches as concession defeat speeches. Are you reining that back in this morning and telling us that the Liberals are a real chance in Wentworth or not?

PRIME MINISTER:

What I said last night, when I was down in the electorate last night, after leaving, because of the rain delayed start to the Invictus Opening Ceremony, which was a tremendous event, by the way, Prince Harry was just amazing, as were the athletes. But when I got down there, because I wanted to go and I wanted to talk to the Liberal family, it was very important not to leave that until later but to front it up early, I did say there was still a lot of counting to go. I qualified the remarks I made last night on that. I have been around politics for a long time. And you always wait until the last vote is counted. Indeed, in the message I said to Kerryn today was to say there are still votes to be counted and we will see where that ends. But I have initiated contact with her as you would expect me to do. We will wait to see how that goes.

But the counting continues. This is not an unexpected result. This is no surprise to me or to Josh or to our team. I grew up in the seat of Wentworth. I know how volatile it can be. Over many elections, going back to Malcolm Turnbull's first election in 2004, indeed, almost having lost the seat in 2007. So this was no surprise to me. And so, while not unexpected, I think it does express a very clear level of anger, which we acknowledge today. And they will keep counting, Tim, and we will see what they come up with. It is down to just over 800 votes. If it gets as close as 100 then an automatic recount is triggered under the normal rules. I am not saying it will get to that.

JOURNALIST:

It is quite extraordinary isn't it. But still humiliating.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the result demonstrates an enormous amount of anger which has been levelled at the Liberal Party, but let's not forget, the Labor Party and the Green Party vote collapsed by a similar proportion.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, given it has tightened, and given… can you confirm that you personally spoke or at least your office spoke to Malcolm Turnbull about a letter of support. Could that have made the difference, and what was the debate over the form of words which stopped him producing that letter or agreeing to that letter?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, quite a number of us asked for that support, not necessarily in the form of a letter, there are many other ways in which people can choose to express their support for Dave. I will be honest about it, those approaches were made. There were even made by Dave himself. What impact they would have had, ultimately, is for others to judge.

JOURNALIST:

But you personally spoke to him did you and asked for some… and were you surprised that he didn't offer that message of support?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I have always sought to be understanding of the tremendous personal impact that the events of two months ago would have had not just on Malcolm but on his family. When questions were put to me about his son Alex's comments, I was very understanding about that, and I am understanding about that. These events of several months ago, I think, I know would have been personally very difficult to deal with. And so look, I am for grace. That is what I am for.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, you warned last week that chaos and instability would arise if Dave Sharma failed last night. How debilitating will that chaos and instability be for the Morrison Government?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well of course, when you are governing in a minority government, if that's what proves to be the ultimate outcome of the count, then that is obviously more challenging than governing as a majority government. That is just a simple statement of fact. It is as obvious as the sunrise. But we have a very good relationship with the crossbench and people can expect us to get to the work. I mean I've got to tell you, today we are hosting an event with charities and others with the Duke and Duchess, but the other important thing today, as a Prime Minister, I am focusing on tomorrow we give the national apology to the victims of institutional sexual abuse. You know what, with all the politics going on at the moment, that is where my head is today. I am thinking about those Australians and what they are feeling. They will be may be on their way to Canberra. Some mightn't be coming because they just can't. Some won't be able to get out of bed. Some won't be able to talk to another living soul tomorrow. And it is my job, as Prime Minister tomorrow, to convey the sorry that they have wanted to hear for so long. And I have got to tell you, that is where my head is today.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, you lose this and what is the argument to not, having lost your majority, to not having a general election immediately, and how can you convince the Australian people that it is about the fact that you want to the Prime Minister for ten months instead of three?

PRIME MINISTER:

Australian people expect governments to serve their term. We are elected to serve our term and that is what we are going to do.

JOURNALIST:

Even without a majority?

PRIME MINISTER:

That is not an uncommon circumstance. I mean there has previously been governments who have served in that way. There is no reason our government can't serve in that way. We are elected to do a job to make our economy stronger, deliver the essential services that Australians rely on, and over a million jobs later, a Budget coming back into the balance, a triple-A credit rating, small business tax reduced and legislated in one week. One week we were able to do that. But we moved on other issues, whether it was drought, strawberry farmers, or GST, finding a solution that has eluded people for years and years and years. Our government is getting on with it. I mean last week, you know what really happened last week? Unemployment went down to five per cent. Small business taxes got dropped to 25 per cent by law and we legislated one of the biggest trade deals this country has ever done, reaching half a billion customers around the world.

JOURNALIST:

So how come you're on the nose? So how come you're on the nose?

PRIME MINISTER:

Because of the anger in Wentworth amongst the Liberals about what happened two months ago. What I am encouraged by over the last, particularly over the last week to ten days of the campaign, because our own research showed things were much different to where this final election has ended up, and much worse than, frankly, was reported in the Australian I should say, during the week, what I am pleased about is that those Liberals who wanted to see us win, but were not planning to vote for us on Saturday, decided to. They decided to turn up and vote for us. I thank them for that vote of confidence. But there were many others that for whom the anger was just too much to get past and that is what we saw yesterday.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, will you be talking to the Governor General if you have a minority government to advise the Governor General that you still have a government that can work?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that is not how the process works. The Government remains the Government unless a no-confidence motion is put by a member of the House of Representatives, the Labor Party, I am assuming, and they have the numbers to support such a no-confidence motion. When you are sworn in as Prime Minister and asked to form a government, you do so on the basis of the support I was able to demonstrate, and it is for the House to determine otherwise. And that is how the process works. There is no reason, necessarily, for there to be a vote at all. What I will continue to do is be working closely with the crossbenchers, as I have been doing, because as you may have noticed, we have been at 75, not 76, for some weeks since the former Prime Minister resigned from the Parliament. In that time we had been able to legislate, run the Parliament, haven't lost one vote during that time. And we have managed the parliament extremely well with the cooperative support of crossbenchers, particularly Bob Katter and Cathy McGowan.

JOURNALIST:

Have you reconsidered an independent Speaker, Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think Tony Smith is doing an outstanding job. And I think that has been key to the key running of the parliament. On top of that, I know he in that role is well supported by the crossbenchers well.

JOURNALIST:

The Treasurer spoke about Dave Sharma kicking into a ten goal wind, aren't you kicking into a ten goal wind when it comes to the federal election?

PRIME MINISTER:

Of course I am. But I tell you what I know how to kick. And I'm going to keep kicking. I will keep fighting for the things that we believe in, because the Liberal Party and the National Party are going to fight to ensure, not only for the things we believe in, getting out there and supporting those who are having a go, but we are going to fight to ensure that the alternative vision, if you want to call it that, I call it a nightmare, from the Labor Party, which is to knock some people down to pretend you are building other people up, to hit Australians with more than $200 billion of extra taxes,which will slow the economy, reduce the number of jobs that can be achieved in our economy, not support better wages for Australians, put at risk essential services like affordable medicines, that depend on a strong economy, we will fight against that. And we will take this all the way to the line. Bill Shorten may be cocky and he may think he is ready there, but I assure him that from the Liberal Party's point of view he is in for the fight of his life.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister... How many of the six house of rep crossbenchers have you now contacted since last night and what are you imploring them to do?

PRIME MINISTER:

I have only spoken to Kerryn today and I have been in regular contact with Cathy, as I always am. I met with Bob last week. It is a constant process of dialogue and exchange. I was with Rebekha Sharkie last weekend while I was down in Adelaide. I called in on her office and we had a chat. I have a constant dialogue with the crossbench. That is important to the smooth running of the parliament and also for me to understand what their key issues are so I can continue to work well with them. That is what I have been doing. I will continue to do that. That is what a Prime Minister's job is to do that. That is what you do each day. It is part of the job description.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible] how are you going to manage that?

PRIME MINISTER:

They are matters for Kerryn to work through on a bill by bill basis. Other crossbenchers have different views to her on those issues. And of course the Government has its own views. This is not about going one way or the other way from the left to the right. We are in sensible centre right of a Australian politics. That is where the Liberal Party has always sensibly been. We are out there supporting sensible Australians who just want to work hard and get on with their lives and make a different for their families and their communities. That is who we are standing with, whether they are on a drought stricken farms or running small and family businesses, whether it is in Wentworth or Cronulla or down in Canterbury and Melbourne or in Perth in Western Australia, or up in Darwin, that is who we will continue to stand with. And they know that. And we will continue to reach out to all of those Australians, who we know do not want to see a Bill Shorten led Labor government in Australia, which will set Australian against Australian, which will set employee against employer, which will set parent against parent for where they send their school too. Bill Shorten was to lead a country that he only seeks to divide. That is not the future of Australia where the economy is strong, where the people are safe, and your people are united.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, you and your deputy say you have heard the message of the Wentworth voters. Can I ask then, how will climate policy change, how will asylum policy change, because on my measure those two issues were loud and proud in the Wentworth campaign.

PRIME MINISTER:

I will ask a Josh to touch on a couple of those. But what a heard yesterday was the outraged anger of Liberals who were angry and furious about what happened several months ago. Now, the Government's policies on the issues you've set out are very clear. We will engage with all members of the Parliament on them. We will do that constructively. Take, for example, issues with children on Nauru. The Government does not want to see children on Nauru. We didn't put them there. The Labor Party's failed policies put them there. In fact, we are the party that has closed detention centres, got children out of detention, stopped the tragic and horrific deaths at sea, and we are very well placed, and I am in particular very well placed, to ensure we get the balance right to provide compassion and support, particularly for children. It aggrieves me and always has. I mean, why do you think I took such a strong stance for all of those years, as everyone condemned me, as I went about the task of stopping those tragic deaths at sea? I stood up for it because I was sick and tired of seeing failed policies put in dead children in the water. Now, I don't want to see a dead child in the water. And I don't want to see a child under duress or stress or unwell anywhere else. And our policies and our actions, as we have taken hundreds of children Nauru, hundreds and hundreds, and we will continue to work closely with the crossbench members to get the right outcomes there. We all want that to be achieved, but none of us wants the human carnage to start again at sea. No one wants that. No crossbencher wants that. And we have got to be very careful how these issues are managed. Now on climate policy, we have got that right. Josh answered it so well this morning I thought I would let him do it again.

TREASURER, JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Thanks, PM. Look, our policies have been settled for some time in relation to climate change. It has helped deliver the lowest emissions on a per capita and GDP basis in 28 years. We have met our previous targets and we will beat our future targets. But what we will not do is increase people's power bills as a result of these policies. That is very different to Bill Shorten. He has a 50 per cent renewable energy target and a 45 per cent emissions reduction target. That spells higher power bills for Australians. So, yes, we will reduce our emissions, yes we have several policies, but we will not, as Labor will do, put people's power bills up.

JOURNALIST:

Was it a mistake to oust Malcom Turnbull as Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

Sorry?

JOURNALIST:

Was it a mistake to oust Malcom Turnbull as Prime Minister on the Party side given what happened…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Josh and I did not do that. So you will have to put those questions to other people. I have said very clearly that as leader of the Liberal Party, as Prime Minister in a Liberal National Government, that as leader you must take responsibility for the anger and the outrage that Australians, in particular in Wentworth, have expressed. I take that on the chin. I will take it early, I will turn up on the good days, and I will turn up on the bad days. I will ensure that at all times we will stand by what we believe as Liberals and we will take the party forward. We are more than determined. We are more than focused. We are very, very committed as we go forward in this fight, as I said, as Menzies said all those years ago, you fight and stand for what you believe until the bell rings, and frankly beyond. And that bell hasn't rung yet. We are still going to run very, very hard. And Bill Shorten has the fight of his life. Thank you.