PRIME MINISTER: Good morning. I’m here with Michaelia Cash and we’re here looking over at Barangaroo – one of the biggest construction projects in Australia's history. A reminder of how important the construction industry is, employing over a million Australians. It's a key part of our economic plan to ensure that we continue to successfully transition from an economy that was fuelled by a mining construction boom, to one that is more diverse - that is driven by innovation, by greater productivity, by investment in construction and infrastructure, by opening up markets as we have done in China, Japan and Korea, and right around the Pacific.
And it is driven by competition and greater effectiveness, greater productivity in our workplaces. Now here we have, in the construction sector, a record of lawlessness that has to come to an end. We've seen in the Heydon Royal Commission and we're seeing now again and again, over 100 CFMEU officials before the courts for breaking the industrial law, adding to the lack of productivity. Pulling back productivity, holding back productivity, holding back construction, holding back jobs.
Lawlessness in the construction sector is a big economic brake on our continued development. The reality is, if the rule of law prevailed in the construction sector – and we are determined that it should once again – then there would be more construction. There would be more cranes, there would be more jobs in construction, and stronger economic growth.
Now what we are seeking to do is to restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission that the Labor Party abolished. And they did that and as a consequence we have seen a decline in productivity and a very substantial increase in industrial disputes. Right now, nearly 70 per cent of all industrial disputes in Australia are in the construction sector. Michaelia, there is some more recent evidence of this in Victoria.
MINISTER CASH: There is unfortunately, Prime Minister. Yesterday the Fair Work Building Commission launched proceedings against ten members of the CFMEU for actions that they took on sites in Victoria. The employer requested the CFMEU comply with their legal obligations in relation to right of entry on site. The CFMEU officials did not want to do that, as is so often the case. As a result of the employer merely requesting the CFMEU comply with their legal obligations, the CFMEU took action and closed down a number of sites across Victoria, including four hospitals and one aged care centre.
So Prime Minister, when you talk about economic impact on the Australian people, there is a clear example of unlawful behaviour by CFMEU officials who now have proceedings commenced against them, which has cost the Australian taxpayer money. Four hospitals and one aged care centre. And that is why the Prime Minister, the Turnbull Government, is committed to reintroducing the Australian Building and Construction Commission. Because we say enough is enough. Taxpayers already pay enough for infrastructure investment. Why they are paying more because one union has a stranglehold on the building and construction sector in Australia is completely unacceptable. And so I look forward on the 18 April to recommencing debate on this important piece of economic legislation.
PRIME MINISTER: As one of the Federal Court judges hearing these cases observed not so long ago, ‘has there ever been a worse repeat offender in the history of the common law’? Now, everyone, every legislator, every parliamentarian, every Australian, should support the rule of the law and the law is not being complied with in the construction sector. It was when the Australian Building and Construction Commission was in place under the Howard government. Labor abolished it at the direction of the CFMEU. Now the time had come for the Senate, on 18 April, to vote to restore it. When the rule of law returns to the construction sector you will get more construction, more jobs, at better prices, greater productivity, more progress, more economic growth.
JOURNALIST: What sort of amendments are you trying to reach with some of the crossbenches? David Leyonhjelm was saying potentially there could be an eight year sunset clause on the legislation. Has that been discussed?
MINISTER CASH: We have always said we would negotiate in good faith and I think as the Prime Minister knows that is exactly what we have been doing all of this year. I now have a number of amendments that have been given to me by the crossbench. I am considering all of them as a package to see how some may impact on others. But what we have made clear is this - to get any amendment up, we need no less than six crossbenches to support it. So I would hope that the crossbenches are doing their own homework in relation to their amendments.
We have also said we will not accept amendments that do not either enhance the ABCC legislation or alternatively, we will not accept amendments that detract in any way from this important body. Because the construction industry in Australia employing one in ten Australians - the Barangaroo site today, look at the cranes, cranes equals jobs. The Prime Minister said we want to see more cranes because that equals more jobs.
So I am working with the crossbench but the amendments need to (a) have the support of the crossbench and (b) cannot detract from the legislation.
JOURNALIST: Does that mean a sunset clause would be out of the question?
MINISTER CASH: Again we are considering all that has been presented to us.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, will the contract for Australia’s next generation of submarines be announced before the election, even if the election is in July?
PRIME MINISTER: The process is being undertaken, the competitive evaluation process being under taken in a very thorough way as I said on Sunday, announcements about that will be made shortly.
JOURNALIST: You have backed other members under challenge, such as Craig Kelly, does Bronwyn Bishop have your support in her pre-selection battle to return as the Member for Mackellar?
PRIME MINISTER: Well I recommend all of my sitting members to their preselectors. But the Liberal Party is a very democratic and grassroots organisation. So the preselectors of Mackellar will obviously make their own decision but certainly I provide support, as the leader, as leaders always do to all of their colleagues.
JOURNALIST: Mr Turnbull what do you make of what Jeff Kennett had to say this morning on the radio that today's poll should provide a wake-up call to your Government?
PRIME MINISTER: I will leave the commentary on matters like that to the commentators.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, a disastrous result though today. Your MPs and Ministers are entitled to be hacked off at the mess that's been cause over the week that seems to have led to this poll result.
PRIME MINISTER: Thank you for inviting me again to be a commentator, it’s a line of work I used to do in my youth but I’m not doing it any longer.
JOURNALIST: But do you concede the last week could have been handled better, particularly with the states and the tax reforms.
PRIME MINISTER: We are here to talk about the construction industry, we are here to talk about economic growth, we are here to talk about the key elements of our economic plan to ensure that we continue to successfully transition from a mining construction boom-fuelled economy to one that is more diverse, which depends on having a construction sector in where the rule of law prevails. That is what we're focused and commentary on politics I will leave to the political commentators such as yourselves.
JOURNALIST: When you took over as leader you did cite polls and poor polling that the government had had and that's why you wanted to take over that job.
PRIME MINISTER: Again it’s kind of you to invite me to engage in the commentary but if you have lost interest in the Australian Building and Construction Commission and the economic trajectory of Australia, then we should move on. Because really, the commentary is a matter for you and I encourage you to engage in it, but it’s not a line of work that I’m any longer involved in.
JOURNALIST: On the ABCC, have you spoken to the crossbenches individually, apart from Bob Day?
PRIME MINISTER: I haven't spoken recently to them. I have spoken to all of them at length in the past, at different times. I have spoken to Bob Day directly but Michaelia is the Minister and she is handling the negotiations as you would expect.
JOURNALIST: Were you shocked by Kevin Andrews telling his local paper he would be willing to challenge the leadership in the right conditions?
PRIME MINISTER: Again, I am really here to talk about the big issues that confront Australians which are the growth of their economy, the ensuring that there is economic leadership that will deliver jobs for their children and their grandchildren. Now if I may, you’ve invited me to make some political observations. I will.
We have every measure of our Government, every policy we have put in place – from innovation, from competition, from giving small business and medium-sized businesses better protection against the big guys, from taking on the lawlessness in the building industry, from opening up big markets in Asia – all of those steps and many others are focused on driving economic growth. That is what they're intended to.
Consider the Labor Party. What Labor has proposed is a change to the capital gains tax regime. They are going to put up capital gains tax by 50 per cent. What will that do? That will discourage investment. If you want people to do less of something, you increase the tax on it. If you want people to smoke less, put up the tax on cigarettes. Governments have been doing that for years.
What Labor is doing is putting up the tax on investments. So they clearly don't want people to take risks and invest. We disagree. We think we need more investment, more entrepreneurship.
Their so-called negative gearing reforms or changes - what they will do, is drive down property prices, drive up rents. They will discourage people from investing in businesses. Their changes will not only discourage people from investing in residential property, they are designed to discourage people from investing in commercial real estate, investing in shares, investing in shares in private companies. So if any of you decided to start a business with a partner and put some money into a company, capitalise it, borrow that money and get it going, you wouldn't be able to offset any losses against the income. Under Labor that road to entrepreneurship would be blocked. So what Labor is doing already, is their policies are absolutely certainly calculated to stop economic growth. That is their natural consequence.
And then what we don't yet know, is where they're going to find $51 billion, their ‘black hole’. They have got $50 billion of spending – at least – which is unfunded. That can come from only one of two places – they can either borrow more money and worsen the deficit problem that they left us with, which we're trying to fix or they jack up taxes even higher.
As you know, nobody wants to increase income tax, we don't, state governments don't. Apparently Bill Shorten does because that is the only way he will be able to fund his unfunded promises.
JOURNALIST: One of the big issues is obviously education. So what do you think about Adrian Piccoli saying the idea of putting public funding into the state's hands is the worst idea in history of education reforms?
PRIME MINISTER: I am not sure what remarks you are referring to, but let me make this observation. The federal support for education has been growing at a much faster rate, vastly faster rate than state funding for education and especially public education. Over the last five years there has been strong, real growth from the Federal Government into public schools, public funding for public education, state schools. And in some states the rate of growth per student has actually declined. So the truth is we are spending a lot more money. But and this is the very important point – what is very clear is that even though we have listen spending a lot more money, educational performance and results have declined. What we should be doing – and I am quoting the Grattan Institute's recent report on this, and they make a very good point – politicians should spend less time talking about how much money they're spending on education, and instead focus on what the results are. How are student’s performances improving? And if they are not improving, what is the reason for that and what do we need to do?
Mr Piccoli, like all the education ministers, controls the state school system and they're in a position to address that. But there is clearly a lot more going on here than simply a funding debate. It really should be about teacher quality, high standards, ensuring we get the best teachers, matched with the students so we get better performance. This should be a debate about outcomes, and less about financial competition.
Thank you very much.