Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull Queenstown New Zealand

  • Written by Malcolm Turnbull

Prime Minister’s visit to New Zealand; Australia-New Zealand relationship; bushfires; company tax cuts; banking royal commission; refugee resettlement; Queensland sugar industry; senate crossbench; TPP.


Good morning and what a beautiful morning it is. We have concluded our visit with a walk along the lake with Prime Minister English and Dr Mary English. It has been a very valuable visit, very valuable discussions.

Both Australia and New Zealand are committed to free trade and we will continue making the case for opening more markets for both our nations in all the international forums.

We have discussed security. Our strategic commitments work together in the Middle East and elsewhere around the world and especially in our region.

We have so much in common, shared values, shared history, and this has been a very good opportunity to have in-depth discussions about all those matters and, of course, at a personal level for Bill English and myself and Mary English and Lucy, for the four of us to get to know each other better because these personal relationships are very important in terms of promoting closer links and more effective collaboration between our nations.

Of course, when I came here yesterday, I noted the fires near Christchurch and the tragic loss of the brave helicopter pilot who, of course, had served in Afghanistan, Steve Askin.

We have a big fire raging at the moment at Carwoola not far from Queanbeyan. I understand 15 homes have been lost. I just want to thank and commend the firefighters there and all the first responders who are, again, showing that selfless service to the community battling the worst that nature can fling at us.


Some of your colleagues, backbenchers think that the big four banks should be dropped from the company tax cut. Does that have any merit? What's your message to your colleagues on that?


The move to cut company tax is a global move. Of course, Bill Shorten himself summed it up very well some years ago before he did a populist backflip, for which he is becoming famous, when he said cutting company tax increases investment, increases productivity and, therefore, increases employment. And he is right. That's why New Zealand, as Bill English was noting yesterday, reduced company tax. It is why the Americans are proposing to do the same. It is why the UK has done the same. If you increase the return on investment, if you get more investment, you get more jobs. That's what it's all about.


And the big four?


A company tax rate has got to really go across all corporations. Distinguishing between one sector and another is not a practical measure. I'm not aware of that ever being done in any other jurisdiction by the way.

I can understand concerns about banking practices and, of course, we are cracking down on those. We're taking real action to ensure the banks treat their customers better and we're taking action now.

The calls for a royal commission, of course, again I can understand and I empathise with the reason many people want to call for a Royal Commission but the problem with a Royal Commission is that it will not actually result in any action. You would have years and years of a very expensive inquiry and then you'd have a report with some recommendations.

The recommendations would be, essentially, to do the things we're doing now. We are setting up a one-stop-shop Ombudsman that will be able to promptly and fairly settle disputes between customers, consumer customers particularly and banks. That's clearly what's needed.

I have no doubt - if you had a royal commission, it would go on for years - it would make that recommendation. Let's get on with it now. We are taking action now. We are looking after people now. That's the big difference.


Have you had discussions with people in your party room about this idea of exempting the banks?


The first I heard of it is when I saw it in the media this morning.


Why did you refuse Bill English's offer to take 150 refugees?


This offer from New Zealand has been available for some time. It is one we appreciate but our focus is on completing the arrangements with the United States.


How would you describe the personal relationship now with Bill English after the last 24 hours? How does it compare to your friendship with John Key?


Bill and Mary English are wonderful people. They are very warm. We have had a great discussion yesterday at a business level. We a had very enjoyable dinner last night, we’ve had a nice walk, we have got to know each other much better. I have known Bill for many years. This is the first opportunity we've had to spend time with Mary English. Each of us – and you can say the same thing about John and Bronagh Key - are couples that have been together for a very long time, very strong couples, if you like, and we have had a very good discussion.

Look, I'm looking forward to seeing a lot more of Bill. I'm looking forward to getting him out on the water on a kayak. I have invited him to do that. He is looking forward to that. Although, of course, I'm not excessively competitive when it comes to kayaking but I do notice that if he is good enough to beat a champion shearer, I suspect his upper body strength might be pretty awesome so we'll see how we go. It will be good. It's a very strong relationship. As you can see, we get on very well.


Prime Minister, have you reached a sugar deal in a bid to appease George Christensen?


Well, as you know, the Queensland Opposition, the LNP, have proposed and have got the numbers to make further amendments to the legislation in Queensland which will address some of these issues so we certainly support Tim Nicholls in taking leadership on this issue at the State level. We are looking forward to an early resolution and we urge the parties to come to a resolution to end the uncertainty.


But the inference on that, Prime Minister, was that you bent Cabinet out of shape to get the pressure put on the Queensland Government to have the deal done because you were afraid of losing George Christensen -


That's not the inference at all. I didn't say anything of the sort.


Well, no, it inferred that you had tried unduly hard to satisfy George Christensen because you might lose his number. Is that a fair inference?


No, it is absolutely not a fair inference.


Did you have any discussions with Bill English about negotiating with a hung Parliament or a slim majority given he is coming up to an election? And did you discuss Winston Peters and what do you make of him calling you an Australian gold digger in reference to a local domestic issue over here?


I'm not going to go into all the ins and outs of our discussions but I have certainly, as I have done, we have always discussed with New Zealand politicians the joys of negotiating through the intricacies of the Australian Senate. I think New Zealand has often reflected on the fact they have a one-chamber Parliament and possibly appreciate the greater simplicity that offers.


On Winston Peters, though, is there a danger of him becoming the next Deputy Prime Minister given he could hold the balance of power, given his protectionist views?


Seriously, I can't run a commentary on New Zealand politics. I will leave that to you. The important thing is that we have a great Prime Minister in Bill English. He has proven himself as a very effective economic manager over all of the period of the National Government, led by John Key and he and Steven Joyce are a formidable team to continue that great economic management.


Do you agree with Prime Minister English on the best way forward with the TPP - that the TPP is the right vehicle for multilateral trade? And do you agree on the question of whether you should be seeking China as a potential partner in the TPP?


The goal of the TPP was always to build it wider and wider. The goal was always to bring more countries into it, including Indonesia, including ultimately China. The question was whether other countries would be able to meet the requirements which were pretty ambitious of the TPP in terms of eliminating non-tariff barriers to trade and so forth.

From New Zealand and Australia's point of view, as we said yesterday, we believe that free trade and open markets are absolutely critical to continued economic growth. Trade means jobs.

Bill and I are both absolutely on the same page there and it's pretty obvious - as Bill English said yesterday, and I thought it was a good line, he said: "We can't get rich selling things to ourselves". You’ve got to be able to address the whole global market.

The answer is we are both very committed to free trade.

There are two things that Australian business needs above all. You need big markets, open markets. The more the better. And, of course, you need affordable energy. This is one of the big issues too.

One of the challenges we are seeing, and we see it in the media today in Australia again, the extraordinary rise in electricity prices, the extraordinary pressure that has been put on energy prices by these unrealistic, complacently and negligently-imposed Labor renewable targets. South Australia, of course, is the prime example of that. So we don't have to theorise about it anymore. Just as when I was in Portland with Dan Tehan and I made the point that what Portland Aluminium needs is big markets, open markets to sell its aluminium. It also needs affordable energy.

So what we are seeking to do, what my government is doing right now is ensuring that we can open as many markets for Australian business and do everything we can to ensure that energy is affordable and reliable. If you can get both of those right, then you've got great prospects for more investment, more employment. Couple that with the business-friendly tax environment and then you are really motoring.

That is the critical objective that what we've got to do is do everything we can to ensure that our businesses, our enterprising Australians have every incentive to invest, to employ, to get ahead.

On that note, we better head back to Australia.

Thanks very much.

The Conversation


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