Tony Abbott admits he ‘probably overdid it’ with captain’s calls

Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Photo: Getty / File

Here’s the full transcript. Below is coverage of the highlights and the questions that followed the speech.

12.33pm. That’s a wrap. A few takeouts:

  • No more captain’s picks on knighthoods. All those decisions will be taken by the Order of Australia council from now on.
  • Plenty of contrition and concession. The PM repeatedly talked about how the government had been through “a difficult patch” and was spent a lot of time saying “I accept” in response to various criticisms that have been levelled at him on his failure to consult with colleagues on certain decisions.
  • There’s going to be a new families package, possibly involving changes to childcare policy settings or family payments, although the details are light at this point.
  • Abbott has promised the “most collegiate” and “most consultative” approach seen in government, but it’s clear, too, that he wants the Australian people to pass judgment on his leadership rather than the Coalition partyroom. In other words, there’s not a chance he’s resigning.
  • Small business is getting a tax break “at least as big” as the 1.5% already promised, and there’ll be some changes to the foreign investment rules with special scrutiny coming for the effects overseas investors are having on the housing market.

Cabinet meets tomorrow for a two-day planning session. Abbott was never going to solve all his problems with this speech today but he’s certainly made clear that he is planning to tough out the current maelstrom. And with his talk of the downsides to a change of leadership right now he may have bought himself some time.

13.32pm: A question on the budget from Lenore Taylor about the perceived unfairness of the budget measures. He says “what’s fair about saddling our grandchildren with debt and deficit as far as the eye can see”.

Abbott says the current generation of Australians is “blighting the lives of our children and grandchildren” because of the debt that’s been run up.

13.27pm: Abbott says he believes he has Julie Bishop’s full support. There’s more contrition saying he accepts the government that has gone through a difficult patch, but that it is a “test of character”.

13.23pm: Abbott’s asked how he can persuade the electorate that he’ll deliver on his pledges if he leads the party to another election.

He says some things changed after the Coalition took office, and that some adjustments were necessary because of the scale of the budget deficit which was larger than expected.

He refers to his promise to make no cuts to the ABC or SBS and adds: “I accept that hasn’t been correct”.

He says getting the budget under control was among the “fundamental commitments” and “acts of faith” the Coalition made with voters in 2013.

13.16pm: Time for some contrition. Mark Riley throws some quotes at Abbott on his previous promises to be consultative.

Abbott says he accepts that he “probably overdid it” particularly when it came to the knighthoods. But he says: “I have listened, I have learned and I have acted.

“I support Paid Parental Leave but I accept that this is not the right time for that policy.”

13.14pm: Abbott says all future knighthoods will be decided by the Order of Australia Council following the backlash over his decision to knight Prince Philip.

13.14pm: Abbott admits it has been “a rough couple of months”.

But “when things are difficult, the last thing you want to do is make the difficulties worse”.

13.11pm: Abbott asked by Andrew Probyn if he would accept a knighthood were he offered one. Abbott says he’s unlikely to be offered any gong right at the moment.

13.08pm: Abbott is asked by Mal Farr if he knows about any research that shows lower minimum wages lead to more jobs.

Abbott: “That’s not something this government is interested in.”

He says: “We want more jobs and we want better paid jobs.”

Wages are going to be a hot topic in Australia with minimum pay awards for various industry sectors under review, and economic growth running below trend. Some business sectors have been lobbying for changes to penalty rates, particularly for weekend and out-of-hours pay.

13.05pm: Laura Tingle from the Fin points out that more than 63,000 people are out of work since the government was elected.

Abbott says in response that “jobs growth was three times as fast in 2014 then it was in 2013”.

13.03pm: Abbott says the result of the Queensland election is a reminder that “if you want to put in place difficult reforms”, “you have to explain them”.

He says there’ll be a much more “collegiate” and consultative approach to policy-making. He says his government will now be “the most consultative” and “the most collegial” people have seen.

13.01pm: The questions are underway, with the first from Chris Uhlmann who asks if Abbott “is the best person” to lead the government and if he had considered resigned.

“Yes and no” is Abbott’s answer to the two questions. He adds that the 2013 election result was a rejection of the leadership chaos under the Labor administration.

12.58pm: A message to his political colleagues. “The Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years cannot become the new normal lest Australia join the weak government club and become a second rate country living off its luck.”

He adds: “Australia deserves the stable government that you elected us to be just 16 months ago.”

12.54pm: Tax cut coming for small business on July 1, which Abbott says will be “at least as big” as the 1.5% already promised. He sees small businesses picking up the slack as some of Australia’s industrial sector, such as the carmakers whose shuttering will start to bite this year.

The new industries of tomorrow are likely to be started by the small businesses of today.

The best antidote to sunset industries is sunrise ones – and these are most likely to emerge from an enterprising small business.

At the heart of our small business jobs package will be a small business company tax cut on July 1 – at least as big as the 1.5 per cent already flagged.

More jobs and better paid workers will only come from more profitable employers in a better position to employ people.

12.48pm: A crackdown on foreign investment, including distortions from overseas buyers in the housing market, is coming:

The government will shortly put in place better scrutiny and reporting of foreign purchases of agricultural land and better enforcement of the rules against foreign purchases of existing homes so that young people are not priced out of the market.

12.47pm: Abbott says “despite headwinds overseas, the economy is stronger, the budget is improving and the jobs market has strengthened.”

Abbott says economic growth is now 2.7%, up from 1.5%. (However, there’s a widespread view that this rate of growth is likely to start falling through the year, perhaps to around 2.2%).

12.41pm: It’s clear he’s focusing on the country’s fiscal challenges and says that reducing the deficit will lead to more confidence, allow for tax cuts, and “is the fair thing to do” because it “ends the intergenerational theft”.

This is setting the scene for more tough budgetary decisions.

“Our problem is not that taxes are too low; our problem is that government spending is too high.”

“Right now, we’re borrowing $1 billion a month just to pay the interest on debt that the former Labor government ran up.”

12.39pm: His core theme is going to be finding a way to a “stronger economy”.

“Building a stronger economy is the fairest thing we can do,” he says. The priority for 2015 will be creating more jobs, strengthening national security.

And he confirms there’ll be measures for small business and families.

“We do need to be candid about the challenges we face,” he says, turning to the fiscal challenges.

12.38pm: “In these troubled times, people expect more of their government, not less.”

12.37pm: Abbott wheels out his line about how being an Australia is to “win the lottery of life”.

But he notes that last year was full of reminders of the unpredictability of the world, with references to MH17 and the rise of ISIS and the associated terrorism.

He also notes the changed economic circumstances, including the halving of the price of iron ore.

12.35pm: Abbott starts by noting the release overnight of Peter Greste. “Sometimes as Australians we do take our most precious freedoms for granted,” he says.

“I particularly want to place on record my gratitude for Egypt’s president al-Sisi.”

He also thanks Julie Bishop for her role as foreign minister in helping to secure his release.


We’ll have live coverage here of Abbott’s address to the National Press Club in Canberra, where he’s making one of the most important speeches of his political career.

There’s a preview here.

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