With just days left for the Federal elections, leader of the Opposition and Liberal party leader Tony Abbott made an attempt to reach out to voters by promising a positive approach to skilled migration, encouraging quality education for overseas students and better ties with India through trade. Excerpts from the interview:
What is your stance on the student visas and what improvements can we expect in the immigration policies?
We will carefully manage the issues of population, citizenship and settlement to foster stronger economic growth and enhance Australia’s social fabric.
Under a Liberal government, the migration programme would be skewed towards skilled workers to enable the growth of a more productive and prosperous economy – particularly for those areas where skilled workers are not available and where our industries need to grow. The programme will be focused on people who can make a contribution from day one.
The Liberal Party will ensure our non-discriminatory immigration programme helps those in need. A minimum of 1,000 places will be available for women at risk and their dependants and appropriate settlement services are available upon their arrival in Australia.
Regarding student visas, we will ensure that the focus in the education export industry is to provide an excellent education outcome for students, rather than being primarily a pathway for migration.
Do the Liberals really care about cultural diversity?
It is my belief that migrants make absolutely outstanding Australians, because they come to this country with a dream to build a better future for them and their children.
I am disappointed by the Rudd Government’s attempts to whip up a fear campaign about 457 visas and skilled migration.
My colleagues and I know that skilled migration has been good for Australia. It was good for Australia when the Howard government started it and it has been good for Australia when the current government continued it. It should not be tampered with.
Labor is simply trying to divert attention from its border protection failures with 50,000 people arriving on more than 800 illegal boats.
What we are seeing is a government that cannot stop people coming to this country illegally and unsafely by boat, so they are going to get tough on people coming to this country legally and safely, and working and paying taxes from day one.
We have a lot of small businesses in our community, how will Liberals help them?
The Liberal Party understands the small businesses are the real job creators in the economy, employing almost half of the workforce in Australia. We will reduce costs for every business by abolishing the carbon tax, directly reducing electricity, gas and transport costs. By removing $1 billion of red tape each year, small businesses will be able to put more time, effort and resources in their ‘real’ work, rather than complying with complex and unnecessary government requirements.
The Coalition’s paid parental leave scheme will mean small businesses would no longer be disadvantaged in the ‘war for talent’, attracting and keeping quality staff.
We will also ease expense pressures on small businesses by delaying the increase of compulsory superannuation contributions to 12 per cent by a further two years.
What are your plans for Sydney’s West?
The Liberal Party has policies to meet the specific needs of Sydney’s West, with particular focus on reducing the cost of living by abolishing the carbon tax, providing services needed by young families such as affordable, accessible and flexible child care and a paid parental leave scheme, supporting the small and medium business sector and funding better roads.
During this campaign, we have announced that we will invest $1.5 billion into the Westconnex project and will work with the New South Wales Government to ensure the Westconnex project is commenced within 12 months of an election. This project will see an upgrade and extension of the M4 that will better link Western Sydney with the inner-west and the city, meaning considerably less time in traffic.
What are your plans to grow the economy?
The Liberal Party understands that successful businesses generate prosperity for the entire community by creating jobs, investing in growth and earning important export income.
We will lower costs for Australian businesses by removing Labor’s carbon tax. We will take the shackles off Australian businesses by cutting $1 billion in red tape every year. And we will boost productivity by encouraging more people into the workforce with better child care and a paid parental leave scheme, and we will build 21st century infrastructure.
The economy will be strengthened by a new lowered company tax rate of 28.5% from 1 July 2015. This builds on the Coalition’s track record of delivering real tax reform focussed on cutting and simplifying taxation in Australia. Our fully funded tax cut will restore confidence in the management of Australia’s economy and boost job creation and investment.
The Coalition will also build a more diverse, world-class economy – a 5-pillar economy – to unleash Australia’s real economic potential. In particular, we will build on our strengths in manufacturing innovation, agriculture exports, advanced services, world class education and research as well as boosting mining exports.
The cost of living has gone up in the recent years, how will the Liberals help families cope with the rising costs?
We will start reducing cost of living pressures for families by immediately scrapping Labor’s carbon tax, taking the pressure off rapidly rising electricity and gas prices.
The average family will be $500 better off next year alone and seniors will still keep their fortnightly pension and benefit increases– all without a carbon tax. We will not proceed with Labor’s FBT changes on cars. And we will restore the Private Health Insurance Rebate as soon as we responsibly can.
How do the Liberals plan to fight crime in our local communities and improve local community safety?
The Coalition will stand up for communities so that people feel safe in their streets. We will establish a new national Safer Streets programme and expand the use of CCTV cameras in crime prevention and detection.
Our policy to Tackle Crime provides $100 million in increased funding for customs, increased minimum penalties for those who bring illegal guns into the country and $50 million for local community crime prevention projects.
What are your plans for the carbon tax and how do they differ from Labor’s?
The Liberal Party will abolish Labor’s carbon tax. The carbon tax indisputably adds to the cost of living, it makes households and families pay more for electricity and gas, it costs businesses more to operate, and it makes everything in our economy more expensive.
Average families will be $550 better off next year alone under the Coalition’s plan than under Kevin Rudd’s carbon tax.
Do you have a view about same-sex marriage?
There are very strong feelings on both sides of this particular issue right now. I take a conservative position on it myself. I think that we should not lightly change something which has been this way since time immemorial. But I don’t believe that I can necessarily impose my view on society for all time, all I can do is candidly and honestly tell people what my view is. I support the traditional definition of marriage as between a man and a woman. Now I know that others dispute this, because I have lots of arguments inside my own family on this subject now. But my position, it’s always been clear, it’s always been consistent, and as long as I’m in the Parliament if the issue comes up that’s the way I will vote. Whether it remains for all time the Liberal Party, and the Coalition’s position, well that will be a matter for our party, for our Coalition if it were to come up in a future Parliament.
Everyone is talking about the Asian Century, what does this mean for the Liberals? What are your plans?
An important element of our economic plan for Australia is to strengthen our trading relationships with Asia, welcome investment from the region, boost our exports and deepen Australia’s knowledge of and engagement with countries in Asia. We recognise the rapid emergence of both China and India and the opportunities this will afford Australia in the future.
Specifically, we will take real action to increase economic activity by fast-tracking Free Trade Agreements with China and India amongst others.
We will strengthen our diplomatic relationship and trade ties with India and boost mining exports by exporting uranium to that country.
We will help Australians gain study and work experience, strengthen the ties with the region, learn to adapt behaviour to Asian contexts and work more effectively with Asian governments.
The Coalition’s new Colombo Plan would encourage and support Australian undergraduates to study for part of their degrees in a university in the Asia-Pacific region, so promoting Australia’s deeper engagement with the region to the benefit of both.
Do the Liberals have plans to encourage young people to learn an Asian language?
We will aim to have 40 percent of high school students studying a foreign language, preferably an Asian language, in year 12, to ensure the youth of Australia become more ‘Asian-capable’ and are better equipped in the future to engage with our trading partners in our region and in the global economy.