Australian Prime Minister
Asked what the Prime Minister had said during phone calls he had made to Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd, the Prime Minister’s Spokesperson (PMS) said he had told Julia Gillard how much he had enjoyed working with her and praised her for how well she had chaired the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Perth. He spoke to Kevin Rudd to congratulate him on his appointment as Prime Minister and said that he looked forward to working with him. Both leaders welcomed the fact that the UK and Australia had strengthened relations in the last few years and Mr Rudd had praised the G8 discussions.
Asked about Cabinet ministers using Twitter, the PMS said the Prime Minister’s view was that social media was an important way of communicating with people about what was going on at any particular time. He pointed out that the Prime Minister tweets on a regular basis.
Asked if there would be a public inquiry into allegations of a smear campaign against the family of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence, the PMS said the Home Secretary was reflecting on the best and quickest way to get to the heart of all outstanding questions following her meeting with the Lawrence family that morning. The Prime Minister had made clear that nothing was off the table and if further investigations or inquiries needed to be held they would be held. The PMS said that the most important thing was to get to the bottom of the allegations as quickly as possible so that the Lawrence family could get the truth after the terrible ordeal they had suffered.
Asked what the Prime Minister’s task force on tackling extremism and radicalisation had discussed during their meeting that morning, the PMS said they discussed extremism in institutions and supporting faith and community leadership to build strong, integrated and united communities. He said the task force will meet on a monthly basis and when it is the right time to update on those discussions, the government would do so.
Asked about the first quarterly Green Deal and Energy Company Obligation statistics published that morning, the PMS said 38,259 Green Deal assessments had been made. He said there was a demand for this and 78 per cent of people who had received an assessment said they either had or were getting energy saving measures installed, or would get something installed. He also said that over 81,000 installations had taken place with the support of the new Energy Company Obligation, which was specifically designed to help those most in need. The PMS said it was a very ambitious long term programme not designed to start today and finish tomorrow. He said five organisations were providing finance for the Deal and there would be 50 by the end of the 2013.
Asked whether tax would rise after the next elections, the PMS said he would not speculate on this. He pointed out the large scale of the financial and economic challenge and said that the government had inherited the largest peacetime deficit since the Second World War. He said that the British economy was moving from intensive care to recovery and clearly there was much more to do. The main push for the government had been a reduction in spending, getting control of the welfare budget and getting better efficiency across Whitehall in particular.
Asked about GM foods, the PMS said the Prime Minister’s view was that all food on shelves in British supermarkets had to be safe and that this was the most important thing.
Asked about Work Programme figures published that day, the PMS said this was a new way of offering bespoke, tailored support to people looking for jobs and a new way of contracting providers with genuine payment by results mechanisms. He pointed out there had been a marked improvement over the past year and more than 130,000 people had escaped long term unemployment and found lasting work for over 6 months. He said the programme was about getting people real long-term sustainable employment and keeping them there. The PMS said that 488,000 people who had joined the scheme in the first 12 months had moved off benefits and this was part of wider welfare reforms designed to tackle unemployment and welfare dependency.
Asked about a shale gas survey published that day, the PMS said it was an important part of the announcements that had been made in terms of how the country could support its infrastructure. He said shale gas was an excellent opportunity to have cheaper energy for many years to come and the Prime Minister was keen for it to happen as soon as possible provided it was environmentally safe. He said the government wanted to get the right planning permission in place and local communities must benefit from the new form of energy, getting at least £100,000 for every fracking well created. Asked if the Prime Minister had discussed shale gas with Lyndon Crosby, the PMS said he was not aware that he had.
Asked about plans to end progression pay, the PMS said the Chancellor had set out clear examples of where quite high incremental changes could happen and the problems this could cause. He said the Prime Minister supported the Spending Review and issues around progression pay that the Chancellor had set out.