Transcript - 17 June 2013

Andrew Leigh MP
Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister
Member for Fraser
17 June 2013

TOPICS:                                Victorian schools, Coalition threats to industrial relations, Nielson poll, Labor leadership, refugees

Andrew Leigh: Apologies for the quality of my voice this morning. I was at the Raiders game on the weekend collecting for the charity Menslink and I think I slightly overstretched myself. I just wanted to start off by saying a couple of words on Premier Napthine over recent days. The Victorian Premier has said very clearly that at this stage he’s not interested in signing up to a deal which would see more money going to every Victorian school. By contrast, his top priority now is to urge Tony Abbott to move harder and faster on industrial relations reform. We know when Conservatives talk about flexibility in the labour market, they’re not talking about the flexibility of a mum to go and pick up a sick kid; they’re talking about the flexibility of bosses not to be able to pay penalty rates. So, Premier Napthine isn’t interested in more money for every government school child, but he is interested in stripping away penalty rates from low paid workers. Happy to take questions on that policy or any other policy questions you’ve got around; NBN, DisabilityCare, lots of good policy issues we’ve got this week.

Journalist:                           Isn’t it true, though, that policy issues are being swamped by leadership speculation?

Andrew Leigh: Certainly not in my electorate. I represent the capital of the country. Right here people are talking to me about issues like jobs, health and education. I was doorknocking Nicholls on the weekend. People there wanted to talk about the National Broadband Network. Not, should we have it or not, but how do we get it faster?

Journalist:                           Has the gender card backfired on Julia Gillard? Playing the gender card?

Andrew Leigh: The ‘gender card’ is a phrase that I think is unfortunate. When the Prime Minister speaks about the importance of ensuring equality in public life, about the deeply damaging sexism which has been directed towards her and which I think every parent of young girls worries about, then that’s not ‘playing a gender card’, that’s talking about fundamental equality. But I think the Prime Minister has very clearly spoken about some of the big policy differences between the Parties. For example, the Coalition want to bring the tax-free threshold back down; that would disproportionality hurt women. They want to raise superannuation taxes on low income earners; that would disproportionately hit women. And they don’t want to see better pay for social and community sector workers. Again, a female dominated industry. So, on clear policy questions there are big differences between the Parties.

Journalist:                           Why do you think male voters are abandoning her though?

Andrew Leigh: Well I think you’re directing me towards a poll today and my answer on that is the same as the answer I normally give you: I don’t believe…

Journalist:                           Andrew, will the PM’s leadership survive the fortnight?

Andrew Leigh: Well, let me finish that one. I don’t believe that polls have predictive power. The answer to your other question is yes.

Journalist:                           In terms of the polls not having predictive power, they certainly have an influence on how MPs feel. Do you think they’ll be panicked today seeing a ‘2’ in front of the primary vote figure?

Andrew Leigh: I think it’s very clear that Labor is the underdog in this election. You can see that in the polls or you can see it from looking at the arrogance that Mr Abbott now has. He’s clearly measuring up the curtains in the Lodge. Mr Abbott, Mr Hockey, and Mr Robb are going about bullying public servants in Treasury and Finance pretty clearly saying that if they don’t get the Budget numbers they want, then heads will roll if an Abbott Government was to win office. That sort of behaviour, I think, is arrogant and it reflects the sort of sense of over-confidence that you hear within the Coalition at the moment.

Journalist:                           Wouldn’t Labor have a better shot of winning the election if it returned to Kevin Rudd, though?

Andrew Leigh: The Party is going to go to the next election with Julia Gillard as leader and I think the key questions for people in my electorate are questions of policy, not questions of polls.

Journalist:                           What did you make of the reception Mr Rudd [inaudible]?

Andrew Leigh: I think Australians give a strong reception to leaders and former leaders. I mean, you’ve seen this right through from Hawke and Keating and Howard, Prime Minister Rudd and Prime Minister Gillard. This is a response that leaders get when they visit schools. I’ve certainly been at schools in my electorate where Prime Minister Gillard was mobbed by students and it’s a great thing to see, particularly when you see those young girls coming up to the Prime Minister talking about the opportunities for female leadership.

Journalist:                           Former Labor Immigration Minister has said that Australia should rethink its support for the Refugee Convention. What are your thoughts on that?

Andrew Leigh: I think that the Government has gotten the balance right there. The challenge is that we have an Opposition which is determined not to vote for good policy, which is not supporting the recommendations of the Houston Panel and, which is determined to play politics with the lives of asylum seekers. This is, I think, the real problem in the asylum seeker debate today; that the Opposition is simply not willing to sign on to the full set of recommendations from the Houston Panel; a Panel of independent experts that span the political spectrum.

Journalist:                           You say Labor’s got the balance right but new figures show that Australia’s 11th out of all the OECD countries in terms of taking asylum seekers but 3rd in terms of taking workers. That doesn’t seem like the balance is very well thought out.

Andrew Leigh: Well there’s certainly a range of ways you can rank countries’ generosity. Australia does extremely well in terms of the number of UN settled refugees that we take. We, I think, are a country that’s able to take more refugees and we’ve seen that increase under this Government; 13,750 going up to 20,000 with an aspiration to go higher. Mr Abbott in one of his cruellest policies would cut back the number of refugees that Australia takes. That would send a message to the world that Australia is not a generous, open-hearted country but is a mean spirited country that can’t even afford the additional 6,250 refugees which this Government has agreed that it would take.

Journalist:                           Does it annoy you that people are focused on leadership as opposed to policy at the moment?

Andrew Leigh: Of course it does. I mean, I got into parliament in order to make a difference, in order to work on issues like poverty, disadvantage – I’ve got a book on inequality coming out next month – those are the issues that get me out of bed in the morning. But I’m of course always happy to come out here and take your questions on any issue.

Journalist:                           But, I mean, it’s your colleagues as well, though that are calling for leadership change [inaudible] last week publically calling for Julia Gillard to stand down.

Andrew Leigh: The things that I’m passionate about are policy issues. I will do my darndest to make my case, to talk through the importance of reforms like DisabilityCare, like the National Broadband Network, and like these vital schools reforms which would be of such benefit to Victorian students if they were to sign up to them. Thanks folks.

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