Transcript - Sky AM Agenda

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

TOPICS:                                 Leadership, immigration, National Plan for School Improvement.

Kieran Gilbert:                   This is AM Agenda, thanks for your company. Joining me now is Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, Andrew Leigh, and the Shadow Minister for Families, Jamie Briggs. Good morning gents. Andrew Leigh, first to you. This polling – I know you’re famously opposed to looking at opinion polls – but these have been consistent, over many, many months. Kevin Rudd is much, much more popular than Julia Gillard, he’s twice as popular according to the latest Nielsen poll as well. When do you think that these haves some sort of quality that you need to look at? I know that as an academic you don’t think polls should be taken attention of, but surely 3 months out, this is significant.

Andrew Leigh:                  Well Kieran I think it’s clear that Labor is the underdog in this election. Certainly that’s apparent from a range of indicators, not least the Coalition measuring up the curtains in The Lodge and engaging in tactics on the floor of Parliament such as bullying Treasury officials, suggesting if they don’t get the Budget numbers they want, that heads would roll under an Abbott government. So, you know, the arrogance of the Coalition, that sense of hubris, of entitlement to power is coming through. We’re the underdog but we will keep talking about policy, about the importance of the National Plan for School Improvement, the value of DisabilityCare, why Australians are entitled to expect a government –

Kieran Gilbert:                   But don’t you have to listen to the Australian people when they say consistently, over a number of years, that they think you got it wrong in 2010 in dumping Kevin Rudd?

Andrew Leigh:                  Kieran, I do little else than listen to people. I was out doorknocking Nicholls on the weekend, I was handing out for the Canberra charity Menslink at the Canberra Raiders game on Saturday afternoon. I’ve had many, many conversations with electors over the weekend and let me tell you one thing – here in Canberra, inside the so called beltway, people aren’t interested in leadership issues. People are interested in policy.

Kieran Gilbert:                   I want to play our viewers a little of Graham Richardson, I spoke to him earlier. He thinks it’s increasingly inevitable that Labor will change leader.

Graham Richardson

(footage):                           …certainly more and more of them are talking about it, I’m even hearing some who now say they’re prepared to vote for Kevin Rudd. But you need leadership for that, and I think that means you need Bill Shorten to do it. Bill Shorten is nowhere near committed to any of this, he might be thinking about it, but he’s not said he’ll do it, certainly not to me, and I’m not aware of him saying it to too many others. So I don’t think you can say that this is ‘on’, but it’s more likely than not because more and more of them understand now how desperate their situation is.

Kieran Gilbert:                   And that’s Graham Richardson this morning. Jamie Briggs, it shows – this Nielsen poll – if Labor do return to Kevin Rudd, it’s competitive again. Do you believe those numbers?

Jamie Briggs:                      Well, look, it could be Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard or Bobo the clown leading Labor party, it’s the policies that are the problem. We’ve been focused on providing, and talking to the Australian people about our real solutions plan for months now. We’re not focused on our internal issues, on the chaos and dysfunction that the Labor party is going through. No matter where you go in Parliament House, someone wants to talk to you about Labor’s leadership and it’s usually a Labor MP. They are so internally focussed that they’ve forgotten that they’re here to serve the Australian people, they’ve forgotten what government is all about, which is creating opportunities – hope, reward and opportunity for the Australia people. Andrew talks about how there is some focus in the Opposition on measuring the curtains, well that couldn’t be any further from the truth, Oppositions always start underdogs. The problem that the Labor party’s got is they’re busy measuring up the curtains of the Opposition offices. So much so that for the first time in living memory, they’ve actually appointed an Opposition spokesperson Andrew Leigh. He’s been appointed Opposition spokesperson already. They’ve given up on governing, they’re focusing on themselves purely. They’re not focused on good policy for the Australian people, they want diversions and distractions every week, rather than good policy for the future of our country.

Kieran Gilbert:                   I want to play a little now of Laurie Ferguson, a Labor member from Western Sydney. He was asked about the prospect of a Rudd return and he’s obviously not excited about such a prospect. Let’s take a listen to some comments last night.


(footage):                           Should the Prime Minister quit for the good of the Labor party?

Laurie Ferguson

(footage):                           Absolutely not.


(footage):                           Why not?

Laurie Ferguson

(footage):                           Well, because I don’t see any alternative to her.


(footage):                           Could the alternative be Kevin Rudd?

Laurie Ferguson

(footage):                           No, not really, no.


(footage):                           Is it too late for that?

Laurie Ferguson

(footage):                           Look, quite frankly, I think that 5 minutes after he’s elected leader, the Opposition will be stressing the immigration changes that he engineered, and that’s western Sydney.

Kieran Gilbert:                   Laurie Ferguson says that, the Coalition, predicting what will happen if you do return to Rudd, and that is something that lingers, isn’t it? That he did change the border protection policies, and it does sort of reinforce that argument that both need to be accountable for the policy failures, doesn’t it?

Andrew Leigh:                  Well Kieran, we know that certainly the big challenge in the asylum seeker space is simply that the Opposition is not willing to support the findings of the independent Houston panel. If they were willing to do that, if they were willing to take the advice of Angus Houston and his fellow panellists and back all of those recommendations and work with the region, in a regional solution through the Bali process, then that for me is the way forward. But the Coalition chose to walk into Parliament, and chose to vote for more boats, by voting for legislation that would have backed in the Houston panel’s recommendations. That for me is the big issue.

Kieran Gilbert:                   On the asylum seeker issue, Jamie Briggs, are you comfortable with this policy to send those convicted of crime, to deport them? Are you comfortable with that, will you still see the Coalition honour its international commitments as Christopher Pyne asserted this morning?

Jamie Briggs:                      Yes, I am. But just on that point about, um, if nothing sums up the problem that the Labor party has in government better, it’s just Andrew’s last answer: it’s always someone else’s fault. It’s never their own fault. Not the fact that in 2008 they found a solution and created a problem by overturning the laws that had worked for years, they still haven’t admitted they did that by the way, you won’t hear Andrew Leigh say ‘yeah look I’m sorry about that, the reason we’ve had 40 odd thousand people arrive by boat was because we tampered with something we shouldn’t have touched. We haven’t heard him say sorry about that, we haven’t heard Kevin Rudd say sorry about that, we haven’t heard Julia Gillard say sorry about that.

Kieran Gilbert:                   On the Coalition policy though, because the polls suggest that you will win government as of September, it’s a significant policy to say that you will send back those convicted of crimes with sentences of more than a year, with removing appeal processes and so on, aren’t you then intervening inappropriately in the judicial system?

Jamie Briggs:                      No, we believe that you need to have a strong border security program to ensure that the humanitarian visas which our country issues each year, which are limited. Unless the Labor party is now saying that they want to open up and unlock and allow as many people who want to arrive, which is the Greens policy by the way, the Greens don’t have a number at which they will stop people arriving at, the Labor party seems to be going down that path as well. We say that there are a limited amount of spots, that we are able to, what is a very generous country, internationally compared. We don’t think it is appropriate, people who have been convicted of serious crimes to get access to –

Kieran Gilbert:                   Andrew Leigh, your response to that? Because Mr Pyne said a bit earlier that they would still honour their international commitments under the Refugee Convention under this policy.

Andrew Leigh:                  Kieran, this is just the Opposition playing pure politics. We already have a set of rules which allow people convicted of crime to be deported. 97 have been deported this year under those rules. But the Opposition’s policy would have ensured that Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Aung San Suu Kyi could never have come to Australia because of course all of them had served longer than 12 months in detention. So this is a policy that’s simply designed to spread fear and misinformation in the community about asylum seekers, 0.2 percent of whom have committed offences, well below the rate of the general population.

Kieran Gilbert:                   What do you say to that?

Jamie Briggs:                      Well this just shows that the Labor party has lost complete connection with this issue. People are sick of seeing new stories every day of another boat arriving, of people drowning at sea, because their policies have put the sugar on the table to encourage people smugglers back into business. That’s what they did, that’s why there’s been 40 odd thousand people arrive, more than 1000 people have died at sea because of it, women and children have drowned because there is a policy which encourages people to get onto boats. Now if they think that is a humanitarian policy, good luck to them. The Australian people doesn’t – don’t, and we don’t either, and we don’t think that’s a great way to run your national security policy. If Andrew Leigh wants to defend it, then good luck to him.

Andrew Leigh:                  I’ll defend the Houston panel reports.

Jamie Briggs:                      Say sorry for changing the laws. Why won’t you say sorry for changing the laws, you were part of the government who did it, you and Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard and –

Andrew Leigh:                  Jamie, shouting and bluster doesn’t change the simple facts.

Jamie Briggs:                      Apologise. Look at the camera and apologise.

Andrew Leigh:                  The simple fact of this issue is you need a regional solution, and Paris Aristotle –

Jamie Briggs:                      You changed the laws. You changed the laws. You changed the laws.

Andrew Leigh:                  - and Angus Houston and Michael L’Estrange have recommended that we have a regional solution, and that we look at Malaysia as an alternative.

Kieran Gilbert:                   Ok, you have made the point about the regional solution and we have discussed it many times before. I want to ask about the Gonski education reforms. Victoria still keeping open the option of signing on, but why would they at the moment when they don’t know who the Labor leader is going to be next year? Next week, I mean.

Andrew Leigh:                  They should sign on because every government school in Victoria is going to be better off. We’ve put out clear evidence on that, we’ve shown evidence school by school as to how much Victorian kids will receive. And unfortunately Premier Napthine is using these funny numbers at the moment where he’s assumed that the past level of indexation would continue – 4.7 percent indexation – but that’s a level of indexation which is based on strong education spend from largely Labor state and territory governments. Now we’ve got more and more conservative governments in power in states and territories, they’re cutting back on education, and this strange federal formula that we have then mechanically cuts back on federal spending. 3.9 percent this year, projected to be 3 percent next year. When you take that into account, it’s very clear that every government school in Victoria would be better off on the National Plan for School Improvement.

Kieran Gilbert:                   There is still the prospect that they will sign on, there is some, you know, disagreement on the numbers at the moment, but it looks a lot like they’re just angling for more money at this stage. Jamie Briggs, if Victoria does sign on, you’ve got New South Wales and Victoria, the two most populous Coalition states, where the Coalition are in power. It’s going to be really tough to unwind that, you must concede.

Jamie Briggs:                      Well no, I think it’s slated to begin in 2019, isn’t it? At the end of the day we’re talking about this government being elected again, again, and possibly again before you would see these so called changes come into place. Christopher Pyne outlined earlier our view in relation to education. The idea that somehow the Labor party has a mortgage on education is a farce, given that in recent times they’ve cut higher education, that’s why there’s TV ads run by Andrew’s former colleagues at the ANU saying how bad that policy is. How do you justify that to those former colleagues, cutting higher education?

Andrew Leigh:                  Higher education funding will continue to increase strongly under this government Jamie, as you well know. Higher education saw a big increase in funding since 2007 –

Jamie Briggs:                      No, no, so why are they running ads? Why are they running ads?

Kieran Gilbert:                   We’ve only got a few minutes left, I just want to get your thoughts quickly on Jamie’s point about this not coming into force until 2019, another six years.

Andrew Leigh:                  No, this plan will take effect from next year. Schools will start to get additional money, and that additional money will go where the experts tell us it’s needed. It’ll go to improving teacher quality, providing principals with more autonomy and power to do what they need to do, and making sure that we have resources that follow the child.

Kieran Gilbert:                   Do you think that there is any prospect that Kevin Rudd, if he returns, will water this down or scrap it?

Andrew Leigh:                  Prime Minister Julia Gillard will lead us to the next election.

Kieran Gilbert:                   Hundred percent?

Andrew Leigh:                  Absolutely.

Kieran Gilbert:                   Ok. Thank you Andrew, Jamie.

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