ABC RN Drive - 2 September 2013

On ABC RN Drive last night, I spoke with host Waleed Aly and Liberal Senator Arthur Sinodinos about vocational training, costings gaps, boat buy-backs and more. Here's a podcast.

Find the full transcript below.




Subjects: Senate preferences; campaigning; costings; Tafe and trade centres.


WALEED ALY: I’m joined for the last time before the election campaign, and I say that with a tinge of sadness, although we might get them together after the campaign’s all over. Dr Andrew Leigh, the Member for Fraser, previously Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, or then Prime Minister, Julia Gillard  and Arthur Sinodinos, Parliamentary Secretary to the Opposition Leader, former Chief of Staff to John Howard and according to some reports, as well as prospective Finance Minister, an endangered Senator. Gentlemen welcome and Arthur, you must be concerned!

ARTHUR SINODINOS: An endangered species indeed, well I should be protected under the EPBC Act.

ALY: Well, it’s not likely to happen that way because, now this is the story, some reports have emerged that because of the proliferation of the micro parties and the strange preference flows that pertain in the Senate and proliferation of people who have voted above the line rather than below it, you are in danger. Not much I think we can say, but some danger of being knocked off of that Senate seat in NSW by Pauline Hanson, are you worried?

SINODINOS: Oh look, as long as we maximise the Coalition vote in NSW it should be fine and people put the 1 above the line and preferences flow accordingly it will be fine. It’s a statistical possibility what you mentioned, but I mean my best bet is to maximise Liberal votes for NSW for that very reason.

ALY: Well no that’s certainly true but are you worried about it?  I wouldn’t have thought that this would start turning up in reporting from people who’ve crunched the numbers unless it was a realistic possibility.

SINODINOS: Look, it’s a mathematical possibility but I believe our vote in NSW is going to be pretty strong and I’m going to spend the next few days, as Kevin has advised, doing my best to up the vote.

ALY: Good to hear you’re taking advice from Kevin Rudd on campaigning, that’s wonderful, we need unity in politics.  Why are you…

ANDREW LEIGH: …and Waleed, just to break in briefly to say how pleased I am that no Labor votes will go to seeing Ms Hanson get elected ahead of Arthur Sinodinos.

ALY: Ah yes.

SINODINOS: (Laughs) thanks.

LEIGH: We’re definitely preferring him over her.

ALY: That’s wonderful. It’s almost schmaltzy. Hey Arthur, why would you be third on the Liberal Party’s Senate ticket? I cannot understand that.

SINODINOS: Oh well, I took over from Helen Coonan, I’m the junior Senator and seniority dictates the line up on the Senate Ticket and I was quite happy with that and it aligns my interests with the party’s interests, which is to maximise the vote.

ALY: Well, hang on, but you’re the prospective Finance Minister

SINODINOS: Well look, what happens after the election is a matter for Tony.  Let’s get there and we can worry about all that afterwards.

ALY: Andrew, if Arthur were to lose his seat, would you be happy to be paired with Pauline Hanson in debates in future?

LEIGH: That’s a truly terrifying prospect I think Waleed, but look, the real pity is that the Coalition doesn’t have Arthur as Finance Spokesperson right now.  I mean that then would’ve had them I’m sure in a position where months ago they’d brought out all of their costings and where we’re now talking about two properly costed visions of the future rather than this sort of spectacle where Mr Hockey seems to be saying to, the argument Mr Robb’s  seems to be saying to people ‘well look, we’d like to sell you this used car  but you can’t take it for a test drive and you can’t look under the bonnet  because you know, well just trust us that the coat of paint on the outside is tip top and it’ll drive just fine’.

ALY: Alright, I’ll get to a response from Arthur in a moment, but Andrew Leigh, I’m not sure that your costings are out there really are they?

LEIGH: Policy by policy they are, Waleed.

ALY: Yeah but you want them in the one place where you can actually examine them, that’s the point.

LEIGH: Well, this is an important point because it’s one of the subtleties which I think has been lost in the hurly burly of the costings debate.  In all previous elections, as Oppositions have brought out policies, they’ve shown on each occasion how they’re going to pay for them. The Coalitions’ departed from that strategy this time around. You even see the difference on the same policies. So you look at Paid Parental Leave that they released in 2010 and the one they’ve released now. In 2010 it was accompanied by a table of costings and savings, this time it’s not. We’ve shown very clearly how we’re paying for everything. The Coalition I think are raising the spectre I think of pretty savage austerity being imposed on the economy.

ALY: Well they’re not really.  I mean, this is the bone I have to pick with the way the Labor Party has run their campaign, Andrew, and that is that it seems to have been a phantom campaign against things that nobody’s proposing. You had the GST, then you had cuts in health and education, all of which have been completely ruled out.  It’s one thing to say the numbers don’t add up, it’s another thing to say oh this stuff is going to happen when actually it’s been flatly rejected.

LEIGH: But Waleed, I disagree with you there. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that the Coalition’s policies are in many cases unfunded. So it’s fine if Mr Abbott wants to spend $22 billion on an unfair Parental Leave Scheme or to give a tax cut to big miners or to give a tax cut to companies, but he can’t make all of those bold claims and not say where the money’s coming from.

ALY: Yeah, that’s fine, but that’s a different thing from you then saying: where’s the money coming from and that there will be certain cuts when they’ve specifically said there won’t be.

LEIGH: Well, I don’t think it’s unfair to speculate Waleed, I mean...

ALY: Oh no, you are, see that’s the point, you are speculating exactly on things they’ve already ruled out.

LEIGH: Certainly what is mathematically true is that the Coalition can’t pay down debt faster, spend more and tax less.

ALY: Arthur, I might get your response on this and you could perhaps work into your answer why it is that you just won’t come out with actual costings, I mean what we saw last week was not even costings it was savings and it was really a pretend document because there was no detail.

SINODINOS: No, no, no I don’t think it was a pretend document. What was put out last week was something like $31.6 billion worth of savings and that will go towards helping to pay for promises and this week you’ll have the full sonata, the full symphony if you like in terms of the spends, the saves and the contribution to the budget bottom line because all the commitments will be out by then. The point Tony Abbott was making on Sunday is there’ve been promises made including some additional promises today on defence for example and veterans and therefore, you know, until all of that is complete you can’t put out the final document.

ALY: Andrew let’s talk about the campaign launch that Kevin Rudd did mysteriously late into the election campaign, yesterday. He’s focused really on specific kinds of jobs, trade type jobs or vocational education.  This was the theme. We haven’t really seen much of that before this last week and then when we did his message on TAFEs seemed really strange to me, that if State Governments cut our funding to TAFEs then the Commonwealth is just going to ramp up its funding. Why wouldn’t every State in the country just say alright, fine, you carry the can and we’ll just cut our funding and we won’t be any worse off.

LEIGH: Well Waleed, you’ve raised an important point and this is certainly something that we’ve been talking about in the context of schools, about the importance of ensuring that as the Federal Government invests more in schools through the Better Schools Plan, that State Governments don’t take money out. But we’ve also got a responsibility to make sure that TAFE training continues and you know this issue has a pretty long lineage, we had the former Howard Government investigate trade centres, which ended up not working out. What we’ve done as a Federal Government is to expand trades training in schools and I’ve got a work experience student with me this week who has a trade training centre in his school, St Francis Xavier, and then we’ve also looked to investing in apprenticeships, boosting their completion bonuses and we want to be ready as a back stop for the TAFE system because you’ve got to invest in skills right across the board as a way of building prosperity.

ALY: That’s fine but what Kevin Rudd’s saying is that we’ll pump money into it in 2015, so some time into the future, we’ll pump money into it if the States decide to rip out their money which is an incentive for them  just to rip out money.

LEIGH: I don’t think it’s as straight forward as all of that. I think what Mr Rudd is saying is that it’s important that we maintain a strong TAFE system and that we will commit to making sure the trades training is strong. We’ve done that through investment in apprenticeships, through providing larger completion bonuses and providing more to apprentices to get their tools. The Labor story of productivity, which I know is an issue Arthur and I both care about, is that it is centrally underpinned by great education at all those three levels, schools, TAFEs and universities.

ALY: Alright, I’ll get Arthur to respond on the point in a moment, but before I do that, the campaign launch, why so late really?  I mean there’s been some positive reviews about it in the press, some but, there seems to be a consensus that it’s too late to make any kind of difference now, why wouldn’t you launch earlier and get some momentum?

LEIGH Yeah I know, in the past that there’s been differences in the timing of the launch, sometimes they’ve been two weeks out, sometimes they’ve been on week out. I don’t think there’s any great science about these things.

ALY: Oh there’s science over everything, come on Andrew.

LEIGH: Haha, I think the only science is you probably don’t want to launch on the same day, I think that’s a loss all round.

ALY: Arthur let’s hear what the Coalition has planned  for that sort of skilled manufacture, that skilled work, you know that stuff that TAFEs produce, that kind of labour that hasn’t been the focus really over the last decade while the mining boom’s been in trend.  Does the Coalition actually have a focus on that?  What’s its policy?

SINODINOS: Can I just begin on this point about the lateness of Labor’s launch. I think that was partly driven by that fact that, you know you maintain, I think, access to entitlements up until the actual launch of your party’s actual campaign, that may have played a role in their thinking.  But I think you’re right to say a week out is a bit odd and may not have left Kevin enough time to do the sort of sell job he needs to do. That said, the policy announced around TAFEs and apprenticeships and the like sound like going back to the future in the 1990s. In fact I think Kevin worked on this stuff when he was in Queensland and the National Training Authority was set up, I think it was in 1993, trying to do something similar to what’s been talked about here. What we’ve tried to do with the TAFE system over a number of years is to actually make it more contestable, more market oriented and that’s been the theme of reform under a couple of Governments, including when Julia Gillard was Prime Minister, stemming from her time as Education and Training Minister.  I mean what we’ve said on education and training is for example, we want to give loans to apprentices to help them with the expenses of getting through their apprenticeships, right, and that would supplement the other assistance we’ve been giving for employment or have suggested we’re going to give for employment and training. And importantly also taking the burden off employers, including through lower Company Tax and the like so we can actually increase the number of jobs that are potentially available for apprentices.

It was a bit tragic that when Rudd came to power in 2007, he decided to dismantle the technical colleges which we were putting into place, re-badged them and tried to replace them with trade training centres when I think it would’ve been better for the sake of continuity of policy in this area if we just refined and improved on whatever were the deficiencies of the technical college concept and got that sort of fully, if you like, implemented. Because the point John Howard made, which we should all, I think, should always have conscious of, is that not everybody is going to be interested or able to go to university and we have to have adequate alternatives for people and the proper sort of trade training system can help in that regard.

ALY: Sure but those centres need money…


ALY:    …and it’s been States that have been ripping that money out, not least of which have been Liberal Party States so Victoria and WA that have been ripping money out. Now you’ve got Kevin Rudd saying that we’ll put that money back if it goes because it’s that important. Will you come out with any sort of commitment on funding?  Will you match that?

SINODINOS: Well Susan Ley’s going to have a bit more to say on this in the next day or so…

ALY: I look forward to that…

SINODINOS: …at a conference in I think Brisbane and speaking on all of that.

ALY: Tony Abbott has said that if he wins the election he will repeal the carbon price. He’ll be able to do that because Labor will have to be acquiesce because of the walloping it gets at the polls which means that it wouldn’t dare block the repeal of the Carbon Price. So will Labor, ultimately, if they are in Opposition in the Senate, let that amendment pass given that Tony Abbott would have to be held to have a mandate for that.

LEIGH: I will fight for a carbon price with every fibre of my being

ALY: Even though there’s a clear mandate for the Coalition if they win government?

LEIGH: I don’t believe that the Coalition are as lay down as they are to win.

ALY: Yeah but if they do, this is the only circumstance in which this becomes relevant, if they do it clearly becomes a mandate.

LEIGH: If the Coalition wins, they will have a majority in the Parliament but that doesn’t tell me as a Member elected in, were I fortunate enough to be in that Parliament, which is the hypothetical that you’re giving, I would then be elected by an electorate which feels very strongly about pricing carbon, which respects the science and respects the economics of an ETS as being the lowest cost approach.

ALY: Gentlemen, I’m going to extend this just briefly because I do just want to get your reflections as we wind our way to the end of the campaign, Arthur I’ll start with you. Has this been a good campaign? What are the highs and lows that you’ve seen so far?

SINODINOS: Ah look, I’ll believe it’s a good campaign if we win. That’s the only test of a good campaign. If you’re asking me highs and lows, the highs are when you’re out there actually talking to real people as it were, on the street, and trying to respond to their questions, trying to come up with proper responses, and the thing that always strikes you is how interested people are in what’s going on and the outcome and how well informed they are. The lows of the campaign, is when there’s misinformation about what your party’s going to do and I’ll be fighting that until election day.

ALY: Not the James Diaz controversy earlier on?  I’ve had that as a suggestion for a low in the campaign you might have nominated, Arthur.

SINODINOS: Well, I suppose Labor would nominate that as a high in the campaign, I’m not sure.

ALY: (Laughs) and I’ve always wanted to know what a real person is, am I not real, Arthur? Is that what you mean?

SINODINOS: Waleed, you are one of the most real people I’ve ever met.  I’m talking about those I meet in the flesh.

ALY: Alright, OK, nicely handled, still offended.  Andrew? Your highs and lows?

LEIGH: Well I think Arthur put it nicely there in terms of the importance of the ideas that you wrote something a while back, Waleed, where you talked about poisonous politics being the politics of teams, not the politics of ideas. And I really enjoy the conversation on the street, the couple that came up to me and said: “so tell me why Labor’s going to be the best choice for my three year old daughter”, or the woman I spoke to yesterday from Florey in my electorate who’s a part time public servant who’s worried not just about the quality of our public services, but also about her future employment. If you were going to nominate a low, I think I’d go with the politifact wisdom and nominate the boat buy back as being that.  But it’s been just a tremendously invigorating campaign for me on the ground in North Canberra. I’ve got nearly 140,000 electors, biggest electorate in Australia, so getting to as many mobile offices, community forums and hitting the phones and door knocking has been wonderfully invigorating.

ALY: But Andrew maybe if you bought all those boats we could relocate them to a naval base in Brisbane.

LEIGH: (Laughs) Three quarters of a million boats in South East Asia, Waleed, I think we’ll need a significant sum of money particularly as they can probably build boats faster than Mr Abbott could buy them.

ALY: I don’t know, that’d be a hell of a Navy, that would be an amazing Navy, that many boats. Oh well we’ll just have to go and think about whether or not this can be bipartisan.

LEIGH: A flotilla rather than an armada?

ALY: Arthur, Andrew, it’s been one of the genuine highlights for me in this election campaign having the chance to speak to you, I hope we get an opportunity to do it again. Thank you so much for your time and I’ll let you get back to campaigning.

LEIGH: Thanks Waleed.

SINODINOS: Thanks Andrew, thanks Waleed.

ALY: Arthur Sinodinos, perhaps threatened NSW Senator.  Pauline Hanson may be in the frame to take his seat, but perhaps not, he’ll be Finance Minister if the Coalition wins, and Andrew Leigh, who’s the Member for Fraser in the Lower House for the Labour Party.


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