ABC RN Drive - 9 September 2013

I spoke on ABC RN Drive tonight with Arthur Sinodinos and Waleed Aly. We discussed mandates, micro-parties and Labor's future. Here's a podcast. And, here's the transcript:






Subjects: Campaigning, senate preferences, minor parties, mandates, carbon tax


WALEED ALY: I’m joined one last time for an election panel, Arthur Sinodinos who is possibly the incoming finance minister if he can hold onto his seat and Dr Andrew Leigh, the re-elected Member for the Canberra seat of Fraser, one of the few Labor MPs just to romp it in.

ARTHUR SINODINOS: Congratulations Andrew.

ANDREW LEIGH: Thank you very much Arthur. I very much hope you get back and get that finance role.

ALY: Yes, the congratulations can't be reciprocal at this point Arthur.

SINODINOS: No, we're still waiting. It looks like I'm number six, with postal votes close to come, so fingers and toes crossed. If you have any calculators, send them my way.

ALY: I don't know that any calculators which change the result. How much trouble are you actually in?

SINODINOS: Well look, the venerable and respected ABC election calculator has me winning the sixth spot based on the preference flows. But we'll wait and see. I don't want to jinx myself by calling these things.

ALY: I guess it's not my job to worry about you jinxing yourself (laugh) so I'll keep asking the questions. The thought was that Pauline Hanson might take your seat. That threat seems to have faded. Who do you think most likely to be your main competition?

SINODINOS: The Liberal Democrats took the number five position. They took eight per cent of the vote, largely I think because people thought they were the Liberals.

ALY: They've admitted that. They may have got votes by mistake. How does that make you feel?

SINODINOS: We had made representations about this to the AEC but that aside, we have to work with what we've got. That also cleared the pitch for people like Pauline Hanson. The way the distributions are going, I'm ahead of the Greens at this stage. So, hopefully, it'll stay that way. But that's life. That's politic arithmetic.

ALY: I suppose it is. Before we get to Labor side of the equation, given what we are about to see in the senate, and Arthur is caught up in that, but, we're likely to see in Victoria, the Motor Enthusiasts Party (MEP) apparently is in with a real chance for a seat with a minuscule, unbelievably small vote. Have we got a problem here?

LEIGH: It does seem an odd situation, doesn't it? A party that gets a very small share of votes are able to translate into a lot of electoral power. But you would need, I guess, strong support across the parliament for something like allowing optional voting below the line for the Senate. As I read it, there's not strong support for reform of that kind.

ALY: Is that because we've not seen a situation like this before. This could become high farce.

LEIGH: Well, Steve Fielding is as I recall, got a fairly small share of the primary vote.

ALY: Yeh, but that's one senator. If you have now, the MEP in Victoria and The Sports Party in WA.... It's starting to become a laughing stock.

LEIGH: A good voting system is definitely one in which people don't make mistakes in terms of translating their true value into the people that they elect. So, that's an important point. But you need very strong support to change the voting system and you don't want to do it unless carefully mapping out what it means for everyone and making sure it's fair.

ALY: Arthur, I know you're wrapped to have returned to government... I would have thought this is a silver cloud with a dark lining, given that the magnitude of the victory is really quite modest, given the swing against the government and the swing against the Greens and really only a fraction of that finding its way into the Coalition's hands.

SINODINOS: Ah, look, it's been a pretty solid victory when we get 87 or 90 seats or whatever. It's a pretty good majority. I think what happened during the campaign is that there were some unknowns that the published polls underestimated including the potential influence of the Palmer United Party both in the house and senate. There seemed to have been in some states a tendency to use the Palmer party as a protest vehicle so disaffected Labor votes went there and their preferences went all over the place after. That's a complication no one had really facted in, then of course, as usual afterwards, you can rationalise everything.

It's a solid victory and I'll just go back to what Bob Hawke said on Saturday night. Labor lost. It was a big, big loss. But we don't take anything for granted. These days the volatility of the electorate means you can be out in three years, let alone six or nine.

ALY: That seems unlikely. You're not in a position to take anything for granted. I would have thought that what these results show is that Labor lost but you’re certainly didn't win. You describe it as solid but actually it was quite patchy.

SINODINOS: No, no my friend, we came first. They came second. We're the government and with the benefit of incumbency if Tony behaves in the way he that he suggests he'll behave, we can potentially build on what was a solid victory. I don't buy this idea that somehow you lose by winning.

ALY: No, I'm not saying you lost. I'm just saying there's a difference here. This is not the landslide that you perhaps would have expected in just about any other election. This was a very different result.

SINODINOS: I think that was conditioned by some of the expectations in some of the polls, particularly some of the seat by seat polls that I think were quite unrepresentative because they were based on fairly small samples. I think the real complication in this election is not so much the house of reps but what's happened in the senate and the implications of that for us, being able to deliver our program. In some ways it could actually prove to be a better situation than having a Labor-Green alliance solidly blocking everything, but we're going to have to work; it's back to the old days as I recall, where you had to graft your way through the senate to a get a majority but, I mean, we're used to that. We'll have to do what's required to achieve our outcomes.

ALY: Possibly with a senate now one has ever confronted before. Andrew Leigh, what now for Labor? It seems to me that Labor has a massive hole that it can't fill in its constituency.

LEIGH: We need to recognise the things that went wrong. I think we spend too much time talking about internal issues and we weren't as unified as the Coalition. It's striking that their leader won an internal ballot by one vote back in 2009 but yet the Coalition very effectively united behind Mr Abbott. Nonetheless, we need to be careful not to trash our legacy. Disability Care, I had a woman come up to me on polling day, by the name of Deb who asked me to bend down to her wheelchair and she just said 'thank you for Disability Care'. That reminded me that there is an awful lot to be proud of in the last six years; the seat on the UN Security Council, the better schools reform, the tripling of the marine park network. So, we need to be careful that as we rebuild, we don't lose those golden threads of reform that link us back to successful past Labor governments.

ALY: Sure, but at the same time you had a party that was trying to outflank Coalition policy on asylum seekers, apparently not to great effect. You had a party that moved young single mothers onto the Newstart allowance, depriving them of money, something many in the party had trouble with. And again, apparently to no affect. The Vote Compass results were really interesting, that seemed to be showing that Labor supporters, the old block has seemed to have disappeared and Labor now has to chase people to the right and the left and it doesn't know where it's heading.

LEIGH: I think Labor has always been a party of the left Waleed. We've discussed the asylum seeker and single mother payment before around the questions of how do you stop drownings at sea and is it an appropriate policy setting that has a parent remaining at home until a child turns 16. Is that the best thing for a child? But I think in broad terms, ours was a centrist reforming government in the open economy tradition of Hawke and Keating. Our challenge now, if I look back on past Labor oppositions, to get that you need unity of purpose that was in the Beazley Opposition from 1996 through to 1998 when they won a majority of the popular vote, but without having, I think, making the mistake that that Opposition made of turning their back on what they did in government.

ALY: Okay. But, who are your constituency now. Can you describe to me the modern Labor voter?

LEIGH: Labor voters are people who aspire for a better future for themselves and their children, who care about fairness, who care for the environment and who are open and tolerant and want to build on the success of a multicultural Australia.

ALY: Okay, Arthur, let me ask you, of that description, what doesn't apply in your mind to the modern Liberal voter.

SINODINOS: All of that applies to the modern Liberal voter in the sense that, um, we try and cater for all aspirational Australians, including people of ethnic backgrounds and just across the board. I think the big difference between the two parties over the last few years, to an increasing extend, and Andrew is a bit of exception to this, the Labor party hierarchy and central machine has been people who have come up through the union movement or through ministers’ offices and the like. The Liberals on the whole tend to be a more grassroots sought of movement across the board, whether it's small business, working families, the big end of town. We try and build a big tent, and it's important we keep trying to do that.

ALY: Andrew Leigh, does it alarm you, the description you've provided of the Labor voter, is the description that Arthur provided of the Liberal voter? Thirty, 40 years ago that would never have happened.

LIEGH: It comes down to your question Waleed. The way I would define parties, is not by saying, who are your voters but what are your values. So, if you ask about our values, I would point to egalitarianism which I think is something that the conservatives wouldn't claim. I might have been tossed out of Arthur's party for writing a book about inequality and why it's bad.

SINODINOS: What, what?

LEIGH: Or at least, been poked in the ribs in the party room meeting. And then also, I think, small l-liberalism which is something that Arthur and people like Malcolm Turnball stand for but I think, less so, in the case of people like Barnaby Joyce and Tony Abbott.

SINODINOS: Can I give you a factoid Waleed? Exit polls from the Brisbane electorate on Saturday night, the number one issue - this is the inner city electorate of Brisbane that Terese Gambaro won with about 54-55 per cent of the vote. The number one issue for them was the economy, right. Now this is your inner city electorate which would the stereotypical electorate that might even favour the Greens a bit and be interested in, what you may describe, as higher issues once they've dealt with getting a job and having a reasonable standard of living. I found that really interesting. It goes to the point about peoples' hierarchy of needs and aspirations. Same-sex marriage and other issues did not rate very highly, interestingly enough.

ALY: One thing I want to ask you Andrew Leigh, before we wrap up, is what do you do now, especially on the issue of the carbon tax? Is that settled within the Labor Party - they know exactly how to respond to that in the senate or will we only find that out once the leader is chosen and is there an internal debate to be had?

LEIGH: Certainly my view is that we as a party have been committed to pricing carbon for at least six years now. We went to the 2007 as the Coalition did, supporting an emissions trading scheme because it's the most efficient and effective way to reduce carbon pollution. If you don't do that, then you have to answer the big question, how are you going to meet those bipartisan emission reduction targets. I think the question for Mr Abbott, if he intends to really pursue 'direct action' or soil magic as people tag it, is the question the Grattan Institute has raised, that Malcolm Turnball has raised, how do you actually keep those emission reductions targets when no expert says you can do it without really biting into household budgets? But if Mr Abbott wants to repeal the carbon tax, in the sense of going to an ETS from the middle of next year, then in fact both parties have a mandate to do that and we would of course, back him in that.

ALY: It will be interesting to see what decisions Labor as a party makes on this and how Tony Abbott will negotiate a new senate.

SINODINOS: Waleed, my advice to the Labor Party is, if you want to demonstrate to the public that you're listening, that's one of the first things you do, is accept there's a mandate from the Coalition over three years to abolish the carbon tax and go from there. You have to demonstrate when you go into opposition that you picked up the message from the electorate as we did in '07 when we passed the abolition of WorkChoices.

ALY: But then you didn't pass an ETS that they [Labor] came in with a mandate for and that you indeed when to the election on. This argument goes on forever.

SINODINOS: Well, they can pass our legislation on this now and go to the next election saying they will impose a carbon tax.

ALY: Yeh, well, I suspect it won't be that easy for you. Anyway, gentlemen, our time is up. I hope to have you again soon. I'm getting tweets already saying we need to make this permanent. I don't know that your staff would necessarily agree with that.

LEIGH: I think we might even have a mandate for that Waleed.

ALY: One tweet, definitely.

SINODINOS: I'm still trying to get my mandate [inaudible].

ALY: Arthur might have a lot of time of his hands.  We'll find out. Gentlemen, it has been great to have you on the show. Thank you very so much and I hope to do it all again soon.

SINODINOS: Thank you.

LEIGH: Goodluck

ALY: Arthur Sinodinos and Andrew Leigh joining us from the Liberal and Labor parties respectively.


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