ABC24 Capital Hill - 3 October 2013

On ABC24 Capital Hill, I spoke with host Andrew Greene and Liberal Senator Zed Seselja about the benefits of fibre to the home, the Labor leadership campaign, and proposed paid parking in Parliament House. A transcript is over the fold.


E&OE

ANDREW GREENE: Now to our panel, joining me in the Parliament House studio is the newly elected Liberal senator Zed Seselja, and joining us from Melbourne today is Labor MP Andrew Leigh. Welcome to you both.

ANDREW LEIGH: Thanks Andrew.

Let's begin with the new-look NBN board and the Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has put his own mark on NBN Co's management appointing former Telstra chief Ziggy Switkowski to the role of Chairman.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: In appointing Dr Switkowski to the board as Chairman, we have appointed one of the most experienced telecom executives in Australia. This has been a shockingly misconceived exercise in - wasteful exercise in public policy. We are endeavouring to recover value for it and get the job completed as quickly and cost effectively as we can.

GREENE: Andrew Leigh, could you firstly, I would assume that as a former Telstra boss, would you be consider Ziggy Switkowski well qualified to be running the NBN?

LEIGH: I've certainly got no issue with Mr Switkowski's competence and ability to handle complicated issues. But I would take some issues. But I would take some issue with Malcolm Turnbull's characterisation of the National Broadband Network. This is the equivalent of the Snowy Hydro scheme, of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, of the rail networks and road networks of generations gone by. The reason that Labor constructed a National Broadband Network with fibre to the home is that when you're running signals down glass, the speeds can increase and increase as compression technology gets better. But if you stop that glass at the cabinet down the street and do the last stretch to the home with copper you get an inferior signal. You can't conduct a video conference in the same high definition pictures that your viewers are seeing at the moment.

GREENE: Your views on the NBN are really known in terms of what the coalition is doing, but you certainly have no quibbles with what's been announced today?

LEIGH: I'm not sure it was necessary to overhaul the board to the extent that Mr Turnbull did. I think the board appointed by Labor was a highly competent board and I'd be interested if Zed had views to the contrary.

GREENE: We'll go to Zed on that. Is that a fair assessment from Andrew Leigh?

LEIGH: I think firstly it's an excellent appointment. I think that Dr Switkowski brings a wealth of experience. I think we'll do an outstanding job in what's a very challenging area. It's not just a challenging area of the breadth of this as an infrastructure project. It's a very challenging area because it hasn't been handled well to date. There wasn't proper cost benefit done at the start of this process.

GREENE: Did that justify getting rid of most of existing board?

SESELJA: Well, look, I think it's reasonable for an incoming communications minister to make judgements about who he believes are the best people. In the end it's going to be Malcolm Turnbull and this coalition government that needs to answer for the roll-out going forward and how it's managed from here. We're certainly not responsible for what has happened up to now and we know that there have been significant problems with this roll-out. Now, much of that goes down to the

government. The government made some very poor decisions at the start. They rushed many of these decisions. We know that they had a much smaller process in mind initially and then they very quickly changed, without doing the necessary work.

GREENE: Do you find it hard to explain to people in the ACT, the Territory you represent, that they won't be getting fibre to they won't be getting fibre to the home?

SESELJA: Well, I think people in the ACT, what they will be getting is they will be getting fast broadband much more quickly. What they would've been seeing under the NBN plan of Labor and that's even if we were to believe their roll-out figures, most of which were never achieved but if they had proceeded with that , people in Canberra, people in the south of Canberra in particular, would've been waiting for years longer and paying much more at the end of that. Under the Coalition's plan, they won't be waiting as long and they will be paying less for their product. So they will be getting value for money. That's what they will be getting from the coalition.

GREENE: We'll get your response to that Andrew Leigh. Is it a faster delivery of a project that was having some troubles while Labor was in power?

LEIGH: During the election, we ran a forum which Zed and I were present at. I asked those in the room to raise their hands in they didn't want fibre to the home. Two people out of a packed lecture theatre raised their hands. That I think reflects that people recognise that this is an essential technology for Australia in the 21st century. And that stopping it will generate a digital divide in our suburbs. There's going to be suburbs in the ACT like Downer who are just on the edge of the roll-out schedule, who won't get to see super fast broadband, and whose house prices on average will be about $5,000 lower as a result of not having the National Broadband Network. That will be replicated right across the country.

GREENE: If we stay with your side of politics now and Labor has decided to extend the deadline for rank-and-file members to vote on the party's leadership. The official cut-off was Wednesday, but the candidates Anthony Albanese and Bill Shorten had both today called for an extension.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I'm aware that some of the mail houses where the Labor Party is sending out the ballot papers have been slow. I'm certainly calling for the ballot to be extended by at least a couple of days so that people in regional Queensland or people in Western Australia still have the chance to fully participate. The caucus meeting should also be delayed? Don't know if that's necessary. That will be a decision made by the caucus chair and the returning officer. But we do have a bit have a bit of room to move in terms of the members being able to get their ballot papers in a couple of days longer than was otherwise scheduled to do. There is that capacity without unduly delaying the whole process.

GREENE: So just to recap - the extension has now seen the deadline shifted from Wednesday to Friday for Labor's rank and file members. Andrew, there have been some grumblings, certainly publicly and privately, about this whole situation, that is a result of the changes Kevin Rudd brought in. Is it indicative now that we're seeing a few problems with the actual voting process that perhaps this process isn't entirely welcome?

LEIGH: I think that this is a good development today, Andrew. I would still urge Labor Party members watching your program to get their return ballot papers back in the mail as quickly as possible. But this gives us an extra two days for those ballot papers to get back to the Labor Party National Secretariat.

GREENE: Who would you be urging people to tick on that ballot paper?

LEIGH: I have spoken to both Mr Albanese and Mr Shorten and made clear to them who I will be supporting, but I'm not talking about that publicly. In part because I want my members to have the freedom to make a different decision from me. Both candidates gave excellent preparations in forums in the ACT. They've been hitting the phones to ACT branch members and as a result, there are now Labor Party members across Australia who've been directly canvassed by potential leaders for the Labor Party. I don't think Liberal Party can say the same. I challenge Mr Seselja to identify a regular rank-and-file Liberal Party member who's been phoned at home by Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott asking for their support. But that's strengthened our party. It's meant that we're a party now where more and more people are joining and where Labor Party people, members, feel included in the process.

GREENE: Zed Seselja would you take up that invitation and would you like to one day see that happen in the Liberal Party as well?

SESELJA: Well, let's look at why this came about. I mean this came about because the Labor Party kept sacking its leaders. So this wasn't about empowering the rank-and-file. This was Kevin Rudd's gift to the party on his way out, where he said he didn't want to be rolled in the same way that he'd been rolled in the past.

GREENE: The last Liberal leadership ballot Tony Abbott prevailed by one vote. Would it have been helpful for the party to say have the rank-and-file and have a voice as well?

SESELJA: I'm not convinced that after the loss of an election or in other periods where there's a majority who call for a spill that one month or more of a political party talking about itself, which is what we're seeing from the Labor Party, is necessarily the best thing. So look, the Labor Party can choose to conduct its affairs as it sees fit. It is talking about itself a lot now post-election. The Liberal Party has its processes. I don't see any particular reason why we'd follow the Labor Party on this, given it really did came about because they kept sacking prime ministers.

GREENE: If we can stick with the Liberal Party today in the ACT, a former President, Gary Kent, has resigned from the party. Partly in disgust at the process that saw you disappointed at that development?

SESELJA: No, look, I'm not and I said some months ago, I said that people who want to skiff then bag the Liberal Party publicly should consider whether they want to continue to be part of the Liberal Party. It's one thing to make constructive improvements and to have debates, it's another thing to go out there consistently and publicly bag the party which you belong to. I think in the end, people who clearly have those sort of ongoing significant differences probably should consider their positions and clearly that's what Mr Kent has done. Gary Humphries, a lot of people have a lot of respect for his time here in the parliament.

GREENE: Is there a role for Gary Humphries in public life? Would you like to see him given a role by Tony Abbott?

SESELJA: Yes there is. I think that, I'm one of the people who respects Gary Humphries. We had a debate and we had a pre-selection process, and that was a difficult one. But Gary Humphries has made a great contribution to the Senate, to the ACT Assembly and so I'm sure that there'd be many

roles, many roles that he would be suited to and very well suited to.

GREENE: You're already in the senate, but when the senate changes over in July, the Coalition will need to negotiate with the Palmer United Party and senators from several micro parties if Labor and the Greens block legislation. Already the government's senate Leader Eric Abetz has made contact with each cross-bench senator and today he was making friendly noises towards the new Palmer United Party senators who will join the upper house in the middle of next year.

ERIC ABETZ: I think they will bring various life experiences to the Senate, and when you have a look at Mr Wang from Western Australia, Ms Lambie from Tasmania and Mr Lazarus from Queensland, different life experiences, different life experiences, different backgrounds, and they will undoubtedly add to the wealth of experience that will be represented in the Senate after the 1 July.

GREENE: To you, again, Zed Seselja - it's going to be like herding cats isn't it after July?

SESELJA: No, not at all. I mean obviously there's a range of parties that have got representation and that is our electoral system. Can I say it's great to have another Canberran in Glenn Lazarus coming back to the senate. He's someone who's well known here in Canberra. I think pretty well respected for the role he played here for the Canberra Raiders and as a national icon.

GREENE: Does that make him qualified for parliament?

SESELJA: Well, he qualified for Parliament because he got elected by the people. So that's the ultimate qualification for Parliament. I don't think that we should say that certain people from certain backgrounds don't belong in our Parliament. I think that people make a contribution, someone like Glenn Lazarus has made a great contribution in sport. I'm sure he will be looking to make a very strong contribution. The people of Queensland have given him their support and I look forward to working with him.

GREENE: Andrew Leigh, do you envisage the Labor Party embracing the likes of Palmer United, perhaps even Family First as you work to perhaps block pieces of legislation next year?

LEIGH: We'll obviously deal respectfully with all members of parliament but I think for us, we know very clearly what we stand for and what we bring to the parliament. We'll be looking to hold the Abbott Government to account on things like his attempt to hide the boats, to hide the budget update, to hide his ministers from public view or even to hide his Indonesian press conference from local journalists. Those sort of issues are ones which an opposition ought to be appropriately scrutinising, as well as working to develop policy for the next term. Labor occupies a unique role in Australian public life. We have traditionally been the key generator of policy ideas and it's important that we continue to do that.

GREENE: But what about some of the policy ideas Tony Abbott has put out there? Is it already time for the Labor Party to start considering support for schemes like the paid parental leave scheme?

LEIGH: I'd find it difficult to see a circumstance in which we would back a scheme which is five times as generous for a millionaire family as it is for a family on minimum wage. At worst, you've typically seen in the past conservative governments offering tax cuts to the top and taking away benefits from the bottom. This time they're doing that but on top of that they're offering additional

benefits to those at the top.

SESELJA: On paid parental leave – Andrew, here in Canberra [he] knows that around about 50% of the workforce gets access to a pay replacement scheme through the public service. I think that's a good thing. Fifty per cent of the workforce in the private sector doesn't. Why is that fair? Why is it that people who work for small business not to have their wages replace and only get the minimum wage? It's pertinent right around the country. I think here in Canberra, we see it particularly. If you accept that it's reasonable for public servants to get their wages replaced when they go on parental leave, as I do, then why is it not reasonable for people who work for small businesses?

GREENE: Before we go on, we have some breaking news on the Western Australian Senate count, and the Australian Electoral Commission in that State has announced that there will not be a recount, so Senator Scott Ludlam appears now to have lost his seat. Do you welcome that decision?

SESELJA: Look, it's obviously very close. It's a decision for the electoral commission. So I respect their processes. It will obviously be very disappointing for the Greens to have lost a senator in WA. But you know, there are new senators who have been elected, so in the end these things are tough, when it's that close when you're only talking about a few votes but I'm sure the electoral commission has considered all of these arguments clearly.

GREENE: Andrew Leigh, briefly to you, is the Parliament a poorer place with the loss of Scott Ludlam.

LEIGH: I always got on well with Senator Ludlam. But certainly I am very pleased to see my colleague Louise Pratt returned. Louise brings a wealth of experience to the parliament. She was one of those who argued passionately around same-sex marriage and around the reforms that Labor put in place to help transgender people. So having Louise back in the Labor Party room is something I welcome a great deal. I think I will be calling her 'Landslide Louise' after this one.

GREENE: Andrew, while we have you there, we should also look at the issue of paid parking, which today there has been an announcement here at Parliament that from next year, all visitors to Australia's Parliament will now have to pay for parking. Is that a fair concept for people wanting to see the house of government?

LEIGH: I will be watching with interest to see how the new government manages to implement this policy. It's going to be a complicated one to ensure fairness through the many employees who work in Parliament House. I will be consulting with my Labor colleagues and also encouraging those who are affected, whether they're members of the media, Labor staffers, Green staffers, even Coalition staffers to share their views with me about how this decision of the government is affecting them.

GREENE: This was a decision that began in the last budget which was handed down by Labor. Zed Seselja, do you support people from interstate, overseas, wherever having to pay for parking when they visit parliament?

SESELJA: I'm concerned about it. I think this is the people's house. Just today I was at the front of Parliament House and seeing tourists taking pictures, families there. We should make it as accessible as possible and this is a flow-on of the decision to implement paid parking in the Parliamentary Triangle. I would urge the government to actually reconsider this policy, because I think that it wasn't thought through by Labor and by bringing it in when they're planning to, I think

there could be some negative consequences.

Brendan Nelson has already highlighted the impact on the War Memorial, for instance. So the impact on our national institutions of this policy is real. I think we need to think through more how this might impact and what I don't want to see is people finding it more difficult to access their institutions because in the end, it's the Australian people who own the parliament and the War Memorial and these other great institutions.

GREENE: While you're lobbying your leader Tony Abbott have you had any more word own the ACT's same-sex marriage legislation?

SESELJA: No, look, there's no update on that. Obviously we know that Tony Abbott has said that George Brandis is seeking legal advice on that. I think that that is an important process. That we consider whether or not the ACT Assembly does have the constitutional ability to actually legislate for marriage, a power specifically listed as belonging to the federal parliament. My views on this are well known. The Coalition's views have been clear for a long time. But in this instance, what needs to be considered is, does the ACT Assembly have the ability, the constitutional power to actually legislate for marriage?

GREENE: Unfortunately, that is all we have time for tonight, we'd like to thank our guests here in Canberra, the Liberal senator Zed Seselja and in Melbourne, Andrew Leigh. Thanks very much. Thanks Andrew, thanks Zed. Thanks for your company tonight.

ENDS

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