ABC 24 with Jamie Briggs

LYNDAL CURTIS: Jamie Briggs and Andrew Leigh, welcome to News 24.


JAMIE BRIGGS: Good afternoon.

CURTIS: Jamie, the Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey has called for more money to be spent on welfare reform, talking about increased case management, increased income management. In times when budgets are tight, do you think it’s reasonable to spend money on welfare now in order to potentially save later?

BRIGGS: I think the country has to, Lyndal. We are facing in the next few years some significant labour shortages because we have a resource sector which is performing very strongly. We have a reconstruction effort in Queensland which will suck up a lot more of the labour force as well, and we have an ageing population. So we have to address this challenge. The Howard Government began addressing this challenge in its last three years. Unfortunately there has been steps backwards under the Labor Government because the re-regulation of the workplace will make it harder for these types of workers to re-enter the workforce, and I think what Joe’s saying is we have to have a good hard look at addressing these challenges in the coming years.

CURTIS: Andrew Leigh, is there a prospect for bi-partisanship on this? Because the government wants to take the issue of income management national, is there prospect that the two sides could actually agree?

LEIGH: Lyndal, there’s certainly agreement on this and I’m really pleased to hear that Joe Hockey is picking up on an idea that Labor has been pursuing for the last couple of years, and is now supporting it. We’ve had in place systems of non-discriminatory income management rolled out in the Northern Territory, Perth, the Kimberly, and there’s a trial on foot which will report back in 2014. But what we’ve seen unfortunately from Mr Hockey is what we often see, which is this kind of lazy sense that if you read something in a paper one day, you can give a speech about it the next day and pretend it’s your idea. My former profession of academia we used to call that plagiarism. I’m not quite sure what we call it in politics.

CURTIS: But isn’t it worth taking a look at? Isn’t it worth putting the issues up there to start a conversation?

LEIGH: Yeah, you can certainly start that conversation. I think that’s important. But it doesn’t hurt to say I agree with what the government is doing; I’m interested in the trial which currently on foot, reports back in 2014, and here’s where I think it should go. But we often see this from Mr Hockey; we saw this around banking reform; that sense you could get away with reading stuff in the paper and re-presenting it as your own ideas. The Australian people deserve a little bit more from an opposition than that I think. They deserve new ideas, not re-packaged ideas.

CURTIS: Jamie Briggs.

BRIGGS: That’s just, I mean honestly, one day you have the Labor Party screaming blue murder that all we do is run negative scare campaigns and then the next day when we’re talking about policies, important policies, important areas which actually, if Andrew is in the business of giving credit, it would be fascinating to hear this, he might go back and give credit to John Howard and Peter Costello, because they were the people who started to address this challenge. They say oh well, you know, it’s just sort of our idea somehow and he’s re-packaging. I mean Joe Hockey started the banking debate last year. The Treasurer is now desperately trying to catch up. Joe Hockey has now started this debate, an important debate. The Labor Party can’t have it both ways. They can’t accuse us of just purely running negative campaigns at the same time saying that we’re dreaming up ideas to talk about. The two don’t walk together.

CURTIS: Jamie Briggs is there any hope ever of bi-partisan agreement if both sides are in fundamental agreement in the question of income management, yet you can’t stop sparring?

BRIGGS: It’s important in a democracy to argue about ideas, Lyndal. You can have a similar goal, but you can have a difference in how you get there, and I think over time you’ve seen that the Liberal Party has not only talked about these types of ideas, but they’ve also worked out ways to deliver, and in government we delivered. We delivered low unemployment. We delivered higher wages. We delivered opportunities for people to get off welfare and into work. On the other hand, with the Labor Party, their record has been more patchy in this area.

CURTIS: Andrew Leigh, has the case of welfare reform actually stalled in the last few years, apart from the issue of income management? Ken Henry suggested a lot of things to deal with what’s called the tax and transfer system to try and get people off welfare. But neither party has really taken any of those ideas up.

LEIGH: Well Lyndal I don’t accept that characterisation. I mean the non-discriminatory income management trial, which I guess is the difference between the Howard Government’s system of income management which was racially discriminatory…

CURTIS: Although that started of…

LEIGH: And Labor’s which is not racially discriminatory. There is a trial taking place, there’s a consortium of universities analysing those results and that will report back in 2014. So yes we should have that debate, but it would be useful if Mr Hockey came in at the point at which the discussion is taking place, rather than pretending that he can start something new on the side.

CURTIS: But the question of welfare reform, broader than just income management, addressing the underlying causes that lead to income management and also the barriers to people getting jobs.

LEIGH: I think that’s absolutely an important issue. I was up in Cape York this week, I’m on the economics committee which is looking at the broad issue of indigenous economic development, sitting down in some of these remote communities, one with a population of 20 people, talking about ways of improving an employment base. One of the critical things of course that Labor has done since we came to power in 2007 is fiscal stimulus through the global financial crisis. That made sure that 200,000 people who would otherwise had been unemployed managed to keep their jobs. That is a massive impact on Australia’s unemployment roles and one which unfortunately the Coalition at the time opposed.

CURTIS: Jamie Briggs, are there any areas of welfare reform you think also need to be addressed.

BRIGGS: As I alluded to earlier, you need a mix of measures to address what are a difficult group of people to get back into the workforce for various reasons, and one of those is to ensure you have workplace laws which do not preclude employers, or do not disencourage employers from taking on the more difficult in the labour market, and I think that is an area which the Labor Party has certainly gone backwards in. We’ve just heard Andrew’s comment then the prescription in the Labor Party is to spend money. They claim that’s the best way to create jobs. They only know how to create jobs. Not employers, the Labor Party and the government, which of course everyone knows is bumpkin. It is the employers, it is the businesses, the small business people out there who if you can get government out of the way, we’ll get on with the business of employing people, we’ll be in the business of giving people an opportunity and this is where I think the Labor Party has made a fundamental error, which will be bad for our economy in the long term.

LEIGH: Can I just come to one aspect of what Jamie said? Trying to take some of the politics out of this, I think there are two broad ideological views as to how to tackle this question. The Coalition’s is very much about labour market reform and I was at a conference over the weekend where we were talking about some of these sorts of issues. The Labor Party’s is very much around human capital; improving the quality of our schools; making sure our trade training centres are better; making sure our university system works better. We’re much more about improving employment rates by giving people the skills to get the jobs of the future, that’s our strategy. Not through removing protections that look after workers.

CURTIS: If we could turn now to Julia Gillard’s speech to the Congress, Jamie Briggs, for a self-confessed foreign policy reluctant, do you think Julia Gillard actually hit the right notes?

BRIGGS: Talking of notes Lyndal, I did note that it was nice that she referred to the experience of watching the Americans send a man to the moon. And it was interesting that it was a similar story that Bono recounted, the lead singer of U2, some four or five years ago, when he told his story about his first experiences of Americans, sitting in a school yard watching the Americans send a man to the moon and how wonderful that was and how America could do anything, and it was quite interesting the word plagiarism that Andrew used earlier. But look overall it was a good speech. It was a speech that you would expect an Australian Prime Minister to deliver. We need a close relationship with the United States and I am glad that Julia Gillard in her last 20 years has come around to that view, because at university, and not long after, when she was a member of the socialist alliance, she didn’t think so much about that at the time. And of course, her co-Prime Minister Bob Brown doesn’t like the American alliance at all. So it was very good to see that at least one member of the coalition party in government agrees with the American alliance and paid the due respect it deserves.

CURTIS: Andrew Leigh, it does seem that the question of commitment to the American alliance is not an issue for either major party. Julia Gillard also had some praise for John Howard, is it the speech we could expect from the Prime Minister?

LEIGH: Lyndal, I’m slightly biased on this given I have an alliance of my own; my wife is from the US. I loved the speech, and I thought it did what a great speech should do, which was to tell stories. So it told the story of Sapper Jamie Larcombe who died serving Australia in Afghanistan. It told the story of Kevin Dowdell, an Australian firefighter who was lost on September 11. It talked about the greatest generation and it talked about the Prime Minister’s own experiences as a little girl, watching America land on the moon. In some sense in a world of seven-second media grabs, we can often lose the value of those stories and the way in which weaving together those stories has such a powerful provocative emotional effect on people.

CURTIS: It also was a speech Jamie that used language that might make Australians feel a little uncomfortable. There was a touch of hyperberly. Is that something that you do when speaking to an American audience because it’s the sort of language that Americans are more used to hearing?

BRIGGS: Look that’s an issue you will have to raise with the Prime Minister. I think the importance for an Australian Prime Minister in delivering a speech to that audience is to ensure that the very close and important relationship that we have with the United States - and it is good that Andrew has got a personal connection to the alliance, and I am sure it has strengthened the alliance - the respect that the alliance, our most important alliance, is given in that speech. She is our head of state, sorry she’s our head of government, and in that respect, when in America, I think Australians would expect that she shows the deference to the alliance that she did, and as I said earlier, I think it was a good speech. I did find the coincidence with the story of Bono a little intriguing, but I’m sure both have had that experience.

CURTIS: That’s where we’ll have to leave it. Gentlemen, Andrew Leigh and Jamie Briggs, thank you very much for your time.

LEIGH: Thanks Lyndal.

BRIGGS: Good on you Lyndal.


(Thanks to JB for transcribing the discussion.)

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