Transcript - Breaking Politics with Tim Lester

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

TOPICS                               Neilson poll, Labor leadership, Victoria and the National Plan for School Improvement, refugees, hung parliaments

Tim Lester:                          Kelly O’Dwyer and Andrew Leigh, thank you for coming back into Breaking Politics today.

Kelly O’Dwyer:                  Great to be with you

Andrew Leigh: Pleasure

Tim Lester:                          Andrew, you first, for five months now the Gillard Government has been completely lifeless in the polls. You still are this morning, except for those numbers on Kevin Rudd were he to come back as leader and the chance that he apparently would give Labor to win. Can you look us straight in the face and honestly say that Labor MPs won’t be chewing over a leadership change in the next two weeks?

Andrew Leigh: Tim, I think it’s pretty clear that Labor is the underdog going into this election. You can tell that from a variety of indicators; not least the fact that the Coalition are clearly measuring up curtains in the Lodge. They’re bullying bureaucrats - telling Treasury officials that if they don’t get the numbers they want that heads would roll under an Abbott Government. We’re the underdog, but…

Tim Lester:                          Underdog or dead dog? Seriously, I mean, at what point do you say, and I don’t mean to be condescending…

Andrew Leigh: It’s pretty arrogant to the Australian people to suggest that the election has been decided before polling day, Tim. I’ve got a lot of respect for my voters.

Tim Lester:                          Of course, but there’s a point at which you have to look at those numbers and say no, this is just the way it’s going isn’t it? Where it’s a denial of the obvious to say, oh no, we’re a reasonable chance to win under Julia Gillard.

Andrew Leigh: Look Tim, I’ve been clear that we’re the underdog and our strategy over the next few months is going to be talking about policy, talking about the national broadband network, the choice people have between getting fibre to the home or having to pay $5000 to get the fibre connected under Tony Abbott’s scheme. The choice between low income earners paying no tax on their super contributions or having tax raised under Mr Abbott. The choice between better schools – every government school in Victoria getting more money under the Gonski plan, or having that money ripped away under Mr Abbott.

Tim Lester:                          And that shot of adrenaline that Rudd would give in terms of leadership - don’t know whether he would win it for you – but the shot of adrenaline he would give will not be discussed by Labor MPs you don’t think this fortnight.

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

Tim Lester:                          Ok, Kelly O’Dwyer there is so much capacity here for a Coalition to get cocky, isn’t there? There is just so much, so much reason to believe you are going to win the next election. That’s almost dangerous, isn’t it?

Kelly O’Dwyer:                  Tim, I would certainly not say that there is any arrogance or hubris at all on the side of the Coalition. I mean, I find that exchange very interesting because of course, you know, I hate to say this Andrew, but I mean, you were making things up when you were saying that there was bullying going on with Treasury officials, I mean, you have no evidence to substantiate that statement, and I think it doesn’t do you justice to have made a statement like that. Certainly we know that every day we have to go out and explain to the Australian people why we will be a better government than the current government. Now, it is fair to say that the Australian people have made a decision on the current Prime Minister; they don’t think she’s doing a good job, they don’t think has been a particularly good government and that’s revealed time and time again when you talk to people on the streets, which is what I do. But it is not true to say that there is any arrogance on our side of politics. You know, we will have the judgement of the Australian people on polling day, whenever that might be.

Tim Lester:                          Parties love to go to elections as the underdog, you know, champion the underdog, there’s a thing about that in Australian politics. You are not the underdog for this election, are you? Nowhere near!

Kelly O’Dwyer:                  Well, I mean I, all I can say to you, Tim, is that every day I do what all of my colleagues do and that is make sure that I’m out there talking about policies that are of interest to the Australian people. I’ll tell you one thing that isn’t of interest to them and that is this ‘leadership lotto’ that seems to happen every day, this very insular, inward focus about who is going to be Labor leader today, whether it’s Julia Gillard or Kevin Rudd. I think Australians are really sick of that this Government is focussed inwardly on itself and not on the concerns that people have.

Tim Lester:                          Ok, one of those concerns and one of those policy positions that the Coalition is taking is that it would deport refugees, it says, who commit crimes that would carry gaol terms of more than twelve months, even if the refugee concerned wasn’t convicted or sentenced to a twelve month term. Why the need to go that hard on refugees? To force deportation in those cases?

Kelly O’Dwyer:                  In cases where people have committed crimes?

Tim Lester:                          Yes

Kelly O’Dwyer:                  Well, I think we’re already…

Tim Lester:                          We’re talking about deportation. That is, on a boat and out of here.

Kelly O’Dwyer:                  … Well, if you’re not an Australian citizen and you’ve committed a crime, it’s entirely appropriate that you would be deported. I don’t see the controversy in that.

Tim Lester:                          The bar is pretty low though, isn’t it? I mean, it strikes me that this is an easy signal to make on a highly sensitive issue.

Kelly O’Dwyer:                  Well I think most Australians would be very concerned if there were people committing crimes here and, you know, wanting to stay in this country. I mean, I don’t see the controversy in deporting people who have committed crimes. We do that quite routinely already, where people who have committed crimes here who are citizens of another country get deported back to that country.

Tim Lester:                          Andrew Leigh, your view?

Andrew Leigh: Certainly, Tim, in extreme cases where people have committed serious crimes they can currently be deported. That’s happened in 97 cases over the past year. That’s actually happened on a higher number of cases than has happened in the last year of the Howard Government. So, I think what’s striking about this issue is the Coalition is calling for a policy which exists in a better thought through form already. I mean, the Coalition’s policy has this odd thing where they say you have to stay out for twenty years and then you can come back. That sounds a pretty strange way of structuring a policy. This policy exists already and Mr Abbott is just really trying to drum up fear and, I think, undermine the good standing of asylum seekers in the community. 0.2 per cent of asylum seekers have committed crimes – a lower rate than in the broader public. By and large, asylum seekers have contributed great things to public life. Whether that’s Frank Lowy, Majak Daw, Anh Do, we ought to be celebrating these stories of refugees rather than trying to drum up fear.

Tim Lester:                          Another policy issue that’s been raised that clearly divides you to some extent is on the comments from the Victorian Premier with regards to Gonski and the fact that he says, Mr  Napthine says, that some Victorian schools will be worse off under the Government’s plan. Is he right?

Andrew Leigh: Well Mr Napthine’s methodology is at odds with the numbers the Government has put out and here’s the reason for that: the Government has put out figures based on indexation rates as we expect them to be. The indexation rate that Mr Napthine assumes is 4.7%. But this year alone it’s 3.9%, and is projected to fall to 3% largely because indexation falls when conservative governments cut school funding, as they’ve been doing. So, when you use the right indexation rate you find the right result which is that all government schools in Victoria are better off under the National Plan for School Improvement. Rather than calling for the scrapping of penalty rates as Mr Napthine has been doing today, he ought to be supporting more money for every government school kid in his state.

Kelly O’Dwyer:                  Can I just pick Andrew up on that point? Because I think it’s actually an important point. Firstly, the Premier has actually put out a list of hundreds of schools that will be worse of according to, as you appropriately say, the figures that have been put together by the Victorian Government.  The reason why the Government’s figures, the Federal Government’s figures, are wrong is because they are using an indexation rate that is completely at odds with the historical average indexation that has occurred over the last ten years which has been around about 6 per cent indexation…

Andrew Leigh: When Labor state governments were investing

Kelly O’Dwyer:                  No, no, no, just let me finish, because it’s a very, very important point. The Government is trying to dodgy up the figures to try and support their argument. The Government is in fact cutting funding to schools. They’re cutting funding to schools right across the nation. In fact, they’re cutting it by around about $300 million. All the promised ‘new funding’ that they say will be delivered will be in two elections time. Now, we can’t rely on the Government’s figures to last for more than six months, I mean, you know, you would have to be critical of Treasurer Wayne Swan and his ability to stick to the forecasts and the figures. I don’t think we can rely on the Government’s figures more than five years out.

Tim Lester:                          Andrew Leigh?

Andrew Leigh: Well the National Plan for School Improvement sees $16 billion more in funding going to schools around Australia. It replaces a system which I think people have largely agreed is broken. The simple answer to Kelly’s question is that the federal indexation is currently based …

[Kelly O’Dwyer:                Well, they clearly haven’t agreed]

Andrew Leigh: …on the average of spending and so Kelly’s comparing a period in which you largely had Labor state and territory governments doing appropriate investment in education. Now we’ve got conservative state governments cutting back, the Federal Government formula mechanically cuts back funding to the schools. That’s just daft. So this plan sees a better way of allocating funding based on socioeconomic status…

[Kelly O’Dwyer:                How much new funding is the Commonwealth providing to schools?]

Andrew Leigh: …based on Indigeneity, based on regionality and to answer Kelly’s question, it’s $16 billion of new funding under the National Plan for School Improvement.

[Kelly O’Dwyer:                In the next four years. No, in the next four years]

Kelly O’Dwyer:                  Well that’s simply not correct. The Commonwealth is not providing new funding over the next four years. They’re relying on the states to increase levels of funding. They say they’re going to provide $7 billion new funding in year five can’t be believed. You absolutely cannot believe or rely in a promise made by this Government.

Tim Lester:                          Ok, I think moving beyond Gonski, as a closing question I’d like to ask you both as we’re running out of time, sittings of the 43rd Parliament will end Thursday week, it’s all over. What has this parliament taught us, Kelly O’Dwyer, about minority governments and whether they can work?

Kelly O’Dwyer:                  I think it’s taught us that minority governments are not very good, particularly governments that rest on the Greens, a Government where we have got a Labor-Greens alliance with a number of Labor independents. It’s not achieved good outcomes for Australians more broadly. I think it has ignored the real concerns that people have. Unfortunately I think this is going to go down as a pretty sort of sad part of our history in Australian democracy. I think that civility in the parliament has not been at its highest and I think that that is quite shameful.

Tim Lester:                          Andrew Leigh, minority governments: do we now know they work or don’t work?

Andrew Leigh: Well I certainly agree with Kelly’s point about the decline in civility in the parliament and I think one of the challenges there is that Mr Abbott has been the most negative Opposition Leader in history.

[Kelly O’Dwyer:                Take some responsibility]

Andrew Leigh: The reason that has happened is that minority government involves a lot of negotiation in public with independents about policy questions. But we’ve seen a range of policy reforms go through: the price on carbon pollution, the profits-based mining tax, the increases in superannuation from 9% to 12%, DisabilityCare- which will be a fundamental pillar of our social safety net, the National Broadband Network, and that’s just a tiny sample of the more than 500 bills that have passed the House of Representatives.

Tim Lester:                          Did better than forecast?

Andrew: So we’ve certainly gotten an awful lot done. But one of the challenges I think this has illustrated in minority government is the one that Kelly points to of maintaining civility, and frankly, that’s a challenge for all of us in parliament.

Tim Lester:                          Andrew Leigh, Kelly O’Dwyer, thanks for coming in today.

Andrew Leigh: Thanks Tim. Thanks Kelly.

Kelly O’Dwyer:                  Thanks Tim.

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