Transcript - ABC News 24 Breakfast

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

Topics:                                  Leadership, Coalition’s lack of health policy

Michael Rowland:            We’re joined now by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, Andrew Leigh, and Opposition for Health and Ageing Spokesman, Peter Dutton. Gentlemen, good morning to you both.

Peter Dutton:                    Good morning

Andrew Leigh: Morning, Michael

Michael Rowland:            Andrew Leigh, picking up on Greg Combet, does that leadership issue have to be resolved this week?

Andrew Leigh: Well Michael, Kevin Rudd has made clear that there are no circumstances that would see him returning to the Prime Ministership and I think the main focus of this week is going to be between the big policy differences between the major parties. I’m sure Peter and I disagree on the substance of many of those issues, but I think we would agree on this point: that the main differences in Australian politics aren’t within parties - they’re between them. From my point of view, that’s differences like the fact that the Coalition a couple of months out from an election doesn’t have an education or a health policy. They have a second-rate broadband policy. That they have a policy on climate change that is not supported by any serious economist. That on superannuation they would raise superannuation taxes on the lowest paid workers in order to be able to give tax cuts to the biggest miners and the biggest polluters. So it’s those big values questions that I think are going to characterise the week rather than these sorts of questions of gossip and say so.

Michael Rowland:            It’s more than gossip and say so, with respect, Andrew Leigh. Greg Combet there saying it’s distracting Labor from pursuing its, as you say, policy agenda. It has to be resolved, in his words, this week. Gary Gray, another key supporter of the Prime Minister, last week, lashing out at Kevin Rudd, accusing him of lacking the ticker, lacking the courage to stand again. This isn’t gossip; this is a party at odds with each other.

Andrew Leigh: Michael, I can’t fault you for being excited about the colour and movement that might be going around Parliament House...

Michael Rowland:            I’m not excited, Andrew Leigh, I’m just putting questions to you that, you know, it is glib to say that this is simply gossip and say so.

Andrew Leigh: Michael, with respect, I think you are missing the big story in Australian politics if three months out from an election you think that the main question that concerns Australians is questions of internal party management. They are in fact the big differences between the parties. Mr Abbott, with his $70 billion costings gap has to either raise taxes on Australians or cut services and at the moment we’re seeing him largely evade scrutiny with his approach of throwing out white papers left, right and centre in an attempt to sort of pretend that he’s thinking big but not in fact be honest with the Australian people about the services that they will lose if he’s elected to office. He said that everything is on the table, and so that means potential cuts to pensions, to services that people rely on. Your Queensland viewers will know the Campbell Newman playbook - this approach of suggesting a Commission of Audit before the election, which after the election delivers swingeing cuts to essential services; cuts to the police force, to education, nurses losing their jobs, these are really important issues and they’re the sorts of things that come back to me. I was out doorknocking in Kaleen on the weekend and that’s what people were more focussed upon.

Michael Rowland:            We’ll get to those policy issues in just a moment. Peter Dutton, over to you. Can we just clarify, we heard Christopher Pyne standing outside Parliament earlier this morning saying there won’t be a no confidence motion put by the Coalition this week. We’re speaking of commitments, people making commitments, backing away from commitments: you put an awful lot of store in threatening to do this, why is the Coalition now seeming to be backing off from that no confidence motion avenue?

Peter Dutton:                    Well Michael, just to sum up where we’re at at the moment - Andrew’s had a lot to say in his opening remarks - this is obviously a divided and dysfunctional government, there’s no question about that. Andrew, it seems to me, has all the credibility of Comical Ali standing up there saying, “there’s nothing to see here”, no leadership issues and yet you’ve got Cabinet ministers threatening to resign, you’ve got people who are fighting within Labor like we haven’t seen in a couple of generations. And Labor at war with itself is bad for the Australian public and it seems to me at the moment that the Labor Party on the third anniversary of the ‘faceless men’ taking to Kevin Rudd are now at war with themselves about whether they’ll stick with Julia Gillard or go with Kevin Rudd, but in the end all of this distils down to this point, Michael: the Labor Party is obsessed with itself and has forgotten about the Australian people. It has no plan for the future and it really, we’re desperate to have these policy discussions because we have a superior offering at the federal election but the Labor Party continues to fight, it continues to brawl within itself and even if this issue is not brought to a head this week it will haunt the Labor Party right through, not just to the federal election, but for years to come, because in opposition I believe the Labor Party will continue to tear themselves apart. And Michael, at the moment, the Labor Party is not saying, “We’re thinking about bringing back Kevin Rudd because we think he’s a good Prime Minister, or because we like him as a person, or because we think that he would be good for the country’s future. They’re saying to the Australian people, “we’re contemplating bringing back Kevin Rudd because in spite of the fact that we loathe him we want to try and save some seats so that Bill Shorten can have a better launching pad as the Leader of the Opposition.” This is not a functional government and it just gets worse every day.

Michael Rowland:            Well let’s talk about policy. The thing is, Peter Dutton, we can’t really do that with you because you told the Financial Review earlier this month, effectively the Coalition doesn’t have, and won’t have a health policy going to the election, because you told that paper there are other more pressing issues. Is that good enough for a health spokesman?

Peter Dutton:                    Well that’s not what was said at all, Michael. What I’ve said is that health has had to take a back seat, if you like, to the issues that the Government has presided over: $300 billion worth of debt, cost of living pressures for families, businesses that don’t have any consumer or business confidence, people who have been sacked or are living under a great threat of being sacked because there’s no confidence in the workplace, the 45,000 people who have come by boats. All of these issues, Labor’s ongoing battles over leadership, all of that means we can’t talk, we can’t get the airtime because, like in this interview, we’ve spent the first five minutes talking about the Labor Party…

Michael Rowland:            Alright, I’m asking you about your policy, or your lack of health policy. Here’s your opportunity, Peter Dutton.

Peter Dutton:                    Well our policy is ready to go, Michael. I mean, I’ve been working on policy with stakeholders in this portfolio behind the scenes every day over the course of the last five years. And we will have a cracker of a policy as we did at the last election. We announced a $1.5 billion mental health policy, we announced new beds, we announced funding for doctors, allied health professionals, more funding in aged care in the primary care space. We’ve got a lot that we will announce at an appropriate time. But I’m not going to be lectured by the Labor Party about when our announcements will be made. If you try and get a front page story at the moment, it’s pretty hard to compete with Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard in this Days of Our Lives episode that knows no end, and I think the Labor Party needs to get itself sorted out because to be this divided and dysfunctional you cannot lead the Australian people and that’s why people are falling off the Labor Government at the moment. We’ll make our announcements at a time that suits us.

Michael Rowland:            Andrew Leigh, let’s go to a policy issue very dear to the heart of the Prime Minister, of course, the Gonski reforms. The deadline she set expires at the end of next week for the remaining states and territories to sign up. Is there now virtually no hope of those reforms being agreed to?

Andrew Leigh: Well Michael, these are really important reforms for local schools. I spend a lot of time in schools in my electorate as I’m sure Peter does in his. And you really get a sense that our current school funding model is broken. That a model that has these decade old grandfather clauses - and where federal funding is tied to state funding, so when conservative state governments cut back, the federal funding falls. That’s not a model to take us to be one of the best performing school systems in the Asian region. And so I think that we need these schools reforms. I think they’re sensible reforms that provide loadings to Indigenous kids, kids in regional areas and low-SES students and reforms from which all students stand to benefit. I’d also say quickly on Peter’s comments on the health policy, he says it’s a cracker of a policy but every so often crackers go off in your face. I’m sure Australian people are saying, “well Peter, if it’s so good, why won’t you bring it out of witness protection? If your health policy is really that great for Australian people why don’t you be clear about what you’re going to do?”. And all I’ve heard from Peter on his health policy is suggestions that he wants to get rid of the public servants in the Health Department who manage campaigns around reducing obesity and binge drinking, who manage getting drugs listed on the PBS. I mean, if you want new drugs listed on the PBS as Nicola Roxon said last week, then you don’t want your health policy to be firing people in the Department.

Michael Rowland:            Alright. Ok Peter, can you answer some of those claims?

Peter Dutton:                    Well I just think it’s quite amusing to hear Andrew talk about crackers and celebration. I’d be interested to know how he’s celebrating the third year anniversary of Julia Gillard’s ascension today. It hasn’t been spoken about much, but it’s worth noting and I’d be very interested to see, Andrew, what you’re going to do to celebrate today. But look, in  terms of the bureaucratic spend within the health portfolio, no question that the Labor Party has increased the number of bureaucratic numbers in the Department by 27% over the course of the last five years. A few years ago there were three outside agencies: there are now eighteen agencies. The Department did have two Departmental deputy-secretaries, there are now six. And yet at the same time we’re seeing money taken away from front line services and all I’ve said is that we’ll have an absolute priority to get more of the health spend back to front line services, not to take money away, but to give more money to doctors and nurses so that we can get the surgery for elderly Australians, so that we can reduce waiting times in emergency departments, so that we can make it easier to get in to see a doctor. Those are the policies that we’re working on. At the same time, Labor has spent an enormous amount of money on this ever growing bureaucracy, Michael.

Michael Rowland:            We’re out of time, Peter Dutton, Andrew Leigh. Thank you. We’ll just have to wait to see just what sort of crackers do go off.

Andrew Leigh: Thank you Michael, thank you Peter.

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.