'Breaking Politics' with Tim Lester

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

Topics:                         Leadership, Coalition’s plan for northern Australia


Tim Lester:                          Kelly O’Dwyer, Andrew Leigh, thank you for coming in this morning. Andrew Leigh, what should Kevin Rudd do for Labor’s and the country’s best benefit this week?

Andrew Leigh: Well Kevin has clearly said, Tim, that there’s no circumstances in which he believes he could lead the Labor Party to the next election. We have a Prime Minister and I think the important thing is to be focussed on the policy differences between the major parties.

Tim Lester:                          So, Kevin’s said enough in terms of ruling himself out for leadership? He doesn’t need to be clearer in that regard?

Andrew Leigh: I think he has and I think that if there’s a choice in Australian politics it’s a choice between parties. I suspect this is an issue with which Kelly would agree with me: there are big differences between the parties. In my view, an Opposition which doesn’t have an education policy, a health policy, whose Northern Australia plan is a rehash of things that are already happening, and whose broadband plan delivers fibre to a cabinet down the street rather than fibre to your home. They’re big questions in Australian politics and they’re ones that deserve greater scrutiny.

Kelly O’Dwyer:                  Surprisingly though, I don’t agree with you. I know you’re going to find this shocking…

Andrew Leigh: You don’t think the big differences in Australia are between the parties?

Kelly O’Dwyer:                  I think your analysis is somewhat off, but the point I would make is this: there is clearly extraordinary dysfunction in the Labor Party right now. It’s the third year anniversary of Julia Gillard taking over from Kevin Rudd, the ‘faceless men’ installing her; they openly declared this on Lateline three years ago. She said that she was going to fix a number of problems facing Australia. On each of those three things; on the economy, on the mining tax, on boats, she has most abysmally failed. She has divided caucus, she has divided Shadow, well I was going to say Shadow Cabinet but it is actually the Cabinet that’s, they’re behaving like a Shadow Cabinet…

[Tim Lester:                        Give it time]

Andrew Leigh: This is measuring the curtains going on already, Tim.

Kelly O’Dwyer:                  No, no, no, they’re behaving, though, like a Shadow Cabinet. They’re behaving as though they are in opposition rather than in government because they take no responsibility for any of the decisions that they make. I take your point though, that there are clear differences between the Opposition and the Government. One is competent, one is incompetent. You have got a Coalition that knows how to handle an economy, knows how to handle a budget. We have seen this current Treasurer deliver five budget deficits. We are going to go past the $300 billion gross debt ceiling – a ceiling he said we would never reach, a ceiling he has increased from $75 billion. We are paying interest bills now of $8 billion a year. I mean, this is incompetence writ large.

Tim Lester:                          Ok, pretty standard political positions from you both. But just on the question, dare I ask you to counsel Labor, Kelly, but what does Kevin Rudd need to do to give Labor, and give the country frankly, the certainty it needs?

Kelly O’Dwyer:                  Go to an election.

Tim Lester:                          But should he stand up and fight the leadership? Is there a time to ‘put up or shut up’ here, or isn’t it that simple?

Kelly O’Dwyer:                  Well look, I wouldn’t actually give the Labor Party any advice other than this: the Australian people are sick of the farce, they’re sick of the soap opera, they’re sick of incompetence in government and they’re sick of a Prime Minister who is totally focussed on trying to keep her own job rather than concerned about the Australian people. They want to go to an election right now to ensure that we have certainty in our government and to restore confidence so that business can get on with what it does best which is growing our economy and employing people.

Tim Lester:                          Andrew Leigh, you want a…

Andrew Leigh: Well I just understand certainly why the Coalition are banging this ‘election now’ drum; it’s because they hope to skate into power without proper scrutiny of their policies and there are massive policy differences. The tax rise the Coalition would impose on the superannuation of low wage workers would cost a childcare worker $75,000 in lost savings over the course of their career…

[Kelly O’Dwyer:                Because of your borrowing, those children are going to be paying increased taxes for generations to come.]

Andrew Leigh: …And in the case where Kelly’s spoken about economic management, if you look at the savings made in the last five Labor budgets there’s eight times the savings made in the last five Howard budgets…

[Kelly O’Dwyer:                You’ve increased the [inaudible] more than $100 billion a year]

Andrew Leigh: …The difference is a global financial crisis and significant revenue write-downs seeing the tax as a share of GDP fall from 24 per cent to 22 per cent.

Tim Lester:                          Ok, just a couple of quick wrap up issues on the leadership question. This morning, the Australian has a Newspoll that mirrors last week’s Nielson poll, and Fairfax papers have a piece in which Gillard backers argue that actually the problem in the polls at the moment is that there is the focus on Kevin Rudd. Leadership is damaging Labor in the polls, do you agree?

Andrew Leigh:                   Certainly I think the Coalition are the favourites at the moment and we are the underdogs. That’s reflected in Kelly’s comments suggesting Labor already has a Shadow Cabinet. And that sheer arrogance that characterise the Coalition…

[Kelly O’Dwyer:                No, I’m saying you’re behaving like an opposition is what I’m suggesting]

Andrew Leigh: …Certainly I think if you look at the track record of this Government: 586 Bills passed through the House of Representatives, a price on carbon pollution (which the experts agree with), a Murray-Darling Basin plan finally settled after over a century of argy-bargy, and a seat on the UN Security Council thanks to assiduous diplomatic work. These are big and important achievements.

Tim Lester:                          Ok, can I ask you both, our paper the Age, Fairfax media’s the Age, dared to editorialise at the weekend that Labor should change leaders from Gillard to Rudd. First you, Andrew, was that a fair thing for a major daily newspaper like the Age to do?

Andrew Leigh: I don’t think most people take their cues from editorials and I think that is true also of the Labor caucus. Prime Minister Gillard will lead us to the next election.

Tim Lester:                          As an enlightened Member of Parliament from Melbourne, what did you think of your daily newspaper doing that, Kelly O’Dwyer?

Kelly O’Dwyer:                  Well I think it certainly made a splash, but look, it’s a matter for the Age to determine its own editorial policy so I’ll leave it at that, I think.

Tim Lester:                          The Coalition’s ‘Developing Northern Australia Plan’ was released last week. What evidence do you see that a change of plan like this, an emphasis on the north can double the country’s agricultural output?

Kelly O’Dwyer:                  Well absolutely this is part of the vision for the future of Australia, and for northern Australia. For too long it has been ignored, too long have we seen people not make decisions in the national interest. What we’ve said is that we need a plan for northern Australia; we need to have a proper infrastructure plan that survives not one, not two but more than three elections time.

Tim Lester:                          Plan? Or pie in the sky?

Kelly O’Dwyer:                  No, no, no, you’ve got to have a vision and a plan for northern Australia before you can implement it and that’s what we’ve said, we’ve said that we need to actually have this discussion underway. We need to ensure that we work together with the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, with the State Premiers in the north to get the right infrastructure so that we can capitalise on our competitive advantages as a country. We know that we are a clean and green agricultural producer; we know that we are going to see increased demand from Asia; this is something that Australia can greatly benefit from if we put the right infrastructure in place.

Tim Lester:                          Andrew Leigh, plan? Or pie in the sky?

Andrew Leigh: I certainly agree with Kelly about the importance of infrastructure spending. That’s why if you look at infrastructure spending under this Government, road spending is double the Howard Government level, rail spending four times the Howard Government level. I think perhaps the most enlightening thing that you can learn about this policy is that it recommends the creation of a set of ministerial meetings that already happen. If Mr Abbott spent a little bit more time using Google and a little bit less time coming up with catchy slogans he might actually realise that what he’s recommending out of all this already exists.

Tim Lester:                          What, that this kind of planning is already down the track?

Andrew Leigh: Absolutely, there’s a strong focus on the importance of Northern Australia. There are ministerial meetings taking place and the strategy of improving our food exports to Asia is one that’s at the core of the government’s Australia in the Asian Century White Paper.

Tim Lester:                          Andrew Leigh, Kelly O’Dwyer thank you for coming in this morning.

Kelly O’Dwyer:                  Great to be with you.

Andrew Leigh: Thanks Tim. Thanks Kelly.

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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.