Transcript - Sky AM Agenda

Andrew Leigh MP
Member for Fraser
1 July 2013

TOPICS:                                Cabinet appointments, NDIS.

Kieran Gilbert:                   Liberal front bencher, Senator Mitch Fifield and Labor front bencher, Andrew Leigh, gentlemen good morning to you. Andrew, first to you, I know you supported Julia Gillard right to the end but was Labor right to go to Mr Rudd given the polls of the last couple of days?

Andrew Leigh:                  Well certainly, Kieran, I think you’ve seen that the Government has a sense of energy about it and that’s because of the set of policies we’ve been pursuing. There is a great reform agenda that we will be going to the Australian people to talk about, from disability –

Kieran Gilbert:                   But was Labor right to change to Kevin Rudd now, do you think? Or, I know you backed Gillard to the end, but given what you’ve seen, and given this energy that you talk about, was it the right move?

Andrew Leigh:                  These are questions historians will pick over, Kieran. My view is that we have a fantastic set of policies and I’m going to be campaigning enthusiastically with Kevin Rudd to make the case for continuing the reform agenda, and-

Kieran Gilbert:                   Are you happy to be Parliamentary Secretary to a Prime Minister that you didn’t vote for? Because that’s your current job, isn’t it?

Andrew Leigh:                  In politics you do whatever job the leader asks you to do. I’m certainly somebody who’s never criticised Kevin Rudd; I think he’s served as a terrific Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, and he is passionate about these important reforms. Like the NBN, which is a big Labor reform which is at risk at the election.

Kieran Gilbert:                   The NBN which will have Anthony Albanese taking responsibility for the National Broadband Network, and Communications along with his Infrastructure responsibilities. Let’s go to Senator Fifield, is the Liberal Party a bit worried by this, or do you think that the poll bounce is just a sugar hit?

Mitch Fifield:                      Well Kieran, we’ve always said that winning elections isn’t easy; that to win from opposition is like climbing Mt Everest. And we’ve always said that the polls would tighten. It seems that there was only one side of politics who thought that the election was a foregone conclusion, and that was the other side. But we’ve always known that this will be difficult –

Kieran Gilbert:                   Ok, I’ve got to interrupt you there, Senator Fifield. Kevin Rudd, the Prime Minister, let’s cross to [inaudible]

[CLIP:                                    Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announces new Ministry]

Kieran Gilbert:                   Let’s go back to our panel now to go through the announcements by Kevin Rudd. Much to have known from the formal announcement there in Newcastle of his Ministry. Some other details have emerged. We’ve got Senator Mitch Fifield and Labor MP, Andrew Leigh with me this morning. Andrew first of all I want to go to your job, you were the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, but you’re no longer. Kevin Rudd said when he took the job people could stay where they were if they wanted to, but you’ve been demoted, why is that?

Andrew Leigh:                  Well Kieran, I told the Prime Minister I was willing to serve but if he needed my resignation in order to build the team around him he most wanted then I was happy to give that to him. I thought that was the ethical thing to do in the circumstances. Kevin Rudd has accepted that and he’s also asked me to play a role advising him on international economic issues, which I’m very happy to do. I think this is a challenging economic time for Australia.

Keiran Gilbert:                   So this is not retribution because you voted for Julia Gillard?

Andrew Leigh:                  No. Look, I think the Prime Minister has chosen a team around him that he thinks is what he wants to lead him to the election and I wanted to give him full flexibility in doing that. It’s a short period to the election and this is an election where a lot is at stake for Australia. I think it’s vital that we’re out there, all of us, making the case for the great Labor reforms and the risks to Australia’s economy. I mean, the British Conservatives put their economy back into recession with their savage austerity – that could easily happen here – Tony Abbott could put us back in recession.

Kieran Gilbert:                   Kevin Rudd was playing down the fact that there were, that it might be a gender issue, he said he doesn’t see things through the prism of gender, but three additional women into the Cabinet, the biggest female representation in a Ministry in Australian history, surely, is that not at least in part playing politics there to in part, I suppose, to counter a negative reaction to Labor dumping Australia’s first female Prime Minister?

Andrew Leigh:                  I’m very happy to go to each of those people, Kieran, and talk about why they’re incredibly strong Ministers and make great additions to Cabinet. Melissa Parke is one of the strongest activists on foreign aid-

Kieran Gilbert:                   She’s on the outer Ministry, though. She’s not on the-

Andrew Leigh:                  Well you’re talking about the women who’ve been promoted; I think Melissa is first rate. I think Julie Collins is a terrific Minister who understands, back to front, issues affecting the status of women, her current portfolio, and is razor sharp when it comes to picking up on new issues.

Kieran Gilbert:                   Ok, let’s look at some of the other key portfolios, like immigration, Tony Burke moves into that. He was a strong supporter of Julia Gillard throughout; he’s been moved into this key portfolio. Is that a sign from Kevin Rudd that he’s willing to let bygones be bygones? That he wants to bring in some of the Gillard camp? Or is that simply the best person for the job?

Andrew Leigh:                  Well, as I recall, this is a portfolio that Tony held when we were in opposition. He understands the issues well. His seat is one of the most diverse in Australia. And Tony recognises the importance of striking a regional solution on asylum seeker flows. He’s someone who’s used to working collaboratively and internationally. And maybe he’s the person who can bring the Opposition over the line to back the Houston Panel Recommendations.

Kieran Gilbert:                   He and Mark Butler now very much at the front and centre of the political debate too, of the younger and better performers of the Labor Party. Senator Fifield, I want to go to you on this, your reaction to that front bench that you’ll be facing in the lead up to an election, which looks like it’s going to be, well, a lot more competitive than it looked a couple of weeks ago.

Mitch Fifield:                      Well firstly, commiserations to Andrew.  You know, I don’t think that Kevin Rudd can afford to lose the contribution of people who have the talent that Andrew has so, sorry mate. But I think Kevin Rudd really summed things up in his opening comments where he said when he was first Prime Minister and was facing the global financial crisis, he had to learn on the job. That’s something that isn’t going to be the case if successful at the next election. Tony Abbott has been a long serving minister; he won’t have to learn on the job. There are lots of former ministers in his Cabinet; they won’t have to learn on the job. There are people like Kelly O’Dwyer, Tony Smith and myself who’ve served in senior positions in Treasurer’s offices; we won’t have to learn on the job. And that’s the issue: that after the Government have been in office for almost six years, they’re still learning on the job. They’re still coming to grips with it. And I don’t take any comfort from some of the appointments, like Chris Bowen as Treasurer. Yes, the Prime Minister is right, Chris Bowen is a good guy, but you need a strong person to be Treasurer of the country and Chris Bowen showed when he was Immigration Minister that he could not stand up to Julia Gillard and say, ‘you’re pursuing the wrong policies! Turn round, go back.’ You need a strong person as Treasurer and I don’t have any confidence that he or Kevin Rudd have a plan for how to start paying back our debt.

Kieran Gilbert:                   One of the elements we’ve mentioned this morning is this greater representation of women on the front bench. Mr Rudd was asked about it, let’s play you a little of what he had to say:

[CLIP:                                    This is a strong team. I’m proud to lead this team. This team has been selected on the basis of merit. I’m delighted that in this Cabinet of ours, we’ll have the largest number of women of any Cabinet in Australia’s history. This is a very strong team; Penny Wong at the head of it and so many others with her as well. I’ve mentioned before, of course, Jenny. I’ve mentioned also, of course, Tanya, joined by three new women ministers as well. This will be a great contribution to the cause of women as well as the cause of good government in Australia as well. ]

Kieran Gilbert:                   Senator Fifield, there you heard it, a record number of women on the front bench. You’d welcome that, wouldn’t you? That’s a good development?

Mitch Fifield:                      The way that this Prime Minister and the previous Prime Minister have approached appointments to the Ministry is basically, ultimately, everyone gets a go. About two thirds of the Caucus have served as ministers at some point. So basically, everyone takes a number and eventually get a turn. That’s not how a Cabinet Ministry should be appointed; it should always be appointed on the basis of merit and you know, we’ve got this situation of ‘turn up and eventually you’ll have a go!’ It’s not good enough.

Kieran Gilbert:                   Just going through some of the details of this Ministry as well, it looks like the Canberrans have done something to Mr Rudd because Kate Lundy’s been dropped as Sports Minister as well to make way for Don Farrell.

Andrew Leigh:                  Well certainly, Kevin Rudd will make his decisions according to what he thinks is the best team around him. I know that Kate’s a strong and passionate campaigner for Labor causes, and that’s really what’s at stake here, Kieran. There are two competing party visions. We can get caught up on the personalities, or we can remember that fundamentally what’s at stake here in this election is whether or not we engage in conflict with Indonesia, the Opposition’s wacky ‘turn back the boats’ policy, whether the economy is driven into recession through their savage austerity, and whether the National Broadband Network gets built or not, I mean –

Kieran Gilbert:                   Well Anthony Albanese for our viewers that haven’t caught up about that, Anthony Albanese will take Communications and the National Broadband Network responsibilities, so he will be prosecuting that case up against Malcolm Turnbull. I said Kate Lundy has been moved out of sport. She’s still a Minister though going through the details, Minister for Mulitcultural Affairs as well as Minister Assisting for Industry and Innovation. Don Farrell is the new Minister for Sport and continues to assist the Minister for Tourism. Now, another announcement this morning; another resignation. Simon Crean’s going to quit politics. This is Mr Rudd responding to that:

[CLIP:                                    I would also like to acknowledge here publically as Prime Minister of Australia, how much I value his work over the years. He has been an extraordinary leader in our movement for a long period of time. He’s worked in previous Labor Governments. He worked prior to that as head of the Australian Trade Union movement. He played an extraordinary role in fashioning the accord and bringing our industrial relations system kicking and screaming into the 21st century. I acknowledge his contributions. The period that I was Prime Minister also, a fantastic Minister for Trade, and certainly under Prime Minister Gillard he has performed well in regional Australia where in the regions, they love him. They really do.]

Kieran Gilbert:                   So, Simon Crean, another experienced person who is calling it a day. There’s been quite a loss of intellectual capital, hasn’t there, with all these resignations, and political experience?

Andrew Leigh:                  Simon Crean is a great loss to the Parliament I agree, Kieran. He’s had 20 years in Parliament but more like 40 years in public life when you take into account his time in the trade union movement. I’m sure I’m not the only one in the caucus who has greatly valued his wise counsel.

Kieran Gilbert:                   Doesn’t it reflect badly on the Government, though? That you’re losing all this talent? Combet, Crean and the likes of Smith retiring as well at the election.

Andrew Leigh:                  I think what’s so strong about this Kieran, is when you look at the talent that’s able to come up. People like Ed Husic who is ready to roll on issues of broadband who I suspect will be out there saying that the only promise you can believe about Tony Abbott is that broadband speeds will always be slower under a Coalition government.

Kieran Gilbert:                   Alright. Senator Fifield, and quickly over to you, and finally before we wrap up our discussion, Alexander Downer joining me in just a moment from Adelaide, but Senator Fifield, this poll bounce that we’ve seen for Kevin Rudd; he’s got a fourteen point lead over Mr Abbott now as preferred Prime Minister. I know you always said that you thought it wasn’t going to be as easy but this has made it very competitive again, do you see that?

Mitch Fifield:                      Look, Australian federal elections are always competitive, they’re never one sided races, and we’re going to have to work hard to earn the trust of the Australian people. But I think it’s very important for the voting public to recognise that with the departure of Simon Crean, the last adult has left the government, it’s a case of would the last grown up who leaves the building switch the lights out as they go. There isn’t depth, there isn’t experience, this is a government without a plan and we didn’t hear from the Prime Minister today that he has a plan for the nation, a plan to repay the debt, a plan to stop the boats.

Kieran Gilbert:                   Senator Fifield, it would be remiss of me as well if I didn’t ask you today – being July 1 – and the rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the trials begin today, it will be 6 years in the making before it’s fully rolled out but there’s 26 000 people who are going to be effected with these trial sites. This is a big day, isn’t it? For policy, not just for this government, it is bipartisan, I know.

Mitch Fifield:                      Look it’s a big day and the NDIS represents the way the parliament should work. I was in Geelong yesterday with a lot of people with disabilities, there’s a great deal of excitement. They’ve had to wait a long time for the better deal that they deserve. There’s still a lot of work to do, but today is a good start.

Kieran Gilbert:                   Ok thanks very much Senator Fifield, Andrew Leigh.

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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.