Interview with Mark Parton - 2 July 2013

Andrew Leigh MP
Member for Fraser
2 July 2013

TOPICS:                                Ministerial changes, immigration policy

Mark Parton:                      Now we obviously had a lot of changes in the ministry, the shakeup has demoted some Gillard loyalists – it’s dumped one Parliamentary Secretary altogether. We’re talking about the extremely talented Member for Fraser here in the ACT, Andrew Leigh, who joins us right now. G’day Andrew.

Andrew Leigh:                  G’day Mark.

Mark Parton:                     That was a smack in the face, wasn’t it?

Andrew Leigh:                  Well, you know, in politics you go up, you go down. This is the way that most people’s careers pan out, that’s alright. I felt as though the honourable thing to do after supporting the former Prime Minister was to say to Mr Rudd that although I was willing to serve, but that if he needed my resignation he could have it. He said he wanted me to step down, and so that’s the way it is.

Mark Parton:                     But I thought he said on the day that he took over that there was going to be no retributions, and that no one was going to be blamed for anything. It sounds to me that the only reason you’ve lost your position is your support for Julia Gillard.

Andrew Leigh:                  Mr Rudd wants to build a team around him that he’s comfortable with –

Mark Parton:                     - so is he not comfortable with you?

Andrew Leigh:                  We’ve always got on fine, so certainly on a personal level that’s fine. But he wanted to bring in terrific Parliamentary Secretaries like Ed Husic, Doug  Cameron, Allan Griffin, and they’re the people that he wanted around him. I respect that, and in offering him my resignation if he needed it, I wanted to be sure that Mr Rudd had the ability to forge a team around him that he felt was what he wanted to go to the election.

Mark Parton:                     Look, you’re a team player Andrew, and I think you’re dealing with this very well. But when you consider that Labor has a pretty low representation in parliament for a government now, that so many top line ministers have departed, that this is perhaps the shallowest talent pool of any established government in living memory for actually forming a ministry. I can’t believe that he couldn’t find a spot for someone with your skills and someone as talented as you. I think they’ve erred by leaving you out.

Andrew Leigh:                  Mark, that’s very kind but I think one of the things you do notice when you look across this line up is that Labor has a very strong caucus, and plenty of people to draw on.

Mark Parton:                     Really?

Andrew Leigh:                  You’ve got Kim Carr, who’s an experienced minister coming back. Joel Fitzgibbon has a lot of experience in the parliament. And people like that step into their ministerial roles having been former ministers, knowing what it’s like to work in a constructive, consultative cabinet way.

Mark Parton:                     Kevin Rudd has said the ministry’s been chosen on merit, as though in the past they hadn’t. I was fascinated at the way it was emphasised again and again ‘oh we’ve got all these women here, they’ve been chosen on merit this time’. What’s that all about?

Andrew Leigh:                  Well I think that was partly responding to some of the slightly odd commentary that was suggesting that if you’ve got a record number of women in the ministry, then somehow the women who were going to the ministry weren’t super talented. If you look at somebody like Melissa Parke, who I think is just a standout performer, particularly on the international aid issue she’s been given. And Julie Collins, who understands issues around status of women extremely well. No, I think Mr Rudd was just making the point that those people have been chosen for their inherent qualities, and they happen to be women.

Mark Parton:                     Ok. Let’s get rid of all the spin here. In the lead up to the leadership change last week, I think most in federal Labor had conceded that there was no possible way you could win the election under that structure. Is there a belief now that you can win, or is it more about getting closer to that other mob than you had anticipated?

Andrew Leigh:                  Mark I’ve always believed we can win –

Mark Parton:                     Oh you haven’t Andrew, come on –

Andrew Leigh:                  No, I have. Really. And that’s because you look at the two party’s policy packages. I think people have spent an awful lot of time looking at the colour of the box, but when you actually look inside the two boxes, it’s chalk and cheese. What we’re offering is track record of achievement in saving those jobs in the global downturn, of investing in the NBN for Gungahlin, the Majura Parkway taking traffic congestion off. And that’s replicated right across the nation. And the Coalition still don’t have an education policy, still don’t have a health policy, and their attempt to get cuts is just firing Canberra public servants. So when you look at it like that, looking inside the boxes, I think that’s what gives me the strong sense of confidence.

Mark Parton:                     Alright, let’s talk about the chalk and cheese. You and I have had a number of discussions about asylum seekers, and the position that Bob Carr is presenting publicly on the number of asylum seekers that are economic refugees pure and simple, and the position that you have based on conversations that we’ve had, are chalk and cheese. Are you worried about the direction your party is taking on the asylum seeker issue?

Andrew Leigh:                  I don’t think they are, Mark. I think Mr Carr is pointing out that there are people who make the same decision that you or I would well make if we were in a country looking at the potential of getting to Australia. We might well say that even if we didn’t have a fear of persecution, there was still a much better life to be had in Australia for us and our families. We might then take the risk to travel by boat to Australia. That doesn’t mean that those people aren’t worthy and decent people, but it does mean that they don’t qualify for refugee under the Convention. So we need to be fairly rigorous in our refugee screening, which I think was all Mr Carr was saying. We’ve sent a lot of refugees back to Sri Lanka recently – sorry, people who have come by boat who were found not to be refugees.

Mark Parton:                     In that particular interview in the day of the long knives, he was signalling a change. He was basically saying that we would make a change to the rules that determine who is a refugee and who wasn’t.

Andrew Leigh:                  We’ve always applied the Refugee Convention rules, and as I understand it Mr Carr was simply indicating to the public the reality that we’ve known from looking at refugee flows, that many people who come to Australia are refugees, some aren’t. And that’s important to take into account in working out who we take. And this challenge that the more people who we take who arrive by boat, the fewer people we’re able to take through offshore processing camps where we work with the United Nations to choose people who have been living in camps for sometimes over a decade.

Mark Parton:                     Andrew, thanks for your time this morning, we appreciate it.

Andrew Leigh:                  Thank you Mark, likewise.

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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.