Sky AM Agenda - 9 July 2013

On Sky AM Agenda, I spoke with host Kieran Gilbert and Liberal MP Josh Frydenberg about thoughtful asylum-seeker policy (rather than sloganeering), and reforms to make the ALP more democratic.

Andrew Leigh MP
Member for Fraser
9 July 2013

TOPICS:                                Polls, Labor leader election reforms, asylum seekers.

Kieran Gilbert:                   This is AM Agenda. With me now Labor MP Andrew Leigh and Liberal MP Josh Frydenberg. Josh to you in Melbourne first of all, Kevin Rudd, as I put to Penny Wong and Barnaby Joyce just a moment ago, well ahead as preferred Prime Minister, 20 points, 22 points in front, that compared to, well, Mr Abbott was 12 points in front of Julia Gillard in that last Newspoll before she was deposed.

Josh Frydenberg:             Well I’ll take you back, Kieran, to 1993 when John Hewson who was the preferred PM ended up losing that election. And then again to 1996 when Paul Keating was the preferred PM to John Howard and John Howard convincingly won the ‘96 election, so I don’t think that’s an indicator of the result. But we always knew that Kevin would have a bit of a honey moon, the polls were tight and this will be a very close race. But it’s still the old Kevin. It’s still the guy that delivered us the 45,000 unauthorised boat arrivals, the guy who was responsible for the carbon tax that we now have, the guy who was responsible for borrowing $100 million a day. That’s his record and he keeps going on about the entrails of the Labor Party. The people aren’t interested in the entrails of the Labor Party, the people are interested in what’s his plan for Australia, and the problem with Kevin is he talks more about himself than he does about the Australian people.

Kieran Gilbert:                   This was Tony Abbott asked about Kevin Rudd’s popularity since returning to the Prime Ministership, albeit before today’s Newspoll, this was Mr Abbott on the ABC last night:

[TONY ABBOTT CLIP:       Well let’s look at the people who know him well. The people who know him well are his own colleagues. The first time he was the Prime Minister he was sacked by his own Party and then when he came back again, seven Cabinet Ministers refused to serve with him. Now look, I accept that by some measures he looks very popular but in the end people will be judged by the people who know them.]

Kieran Gilbert:                   To you, Andrew Leigh, on this, I know you’ve always questioned the predictive capacity of opinion polls but in their reflective capacity this must be encouraging for the Labor Party?

Andrew Leigh:                  Kieran, I’d be a hypocrite if I said I don’t believe polls when they’re going down and I do believe them when they’re going up, but I think Josh raises a point there which is important. He talks about the 1993 election and I think Mr Abbott’s real problem is that when he was Press Secretary to John Hewson in 1993 he took away one big lesson from that and that’s ‘don’t talk about policy’. And the reason I think Australians are starting to tire of Mr Abbott now is that they understand that he is very good at delivering snappy slogans but they’re just not sure what he stands for. He doesn’t have a health policy. He doesn’t have an education policy. He has a huge costings gap because he’s made these promises to give tax cuts to big miners and big polluters. What little policy he has is to take money away from little kids on their first day of school, raising superannuation taxes on low income workers. I think Australians are looking for a positive plan from Mr Abbott. Now, I disagree with John Hewson on many things, but he delivered a positive plan in 1993 and Mr Abbott shouldn’t be so averse to coming clean with the Australian people on what he would do.

Kieran Gilbert:                   It was certainly a very extensive plan from John Hewson in 1993. Kevin Rudd has tried to end the perception of the Labor leadership being a revolving door. This was part of his news conference late yesterday.

[KEVIN RUDD CLIP:          …power will never again rest in the hands of a factional few. If you go to an election, the Labor Party has a duly elected leader and you look down the barrel of the camera to the Australian people and say, ‘vote for the Party and vote for the Government I lead’, that that is the person that is returned to them as Prime Minister for the duration of that term.]

Kieran Gilbert:                   Josh Frydenberg, if these reforms get up as they’re expected to this would see the Labor leader, arguably, more secure than the Liberal leader is.

Josh Frydenberg:             Look, this is just a defensive move against Bill Shorten. You know, we know what a premium Bill puts on loyalty and we know that he wants to be the leader of the Labor Party. So that’s what Kevin Rudd’s doing here. But again, he’s not talking about the country. He’s not talking about his policies to improve Australian standard of living, to put in place 21st century infrastructure, new roads and new bridges and so forth. He’s not talking about how to stop the boats. We want him to come up with a plan for Australia and to be held to account for his record when he was in Government, I mean, take the pink batts scandal that you know, came back to the fore last week, he still hasn’t released all those letters of warning that he received from his own Ministers, including Peter Garrett. And, you know, that’s what’s at stake here. We’ve got a Prime Minister who was purely incompetent when he was running the country and we’ve got more than seven Cabinet Ministers who’ve decided they can’t serve under him and they gave him free character assessments. That’s what at issue here and no matter how many babies he kisses, no matter how many pictures he poses for, he’s still got that record which the Australian people remember.

Kieran Gilbert:                   Josh point to something, Andrew Leigh, which I think is a significant point and that is the naval gazing. It’s important that Labor moves on from all of this now, isn’t it? He’s done this early in the piece in his second stint as Prime Minister, but you’ve really got to move on and start talking about things that affect people and affect voters.

Andrew Leigh:                  Kieran, I think you can walk and chew gum, to coin a phrase. It’s very clear that Mr Rudd has been speaking about our infrastructure investments: the National Broadband Network, the doubling of roads spending and quadrupling of rail spending. But at the same time he wants Australians to have the certainty that if they vote for a Prime Minister, that’s the Prime Minister they’ll get. It worries me that in the last twelve years Labor’s had seven leaders, two of them twice. I think that makes it difficult to do serious, long-term reform. I think on the Coalition side, they also haven’t given their leaders a fair chance. Brendan Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull both were denied the chance to face an election. So I think if you want to do serious, real reform then you want to make it more difficult to change leaders when polls wobble around a little.

Kieran Gilbert:                   We’ve only got a couple of minutes left; I want to ask you about the asylum seeker matter. We saw a boat load of 34 asylum seekers threaten essentially self-harm and had a merchant vessel diverted back to Australia, they were going to take them back to Indonesia, but it was diverted to Australia. It should not be a situation where people can make threats to people who have come to their aid, to their rescue.

Andrew Leigh:                  Threats of violence are completely unacceptable, Kieran, but I think this does speak to the really difficult situation that we’re in here having now been blocked by the Coalition and the Greens from getting our Malaysia Agreement through. I believe that would have worked at the time because it’s part of a regional solution, working with Indonesia, not against them. The Indonesians have been-

Kieran Gilbert:                   But that’s all history. You need something now. You’ve got to do something now before the election to show people ‘we can manage this’.

Andrew Leigh:                  Absolutely and I think getting a solution with the region is important. Certainly the Prime Minister going to Indonesia was part of building that conversation. After the Vietnam War, the countries in the region got together to process asylum seekers in a collaborative way. I think that made a lot of sense. I’d like to see that happen again and I’d like to see the Coalition get on board.

Kieran Gilbert:                   Josh Frydenberg, well, Scott Morrison revived the talk of the Tampa yesterday and sending the military in, do you support that? And what about the Indonesian warnings again from President Yudhoyono last week that they don’t want to see unilateral action in this region?

Josh Frydenberg:             Well look, we need some deterrence in place and you know, Kevin Rudd is responsible for this massive policy failure. I mean, more boats have arrived in the first six days of Kevin Rudd Mark II than in the last six years of the Howard Government. That’s what’s at issue here, and we have had our third Immigration Minister in just six months. You know, the Labor Party has no solutions to this issue. We did something that worked in the past. We didn’t need Indonesia’s approval because we didn’t breach Indonesia’s territorial integrity. Turning back the boats is part of a three-pronged solution with offshore processing and temporary protection visas, neither one of those in isolation is going to provide the answer, you have to have all three of them, and we’ve done it before and we’ll do it again, Kieran.

Kieran Gilbert:                   Josh Frydenberg, Andrew Leigh, gents, good to see you, thanks very much.

Andrew Leigh:                  Thanks Kieran, thanks Josh.

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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.