Triple J Hack with Tom Tilley

Andrew Leigh MP
Member for Fraser
9 July 2013

TOPICS:                                Polls, Labor leader election reforms, young Australian political participation and enrolling.

Tom Tilley:                          In the Hack studio we have a Labor MP Andrew Leigh and he was voted in to the Canberra seat of Fraser at the last election and Andrew I’d love to know what you think of these reform ideas, thanks for joining us.

Andrew Leigh:                  Pleasure, Tom.

Tom Tilley:                          Do you think it will actually make a difference, because a lot of people are wondering that it’ll actually do if it does get through the caucus Andrew, what difference does it make to have half of the votes for the leader coming from normal Labor party members rather than just coming from the caucus?

Andrew Leigh:                  Well I think it does two important things, Tom; first of all I think it means that the contest for leader becomes a much more public contest, and one in which the candidates for leader are reaching out to the party membership. British Labour had a terrific leadership contest between David Miliband and Ed Miliband a couple of years ago, which Paul Howes alluded to in his comments before and that was one in which both of the candidates for leader spoke about the kind of party they wanted British Labour to be.

Tom Tilley:                          It’s very interesting, it does sound like it goes to the point of our text to Luke from Bondi, who said ‘is this part of an intraparty presidential style system of government?’, is it moving in that direction?

Andrew Leigh:                  Well, I think the leader is an important figure and probably increasingly so–

Tom Tilley:                          Well it seems like it if you look at the polling for Labor at the moment.

Andrew Leigh:                  Well you certainly see a rising role for the leader over time, But the other thing is it just reduces the rate of leader turn-over which I think has increased not just in federal Labor which has had seven leaders in the last 12 years; but also in the Coalition - Brendan Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull both turfed out without getting to face the voters. And also in state and territory parties. I think the reason for that, Tom, is that increasingly leaders are facing more and more polls, and that’s making it harder and harder to do big, important reforms. And what this reform I think will mean is that leaders have that security of knowing that they can make a tough decision, that has some short term discomfort, but a long term payoff, and that won’t immediately cost them their job.

Tom Tilley:                          Andrew, let’s have a quick look back through history, if these reforms had existed when Rudd was knifed the first time, do you think it would’ve happened?

Andrew Leigh:                  I don’t think that many of our past leadership changes would’ve happened but for this–

Tom Tilley:                          Why is that? Because there’s a different mood inside the caucus than there is amongst the members?

Andrew Leigh:                  Well I think that the requirement to have a ballot of the members certainly slows things down, provides a little bit of stability in the system. You probably wouldn’t of seen the transition from Bob Hawke to Paul Keating under the current system either, but you need to recognise that if we want leaders to be able to look to the future, to be able to make tough long-term decisions then you’ve got to work against the instability which I think is increasingly generated by a faster pace media cycle, and by polls whose frequency is increasing. I mean, Gallup’s polling in the US on a daily basis now, that’s pretty de-stabilising for leaders, and so this is a check against those changes.

Tom Tilley:                          Matt’s just texted in he says ‘He’s just turning into a popularity contest to suit himself (Rudd)’. Now Andrew Leigh, it’s well known that you were quite close to Julia Gillard; do you think Rudd’s move is about, you know genuine necessary reform or do you think it’s about revenge, or is it about distancing Labor from those knife wounds, from the stabbings?

Andrew Leigh:                  I think this is a really important reform, Tom, and many of us have been talking about these sorts of reforms, about the British Labour model, the challenge with the Democrats’ model (which I think had the problem that Natasha Stott-Despoja highlighted; that there was no say for the elected representatives). I think this one gets the balance right, it provides more stability in the system, and it guarantees Australians that if they vote for a Prime Minister, in the election this year, that’s the Prime Minister they will get serving the full election term.

Tom Tilley:                          Have you chatted to many of your colleagues, will they be going for it when you meet in caucus in a couple of weeks?

Andrew Leigh:                  I have, and there’s broad support for these reforms–

Tom Tilley:                          Well Rudd has them backed into a corner, doesn’t he? Because it would be pretty ugly if people stood up to him right now.

Andrew Leigh:                  I think there’s a broad recognition, Tom, that this is a reform whose time has come, many of us have looked to the British Labour model as something which provides a sense of stability in the system, but also says to members of the Labor party who are out there letterboxing for us, working on our street stalls, door knocking with me, it says to them: you guys get a say as well. So, to any of you listeners who are wondering about joining the Labor party, I’d say there’s never been a better time, because this is going to give you more say under these reforms in choosing the party leader and ours is also a party which will hopefully be conducting a set of rank and file pre-selections for open seats this time around, so people get a say in electing their local Labor candidate, as well as for the Federal leader.

Tom Tilley:                          Alright you are listening to Triple J’s Hack program, and you just heard a valiant pitch for you to join to Labor party from Labor MP Andrew Leigh, and we would love to let Tony Abbott make that same pitch to you sometime, and we have been inviting him to come on the show, hopefully that will happen very soon.

Shane’s called in, Shane what do you think about Rudd’s reform ideas for the Labor leadership?

Caller:                                   Yeah look I’m definitely for it, I kinda vote for who’s going to lead our country as a whole–

Tom Tilley:                          Right, so you don’t vote for your local MP?

Caller:                                   well, not really, I look as a whole who’s actually going to be running our country and the face of our country, and when Rudd was knifed the first time I didn’t vote for that, for Gillard to come in and do that without asking us as a country, I thought that was pretty weak, so to have something like this a sort of guarantee that that’s your person for that time, and if he stuffs up then, well you know, hope that someone next year step up and take over etc.

Tom Tilley:                          Alright, thanks for your thoughts there, Shane. Someone’s texted in saying ‘Rudd is definitely safeguarding his own job, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t great reform’. That’s come from Annie, and that’s very interesting the point that Shane brought up there, Andrew Leigh; that, you know, he’s voting for a leader and not his local MP because we have some new research to reveal right now on Hack and it’s come exclusively from the Australian Institute for Hack, and it basically revealed that 68% of young people 17 to 25, the people that responded to this survey, don’t know who their local MP is. And I’d love to hear from you about that, do you know who your local MP is? And are you voting for that MP, or are you really voting for the Labor, you know, basically, the leader of the Labor party? Give me a call.

Let’s have a closer look at this research, Sarah McVeigh gives you the rundown on a survey of 800 people aged 17 to 25.

Here’s the research from the Australian Institute:

Sarah McVeigh:                ‘Don’t care about voting? Well, you should.’ That’s the message from the Executive Director of the Australia Institute, Dr Richard Denniss “the squeaky wheel gets the oil in politics” His research for Hack shows 17% of young people aren’t enrolled to vote and another 6% aren’t sure whether they are or not. Of those who aren’t enrolled 59% don’t intend to vote. So why is that?

Richard Denniss:               Our research shows that 47% of young people, around 1.2 million people think that no political party actually represents them and their concerns.

Sarah McVeigh:                So why should they care then? Why should they vote?

Richard Denniss:               Whether you vote or not, Parliament will sit, Parliament will collect taxes and Parliament will spend money on something, and if loud groups who enrol to vote put good pressure on politicians, then they’ll see a big return from that.

Sarah McVeigh:                The survey shows only 2% of us are actually a member of a political party, and only 1% are in a union. It also shows that most of us are a little confused about how the voting system actually works.

Richard Denniss:               Our survey suggests that 68% of young people don’t know who their local MP is, so around 1.7 million 17 to 25 year olds aren’t sure and that, I think suggests that young people aren’t as engaged in politics as they might be, but it also highlights how important the role of the political leader has become in  Australia, we have what we call a very presidential approach these days. Even though at a federal election, all you do is elect your local member of parliament, and a senator for your state, the ways the parties behave is to suggest that you’re actually voting for Kevin Rudd or Tony Abbott.

Sarah McVeigh:                Do you think Kevin Rudd’s party reforms will make a difference to young voters?

Richard Denniss:               Look, I think they will, I think there’s no doubt that Kevin Rudd has brought a breath of fresh air back into these debates, and talking about being closer to the people, talking about listening to the membership when it comes to selecting a leader, rather than a lot of political machinations around factions is certainly the sort of thing that likely to attract both more people to the Labor party, and more people to the political process itself.

Sarah McVeigh:                So, who is most likely to influence your vote?

Richard Denniss:               People said that the media and political advertising is pretty much as important as what your parents think when it comes to choosing a political party. So, you know most people say they don’t trust the media or political ads but they seem to trust their parents even less.

Tom Tilley:                          Richard Denniss from the Australia Institute there, bringing us some new research about what 17 to 25 year olds think about their politicians and some very interesting stats there about the number of people who know who their local MP is, and also about the people who aren’t interested in enrolling to vote and if you aren’t enrolled to vote and you want to, this is how you do it; you can do it online, you go to and one person has texted in saying ‘the Australian people are sick of hearing about fools that run this country, how about instead of saving his job he starts running the country’ Pat from Victoria. And that’s a point that a lot of people share, now David’s called in from Brisbane, now David, you’re enrolled in Wayne Swan’s seat but you still vote based on the leader, that’s interesting given what’s happened in the last few weeks

Caller:                                   Yeah, I just take the view that Wayne Swan, former treasurer both under Rudd and under Gillard, I didn’t see him do anything in the electorate that wasn’t under the mandate of the leader of the party, it had very little to do with what–

Tom Tilley:                          But David there is the argument that if you have an MP who is quite powerful within the party, he will be able to sway what happens in the party room, and therefore those broad policies will play out well for you and your electorate if he has your best interests at heart.

Caller:                                   Yeah, and to be honest that was my hope going into it but it isn’t necessarily the experience that I had.

Tom Tilley:                          Alright, very interesting to hear your experience. Brendan from Canberra called in, Brendan you think the only time you ever see your MP is leading up to the election.

Caller:                                   Yeah I wouldn’t even have a clue who they were. And then all of a sudden they just pop out of nowhere, just wanting your votes, it’s just ridiculous.

Tom Tilley:                          Getting up in your grill for your vote, I mean what do you think about that, do you think that’s fair enough, and we should just focus on the leader or do you think it’s a bit of a shame that we don’t have a closer connection to our local MP, given that’s who we vote for?

Caller:                                   I think it’s a bit of a shame, like I’d be nice to know what they actually do for us. Like, the bigger picture is like obviously the leader, but you know we’re also putting votes for them down, so I’d like to see them around.

Tom Tilley:                          has your vote changed? In the last few weeks given the change of leadership in the Labor party? Or your voting intentions?

Caller:                                   I don’t like Abbott at all. Umm and I hated Gillard, but I think it’s a whole publicity stunt, this whole Gillard/Rudd thing, the change, I think it’s just I don’t know who to vote for anymore, I just don’t know who to vote for now.

Tom Tilley:                          Yeah you’re a bit lost, like a lot of people, but what do you think of what Rudd’s come out and said in the last 24 hours? That he wants to make it a lot harder to change the Labor leader?

Caller:                                   Well I think it’s good because, like I think one of the other blokes said before; I didn’t want Julia to come in, but all of a sudden she did and we had no say with it, the leader, now we have a bit of a say.

Tom Tilley:                          Alright thanks so much for your call Brendan.

Caller:                                   No Worries, thank you.

Tom Tilley:                          Cameron from Brisbane has called in, Cameron you’re actually in Kevin Rudd’s seat, will you be more likely to vote for him as leader or when he was a backbencher?

Caller:                                   Well when he was a backbencher he actually did a lot of positive work in the community, he actually saved some of the bus routes that were around here that were looking at being cancelled, So he did good work as a backbencher and I’m more inclined to vote for him now as leader because I, I was a fan of him when he was leader first time around, and I think his policies are good, so he’s shown that he can do the work for the community as a backbencher when he’s not at the front of the political party and now it’s even better, he’s leading the party and I think it’s a positive thing.

Tom Tilley:                          Alright, well yeah good to hear your opinion there Cameron, thanks for the call. Let’s go back to Andrew Leigh, who is a Labor MP. Now Andrew, what do you make of this debate that people are raising, they don’t know their local MPs, they feel a bit disengaged on that local level, is that a negative thing for Australian politics?

Andrew Leigh:                  It’s always a hard one Tom, I wrote my first book on trust and politicians a bit over a decade ago, and the publishers thought the problem then was so bad that they put a picture on the cover of one dog sniffing another dog’s backside. People hold their politicians in low regard and knowledge about politics is lower than we would like it to be. I find as a federal member of Parliament with the largest number of electors in the country, 133,000, that I can be out doing street stalls every week, door knocking, telephoning, but still I will get to the next election, not having met as many of my constituents as I want to.

Tom Tilley:                          The other thing that jumped out, Andrew, of that study from the Australian Institute was that of the nearly 1 in 5 voters who are not enrolled, 59% of them don’t plan to enrol. As a Labor party MP you’ve been there for the past 10 years, you’ve overseen, not overseen but been a part of one leadership change, do you take some responsibility for that disengagement that you know, 59% of people don’t want to enrol, given how much scrapping and turmoil there’s been in the Australian Labor party?

Andrew Leigh:                  I think civility in politics is a challenge and that’s something that all of us need to work on improving, Tom. The other thing is it’s been harder than it needs to be to enrol in the past so we–

Tom Tilley:                          So you’re blaming the technology?

Andrew Leigh:                  We’ll we’ve finally got online enrolment up. Until a couple of months ago, we had what some people would call ‘online enrolment’ which meant you could download the form from the internet, print it off and put it in the mail. Now you can actually do the whole process online, and our hope is that we’re going to be able to increase, particularly the number of 18 year olds for whom only about half are currently enrolled.

Tom Tilley:                          That must be good news for Labor right, because traditionally Labor polls better with younger people.

Andrew Leigh:                  I think it’s just about getting people on the roll, I want people on the roll whether they’re voting for me or not, because I think it’s a fundamental part of being an Australian citizen. And there’s some optimistic news, just last week, Tom, the typical number of people who enrol in a standard week, the AEC tell us is about 8,000, last week 22,000 people enrolled online. So that suggests that we are beginning to close that enrolment gap, but I don’t think we can rest until we’ve got 100% of Australia on the roll rather than the 91% we’ve got at the moment.

Tom Tilley:                          Alright, thanks so much Andrew for joining us.

Andrew Leigh:                  Thank you, Tom.

Tom Tilley:                          That’s Andrew Leigh who’s an MP for the seat of Fraser in Canberra.

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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.