Breaking Politics - 16 September 2013

This morning I spoke to Tim Lester of Fairfax Media about the healthy contest underway for the Labor leadership and the incoming Abbott Government's cabinet which, unfortunately, looks set to promote only one woman.  Here's the transcript:




Subjects: Labor leadership, Coalition cabinet and ministry, gender


TIM LESTER: A regular on Breaking Politics on Monday is the Labor MP for Fraser in the ACT, Andrew Leigh. He's actually in Sydney and he joins us via Skype. What takes you to Sydney today? What's on the agenda?

ANDREW LEIGH: Spending some time with family. One of the things about the election is, you end up drawing a lot on your family to help out and it's nice to be able to be able to give a little bit back and spend a couple of days with my parents this week.

LESTER: What do you think of the process Labor is now in to select the leader, for the first time is going to go the rank and ask for a vote on the issue.

LEIGH: I think it's enormously healthy that we go to our party membership on this. Looking from afar, I really enjoyed watching the contest of the British Labor leadership in 2010. I thought it was one that saw leaders talk very much of the direction they wanted British Labor to go. Theirs was a party that had been riven between the Gordon Brown and Tony Blair camps for quite a long time and all of the candidates spoke about wanting to move beyond those divisions and about the kind of party they wanted to craft. I expect we'll have a similar conversation over the next month, conducted respectfully between two outstanding candidates, who will talk about their visions for modern Labor.

LESTER: Are you being lobbied by those two outstanding candidates yet, because presumably they're out their looking for votes?

LEIGH: Yes, I've spoken to them in the past week as I have over recent years being in Parliament.  What's great about both Anthony and Bill is they're really serious about engaging with colleagues and listening to what they have to say. You see that out in the community too. I've been at road openings with Anthony where he's been keen to hear the views from the bulldozer driver. I've been at disability events with Bill where he's immediately gravitated towards somebody sitting on their own in a corner and just wanted to have a yarn with them about how their disability affects their life.

LESTER: What happens if caucus goes for one, and the rank and file go for the other? How do you resolve it?

LEIGH: Well it simply depends on the majorities in the two cases. One candidate will end up with a majority overall, and the great thing about this is that these are two candidates who are respected across the party and across the caucus. We simply can't go wrong in choosing between Bill and Anthony. We're fortunate to have Bill's passion for ideas, his deep understanding of issues of disability and economic development versus Anthony's knowledge in the transport and infrastructure portfolios and in broadband. His huge experience in a very difficult parliament, which managed to get a couple of former National Party members to back around 600 bills through the House of Reps. These are formidable parliamentarians and we're fortunate they're both putting their hands up.

LESTER: Have you decided which one you'll back yet Andrew, or not?

LEIGH: I have Tim, but my view is that I would rather not project that view out publicly. Partly, that's out of respect for my own branch members who I want to have the freedom to make the choice that they think is best. So I'm very much following in what Bill Shorten said the other day in only having positive words for my colleagues.

LESTER: We expect the new ministry to be announced today. The prime minister to give us the [inaudible] and it's almost certain that it will only be one woman in cabinet. The [inaudible] Julie Bishop and that [inaudible]. How does that strike you?

LEIGH: Well it does strike you Tim, that Tony Abbott is really putting the man back into mandate. He seems to be putting together a cabinet whose gender mix reminds you more of the 1950s than the 2010s. This is not a Cabinet that I think would pass the respect of many boardrooms, many corporate firms, and many government departments who have recognized that having a gender balance that looks like Australia is important to being able to do an effective job. I certainly think it's a pity if Mr Abbott is to go for only one out of 20 women in his cabinet.

LESTER: And also the question of finance minister. We understand from the Financial Review that Mathias Cormann is now favoured over Senator Arthur Sinodinos. You have a particular interest in that area. What do you make of that?

LEIGH: Well I think Arthur Sinodinos is one of the sharpest economic minds on the Coalition front bench. Probably the only other person who'd hold a candle to him on the area of economics would be Malcolm Turnbull.  He's somebody who I very much admire. We have a regular media slot on one of the radio stations together. We held an economic debate in the ACT during the election. Arthur's somebody who's extraordinary thoughtful about how he does policy and I think has garnered a respect right across the parliament. I think it would be a pity if he weren't to be given that key finance portfolio. It might send a message out that Mr Abbott values more highly the skills of attack than the skills of constructively managing to build.

LESTER: You've said, but I assume Malcolm Turnbull won't run [indistinct] think that two best economic minds of the opposition are going to be sidelined in terms of economics.

LEIGH: I think that's certainly a risk, and I think it would be a mistake particularly in the case of Mr Abbott, who's said in the past that he was bored by economics, who when challenged about the fact he couldn't find an economist to back his direct action plan, said well, that’s maybe that a reflection on the quality of economists rather than on the quality of the plan, and who doesn't himself, I think, have a natural affinity for markets. I think in that instance, it's all the more incumbent upon him to promote high quality economists like Arthur Sinodinos and it would be a pity if he didn't do that.

LESTER: Andrew, we're grateful for your time today. Enjoy a couple of days off.

LEIGH: Thanks Tim, good to be with you.


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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.