TRANSCRIPT - Talking Politics with 2CC Breakfast - Wednesday, 12 March

This morning I spoke with 2CC's Mark Parton about revelations that Prime Miniter Tony Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey ignored John Howard and Peter Costello's advice to keep Treasury Secretary, Martin Parkinson. I discuss the decision and affirm the great work of the public service.


SUBJECT/S: Martin Parkinson and the Australian Public Service; Tasmanian election and jobs.

MARK PARTON: I don't think Andrew Leigh is going to be reinventing himself any time soon; driving a taxi or working in a bakery. He is these days the Federal Member for Fraser in Federal Parliament with the ALP. He is on the line right now. Morning Andrew.

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: G'day Mark. It is my third career. I was a lawyer for a while. I was a professor for a while -

PARTON: Yes it is. I'd forgotten about that -

LEIGH: And we haven't even gone into my fruit picking and newspaper delivery days -

PARTON: You talk about people who've had to reinvent themselves. Let's talk about Martin Parkinson, the Treasury Secretary, because we learnt some fascinating things in this story in the last 24 hours. The Abbott Government apparently defied the advice of a couple of learned gentlemen on the right side of politics, in John Howard and Peter Costello. It is our understanding that they recommended Martin Parkinson should stay on as Treasury Secretary but for some reasons Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey said, 'No, you don't know what you're talking about.’

LEIGH: I think it was real a mistake of the Coalition to fire Martin Parkinson. Remember there's a story from the last recession where basically the only two people who are still around in senior economic policy making a couple of years ago were Ken Henry and Martin Parkinson. The only two people who had been through a recession, and now there's just Martin. I've argued personally to Joe Hockey that from his own self-interest he'd be well served to keep someone like Martin Parkinson who has faithfully served both sides. So it's this sort of vindictiveness that I think saw the Government come in and immediately get rid of four agency heads. We didn't do it in 2007. We hadn't appointed most of the secretaries but we took the view that public servants basically work hard for which ever government is in power and the sort of partisan firings are not wise in the long run.

PARTON: Obviously, Stephen Conroy was not involved in those conversations because he certainly demonstrated a different view point on that in Senate Estimates. I understand and concur with what you're saying and I think there were some knee jerks. Why have they gone down this route? It must be said Martin Parkinson is still there in the role and he finishes up in the middle of this year.

LEIGH: He does and part of today's report is the suggestion is he might be held on for longer and I think that if the Government were to change its mind on that then they would be well served by that backflip. I think they were quite angry with Martin Parkinson over the 2010 election costings where Treasury found that there was a massive hole in Coalition costings and I think some of the sort of the hardline warriors in the Liberal Party never really forgave him for that. But it's a mistake from their standpoint because this is somebody who is a first-rate public servant, like so many of the public servants that I meet in mobile offices and chatting away by phone and email. People who would have their own partisan preference but they know their job is to serve the country. It's public service at its best.

PARTON: Is it a reality though that despite the fact we've got some exceptionally well performing public servants at high level, that in their hearts they all have an ideology; in their hearts they all either fall to the left or the right?

LEIGH: I think everybody has their own personal ideology but that doesn't mean they can't do a good job of producing policy. You saw that through the Howard years and indeed through the Rudd and Gillard years. There were certainly Liberal Party supporters who did a good job of working for the Labor Party during our time in office. Good public servants are able to do that. I think this kind of ideology that you sometimes see the Coalition running around with in other places, that public servants are bloated fat cats, just misses the real reality of what Canberra public servants do. I'm enormously proud of the public servants here. As you well know Mark, the number of public servants per Australian didn't rise under Labor and so the idea that we've got an over-staffed public service is just bonkers.

PARTON: The political tide in this country has definitely shifted to the right in recent months and years and we're about to see a couple of state elections in Tasmania and South Australia. As Malcolm Farr pointed out about 10 minutes or so ago from, at the end of the those elections Katy Gallagher may be the highest ranking Labor politician in the country.

LEIGH: Certainly possible. Those governments have the challenge of being in office for a long time. So it just becomes successively harder to make the case for another term the longer you've been in office. But I think also that those people in those states and looking at what's happening federally and they're looking at the cutting of the SchoolKids Bonus to middle and low income households and then the giving of a parental leave scheme, $75,000 to the richest families to have a baby and they're saying maybe these aren't the sorts of values that I hold. They are not the sort of basic values of an Aussie fair go, making sure that governments help those most in need not, rather than give the most to those who have the most.

PARTON: But Andrew, you've seen these primary polling figures from Tasmania. Wow, Labor's on the nose there, isn't it?

LEIGH: Well, I don't take a great deal of notice of polls but I think on the fundamentals it's always a challenge to win an election after being in government a long time and it's particularly a challenge if you've been in coalition. The coalition with the Greens was pretty tough for Lara Giddings. I think that's something that she's working on in differentiating herself in the election.

PARTON: Why was it tougher for Labor in Tasmania than for Labor here in the ACT to do that? Granted there is only one Green in this Legislative Assembly, but there were many more than that last time round and the train stayed on track.

LEIGH: Let me give you an economic answer because I kind of think about things as an economist. I think the Tasmanian economy is in much worse shape than the ACT's. Part of the challenge is them making the transition from logging. That logging peace deal was a historic deal but gee it bruised a few people around the place, to actually get loggers and conservationists sitting at the table striking a deal I think was a good thing. But where the jobs come from in Tassie is a bigger challenge than perhaps for than any other part of Australia. Education levels are perhaps a little bit lower. Productivity is one of the lowest anywhere in Australia. So Tassie has got some challenges whoever wins office. I think the Federal Government needs to be working hard in Tassie. These suggestions that maybe Tony Abbott will rip some more GST money away from Tassie are a real concern.

PARTON: Thanks for your time this morning Andrew, as always.

LEIGH: Thank you Mark.


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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.