Tiernan Brady and Cory Bernardi reflect on the marriage postal ballot

October 19, 2017

There are still a few weeks left to run in the same-sex marriage postal ballot campaign, and millions of votes are yet to be returned – or not returned.

With 67.5% of ballots now in, Equality Campaign executive director Tiernan Brady says the high turnout shows the importance of a “yes” vote to people’s lives and dignity.

He says tyranny of distance in Australia has made campaigning difficult, compared to his experience during Ireland’s marriage referendum.

Despite criticism of what some saw as invasive tactics, Brady describes the efforts made by the “yes” campaign as largely positive and respectful. However, he admits there have been unfortunate incidents and “clowns” on both sides, but that they were largely “on the fringe”.

On the “no” side, Australian Conservatives senator Cory Bernardi is unwilling to concede defeat. He praises the “grassroots movement” and “rockstar” mums and dads.

On the Abbott factor, he says high-profile “no” voters have been “very effective”.

If the “yes” vote wins, Bernardi foresees a few contentious debates over protections for religious freedoms and freedom of speech. “If the government is serious … they won’t embrace the [Liberal senator Dean] Smith bill.”

Bernardi’s party has benefited somewhat from the same-sex marriage debate: he estimates his party now has the third-largest membership in Australia.


Gareth Evans on being an Incorrigible Optimist

October 18, 2017

This podcast is a recording of an In-Conversation with Gareth Evans, former foreign minister and currently Chancellor of the Australian National University, which took place on October 12 in Canberra at a dinner of university chancellors from around Australia. 


The occasion was hosted by the University of Canberra's chancellor Tom Calma in collaboration with the Australian National University.


Evans talks with Michelle Grattan about his new book, Incorrigible Optimist, in which he writes of his experiences over decades in politics and the policy making process. The memoir is fashioned around issues, but with lots of personal touches and anecdotes. Among other subjects, Evans puts forward his views on education – and how to be a good chancellor.


This recording was produced in collaboration with ANU and Melbourne University Publishing.


Darren Chester on the infrastructure spending spree

October 4, 2017

Jokes about the satirical program Utopia aside, managing the rollout of infrastructure programs in Australia is a formidable task.

Infrastructure Minister Darren Chester says there is too much hyper-partisanship in Australian politics. “I think that the tone of debate in Australia has deteriorated in recent years and we’ve shown ourselves incapable of having a good, rational debate on significant issues and its lead to some poor policies.”

The challenge of projects spanning more than one term requires “making sure that there is a level of transparency in how decisions are made so that any decision we do make may withstand the change of political fortune”.

From managing road safety issues to approving major projects such as those proposed for the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund, Chester argues there is a record spend on infrastructure. “We’re delivering everything we want to deliver, and some more.”

Chester is one of the few Nationals MPs supporting same-sex marriage. He’s super confident about the result, predicting “every one of the 150 house divisions will vote yes and I think that may surprise some”.

We apologise that the sound quality of this podcast is poor due to a technical problem.


Rob Sitch on Utopia and political satire

September 27, 2017

Canberra politics often seems beyond satire. So it’s perhaps not surprising that Working Dog’s TV show Utopia has more than once foreshadowed reality in its hilarious depictions of life in a federal authority.

Rob Sitch, Utopia’s co-writer and star, says he’s had no need to draw on covert leaks and insights from bureaucrats for material. “90 plus percent of what we find is sitting in front of everybody. It’s on the front pages.” And he’s had plenty of feedback from insiders to confirm the program hits the spot.

Sitch, who relishes political satire, originally studied medicine before becoming one of Australia’s best loved creatives and performers. Asked about his jump from doctoring to the world of entertainment, he tells The Conversation it was “a hobby that got out of hand.”

Twenty years on from directing the iconic film The Castle, Sitch bemoans the trend in Hollywood that has seen it become too reactive to demographics and economics. He says the government should consider a boost for our own film industry. “Something gets added to the culture when an Australian film pops out.”


AGL chief economist Tim Nelson on what to do with Liddell

September 21, 2017

In the eye of the storm over energy policy is Liddell, an ageing coal-fired power station owned by energy giant AGL.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has twisted the arm of AGL chief executive Andy Vesey to take to the company’s board the proposition that it should extend the plant’s life beyond its scheduled 2022 closure, or alternatively sell it to an operator that would carry it on.

AGL chief economist Tim Nelson says the company is running the rule over both options but he argues preserving the power station may not be the best solution. “The decision is not just economic, it is also also a commitment on carbon risk.”

Nelson says the emissions profile of extending the life of coal-fired power stations is inconsistent with current commitments in AGL’s greenhouse gas policy and the government’s undertakings under the Paris climate accord. Add to that the hefty rehabilitation costs for 50-year-old Liddell and it seems “the numbers don’t add up”.

While AGL is reviewing government options, it is so far sticking to its alternatives for the site – repurposing it, or repowering it with zero-emissions technology.

But without a coherent policy framework it is hard to see an orderly transition in the energy market. Nelson says a clean energy target could fix the uncertainty, encouraging the replacement of old technology with a combination of renewables and “complementary capacity from flexible sources”.


Judith Brett on The Enigmatic Mr Deakin

September 18, 2017

It is popular to look at today’s political challenges through the prism of prime ministers past, but when it comes to former liberal leaders it’s usually Robert Menzies, not Alfred Deakin, who comes to mind.

However Judith Brett, emeritus professor of politics at La Trobe University and author, says we have much to learn from Australia’s second prime minister. Her new biography, The Enigmatic Mr Deakin, reveals the intense inner world of one of the most important fathers of Australian federation, who led the fledgling nation for three separate stints.

Brett says Deakin was something of a puzzle - even to himself. As PM he had an unusual double life, anonymously penning political columns for The Morning Post in London - a well kept secret at the time.

He was a gifted orator, but above all he harnessed his optimism to operate a government of compromise at a challenging time. “He saw himself as between the ultras - the ultra tory obstructionists and the part of the Labor party that was firming up as more ideological in his terms.”

Brett argues that despite Deakin’s undeniable charisma and skills in persuasion, his tendency towards great introspection and solitude means he would find the intensity of contemporary politics and media overwhelming.

For today’s two major parties “brand differentiation has become more important than actually solving problems”, Brett says, while Deakin advocated “policy before the needs of the party.”


Mark Butler on energy uncertainty

September 12, 2017

Pressure is mounting on the government to put an end to energy uncertainty as an Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) report warns of looming power shortages over the next few years.

Opposition climate change and energy spokesman Mark Butler has written about the toxic divisions on energy policy in his recent book, Climate Wars. He recognises there are challenges in the Coalition party room over the Finkel report, but says Labor will negotiate with the government on an energy framework. It wants to avoid an ALP government inheriting the policy chaos.

Responding to the government’s push to extend the life of the Liddell power station, he says Malcolm Turnbull has unfairly concluded there is only one option. “With a proper investment framework in place, new investment that will last decades, not just a few more years … could take place. At the moment we have an investment strike and if we can’t end the investment strike then yes in five years time in NSW we will be in a position of supply shortage.”

On the future of coal, Butler says it’s still “a massive part of our system”, and while usage will go down over time, it will be a part of the system for “as far as we politically can see”.

“The problem is not old coal power plants closing, it’s that nothing is being put in to replace them.”

On alternative sources like battery power he is optimistic about their potential, while sceptical of expanding hydro power until the results of a feasibility study are produced.


Nick Xenophon on media reform

September 4, 2017

As leader of a senate crossbench party, Nick Xenophon’s position on contentious legislation, currently media reform, is crucial for the government.

He says it’s “not for lack of trying” that the Nick Xenophon Team has not yet reached an agreement with the government on media ownership rules. He is pushing for tax breaks for smaller organisations to promote media diversity. He also opposes concessions that the government has made to Pauline Hanson that would clip the wings of the ABC, saying the NXT would vote against them.

Meanwhile discovery of his dual citizenship means that he is among the politicians now before the high court over their eligibility to be in parliament. He’s been advised he has “the best case of the high court seven”.

He holds serious concerns about another sort of citizenship issue - the government’s proposed tightening of laws for people to become Australians. “I think parts of this legislation simply go too far”.


Mathias Cormann on the same-sex marriage postal survey

August 20, 2017

When the government didn’t get the numbers to pass legislation for a same-sex marriage plebiscite they put the wheels in motion for their second best plan: a postal survey.

Since announcing that the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) would be responsible for carrying out the same-sex marriage postal survey, acting special minister of state Mathias Cormann has had no shortage of questions from journalists and on social media.

In the absence of normal protections offered by the Australian Electoral Commission, Cormann says the government is developing legislation to ensure the respective ‘yes’ and ‘no’ campaigns are respectful.

Similarly, issues around accessibility to the postal vote are being worked out by the ABS, with a paperless option being created for certain circumstances.

On the High Court challenges tabled for August 24 he says that while no forms will be sent out until September 12 - after the issue is resolved - any money spent preparing the postal survey will have been spent. “We believe the course of action we have chosen is constitutional and legal but this is now a matter for the High Court”.


Derryn Hinch on surviving the Senate

August 10, 2017

After spending a year immersed in the parliamentary machine, broadcaster-turned-senator Derryn Hinch is keen to see a more efficient Senate.

His suggestions include shortening the length of speeches – and thus the opportunity for filibusters – and trimming supplementary questions. He’s frustrated by the government’s “Dorothy Dixers”. “It’s a waste of time,” he says.

As the debate around same-sex marriage continues to affect the government, Hinch has made clear his support for reform.

But he found himself receiving some flak when he voted with the government in a division – which was defeated – to allow debate on its plebiscite bill. He had every intention of voting against the bill, but thought discussion should have been permitted.

On the dual citizenship imbroglio, the former New Zealand citizen made sure he put his affairs in order before the election. He got a backhanded compliment: “If the Human Headline can check it out and fix it, it can’t be that hard”.