Anthony Albanese on Labor’s approach to infrastructure

February 16, 2017

Labor’s edge over the government in the polls has seen the party stay united. But it has not stopped speculation about whether frontbencher Anthony Albanese would be a better fit as leader of the party.

Albanese dismisses Coalition jibes about him being the alternative leader. He tells Michelle Grattan it’s the government who has internal issues. “The government are I think more divided than I’ve seen a political party for a very long time – and I’ve seen a bit of division,” says the deputy prime minister in the second Rudd government.

As shadow minister for infrastructure and transport, Albanese says there are significant differences between Labor and the government in this portfolio.

“We established Infrastructure Australia to recommend the right projects to the government that would provide the biggest economic boost. We’ve seen the government effectively walk away from that strategy and remove funding from projects that had been approved by Infrastructure Australia, particularly public transport projects.

"Malcolm Turnbull likes riding on trains and taking selfies but he hasn’t funded any new public transport projects,” he says.

After coming under threat from the Greens in his own seat at the last election, Albanese sees weaknesses in his opponents to the left.

“I think they’re struggling with their identity, of whether they’re a protest party and a movement, if you like – which is the view of many in the New South Wales Greens – or whether they’re a parliamentary party.

"For many in the Greens, the protest is the end in itself. It’s a sophisticated view I guess. It says: that is how people are politicised, and how from their perspective of wanting revolutionary, if you like – rather than reformist change – you need that momentum from the bottom and from social movements.

"I’m about making a difference to people’s lives and making lives better. That’s why I’m in politics and that stands in stark contrast to many in the Greens who advocate that sort of view,” he says.

Despite his strong personal advocacy for marriage equality, Albanese maintains that members of the Labor caucus should be able to vote with their conscience on the matter – in contrast to the ALP conference policy of a bound vote from 2019.

“I’ve supported the conscience vote for a considerable period of time on a range of issues where essentially people are in a position whereby they believe that they have to choose between their loyalty to their party and their loyalty to their faith.”


Music credit: “Racketeer”, by Tab & Anitek on the Free Music Archive

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Barnaby Joyce on a year at the top

February 15, 2017

Approaching the one-year anniversary of becoming National Party leader, Barnaby Joyce is well aware of the challenge posed by One Nation.

Joyce tells Michelle Grattan he knows “there’s a battle on”, as the Queensland election looms. He agrees regional seats in that state are particularly vulnerable to falling to Pauline Hanson’s party.

“I take every political vote seriously because every person has a right to reflect their wishes in their vote and therefore I’ll be in Queensland this weekend. I was there last week or the week before last - but Australia is a big place. I try to get around as much of it as I possibly can.”

In his first year as leader, Joyce has had to manage his volatile backbencher - and party whip - George Christensen, a delicate task when the Coalition has a majority of just one seat. He remains confident Christensen will remain in the tent. “"I talk to George all the time,” he says.

He holds back from criticising Christensen for attending a fundraiser of the far-right “Q Society” in Melbourne last week.

“Because you attend a forum, does not mean you agree with all their views. It’s a question for George.

"The National Party, more than any other party in this building, believes in the liberty of the individual. All the others might talk about it but we actually believe it.”


Music credit: “Opaque”, by Tab & Anitek on the Free Music Archive

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Cory Bernardi on spurning the Liberals

February 7, 2017

A day after moving to the crossbench, senator Cory Bernardi is feeling the heat. The media, former Liberal colleagues and South Australian voters all have a view on what he's done.

"People will say what they're going to say. And I've tried to be consistent. I've been accused of many things in my time in politics but I've looked to be consistent and principled in my approach to policy areas.

"Strangely, many of the people calling me an opportunist are the ones that exploit, you know, a momentary weakness to grasp power or influence, or promotion for themselves," Bernardi says.

A lot of the people who look favourably on his decision: "are disillusioned Liberal Party sympathisers that said 'I couldn't bring myself to vote for the Liberal Party at the last election' or 'I wasn't intending to vote for them but at least now I can give you my vote knowing that our values will be upheld.'"

As interest focuses on whether billionaire businesswoman Gina Rinehart will donate to the Australian Conservatives, Bernardi leaves the door open.

"Gina's a pal and I never ask my pals for money directly. If people want to offer support or resources to what I'm doing then I wait for them to raise it. And there's a reason for that. It's because, you know, friendship is valuable and I'm not prepared to put people in an uncomfortable position if that's not what they want to do."

"It's an enduring friendship. I have great admiration for her [Rinehart]. You know, she's a very private person and I like my private life to remain private too and we're friends," he says.
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_Music credit: "Albiero A", by Dlay on the Free Music Archive_

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Arthur Sinodinos on the government’s headwinds

February 7, 2017

At the beginning of the parliamentary year, the government is beleaguered on several fronts. But Arthur Sinodinos, one of the Coalition’s most experienced operators and the newly appointed minister for industry, innovation and science, is determined to be optimistic.

“You can’t rule any possibilities out, including the possibility that the government actually goes from strength to strength as we go forward,” Sinodinos says.

“Yes, there are testing headwinds, including the international environment, but we’re going to be very keen to prosecute the case for economic growth, for jobs, for why international trade is a good thing for everybody, not just one country.”

Speaking with Michelle Grattan on the day of senator Cory Bernardi’s exit from the Liberal Party, Sinodinos has a sharp observation for his former colleague.

“What I’d say to senator Bernardi is that if you want to influence the party, you’ve got to be inside the party. You can’t do it from outside.”

Assessing Bernardi’s prospects as a force outside the Liberals, Sinodinos says “we’ll wait and see what happens”. “But he’s got some pretty formidable players out there, like Pauline Hanson, who has a very high profile and a lot of street cred as an outsider.”

“I would expect on most things that he would support Coalition policy. He was actually elected on a Coalition platform and I think if he’s going to keep faith with those voters, he should support Coalition positions.”

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Politics podcast: Chris Richardson on the state of the Australian economy

December 14, 2016

Ahead of next week’s mid-year economic and fiscal outlook, the government has been hit with the sobering news that real GDP shrank in the September quarter. Deloitte Access Economics’ Chris Richardson offers some context to the gloomy figures.

“Perhaps a better way to describe it is the numbers have been artificially good for a while and now they’re looking artificially bad. The bottom line is that for four years now, Australia’s economy has been growing just a little bit below trend and that’s partly because the boom in China has peaked. China has slowed and that is throwing some challenges our way.”

Richardson tells Michelle Grattan he sees a lot that is missing from the debate about how to strengthen the economy and the budget.

“If you asked the person in the street - they’re aware that there are challenges but they don’t really know what they are and that worries me because getting good policies requires a good understanding from the electorate,” Richardson says.

Richardson foresees minimal immediate consequences if credit ratings agencies downgrade Australia’s triple A credit rating in the near future.

“In the short term, it is absolutely not a big deal. … Part of the reason why interest rates are very, very low is that investors are very, very scared and they want to put their money in super safe places and lending your money to the Australian government is still a remarkably safe thing to do right now.

"So yes, there would be a minor impact on the borrowing costs of the Australian government. I cannot get excited about that in the near term.”

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Nick Xenophon on working the new parliament

December 7, 2016

As the curtain falls on the year, one of the most powerful players in the new parliament looks back on his successes. Nick Xenophon nominates whistleblower protections and procurement law changes negotiated alongside the government’s industrial legislation as major achievements.

“The government has agreed to sweeping changes to whistleblower protections in this country. Compensation for whistleblowers will be built into the registered organisations legislation that will apply to unions and employer organisations but most importantly it will also apply to corporations and to the public sector in the next 18 months and we’ve already begun the process on that.

"The other big achievement, just a few days ago was with the ABCC legislation. The government has agreed to procurement law changes which will mean for the first time we’re more in line with some of our major trading partners,” Xenophon says.

Xenophon tells Michelle Grattan that his team will have hard negotiations with the government “but we like to think that if we reach a consensus, a compromise, we do so in good faith which I think is mutually beneficial to both parties”.

“I think the government can expect more of the same and I think the government is prepared to sit down and talk to us about areas of common ground.”

Reflecting on One Nation, Xenophon describes the relationship between his and Pauline Hanson’s teams as “courteous”.

“Even though I made it clear that I don’t agree with them on their views on immigration, on race, on religion. Attacking Islam is not what we do. We think we are a multicultural society and tolerance is the key and obviously we have very different views on climate change. But where there’s common ground - such as issues on procurement, on Australian jobs, on food labelling, on farmers getting a fair go - obviously where there’s common ground we’ll work together.

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Josh Frydenberg on climate change and the 2017 review

November 30, 2016

After ratifying the Paris agreement on climate change, the government is looking ahead to its 2017 review of climate change policy. Energy and Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg tells Michelle Grattan the government will have more to say about the review before Christmas.

“The key is to ensure we’re on track to meet our 2030 targets, which is a 26-28% reduction in our emissions by 2030 on 2005 levels. We did beat our first Kyoto target by 128 million and we’re on track to beat our 2020 target by 78 million tonnes. But clearly the 2030 target is a larger one and a more challenging one,” Frydenberg says.

“We’ve got some good mechanisms in place but we’ll be looking at the overall settings to ensure we meet our Paris commitments.”

With some in the Coalition rattled by the growing popularity of One Nation, Frydenberg says: “The way to deal with it is to listen and to understand people’s concerns as to why they have left some of the major parties and to take action to ensure that they understand the good things that the government is doing.”


Music credit: “Where the river run”, by Ketsa on the Free Music Archive

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Jenny Macklin on Labor’s approach to welfare

November 24, 2016

In times of budgetary constraint, the cost of Australia’s welfare system has been regarded by many in the Coalition as a burden and a drag on economic growth. Shadow Minister for Social Services and Families Jenny Macklin has a different take.

“Sadly I think the Liberal-National Coalition have an ideological view that the welfare system is too generous - even though the international evidence is completely to the contrary…our social security system is one of the most tightly targeted in the world,” she says.

For Labor, the message is that cuts to welfare and social services increases inequality - damaging the wider economy.

“You’ve got the International Monetary Fund, the OECD, other very big international players telling us that increasing inequality is a constraint on growth. So what Labor is saying is that we want to… use all the different levers available to us to reduce inequality through the tax changes on negative gearing for example, through improved social investments, such as our schools policy.

"These are all very practical policies that Labor has to reduce inequality, to make sure that we see that reduction in inequality delivering in improved economic growth.”


Music credit: “Dryness”, by Ketsa on the Free Music Archive.

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Barnaby Joyce on the state of the National Party

November 22, 2016

Earlier this week, footage aired of Attorney-General George Brandis speculating that Queensland’s Liberal National Party might demerge. But Nationals leader and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce says this won’t happen.

“It’s not going to happen. You know why? Because the people who make that decision is not George, or myself or anybody else, it’s the membership and the membership would have to decide they want to do it and I haven’t heard any big swathes of members having meetings saying that want to demerge.”

Joyce tells Michelle Grattan the Nationals need to differentiate themselves from the Liberals.

“I think people clearly understand there’s a difference between the National Party and the Liberal Party. They recognise the qualities in both. If there wasn’t a reason to differentiate then you would amalgamate. So I’m very - always have been - parochially National.

"When I first came into politics back in 2005 and we got down to 12 members and senators I think, there was always this ‘oh we should just fold this show up’ and I fought as hard as I could with others to make sure that didn’t happen,” Joyce says.

Acknowledging the threat posed by One Nation, Joyce puts that party’s success into the context of a global wave of right-wing populism.

“In those messages are things that matter to people - are messages that matter, that resonate. People wouldn’t just change [their vote] because they got a giggle. They change because they get a message and go ‘yep, that’s all I needed to know and that’s enough for me to change my vote’. And that’s what’s happening now and we’ve got to compete in that space.”

Joyce also has a reality-check for his colleagues pushing for changes to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

“There’s a set of people who are more intensely involved in politics and they might be concerned - but if you think I go past the guys working on the road and as I say ‘g'day’ to them and ask them how’s the job going [that] they’d say ‘I really want to talk to you about 18C’ - no they don’t.

"They are interested in the things they can touch. They do not occupy themselves in the deeper philosophical thoughts.

"What we’ve got to be really careful of is once you leave the party room meeting - whether it’s here or whether it’s your branch meeting back in the country - don’t think that’s the issue that’s going to get across to people in the pub on a Friday night.”


Music credit: “What tomorrow brings”, by Ketsa on the Free Music Archive

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Rory Medcalf on the security implications of Donald Trump’s presidency

November 16, 2016

For allies of the United States, the reality of a Donald Trump presidency has just begun to sink in. Former Australian diplomat and intelligence analyst, Professor Rory Medcalf, who heads the National Security College at ANU, tells Michelle Grattan that for Australia, the shock of the Trump presidency will mean that we have to think much more seriously about what our foreign policy and national security looks like with an unpredictable American ally.

“I do think that Australia knows now that we can’t simply rely on the strategic direction that America is setting in the Asia-Pacific or the Indo-Pacific region, because I suspect under Trump, for quite a while, the Americans won’t know that themselves,” he says.

“A lot of old certainties are now in question. I think that countries like China and Russia are going to feel emboldened, particularly Russia. I think US allies around the world are going to be feeling anxious and there is this potential for a ripple effect of far-right political views, more so in Europe than in this country.”


Music credit: “Sabre”, by Ketsa on the Free Music Archive

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