Greens Jordon Steele-John on being an ‘accidental’ senator

November 15, 2017

New Greens senator Jordon Steele-John is the youngest person ever to sit in the senate.

He was sworn in this week with two other 'accidental' senators who are the gainers from the citizenship crisis.

He talks to Michelle Grattan about coming to Canberra for the first time since he was a baby, his political passion, and his commitment to promote his causes - youth and disability issues.


Swinging into the Sunshine State’s election

November 9, 2017

The pundits are reluctant to place bets on who will win Queensland's November 25 election, with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Opposition leader Tim Nicholls both carrying a good deal of baggage. A lot of attention is focused on Pauline Hanson's One Nation, which has been polling strongly and might end up with the balance of power in the new parliament.

The Adani coal mine project has been centre stage early in the campaign, with the Labor government saying it would veto any financing from the federal Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) for the venture's rail line.

During two days in Brisbane Michelle Grattan spoke to Griffith University political scientist Anne Tiernan, Deputy Premier Jackie Trad, Shadow Treasurer Scott Emerson, Queensland One Nation leader Steve Dickson and The Courier Mail's national affairs editor Dennis Atkins.


Kevin Rudd on avoiding Donald Trump

October 30, 2017

Not for the Faint-hearted, the first volume of Kevin Rudd’s massive autobiography is out, and the former prime minister is on the promotion circuit. Rudd now spends much of his time in America, where he is president of the Asia Society Policy Institute in New York, and keeps a close eye on the unfolding Trump presidency.

He argues Australia should minimise direct engagement with Donald Trump in favour of dealing with “sane people” in his administration. “Assume that this will be a passing phase in American politics, it may not be … sit and wait in terms of what happens in three years time.”

In the interim China is benefiting from the unorthodox presidency: “Take for example Trump’s appallingly irresponsible decision not to attend the East Asian summit in Manilla which is upcoming, instead conceding the ground totally to China.”

On matters closer to home, ‘Kevin from Queensland’ says the strength of One Nation in the Sunshine state is “formidable”, yet despite Pauline Hanson riding a populist wave she is “all criticism, all critique, with no solutions.


Energy Security Board chair Kerry Schott on a national energy plan

October 26, 2017

The government’s long-awaited energy plan has rejected Chief Scientist Alan Finkel’s Clean Energy Target, which focused on subsidies for renewables, in favour of a National Energy Guarantee (NEG). The government has promised affordability and reliability, as well as compliance with Australia’s international climate obligations.

Energy Security Board chair Kerry Schott headed a group of energy experts charged with developing a scheme, the details of which are now being modelled.

She says the states and territories will have a degree of flexibility in how they legislate on emissions reduction targets. “Depending on where their emissions target, is that will dictate within their region what reliability they need.”

Schott, who is also a director of NBN Co, said she acknowledges it is “not 100% perfect”. But she is confident it is financially viable. On consumer unhappiness, she said: “We do take these complaints very seriously and are working on correcting it.”


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.”