WA election – Mark McGowan accuses Turnbull of bluffing

March 9, 2017

The end of the mining boom has hit many people in Western Australia hard, and this has flowed strongly into the election. Debt and deficit are besetting the state budget. In this final podcast from Perth, we talk to economist Alan Duncan about the challenges for the state’s economy and for whoever forms government after Saturday, as WA undertakes a vast transition.

We also interview Opposition Leader Mark McGowan, who goes into the election as favourite. McGowan had much-revered Labor figure Bob Hawke over to help last week. Hawke talked to him about his summit approach to economic policy-making after he was elected prime minister in 1983. McGowan tells us he wants to be a consensus premier locally, but when he ventured out of his state he would be fighting hard for the interests of WA.

“As a West Australian you put forward a robust case on behalf of your state. We never seem to get any favours out of the Commonwealth. And what we have to do is be absolutely forceful and never, ever give in. And I think that’s the way to treat the federal government - whoever they are,” McGowan says.

If he becomes premier, McGowan would face a hostile upper house, with One Nation holding all or part of the balance-of-power.

“The way you deal with the upper house, in my experience as a former minister, is you present good legislation and you argue the case. There’s no easy solutions when you have a hostile upper house.”

“I would just hope that One Nation, if they get elected, look at the merits of legislation that comes before them.”

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WA poll - Kim Beazley on One Nation

March 8, 2017

In our second podcast from the Western Australian election, we talk to Kim Beazley, especially about One Nation. Beazley was federal Labor leader during Pauline Hanson’s first political phase. He sees her as a national security threat and believes she should be opposed in the strongest terms.

“We [in WA] are probably more conscious of South-East Asia. We do more trade with South-East Asia … with Indonesia for example. There’s a strong propensity here to look very seriously at Indonesia. Lots of West Australians holiday in Indonesia. … The positions she is adopting pose to seriously damage a critical security and economic relationship. I think quite a lot of West Australians understand that,” he said.

“The rise of One Nation, to my mind, ought to be greeted in much the same way as we greeted [Hanson] back then - to see it disappear as quickly as possible.”

In this podcast, we also visited Rockingham, south of Perth, where we found mixed views about One Nation and more than a little general disillusionment. Polling analyst William Bowe, who’s been watching the One Nation phenomenon, says their campaign has been “a bit of a shambles”. “I guess the question in this election with respect to how well they’re going to go is: how much does that matter?”

“Given the sort of experience of Donald Trump’s campaign last year, I think there’s an idea that these sorts of populist movements can get away with a great deal.”

Finally, Dexter Davies, federal senior vice-president of the Nationals and a former WA state MP, strongly defends the controversial Nationals’ proposal for a mining tax on Rio Tinto and BHP, which has triggered a massive campaign from the mining companies.

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election report from the West

March 7, 2017

In the first of three Conversation podcasts on the Western Australian election, we talk to Natalie Mast at the University of Western Australia, Premier Colin Barnett and ABC election analyst Antony Green.

Saturday’s election potentially carries a hefty national punch.

The polls are running strongly against the Liberal government. If Colin Barnett loses, the federal Liberals will become even more jittery, although the defeat would be due primarily to state factors.

The election will also test the power of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation as a disruptor, with the party set to win state upper house seats. Hanson is on the campaign trail all this week. Her latest provocative comments on immunisation, Vladimir Putin and Muslims - she said on Monday Muslims had changed Australian suburbs - continue to highlight the dubious deal the WA Liberals have done with One Nation on preferences.

The deal has alienated some among both Liberal and One Nation supporters. Barnett is anxious to keep maximum distance from Hanson, insisting the preference swap doesn’t indicate any wider convergence.

He admits that while some people will be unhappy with the deal, “I think overall it will improve the Liberal Party vote. And can I stress there’s no agreement with One Nation. I don’t endorse their policies. I don’t endorse their candidates and there is no agreement about any role in government about legislation or policy.”

ABC election analyst Antony Green. Pat Hutchens/TC

Barnett, who is promising - ambitiously, given the government’s unpopularity - to sell 51% of Western Power, is highly critical of the way the national energy debate has gone.

After saying at a news conference on Tuesday there was no such thing as clean coal, Barnett told The Conversation: “Coal has relatively high levels of emissions. Higher quality coal tends to have lower emissions per unit of energy produced. In Western Australia we have had good long-term policies on natural gas and for a power station of an equivalent size, gas powered generation produces less than half of the emissions of coal. So if you want to clean up the energy system in Australia, it seems to me that the bleeding obvious thing to do is to make more use of natural gas in Australia,” he said.

He says he watches “with bewilderment” the national debate on energy policy. “Australia, with its huge natural resources of coal, of natural gas, of uranium and so on, has got itself into an absolute mess over energy policy.”

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Former ambassador Jeff Bleich on the shocks of the Trump presidency

March 1, 2017

Australia got a taste of US President Donald Trump’s approach to diplomacy in a sensational phone call with Malcolm Turnbull, details of which were leaked to the Washington Post. But former US ambassador to Australia during the Obama years, Jeff Bleich, says the reaction in the US was “very helpful” to Australia.

“Because one person after another, myself included, was called on to TV to talk about it,” Bleich says.

“We all said the same thing - which is that Australia is one of our best friends in the world. It’s a critical country. Look at all the things we do together and that Australia has done over the years. And it was actually an opportunity to reinforce the importance of this alliance and the importance of Australia.”

In the wake of Trump’s controversial immigration order, Bleich was one of many who denounced it. But he has no criticism of Turnbull for not joining in on the international condemnation.

“My statement was really about Americans. Americans have a responsibility to stand up for American values and I think we have a vital responsibility to speak out when we think our government is doing the wrong thing.

"For a foreign leader, I think they need to first and foremost advance the interests of their own country and so if the government thinks that by condemning the president’s actions it may interfere with their ability to do other things that are important for Australia’s national interests then I think that’s what a leader is supposed to do.”

Bleich feels vindicated by court decisions to put a stay on Trump’s executive order.

“I think it’s much more likely that the Trump administration will go back to the drafting board and come up with a new ban that they believe will survive constitutional review,” he says.

The former diplomat describes deep divisions in his home country.

“This is a major shock to the system that is going to force all Americans to revisit what we’re all about - what our constitution sets forth for us as our common values.”

Though Democrats can’t afford to be complacent, the seeds to Trump’s undoing may already be at work.

“He’s made some very, very bold promises. He talked about bringing back all sorts of jobs to communities that are feeling left behind.

"If he’s not able to deliver new jobs and he’s not able to avoid dramatically increasing the debt, I think there will be a backlash.”


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

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Ken Coates on the future of higher education

February 27, 2017

With university graduates finding it harder to find jobs, questions have been raised about the merits of a typical tertiary qualification. Dr Ken Coates, Canada research chair in regional innovation at University Saskatchewan Campus, says by 2050 we’re going to have hundreds of more specialised, boutique institutions.

“We’ll have a smaller number of what we call these ‘multiversities’ - the large scale enterprises that have the 30, 40, 50,000 students offering everything to everybody. I think we’re going to see a much larger shift towards private education,” Coates says.

As it stands, graduates are left with what Coates calls “a huge dose of career paranoia”.

“We have significant challenges in different countries with the unemployment of university graduates. It’s very high in places like Spain and Greece and other countries. We have a larger problem with graduate underemployment. … They get a job, but the job doesn’t require a university degree.

"I think one of the issues is that we have too few good jobs. So it’s actually a function of the fact that we’re losing jobs on the left hand, we’re over-producing people for jobs that no longer exist on the other hand, and you’re creating a growing level of dissatisfaction - sometimes anger.”

One of Coates’ interests has been how the rise of automation and artificial intelligence will affect tertiary education and the career prospects of future generations of students.

“This whole issue of automation, artificial intelligence, digital technology, robotification has a lot of people worried, but not enough. So the estimates are - depending on which economy you’re in - 30 to 50% of the jobs we currently have will disappear somewhere by 2025/2030. That’s not that long down the line.

"That is actually where the global conversation about a guaranteed annual income has really picked up speed. It used to be a kind of marginal, left-wing kind of idea that sort of found a certain amount of currency in places like Scandanavia. Now people are talking about it all over the place.”


Music credit: “Medium Leaker”, by Tab and Anitek on the free music archive

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Hugh Saddler on Australia’s energy crisis

February 23, 2017

As politicians debate the causes of South Australia’s power failures, separating fact from rhetoric has become difficult. In this episode of The Conversation’s politics podcast, Michelle Grattan interviews energy expert Hugh Saddler.

Dr Saddler explains the complex mix of factors behind the power failures in South Australia and the stresses on the electricity systems elsewhere, and canvases what can be done to fix the problems.

With the government attempting to reinvigorate enthusiasm for coal, Saddler doesn’t believe the idea of subsidising the development of “clean coal” power stations will fly.

“There’s so many parties who would be involved in that sort of investment saying there’s no way they would invest in such a type of power station.

"One factor is that they have a long life. … That type of power station would take a very long time to build. Then it will have a long life and under that sort of life they would still be operating in 2050 when many countries have said we’ve got to be [at] zero emissions.”

A review into energy security by Australia’s chief scientist Alan Finkel is still underway. But the government has already ruled out establishing an emissions intensity scheme.

“In my opinion an emissions intensity scheme is just one of a number of different mechanisms which probably should be used. … I would suspect the sort of process that might go through is the Finkel report will come down with a whole suite of recommendations,” Saddler says.


Music credit: “Equestrian”, by Anitek on the Free Music Archive

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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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