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.


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


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


Julian Leeser on section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act

November 8, 2016

Many in the government have clamoured for changes to be made to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Liberal backbencher Julian Leeser, however is not one of them.

The member for the northern Sydney seat of Berowra tells Michelle Grattan there are definitely people within the Liberal Party who share his view that Section 18C “achieves a good balance between allowing people the freedom of speech which is necessary in a democracy like Australia but also protecting racial minorities from racial vilification and racial slurs”.

“But the thing that I think unites everybody in this debate, regardless of your view on Section 18C, is that the process underscored in the QUT case and also in the Bill Leak case, just didn’t work as well as it should have,” Leeser says.


Kim Beazley on the US election

November 3, 2016

Kim Beazley’s time as Australia’s ambassador to the United States came to an end earlier this year, but he is riveted by next week’s presidential election.

“When I was the ambassador to Washington I just missed politics every day. In this year, I am missing the United States every day,” he says.

Beazley tells Michelle Grattan that “slightly, on balance” Hillary Clinton is more likely to win. “But the anger, the energy, in this campaign is within one group and that is with the white working class - mainly male but also female - who feel that America is being taken away from them,” he says.

“I see the election contest at the moment has the momentum with Trump.”

He cites the reduced turnout of Democrat-voting African-Americans and the mire of the Hillary Clinton email controversy as factors in a possible upset.

“One would have to say that if there is more of this over the weekend that the Trump momentum may well be unstoppable.”

If Trump pulls off an unlikely victory, Beazley foresees huge challenges for Australia. “Were he to implement the policies that he talks about in regards to the Asian region, we would be confronting strategic damage and possibly economic disaster,” he says.

Beazley says Hillary Clinton has a very favourable view towards Australia. “She sees us as a skilled, well-off and purposeful people and she will have things for our will and purpose and a lot of them may well involve decisions or topics that we’re quite uncomfortable with.”

“I think for starters she would be looking very strongly at a deeper integration of Australian and American forces in the region. She might be looking more vigorously than Obama has been at deployment of American aircraft from Australian bases and she’d in all probability look quite strongly at the possibility of rotating ships through [Royal Australian Navy base] Stirling.”

Music credit: “Star-spangled banner” by the United States Marine Band on the Free Music Archive


John Blaxland on The Secret Cold War - The Official History of ASIO

October 25, 2016

In the third volume of The Official History of ASIO series, historians Dr John Blaxland and Dr Rhys Crawley examine the organisation’s role in the years leading to the end of the Cold War.

Blaxland tells Michelle Grattan that this is a story about looking at Australia in the ‘70s and '80s “through the glasses of an ASIO officer or an ASIO agent”.

During the period covered in the book, Blaxland says the Soviet Union was so active in Australia the work of ASIO was not sufficient to cover their activity.

“Effectively, ASIO found itself dealing with a grown Soviet presence and a proliferation of Soviet Bloc consulates and diplomatic presences that were simply beyond it. They weren’t resourced to monitor them all. And so we now know that while ASIO was doing what it could, it was in a position where it was simply outpaced. They did not have the number of officers and agents in place to monitor the incredible growth in the number of diplomats-cum-spies operating in Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne and elsewhere,” he says.

In this final volume, which was preceded by The Protest Years and The Spy Catchers, Blaxland and Crawley draw upon ASIO archives and interviews with former spies to piece together a history of one of Australia’s most secretive institutions.

Music credit: “The Spirit of Russian Love” by Zinaida Troika, covered by Kosta on the Free Music Archive.


Stirling Griff and Skye Kakoschke-Moore on life in the Senate

October 18, 2016

Nick Xenophon’s two new Senate colleagues, Stirling Griff and Skye Kakoschke-Moore, are no strangers to the political process, having both worked with Xenophon behind the scenes.

In a joint interview, they tell Michelle Grattan about their contrasting experiences in becoming politicians. Kakoschke-Moore says she has had the benefit of being around Xenophon for nearly six years. “So I understand the way he operates,” she says.

Working as a Xenophon adviser, she learnt the ropes of the Senate. “It is so rule-driven and so procedure-driven that I have a great deal of sympathy for people coming into this who have had no exposure at all to the inner workings of Senate procedure.”

Stirling Griff, on the other hand, has had a “huge learning curve”.

“I’m following behind Skye like she’s the mother hen and I imagine I’ll be doing that really for another few more weeks,” he says.

With the government’s industrial relations legislation before the parliament, the Nick Xenophon Team is looking for some amendments.

“Particularly in relation to the building code and requiring building projects, to the greatest extent possible, to use Australian goods and services. So we’ll be looking at the bills closely but we’ll also be keeping an open mind to amendments,” Kakoschke-Moore says.

The pair are dismissive of any move by senator David Leyonhjelm to push for concessions on gun laws in exchange for passage of the industrial relations bills.

“They’re not related and we don’t want to play those games,” Griff says.


Tanya Plibersek on marriage equality and education funding

October 17, 2016

In the wake of Labor’s rejection of the proposed same-sex marriage plebiscite, speculation has fallen on whether Labor will maintain their planned policy of enforcing a binding vote on marriage equality after the next election. Labor deputy leader Tanya Plibersek tells Michelle Grattan she doesn’t think the issue will come up at the party’s next national conference.

“I know that the Liberals are trying to whip up some notion that this will be reexamined at the next national conference. I don’t hear anybody in the Labor Party calling for this to be reopened at the next national conference,” she says.

Plibersek, who is Labor’s spokesperson for education, says the government needs to properly fund the university sector.

“When it comes to undergraduate students in particular I’m very concerned about where this government is headed. You only need to look at the United States to see university degrees that cost an arm and a leg, hang a debt sentence around the neck of students and in many cases don’t even have the pay-off of leading to higher paid jobs,” she says.

“So I think we need to be careful about loading students up with debts that really become a burden for them. … You’re talking about students at the same time in their lives as they’re finishing university, they’re often establishing relationships or families, they’re looking to buy a house. It comes at a very difficult time and the inter-generational effects of the type of debt that this government is proposing for students I think has broader social consequences than just being a disincentive to education for many people.”

Plibersek also defends Labor’s criticism of Education Minister Simon Birmingham for raising the possibility of cutting funding to wealthy private schools.

“It’s a distraction. Is he really going to take money off schools? Is he prepared to tell you which schools and how much money? And this is a smokescreen. He would love us to be having the old sectarian fights: state against state, independent verus public, versus Catholic, and frankly none of that matters. What matters is that we properly fund our schools system and they’re not going to do that.”


Mark Dreyfus on George Brandis’ solicitor-general controversy

October 13, 2016

A contentious move by Attorney-General George Brandis to restrict access to legal advice from the solicitor-general is continuing to raise controversy and questions about its legal validity. Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus tells Michelle Grattan that he sees this as “the most extraordinary power grab by the Attorney-General in the history of the office”.

“We already know that he’s held up requests. Why? I can’t say, but the deputy secretary of the department giving evidence to the Senate committee last week said that one of the requests had taken 10 days.

"Now very often it’s urgent that you get legal advice. It’s never before been the position that secretaries of commonwealth departments, other ministers, the prime minister, the governor-general have been told that the written consent of the attorney-general is necessary before they get the advice of the solicitor-general,” he says.

The solicitor-general has to be the primary source of advice on the most important matters of the government, Dreyfus says.

“I’m not for a moment suggesting that in a complex, large government with 168,000 Australian public servants that every single legal question that the government comes into contact with has to go to the solicitor-general. Clearly that at a practical level couldn’t be the case but matters like the plebiscite bill, which the parliament is now dealing with, or the prorogation of parliament that occurred earlier this year or the citizenship bill - they are matters that the government should go to the solicitor-general [with] first.”

On the question of whether Labor should stick with its planned policy of enforcing a binding vote on marriage equality after the next election, Dreyfus says he thinks it is a “human rights matter”.

“That’s my own view and I argued in favour and voted in favour of the binding vote and that would remain my position…and lets see if it’s the position that would give difficulty because by the time of the next Labor conference, this matter may well have been dealt with in the parliament.”

Music credit: “Storytime” by Dlay on the Free Music Archive


Simon Birmingham on the new VET loan scheme

October 4, 2016
A new vocational education and training student loan scheme will aim at putting a stop to rorting by dodgy private colleges. Education Minister Simon Birmingham tells Michelle Grattan the new scheme is being built from the ground up. 

"First and foremost, [there will be] strong barriers to entry for the types of vocational education providers who can offer loans as part of it," he says. 

The reforms will see the number of courses available drop from than 800 to "somewhere around the 300 or 400 mark", Birmingham says. "There are a range of different areas that have been subsidised over recent years - but certainly very odd areas - such as Chinese veterinary medicine, will no longer make the cut. A number of I guess lifestyle-type courses is the best way to define some of them."  

Birmingham also talks on his negotiations for a new school funding agreement, and says he will soon announce a new higher education policy to start in 2018.  

Music credit: "Natural", by Dlay on the Free Music Archive