Monday, June 29, 2009

Opinion polls, Malcolm Turnbull, ETS, Border Protection .. A Liberal Senators View

" ... we didn’t manage to get out our perspective in relation to the big issues of this Government’s maladministration in relation to government debt, in relation to Grocery Watch, in relation to the Job Network tender, in relation to border protection. That’s the important thing to focus on, the major areas of maladministration of this government ... But we have got to get back on the job now of holding the Government to account, and issues like on the front page today, where we have another asylum seeker boat arriving in Australia. We’ve now cracked over 1,000 people in the past year ... "

Transcript of
Senator Mitch Fifield
Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for
Disabilities, Carers and the Voluntary Sector

Sky News – AM Agenda
Ashleigh Gillon and Mike Kelly MP

29 June 2009

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Welcome back to AM Agenda. Let’s go straight to our panel of politicians. Joining me from Canberra is the Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Support and Water, Mike Kelly. Good morning.

MIKE KELLY: Good morning Ashleigh.

GILLON: And from Melbourne the Liberal frontbencher, Senator Mitch Fifield. Good morning to you.

MITCH FIFIELD: Good morning Ashleigh.

GILLON: Mitch, let’s start with you. What went through your mind this morning when you opened up the papers and saw such devastating results for the Coalition?

FIFIELD: Well you have some good days in politics and you have some bad days. What the polls tell us is that the voters give you points when you handle things well and they deduct points when you handle something not so well. And that’s what we saw last week. For me the great disappointment is that we weren’t able to get our message out about Wayne Swan and the questions that he needs to answer about Mr John Grant. And we didn’t manage to get out our perspective in relation to the big issues of this Government’s maladministration in relation to government debt, in relation to Grocery Watch, in relation to the Job Network tender, in relation to border protection. That’s the important thing to focus on, the major areas of maladministration of this government.

GILLON: But Senator do you think that these poll results might suggest that Mr Turnbull was wrong to pursue the Prime Minister over the Ozcar affair? That he didn’t handle this whole saga well at all.

FIFIELD: Well I’m not going to pretend for a second that we had a good week last week. Opposition isn’t always an elegant business. It’s important that we ask the tough questions. That we seek to hold the Government to account. It’s a collective responsibility that we have as opposition Members and Senators to hold the government to account. That’s what we were doing. One of the issues which we were pursuing ended up being not a valid matter to pursue in relation to the Prime Minister and that fabricated email. But we have got to get back on the job now of holding the Government to account, and issues like on the front page today, where we have another asylum seeker boat arriving in Australia. We’ve now cracked over 1,000 people in the past year who have come to Australia illegally. These are the issues which we have to get back on to focusing and making sure that this Government starts to administer policy well.

GILLON: I do want to get into the asylum seeker issue a bit later with Mike Kelly, but firstly Senator just staying with you for a second, do you think that Mr Turnbull’s leadership now is under threat off the back of these polls and his performance last week? Are you aware of any moves to try to bring him down from the leadership?

FIFIELD: Not at all. Malcolm is extremely secure as leader. In fact, talking to colleagues last week, the recurring theme amongst colleagues is that Malcolm is the best person to lead us and that he should lead us to the next election. Malcolm is someone who is incredibly resilient. He’s fought back before. He’s been in the leadership a relatively short time, and we’ve seen during his leadership that he does have the capacity to fight back, he does have the capacity to rebound. He is incredibly tenacious. And he is going to pursue this Government from today right through to polling day.

GILLON: So Senator Fifield you are telling me that there is no rumblings, even on the backbench, trying to get Malcolm Turnbull to step down?

FIFIELD: I can tell you exactly that. There are no rumblings. There are no moves. The only conversations that I’ve had with colleagues are that Malcolm is the best person to lead us, and that he should lead us to the next election.

GILLON: Mike Kelly let’s bring you in, the government didn’t escape completely unscathed in these polls, they show, we saw in the AC-Neilson poll that Wayne Swan suffered, it showed his likeability was down 21%. Does that surprise you?

KELLY: Ashleigh I represent the people of Eden-Monaro which I think are the best cross-section of Australia, and what they are telling me is that they are sick and tired of the politics of fear and smear. They were amazed that we spent the entire of last week of parliament with the opposition asking not one single question about economics, health, education, security. Really they’re just disgusted that we are wasting taxpayers’ money on this sort of fear and smear, muckraking stuff, instead of getting on with the business of tackling the big issues that face us like the economy and climate change.

GILLON: But Mike Kelly it takes two to tango, we saw the Government give as good as it got last week.

KELLY: Well Ashleigh you can see if you go back over the record last week that on the first point, we were responding to questions from the Coalition which were exclusively focused on this smear and muckraking. But on the second hand when we had the opportunity to ask questions they were focused on the real issues that confronted Australians. Issues like the economy and climate change. Particularly in my electorate, I know climate change is a very big worry. We’ve got a lot of farmers and people on the land who are worried about the effects of climate change and we need to see now the Coalition finally stumping up and joining in with us to make sure we can go to Copenhagen lined up with the United States to move this issue forward.

GILLON: Well that’s another issue we will get back to as well but Mike Kelly, the Government would be mad not to go to an early election, wouldn’t you, especially with Malcolm Turnbull down as he is at the moment?

KELLY: Ashleigh all we are interested in is getting on with the business of government. We have major issues confronting us. We’ve got an unprecedented international economic crisis that we are managing and by all the indicators we are managing successfully in comparison with other OECD countries. We’re really trying to gear up now to be able to go to Copenhagen with a good position on climate change. We’re focused on these issues, delivering good education and heath policy for the country. All these range of things that are of real concern to people in our community.

GILLON: Senator if Peter Costello hadn’t announced his retirement a couple of weeks ago we’d be having a very different conversation today. Do you think though that Colin Barnett’s experience in WA may give some Costello supporters a good glimmer of hope, or is there zero chance that he would reconsider his retirement?

FIFIELD: I think Peter has made his position extremely clear. He is not recontesting at the next election. He is looking to his career outside politics. Malcolm Turnbull is our leader. He has the support of the Party Room. We’ve got to get in behind him. He is someone of immense capacity. He is someone of great integrity. And I think over the months ahead the public will see that as he holds the Government to account.

GILLON: But you could see how it could be a little bit tempting for Mr Costello and some of his supporters to beg for him to come back when it does look like Malcolm Turnbull is suffering some much in terms of viewers perception of his leadership and his character.

FIFIELD: Well we are professional politicians, we are in the business of dealing with facts and reality. And the facts are that Malcolm is our leader and he will take us to the next election.

GILLON: Well how do you think Mr Turnbull will go about trying to re-energise the party over the winter break? It seems apparent that we will see a reshuffle of the Coalition frontbench. Are you expecting widespread change there or just perhaps some tinkering at the edges?

FIFIELD: Well we’ve got a pretty good team. I don’t know if there will be a reshuffle, Malcolm may well make some fine-tuning to responsibilities and personnel but that’s certainly in his court. I think Malcolm is going to focus over the winter break on the fact that this is a Government that can’t administer anything well. Look at grocery choices – a bungle. Look at the Job Network tender – a bungle. Look at our border protection – a bungle. Look at the schools stimulus package spending – a bungle. And the feature of this Government is whenever a Minister stuffs something up, such as Chris Bowen, with grocery choices, or the employee share scheme, you get promoted. (Brendan) O’Connor bungled the Job Network tender. He got promoted. And I think that’s how Malcolm is going to focus over the winter break on the fact that this government can’t administer anything well. They can certainly get the politics right. They handle the politics very well. They handle spin very well. But when it actually comes to the business of administering, when it actually comes to the business of delivering outcomes for the Australian people this Government is just not in the event.

GILLON: Mike Kelly we’ve heard Mitch Fifield there bringing up the failed Grocery Watch scheme, we saw FuelWatch die last year. That is quite embarrassing isn’t it, for the Government? These were two key election promises from Kevin Rudd.

KELLY: Ashleigh this Government is determined to do whatever we can to improve competition and benefits to the consumer. We’re not afraid to try whatever options are out there and to continue to experiment to deliver that result. Unlike the previous Government, which never lifted a finger to help consumers, we’ll leave no stone unturned to deliver a good result for consumers, and that’s also associated with our overall economic management which by every end this year has been proven to be successful. The retail sales are up, building approvals are up, business confidence, consumers confidence, the fastest growing economy in the OECD. The strategy of the Government, carefully constructed and decisive, and acting early has produced results and has helped cushion Australia from the impacts of the economic crisis, and we want to continue to maintain support for consumers through both that strategy and looking for options to promote competition and keep prices down.

GILLON: Mike Kelly another big, of course, election promise from Kevin Rudd was the deliverance of an emissions trading scheme in Australia. Over the weekend we saw the US House of Representatives pass its climate legislation. That development means that if the Rudd Government can’t succeed in getting its scheme through, it wont really be a good look will it?

KELLY: Oh, absolutely. This is an opportunity now with the legislation passing through the US Congress, for Australia to be able to add its voice in a concerted team effort to improve the international position in relation to carbon emissions. It would be very embarrassing for us to be unable to go to Copenhagen with a firm position. But beyond that, this is critically important for our own economy.

GILLON: But what would it say about Kevin Rudd’s leadership if he failed to negotiate with the Coalition and the other independent Senators?

KELLY: You can’t negotiate with someone who won’t talk to you. I mean the problem we’ve got with the Coalition is that they don’t have a position. They are completely divided on this issue. We know there are some severe climate sceptics. Malclom Turnbull through his failed leadership has been unable to unite his party on a whole range of issues including this one, and as I said, no to all of our positions so far and haven’t proposed a single amendment so far. And all they have been able to decide to do is to postpone a vote. So we haven’t go a partner dance with here.

GILLON: Well Mitch Fifield, Malcolm Turnbull of course has been pushing for the delay of this scheme, the vote going through the Senate, we saw this decision over in the US which has been hailed as a real breakthrough in terms of the world going forward on climate change. Now hasn’t Malcolm Turnbull lost one of his reasons for delay, he said that we should wait and see what the US is doing before coming up with a position here in Australia?

FIFIELD: Well we still don’t know what the US is going to do. The Waxman-Markey bill has passed the US House of Representatives, just. It’s yet to pass the US Senate. It’s extremely unlikely that the bill will pass the US Senate in its current form. So we still don’t know what the United States ultimate position will be. There is still a lot of water to go under the bridge there. Our position is that it is important to wait to see what the US does. It’s important to wait to see what comes out of Copenhagen. The Coalition have commissioned research with Senator Xenophon, Frontier Economics, to do some work to look at alternatives to this design of ETS and what the impacts of this ETS will be. So that will give us some additional information to take into account. But it has struck me as truly bizarre the fact that this Government said that there was going to be plague and pestilence across Australia if we did not have an ETS in place by 2010. Yet a couple of months back the Government said that it was fine to delay the implementation of the ETS. It seems that the Government taking its time is responsible. The Coalition taking its time is irresponsible. We think the right thing to do is to take the time to get it right. An ETS shouldn’t be an end in itself. An ETS should be one part of a package of measures to reduce emissions. The important thing is to get it right and that is what we aim to do.

GILLON: Well the Senate vote of course will still be in the middle of August, so that will be a fascinating return to parliament. I did promise we’d get back to the asylum seeker issue. Over the weekend we saw 194 people arrive on a boat. That boat was intercepted, it’s the 15th boat to arrive this year. Mike Kelly are you really telling us that the influx of asylum seekers has nothing to do with the Rudd Government’s change of policy? The Government says its policy is more humane than the former Howard Government’s policy so doesn’t it logically follow that more people would want to come here?

KELLY: It absolutely has nothing to do with our policy. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights report just recently released, indicated that there has been a 28% increase in asylum seekers and refugees worldwide and 42 million people have been dislocated. So 800 of those have been trying to make their way to Australian shores. It has all to do with the wars and the conflicts around the world at the moment and nothing to do with our policy. And might I say, I’m completely disgusted with some members of the Coalition attempting to make political capital on the back of the suffering of refugees and asylum seekers. I think we’ve learned a lot of lessons after the children overboard affair, and I know that there are a lot of decent men and women on the Coalition side who don’t support this sort of tawdry politics.

GILLON: Senator we’ll let you respond to that quickly.

FIFIELD: Well listening to Mike it sounds as though there are only push factors, that there is no such thing as pull factors. But the reality is that the Labor Party went to the last election promising to soften border protection policies and that is exactly what they did. Not just in terms of their rhetoric, but they abolished temporary protection visas as well. The product of that has been we’ve had 15 boats come in the last 12 months, and over 1,000 asylum seekers. Now you can’t just put this down to push factors, there are pull factors. This Government had a policy of softening border protection, that’s what they’ve done. They’ve given the people smugglers a good product to sell and that’s what the people smugglers are doing.

GILLON: Senator Mitch Fifield, Mike Kelly, thank you both for your time this morning on AM Agenda.

KELLY: Thanks Ashleigh.

FIFIELD: Thank you Ashleigh.


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