LYNDAL CURTIS: Simon Birmingham and Nick Champion, welcome to News 24.
NICK CHAMPION: Good morning [sic].
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good afternoon, Lyndal. G’day, Nick.
LYNDAL CURTIS: The Government has not ruled out advertising to sell its carbon tax plan. That’s not something that has won the backing of either Tony Windsor or the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, but the Government’s still not ruling it out. Here’s what Tony Abbott and the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, had to say about it today.
TONY ABBOTT: Now, I think that it would be an absolute travesty of this Government to run an ad campaign, but as sure as night follows day, I can feel an ad campaign coming on because that’s what you always get from this Government taxpayer money funding ad campaigns for bad policy.
WAYNE SWAN: We haven’t taken any decisions in this area and I’m not going to be in the business of ruling anything in or anything out.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Nick Champion, does it look good to spend taxpayers’ money on an advertising campaign when it looks like the Government’s in trouble?
NICK CHAMPION: Well, look, as the Treasurer said, we haven’t announced anything and we haven’t made any decisions in this regard and it is very early in the debate to be ruling things in and out. This is a debate where we’ve announced the framework for carbon pricing and we’re having a community debate. The Opposition is, you know, running their scare campaign, and they’re going to run a negative line on this all the way, I suspect, through the debate but we’re very… it’s a very early part of the debate and it doesn’t make much sense to be ruling things in or out at this stage.
LYNDAL CURTIS: When you came to power, the Labor Party put into place fairly strict conditions on advertising because it had complained long and loud about the Howard Government’s advertising program. Should the Government this time stick to those new rules?
NICK CHAMPION: Well, we put those guidelines in place after the previous Government spent nearly I think nearly a billion dollars over a decade on Government advertising and the most egregious example of that was of course the WorkChoices ads. I think, by and large, we’ve stuck to those guidelines. I think the one exception was the mining debate and that… there was obviously some need for information to be put out to the public at that point and those ads were fairly straightforward in terms of just providing information to the public, so I wouldn’t want to speculate about what we might want to do in the future but the point is this is a community debate, a very complex issue, people do want to know what the facts and figures are, what the impacts are, and they want to know, I suppose… you know, they want those facts and figures reasonably independently of the political process.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Simon Birmingham, is there anything wrong with the Government running a campaign if it chose to do so, making sure it was a public education campaign about the topic?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Lyndal, firstly it’s quite laughable, of course, for Nick to say the public want to know the facts and the figures, what’s in, what’s out. Nobody knows that. The Government says they don’t know that themselves so there’s nothing of substance they could put into any advertising campaign. If they run an advertising campaign you can bet your bottom dollar it will be a purely, purely political campaign, just like the mining tax one was…
LYNDAL CURTIS: They don’t have to run it from now, though. It could be some weeks or months down the track, couldn’t it?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I feel it coming pretty soon, Lyndal, and I think just like the mining tax campaign, which I see Nick is still defending even though it breached the Government’s own guidelines and was blatantly political in the run up to an election, this will be a political motive as well and it’s a great hypocrisy for Labor, who have condemned these types of campaigns in the past, for the Greens who have always condemned them, not to rule it out and the Government had $30 million ready to go, ready to spend on an advertising campaign just before Kevin Rudd ditched the ETS, so they have form on this topic, they were about to spend it then on an ad campaign and I can see it coming back now. This is not like ruling in or out a particular industry or ruling in or out what the compensation measures will be. This is pretty clear cut. Does the Government think it’s reasonable to dip its hand into taxpayers’ pockets to run an ad campaign about a tax that is going to equally dip its hand into taxpayers’ pockets? The answer is no.
LYNDAL CURTIS: If I can ask you both, Nick Champion first, you both would have a few Government advertising campaigns, both State and Federal, in your life. Do they work?
NICK CHAMPION: Well, the question is do they provide information to the public and is that information useful to the public. I think that’s the way people judge Government advertising. Government advertising comes in many forms. In our own state of South Australia, you know, we have advertising, Government advertising, around bushfires and the like, so there are sort of everything from the public service announcements, which I don’t think anybody has real problems with, right the way through to advertising which might be about proposed legislation. Obviously the Government’s, you know, got guidelines. They’re there for everybody to see and we’ll be judged, I think, on how we approach this matter.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Simon Birmingham, does Government advertising work?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Yes and no, Lyndal. Yes, it has its place and Nick’s right to highlight community service announcements, things that are genuinely providing information that people actually need to know, but frankly I don’t think it does work really well when you’re talking about political debates and Nick highlighted the WorkChoices campaign earlier. Let me be quite honest and say I think that was a wrong campaign to wage in an advertising sense. I think it probably backfired on the Government and I think people saw through it and I think if this Labor Government goes down the same path of spending millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money trying to advance a highly contentious and politically charged topic, people will see through it. They will know that it’s all being done for political motives and it will backfire on the Government just as it probably did on the Howard Government.
LYNDAL CURTIS: If we can move on to another topic, Pauline Hanson is back in the electoral cycle. She’s announced she’s going to stand for the Upper House of the New South Wales Parliament soon to be undertaken in New South Wales.
NICK CHAMPION: Well, it’s a bit of a flashback to the ’90s and we opposed Pauline Hanson in the ’90s. We opposed her on a policy level because we thought her policies would be bad for Australia and bad for Australia’s reputation and bad for our social fabric and the way we govern ourselves and communicate with one another and deal with one another so we will be opposing her election to Parliament. It is a free country, people are free to stand but in general I don’t people like reruns and I think it’s time for Tony Abbott, who took a very strong stand against Pauline Hanson in the ’90s, to do so again, to oppose her running for public office.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Simon, do you agree that people don’t tend to like candidates, potential candidates, standing time and time again?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Recycling of politicians is rarely a successful or popular thing. Sometimes it works, there are some notable examples or exceptions but often it doesn’t. In regards to Pauline Hanson, look I hear Nick Champion saying Tony Abbott should take a stand against her running. Well, that’s totally outrageous. We live in a free country. It’s a democracy. She’s allowed to run. Now, I wouldn’t vote for her. I’m pretty sure Tony Abbott wouldn’t vote for her…
NICK CHAMPION: But you can disagree with her policies.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I fundamentally disagree with her policies and I’m confident Tony Abbott fundamentally disagrees with her policies too, Nick. That’s different from her entitlement to run. She’s run now I think on about half a dozen occasions since 1998 and lost every single time. I hope she loses again this time, and I hope that if this time she comes out of it and says ‘that’s it, never again’ it’s actually the real truth and we don’t ever see her running again but in the end, that’s her call, her business and up to the New South Wales voters to judge her on her merits. I don’t think she has many.
LYNDAL CURTIS: If we can go now to a broader issue of women in the workplace, the Government’s tightened up on the rules for companies reporting on how many women they employ and what their female workforce is paid. The Government’s also saying that if companies don’t comply with the laws, they’ll be barred from getting Government funding either from assistance or Government contracts. Simon Birmingham, are those sort of provisions, making sure that the companies put the facts before the Government, a good way to look at this issue?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Lyndal, I’m looking forward to seeing a bit more detail on the announcement that Kate Ellis has made today. We all want to see real gender equality in the workplace. We want to see opportunities for women. Tony Abbott has championed that since becoming Leader and has taken sometimes controversial stances on issues like paid parental leave to advance the cause of women in the workplace but I want to make sure out of the detail of this that this isn’t placing an undue burden on businesses and that it isn’t some backdoor means for the Government to get trade union representatives or the like into businesses that are otherwise doing the right things… so the detail needs to be looked at carefully but insofar as this is a means and a measure to support the advancement of women in the workplace and make sure we have a fair go for everybody then that’s a perfectly reasonable measure.
LYNDAL CURTIS: And that’s where we’ll have to leave it today. Nick Champion and Simon Birmingham, thank you very much for joining us.
NICK CHAMPION: Thank you.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Thanks, Lyndal. Thanks, Nick.