ALI MOORE: The Federal Opposition says the internal debate within Labor over nuclear energy shows the Prime Minister is losing control of the party. For more on where this debate may go we’re joined by political correspondent Lyndal Curtis, who’s talking to Labor MP Michael Danby and Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Michael Danby and Simon Birmingham, welcome to News 24
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: G’day Lyndal, g’day Michael, it’s a pleasure to be here.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Simon Birmingham, is it [the nuclear energy debate] a debate that the Coalition should be having as well?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM:   Well Lyndal, look, firstly let me make an observation on it, and that is that we’re seeing a remarkable ‘tit for tat’ sort of style in the Labor Party at present where because one side has wanted to have a debate on gay marriage, the other side of the Labor Party now wants to have a debate on nuclear power and this hardly seems to be a cogent or coherent way to approach policy issues, this sort of divisive ‘tit for tat’ approach. The Coalition, though, when it comes to nuclear matters has always taken I think a very constructive and sensible approach…
LYNDAL CURTIS: If we could…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM:   We supported
LYNDAL CURTIS: If we could just leave it there, we’re just having some vision problems, we’ll hopefully come back to you shortly.
ALI MOORE: Well I think we’ve ironed out our technical problems now, so let’s go back to Canberra and our ‘pollies panel’ with Lyndal Curtis.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Simon Birmingham and Michael Danby, thanks for staying around. Simon Birmingham, we were talking about nuclear power. Tony Abbott’s kicked off a new round of policy discussion in the Liberal Party, should nuclear power be part of it?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Lyndal, we have taken, I think, a very constructive approach to nuclear power and nuclear matters for many years now. The Coalition supported nuclear [uranium] mining, unlike Labor which went for the better part of three decades with a sort of ‘half pregnant’ three mines policy. We recognised that uranium mining had a place in Australia, that it could be a key export for us and we supported the growth of that sector. We’ve said for some years now that the Coalition is open to a discussion about nuclear energy and its place in Australia’s future energy mix, but we want that to be a constructive discussion and to do this discussion sensibly you need some bipartisan cooperation to have it, so in that sense, if Labor can get their act together, and to me this looks far more like a ‘tit for tat’ sort of politics going on at their national convention next year, but if they can get their act together and have a sensible discussion that isn’t based on fear, then we’ll happily have it and we’ll happily be there and be part of it but otherwise frankly it just looks like the Labor Party has its left wing charging off in one direction, its right wing charging off in the other and they’re all just looking to have a great big stoush at their national convention at the end of next year.
LYNDAL CURTIS: But does Tony Abbott’s decision to kick off another round of policy discussion, is that essentially an acknowledgment that you were a bit light on on policy when it came to the election?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Look, Lyndal, we’ve had a fantastic 12 months in the Liberal and National Parties, we came within a whisker of forming government but you have to acknowledge that we didn’t quite get there and so it’s perfectly reasonable and sensible to say that we should look at what’s necessary to take that one extra step so that next time around we are assured of actually getting the full way to forming government and that means having, of course, good policies. Now, I think we had very good policies at the last election, but policy is not a static thing, it’s something that of course you’ve always got to strive to make better and Tony’s making a commitment that 2011 is a year where we will continue to be a hard, aggressive, effective Opposition, as everyone expects the Opposition to be, but also a party, and parties, that are constructive, offering up our own policies and developing a vision for us to take to the next election whenever that may be.
LYNDAL CURTIS: And Simon Birmingham, even with the economy growing only slowly, it’s still growing, isn’t it?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Oh look, it is still growing but Lyndal, I think if I can go back to a former Labor Leader here, we’ve seen in the last few days Paul Keating come out and criticise this Government for lacking any type of decent productivity agenda and these National Accounts figures demonstrate that really we need to get Australia back on the footing where we have some strong focus on productivity gains for the future. Instead, we have a figure for GDP growth that shows that public sector spending is still contributing to it. This is all the wrong way around. We should be seeing, at a time when the Reserve Bank is putting up interest rates, the Government trying to reign in public sector spending by trying to get greater economic growth through greater productivity measures and this is where the whole policy parameters of this Government are letting it down at present. They’re still basically on a GFC footing rather than actually being on the footing that the Australian economy needs to be on now which is productivity, which indeed is encouraging growth in the private sector in states like Michael’s and mine, as well as of course from those states that are enjoying from the mining sector and frankly can I say for Michael to say that what Tony Abbott’s done to date hasn’t worked terribly well…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: … well, frankly, let’s have a look at one Prime Minister fallen down by Labor and another one almost taken down, I think we are very much on the right track and
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: … the Coalition is determined to in 2011 just get better.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Simon Birmingham and Michael Danby, we’ll have to leave it there, thank you very much for your patience.
MICHAEL DANBY: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone.
ALI MOORE: So early!